The flight from SFO to AKL was only 12 hours, it always surprises me how quickly you can reach a completely different part of the world. Arriving 5:30am New Zealand time, it was still dark and wet outside. Riding bikes from Auckland airport to hostel was out of the question, so we squared some transportation. Waking up in San Fran 6am one morning not really sleeping on the plane and now it was 6am again, we were tasked with staying awake another full day too avoid a bad sleep pattern. It was tough work and we both flaked out around 8pm.
We spent a few quiet days around Auckland and particularly one of the inner city suburbs, Ponsonby, getting over jet lag. After so many months in the USA it almost felt like a return to home. The streets, cars, buildings looked similar and people are just generally a little British in nature. One thing we immediately miss however is our American IPA’s, NZ beer selection leaves a lot to be desired, however this is countered by the return of all my favourite cadbury’s chocolate bars and use of the term “cheers mate” is again acceptable to use without somebody giving me a look of bewilderment. Not to forget sarcasm can be used mid-conversation without acknowledgement or explanation, just like home.
One thing I love about being on a loaded bike is that EVERYBODY talks to you. Having spent a few days back as plain clothed Ryan it felt good to be lycra clad and hitting the road again. Nobody was all that talkative in the hostel until I was stood in reception bags,bike and all ready to leave, then I chatted with each passing backpacker. I was particularly pleased to have one girl ask excitedly if I was from Newcastle, close enough and happy in the knowledge my accent is intact. I left pumping tyres until outside the Hostel only to find my rear was somehow punctured, start time delayed 30 minutes.
Navigating away from Auckland was simple, hit the bay and follow the bike path for 10 miles. The towns gradually became smaller and more rural until we were out in the sticks, again with a decidedly British feel and smell! Cows, sheep and manure mmmm. However, just as you think the landscape looks familiar I have quickly learned New Zealand will throw you a curveball. Sheep grazing on a field one corner will turn into a temperate rainforest scene the next and then to a thermal pool or geyser. It makes for fascinating riding, the variety has me excited to see what else is out there.
After camping at Orere point we set out early along the coastline, what struck me is that along a bay which would normally be built up with million dollar homes, there were fields of cattle grazing, lucky meepers. It was a short fairly uneventful ride to the town of Paeroa where the camping option listed on our map was difficult to find. At the information centre the only camping they knew of was an overnight parking area on the edge of the public domain. Not strictly for tents we pitched up regardless. Some local kids, up past their bedtime, came over inquisitively and threw questions at me like “Do you have grass in England?” and “What rugby team do you support?”. Funny lads, who enjoyed the pictures of USA on my camera and insisted on striking aggressive poses for their commemorative snap.
Apparently it rained in the night, being at the base of a small hill the water had ran down underneath our tents. It managed to seep through my bottom sheet and create a small puddle INSIDE my humble abode. Wet tents are nasty to roll and heavy to carry, yuck. We devoured breakfast in town then hit the road on a super fresh, ever-brightening morning, its springtime in New Zealand at the moment, by switching hemispheres we have skipped Autumn and Winter, not sure how I feel about that yet. Is it possible to miss scraping the ice of my car on those dark frosty mornings, driving with one hand under my shirt until the heating kicks in…?
The roads are fairly narrow in NZ (and yes for a certain somebody they use ZED here not ZEE …) with limited to no shoulder, but a country the size of the UK, with only around 4.5 million people, traffic is always light. We took a pitstop in Te Aroha by the public domain, their name for town parks. It was a great recreation area, very well kept, with spa pools harnessing the local geothermal activity, bbq areas and a short walk trail up into the hillside which we spent some time on.
Continuing on mainly back roads and treated to some spectacular waterfalls as we rode alongside a small mountain range, we arrived at Okorie Hot Springs Hotel which was part of a golf course complex but most importantly had a small camping area. The kiwi running the place informed us of a $5 roast on offer in the lounge area from 6pm. Too good to miss, we joined all the other locals in what was a popular spot. It had the feeling of a working mens club back home, only rugby on the TV, great people watching. Next to the camp field there was a river flowing down toward the hot pool area which was closed for the evening but the walking track beside it took you into a magical forest area where I plodded around for a good hour, amazing and free!
I had this song in my head…