It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in New Zealand for that long, but we arrived here eight weeks ago and in two weeks time we fly from Auckland to Melbourne. However, if I reflect on our journey it’s clear that we have been in NZ for quite a while because we’ve seen so many different things, from the Canterbury Plains, Mackenzie Country, Mt Cook, Wanaka, the West Coast, the vineyards in Blenheim, Marlborough Sounds, Wellington, Route 52 up to Napier and then the East Cape. Since the last blog update we’ve ridden from Thornton, past dormant volcanoes, into volcanic calderas and then back down to sea level so we could walk up another dormant volcano this morning to see the sun rise.
On Saturday we were up and away before 9 am because we had a long (80km) day from Thornton to Rotorua and we would be climbing from sea level straight up to 400m. For the first 20km or so we rode across scenery that wouldn’t go amiss in The Netherlands; canals, flatlands, cows, but with views of Putauaki volcano that could have been drawn by a child because of the distinct shape. The climb up to 400m was great because the road was pretty empty and the climbing was nice and gradual. Despite the weight of our luggage we both found it relatively easy, so the cycling around East Cape when we were averaging nearly 1,000m of climbing per day has clearly helped our legs!
From the top of the climb we descended to get our first view of one of the caldera lakes. In this region all the lakes are in volcanic calderas, which meant we had to climb out of each caldera before we reached the next lake. Despite having a degree in geology it’s still really hard to imagine these peaceful lakes having been formed from volcanic activity. The sulfur smell that would follow us around for the next few days was a big clue that we were in a geothermally active region.
We’d planned to come to Rotorua because John, our host from Napier, was there for the weekend. We found him, and the friends he was camped with after our 80km ride at the Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park. As a way to cool off from the cycling we went for a soak in the sulfur hot pools they had on the campsite. It certainly didn’t cool us off, but felt good.
We spent Sunday being driven around Rotorua area by John. We got to walk through the redwoods (hey, now we don’t need to go to California!), looked down at the geysers & geothermal activity, and ssaw some of the other beautiful caldera lakes we hadn’t cycled past on Saturday. Then it was time to say goodbye to John for the third time on this trip. Hopefully we’ll see him again next year because he’s planning a European cycle tour.
We needed to be in Tauranga by Tuesday afternoon, but as it was only about 70km away, and with a lot of downhill as it’s at sea level we decided to break up the trip at the TECT All Terrain Park, where there’s a camping area and some walks. After a leisurely start to Monday we did the short ride over to the park, complete with the stupidly steep climb out of the Mangorewa Gorge. The camping at the park, which was surrounded by trees, was empty and really peaceful. It was also free, so by 9pm it was no longer empty as it seemed every traveler within the local area had driven there to camp at no cost!
Tuesday we went to explore the great bush walk from the campsite. The diversity of fungi growing was just incredible, although we kept a safe distance because it was mostly of the red and poisonous looking variety. It felt good to be walking instead of cycling for a change and we were surprised that no one else who’d stayed at the campsite had decided to go for the stroll around the park. Hey ho, we weren’t complaining.
The ride from TECT park down to Tauranga was really easy as we dropped from 500m back down to sea level, and amazingly the wind was actually helping us for once. Pretty much every day in New Zealand it is really windy and there doesn’t appear to be any pattern to the wind direction. Or rather, the pattern is straight into our faces regardless of the direction we take. Kiwis have told us it’s been unusually windy this summer. Hmm….
We’re now in Tauranga, staying with Ange and Steve who we go chatting to at Anaura Bay. This is a beach town where everyone does surfing, ocean swimming, hiking up Mount Maunganui and chilling at the beach. To us it looks a bit like the California beach life one sees in the movies. This morning we went up Mount Maunganui to see sun rise, which was stunning. Plus we could look back up the coastline we had cycled down and again see White Island, the volcano we first spotted a week ago from Cape Runway.
Unfortunately from Tauranga none of the roads to Hamilton, our next stop, are safe for cycling. Ange is going to drive us up to Waihi from where we can pick up the Hauraki Rail Trail. It’s a bit of a shame that, like Napier, there is no safe cycling route out of Tauranga. There are cycle lanes within the city limits, but the options for the road cyclist living in Tauranga who wants to escape the town seem very limited. The roads in and around London may not be the best for cycling, but at least there are lots of lanes that don’t have much traffic, whereas here there are no small roads we could use to dodge the state highways. If we ever decided to move to New Zealand we would pretty much give up road cycling because of the traffic. We’ve been told by a local cyclist the Hauraki Rail Trail will be rideable on our touring bikes; fingers crossed she’s right!