30&31/12/15. OK, so Wednesday was not flat – well, the morning definitely wasn’t and there were a few minor ups and downs in the afternoon but Thursday definitely was. However, just like farmers, these two cyclists are never happy with their lot as we had a headwind and a busy road to deal with! But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
We had decided to head for the Firth of Thames (really, that’s what it is called!) because Jay and Tim had told us that it was flat and the town of Thames was lovely. Also, there is a cycle route along an old railway beside the river heading inland for 80 km. The only drawback was that there was a range of hills between where we were and where we wanted to be. However, there was the promise of a thermal pool at the campsite we had targetted in Miranda and it didn’t appear to be a wide range of hill so we girded our loins about us and set off.
After 5 km of flat along the Great South Road, we headed off into them thar ‘ills as we turned off towards Bombay (no Sikh temples to be seen). It was a long slog and capped by a final few hundred yards at 15% (the steepest we’ve seen) but we consoled ourselves that “what goes up, must come down” as we heading to sea level for the night.
The descent to the flatlands was exhilarating, if occasionally verging on the white-knuckled, but over all too quickly (farmers’ syndrome again). This led us onto a short stretch of State Highway 2 which was a narrow single carriageway that was busy, busy, busy with holiday traffic and the occasional lorry (which at least had the beneficial effect of slowing down the cars!).
Thankfully we soon turned off onto what we think was the “old” SH2 leaving most of the traffic to use the newer, faster route. This did mean that we had a few minor undulations with which to deal but it was much the better option.
As we approached the coast we caught glimpses of the sea and the Coromandel Peninsula on the other side. We had been warned that this is extremely beautiful but “challenging” for gradient-phobic cyclists – and it certainly looked that way! However, for now, we only had a short stretch along the coast to take us to the busy campsite at Miranda Springs. Once camp was set up, we both had a very pleasant “wallow” in the bath temperature pool before preparing dinner. We were delighted to share our food with Valentine, a young French cyclist who was camping next to us and who had a tale of woe to tell. She had arrived in Auckland on Boxing Day to find that the parcel of bike and camping gear, which she had posted in advance to her hotel, had gone AWOL, so she was left with her bike and clothes which she had brought with her on the plane. What a nightmare! She had to buy a new tent, panniers and a whole host of other stuff in Auckland. She was just grateful that the sales were on!
The next morning we got to enjoy the promised flat but the south westerly of two days previously had become a north easterly which was less than helpful. After 7 or 8 km on a quiet road from Miranda we joined the SH25. This was not as busy as the SH2 but this only meant that the traffic had the opportunity to go faster and the shoulder was narrower. It just shows you have to be careful what you wish for!
Eventually we crossed the Whaihou River and saw the signs for the rail trail which made the run into Thames much more pleasant and appreciably safer. At the campsite just to the north of the town there was some umming and ahhing when we said that we didn’t have a reservation but a space was found for our little tent so we were sorted.
The weather forecast for the night and the next two days was awful with heavy rain coming in from the north – perhaps not as biblical as the storms hitting the UK at the moment but bad enough if you are stuck in a little tent with two layers of cloth protecting you from the elements. The Maori lady in the next site had added a tarpaulin over her tent to keep the rain out.
Before the weather hit us we nipped into town for coffee/hot chocolate and a shopping expedition to buy steak and salad to celebrate the New Year. This went down very nicely, helped by a glass or two of delicious NZ wine. We did our usual on New Years Eve, hitting the sack well before midnight (boring I know).