Route 52 is a old state highway that takes you from Waipukurau in Hawke’s Bay through to Masterton in the Wairarapa.
For us, it resulted in around 290km of hilly cycling spread over roughly a week. We were in no hurry and the hills and paucity of accommodation meant that we adjusted our itinerary to accommodate both. A couple of long rides and a few shorter but hillier ones.
Let’s be quite clear about this territory, it is never going to featured in The Lonely Planet top 100 or even top 100,000 destinations but that is because we have got somewhat lost in our definition of what makes a truly great travel experience. For us, this was right up there as one of the best experiences we have had. It was genuine, the real deal, warts and all kind of stuff. The hospitality was amazing and even exceptional at times and as ageing kiwis, it took us back to the simpler memories of our childhood.
The hills were relentless and even challenging on an electric bike. Last night I read a promo for the ride and it said that it was a two day ride. Mmm, maybe for an elite athlete (taking performance enhancing drugs) but two days for a couple of geriatrics boosted by wine and beer or, even a reasonably fit person powered by carrot juice – forget it.
We enjoyed the delights of Porangahau, then spent a couple of interesting days in Wimbledon. We found the tennis courts and I suspect that the local tennis championship title is highly coverted. Friday night in the tavern is a social event for the local farmers and our few square metres of backyard was no competition for the local land holdings.
We took the opportunity to head out to a Herbertville on the coast, a spot where ancestors had come ashore – close to Cape Turnagain – a spot where James Cook – turned again.
When we arrived at Wimbledon we commented on the impressive hills that we had just climbed over. There was a rolling of eyes and sniggering as they pointed south and said “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. This sent Ruth into a general state of depression until I reassured her that we had a motor and it was only a ‘short hop’ to our next destination.
The hill was every bit as challenging as promised. The battery charge levels disappeared faster than a cold beer on a hot day. A little panic set in until I reassured myself that this was going to happen. A big hill initially, followed by some territory where the battery was not required, but overall, we would be fine – we were.
We had not had any mobile reception for a couple of days and at some point when we were up in the stratosphere we must have picked some up and an email from our next host giving some detail on our impending arrival yesterday, threw me. When we finally saw a weak phone signal, a mere few km from their place, we rang to make sure that they did realise that it was today. Yes, they were expecting us today and the property was not too far away. We arrived at the end of a family lunch and were invited to join in. Martin and Penelope then took us for a tour around the district and we had a great chat over dinner. Amazing hosts – who also have Alpacas and happened to have a bag of raw wool which Ruth has purchased. We will get that shipped to us when we get back. There is an advantage to carrying our own luggage, there is no room for shopping along the way. Not that route 52 offered much.
From Pongaroa to Masterton accommodation options are very thin, especially when you are trying to sort out hills / battery ranges. We chose to stay at Otapawa Station. The only potential challenge was that it was 3km along an unsealed road. When we got to the said unsealed road, it was deep in gravel. Trying to ride the bike along it was like trying to walk in ice. We managed it by cycling down the middle of the road and then walking around the corners that were unrideable.
Ruth was not a particularly happy cyclist at the end. The farmers who we rented the house from for the night dropped an evening meal and breakfast off. Ruth asked if there was any chance of a lift out in the morning. They were headed out pre dawn but the father might be able to help, unfortunately, he was away and not expected back until late that evening. “Text us if a ride is possible” was where we left it.
The next morning was our last day on Route 52. It was a big one, 76km, a test for both us and the batteries. No text message had been received and with a gale blowing outside (light winds were forecast) this was not a good start. We loaded up the Onyas and precariously made our way back along the metal road. As we reached highway 52 a Ute came up behind us – “we have just been around to collect you and your bikes but you have made it”. Not to worry, our bike handling skills got a little extra sharpening.
The forecast breeze was for a northerly and we were heading south- sweet, a tail wind. We then proceeded to battle into a head wind for 20km. “What is with this wind”? I looked at our route and sure enough it only turned south later. As we needed to nurse the batteries early in the trip it was a case of grinding away into the 40-50km “breeze”.
However, the toad turned, the “breeze” eased and with it at our backs we were soon powering through the kilometres. Ruth was starting to look Lance Armstrong(ish) and was charging ahead as if there was no tomorrow.
We were happy to see Masterton and delighted that our accommodation was one of those gems that you get from time to time through AirBnB. As we imbibed on the deck that evening we agreed that route 52 had been a tough but really enjoyable experience. But, take your time! We biked half the distance (around 140km) over two consecutive days and our ageing bodies were feeling a little weary at the end. We have a day off before our final assault on Wellington. It looks as though we may just beat the first ominous looking weather since we left Auckland.
For the record, motorised traffic on route 53 was very light. On some sections you were unlucky if you saw a vehicle an hour. As with any rural road, trucks are more prevalent and these were often of the logging variety. 99.9% gave you plenty of space and unlike our home town, they treated you as another road user. Generally, I felt safer on a bike than I would driving along this road.