We had a bit of a think about which way we wanted to go South. There are two main options, around the coast. Which is long and hilly and is called the East Cape. Or down through the middle, which is short and hilly. We will probably come back that way, so the East Cape which commits us to a few hundred kilometers of sun, sea, sand and ascent won.
Te Puke is the world capital of Kiwifruit production. We had ridden through the day before and now the fruit farms and Laylandia wind breaks line the road. We were carrying very heavy loads, stupidly heavy. Esther had done the shopping whilst I had done guard duty over the bikes. She had taken longer over it than we had taken to make the decision to buy our flat. I should have been worried. I have bought us “some nice crisp lettuce” and yes it was crisp. It was also huge, the size of a basket ball. Esther,” that has no calorific value at all”, I began. ” That is not food, it is what super models eat, not touring cyclists.” We had eaten a bit of it, threw some away and it was still huge and now the hills and the heat began as we hugged the coast along The Bay of Plenty on Highway 35.
We had begun the day with a 120m climb within 1k, but now the scenery was stunning with big open bays lined up one after the other. This is Maori land and it is as near as makes no difference, tropical. We stopped for a burger and took a photo of the most unlucky Rolls Royce in the southern hemisphere. A tow ball had been crudely welded and it was now used for stock duties I am sure it could be legitimately run on agricultural diesel.
Te Kaha was a strange place to find a great cafe. But that is precisely what it had, and a nice lady pointed out a great campsite a little further on. I am always nervous when vague distances are quoted by car drivers, and talk of a flat ride. Both of which were on offer and proved to be correct. Brilliant, and almost a first. The campsite was our best yet, with a great beach that made Esther jump for joy.
We were introduced to the art or perhaps science of torpedo fishing. The kit is expensive as it consists of a guided torpedo that tows the line a long way out to sea. This line has several dozen baited hooks, which sit there and entice the fish. Then a big electric winch on a quad bike pulls the catch in. They caught not one fish. But it was Hi Tec boy fun.
The next morning the hills and heat were at new levels and only an early start made it just bearable. We climbed up the steepest hills so far in the hottest heat so far. A mind boiling 35 degree centigrade on my meter. To add to the fun, the road was washed out and we were on big tyre chewing gravel.Great views but a pain. We were saved by local pointing out a sneak route back over the washout section.
This is the best scenery we have come across. Strangely, we are the only touring bike on the road for some reason which means that novelty alone helps us to get attention from helpful Maori locals. Car drivers are waving and tooting and we feel like very minor celebrities.
We camped at a bay on the advice of just such a local. It is perfect and we now feel like we are doing things properly. Straight off the bike and into the sea in our kit to cool off and then make coffee by the tent and eat the oat cakes that we got through customs. A very hard day on the bikes, but near perfect with only The Carpenters ” Calling occupants of interplanetary craft “which became todays “ear worm”, spoiling a near perfect day.
The following day could be called the Best Bad Day Ever. The first kilometer began with a steep climb and the legs were shot. Nothing too unusual and soon the lactic would be washed out and I would be mashing down on the pedals. It didn’t happen and the climbing was relentless. The clouds came in with a perfect Big Cloud Country sea mist that this area is famous for. The temperature went down, but the humidity went agonizingly higher.
The rare flat area in the bays always has Maori sites and halls which often are accompanied by a church or two. One more climb and I was done for the day after just 28k with nothing left. I could smell coffee and yes just around the corner at Waihau Bay was a Ford Transit doing designer coffee and cake.
This was the best place on the planet to arrive at as Daniel and Pania, both Maori with a bit of Scots and French blood, own the field that the Transit was doing business in. They also look after campers and touring cyclists as though you were blood relatives.
We pitched the tent and were invited to go looking for sea food with Daniel. The location is perfect and Daniel knows the bay well, living off it’s harvest and their garden. We gathered Sea Urchins, Paua ( Muscles ), and other amazing sea food. Then the feast was cooked for us by our tent as we talked, Esther about growing up under a Communist Dictatorship, and Daniel about Maori culture.
Next morning we felt strong again and Daniel had already caught a massive Crayfish for breakfast. Saying goodbye to two of the most wonderful people was tearful. We were destined to stay with them and will think of them for years to come.
The road to Te Araora is another rollercoaster but the legs were good. Even when we had to back track 6k to camp the spirits were still good even though this time the theme to Black Adder had got into something of a loop in my sun-fried brain. The East Cape along Highway 35 had turned out to be an amazing introduction to New Zealand and a great place to bike.