North Island New Zealand
- North Island New Zealand
- Route 1-Pine Harbor to Thames
- Route 2-Coromandel Peninsula-Thames to Te Aroha
- New Zealand Favorite Scenic Bicycling Touring Routes
- New Zealand Favorite Scenic Bicycle Touring Routes
- Route 3-Te Aroha-Rotorua-Opotiki-145 miles
- Whakairo – the art of carving
- Route 4-East Cape-Opotiki to Gisborne-210 miles
Bicycling North Island New Zealand
Finding Rental bikes for 5 months cycling
On our last trip to New Zealand in 2001, we took our bikes as free luggage on the airlines, but recently the airlines had come up with a charge of $200 per bike, per flight for transporting our bicycles. That came to about $1,000 for the round trip. We started looking at renting or buying bikes in New Zealand. We found Bruce O’Halloran at http://www.adventure-auckland.co.nz/adventurecycles/contact.html
Bruce had a long term program that was more to our needs than other shops we had researched. He would sell us bikes and all equipment and then purchase it all back in up to 6 months at 50% of our purchase price.
He would sell us bikes and all equipment and then purchase it all back in up to 6 months at 50% of our purchase price.
Bruce picked us up at our backpackers and we started the process of picking out bikes. As it turns out his inventory was more older bikes than new, but what he lacked in inventory he made up with enthusiasm in finding a product that would work for us at an economical price. The shop at first appeared to resemble something one would find somewhere between South America, Cuba and Vietnam. The first bike I looked at was a Specialized bike that appeared to be at least 20 years old and left outdoors for at least the last 10. Perhaps I had stressed economical more than quality in my e-mails. We quickly got on the right track with some new bikes. After a test ride, we thought they would be a good choice.
Then our progress slowed. Two young Frenchmen came to the shop. They wanted to purchase 2 old bikes that they hoped would last a few months ride. They wanted to leave in a couple of hours and they were the type of clients one must service and collect from as quickly as possible. As they could not afford panniers, they planned to ride with their backpacks which were upwards of 50 lbs. in weight. They planned to attach grocery bags and other packs wherever necessary. They were certainly a work in progress and we were sorry that we could not stay long enough to see them load up and leave.
We had made some decisions with the help of Bruce. He started to put the bikes together, but the day came to an end quickly with the task unfinished. As we had not really slept for more than 35 hours, we decided to come back the next day and complete the arrangement. Since the shop had mysteriously closed that next day, we took one more day to get everything put together at his shop.
Bruce picked us up in the afternoon. The bikes were nearly ready, he said. We were looking forward to a lengthy test ride to make certain we liked the bikes. But they were not put together. We waited all afternoon, wondering how it could take so long to put on the racks and finish things up. Then Bruce showed us the trailer, which was not a Bob’s (a good quality dependable brand we had used before and requested he supply). It was a Phillips, smaller and lighter and of unknown quality to us. Bruce said that was all he could get. He could order us a Bob’s if we insisted, but it would probably take another week. Why didn’t he order the Bob’s before we arrived? we queried. He thought the Phillips would work just as well. Regardless, it was too late to change. We were not going to wait a week.
By the time everything was ready, it was almost dark. In our rush to get back to our lodging through the city streets without lights, we did not get our test ride. It proved to be a big mistake. It proved to be a big mistake.
It proved to be a big mistake.
Getting Out of Auckland
We met Pierre and Isabel in the Uenuku Lodge. They were planning on cycling for a year throughout New Zealand. Since we were ready to go, we decided to start out together. Pierre is a professional photographer. He carried a 30 pound pack on his back with cameras and lenses, in addition to pulling a very heavy trailer. Isabel had to pull all the camping gear and clothes in her trailer, as well as carry a pack on her back. I have never seen such weight. It was helpful that Pierre is 26 and Isabel 21. I would never have been able to pull that much.
Pierre and Isabel had found a ferry that went from Auckland to Pine Harbor, just 18 kilometers down the coast. It skirted most of the city and landed in the countryside just a mile off the coastal road we wanted to ride. It seemed a fun alternative to riding through Auckland traffic or taking the commuter train south out of the city. The ride was 45 minutes and cost only $10.
Though the ferry was only 2 kilometers from Uenuku Lodge, we cycled a long route up and around to shop for exotic groceries for the trip. One of the joys of Auckland is the wondrous variety of ethnic foods available. Pierre led us to a Chinese owned grocery store. As many signs were in Chinese characters as in English. We chose from Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, East Indian, Pakistani staples. We stuffed the panniers to the brim with curry, satay, sweet & sour, and chili sauces to pour on the rice noodles, basmati rice, and couscous. We hoped to buy fresh vegetables from the local dairies as we traveled. We did not plan on buying meat as these little shops were very expensive and most only carried sliced bacon. Nutella, a spread made from Hazelnut butter that tasted exactly like chocolate would satisfy our sweet tooth. Granola bars dipped into the high calorie butter was lunch. Powdered milk and Muesli chocked full of fruit was breakfast, along with tasty herbal teas.
Mike carried all the food in two front panniers that when fully loaded with 7 days of meals for two weighed about 25 pounds He pulled the trailer as well. All the camping gear, plus a month supply of my emphysema medicine in glass bottles, and the 2 net book computers, the heavy duty lock and cable, and basic bike tools weighed about 85 pounds. To finish off the load, he had the guide books and maps in a waterproof front pannier that we brought with us.
I carried only 2 rear panniers with our clothing. Dictated by the size of the bags, we each had two sets of shirts, shorts, and long underwear. Rain coat and pants, wool hat, riding gloves and a spare pair of tennis shoes, 4 pair underpants and 3 pair of socks was it. Mike bought a lightweight used down sweater which scrunches up really small. I had to settle for a bulkier pile shirt for warmth. This would be our designer wear for six months. I also had a waterproof Pelican box where I carried our Canon Digital Rebel Xsi and Canon 17-40 wide angle lens.
From the Chinese grocery, we wound down the hill on the famous Queen Street, a whole world of shopping, internet cafes and takeaways in one long stretch of pavement that ended at the picturesque ferry harbor. We made the 3.30 boat.
Three bikes with trailers and a fourth with bulky panniers filled the tiny back deck of the ferry. The captain must have seen such a sight many times before. He took all the baggage and equipment in stride, coaxing the door to the sitting area closed after the bikes crowded in. The ferry took off like a jet plane, leaving a wake of froth and the Auckland city scape behind.
Pine Harbor is a gentleman’s yacht haven. Hundreds of masts pierce the sky. Glistening white paint is the color of choice for the sleek hulls. The scene would make a challenging puzzle to piece together. The ferry landed in front of the posh restaurant & bar. Close to Auckland by car, yet surrounded by rolling green pastures with white dots of grazing sheep, Pine Harbor blended two lifestyles into one homogeneous experience.
We wrestled the trailers and gear up the steep ramp to shore. Reassembled, we four took our first pedal strokes on this wonderful adventure around New Zealand by bicycle.
Bicycling North Island New Zealand
Route 1-Pine Harbor to Thames
4 Regional Parks & a Hot Springs
North Island is famous for steep hills. We met them right away. Grades of 15 to 20 percent stand in line waiting for our legs to muscle up. Until that time, we will often refer to our bikes as “push bikes”. The scenery, however, is endless vistas of rugged coastline, white sand beaches, island hideaways off shore, rolling kodachrome green farmlands dotted with hundreds of sheep, steep mountains rising straight up along our right flank, and twisting, winding roads that offer stunning views around every corner.
Holiday camp parks, DOC campgrounds, Regional Parks and Reserves, Backpackers will provide our sleeping quarters for the next six months. The Holiday Parks are like private campgrounds in the USA. They are more expensive than the government Doc camps, but have more amenities such as hot showers, kitchens and spacious sites. We noticed right away, however, that only Backpacker lodging offered picnic tables. Motorists carry their own folding tables. As cyclists, we were often stuck without, or scrounged around for the one table available for 30 sites.
Food stores are minimalist and the prices in them are much higher than any supermarkets we are able to find in the bigger towns. Dairy shops, takeaways, small cafes reminiscent of the 1950’s USA are the norm. We are lucky to find meat of any kind. Rice and instant noodles, and our favorite calorie builder, Nutella ( Hazelnut butter that tastes just like chocolate) become our staples. Milk and cheese, abundantly produced in New Zealand, are more expensive than imported foods from Australia. Our diet takes on a budget look.
Every hill was steep, but not more than 3 kilometers. The toughest hill came after beautiful Kawakawa Bay. We had to rest every hundred yards. Mike had bought a large beer; I bought a 2 liter coke and the added food for dinner which all went on Mike’s trailer. The weight, steep hill and distance all combined to weaken the trailer axle, which may have been already loose. As Mike turned up the steepest part of the inside corner, the trailer rolled on its side. Within a few seconds, after dismounting, his rear wheel came off, still attached to the trailer. We hobbled the jumbled mess across the road to safety. Luckily, we were able to straighten the axle enough and patch it all together to get to our destination; Orere Point Holiday Park.
Both Orere Point and Tapakanga Parks had excellent walking paths and beach fronts to explore. Tapakanga’s beautiful campground on the beach had recently closed to motor homes and caravans so it especially wonderful for bicycles and tents. We spent the rest of the day hiking the long, high trail that meanders through the open grazing land.
To the south and just a few miles short of our day’s destination at Miranda Hot Springs is one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the world and the Miranda Shorebird Center. It is the winter destination for many of the migratory birds from Alaska and Siberia. In September when many of these species migrate from the north, they make the trip nonstop because the tailwinds are strong. It is much easier than the trip in the spring when headwinds force stopovers. Just like us! The center has many displays and expositions. There are nature trails leading the visitor through the habitat. Visitors come from around the world and accommodations are available.
Miranda Hot Springs is a delightful place to stay. It is a holiday park that is designed as a quality resort. The hot springs are superbly done and the complex includes tennis courts and many other first rate facilities including a large, modern kitchen.
We highly recommend a soak in the lovely hot springs pools.
It is 20 miles from Miranda Hot Springs to Thames. We soon reached the bottom of the Firth of Thames and join with highway 25 headed east. The traffic is much heavier now as we are on a secondary highway with commercial traffic from Auckland to the east coast. The road does have a wide shoulder and there are views of the sea.
The road is nearly flat. The wind blowing from the south has now changed to the north, which effectively gives us a side wind at best. It makes for a slow trip. We see a sign for a tea room 5 miles ahead and make plans for a stop. It has become customary to make one stop during the day to experience something other than rice and noodles and expose ourselves to some of the local culture.
Bicycling North Island New Zealand
Route 2-Coromandel Peninsula-Thames to Te Aroha
Bicycling the Coromandel Peninsula is an adventure. We planned to cycle the complete loop all the way up to the top of the peninsula. It is paved at first, but there are steep hills and the route turns to tough gravel after Colville, a one store town of inexplicable unique character, and dead ends into a single track walkway from Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay.
Crazy bikers, including us, have been known to push and ride across this most scenically spectacular track.
It is a jewel of New Zealand and this is our second time around.
Stage 1-Thames to Colville-60 miles paved
We head north along the Coromandel Peninsula from the historic gold mining town of Thames.
The coastline of this peninsula is inarguably one of the most scenic areas of our entire trip.
The road hugs the coast and meanders in and out of the many picturesque bays and inlets. There are many residences, summer cabins, parks and beaches for the first 30 kilometers from Thames.
From Thames, it is paved, mostly flat cycling.
On our second day of the circuit, after the first 15 kilometers of leisurely pedaling, we started up the first of 3 big hills with grades of over 10%. Mike quickly realized the mistake of adding 20 lbs of less expensive supermarket foods we purchased in Thames. He couldn’t maintain momentum with the added weight. Once off the bike near the bottom, he had no choice but to push to the top; beautiful views but he just couldn’t enjoy it as much as the last time 10 years ago when we cycled without camping gear. There was a viewpoint and then the short decent to another 10% grade and another push. The last hill was the steepest and longest. Together, we pushed his heavy load to the top. It was like pushing through molasses.
The 6 kilometers of hills resulted in approximately 5 kilometers of pushing.
The rest of the day’s ride continues to be extremely picturesque, and blessedly flat, all the way to Coromandel.
Coromandel is very artsy if not somewhat hippy. The main street is lined with a long list of in places to have tea or a brew or two, which we happily enjoyed.
We ride out of town on a scenic coastal road that dead ends in Long Bay Caravan Park. We find a site just steps from the curving bay. There is even a picnic table.
When leaving Coromandel, for cyclists who do not want to bicycle the gravel roads, they can continue to follow paved Hwy 25 east to Whangapoua. We will ride that way after we finish the Coromandel upper circuit. Today, we ride through Coromandel and turn off on the Colville Road to Papa Aroha and beyond.
At mile 7.3, we met a mile long climb with up to 16% grades to test our resolve. Our resolve wilted when after a speedy coast to the bottom, another big one stared at us face to face. The coastal scenery was as spectacular as usual, but somehow at 4:30 pm, contemplating another big hill in front of us, the travel day came to an abrupt end. Mike wearied from pedaling against too much friction; the still bent axle was locking up his wheels.
A caravan park on the bay at the bottom of the hill must have been put there by the good fairies.
A Kiwi cyclist, 71 year old William who lived just up the road from Papa Aroha, heard about our bike problems.
Kiwi hospitality turned the past two difficult days into good times and reminded us again of why we came back to New Zealand.
With the bikes performing well, and our stomachs full of coconut cookies, it was an easy and pleasurable ride on the last of the pavement to Colville. Each mile, each curve, each hill climbed and descended brought more wild and remote vistas of the rugged coastline we followed.
The Colville store is a community run health food store: Organic meats, produce, milk eggs, grains, flour, nuts and seeds; you name it, they have it. We bought our first BBQ steak, fresh sweet potatoes and broccoli for our first non-dehydrated meal since Thames. It would be the last until we returned here in four more days.
Stage 2-Colville to Fletcher Bay-20 miles gravel
Our bikes had rigid forks. We did not have knobby tires. We knew the gravel would be tough without them, but the remainder of our rides in New Zealand would be on pavement, so we went with 1.5 inch wide road tires. The gravel road starts just after Colville. We slowed our speed and let air out of the tires to accommodate the unstable surface. The road stayed very rough, jarring us unmercifully until the DOC camp at Fantail Bay when the surface improved and the hill began.
A 700 foot climb in 2 miles, on gravel, pulling luggage redeemed itself with spectacular coastal views.
The DOC campgrounds vary in amenities. They are similar in purpose to our National Forest Campgrounds: provide public camping at reasonable prices. They were free in 2001. Now they charge $9.50 per person. Some have toilets, others do not. One is advised to boil the water. There are rarely picnic tables, unless they have a kitchen area. Sights are unmarked; just drive onto the grassy areas.
Port Jackson campground has just been upgraded with a splendid kitchen area.
Though it was only 7 kilometers more to Fletcher Bay, it was all tallied into one giant hill. The coastal scenery exploded into rugged shorelines, waves crashing onto rocky cliffs, green pastures flowing down to the edges. The Pohutukawa trees were blooming along the roads edge; traffic was two cars for the day.
None of the existing cycling books covered this glorious ride.
Stage 3-The Coromandel Walkway-Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay-6 miles
The Coromandel Walkway is a walking trail around the rough coastal region on the very northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula. It crosses through sheep grazing land, dives deep into Poley Bay, hangs on cliff edges above a pounding sea, and winds through thick tropical forest on its 6 mile course from Fletcher to Stony Bay. At the beginning of the walkway, a posted sign says bicycles can use the trail, but are advised not to carry luggage. Therein lays the dilemma. A cyclist doing the Coromandel circuit is likely to have gear: often a lot of bulky, heavy gear.
The very first obstacle, along with six more on the trail, is a style to lift over.
It is a hard push out of Poley Bay.
The grassy road is difficult to cycle with luggage.
A style crossing with a view!
Yes, there are sections one can cycle!
There is a wooden bench at the halfway point. It’s at the top of the biggest climb from the Fletcher Bay side. The trail is about 2 feet wide before the cliff drops to the sea. Headlands stretch their fingers out into the turquoise blue waves. We see 180 degrees of magic spread out and below, as if floating above the world, embraced by a silent kite.
In 2001, we did not carry camping gear across the walkway which made cycling the steep track easier.
Approaching the final summit.
New Zealand Favorite Scenic Bicycling Touring Routes
We move on. Now, the trail is wider, more gently descending; we can ride all the way to Stony Bay, but for dismounting for rough creek crossings. The forest is thick, brimming with a variety of tropical vegetation. There are fewer vistas as the forest is thick. The silence is broken only by bird song. We are tired, and glad to be cruising downhill.
Stony Bay is deeply indented, embraced by headlands smothered in trees. A small river cuts through the cobble shoreline to join the salty sea. A DOC campground spreads out along the shoreline, as do the several hundred sheep that are “cutting the grass”. We hunt for a spot that is dung free. Such a prospect was unpromising. When we approached the camp manager to ask if there was a place to camp where the sheep were not grazing, she laughed and spread the word to her co-workers. “We are New Zealanders. A little sheep dung doesn’t bother us! Just kick it away!”
The dung was too fresh to kick away. Since there were no picnic tables, and we must sit in the dung to cook our meal, I wanted to ask if there were any sheep in her dining room, but I refrained.
It was a long, difficult gravel road back to Colville. The hills were very steep, long, and the gravel thicker than on the other side. We pushed again. Aside from Port Charles, a beautiful bay with summer beach cottages, the scenery was less spectacular, but still rewarding. We made it back to the Colville Store, purchased a fresh meal for dinner and camped at the White Star Farm.
The next day, we bicycled back to Coromandel. We settled into the Coromandel Tidewater Backpackers by end of day, thoroughly exhausted from nine days of non-stop cycling through giant hills. Mike reminded me that to build our conditioning, we were supposed to take every other day off for the first six weeks. Oh well. We not only survived, we were happy.
The Upper Coromandel fulfilled all our adventurous needs in splendid fashion.
Stage 4-The paved Peninsula-Coromandel to Te Aroha-125 miles
We have not finished touring the Coromandel Peninsula yet.
The lower east coast from Whitianga south to Te Aroha is blessed with incredible scenery and history.
The first big challenge is to get from Coromandel to Whitianga. The Whangapoua hill rises from sea level to 1600 feet in 2 miles
(about a 15 percent grade)
Noel, our host at the Tidewater Tourist Park, gave us a ride to the top of Whangapoua hill. If he had not, we would still probably be there! Thank you Noel. In addition to operating the Backpackers with his energetic wife Maria, they kept up a farm and ran the Admiralty Hotel in Coromandel. Driving us to the top of the hill was the kind of hospitality they extended to all their guests.
It was not all downhill after that summit. The Coromandel was not yet ready to relinquish its reputation for the steepest hills in North Island. There are actually four more significant climbs before reaching Whitianga.
The sun chose to shine in full splendor that day, melting our tired resolve into the hot pavement. We stumbled into Whitianga thoroughly deprived of energy. We found an adequate caravan park in town, just short of the bay. It was all we could do to put up camp, drink a beer and watch the sun go down.
The highway SH 25 leaves Whitianga and curves its way to Tairua, bypassing all the sights that tourists come to see. We take a 3 minute free ferry ride across the Whitianga River and pedal the undulating road into history. Kupe and Captain Cook landed in Mercury Bay, each claiming New Zealand for his people. The stunning scenery of Cooks Beach, Cathedral Cove, and Hot Water Beach draw modern explorers to these splendid shores. Hire kayaks, fishing boats, tour boats and cruise the scenic coast. Hike the coast; sit in hot pools, or on picture perfect sandy beaches. It’s a commercial wonderland in the height of summer, and still remote enough before and after the holiday hordes.
On to Tairua. The Caravan park has been closed and is about to be turned into a parking lot. The city council decided that parking was more important than camping. We end up tenting at the Tairua Backpackers where we stayed 10 years ago. It has a wonderful deck overlooking the sea.
Tairua felt like a Kiwi town and that we had left the commercialization and tourist atmosphere of Hahei behind. The one main street showcased what makes New Zealand so charming: small mom and pop shops are the backbone of the economy; they sell what residents need, not tourist trinkets. We also discovered our first New World Supermarket, where we could purchase an amazing variety of world foods. The town is surrounded by stunning New Zealand scenery.
Riding from Tairua to Whangamata, the first 8 miles take ½ hour and the second 8 miles take 1 ½ hours but that is the nature of riding in New Zealand. The first 8 miles is rolling terrain and the second 8 miles includes 11% to 16% of steep uphill with a precipitously steep descent. The remaining miles are more rolling terrain.
To our surprise there is an arts and music festival in progress as we arrive. It was like stepping back to the 1960’s or 1970’s where the crowds would cheer the local performers no matter the quality of the music.
Anne went for something to eat, while Mike rested on furniture for sale. A local gentleman stopped by and introduced himself and asked where he was from in the states. He explained that he had traveled extensively in the states and was treated very well by the people that he had met. After a somewhat lengthy conversation, he invited us to stay at his cottage on the bay. He was going to Auckland and we could use the place for several days if we liked. We decided, why not and stopped by his place. We had a beer and a political and current events discussion and then Gavin told us he must leave for Auckland and that we should enjoy the place while he was gone.
It isn’t everyday in our lives that a perfect stranger offers his house for us to use after a short conversation.
We head off from Whangamata to Waihi looking for the hill of the day about mile 9. We feel good in that we climb that hill in short order to find out that this was only a preliminary to the real event that arrives a short distance later. It is 718 feet gain in 2.5 miles, with grades up to 15%.
The challenge here is not the grade but the logging trucks.
Regrettably, there is no alternative road to take through this rather dangerous section. One might consider a lift or a bus.
After these big hills, the highway widens and flattens out. We are able to enjoy the superb scenery.
We cruise out of Waihi with the destination set for Te Aroha. This area is also heavy with traffic, so we are searching for the rails for trails route that parallels the highway. We look for the old railway station that marks the start of an abandoned railroad line turned into a hiking biking path through the Karangahake River George. In 4 miles, we spot the station; it has been turned into a mini museum and coffee shop.
The start of the trail is just beyond. It is a work in progress at this time, especially for the first mile. The trail is hard to follow due to historical machinery and other artifacts left over from the active railroad days. After this area, the tracks have been removed and a gravel road continues. The surface is fair for biking.
After crossing the Karangahake River by bridge, there is a long RR tunnel. The dim lights in the tunnel and the wet, mounding asphalt in the center that drops off steeply to the sides felt unsafe to us so we walked.
We crossed the river just before Paeroa and head south through lush farm land on Hwy 26, with a very distinct steep mountain range to the east.
Another bike path has since been constructed to Te Aroha called the Hauraki Rail Trail. Find it starting at the junction of Hwy 25 and 26. The trails are now linked together so one can ride on bike paths all the way from Waihi to Te Aroha.
Bicycling North Island New Zealand
Route 3-Te Aroha-Rotorua-Opotiki-145 miles
Inland North Island New Zealand offers a variety of cycling opportunities of a totally different nature from the coastal areas. Geologically, it is geothermal, volcanic. Mount Ruapehu, the tallest North Island peak at 9176 feet, is an active volcano.
Volcanoes dot the landscape like chocolate drops.
In 2010, we cycled to Lake Taupo which is the largest lake in the country and was formed by the biggest eruption ever in the history of the world. The Pacific plate and the Indo-Australian Plate continue subduction and influence the mountainous ranges and geothermal activity of today. About 14,000 earthquakes shake the island every year.
On this trip, we decided to cycle to the famous Rotorua Geothermal area.
Okoroire Golf Club is barely visible on the map. We were looking for a campground mid-way between Te Aroha and Rotorua. It is off the main roads, nestled in the quiet countryside surrounded by farmland. Just what we wanted.
The beautiful hotel on the hill above the golf course was the original Way Station for the stagecoach from Paeroa to Rotorua.
It was very tempting to stay the next day and play a round of golf with our evening friends; the play all day fare was $13.00 per person.
It seems our bike trips are like an animal migration: Once started it is difficult to stop before reaching some indefinable destination.
The Okoroire Road that passes through the golf course is a little used country lane lined with large old deciduous trees planted at the time the stage coach traveled this route.
We joined the main road Hwy 28 for a very short distance. From 28, we transferred onto a rural route (Tapapa Road) that was very quiet and scenic. Tapapa road then merged into the main Highway 5 to Rotorua.
There was considerable traffic but there was a wide shoulder on Hwy 5.
We spotted another scenic back road (Oturoa ) that descended all the way to Rotorua Lake. From there, we had no choice but to co-exist with the traffic through town.
Anne had been trying to contact Byrdie for days to check on the possibility of staying at her house in Rotorua.
Byrdie is a member of Warm Showers an organization that offers free lodging to cyclists that pass through their towns.
She was leaving for the evening for a Christmas party but left us with 2 homemade pizzas to eat and explicit directions to make ourselves at home. A hot shower, two beers, two pizzas later we rolled into a soft, warm, dry bed and slept away a portion of our exhaustion.
It still amazes me that a person, member of Warm Showers or not, would leave two strangers alone in their home.
Byrdie is 32. She is a General Practitioner who works 2 days a week at the hospital. She is a live wire: Unmarried and independent. She grew up in Rotorua and loves the town for all it has to offer: the Redwood Forest, The Whaka Overlook walk, the surrounding lakes. She says most Kiwis don’t like Rotorua because it smells and is too commercial. They choose Lake Taupo instead.
Mountain bike trails spread across this forest, miles and miles of all difficulty levels. Bikers around the world flock to the area just for this.
We cycled around the quiet, bicycle paths that lead through the thermal areas. There are many paths throughout Rotorua and local maps are available at the visitor center.
The bike paths followed along the lake shore, to the Rotorua Bath House, the most photographed building in New Zealand. A Tudor style English mansion complete with rose gardens and bowling lawns. Even the players wore traditional white.
…and finished our tour at the stunning Maori meeting house.
and many more.
Byrdie showed us her view of Rotorua. Her favorite place is the Redwood Forest, a small area of just a few acres that were planted as a trial many years ago to see what trees would do well in New Zealand. Now they are giants, 4 feet across, and protected in their own little corner of the world for all to enjoy.
We hiked up through the forest to the Whaka overlook and had great views of Rotorua.
Rotorua is synonomus with Maori culture
According to Maori mythology, Rotorua’s Te Arawa people are the guardians of the thermal region of New Zealand. This right came from the early explorations of Ngatoroirangi, a famous Tohunga (spiritual leader) from the Arawa canoe. Rotorua’s spouting hot geysers, mud pools and volcanic fire are said to be the result of Ngatoroirangi’s actions.
Ngatoroirangi left Maketu on the coast, the site of the Te Arawa canoe landing spot, and travelled inland in a south-westerly direction. While resting on the eastern side of Lake Taupo one day, the clouds parted and Ngatoroirangi caught sight of the gleaming beauty of a mountain away to the south. Overwhelmed by the mountain’s majesty, he ached to climb to the summit.
Stage 3-Rotorua to Lake Rotoma-33 miles
The region around Rotorua is often described as the Lakes District of North Island. Most of the lakes have formed due to volcanic activity. The region is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, the world’s most active area of explosive volcanic activity in geologically recent time. It is through these lakes that we cycled back to coastal New Zealand. Historically, it is also rich in Maori tradition and history.
It is Sunday morning and the traffic is light on an otherwise busy highway. A wide sidewalk offers refuge from heavy traffic days. The route is mostly level for the first 8 miles to the junction of highways 30 & 33. We head east on Hwy 30 towards Whakatane where we climb the only real hill for the day. It is 2 miles long and gains 262 feet. This has to be considered one of our easiest days except for the very rough paving. The hills are relatively easy but the rough paved surfaces really destroy the crotch. There are several picturesque picnic stops along the way. We visited each one for some photographs and a bit of leisurely sun bathing.
In order, we pass by lakes Rotoiti, Rotoehu, areas that are rich with holiday batches and camping parks. We are heading for Lake Rotoma Holiday Park that Byrdy told us about as there is a very pleasant hot springs nearby.
The Holiday Park is part of a Maori Community Center. We have the luck of camping next to the community dining area. Anne immediately heads off to the Waitangi Soda Springs, just a few hundred yards further out Manawhe Road.
A true hidden treasure, these hot springs are built into the natural river area with the cattails, ducks and birds still in residence.
At camp, we are fortunate enough to be in very close proximity to Maori Sunday services.
The services are long and very loud, with shouts of confession and renewed spirit.
Oh well, We are going to sleep.
That’s what we had thought. About this time a group of older children return and start singing, all at once and all different tunes. This kept up much longer than we could enjoy the tunes but there was nothing we could do; it was their place and their Sunday night.
Stage 4-Lake Rotoma to Whakatane-30 miles
Traffic is much lighter here than on the way to Rotorua. Around the lake we go on the flat and then up the hill but an easy grade and another short up, but these would not even qualify as hills on the Coromandel. After the hills, there is a big down where we lose all of the elevation of the plateau and gradually reach sea level. An alternate route through Kawerau on Hwy 34 has the same downhill, but we did not go that way. Perhaps the surface is better; we just didn’t know.
At just about hungry time, we spot a fruit stand on the side of the road at Awakeri and stop.
The apples and raspberries are especially juicy. The berries are sweeter and have more flavor than any we can remember tasting
As we get closer to the coast, the traffic increases and the quality of the road surface on the shoulder turns to crap. This is the ugliest paving we have ever ridden on. Anne says, that each stone has its individual profile. It’s like the entire surface is made up of little piles of rocks. This part of the days ride would like to be forgotten. A couple of kilometers of this and we are ready to give our bikes away.
Finally we make it to Whakatane, never so glad to get to any town.
We just about give up on the information office as it is on the bay at the far end of town.
The Karibu is an interesting business as it has several housing buildings and promotes business by housing long term young foreign agricultural workers. This is done through cooperation with the businesses hiring the workers.
Stephen from Italy, works picking strawberries for $100 per day.
Stage 6-Ohope Beach to Opotiki-20 miles
Ohope Beach is several miles long; the road is just behind the houses that are on the beach. On the opposite side of the road is a couple of rows of houses and then the hillside raises up to a degree that roads and building would not be practical.
The hillside is covered densely with Pohutukawa trees. They are called the Christmas tree of New Zealand. At Christmas, the whole hillside will be red. After a couple of miles, the highway leaves the coast and gently raises inland.
For the most part, the road is gently rolling by New Zealand standards and is some of the smoothest paving we have encountered. The ride offers magnificent views and miles of empty beaches for the wandering soul to contemplate.
We stop to enjoy the intricate carving of a Maori Totem Pole at a small pullover along the road.
We ride to just 3 miles short of Opotiki to stay at our favorite Backpackers, Opotiki Beach House .
The community areas are huge and the view of the ocean very pleasant. We pitched our tent in the spacious yard, just behind the beach and enjoy the evening viewing the sea.
Tomorrow, we begin our journey around the East Cape. It is a favorite of ours; this will be the second time we will cycle this amazing route.
Bicycling North Island New Zealand
Route 4-East Cape-Opotiki to Gisborne-210 miles
Opotiki is the jumping off point for the East Cape. The eastern most point in New Zealand, and therefore the first piece of land to usher in the new day, is on the East Cape. Our ride begins in the north from the historic town of Opotiki and continues to the northeast and then south to Gisborne with a coastline highway for a distance about 210 miles. This road is in marginal repair and not of pristine condition as reported in some popular Lonely Planet publications and there are hills of significance to someone on a bicycle. The Cape is separated from the rest of the country on the southeast by Highway 2 that runs from Opotiki to Gisborne.
The East Cape is a very unique area. The ancestors of the majority Maori inhabitants were some of the first Maori to arrive on the Island over 1000 years ago. Many communities are made up of only a few families and of course most everyone in the community is related. The Maori in the Cape were more resistant to change than in other parts of the country and fought to keep the Europeans out.
Not much has changed here except for newer trucks.
The Cape for the bicyclist has much to offer. There is little traffic here of significance, especially if the logging trucks are not hauling at the time. The cars seem to drive a little slower here and perhaps with a little more caution. There are the Pohutukawa trees in full bloom through December. There is tranquility here that is difficult to duplicate in many other parts of the country.
Man has continued to have little impact in the East Cape and herein may lay one of the greatest attractions of this area.
The color of the water along the coast seems to magically change in brilliant hues of blue due to the depths of the water, sunlight and other factors in nature.
It is a treasure, a cycling paradise.
We headed for the caravan park at Te Kaha, about 9 miles distant.
The first hill took about an hour, then a detour where we had to drag our bikes over debris from a landslide.
Stage 1-Opotiki to Te Kaha-46 miles
We leave Opotiki planning to ride only 28 kilometers. We wanted to take it easy during this portion of our tour. The day was good and the ride through the farmland very peaceful; there is little traffic in this part of the world. This was spectacular cycling. The ocean is in site almost the entire route; the surrounding land is almost empty of civilization and structures.
There are several Maori Marae along the route to visit and photograph.
With nearly level terrain, we reach our destination, beautiful Hawai Bay in less than 2.5 hours.
Since it was such a nice day, we decided to keep going. Mike calculated 14 km to the next camping area at Omaio Bay. No big deal, right! But the campground was closed. There was a sign that we had seen before. It was an official government sign stating no camping under any circumstances. So we moved on!
By the time we get to the caravan park, it is getting dark and we are trying to get the tent up. Now we are cold; the sweat from the ride has chilled our bodies. We are barely functioning due to exhaustion.
We eat, take a shower and Mike places the shampoo bottle in his clothes bag. Back at the tent, the clothes bag now becomes his pillow. In the morning, everything inside the clothes bag is filled with shampoo!
Stage 2-Te Kaha to Whanarua Bay-10 miles
This part of the coast is brilliant cycling. The road surface can be rough, and replenishing food is expensive, but there is so little traffic, and the coastal views are stimulating. It is worth taking as much time as possible to ride this section.
We have a favorite Backpackers from 10 years ago in Whanarua Bay where we want to spend the day.
The place is not advertised on the internet
We get an early start so we can spend time there.
The owner, Pehe, of our Backpackers is Maori. He built the entire structure piece by piece.
Stage 3: Whanarua Bay to Waihau Bay-12 miles
We loaded up and headed off to the northeast. There are too many wonderful stops along the East Cape route and we wanted to enjoy them all. It is hilly, but not killer. The coastal views are constantly off your left shoulder. We cross the mighty Raukokore River and start the longest climb which is only .50 miles long! That’s the kind of climb we can get behind!
It drops back down quickly where we sight the 100 year old Raukokori Anglican Church.
It is the most photographed sight on the East Cape.
We cruise into Waihau Bay Store for treats and an afternoon in the sun.
…before crossing the Whangaparaoa River (2) and heading inland.
It is hilly for the next 20 miles with views of open grasslands and the crossing of Wharekahika River (3).
Gradually, the road undulates its way back down to the coast and into Hicks Bay (4). There is a country store, a post office and a food takeaway. But, we are heading for Te Araroa Holiday Park (5) which is on the other side of the biggest climb for the day. It starts raining and the temperatures drop as we begin climbing. Funny, it rained 10 years ago in this exact same spot! It is an arduous climb; we are happy to reach the camp site before the downpour really gets fierce. We hold up for 2 more days of storm.
Stage 5-Te Araroa Holiday Park to Ruatoria-31 miles
On the agenda for today is to see the
largest Pohutukawa tree
Te Araroa is also the jumping off point to see the East Cape Lighthouse, the most eastern point in New Zealand and the place where the day begins for the entire world. But it is 13 miles one way on rough gravel so we decline the effort.
Today’s cycling will be challenging enough with three big hills to climb, about 1,600 feet of vertical to accomplish. It becomes even more difficult because of the headwinds. The first hill begins as soon as we leave Te Araroa.
It is a slow, arduous climb as the gradients are steep and the hills follow one after the other.
In Tikitiki, we visit the finest Maori church we have yet seen. It was built in 1924 as a war memorial to Maori soldiers who died in WWI. It is a masterful blend of European architecture and Maori art.
After descending the last steep hill, we are grateful for some flat. But, it is still a gradual uphill all the way to Ruatoria.
We know little of the town. We look for visitors information that is supposed to be located here but there is none to be found. We see the old pub that is charging $69 for a double room. The place looks as if it is falling down; we decide not to go in.
We keep on looking and find a police station and inquire there as to the possibility of camping somewhere in the town.
The officer asked if we would you like to camp here at the police station and we accepted with gratitude.
Stage 6-Ruatoria to Tokomaru Bay-24 miles
The ride today is especially tough,
Te Puia Springs was tempting. Perhaps we should stay there and enjoy the Hot Springs. The waters, like many hot springs, were considered medicinal…so curative that they built a hospital. The hotel was opened in 1935 and has since been renovated. Lodging was a bit beyond our budget, but we had the most delicious ice cream at the only store. We went on to Tokomaru Bay.
Tokomaru Bay is a tiny town with about 500 inhabitants. A freezing works was its main industry until closing in 1950. The remains of the historic building have deteriorated significantly as there has been no preservation. The remainder of the town is quiet and unassuming. There are no chic shops or cafes but a stroll along the beautiful bay is especially peaceful.
We camp at Footprints in the Sand Backpackers. For the first time we have completely separate facilities from the lodging guests. Since we are camping, our kitchen facilities are outside, protected by a wind wall on three sides. The green lawn was flat and soft for tenting.
Stage 7-Tokomaru Bay to Tolaga Bay-23 miles
One big hill 1.4 miles long as soon as you wake up! It may start off innocent enough, but near the top it’s up to 15% grade. It is all of the elevation for the day and affords amazing views.
The rest is a downhill cruise providing the ever present wind doesn’t make you fight for every inch. Which, of course, it did.
Cycling the flat should never be so difficult!
We arrived in Tolaga Bay shortly after 1:00. The wind was picking up even more and blowing whirlwinds. We stopped at the café at the Tolaga Bay Hotel on Cook Street for refreshments. The wind was now blowing advertisement signs down the street so we thought it might be a night to check into the hotel for a good night’s sleep and the chance to let someone else do the cooking.
There was a large screened in porch overlooking the neighborhood. It is an old style Inn with great ambiance and wonderful food.
In the cafe, we met two New Zealand cyclists…the first we had come across. All the cyclists we have met have been from Europe.
In 2001, our first New Zealand tour, the winds were calm in Tolaga Bay which gave us the opportunity to cycle to the longest wharf in New Zealand and to hike the promontory high above.
Hiking along the promontory above the wharf affords spectacular views.
Stage 8-Tolaga Bay to Gisborne-34 miles
There are 3 significant hills in about 15 miles of the ride. And today, the wind decided not to blow in a normal direction but instead, to blow directly in our face. On top of this, the paving was very ugly. The bike would bounce up and down as much as go forward; it was hard to keep from grinding teeth. The first 24 miles were inland with no sea views.
We found camping in Gisborne at the Show Grounds Holiday Park which is comparable to the county fairgrounds in the states. It was nearly deserted and had a very nice kitchen, lounge and bath facilities.
We end our cycling of the North Island here in Gisborne. Rain, rain, rain! The drought predicted for New Zealand has suddenly changed to a La Nina year. It has been raining in Gisborne where we spent three days waiting for it to ease.
We are not going to cycle from Gisborne down to Wellington.
Bikes were permitted on long distance buses as long as the handlebars were turned and the pedals removed. So, we took a bus to Wellington, not just because of the rain, but because the two lane, shoulder less highway had a well founded reputation for speeding, tailgating drivers.
We made a good choice. From our vantage point in the front row bus seat, we could see clearly how dangerous this particular route was for cyclists.
Seven hours later, we arrived in Wellington. Torrential rain cascaded like waterfalls. We took shelter in Downtown Backpackers, directly across the street from the bus station. The ferry terminal to Picton was kiddy corner to the backpackers. We did not see anything of Wellington. The rain pelted down all the next day as we crossed to South Island.
On to a new adventure! Our map of the South Island is covered with tantalizing routes that should take us at least two or more months to circumnavigate. South Island New Zealand
Get the profile and map details for all the routes on this page and more.
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