Thursday (18th Feb.) evening was spent with our sheep farming WarmShowers host and we got taken to the Pongaroa Hotel for “a good feed”. We’d hardly seen any traffic on the road from Alfredton and any place marked on our map consisted of only a few houses, yet Pongaroa Hotel was surprisingly busy. There had been rugby training that evening (so clearly there’s more than 15 men in the area!) and there’d also been a farmers meeting. We wouldn’t have ventured into the pub had we been staying on the Pongaroa Domain campsite, so were grateful we were being chaperoned by James and were able to glimpse this part of Kiwi life. Friday morning dawned bright and once we were ready to leave the sheep farm it had started raining. Typical.
The weather forecast we’d seen was for sunshine in the afternoon, so we set off into the rain, saying farewell to James (who promised to rescue us if anything untoward were to happen down the road). This was the first time we’d worn our waterproofs since we rode to Fox exactly three weeks ago, so we’d had a good run of dryness! And in all honestly, it wasn’t too bad, especially because it was warm, and things got even warmer when the climbing begin at about the 20 km mark.
The whole day was spent on Route 52. Parts of it felt like being back in west Cumbria, with low clouds, commercial conifer forests, empty roads and lots of climbs that individually aren’t difficult, but their cumulative effect was very noticeable. However, when we got to the signpost for Taumatawhakatangi-hangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronuku-pokaiwhenuakitanatahu [sic] it no longer felt like west Cumbria. This holds a claim for one of the longest place names in the world, and the signpost is certainly impressive. Naturally we stopped for a photograph. I’m just grateful I can cut and paste the name from Wikipedia, rather than having to type it out letter by letter!
That night we were camping at Porangahau Beach, which is just past the main village of Porangahau. By the time we’d reached Porangahau we’d done 60 km and been overtaken by eleven (yes, 11) vehicles. The road is that quiet. We got blown the final 6 km to Porangahau Beach, which we should have realised was bad news. Our campsite was a free site nestled in amongst some sand dunes, and right next to the sea. It was exposed, which meant really windy and the dunes weren’t going to help in pegging out the tent. After a lot of fretting, thinking about options, failed attempts to erect the tent we finally got it pitched. And then the wind stopped, but only briefly. We went for a walk to calm down along the beautiful beach. When we got back to the tent was still standing, which was a relief.
The next morning the wind was still howling, but the tent hadn’t blown away. The first 12 km involved riding straight into the wind and despite the pan flat nature of the countryside it took us nearly an hour to grind out the distance, me on the front trying to act as a windshield. Neither of us were impressed. Once we escaped the wind things improved and we had a lovely climb up to our high point for the day before rolling into Waipukurau. We hid from the scorching sun, ate our lunch and pondered how to get to Waipawa, 7 km away. We had a choice of State Highway 2 or a cycletrack which we weren’t convinced by (once bitten, twice shy). A local we got chatting to (all Kiwis want to talk with us) said SH2 had a wide shoulder, so we decided to give it a go and once we left town we found a cyclepath for the first 2km and the last 2km, so all was good. Waipawa had a commercial campsite and a supermarket, so we could have a shower and an ice cream to celebrate having ridden Route 52. Luxury. Waipawa seems to be a centre for fruit picking as there were a number of Europeans living on the site for the season. Pumpkin was currently being harvested. I asked Philippa if she fancied doing a bit of work, but she declined. Clearly there’s things worse than cycle touring!
On Sunday we were heading to Napier to stay with John, who we’d first spoken to at Mistletoe Bay. The ride from Waipawa to Havelock North was fantastic, along another empty road, but we finally had a tail wind and a downhill road, so we zoomed along with massive grins on our faces, lapping up the easy kilometres. Once in Havelock North we picked up their great cyclepath network to head across to the centre of Napier. We rode through endless orchards, and pondered the madness of apples being sent by air freight from New Zealand to the UK.
We’d serendipitously arrived for the final day of the annual art deco festival that takes place in Napier (the town got destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and was rebuilt in an art deco style) so rather than head straight to John’s we went via the centre of town to admire the old cars and people dressed up in their best 1930s clothing. It was all very quaint, although Philippa didn’t appreciate all the people having picnics and not inviting her to share their spread.
So now we’re in Napier, where we’ve been for three nights. John’s been hosting us, and we’ve been cooking as he’s back in work after his two week break on South Island. We had a productive day doing admin, and Philippa managed to get us flights from Los Angeles back to London in October with Virgin Atlantic for about £90 (yes, £90!) each, which includes free carriage of bicycles. Thank you Virgin air miles! John lives on the edge of Napier, and within 1.5 km there are two wineries, so we’ve done some more tastings and cycled into pretty Napier along their impressive cycle network. Of all the towns we’ve seen in New Zealand Napier is the place we like the most. The art deco centre is beautiful, but it’s also feels like a good place to live, and it’s just the right size.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) John’s driving us to Wairoa because he won’t have us cycle the 100 km section along State Highway 2, which is an amazingly generous offer. Hopefully we’ve convinced him to go cycle touring in Europe in 2017, so we’ll then be able to repay our debt with lots of useful information about cycling in the UK, The Netherlands, Germany etc. From Wairoa we’ll head out around the eastern tip of New Zealand, although current predicts are for the remnants of Cyclone Winston (that’s the cyclone that has just caused carnage in Fiji) to hit New Zealand on Sunday or Monday, so we may be hiding out for a few days whilst that passes overhead. Fun times.