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.”
“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!