Just as we were going to bed after our rest day on Monday the aftermaths of Cyclone Winston, which had slammed into Fiji a week or so ago, hit the northern part of North Island. We snuggled into our tent to hear the rain hammering down, but fell asleep safe in the knowledge our Nordisk tent had already stood up to huge amounts of rain in Pleasant Point and Haast. That was until we were both suddenly woken up by a massive cracking noise during the night, senses heighted as adrenaline streamed through our bodies. It sounded like a tent pole had failed in the wind, but without a torch we couldn’t see a thing. After what felt like ages we found a head torch, but the inner seemed OK, so it must have been the pole holding up the porch. We gingerly unzipped the inner, fearing we’d find a broken tent, but weirdly everything seemed OK. It was still raining, but I ventured outside to discover a peg had twisted in the sodden ground, releasing the guy rope that had then cracked against the tent like a whip, hence the noise. Phew, all was OK. However, trying to go back to sleep with the adrenaline flowing was no easy task. It’s strange how one suddenly feels very vulnerable in a tent. It’s unimaginable what it must have been like hiding in Fiji from the full force of Cyclone Winston.
Tuesday dawned and the weather forecasts suggested the rain should have eased, but it was still hammering down. However, I needed to pee and I was now regretting the beers I’d had with Ross (a Welsh guy who lives in Auckland) the previous night as it meant leaving the tent. The world outside was slowly turning into a swamp. We wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. So Tuesday was spent moping around the campsite, along with the other campers who were feeling equally miserable. Two people drove off to the East Cape lighthouse, the eastern most point in New Zealand and I got to tag along. It’s about 20 km along a dead end gravel road, so Philippa and I had decided not to cycle out to the lighthouse, so I was lucky to get to visit this area. Te Araroa feels pretty remote, but it’s about 40 minutes to drive out to East Cape and there are people living there. It’s crazy remote, and very bleak, but somehow beautiful as well. It was grey and misty in March; I cannot even think how the place must look like in the middle of winter.
We went to bed Tuesday night to the rain hammering down. Déjà vu. Wednesday morning dawned and it was still raining and there was no doubt we were now camping in a swamp. I was in a grump as it seemed we’d be spending another day in Te Araroa. However, checking the satellite rain images online suggested the worst of the weather was sitting directly above our heads, so if we bit the bullet and left we may escape the rain, so a plan was hatched. Packing up the tent was a soggy affair, but at least our personal stuff was all dry.
Once we were on the road it was actually dry, which seemed hard to believe after 36 hours of constant rain. I grew up in West Cumbria, which is wet, but we’d always get some breaks in the rain. Here in New Zealand it can rain without interruption for days on end, and we’re here in the summer! The first part of the ride was inland as we headed across to Cape Runway. After that point we picked up the coast that we’d follow for the next few days. From Gisborne we’d hardly seen the coast as the road is a few kilometres, or more, inland and it was a joy to finally get the sea views we’d been expecting. Oh, and views of White Island, which is an active volcano. What more could a geologist want to see as they ride along the Pacific coast?
Lunch was in Waihau Bay, including freshly fried fish for super cheap and the chance to admire the 100 kg marlin some people had caught. Now I’ve seen the size of one of these fish I’ll have to re-read “The Old Man and the Sea” as it may have some more meaning.
Wednesday evening was spent at Maraehako Bay camping ground. It’s a pretty simple place, just a field and a toilet block, so more like a British campsite than the fully equipped Kiwi sites that we’ve become accustomed to during our travels. However, the draw of Maraehako Bay are the sunsets. We cooked dinner and sat on the beach watching everything change colour as the sun vanished into the Pacific. The frustrations of the morning were quickly forgotten about as this was the good part of cycle-touring.
Thursday we rode from Maraehako Bay down to Tirohanga, which was another 80 km of stunning coastline, with more views of the volcanic White Island. The houses on this part of the coast seem to be in better condition than the Ruatoria side. Is that why this is called the Bay of Plenty and the other side is called the Bay of Poverty? We’re again camped right next to the Pacific and can hear the waves crashing onto the beach from our tent, which is magical.
Before uploading the GPX track this afternoon we both tried to guess how much climbing there had been during the day. Philippa was closer, but we were both amazed that we’d done over 1,000 m of climbing. We must be getting fitter, or at least more used to the hills. When we were on the beach we could look back up at the coast at all the hills we’d ridden over. Turning through 180 degrees we could see where we’ll ride tomorrow and thankfully it’s a lot flatter, so that should be an easy 65 km.
As we’re living in a tent we’re very attuned to the changes in the weather. We’re noticing it’s starting to feel like autumn at the moment. The sun is setting before 7.30 pm, whereas when we were on South Island it was light until nearly 10 pm. Today wasn’t the scorching heat we’ve had last week and the trees are showing signs that they’ve had enough of their leaves for another year. It feels like the summer has been very short, but that’s because we arrived from the UK in the middle of January, so in effect only had seven weeks of the southern hemisphere summer. However, we cannot complain because it certainly beats northern hemisphere winter. After Easter we’ll be in Australia and autumn will be into full swing.