Au Revoir Auckland

27-29/12/15. We had a wonderful, relaxing time with Jay and Tim enjoying their friendship and hospitality but all good things must come to an end. Eleri left on Sunday evening having made arrangements to see some Christmas lights with a friend and it was strange saying goodbye to her at the busstop not knowing when we would see her again. She has accepted another job with Auckland council for 3 months to save more money for gallivanting around the South Pacific and elsewhere. Of course, if we do decide to forego the flights from Christchurch to Sydney that we booked before leaving the UK (we needed to be able to demonstrate that we would be leaving NZ before they would let us in) and instead fly from Auckland, we will see her then (her other social events permitting).

It was our turn to leave on Monday morning and we both confessed to feeling a certain apprehension about getting under way again. Neither of us was clear why this was the case but thankfully it disappeared shortly after we left. This may have been because the hill out of Campbell’s Bay was not as bad as we feared and then the run back to the ferry at Devonport had far fewer climbs than we remembered from the trip the other way before Christmas (when they would have been downhills obviously!)

However, once across the water and back in central Auckland we did have a long haul up towards Mount Eden (one of many extinct volcanoes on which the city is built). We didn’t go to the top thank goodness but did go along Mountain Road which is a name we try to avoid wherever possible!

One possible cause of our earlier apprehension was the fear that Auckland traffic would be as intimidating as we remembered from our bus trip from the airport a month ago. This proved to be misplaced. On reflection we would probably be hard pushed to pick a better day to be leaving (from a traffic perspective at least) than the Monday after a weekend Christmas.

Once past Mount Eden, the road improved (because it was more downhill) but the neighbourhood became less salubrious. We were (sort of) following a cycle route on a map which we had obtained from the tourist information in the centre but were, by now, approaching the edge of the detailed map. The cycle route was not marked on the smaller scale version which showed that we were approaching the Mangere River with only the motorway shown as crossing it without a long detour inland. However, we spied a cycle signpost (the first one!) with the name of somewhere on the other side so, trusting to luck, we headed towards the motorway bridge – and found that Old Mangere Bridge still existed and was open to pedestrians and cyclists! The bridge was very popular with the local angling community which included a surprisingly large proportion of females – far higher than we percieve being the case in the UK.

On the other side of the river, much to Christine’s concern, Stephen voiced the thought that the land looked much flatter. Thankfully Providence was not tempted and the gradients were kind in the afternoon. We passed through a number of residential and commercial areas of South Auckland none of which were particularly inspiring or depressing – just a bit “meh” – until we reached the campsite in Manukau. Although this was on the busy sounding Great South Road and near the motorway and the airport, it was very peaceful and would be an excellent stopover before flying out as there is a frequent bus service from just outside the site.

With Miranda Springs too far to cycle in a day, particularly with a range of hills to cross and only one campsite in between, today (Tuesday) was planned to be a short day. So Christine took the opportunity to sleep in until 8.30 (having gone to bed at 9!!) and it was 10.30 before we were on the road. The Great South Road was not actually that busy and there was the added bonus of a cycle lane, even if was one of those where a line of white paint somehow magically protects cyclists from the traffic, so we took this as it was more direct than the wiggly route Christine had planned the night before.

The route was not particularly inspiring, passing through Auckland suburbia (although we did pass two Sikh temples , the first places of non-Christian worship that we had seen in the country) before finally hitting a little bit of countryside. At least it was flat! But, just to keep us honest, the strong south westerly wind had returned – and we were headed pretty much due south.

After the town of Drury (complete with the Drury Lane Shopping Mall!) a keen amateur cyclist, Matthew, slowed as he went past and we had a very pleasant chat about what we were doing, where we were headed and cycling in general. He waved goodbye when we reached the turn off to the campsite at Ramerama. It was then time for a late lunch and a bit of clothes washing which dried very quickly in the blustery wind.

Happy Christmas…..

…..to everyone from New Zealand.

23-26/12/15. Well. We could easily get to a position where we could tolerate a warm Christmas every year! Some poor so and sos have to put up with it so it might as well be us. We’ll “take one for the team” as they say.

It is now Boxing Day and the weather is just glorious having improved significantly over the last two days! We woke on  Christmas Eve to grey skies and a very strong wind blowing off the sea. Thankfully we managed to get the tent and everything else packed before the rain started. The morning saw intermittent heavy showers as we were making our way to our friends’ house (only 7 km away) but in the afternoon it really threw it down and we were extremely glad to be inside. Christmas Day itself started cloudy but gradually improved – not enough for the planned beach barbecue but more than good enough for a leisurely pre-lunch stroll by the sea and a late afternoon wander through the neighbouring park. Today there is barely a cloud in the sky and just an occasional gentle breeze to cool us down while sitting out on the deck. Just perfect.

We are having a wonderful time sharing Jay and Tim’s Christmas and enjoying the lovely house which they have “swapped”. It really is most kind of them to make us so welcome. And the catering “background” which they both have means that the inner person is well looked after too!

The local Anglican church, 5 minutes walk away, has been well-utilised with Jay going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Tim (an early riser) making the 8.00 a.m. service on Christmas morning and the Armstrong/Smiths rolling out of bed in time for the 9.30 a.m. Comparing notes later it seemed that the service was pretty much the same, not surprisingly. We were all amused by one of the local carols celebrating an “upside down Christmas” – “the snow is not falling and the trees are not bare”!

Parakai

20-22/12/15. We passed a quiet couple of days in Parakai.

On Sunday, when Christine returned from church, we took advantage of the reduced entry price to the swimming pool ($11 or £5). This had no “mineral pools” as such but the water is heated geothermally. In a climate like this even Christine could see the attraction of an outdoor pool on the last weekend before Christmas even if she didn’t actually go in the water! Clearly so could many other people who had obviously finished their shopping. We both took the opportunity to catch up on our reading, Stephen occasionally taking a dip or enjoying the flumes. A lazy day was followed by indulging ourselves with another sample of NZ’s delicious fish and chips.

Monday morning saw us taking a walk to the larger Helensville where we again availed ourselves of Auckland Region’s excellent library services and their Wifi. We followed this with a visit to the station which seems to be well maintained even though there are no trains! On the way we crossed the river which was a bit of a poor excuse for a river when the tide was out!

In the evening we had a lovely time and dinner at the home of Christine and Graham who Christine had met at church.

It was time to move on! Amazingly, the first 12 or so km of the road on Tuesday morning were flat as we headed up the river valley towards the city. However, all too soon the hills started again. They were not as long or as steep as many that we had encountered but they kept on coming! One of the flatter roads had the charming name of Puke Road!

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At a coffee stop a car pulled up and the driver took a close look at the bikes. He then said (in a German accent) that his father has two Roberts bikes at home! (For those who do not know our bikes were handmade at a small framebuilders in Croydon.) Eventually we reached Swanson, which appears to be connected by rail to Helensville but is the end of the line as far as passenger trains from Auckland is concerned. An hour’s ride through the suburbs and past Eden Park (home of the All Blacks) saw us arrive in the centre where, after a cold drink stop, we boarded the ferry to Devonport. This was the same trip as we had taken with Eleri just after we arrived in the country, some 3 ½ weeks ago but this time we cycled up the hill (inevitably!) mostly on cycle tracks to Takapuna where the campsite is in a stunning location right on the beach. We had taken the precaution of phoning to book as it is the site closest to the centre and we were glad we had done so as it was pretty much full at this busy time of year.

Thoughts on New Zealand After Three Weeks

  • Good grief it’s hilly!
  • ….And beautiful.
  • It’s not really made for our sort of cycling.
  • ….But we are enjoying ourselves.
  • Campsites are, on average, better than Europe.
  • Driving (insofar as it impinges on cycling) is not great but not as bad as we had heard – touch wood!
  • It feels more like home than anywhere else that we have been.
  • Seeing Christmas signs and decorations while wearing shorts and tee-shirts is weird.
  • Kauri trees are awesome.
  • Young lads and girls are all throwing rugby balls rather than kicking a football.
  • Away from the streetlights, the stars are AMAZING. The Milky Way is stunning.
  • New Zealand feels like the least ‘foreign’ country we have ever visited.
  • Even small villages have good public toilets. France- please take note!
  • Every French person who works in hospitality should have to spend 6 months in NZ to learn how  it should be done.
  • The fish and chips here are better than at home. Cooked to order, better flavour, and cheaper.
  • New Zealanders are very friendly (at least until they get behind a steering wheel).

……And Back to the West Coast

18&19/12/15.  The North Island is narrow at this point so we are zig-zagging our way as we head south. The route of SH1, and the wish to avoid it, is more of a factor in this than any desire on particular our part to see the two coasts.

On the campsite in Matakohe we spoke with another cyclist (a Canadian who has lived in NZ for many years) about where we were headed. He told us that south of Wellsford there were two routes – (1) SH1 which was to be avoided and (2) SH16 which was much quieter but hilly and devoid of anything, other than views, for the 60 km to Helensville. He also told us that there is a campsite at Parakai, just 2 or 3 km beyond Helensville, which offers half price entry to the adjacent mineral springs.

This lead us to the conclusion that we would have a short day to Wellsford (it is only 26 km from Mangawhai) and then a hard slog to Parakai followed by a rest day on Sunday which coincided with Christine’s pill/church needs. We had a plan! (For once!!)

Leaving the coast inevitably meant a climb (several in fact) and, because we were heading south westwards, into the wind. 26 km does not sound like a long way (and it isn’t) but it was not an easy morning. Pitching up in Wellsford around lunchtime we headed for the first hotel we saw (Mr Canuk/Kiwi had told us there were no campsites, confirmed by our various maps and apps). This was the Wellsford Inn right on the SH1, which goes through town, and proclaimed itself as the “last hotel before Auckland“.

“This is the first of two hotels mentioned.”

“It doesn’t look very smart.”

“That should mean it is cheap.”

“Mmmmm.”

“And we are still over budget.” (Sorry for the accountant-speak!)

“We will have to deal with a lot worse if we end up where we are thinking of going”

“All right then.”

The room wasn’t the most salubrious place we have stayed in our lives and it was facing onto NZ’s equivalent of the A1. But it was only $50 (about £20)! Which is a consideration when you have no income other than rent on a property for which you have just had to buy a new cooker for £1,300!! (You do not have to feel sympathy for us. This is a lifestye choice that we have made.)

With our bikes parked in the next bedroom to us (two rooms for the price of one!) we set off to see what Wellsford had to offer.

Errm. Not much, if truth be told.

It struck us as a town on a main road but in the “middle of nowhere”. It is probably best summed up as “shabby”  – fast food joints, gold coin stores (the equivalents of Poundland – $1 and $2 coins being “gold”) and greasy spoon cafes. The one exception was the library which was very smart and well used. We were attracted by the free Wifi and spent most of the afternoon there. It is sad to think that this sort of community facility will probably be gone by the time we return to England.

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep considering the window faced the main road we set off early (for us) – before 9 o’clock (we didn’t have a tent to pack up!). The man we spoke to had not been wrong! The hills were relentless. And it was made much worse by the wind.  It had strengthened overnight and was coming from the direction in which we were headed. The fact that the road snaked around giving us a few (all too brief) respites with a semi tailwind only meant that there was even further to go with the wind blowing in our faces. Even the few flat stretches were a struggle.

The road did seem to be a Mecca for bikers of the powered variety. Every few minutes there were motorbikes roaring past us in both directions.  Clearly it is a road that has been discovered by the NZ equivalent of Bike Normandy or its customers. As an example, while sitting scoffing our lunch on a verge we were passed by a group of more than forty.

The one village worthy of the name (the others were just two or three houses grouped together) came at about 50 km and had a general store which offered very welcome ice creams and cold drinks. A passing man said “I don’t envy you” but told us the remaining 10 km to Helensville were flat. Given our experience we preferred to reserve judgement.

And our scepticism was justified! If that is his idea of flat…….!

However, we eventually arrived at the campsite at just before 6 o’clock – nine hours to cover 61 km, including stops, showed what a tough day it had been. Very quickly the tent was erected, beds sorted and the standard dinner of pasta and tomato cooked and wolfed down. An early night was called for!

Back to the East Coast

16&17/12/15. We are making our way back towards Auckland to spend Christmas with Jay and Tim, friends from Ewell, who are doing a house swap with a family who live in the north of the city, and with Eleri of course. As the city is only just over 100 km south of Matakohe this means that we have the luxury of taking things a little easy and can take a less direct route.

We therefore headed towards Mangawhai on the east coast on Wednesday and enjoyed a tailwind pretty much all day. This was a very welcome assistance as the climbing had started again as we were in the Brynderwynn Hills. Although the road was not particularly busy we were frequently buffeted by the strong draught created by milk tankers heading past us at a rate of knots. Thankfully they generally gave us a reasonable amount of room but there did seem to be rather a lot of them – at least 20 in the space of a couple of hours. After a coffee/chocolate/cake stop in a town we saw the reason – the local milk processing plant was just outside.

After a few more km and another couple of hills we came to the bit that Christine had been dreading. We had to join the main road in NZ, State Highway 1, which is the subject if a number of horror stories for cyclists. Luckily it was only two km until our turn off and that was all downhill with a wide shoulder in which we could cower as the traffic went bombing past.

The road we joined was much quieter and overall we heading downwards to the coast although there were a few ups to test Stephen’s legs and to help Christine’s walking regime!

Entering Mangawhai we initially went past the campsite which is largely made up of cabins/static caravans and is not well signed. However, when we did get to check in we were pleasantly surprised to find it cost $20 (about £9) in total rather than the normal $15-20 per head.

With time not pressing, we decided that Thursday would be another “rest day” although it wasn’t particularly restful as we walked to the neighbouring town of Mangawhai Heads (5 km each way) which it is more accurate to say is on the coast while Mangawhai itself is at the far end of a narrow inlet.

The two towns appear to be more prosperous than most places we have been to with a lot of building work going on (residential) and house prices in estate agent’s windows reflecting the proximity to Auckland.

The Kauri Museum

14&15/12/15. The clouds returned on Monday morning but the rain stayed away other than a few spots just as we started packing up.

The road followed the Kaihu River valley down towards Kaipara Harbour, which must be the largest of several natural inlets on the Tasman Sea coast. Stephen was impressed to discover that the Romans had made it this far (well they must have done because the road was so straight!) and Christine welcomed the fact that it was almost pancake flat for nearly 40 km, although a strongish headwind did have the effect of slightly taking the edge off her enjoyment.

For the last 8 km to Matakohe, our destination for the night, the road turned away from the valley and the climbing started again. (Bet you had been missing the references to hills hadn’t you?!) But of course it was not far so we soon arrived at the campsite which has a very nice kitchen and common room with several armchairs into which we collapsed for a very welcome bit of comfort.

The site was very quiet – as far as we could see there was only one other person, a young German girl in a camper van, staying on the site and we had the common room to ourselves for the evening. However, after Christine went to bed, leaving Stephen reading, an SUV turned up with two young lads and soon music started playing. This didn’t last long but then an argument started and there were sounds of a scuffle. Stephen bravely made his way to the tent (as it was in the opposite direction to the cabin where the two lads were!) where Christine was half awake because of the commotion.The shouting continued for quite a while but we both drifted off to sleep. (Even a relatively easy day’s cycling is a good cure for insomnia.)

Several people in Dargaville and all three people to whom we had spoken in Matakohe all raved about the museum dedicated to the kauri tree which is only a few hundred yards from the campsite saying that it can take a full day so we decided to give it a go. We were running low on supplies and had been disappointed to find that there is no shop in the village. So Stephen was off on his bike 7 km down (and up!) the road to get orange juice for breakfast along with something for the evening meal. At least there was no need to take all the luggage there and back!

After topping up on emails etc at the cafe next door (NZ campsite “fail” for once with no Wifi) we went to the museum and ended up spending 5 hours in all there. There were some very large pieces of wood all beautifully polished to show the lovely grain. Stephen was particularly impressed with this boardroom table made from a single piece 15 feet long from an 1800 year old tree and weighing over a ton.

Boardroom table made from a single piece of kauri wood.
Boardroom table made from a single piece of kauri wood.