Sunday was a very long, very hilly day (for me anyway), involving harnessing my inners Jens (SHUT UP LEGS) to cover the 113km from Anaura Bay to the Te Araroa Campsite, which is actually probably closer to Hicks Bay than to Te Araroa. It also involved quite a few climbs, which we had conservatively estimated at around 1,000m of climbing. We were wrong; it was actually more like 1,500m of climbing, so our hilliest day to date. No wonder my legs are sore this morning.
We had planned to wake up early on Sunday, watch the sunrise at 6am and be on the road nice and promptly, but when our alarm went off all we could hear was rain, so we stay snuggled in the tent for a bit longer. The rain eased and we made our move and actually despite the clouds the view was still pretty impressive, with a huge rainbow across the campsite. We cooked up the freshly caught fish the campsite managers had provided us with the evening before and ate that for breakfast. We waved goodbye to our fellow campers, who’d also provided us with some smoked fish last night, and who’ve suggested we detour via Tauranga to see them and their home town, so hopefully we can make that work.
Within about three pedal revolutions we were straight into the first climb of the day up and out of the campsite. This turned out to not be as steep as on the way in thankfully, so no zig-zagging required, and no swearing either, but still a rude 130m climb to being the day.
I had mentally broken the day down in various checkpoints, with the first at Tokomaru Bay about 30km down the road. There was one biggish climb just before Tokomaru Bay and then the swoop back down to sea level. We stopped at the supermarket to buy a second breakfast (tinned creamed rice pudding with tinned peaches) and also a bit of lunch and chatted to some local kids, who tried to persuade us to buy them some crisps; that they’d walked from Auckland; and that they in fact had caught the fish we had eaten for breakfast. They were curious about our bikes, our helmets, our Garmins and laughed when they couldn’t even lift up the rear end of a bike with the panniers on. The fire alarm went off whilst we were there and we watched the local volunteer fire service assemble and head to whatever incident had been called in.
We then got back on the bikes and climbed straight up and out of Tokomaru Bay and then had another climb, the biggest of the day straight after that, up to nearly 300m. In my head I had thought that once those climbs were out of the way it would probably be OK as it was mostly then downhill to Ruatoria, which was my next mental checkpoint at about 70km.
The road was mostly inland affording us few views on the sea and bays, which was a shame. However, as we passed the exit from Waipiro Bay, which had been our original planned stop for the second night, I was glad to see that we had made the right decision as this was actually on a gravel road – I can only begin to imagine the sort of conversations that we might have had if we had stuck with the original plan.
We decided not to go into Ruatoria itself to avoid the 5km diversion and so instead sat just outside eating the last of the fish for lunch. We saw the sign for the supermarket advising that it closed at 5pm on a Sunday and so assumed that it would be a similar closing time at Te Araroa – this meant that we about 3½ hours to cover the 43km in order to get there on time. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but with three more big climbs with tired legs I did start to worry a bit….!
We had 19km to Tikitiki where I hoped there might be a dairy or a shop of something so that we could top up our fast dwindling water supplies, but Tikitiki consisted only of a church. Adam instead asked for some water from a house we went past and so at least we had enough fluid to keep us going.
All that then lay between us and the supermarket and then the campsite were three biggish hills. I was already feeling pretty tired so had to grit my teeth and slowly slowly wind my way up the first, and longest, climb from sea level to about 220m. At the top we treated ourselves with the last of the roadside apples we (well, actually Adam) had harvested a few days ago. We also decided that given the time of day, it would be best if Adam went on ahead of me to make sure we did get to the supermarket on time to make sure we could have dinner. I was to follow behind at my own pace and meet him just outside Te Araroa.
Once I was on my own, I think my pace actually picked up – maybe it was separation anxiety allowing me to find some energy reserves to get over those climbs. As I crested the second and penultimate hill I had a bite of a muesli bar and some water and put my head down and carried on to the third climb. Thankfully this last climb seemed a bit easier, but I still had to coax my legs up. As I got to the top I think I probably whooped. I didn’t stop; I could see it was short way downhill to the rendezvous point and the last thing I wanted was for Adam to have to come back up the hill to find me if he had been waiting too long.
As I swooped down I could see Adam fiddling with his panniers so I assumed he had made it to the supermarket OK (it was only just 4:30pm so actually I would have made it on time anyway). Then he turned around, saw me, and put his arms in a cross (like the X-factor sign) which Tim and Amie had told us they used in paddling when it wasn’t safe. Uh-oh. As I got to Adam, he informed me that the supermarket was actually closed for the day and there was no one in town (we use the word town in the loosest sense of the word) to tell him if there was anywhere else, or what hours it was open. Poor Adam had buried himself over those hills to get us some food, and all for nothing.
Thankfully, we had a bit of emergency food (some rice and a couple of packets of mushroom cup-a-soup) which would at least be something. We dejectedly got back on our bikes and cycled the last 5km to the campsite, into a headwind of course, just when we were totally exhausted. The campsite had an overpriced basic camp shop, so we re-mortgaged the flat in order to treat ourselves to ice-cream and a tin of salmon to add some luxury to dinner (it was that or spaghetti hoops). Rather bizarrely, the campsite only contains untreated water so if we want to drink anything, we have to boil the water first – so we bought some Fanta too.
It isn’t the best campsite in the world, but it is the only thing around for miles and we got the tent up before it started raining. We made ourselves our very basic dinner, which ended up being like mushroom risotto, but it tasted great – a sign of how hungry we must have been. We then got attacked by mossies so hid in the tent and made plans for the next day. Despite us both probably needing a rest day Adam offered to backtrack to the supermarket first thing and for us to just get further down the road and stay somewhere else. But when we woke up it was raining, again, and as I stretched my legs out and they creaked, I thought actually we could do with staying here just to give our weary limbs a break.
But we would still need some food, so Adam got on his bike and cycled the 14km return trip to the supermarket, which we had been told opened at 8am. At 8:30 he was back with an empty pannier as the supermarket actually didn’t open until 9am. Groan. Thankfully, he was lucky on his third attempt and we now have enough food for about four days to get us down the coast to Opotiki. What a relief….