It was another day on the flat when I rode through to Lake Karapiro. The team from Kerikeri arrived and we enjoyed the vistas across the Lake from our elevated bnb – all very pleasant and civilised, unlike the weather predictions for the next two days riding.
Sunday dawned with heavy overcast and rain threatening. Howard was riding his hybrid e-bike while I was on my trusty c-bike (cliff powered). We had about 10minutes of dry conditions and then the rain started to fall and get steadier as the day progressed.
It was to be an enlightening day. What do you get wetter from? The rain seeping through your expensive rain gear or the sweat which is generated as a result of the punishing humidity creating a sauna as the body heat cannot escape fast enough. It wasn’t wet bulb it was wet Cliff.
We encountered a range of riding surfaces from quiet sealed roads, gentle cycle paths to advanced tracks which tested every skill, or in Howard’s case, gave him a crash course in track riding – crash being the operative word. His tumbles became so frequent that we started scoring them. However, he is a quick learner and was soon handling the conditions like a pro.
Monday dawned bleak with steady rain pounding Mangakino. We decided to delay leaving as late as we could but eventually has to accept that the sun was not going to oblige.
We started with a soggy pedal around the lake then a pleasant ride along deserted country roads until the tarmac gave way to gravel and then a very rough four wheel drive track that lead down to the dreaded dodgy swing bridge that I have heard so many terror stories about. We decided to unpack our gear and carry it across. Walking across this ‘bridge’ with both hands full of gear was not a confidence booster. To get the bike across you flip it up so the the handle bars are above the guide rails and then push it across on one wheel. This was not possible with a much heavier e-bike. We had talked about getting it across with one person on the front and one one the back. The signage on the bridge read “1 person only on bridge”. Looking at the stream a long way below, we decided that a fall was probably not survivable so Howard invented ‘the toggle’ method. This involved him pushing the bike from the rear and toggling the handle bars to get the past each guide wire support and toggling again to get the pedals out of the hurricane wire – it worked and would be perfected later on the Maungapurua track in Whanganui National Park.
The rest of the ride through to the centre of the North Island and onto Pureora, was on remote paths and four wheel drive tracks. The rain which had eased for a few hours decided to give us a last dousing for the last 10 slippery kilometres.
We had a short but tough ride the next day so decided to explore the nearby stand of virgin native forest before heading off. The spectacular canopy was teaming with birds, the most bird song that I have heard, dominated by Kaka.
The ride took us up to our highest point in the North Island (and for me the entire trip) at 971m. Overnight we glamped at the Epic site.
After an ‘Epic’ breakfast we set our sights on Taumarunui. About 46km of track then a gravel road – it was hot and humid and we were happy to track downhill for most of the ride – just a bunch of annoying hills for me to battle up, towards the end of the ride, in 30c + temperatures and crazy humidity. We caught up with support team after two nights in the wilderness and really enjoyed the cold beer that they thoughtfully, in anticipation of our dehydrated state, had sitting in the fridge
The ride to Whakahoro involved quite a bit of climbing and again the temperatures and humidity were very high. A quick detour out to Owhango for a coffee hit and refuel helped us handle the drag down to Whakahoro where we stayed at Blue Duck Station. There were three other riders there for the big ride down to Maungapurua landing.
The weather forecast for the ride the next day was not great with heavy rain expected from early afternoon. The jet boat operator had contacted us and advised that our 4pm pickup was cancelled – we would have to get to the landing by 2pm which meant a 6am start to the ride – in darkness for at least 45minutes. Phone communication ceased just out of Taumarunui and were not possible until two days later when we reached Whanganui.
Our head torches and bike light provided a surprising amount of illumination as we bumped along the rough farm track to the start of the Kaiwhakauka track. Thankfully it was light by the time we hit the track as this track was the track from hell, not helped by light rain and punishing humidity. Narrow, and alternating between mud and rock surfaces with a steep drop off into the stream below. It was draining and all five riders had falls, including me when the bank gave way under my foot when I stopped. I found myself in the tree ferns that had fortunately prevented me from falling further. No damage to rider or bike.
After quite a bit of walking on more treacherous sections the track, it broadened into a four wheel drive track allowing us to make better progress. This continued through the first part of the Maungapurua track but that soon deteriorated with some bluffs being fairly dodgy.
The rain stopped for the ride to the landing where the support team were waiting, having caught the jet boat up to The Bridge to Nowhere.
It was barely believable that returned First World War soldiers had been settled on this land. It was never going to be able to be farmed and by the time the now famous bridge had been completed, the settlers had walked off the land. A very sad part of our history.
The rain was steady by the time we loaded the bikes onto the jet boat. It got heavier and by Saturday morning we were worried about getting down the river road to Whanganui. Biking was out of the question with rubble and slips making even a car journey risky. I had biked this section 2 years ago and decided that would have to count as part of my overall journey through Aotearoa.
The rain morphed into Cyclone Dovi which washed and blew out my scheduled rest day in Whanganui as well as our planned activities.
This morning I had to visit a local bike shop as my brake pads were trashed on the long and at times steep descent down the Maungapurua track, it was the straw that broke the preverbial camels back. After 23,000m of braking so far on my journey through Aotearoa it had to happen at some stage. The mechanic showed me what was left of the pads – not much – and suggested that I would need new disks pretty soon. While the bike was getting repaired I had a final coffee with Ruth, Jill and Howard who were heading off back home.
With a fully laden bike again, I headed off up the Drury Hill escalator off on the last week of my journey through to Wellington. Suddenly, I felt as if I was in the southern north island. The central island had been one hell of a ride but at least I wasn’t riding it on my own. I hope Howard is not put off cycling by this ‘baptism by fire‘ ride. In his words, he went from novice to advanced riding skills in the space of a week.