Ian didn’t make it easy for us to leave the backpackers lodge in Turangi, offering us a drive up the mountain and back. We had to hit the road though and get some mileage under our belt if we were going to make our intended campspot for the evening. Things didn’t start well, I noticed my rear wheel could do with some air so started pumping only to rip the handle out, slicing my finger in the process. Quite the gusher, I seem to always give myself these little nicks, lucky Eal has plasters.
The road we stuck to all day would take us through Tongariro national park, where there had been snow fall as recently as yesterday. The aptly named Desert Road was baron, in stark contrast to our recent riding through lush green farmland. Clouds were menacing, the mountains which flanked us intimidating, therefore it was all the more fitting when we learned the area played backdrop to most of the Mordor scenes from Lord of the rings, just without the fire and lava, although this range does contain two active volcanoes!
Reaching the top of the Desert Road pass and breezing down the opposite side, the evening ended amongst the familar and safe green hills where we located camping. The campgrounds of New Zealand must be commended for their facilities. I am already taking for granted that every place has a full kitchen, tv lounge, laundry and showers. If you remember from earlier in the blog how basic European campgrounds were in comparison and the only improvement in the US was the guarantee of a picnic bench and fire pit.
Being a passionate Newcastle United fan, I have enjoyed the sight of the Australian Magpie in New Zealand. That was until I discovered they can be incredibly aggressive towards cyclists during breeding season! Again we spent the morning being swooped on from above by the wise guys who clearly thought I was some sort of competition in my black and white bike jersey. They must attack the odd car too because many lie dead by the roadside, chill out lads!
Instead of sticking to highway 1 which was possibly flatter, if a little longer in distance, we came off it to take the quiet 57. It would involve some super steep hills but the lookout points over the surrounding shires were worth it. As we descended towards the town of Feilding a women pulled over in an old white 3 door and offered us a place to stay for the evening. It was a nice offer, she had cycle toured many moons ago in the south island, but it would make for an early stop on what was already a short day. We thanked her anyway, if we hadn’t just taken the time off in Turangi we may have taken the offer. You make decisions like this daily on tour, today we just felt like riding further.
Arriving in the town of Waikanakakia-something-beach, the road signs pointed towards camping, our maps had camping icons indicated but such a place that offered us a place to pitch was not forthcoming. After asking a few locals, the only place in town appeared to be called El Rancho. On arrival the office was unattended, the intercom put us in touch with somebody who told us we couldn’t tent camp despite the fact they had an empty motorcamp patch. After spending a good hour cycling around the towns near by we still had no joy finding accommodation.
It was getting late now but we trucked onto towards Parapurapapa-something-beach (sorry I can’t remember the full town names exactly without maps to hand, they are incredibly long and unpronounceable for a Teessider.) with light fading and rain and wind getting stronger (like gale force sideways rain stronger) we started to panic a little thinking this could be the first night all trip we had to unintentionally wild camp. A guy walking his dog ended up pointing us in the direction of the main street in town that had a YHA backpackers lodge, poyfect! Smarting from our luck we enjoyed a cosy night in the warmth as the elements battered the building situated right on the beach front.
After the storm had passed over during the night we were presented with a glorious bright morning outside the hostel. Breakfast in town over maps made it clear getting to Wellington, the New Zealand capital, would be tricky by bicycle as it becomes a tad inaccessible once the roads bottle neck around the bay. Yesterday evening I had noticed the passenger train-line begin, with small stations at each town. So we decided to save ourself a headache, avoiding several hours of stop start riding and map checking, we would ride down to a station then take the train for the last stretch into the urban area, hopping off conveniently at Wellington central. Jobs a good ‘un.
The first evening spent in Wellington, we quickly decided to book another night on top of the day we had planned to take here anyway. Head and shoulders above Auckland, its a great city. Steeped in creativity, character and scenery, also classed as New Zealand’s Craft Brew centre it was a hugely enjoyable few days. We took in the Te Papa Museum, botanical gardens, watched live music, drank incredi-brews and just generally appreciated the gentle, unique, happy vibe Wellington was giving us. From here we will be taking the Ferry across the Cook Strait (Whoop James Cook!) to the south island. The north has been a great kiwi introduction but as anybody who has researched or done a trip to NZ will know, everybody spends their time in the south island, so greatly anticipating what else is waiting for us. P.s Thanks to Laura Jaime Hanson for the North Island visitor guide!