The North Island


Sunday, March 6 : Picton to Wellington

A cool, breezy day, but a smooth crossing. (Tailwind, fortunately) Windy in Wellington. Lots of other bikers on ferry. Two American couples, one from Nebraska.

The ONLY exit from ferry terminal in Wellington is onto the motorway. Extremely bicycle-hostile city. But there are four trains per day to Masterton, cheap. I'm out of here tomorrow!

Have a nice visit with Wilbert, ZL2BSJ, the ZL2K CW contest operator I ran into on Internet. He's from the Netherlands, 5 years in NZ, an electronics engineer with the Dept. of Fisheries. Came to NZ right out of college. Does interesting work with sonar and acoustics. Wilbert makes the most of Wellington's famous winds--he's a real wind surfing enthusiast. We drive to a couple Wellington viewpoints, and have pizza for dinner.

"Downtown Backpacker's" isn't bad, for $20. Scuzzy old hotel, of course. Bar is even open late on Sunday night! I just hope there isn't an earthquake tonight! (Nearby government buildings are all being rebuilt because they don't meet earthquake safety standards.)

Monday, March 7 : Wellington to Masterton (train)

Train was no problem, only $15 with bike. 1 PM train was nearly empty, including baggage car for bike. A really painless way to get out of Wellington.

Masterton is a nice town of about 20,000. Lots of good stores, parks, nice motor camp. City traffic not bad, except on main road. Excellent bike shop, even has a good 27 inch tire, and owner gives me $8 credit for the cheap tire I bought in Wellington.

Weather partly cloudy, windy. High about 24. "Southwest Change" on the way. Very windy in Masterton in the evening. SW wind tomorrow would be welcome. Roadside camp likely tomorrow night.

Tuesday, March 8 : Masterton to Weber 118/2262 km

A stormy night, nice to be in a cabin. Cold SW wind and rain, lots of lightning elsewhere. Rain stops about 9 AM, then turns sunny, but windy and cool. 13 C early, maybe 18 in the afternoon. SW wind very strong early, diminishes in the afternoon. A great tailwind, finally!

Highway 52 is a great road, maybe the best in NZ so far. Sealed except for 20 km stretch from 2 km south of Tiraumea to Pongaroa. Virtually no traffic. One moderate climb on gravel stretch, otherwise quite gentle. (Tailwind helps, of course.)

Lots of erosion and overgrazing all the way from Masterton. Not a lot of sheep--most must be up higher. Still, the grass doesn't look good. May be dry, too.

Map shows lots of good cycling roads around Masterton. No wonder it supports a good bike shop!

A farmer with a huge truck offers me a ride about 8 km from Weber to "town". I suppose he meant Dannevirke. Where are these guys when there's a headwind? I'm having such a good time cruising with the wind, I don't even stop when he pulls over, then feel guilty. It probably took him a liter of fuel to get that big truck going again.

There's a good store in Pongaroa. Pub in Weber no longer is a hotel, but the proprietors let me camp out back in the cows/sheep paddock. Watch your step after dark! Pub/farm apparently run by a pakeha man (Brian, lots of missing teeth) and a Maori woman, with a bunch of kids. Strange operation, doesn't look too prosperous. Friendly people, though.

The crowd in the pub sounds like all local farmers. Lots of talk of land, planting trees, etc.

Wednesday, March 9 : Weber to Waipukurau 88/2349 km

A quiet night, just a few cows braying. Plus the rooster two hours before sunrise, of course.

A cool day, strong southerlies, a few brief showers. Nice tailwind. I'm sure glad I'm not going south. High about 18.

First part of route quite hilly, though no long climbs. About 5 km of bad gravel, otherwise sealed. Little traffic until north of Wallingford, then gradually increases. Lots of trucks last 20 km.

Pubs at Wimbledon, Wanstead. Hotel at Poranahau still has rooms. (Called "Motel".)

More sheep and cattle country. Little dairy farming or crops. Farmer in Waipukurau says he rotates peas and grazing every 5 years.

Nice motor camp in Waipukurau, with cabins for $18.

Thursday, March 10 : Waipukurau to Napier 80/2430 km

Aptly named, no doubt (signpost for Ugly Hill)

Another day of cool SW winds, some showers, moving very fast. Sky clears while rain from last shower is just reaching the ground. Another good day to be going north.

Traffic heavy as expected to Waipawa, then very quiet to Havelock North. Back roads via Clive not bad. Roads parallel to Hwy 2 fairly quiet into Napier. No major climbs.

Napier a fairly nice city. Lots of traffic, but not as bad as Nelson. Kids biking on busy streets everywhere. Streets lined with palms, though weather isn't very tropical right now.

Kennedy motor camp is nice, but pricey -- $10 tent site. One other cyclist there, the typical German cyclist, with a huge, heavy tent and very large load.

Friday, March 11 : Napier to Wairoa (bus)

Yet another day of cool SW winds. Southerlies seem to finally be dying out.

In the morning in Napier I go to Marineland show (dolphins, seals, etc.). Napier was completely rebuilt in Art Deco style after the 1931 earthquake, but it is getting pretty diluted now. Nice park near center, with lots of tall palms.

Take the 1:35 Intercity bus to Wairoa. Grouchy bus driver. Hwy 2 would have been terrible biking, with terrible traffic. (About 360/hr 20 km from Napier.) Lots of big trucks.

Wairoa has very nice motor camp, right on the river. $7 tent site. Fairly quiet. Friendly proprietor puts my bike in his garage, tells me the story about the American cyclist who had everything except his money belt stolen while sitting in a hot spring. (I seem to be following the guy, since I keep hearing the same story everywhere.)

Wairoa has good stores, etc., but looks poor.

Saturday, March 12 : Wairoa to Gisborne 106/2540 km

Walroa to Gisborne

A cool night, but fine day. Some afternoon clouds. 25 degrees in Gisborne at 2 PM, but cooler in hills.

Nice route, very little traffic. 4 km gravel stretch. Pub at Tiniroto (open Sat.), store at Waerengaokuri (closed weekends). Steady climb from Tiniroto to top of Gentle Annie Hill (360 m). Grades not too steep. Nice downhill to Gisborne, but easterlies in late afternoon. All in all, a very nice ride. Looks a lot greener after Wairoa, compared to south of Napier. Cattle and sheep country, looks fairly prosperous.

Break a spoke about 55 km from Gisborne. (My first in 20 years of biking!) Breaks on a smooth, moderate downhill. Ride 15 km trying to find a farmer with a wrench, but houses all seem to be deserted today. Sort of like an old Twilight Zone episode. Finally find someone at home, at the top of a steep hill up driveway. I take their newspaper up for them, and find whole bunch of people having a Saturday cookout, typical friendly Kiwis. All the men and boys enjoy watching me replace the spoke, then one of them insists on pumping up the tire for me. I lose about half an hour, but the wheel is fairly true. Now I need another spare spoke!

Hardly any sprawl coming into Gisborne from the southwest. Corn, grapes, etc., right up to town. Not much traffic, either. Might not be a bad town. Light traffic near center on Sat. night.

Nice motor camp, right near beach. Surf may even drown out the traffic noise.

Sunday, March 13 : Gisborne to Tolaga Bay 62/2602 km

Get a late start from Gisborne. NE wind comes up, quite strong and persistent. Mostly sunny, about 23, cool sea breeze.

More sprawl to the north of Gisborne. Quite a bit of weekend traffic, but few trucks. A few modest climbs, nothing big. Nice views of coast.

Motor camp at Tolaga Bay is about 3 km north of town. Quiet, but a bit run down. Nice beach, no bugs. A couple small stores in town. I ask the Maori woman who manages the camp to sell me some dish soap, she fills my little bottle, won't accept any money, and gives me some sweet corn. Also in the camp are a middle-aged German couple cycling, plus a young couple, a Maori woman and a Black Englishman.

Monday, March 14 : Tolaga Bay to Te Araroa 126/2728 km

Cloudy most of the day. Starts out cold and wet with dew, but eventually warms up to about 22. Light north wind in the morning, stronger in the afternoon.

Lots of hills, but none long. One 270 meter summit marked. Sort of like the driftless area. Traffic moderate. Not too bad, but not that great, either. Some native bush on hillsides, no doubt second growth.

Lots of Maoris in this area, but they don't seem threatening at all. Lots of old cars, though. Maori drivers aren't any worse than the Pakehas.

Nice motor camp east of Te Araroa, 6 km east of Hicks Bay. Nice tent sites. Water has to be boiled. Have to get past a bull in a pasture on trail to beach. (No "Beware of Bull" signs!) Other campers include a German couple touring by bike with two small kids, and an Australian from Perth.

Tuesday, March 15 : Te Araroa Motor Camp to Te Kaha 87/2815 km

A mild night. Dark clouds all day, but no rain until just after arriving at Te Kaha. Temperature 21-22.

Lots of up an down, but no major climbs. Strong north wind, not often a big problem. I seem to be getting in better shape for hills, but it wouldn't hurt to lose another 5 kg.

Te Kaha motor camp sort of a ripoff. Cheapest cabin is $46, so I'm tenting in the rain for $8.50. Camp store closes at 5:30. Looks like it might rain all night, sure would be nice not to have to pack up in the rain. Motor camp at Whanarna Bay, about 15 km east, looked quite nice.

Wednesday, March 16 : Te Kaha to Opotiki 69/2884 km

Rain stopped before midnight. Clear in the morning, but wet. Cloudy again by 10 AM, then mostly cloudy all day. NE wind, light. Humid, about 23. Thunderstorms in the evening, with lots of lightning. Still, a big improvement over March 16, 1989, when I rode 80 km to Invercargill into a gale with rain and sleet.

There's a store about 1 km west of Te Kaha, 3.4 km west of motor camp. Store in Omaio.

Nice ride. Hills, but not bad. Summit marked 218 m probably highest. Definitely not 734 m, as per Ringer's book.

Opotiki seems a nice town. Just the right size: small, little traffic, all the essential businesses. Information office very helpful finding bus connection to Tirau. Very nice motor camp right in town, with a special deal of $15 for caravan. (Good thing, too, with very heavy rain in the evening.) Nice bike shop, get my new spare spokes. Young guy working in bike shop has been to Utah several times. (LDS?)

Thursday, March 17 : Opotiki to Tirau (bus); Tirau to Okoroire 8/2892 km

Big thunderstorms last night, nice to have a roof. Lots of sun today. Mild, about 23. West wind, strong in the afternoon. Clear, cool evening.

Friendly bus driver, having a rough day after first bus broke down before Opotiki. Lake Rotorua is dropping fast, after earthquake in '89. Rotoiti is high, though. Lots of development and congestion in Rotorua. Would have been a very bad route for biking. Bus driver tells me the milk tanker system originated in Waikato around 1950. (I'm sure glad we don't have these huge double tankers on all our biking roads in Wisconsin, though.)

Stores not great in Tirau, but adequate. Very nice campground at Okoroire. Very basic, but OK. Run by hotel, which has rooms and cabins. Hot springs and pools near campground for a fee, but didn't try them.

A big St. Patrick's Day crowd at the hotel bar, local farming folks. Almost half Maori, but the crowd seems completely integrated. There may be more prejudice on the South Island. There's no place to sit in the bar, but some of the locals offer me some food, and I join them for a bit. There's a phone in the bar, but it's so noisy I go outside and use the radio to contact my radio friend in Hamilton.

Friday, March 18 : Okoroire to Matangi 71/2963 km

A beautiful day. Mostly sunny, 25 degrees, NNE wind. Thunderstorms in the evening.

Lots of traffic to Matamata, then fairly quiet. No big hills.

I stay with Blue (ZL1BMS) and Anita Simmonds. (I had one very brief radio contact with Blue a couple months ago, and he invited me to stop by.) Anita is Dutch, but she and most of her family have been in NZ a long time. They have a daughter working in Malaysia, a son on a farm in Waikato, and a 12 year old son at home. There's a big mob tonight for Blue's birthday party. Four year old twin girls say I talk just like they do on Sesame Street. Lots of people speaking Dutch.

Saturday, March 19 : Hamilton

Showers and cool. Do some shopping downtown, then meet Jonathan in the afternoon. (I got to know him through the bicycling group on Internet.) He gives me a tour of the University of Waikato campus, where he went to school, then we go out for a Mexican dinner. Jonathan and his girlfriend, Nicky, are getting married in a couple weeks, and are very busy with preparations.

Sunday, March 20 : Hamilton Day Trip 102/3086 km

Strong south wind. High about 21, mostly sunny. Nice day.

Jonathan sends me out with the "Dey Street" cyclists, assuring me they don't ride nearly as fast as the racing crowd he rides with. (Jonathan is a serious racer.) All riding light, unladen bikes, while I have my heavy touring bike, with fenders, fat tires, handlebar bag, and backpack on rack. I manage to stay with them for about 30 km, then drop back and do the rest of the ride alone, through Pirongia and Te Awamutu.. About 20 riders in the group, one woman. Lots of racing talk, but most aren't really racers. Lots of "working class" cyclists here. One is a panelbeater, another an electrician apprentice.

Nice municipal motor camp in Hamilton. Cabin for $15.

Monday, March 21 : Hamilton to Waihi 96/3182 km

A cool, sunny day, strong SSW wind. Easy going most of the way. High about 17. Rain last night.

Route to Paeroa the usual farm roads--some busy, some fairly quiet. Paeroa to Waihi through gorge scenic, but very busy, with decent shoulder about half the time.

See two cyclists going towards Hamilton. That's all.

Nice motor camp in Waihi. A bit scuzzy, but only $10 for cabin with stove, sink, fridge. Quiet. (Jonathan says Paeroa motor camp is terrible.) Lots of businesses in Waihi and Paeroa. Waihi right up against hills, though lots of traffic goes through town.

Trying to make arrangements for arriving in Auckland, I find the cheapest hotel downtown is Abby's, at $79. Trying to contact Speedlink to get bike box delivered took several calls, as apparently another courier serves Auckland. (The number Speedlink in Christchurch gave me turned out to be NZ Post! Strange.)

There's news of more flooding on the South Island, in the Omarama area, where I was about 6 weeks ago. Hope my luck holds out!

Tuesday, March 22 : Waihi to Cook's Beach 100/3282 km

Waihi turns out to be the site of a big open-pit gold mine. PR video running in information center is really disgusting, promising jobs, restoration, etc. All for 150 jobs in a town of over 3,000.

Another cool day, partly cloudy. High about 20, south or east wind.

Traffic tolerable, but busy. Lots of logging trucks.

Pass a Swiss couple on bicycles a couple times. Heavily loaded, very slow. Even carrying a cooler. Sure makes my 19 kg look light! They've been in NZ over 3 months.

Outside Cook's Beach, I pass a golf course full of grazing sheep, with the greens fenced off. Only in New Zealand!

Motor camp in Cook's Beach is quiet, if a bit weird. Long walk to toilets, hodge-podge of strange buildings. Poor store in town.

Wednesday, March 23 : Cook's Beach to Papa Aroha 53/3335 km

Coromandel Peninsula

Yet another sunny, cool day. Wind has shifted to due west, strong at sunset. High about 20.

Quite a bit of traffic on 309 road across the peninsula. Very narrow, gravel. Hard surface, though, would be bad if wet. 300 meter climb not bad, but I miss the tea room at the top. (No sign.)

Coromandel has two poor food stores. Town water isn't safe to drink.

There's some second-growth bush inland, but it's all cleared near the coasts. Small kauri grove near road.

Lots of traffic north out of Coromandel. Must be to a major resort area. Climbs not bad, though. Sealed at least to Papa Aroha.

Poor motor camp at Papa Aroha. Probably should have gone on to Amodeo Bay. Mostly permanent summer caravans and flats. A few apparently "permanent" residents. Another strange motor camp. Really poor kitchen, but clean.

Thursday, March 24 : Papa Aroha to Fletcher's Bay 50/3385

Some showers today, fast moving. Hard, cold rain, but only lasts a few minutes, then long dry period. Some sun, about 20 degrees. Strong west wind. Dry later in the afternoon.

Very good gravel road. Some steep climbs, but not too bad. Narrow road, hard to pass. Good surface, though.

Mostly farms. Cattle, sheep, horses grazing right at Fletcher's Bay campsite. Port Jackson campsite looks nice, right along beach, but more exposed.

Rear tire goes flat at lunch. Multiple punctures, probably from riding it 100 meters or so before I realized it was flat. Still haven't got all the holes patched. The spare spoke is a bit long, but that isn't the problem.

Kiwi in a mini-van stops to talk, right in the middle of the road going the other way. A retired guy from around Te Annau. He rode over Haast Pass on a bike in the 30's, before there was a road!

Nice cafe, decent store in Colville. Seems to be a sort of a center of "spiritualism"--Hindu, meditation, etc. Good pastry in cafe, though.

Backpacker hostel at Fletcher's Bay. Seems to be sort of run by Department of Conservation--warden runs the campsite, too. (I stay in the campsite.) 4-bunk rooms in hostel, a few people there. The warden also runs a boat to Stony Bay--$15/person, $30 minimum. Bikes aren't allowed on walking track, but a farm track runs more or less parallel. Farm track is pretty steep and rough, though.

Camp neighbors, Kiwis, offer to share some fish they've caught. They have plenty, and it looks good, but I don't really have a way to cook it. Besides, I want to use up all that food I carried in here.

Campsite not too organized. No real campsites, just a small valley. No place to camp on the beach-- rocks. Find a decent spot, just before a really noisy, obnoxious family moves in right next to the first spot I considered.

Nice views of the coast, mainland, Great Barrier Island, other islands. Not very clear, though.

Not much of NZ is wild, especially here in the north. But, of course, neither is Wisconsin. I've sort of been using a double standard, that's for sure.

Friday, March 25 : Fletcher's Bay to Stony Bay (walking track); Stony Bay to Waikawau 23/3408 km

Along the track, N. Island Sutro

A sunny, cool day, light north wind. High about 17. Cool even in the sun with breeze.

Put the bike and gear on warden's boat for $30 ($18 US), well worth it! Nice walking track, though first part is paved with cow manure.

Road to Waikawau is very hilly. Road is OK, except for patches of new gravel--very coarse, sharp, terrible stuff. Mud where road has been watered to keep down dust.

Waikawau campground is slated for big development, but not done yet. Colville store delivers groceries via post bus. Warden logs in campers on a computer, which he has to boot up just for me. Nice beach, but not a very exciting sunset today.

Saturday, March 26 : Waikawau to Coromandel 31/3439 km

Cool last night, but early sun in the morning. A mostly sunny day, high about 20. South wind picked up late in the morning, sometimes quite strong.

Two very steep climbs. Last one to Coromandel is about 400 meters. Road very rough, but hard. A bit of traffic near Coromandel.

Lots of nice second-growth bush inland again. But lots of land for sale, signs of development, etc.

Nice motor camp at north edge of town. Cabins for $26, tent sites $9. Good tent sites, pretty empty now.

Coromandel plans $1 million water treatment plant. Sounds like they're using untreated surface water now. It gets dirty after rain. Some locals drink it, though.

All the little "towns" up here are collections of vacation homes. Lots of them at Kennedy Bay, Port Charles, etc.

There's an article in the paper about South Africans having trouble adapting to life in NZ! Some are even going back. "Standards of housing", etc. Must be a bit to egalitarian for them here.

Sunday, March 27 : Coromandel to Thames 70/3509 km

Cool and sunny again. Light winds, south early, then north. High about 21.

Two big climbs on route, larger one 206 meters. (It took 22.5 minutes to climb it.) Only a couple short steep sections. A fair amount of weekend traffic, but few trucks.

More second-growth bush just inland. Not so much grazing here.

Tea rooms at Tapu, Te Puru open Sunday. Thames is a major center, but quiet Sunday. Motor camp is 4 km north of center.

Auckland Central Backpacker's has rooms for $22. Probably should have had bike box sent there!

Monday, March 28 : Thames to Auckland (bus)

Cloudy morning, sunny afternoon, about 20 degrees.

Auckland Central Backpacker's is pretty bad. $37 for double, no single available. I'm glad I didn't send the bike box here, as it probably would have been lost.

I meet Mike, ZL1BVB, and his wife Kathleen. Back home in December and January I often ran into Mike on CW (Morse code) on 40 meters. Mike and Kathleen both came from Hong Kong long ago. Kathleen has been here long enough to have a genuine Kiwi accent. (Her family came when she was 7.) They have a son in his third year of college. Mike "retired"--took redundancy from a government job, made some investments. (Which explains why he's on the radio every morning at 2 AM.) Kathleen teaches school-- English for Asian high school students.

Sunday, March 29 : Auckland

Mike and I drive around in the morning to Devonport, etc. Whitebait fishermen on dock--water in harbor must still be pretty clean. Whitebait numbers are declining, though.

There are at least two huge Chinese food stores in Auckland--must be a big Chinese community. (Mike seems to know all of them!) We go to a very authentic Chinese restaurant for lunch. Lots of food, Mike insists on paying. Chinese operate "Full Duplex": Everyone talks at once!

Dinner is with Mike, Kathleen, and their friend "Stan". (Most Chinese here seem to have adopted English names.) Stan looks around 30, came from Hong Kong 1.5 years ago. He runs a food stand, making his own meat pies. Much discussion about the fact that his only baking oven is broken, and he can't get parts to repair it for a while. One of the two heaters still works, so he's still baking pies. If the second one burns out, he'll be out of the pie business for a while. Much discussion in Chinese, Kathleen keeps trying to switch them back to English, so I can understand something. After dinner, Kathleen's sister Joan drops me off on their way to a movie with a third woman, the first non-Chinese person I've met with Mike or Kathleen.


On to Australia .