New Zealand – Wellington to Whakatane
Denis Kertz, ©2000
I didn’t sleep well for some reason but the noisy street location was not a problem as it was pretty quiet during prime sleeping time. I got up just before 7:00 and headed out to a café around the corner a block away for pancakes that were pretty good. I walked back to my room and packed up to move to my new digs at 10:00. The new place was only about 1K south so it was easy to get to. I checked in, dumped my panniers, and stashed my bike in my room too.
Then I headed to the bay to the Te Papa Museum, the NZ national museum. It was a place one could spend at lot of time although it had an entertainment flavor, much of it geared to kids of which there were plenty. I spent a couple of hours there. There was an interesting exhibit on geology and the underlying earth crust and structure. NZ lies right on a fault line between the Pacific and Australia plates that makes it very susceptible to earthquakes and made me wonder how long I wanted to hang around! Another exhibit covered the people of NZ including the Maori and European settlers but it was less interesting.
Next stop was Parliament that was a bit of a walk. I got there just before 1:00, just in time to make the 1:00 tour along with about 40 other people. The only option was to take the formal tour if I wanted to see the place and I had to check my backpack at the door. Interesting parts of the tour included how the building was redone so it could withstand earthquakes up to 7.5 on the Richter scale. Essentially the building was “lifted” and put on top of a new concrete foundation that held rubber bushings (base isolators) to isolate the building from foundation movement – important when you realize that a earthquake faultline runs within 400m of Parliament. We also got to see the house of representative room since the house was not in session at the time. An interesting hour tour.
Then since the weather looked pretty good with mostly blue skies, I took the cable car to the Botanic gardens at the top of a hill for a scenic overview of Wellington and the harbor. Unfortunately, it was cloudy in the distance so distance viewing was limited. After taking the cable car back down, I walked back to Courtenay Place, a restaurant precinct and entertainment area. I stopped at a Chinese place for BBQ pork and chicken where the pork was half fat. After expressing my disappointment, we mutually agreed to part ways and I ate just a few doors down the street at another Chinese place that was fine.
I walked back to the backpacker to find the place under renovation. They were putting in new carpeting in the entrance way and kitchen, apparently trying to get it done in a day. After cleaning up, I wandered around a bit and found there was a variety of entrance and hallways in this backpacker. I also let some air in my room since it smelled a little musty. Then I headed downtown for a beer and watched the Erin Brockovich movie.
A very quiet day because it was Good Friday and NZ was on holiday for Easter from Good Friday through Easter Monday followed by Anzac Day, the equivalent of our Memorial Day, on Tuesday. Most places were closed except some restaurants remained opened and I found one with pancakes. After breakfast I wandered back to the Te Papa Museum since it was open but nothing excited me so I started looking for movies. I found a couple of theatres within walking distance and saw Boys Don’t Cry in the afternoon and American Beauty in the evening. Both were good and very different with depressing endings.
I slept the best I had in many nights and got up at 7:00 and packed to leave as there wasn’t much point in hanging around with most places closed during the holidays. I turned my key in for my $10 deposit (many backpackers require a key deposit to “encourage” people to return them) and was off. I met a touring couple also leaving (who I was to meet again later) and they told me about the side route from Masterton that my guide recommended and they recommended it as well.
I headed downtown to try some more pancakes but the place with pecan pancakes was not open so I ate at the same place as yesterday. Afterwards I noticed the same touring bike that I saw yesterday outside the McDonalds next door. Yesterday I found the owner eating inside with a clear view of his bike and I stopped to kid him. Today I found him looking over my bike and he introduced himself as Albert from Quebec. He was 76 years old and had worked in Chicago at one time. He had done a lot of touring worldwide and was now spending time in NZ and then moving on to the Olympics in Sydney.
I needed some camera film again so
I rode along some stores on my way out of town. Nothing was open at just after 9:00 so I continued on my way and
picked up SH 2, the only route out towards the east coast. It was two lanes going north with mostly a
decent shoulder. I probably had less
traffic than normal because of the big holiday weekend. The route was easy for about the first
50K. At the Upper Hut I stopped and got
my camera film and had a sports drink.
I continued on knowing two significant hills were coming up. The first was a steep 3K climb up the Kaitoke Hill. After the descent the long 6.5K ascent of Rimutaka Hill began. My guide described it as a moderate climb but it was more than that. It was a winding ascent that was steep in places but fortunately the grade eased occasionally. The descent on the other side was virtually a carbon copy of the ascent – long and winding. Due to the winding nature I had to make it a very controlled descent and rolled into Featherston where I stopped for ice cream.
The rest of the way was flat. When I reached Carterton I looked to possibly stay even though I could easily make Masterton because Carterton supposedly had a backpacker as well as a motorcamp. However I found no signs of either though I looked hard. One of the nice things about NZ traveling is that towns had very good signs to identify accommodations – motorcamps, backpackers, and motels. These signs were posted just like street signs and usually you could just ride through a small town looking for signs and find your place. In my case I was looking so hard that I suddenly found myself lying on the ground, wondering what had happened. Turns out this particular town had put little flowerbeds at the end of a street along side the curb. I hadn’t noticed and while I was looking for a backpacker sign I rolled up a sloped concrete curb around the flower bed and my front wheel just slipped into the bed and my bicycle fell over sideways. I was unhurt but wondered how many people might have seen this little episode.
Picking myself up as gracefully as I could I continued on to Masterton. As I entered town I stopped for a Sprite at a store and got directions to a backpacker that I didn’t know about and the motorcamp that was at the other end of town. I stopped at the backpacker but was not surprised to learn they were full. I continued on to the motorcamp and got a tent site in a quiet section of camp. I talked to another camper from England who had just started working in Wellington and who was a cyclist too. Then I cleaned up and walked into town for a Chinese dinner. Afterwards I bought a couple of beers and some groceries and retired to the camp kitchen.
Up at my usual time. After cleaning up, I went to the kitchen only to find they didn’t have any plates or utensils. So I grabbed my milk out of the refrigerator and went back to my tent to eat breakfast. Then I packed up, got my bike out of storage, and headed into town. The only thing open was a McDonalds so I had a coffee and an Egg McMuffin.
When I left town, I turned off of SH 2 to SH 52, a side road that bypassed all the traffic of the main road. This was a countryside road that wound through very scenic rolling hills and fields with lots of sheep. For the first 50K it was mostly flat. For the first 35K the road passed through an area with a fair number of trees and the fall colors were apparent. Then the nearby trees gave way to a more expansive view of rolling hills. At every turn, it seemed that a new set of hills came into view, often dotted with sheep. Gradually, the flat road gave way to undulations with an occasionally fairly long, fairly steep hill but the undulations and hills were a fair price to pay for the great views.
At 74K I came to a farm hostel. I was tempted to stop but it was only about 3:00 so I decided to continue another 10K to Pongaroa to cover a little more distance and to find food. In another 10K, I pulled into town and stopped at the store for a fish burger and some groceries. I got there just in time as they closed at 4:00 on Sundays. They told me about a domain campground just outside town and for $5 I got a key to a restroom with a shower. So I headed just outside town and set up camp. Overall, a pretty nice day weatherwise. Initially it was sunny when I got up but quickly clouded over. In early afternoon, the sun fought off the clouds but then the clouds fought back by mid-afternoon.
It rained overnight but not that much. I got up just after 6:30 and ate breakfast. I was almost out of water so I filled two of my water bottles from the restroom although I didn’t know for sure about the drinkability so I kept them for emergency use.
I left about 8:30 and headed back into town to drop off the restroom key in the mailbox that the storeowners were kind enough to give to me without a deposit and trust I would return. Leaving, the route was fairly hilly but nothing major. However, after about 35K there was some serious climbing (no smiley here) around a place called Ti-tree Pt. Given the stress of the climb, I was wondering how far I would really make today. At the top of the climb there was a great view but it also was very windy so I didn’t linger. The descent led me to Wimbledon (no tennis courts) that had a tavern open so I stopped for refreshments. The bartender assured me the worst was behind me with some climbing coming up but nothing serious. I also got my water bottles filled with good water.
Leaving I had to do some climbing but nothing major. There were, however, some gravel sections that were problematic. The gravel road wasn’t bad but there was enough loose gravel that I had to navigate carefully. After two gravel sections of about 5K, the rest of the way was sealed. Scenery continued to be great like yesterday with huge rolling hills and fields and lots of sheep. Just before Porangahau, I was treated to the sight of a couple of sheep dogs driving a herd of a couple hundred sheep up a hill on the road. Occasionally a group of sheep would wander just off the road and the dogs would dutifully and efficiently round them up. When I got tired of this spectacle, I rode carefully through the pack with the sheep scurrying down the road, as worried about me as the dogs. Eventually I rolled through and into Porangahau where I stopped for refreshments. The hotel didn’t look like fast food so I grabbed a Mountain Dew from the store across the street along with a banana and a peanut butter sandwich.
At about 1:30 fortified with food, I continued on a rolling road. I also immediately encountered a big increase in traffic. This section of the road went to a beach and everybody was either in a great hurry to get to the beach or to get home from the beach. The traffic was 3-4 times all the previous traffic over the last day and a half. Scenery continued great until about the last 20K from Waipukurau when the hills moderated and receded. The weather started out good for the day with some drizzle and then more clouds before clearing in early afternoon but very breezy and occasionally gusty through the day.
I pulled into Waipukurau and found the motorcamp just beyond the SH 2 intersection that continued to Napier. I got a tent site for $8, cleaned up, and walked into town for food. After circumnavigating the town center on foot, I came back to the Dak’s Bar and Grill just across from the camp. I ordered a seafood basket and beer and started my notes. Then a local couple at the next table, Keith and Josephine, started asking about my travel. They were very impressed that I took the side road from Masterton and that I had come all the way from Pongaroa. Later, they were even more impressed when I told them that I rode the Crown Range Road from Queenstown to Wanaka. We ended up conversing over several rounds of beer and were joined by another crony. They also suggested I take a bus from Napier to Gisborne as the road was very hilly, especially the first half of this section. Finally, I was offered a place to stay in Te Puke that I would pass through after the east cape route. A very interesting conversation that I eventually pulled away from around 9:00 to take care of my notes and other things.
It started raining sometime after midnight and was still raining when I got up. I ate breakfast and then laid down a little longer to wait out the rain. Finally about 8:30 the rain appeared to stop and I packed up. By the time I was done packing it was drizzling some again so I headed downtown to find a café to kill time but nothing was open. I was glad this was the last day of the holiday stretch since I was getting tired of find places closed. As I stood under the sidewalk protection the rain started coming down harder and I was pretty sure it was gong to be an all day affair – not an inviting prospect. Since cycling wasn’t going to be any fun, and in fact it was a miserable chilly clammy day, I thought maybe I could take a bus to Napier. Normally, I would have wasted a day but I had looked over my travel schedule up the east coast back to Auckland and realized I didn’t have many extra days as it was. So I cycled back to the motorcamp where the proprietress kindly arranged a 12:05 bus trip with the caveat that there might not be room on the bus for my bike, given this was the last day of the holiday period and the bus would likely be more crowded than normal.
So I killed almost 1.5 hours and cycled to the train station. When the bus rolled in, it was only about ½ filled and I was able to slide my loaded bike sideways into the cargo hold under the bus seats. The ride was only about an hour versus 4-5 hours of cycling in the rain without much if any view due to the weather. As we took off I wondered if this bus continued on to Gisborne and maybe I could make the entire trip in one day. However, as we neared Napier the driver announced another bus continued on to Gisborne. And when I checked upon arrival in Napier, I learned the Gisborne bus was full and I made reservations for tomorrow.
From the depot I made my way in the drizzle to the info center but stopped when I saw the first backpacker. There I met another couple that had just come from the info center and said this was supposed to be a good backpacker. So I got a room for $15 in a four-person room with only one other guy, another cyclist from England with a trailer who was looking for work to continue his NZ stay.
I wandered downtown that was a pretty impressive shopping district for a city of 50K. I stopped at a food court for a plate of Chinese buffet that was good. For some reason even though I hadn’t done anything, I was still hungry and later went back for another plate. Then I killed time reading and watching some TV. I was also fortunate that the couple I met checking in at the backpacker were from Auckland and I got some good advice on how to get my bike boxed up when I finally got to Auckland.
What a difference a day made. Yesterday was about as ugly as it gets but today was beautiful with sunshine. I got up at my usual time and walked down the street to a place serving a continental buffet with coffee for $12.50. Cereal, muffins, and toast was hard to beat. Afterwards I walked across the street to the beach and watched a ship roll in. There was a nice view of the bay to the south – Cape Kidnappers and its gannet colony. I went back and started packing up. I chatted some more with my roommate who was from London, a Japanese nurse who had worked in Dunedin and was now in Wellington, and a guy from Portugal – the first and only person I met from either Portugal or Spain.
I took off about 9:30 with time to kill until my 1:15 bus to Gisborne. I stopped at the visitor center and got a great map of the Pacific Coast Highway. Down the street was the Hawke’s Bay Museum and I actually paid ($5) to see a museum, mainly to learn about the 1931 earthquake, 7.9 on the Richter scale, that destroyed Napier and nearby Hastings. As NZ is on the faultline between the Australian and Pacific plates and is susceptible to earthquakes, it actually has many minor quakes all the time. This quake leveled Napier and Napier had to be rebuilt and was done in the so-called Art Décor style. The quake also raised some of the surrounding land by 2-3 meters, causing the Napier lagoon to be replaced by real land and altered the flow of several rivers into the bay. Pretty interesting stuff.
I headed downtown and got some more cash and checked my email. Then I stopped at a grocery store and loaded up on some items including another pen, my 3rd pen of the trip that I kept using up as I recorded my daily notes. Then I stopped at the bus/train depot and bought my ticket to Gisborne, $32 for myself and $10 for my bike. The ticket lady said she wasn’t sure there would be room for my bike, which got my attention. I tried to clue her in that if my bike didn’t go I didn’t go. She said it might have to follow the next day but then I finally got through to her that we were inseparable. So she checked with the bus driver and was able to verify there was room. The Gisborne bus had a full height luggage compartment at the tail end of the bus. I had to remove all my panniers and the bike was hung upside down from two wheel hooks.
We didn’t leave until about 1:30. There wasn’t much view of the coast but there were some great views of the huge rolling hills. For the first half of the trip to Wairoa there were some big climbs. There were at least three long, major climbs that I thoroughly enjoyed in the bus. I’m sure I could have handled the climbs but I don’t know if I would have made it to Wairoa in a single day (120K) with all of the climbing. With more time, it would have been an interesting challenge and I was somewhat disappointed not to find out. I was also disappointed not be able to stop and check out the scenery – another reminder of why I enjoy the freedom of cycle touring. On the other hand, the route was not only very hilly but the road was narrow with little shoulder in spots and the traffic probably would have been a hassle.
We rolled into Wairoa on time with a 15-minute break before leaving at 3:30. This section had less climbing but still fairly scenic. As we descended the last hill, there was a great view of Gisborne and the east coast but we only got a glimpse from the bus. One thing I did see on the 100K ride to Gisborne were cornfields – a new sight.
We rolled into Gisborne at the info
center just before 5:00. I was able to
get a city map and directions to a couple of backpackers and I was off. I stopped at the closest backpacker, the
Flying Nun Backpacker that was a converted convent. I got a single room for $25 and it was big enough to store my
bike. Then I walked downtown where I
ate at a Chinese buffet for $8. I also
scouted around for a good place for breakfast.
Since I didn’t find anything, I grabbed some milk on my way back home
for breakfast. I also tried to buy a
couple bottles of beer from a liquor store but they wouldn’t sell cold singles
so I passed.
I ate breakfast at the backpacker. Then I cycled downtown about 8:30 and stopped at a couple of places looking for ASA 400, 36 exposure Kodak slide film but found nothing. I read the paper over coffee at a McDonald’s and left town about 9:30. There was some blue sky when I woke up but clouds quickly took over. Forecast was for clearing in the afternoon.
It was an easy day of cycling with only a couple of real climbs. Most of the day the road, SH 35, was inland except for a couple of bays. The first part of the trip was scenery similar to the last few days, large rolling hills with sheep. At Tolago Bay, I met Markus and Silvia (M&S) on break. They were from Switzerland and touring on bikes as well. We were headed for the same destination and figured we would meet up later. After refreshments, I took a short detour to the beach and got a good view.
Leaving Tolaga Bay, the scenery was less interesting the rest of the way. Near Tokomaru Bay, there was a pretty steep 1.5K climb but a great view of the bay on the descent. When I pulled into Tokomaru Bay, I saw M&S at the motorcamp store and assumed they were getting a tent site. I continued on to the wharf to look over the place and got a good view of the bay. When I returned to the motorocamp store, I looked over the tent area and it didn’t look very inviting and I didn’t see M&S anywhere. But I found I could get a cabin for $15 and roll my bike right in the room. As I was standing near the road, M&S rolled by on their bikes from the grocery store. They had decided to camp at a backpacker, the Rising Sun, so I told them I would look them up later.
I cleaned up and ordered food (fisherman’s basket - $8) from the next-door takeaway. After eating I walked to the backpacker and found M&S cooking dinner in the kitchen. They were the sole occupants so the proprietress gave them a room for the price of a tent site. We spent several hours discussing our trips. They had cycled down the west coast of Australia from Darwin to Perth and then from Sydney south to Tasmania. Then they flew to Wellington and did a loop of the South Island fairly similar to mine except they didn’t make it quite as far south to Dunedin or Queenstown but did make Abel Tasman National Park. They started their NZ trip about a week before I did and had also cycled north from Wellington to Lake Taupo and over to Napier. Now we both were going up the east coast to Auckland but they were taking two more weeks to cycle the northern tip of NZ. An enjoyable conversation.
Up at my usual time and ate my breakfast in the cabin. I laid down again to kill some time and let the day warm up a bit. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I left just before 9:00. The start was a 9K ascent that started easy but then got serious and became a pretty hard climb. Some dips and a few more climbs on the way to Tikitiki at 56K. Not particularly scenic and the route was inland all day until the end. I stopped at Tikitiki for refreshments where M&S also pulled in but there wasn’t much of a selection in the small store. Just outside town was a famous Maori Church noted for its decorative wood carved interior that was standard for many Maori places and I stopped for a quick look.
Another long climb leaving Tikitiki followed by a shorter climb, a good descent, and another good climb before descending into Te Araroa at 81K. I stopped and waited for M&S and had a Mountain Dew and then found the info center where M&S found me. They decided to stay at the local motorcamp and I pushed on to Hick’s Bay where a backpacker had tent sites and email plus I expected a nicer area.
Hick’s Bay was another 11K with one final 2K hill to climb that wasn’t too bad. I stopped at a lookout and got a great view of Te Araroa and Hick’s Bay from a short walk. When I returned to my bike I was surprised to see M&S waiting. They didn’t like the motorcamp location or the proprietor so they decided to head to Hick’s Bay. The road descended into the bay and I went to the backpacker where a tent site was $7 and right next to the beach. It was a nice location with the sound of the ocean.
I cleaned up and tried to use the proprietor’s laptop to access the Internet but Netscape wouldn’t access my email. I also tried Explorer but it couldn’t get into any web sites so I gave up (no charge). I checked into a trip to the East Cape Lighthouse whose claim to fame was that it saw the first sunlight of a new day on earth. Given NZ’s location relative to the official start of a new day, it seemed to be a contest along the east coast to lay claims to new day firsts. Gisborne claimed to be the first city to see the new sunlight. The Rising Sun in Tokomaru Bay claimed to be the first backpacker to see the new sunlight. I’m pretty sure I was the first cyclist on a Litespeed touring bike to see the new sunlight and I thought it might be nice to be the first person to see the sunlight. However, the lighthouse was 50K away and most of the way was rough gravel and unsuited for cycling. Moreover, there was no place to stay overnight at the cape so a local outfit offered a trip to the cape for $25 in a four wheel drive vehicle to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, on this day I was the only interested party so there was no trip. For food I heated up a can of macaroni and cheese I had been carrying a while along with some peanut butter sandwiches.
Even though I didn’t get to the East Cape Lighthouse for the sunrise, I did see the sunrise at Hick’s Bay. Sunrise was at 6:47 so I got up about 6:35 and walked to the beach for a clear view of the sunrise. So on this morning I was one of the first people in the world to see the sun on this new day.
Then I cleaned up and had my usual breakfast. I laid down for about 30 minutes and then packed up to leave shortly after 9:00. M&S took off shortly before I did and quickly put some distance on me. But then the climbing started and I caught up. After a few climbs they stopped for a short breather so I continued on. The first 33K was all inland and up and down with a fair amount of climbing but nothing real steep. Finally after 33K, we were back to the coast for most of the rest of the way. I stopped at Waihau Bay for refreshments, somewhat disappointed with the scenery. But when I stopped and looked south, the view was much better. M&S pulled in and joined me for the break.
I left after about 30 minutes and immediately climbed a hill. The scenery improved as the road passed several bays. This also led to rolling undulations much like what I experienced on the northern California Pacific Coast to traverse bays. Nice scenery after 2.5 days of cycling the touted east coast. Te Kaha was the logical stop for the day and both M&S and I got tent sites at the motorcamp although the motorcamp had a disappointing kitchen with no cooking pots/pans or utensils. I conjured up a two-course dinner from a can of spaghetti and a can of baked beans, augmented by some English muffins. And I finally got to use my Leatherman tool, using its can opener.
Had my usual breakfast plus some English muffins. I delayed leaving some while waiting for the sun to stop hiding and dry off my tent. Finally left just before 9:00. The route continued its undulations and winding around the coast. After about 18K the road headed inland to cross the Motu River (“last wild river”) and then began a long and fairly steep climb of Maraenui Hill that I climbed most of the way in my 2nd lowest gear. Nice view of the Motu River looking south and even better view looking north. I could also see White Island and its active volcano spewing white steam off shore.
After descending to Hawai Bay, I stopped at the store to meet M&S for a break but the store was closed for an hour while its owner was out on an errand. When M&S showed up shortly, we decided to head a few K further to Torere where we found the tearoom closed and its owner taking off to go fishing. The store was closed for renovation but the owner offered their front porch next door for us to take a break and we accepted.
When we left we had one more moderate climb then flat the rest of the way to Opotiki but with some headwind. However, after Torere the scenery was not very interesting. At Opotiki I got a tent site ($8.50) at the motorcamp by the beach. After cleaning up, I washed my clothes for the first time in quite a while (Wellington?) and hung them out to dry. I biked downtown to a place that had a Chinese buffet and loaded up an extra large plate ($8) for a good meal. Then I picked up some groceries next door and had ice cream for desert. Back at the ranch I read the day’s paper and wrote my notes.
Today marked the end of what is known as the east coast route. This route has been billed by some as perhaps the finest coastal cycling route and others had exclaimed its grandeur. In fact, it was a nice ride but like some movies it was so highly touted that just it couldn’t live up to the advanced billing. I personally found the Oregon/California Pacific Coast much more scenic than this coastal section of NZ.
An overcast morning but still good weather. Packed up and left a little after 9:00. Today was a short day, only going to Whakatane, mostly flat with a few hills. I went down Church St and picked up SH 2 with a good amount of traffic and nothing really interesting. After Terere and 21K, I took the shortcut to Whakatane that headed back to shore after SH 2 skirted the Ohiwa Harbor. A couple of hills and then I pulled into Opope.
Leaving Opope was a steep, difficult hill of 1.2K, almost too much for my lowest gear. I got another view of White Island with spewing smoke. Then I descended into Whakatane shortly after noon. I met M&S at the visitor center where we found the motorcamp was conveniently located near the town center near the river. We celebrated the completion of the east coast with coffee/tea and muffins at a café, lingering in the luxury of no more cycling for the day. But I had a problem as my front right pannier bolt stripped the threads of my fork eyelet and had come loose so I limped into camp.
After setting up and cleaning up, with the men forced to share the women’s restroom due to construction in the men’s restroom (men got use of the women’s restroom for 30 minutes on each hour), I cleaned my chain and then walked into town. I found a longer rack bolt with a nut at a bike shop. Then I checked email at the library and walked through town looking for camera film but no luck. I ate at a Chinese restaurant that was OK, picked up a few things from the grocery store and walked back to camp.
It was dark when I got back to camp, darkness coming this time of the year around 6:00, so I moved my bike near the kitchen light and used the longer bolt with nut to reattach my front right pannier. Then I lubricated my chain and wrote my notes.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2000. All rights reserved.