We left Napier refreshed from a two-day stay. It had been good to us, but it was now gearing up for Art deco weekend and the campsite was filling up with guests who rose late and wore 1930’s clothing. They all wanted to relive the era of mass unemployment and poverty where their grandparents must have worried from day-to-day where the next meal was coming from.
A drizzle started the very moment we got the tent down and then Napier showed us its less Deco side, as we made our way down the coast. A cycle path fizzled out, and again we were on Highway 2 and at the mercy of the trucks. We were turning off towards Havelock North and were in for some chevrons, but anything is better than Highway 2.
Sue, a violin playing local cyclist, joined us and we chatted about bikes and her dream to come and tour Scotland. “You will freeze”, was my honest conclusion. She was wearing what I would put on for a February dash down the coast and we were now down to Rapha summer kit. “This is hotter than I have my living room in winter”. Well good luck to her, I am not sure we will ever adjust back.
We passed Mount Erin and were now in a strange mix of wine and sheep landscapes that came and went before gaining a bit of altitude and settling on full on sheep country. A rather strange man back at the campsite had concluded that our route was “landscape for sheep to look at”. He said it in German just to keep me out of the conversation, though he claimed to be Kiwi. He had a few rather more radical views and appeared to have travelled the world and returned even more narrow-minded than when he set off.
Sheep, lots of them, had terraced the hills with their strange grooved paths over the years. It was a perfect Scottish Borders landscape, varying from the Cheviots to as far West as Moffat on occasions. We loved it. with the Raukawa Range of hills to our right to give it a little drama, this was far too good for sheep. We were in perfect touring country and the K’s were rolling by.
We pulled into a pub toward the end of the ride at Patangata and were glad we did. The bar man had a gold nugget ring from his time panning in the streams of the South Island. He suggested we camp at Waipawa, a few K’s on. Just before we left, Esther’s watch fell apart. It had, like us, not enjoyed the heat. So just 7 kilometers further on we come across the only watch repair shop for hundreds of kilometers. I love it when things like that happen.
Starting the next day we were again on that awful Highway 2 for 6k and hating every meter. We had decided to take a lumpy, but scenic route south away from the 2 and it could not come soon enough. At Waipukurau, we were off, and again in perfect rolling countryside.
Again we stopped at a remote pub, this time in Porangahau. The Duke of Edinburgh is its name, and it is to be recommended as the nice man pointed us in the direction of some free camping. One of the most perfect beaches we have ever seen is just a few meters from the door of our Big Agnes tent, where I am sitting writing this. For this perfect location we are paying $zero. Which has made me smile almost as much as Air New Zealand forgetting to charge us for the bikes. Some times life is sweet.
We had just finished food at the tent when a pickup pulled up at the bus travelers style home that was the only other resident of the camp site. I recognised the guy from earlier in the day. I recognised the beard more correctly as he had the full ZZ going on. Gavin is his name and he would be the toughest, gnarleyest looking Gavin I am ever likely to meet. He was the usual friendly Maori that we keep on meeting.
Gavin’s brother is the only Maori in Yorkshire Police, back in the Uk. He had gone over to play rugby league, stayed around, and one thing lead to another. If he is anything like Gavin, then Yorkshire has got something very special, but perhaps a little unorthodox.
Just a few K’s had gone by, as we continued our bike down New Zealand’s East Coast and we had an appointment with the worlds longest place name Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotomateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu I kid you not.
Wimbeldon Tavern, and we have a rule that we do not pass an open pub. It was 1 minute past 11, and it opens at 11. Again meeting people and talking to people at bars was an education. Usually it gets around to the ‘monster hill’ that is just ahead. Again the climb up. into the Puketoi Range was the monster and I guess several 13% sections would have floored us two weeks ago. Highway 52 has been good to us and it is now sealed all the way. We mashed down on the pedals and climbed with quite some style.
The landscape along the 52 has been perfect, with fields of sheep and poplar trees. If you want a quick reference think of Gladiator AKA, ‘the Spaniard’, when he is having one of his flashbacks to home. The scene where the girl is running through the field of corn, dragging her hand in the crop and all in arty slow motion. It touched 30 degrees today just to remind us how hard cycling in heat is but we feel good.
We are camped on the Domain style campsite at the village of Pongaroa. It is cheap, clean and the village hotel is very friendly. New Zealand is being good to us and our route avoiding Highway 2 has been fantastic and full of encounters with great people.