Over the last few days we have definitely had some experiences on North Island. Some have been fabulous, and others have been quite trying. We have learnt about some of New Zealand’s cycle trails – mainly that our bikes don’t suit them that well. We have tried some great wines, with me even liking some Pinot Noirs, and we’ve met some lovely, friendly people, which seems to be a common theme in New Zealand. We are currently in Masterton planning our next few days up to Napier.
On Friday late afternoon we arrived into Wellington on the boat and easily found the train station, got a ticket, got our bikes on the train and made it to Porirua within an hour of disembarkation. We had already picked up stuff for dinner in Picton so headed straight to our campsite, Camp Elsdon. This was a busy, but well equipped little campsite (and quite a bargain too!) only 20 minutes from the centre of Wellington. It is one of the few campsites near the centre and suited us, well Adam, as it was near a Parkrun.
On Saturday morning bright and early we headed to Parkrun, me to spectate, Adam to take part. This was a run recommended to him by someone he knows from Mile End Parkrun, who holds the Porirua course record (and for anyone interested, the Guinness world record for fastest marathon time in a superhero costume). Adam came in second (yay – go Adam) coming in under 18 minutes, which for the other runs this year would have seen him taking the win. We did learn that we could use the Parkrun course to cycle out from Porirua to avoid too many roads, and on Sunday morning, that’s what we did.
We spent Saturday sightseeing in Wellington, watching the dragon boat racing, going to the Te Papa museum of New Zealand, laughing at people jumping into the sea from crazy heights (this would not be allowed in the UK I’m sure on H&S grounds) and of course taking the cable car. Wellington is pretty hilly – some of the roads looked crazy!
It was Valentines Day on Sunday and Adam asked me if I wanted to mount a big knob. Of course I said yes and so we hiked up the Colonial Knob Walkway behind the campsite to take in the views of Porirua, and we could see the hills in the distance that we would have to tackle over the next few days.
We packed our stuff up and had a lovely ride out of Porirua through the Parkrun park. It was about 10km until we picked up a road following Porirua harbour and then onto SH58. This was quite a busy road but Adam had spotted that we could turn off after a few kms onto Moonshine Hill Road. I’ve learnt that roads that have the word “Hill” in the name tend to also have a hill in the road. And this one did. We climbed all the way up to 300m on a lovely windy, twisty road with no traffic, which popped us out in Upper Hutt, neatly avoiding SH58. From there, we knew it was less than 20km to our campsite near Rivendell (apparently of LOTR fame).
After buying our food for the evening, we had a choice from Upper Hutt to either follow busy SH2, or the Rimutaka cycle trails. We opted for the latter, something that I think we will learn to laugh about in time. It was a gravel trail that started off following the Hutt River. It was narrow and essentially a footpath which has been afforded the status of also being a cycle track. It wasn’t brilliant and when we approached the road I had to get off and push my bike up the short sharp ascent. We then picked up a road which popped us out near SH2. We had a choice of trails at this point; to stick to the South of SH2 on what looked a longer track that would take us beyond our campsite requiring us to double back on SH2, or to go to the North, follow a road up to a water treatment plant and then straight down to SH2 for 2kms to our campsite. We went for the shorter version of course, with the signposts not giving us any clue as to what lay ahead.
We climbed up the road and then picked up a gravel track which was OK; it climbed but it was manageable with our bikes and we knew we weren’t far from our destination so there wasn’t much distance to cover – surely? The grading was apparently an “easy” mountain bike track, according to the signs. And then the signs stopped, the track split and we had no idea which way to go. It seems that we ended up on the Kaitoke Hill trail, something we had not anticipated, and something that we simply couldn’t cycle. The ground was rutted and stony and, as the name would suggest, hilly. As Adam descended down ahead of me I heard the cry “don’t cycle this, DO NOT CYCLE DOWN THIS, GET OFF YOUR BIKE”. I got off my bike.
It was too steep to cycle up or down, especially with our loaded touring bikes. In fact, it was so steep that it required two of us to push one bike up any inclines. There was lots of shouting, some crying, some general despair and a lot of frustration, especially as the campsite was only about 2km away as the crow flies, but we had about 5 hills to deal with first. Our choice was to turnaround and figure something else out, or shout and cry and push. We shouted and pushed and I cried. Adam had a look of thunder on his face. On Valentine’s day, we fell out of love with cycling in New Zealand.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we popped out onto SH2, which we followed for 2km to our campsite, the Kaitoke Regional Park, which was absolutely lovely. SH2 wasn’t that busy and had a decent hard shoulder so we probably should have just stuck to that and not the poor excuse of a bike trail we had just experienced. I’m sure on a mountain bike it would have been great, but please Wellington Council, give some better descriptions of the trails so that more touring cyclists don’t make the same mistake we did. Oh – and you owe us both new Sidi cycling shoes; ours are trashed.
On Monday morning, we knew we had another trail to cycle, the Rimutaka Rail trail, but we had already researched this and asked local cyclists and were told it would be easily manageable on our bikes. And it was, for about 10km. And then it wasn’t for the last 7km. It follows an old railway line, and despite this, it actually gets a bit steep in places for a trainline (1 in 15). This is known as the Rimutaka Incline. We climbed up to the summit point on a nice easy gravel trail with an easy gradient, and then the misery started all over again. From the summit, there was a combination of tunnels (the longest being 580m) which required decent lights; these were fine, but the rest of it was all downhill. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but with the surface a rutty, muddy, stony track we had to hang on the brakes for the entire 7km, stopping frequently to rest our weary and aching hand muscles. There was also a bit, “Siberia”, where descriptions had suggested we might like to walk. Yeah no shit. Steep down, through a river, and then a steep up requiring both of us to push each bike up. ARGH! There was a lot of swearing but no crying this time.
We got to the end of bloody cycle track after 17km and then had another 2km on a crappy narrow track with a drop of death on our left, just to add to our fun, before finally, finally popping us out onto the road that would lead us to Martinborough. And what a road; quiet, scenic, smooth, no head wind, not too many climbs. Where was this yesterday?
We got blown all the way to Martinborough, which is a wine town, famous for Pinot Noir, so it seemed rude not to go and sample some local produce. In the space of an hour we tried 11 different wines (we needed them). We were staying with some warmshowers hosts that evening and we turned up at Jude and Bruce’s beautiful straw bale house to a wonderful meal, conversation and everything we needed to perk us up after the last two days (shower, laundry, more wine, pudding!).
They reassured us that our route to Masterton would be easy and it was; aside from the wasp sting incident when one flew down Adam’s jersey and stung his belly. We stopped at the side of the road and Adam stripped off his top whilst I stood there watching his stomach grow a rather large boob-esque lump where he had been stung. Impressive, but quite ouchy I’m sure.
We will be following this same quiet, pretty road much all the way to Napier over the next 3-4 days. Apparently there is not much along the road in terms of shops, so we are going to have to load up tomorrow morning with food for 4 days, just in case. Let’s hope there are no more wasps, cycle trails or other incidents in the coming days…