We departed Wellington on the bank holiday Monday after Easter, heading up the west coast to Wanganui….oh joy! Three days of main roads, busy, busy roads, nothing to see apart from a few hills away to our right, it wasn’t exactly fun. Added to that we left heading into a strong headwind, we didn’t even get very far on the first day, making it more challenging to find a place to camp. We passed Queen Elizabeth Park, a National Park of some sort or other. I expected it to be small but Christine thought the road might head all the way down to the coast, so we went in. We found a nice little spot tucked away in the trees, so long as nobody spotted us before 6pm when the park closed we would be alright. We were right, nobody did spot us, only the Park Rangers early the following morning who didn’t even seem to realise we were heading past them and out of the park just after it had opened. There was little to amuse us, we had plenty of time for me to educate Christine in all the facts about Norwich City Football Club and the dire position they find themselves in at the moment. I had talked about Norwich City before in the past, “We are playing Sheffield Wednesday next” I had informed her recently “Oh” she said “what was the score?”, “I don’t know yet do I” I told her but she just replied “Well you have been on the internet, didn’t you see the result?”. “No I didn’t. Despite the internet being a mighty useful tool, at the moment it still can only give the results after the match has been played”. “But you have played them, you told me they played on Wednesday”. Ah! I could now see the problem, a little problem of a slight misunderstanding, a hazard of cycling with a German, but she tries hard, bless her, she now can tell me that we lost to Birmingham Wednesday, but we managed to beat Watfield. So three days of not very exciting cycling, not a good introduction to the north island having had such good scenery on the south island. I only managed to take one photo in those 3 days (photo). It rather reminded us of the first days heading south from Christchurch, though without the interest of cycling in a new and different country. We passed through the town of Bulls where everything was a play on word, for example items were marked as “affordabull”, the social club was “sociabull”, but we also managed to find a bakery that didn’t sell any bread, which was laughabull! The weather was noticeably better than on the south island. When we camped it was much warmer in the evenings and everything left outside during the night was dry in the morning, gone was the overnight dampness. We were back to cycling in sort sleeves and it was even a bit too hot when we sat in the sun to have lunch, though we did pass a couple of cyclists heading the other way covered from head to foot in warm weather gear, perhaps they had just arrived from Australia! On the night we camped just beyond Wanganui there were really strange noises just outside the tent from some sort of animal. I went outside to see what it was but didn’t even see anything scurrying off.
At last we pulled off the main road of to a tiny little road that ran along side a river though it involved far more climbing than we had expected, but most of it was single track road and hardly any traffic. We were now back into good scenery and enjoying it. We stopped for a break just where the road was cut into the side of a hill and about 5m above us in the bank were a mass of mussel shells. There were also other shells lower down that we could reach, they just crumbled in our hands, it was impossible to tell just how long they had been there. Today we seemed to be on a bit of a world tour with the first place of note that we passed through being Athens, it was much smaller than I remembered! For a change we also had a few sights to see down this little back road as we pulled off into the tiny village of Korinti where there was a Marae, the traditional Maori meeting places complete with lovely carvings, though sadly the buildings were all shut. Christine’s skills at locating any tree that has fruit continues to be first class. As I wandered around I had no idea where she had gone until she came back we her hands full of apples. The next stop was a little restored mill that you could go in, nobody was there and it was free to enter, just a little note on the door asking you to shut it when you left. We then passed through London, it wasn’t even marked on my map. Heading out of “suburbia” our slow progress became even slower as the road turned to gravel, in fact it was gravel all the way through to Jerusalem, where we visited the church with a lovely Maori carved wooden alter with a face in the centre that look almost real. Heading out of Jerusalem the road got even worse, the gravel became large, thick and loose, added to that we were once again climbing. Progress was oh so slow, it required 100% concentration just to remain upright and point the bike in vaguely the right direction. We both almost fell at times, it was so tricky, especially on the bends were the steep cambers drew you into the inside of the bend. We finally made it to Pipiriki. There was nothing there, but what a lovely place name. I spotted a camper van coming the other way so I asked him for road information “Have you come from the direction of National Park?“ I asked, National Park being the name of a small town, I knew he had, it was the other route into Pipiriki, “Is the road gravel?“ I asked the elderly man”, “No” he replied, “Really! Is it sealed the rest of the way then?“. “Yes” he told me. Christine wanted to retrace a few hundred metres after we had filled up on water but I made a misjudgement thinking that possibilities lay ahead, they didn’t. We started a long climb, we left the village fields behind, they were replaced by steep sided rain forest and after just 1km we were back on gravel though I knew it wouldn’t last, the old guy had told me there was none. We continued to climb on gravel for about another 4km, it was getting late and cold, things were looking bad when all of a sudden there was an open rough grassy patch, we had finally found home for the night, the only problem was that we were to be camping just 10m away from about 50 bee hives, though when I checked I saw very few bees. We were only about 20m away from the road too, Christine wasn’t overly happy about that “Don’t worry, nothing has passed us for ages, it’s almost dark, if 6 vehicles pass us by the time we leave tomorrow morning I will be amazed”. That should do the trick, that will calm her down I though, but within 5 minutes 7 vehicles had passed!
It was a cold damp night, we were away reasonably early, the road continued climbing, the road continued to be gravel. We knew we had a lot of climbing to do, it was going to be another slow day. It took us about an hour to cover the first 7km, all up hill on gravel, but we had at least resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be gravel all the way through to Raetihi, then all of a sudden we turned a bend and could hardly believe what we saw in front of us….tarmac. The whole time we had been on a single track road, the last 30k had been on gravel but now it was sealed and what is more it had two wide lanes and no traffic. I suspect it was wide to that point to cater for the logging trucks that we kept seeing signs for, not that we saw any evidence of them. After a bit more climbing we turned another bend to be presented with an amazing vista complete with a snow capped volcano, wonderful stuff. The rolling road took us to Raetihi where we changed our plans again. We had long ago decided we would never make it to Turangi, so had planned to reach National Park, but with the improved road we decided to aim for half way between where there were apparently some log cabins we could stay in. We were back on a quiet main road, still climbing gently, a long straight ahead of us with just odd vehicles passing us when a police car pulled up alongside “It’s probably not advisable to cycle side by side here aye” he said “Don’t worry I am keeping an eye on the traffic” I told him and off he went. We stopped for lunch at a little roadside shelter next to an old farm, the shelter was made from odd bits of railroad kit. Before long we were joined by the owner, quite a character. He was retired though looked very young to me, he told us of his house in Australia, a yacht at Auckland, his small fleet of 6 or 7 Series 1 Land Rovers, and the yacht just behind us. This yacht had a bit of history, it had apparently been around the world twice and had been used to bring in 2 Frenchman to Auckland who were involved in sabotaging the Rainbow Warrior. The road through to National Park was pretty easy going, we reached there by about 15:20. According to my map it was another 21km to where we were aiming for. The road continued to head slightly upwards topping out at 910m with a couple of nice Volcanoes to look at, one of which was disappearing under a blanket if cloud. There was a spare mountain too, Tongariro, and the main reason we would be stopping for a day, a day off the bikes and on foot up the mountain. It was very popular walking country, confirmed by every other vehicle being shuttle buses for the walkers. Christine was ready to finish, she had had enough, for her it just seemed to drag on, not helped by my new map as it turned out to be 25k and not 21. The only other section of the map we had used was also way out, another map not to be trusted.
So the following morning we too were waiting at 7am for one of those shuttle buses to take us to the start of the walk, the Tongariro Crossing, a walk across the Tongariro National Park. I had wanted to at least do a little walking here in New Zealand and it is supposed to be the best one day walk and one of the best one day walks in the world. I had also been inspired by Jackie to do this one. You may have seen Jacs comments on this blog, she was here last year but was not able to do the walk due to bad weather. If my crap memory serves me correctly she waited about 3 days and still the weather didn’t improve. So little me thought that if a keen walker thought it worth waiting 3 days to try and do the walk then it must be a good one. We were alarmed by the arrival of a big bus, and what is more it was full, we were even more alarmed by being told to get on the bus behind, also full, standing room only. This really set the theme for the day. We were one of the first to set off, but we walked nice and leisurely so before long we were being overtaken, people came past in a never ending flow. Every now and then we stopped to let everybody past so we could walk and talk in peace, though in reality it was just a constant flow, rather like the mass of people that head up Ben Nevis. To make matters worse the path had been cleared all of the way and in places there were sections of board walks. We reached the Devils Staircase, and that is exactly what it was, a staircase, lots and lots of steps. I have to say though that the scenery was spectacular with a lovely clear view of the active volcanoes (photo). We went off on one of the quieter side tracks for lunch with a fantastic 360 degree view, half of which was above the clouds. The toughest part of the walk came next, heading down a scree slope to the emerald lakes at the bottom. We had taken eggs for lunch, had they gone off or was I just farting? We soon realised it was the sulphur emissions for the surface of the mountain, poo….what a smell! After the first steep bit heading down was much gentler though less spectacular as we dipped into the cloud, then out the other side. There was still a constant flow of people. We took about 6 ½ hours to complete the 19km walk with about 1000m of ascent and at no time had there ever been a gap in the flow of people that would have been long enough to have a discreet pee. As we arrived at the car park our bus was just starting to move, we got on and before we could sit down we were off, perfect timing. So Jacs, a fantastic walk, but if you are not one for hoards of people then you shouldn’t be too sorry to have missed it, it took the edge off it for us. And another thing, why do people seem to want photos of themselves jumping in the air. A Frenchman asked me to take a photo of him as he leapt across in front of me, he set the camera up as he wanted and I took the shots, “You jumped too high” I told him, but when he looked at the results his torso was missing, I had only caught his legs “Oh no, that’s great” he told me….it takes all sorts!
We were away reasonably early the following morning but not before we had consumed an enormous bowl of porridge. We had cooked in the kitchen using their pans, it was deceptively much bigger than my camp pots, so we rather over did it, but don’t worry, none went to waste I can assure you. We were thanking our lucky stars that we had completed the walk the previous day, it was now very overcast. Now, I can cycle day in day out without my legs ever hurting me, but after just one days walking they are feeling very fragile, especially the calves, I had to go uphill very gently, no getting out of the saddle, oh no. We descended down to Turangi were did had a quick supermarket stop. Once outside again Christine was piling a load of sweets onto my bar bag, she had just bought a 1kg of mixed sweets, “That’s enough, that’s enough! I can‘t eat all those” I told her, but then felt a bit silly when she said “It’s ok they are for both of us”. It took me just a couple of minutes to load the food into my panniers, then when I looked around I couldn’t believe my eyes, “Where have all the sweets gone, you have even eaten the one I had bitten in half!”, all I got back was “Well, it’s not my fault if you don’t eat fast enough”. The white chocolate problem seems to be mainly cured having nominated myself as the “chocolate monitor”. Now there are only the odd problems when I leave it around by mistake and come back to find a screwed up wrapper. We rode alongside Lake Taupo and stopped off at a little plain looking church with a small Marae outside, but inside we were in for a surprise, it was an absolute delight, beautifully decorated in Maori style with wall panels and patterned painting. Outside was the graveyard, it was another surprise and really interesting. Lying on top of the grave were articles from the persons life, everyday items such as watches, hats and unopened bottles of beer. There was even a child’s grave covered in toys. We made good progress, I guess we had a bit of a tailwind. We passed through Taupo where there were no end of motels, it felt like a holiday resort, probably for slightly older clientele. Christine is a bit of a worrier at times. She was amazed at all the motels but became really concerned when I told her there would be even more in Rotorua, “How on earth are we going to find a place to stay?” she asked, “Well they surely wont all be full” I told her. I knew that is not what she meant, but she is the first person I have travelled with that worries that there is too much of a selection and we wont be able to decide. We carried on towards Broadlands on the back road, though it was still pretty busy. We made our way of down a side road only to find houses and little farms, but as time was running out we ended up camping without permission on a bit of farmland that seemed to be a holding area for cattle prior to being loaded onto trucks.
The following morning it rained. We had been aiming for an early start, but delayed it as long as possible. As soon as the rain stopped we packed up and were on the move by 08:30, but this morning the legs were hurting even more from our little one day hike! We didn’t get far before it started raining again. The first stop was after about an hour at Butcher’s Pool, a natural hot spring. There was nobody about so we decided to have a skinny dip. We had only been there about 15 minutes when a mini bus turned up, from Taupo school….great! Thankfully only five adults piled out and were soon in the pool, but we didn’t want to stay there too long, there was no other option but to bare my fat arse to the world. It was still raining when we set off again, though we were still well warmed through from the thermal pool, it gave me a wonderful warm feeling as I cycled along for about an hour. It felt really strange to be cycling along in cold rain yet feel so warm, wonderful. The next stop was the thermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapo, probably the most popular thermal reserve in the area. It started to rain even harder as we arrived, but it did have the opposite effect to what we had experienced on the walk a couple of days ago, the place was deserted. We wandered around past sulphur caves, hot pools of all sort of colours, large green lakes and the highlight of the Champagne Pool (photo). The Devil’s Pool right as the end was an unbelievable shade of green, it looked more like paint. Just after we set off we called it at some mud pools, these were just great to watch as the stuff glooped and bubbled away squirting mud all around. Back on the main road we still had the rain, though now we had logging lorries that came way too close for comfort through a section of road works. The last 10k into Rotorua were down a nice gradual descent, a great finish to the day. As we headed into town every building was a motel, so we waited until we were close to the centre, then we pulled off down a side street. From there we split up and checked out the places in pairs. Having checked about 10 we made our decision, though as soon as we were in Christine was very uncomfortable with the noise level despite us being on a side street, though she never complained and lived with it very well. My first job to do on arrival was check out the Norwich result, we lost 3-2 away to Ipswich, so with just 2 games to go we are still in the bottom 3 and staring at relegation. Christine’s first job was to head out to the supermarket and buy the food for dinner, she cooked up wonderful 3 course dinner, even better than the first class food she prepares on the camp stove.
Rotorua is a reasonable place to wander around. Today has been fantastic weather despite it forecast to rain. We visited the old spa baths that in their day would have been at the luxury end of the market, though looking around the place and at the old photos they looked more like torture rooms.
I have just discovered that the last few uploads of photos from Australia didn’t complete the process properly and haven’t been on display, so if you are at a loss, there are about another 130 photos there covering Melbourne to Adelaide heading along the Great Ocean Road.