A lucky break: Getting a little further South

I was hanging around waiting for the next lockdown to be announced when yet another big wet hit. The bike was gathering mildew in the shed and I was losing my fitness. Time for affirmative action!

The weather outlook was for reasonably dry conditions for at least four days and a new lockdown had still not been enforced, despite the odd fresh case of Covid each day. I had earlier created an itinerary for a four day ride down the coast from the Bay of Islands to the Whangarei harbour – it was time to explore! If we did go into lockdown I was not going to be far from home – Ruth could come and collect me.

The route

On Monday Ruth dropped me at Opua to catch the ferry to Okaito, from there it was a pleasant 55km along the coast to Oakura, all on sealed roads. It was humid and after four days of watching the rain fall, those legs were a little reluctant at first but after a few kilometres they warmed up to the task of climbing 880m of hills. A largely traffic free road made for pleasant riding although there were a lot of land slips partially blocking the road which meant that speedy downhill runs were risky.

Plenty of room on the ferry from Opua
After riding the outer bays of Ipipiri muddied by the heavy rain the open sea was looking very blue.

My destination was a very soggy and empty camp on the shores of Whangaruru Harbour and the challenge was finding a tent site spot where I did not risk sinking into the bog overnight. It drizzled all night so I had very wet gear to pack away the next morning. I had spied a coffee sign when I rode into Oakura and was hanging out for a pre-ride fix but was disappointed to find that it was an ‘ex-cafe’ and the new residents had not got around to removing the signage.

When you stepped onto the grass it was like walking on a sodden sponge – Whangaruru Harbour

Day 2 was a shorter ride of 47km but over some very hilly and rugged terrain. Conditions were extremely humid – I reckoned that the humidity was maxed out given the copious volume of perspiration that I was producing. I managed to negotiate both the rough gravel road and the hills without having to disembark and push the bike, that was encouraging. The impressive native bush seemed to distract me and even in my lowest “granny gear’ I seemed to reach the summit of the biggest climb quicker than anticipated. It pays not to have any expectations around speed when ascending these hills. I think in terms ‘walking pace’.

A very misty Teal Bay – a pleasant spot for a fuel stop before the hills
High in the hills

I overnighted at a DOC camp a little way up the coast at Whananaki North. I had paid for a site online and when I arrived it was pretty much deserted. There were barrier arms across the entrance but it is easy to ride a bike around these. As I searched the deserted camp for my designated site, I spotted a lady waving frantically at me. I pedalled over and got a ‘telling off’ for entering the camp before 2pm. “No one is allowed into the camp before 2pm” I was told, “you must wait out on the road if you arrive early”. I felt like pointing out that there was nobody in the camp and no queues waiting to get – where is the problem. However, after donning my mask and paying the obligatory and pointless visit to the office, I found my designated site that I was told I was to pitch my tent on. It had a slope which was not going to make for a great night’s sleep but given that I was already in the ‘naughty corner’ I was not going to risk the wardens wrath by pitching my tent on one of the other 170+ flat and vacant sites.

Giving the feet an airing at Whananaki North

Day three started with a crossing of the Southern Hemisphere’s longest foot bridge – well so the sign informed me – to Whananaki South. It was probably the narrowest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere as well. It took me a while to figure out how I could push my bike (it was way too narrow to contemplate riding) across it without causing serious harm to my legs. It was too long to contemplate wheeling it across on one wheel, especially with gear on. As I approached the southern end of the bridge it started to slim down even more, I concluded that funds must have been running out and they had to reduce the dimensions to complete within budget.

Initially, it was another hilly, rough, but traffic free road and again the conditions were very humid. But today the gravel didn’t last too long and gave way to a quite sealed road that took me along the coast past Sandy, Woolleys and Matapouri Bays before rolling into the camp at Tutukaka. Ruth was driving to Tutukaka to join me for the night so the tent was not required, we enjoyed a pleasant self contained cabin and I enjoyed a much better quality meal than I had on offer the first two nights.

The longest footbridge required concentration

Day 4 was going to be a doddle as I could throw the gear into the car. I was meeting Ruth at her brother’s house in Pataua South, some 55km away. Fortunately I could take a short cut as there was another footbridge which connected Pataua North to Pataua South. On checking my proposed route, I discovered that there was a river ford and then the ride was on a walking track which would be in a very sad state after the rain. The route notes did not indicate if the river was tidal and rather than risk riding to the river only to find that I had to turn around, I chose a slightly longer and hillier route but along a sealed road. It turned out to be another largely traffic free road and thankfully this footbridge must have had a more generous budget when built.

Another pleasant beach – Sandy Bay

The dark clouds were throwing the odd rain drop at me but nothing that required me to break out the wet weather gear. Within minutes of arriving at my destination some serious rain started to fall.

Lunch spot at Pataua North
A friendlier footbridge on day4

I declared the ride a great success and have my fingers crossed that I can head off to complete the South Island leg of my Tour of Aotearoa in a couple of weeks time. I have now travelled around 600km south from Cape Reinga, albeit, not quite as planned.

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