The last leg – South to Wellington

There was no shortage of hills on the ride south, especially the section between Hunterville and Palmerston North. However, after the heat, hills and rain experienced through the central North Island, the rest was always going to seem easy.

The roads were deserted and apart from the odd farmer, it was just me and the farm animals. This seemed like big open country as the ride to Apiti took me to the Ruahine Ranges and an alleviation of 700m.

“Hills glorious hills, gravel roads and sheep poo….” – Sing along to the tune from Oliver the musical.
From 700m asl – I had a clear view through to the volcanos of the central plateau, now north west of me.

Accommodation options were limited so I stayed at Makoura Lodge. It looked to be largely in “mothballs” but they did provide a platter for dinner & breakfast – no shops either way for at least 50km. I was at the lodge on my own for the night.

The building in the foreground is Makoura Lodge

Another clear and cool start to the day enticed me off to an early start to try and get to Palmerston North for a 1pm checkin to my cabin and a chance to rest up for the afternoon. The hills soon gave way to gentle rolling terrain and then to flats – I cruised in on schedule even after a long lunch break in Ashhurst.

A cycleway along the Manawatu river was a pleasant way to get into Palmerston North.

The storm at weekend had left a trail of damage, particularly large trees that had come down across the roads and slips. Lots of debris to avoid – you had to be weary of what might be around the next corner.

Debris piled up against a bridge

It was a very early start from Palmerston North. The road over the ranges was closed between 9am and 2:30pm for maintenance and I wanted to make sure that I got through before that closure. The alternative was a long detour over the much busier Saddle road to Woodville – some way off my intended route.

It was ‘lights on’ as I pedalled out of Palmerston North.
A close look at some of the massive wind turbines that pepper the ranges between the Manawatu and Tararua districts.

These hill climbs just seemed to be getting easier, especially in the cooler riding conditions. A 380m hill was a challenge 3 weeks ago but now I barely break sweat. On the ride down I struck a long single-lane section that was controlled. I was pleased, the road had no shoulder and was busy but with speed restrictions and a good downhill gradient, I was able to keep pace with the motorised vehicles. At the bottom, I turned off onto a gravel ‘goat track‘ – no more traffic, just me and the farm animals again.

Over the hill and off the beaten track.

I searched Pahiatua for a cafe that offered cooked breakfasts but my efforts were in vain, I had to settle for a hot pie. As I was leaving town another rider following the route spotted me and pedalled over, “any good cafes in town – broke the bad news generally. We linked up later and he had settled for a potato top.

The cinema in Pahiatua – they all looked like this once up a time

The weather was so good I decided to keep pedalling and after 104km my backside screamed enough! I spent the night at the campsite in Masterton.

There is always some thing to have me reaching for the camera – another ‘handyman’s dream – great potential’

Because of my stellar efforts the previous day I had a semi rest day on Friday with a short 50km dawdle to Martinborough. With sun and a warm breeze it was time to deal with my washing. It was all failing the ‘sniff test’.

Some interesting sculpture on my way to Martinborough – above and below

With clean clothes on board I felt ready to tackle the last day through to Wellington. Another early start had me approaching the Remutaka hills by 8:30am. I followed the recommended route but the road I was on came to a river ford. Looked harmless enough but as I plunged in I found that it was much deeper than I expected and I had water up over my pedals. With my momentum broken by the resistance of water and rocks I decided to limit how wet I got by dismounting rather than losing control and getting everything wet.

The track up to Cross Creek was not in a good state.

The Remutaka Rail trail had been closed all week due to slips. I had enquired as to its status on Friday and got a message early in my ride that it was passable. It was the connector track that was the issue. It was only single track and had been badly effected by the previous weekend’s storm. Mud and washouts made it impossible to ride in sections. Fortunately it was a short section and I was soon on the old railway track that had used the Fell mountain railway system. Plenty of history here so lots of stops to read the information boards.

Cross Creek – there was nothing much left of the old railway settlement.

The higher I climbed up the ranges the stronger the wind got. I had to dismount on several occasions and brace myself and bike against the wind gusts. Bracing involved having the bikes brakes on hard so the bike and Cliff did not get blown off the track. I looked up ahead and saw the swing bridge straddling a deep gully known as Siberia because of the vicious winds that blow down it. I could have used the old track but decided to dice with death on the bridge. Walking the bike across was the only sensible option and it started well but then halfway across I was battered by a particularly violent gust. The bridge started to jump around in a very disconcerting fashion. You can push a loaded bike along pretty quickly when the fear factor kicks in.

A short video of my experience with the wind

The rest of the ride was good apart from the sudden appearance of the weekend warriors, several who seemed to think that riding two abreast on a limited pathway with oncoming traffic, was ok. I was even moved to verbalise my anger when one refused to move over and I had to make a dangerous manoeuvre to avoid crashing into the one on my side of the path. I was already pining for my animal companions of the last few weeks.

Kayakers on the Hutt River

The wind eased as I got closer to sea level and the ride down the Hutt River was pleasant. I was stopped by some riders who were keen to hear of my travels. They were on their last training outing before heading to ride from Queen Charlotte to Milford Sound. I wished them well before heading off to meet my brother and a promised cold beer.

Ruth had been relaying my progress to them so the beer had been in and out of the fridge a few times due to my meandering, stops and some dodgy interpretation of times and distances. It was as well travelled as me when I finally rolled up to the door.

The well travelled beer.

The bike has been washed and broken into kit set form for the flight home tomorrow.

So I have ridden from Cape Reinga to the bottom of the South Island. I was a great adventure and an amazing way to experience the country. It has been a great privilege to have had the opportunity to do this, especially in my pre-dotage.

Cape Reinga
Slope Point

5 comments

  1. Ali & I really related to your evocative descriptions of the many challenges (& triumphs) you’ve described. We especially loved the narrative of the Remutaka ascent/descent. The rocky path up from Wairarapa, with NO passing room on the rugged track, framed by sheer terrain (=drops!) followed by the vertigo challenge of Siberia, whether by gully (2020) or new swing-bridge (2021, thankfully in rare calm spell). Then onto the relief of the summit, with little pink princesses flaunting their ribbon-clad trikes mingling with the lycra WeekendWarrior brigade – all of whom were behaving well when we passed through. We were as impressed by the quality of the track on the Hutt side, as were unimpressed (actually scared!) by the southern side. Also agree with your favourable impressions of the riverside run along the Hutt Valley, which we completed easily in one day on our folding e-bikes with just tiny 20″ wheels (don’t like bumps!).

    This was a really good read, giving us scope for happy (& other) reminiscing. THANKS Terry & Ali Goodall (Kerikeri)

    Liked by 1 person

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