Hills That Keep Giving!

12 March 2020

Friday 6 March 20 – Waingaro to Ramarama – 86km

I mentioned recently that New Zealand is hilly and it was today that I think all the recent hill-climbing caught up with me. It was a lovely clear chilly day when we set out.  There’s definitely a whiff of Autumn in the air now even though the days are still pretty warm – mid-20s most of the time. The first 10km were undulating and then for just about the rest of the day we were toiling up and then whizzing down some fairly steep hills. But on the plus side at every turn there were some spectacular views reminiscent of the area around Hobbiton, even though once again the photos don’t really do it justice….

My shadow in the picture is proof that we are still cycling and not going by camper van like nearly everyone else in New Zealand!

The roads for the majority were quiet and it was a really lovely cycle, but for some reason I was really tired.  As we were cycling I worked out that the last time we really had a proper day off was in Greymouth at the end of January so it’s not surprising that I’m feeling a bit knackered. I suppose we did have some down time in Nelson, but that was also a while ago. Martina was feeling fine so I’m obviously carrying much more than her….!

We went through Pukekohe to pick up some provisions on our way to our campsite, which is within spitting distance of Auckland. The campsite we had booked is obviously popular with international visitors on their way to the airport so it was full of the usual assortment of people from around the globe (mainly Europe) that we have encountered all over New Zealand. What was different at this site is that because so many of them have finished their touring they had food that they didn’t know what to do with! They were leaving it in the camp kitchen, which meant there was a LOT of food left for the taking. One French girl in particular had a box that had, we reckon, about 100NZ$ of food in it and told us to take what we wanted! A few others had left food as well, so like the poor, impoverished, cyclists that we are we not only filled our food bags with what we could take with us, but also made a super evening meal complete with tinned fruit for desert…replacing all those calories from days of climbing hills!

We haven’t been this stuffed in ages! The picture below is what was left of the food after we’d been at it….

Though Auckland is our final destination on our journey, this time we are just passing through on our way to the northern part of North Island; the next time will be a week or so before we fly home. Speaking of which we have just booked somewhere to stay in the centre of Auckland for our last few days so that we can explore the city and celebrate/commiserate the end of our trip. It was a bit of a strange, rather finite, feeling that we had when we made the booking!

Saturday 7 March 20 – Ramarama to Mount Albert – 46km

Despite the fact that the main State Highway 1 was close to our campsite we both slept reasonably well and I definitely felt a bit more sprightly than I did waking up yesterday. Once again we made use of the food left by other campers and had probably the best breakfast we’ve had in a campsite yet!

We knew that the road into the outskirts of Auckland would be busy, but we didn’t find it too bad; perhaps it was because it was a Saturday and the traffic was going reasonably slow. Much of the time we were on bike paths that were painted on the roads, but every now and then they would just stop only to start again sometime down the line – a little haphazard, but any bike path is a good bike path, so we will take what we can.

We had a couple of coffee stops along the way and still managed to get to destination by 3pm. We were met by Ann and Michael, WarmShowers hosts, at their house in the leafy Mount Albert area of Auckland. After an initial chat about the world and bicycles they showed us to their ‘sleepout’ and we made ourselves at home. Unfortunately they were on babysitting duties and had to go at 5pm – leaving us in charge of their washing machine and cooker! We have certainly eaten well whilst we have been in New Zealand and tonight was another top meal of baked chicken breasts with smoked paprika (another acquisition from the campsite!) and an amazing salad left by Ann. Couple this with the fact that we’ve not been putting in as many kilometres as we did in other countries I have actually put some weight back on!

Sunday 8 March 20 – Mount Albert to Glorit – 73km

We’d initially planned to travel to Helensville, about 40km north of Auckland, where we could get a ferry north along the coast. But when we did a bit of research, we found out that the ferry north only goes at 4am and although we are early risers that’s still just a bit too early for us lifecyclers! We also found that accommodation, and specifically camping, is either very expensive or nonexistent in the Helensville area. But further north along the road-route, although the accommodation gets really sparse for a good 100km, we did manage to find a camping spot (on the front lawn in someone’s garden),  so that made the decision for us on which route to take. 

As we weren’t going to a proper campsite we were not really in any rush to leave Ann and Michael, so we had a leisurely breakfast and got to know them a bit more. It’s probable that, once back in Auckland, we will visit them again. We had the obligatory photo call…

…and left their great hospitality.  And with Michael leading us we easily got onto the bike path that runs along the side of State Highway 16, north west out of Auckland. Even though it was right next to the main road it wasn’t a bad ride as there was quite a bit to look at…

There were of course a few more hills to negotiate, which aren’t shown in this picture! As we left the suburbs we met a load of the Tour Aotearoa cyclists going south, some looking a bit confused as we appeared to be heading in the wrong direction – they obviously assumed we were part of the tour too!

There was a short stretch on the busy SH16 where there was no bike path but then we were able to turn north and get onto what we’d hoped would be a quieter road. Though it was quieter there was still a fair amount of traffic on it and the ever present hills just kept on coming. A further 20km up the road we were back onto the SH16, which luckily was much quieter by this point. Every time we got to the top of a hill we got some amazing views of the Kaipara Coast, which runs up the western side of this part of the North Island…

We made it to destination and though we’d only covered 73km we were both fairly knackered. Once again I think I was more tired than Martina, but either way we had an uneventful evening and were both in bed by 8:50pm and asleep minutes later!

Monday 9 March 20 – Glorit to Paparoa – 74km

Today was a tale of three roads…

We started back on the SH16 heading north along a lovely quiet highway with some more amazing views…

The hills continued in earnest and, as our legs were tired from the past few days, it was slow going. We then got to Wellstead where we stopped for a coffee and to watch a gazillion trucks and cars going by. We joined them and had an unpleasant 2 hours-or-so cycling the 28km alongside juggernauts and cars on the SH1, the unavoidable main road north. Luckily for us there was a hard shoulder for much of this section but, to be honest, it really wasn’t a nice ride. We then peeled off left and onto the much nicer SH12 towards Dargaville, our destination for tomorrow. And immediately it was like we had crossed a border into a new country where drivers were slower and much nicer and friendlier.  We stopped for our lunch in Maungaturoto which, on the sign entering the town, is billed as ‘A Real New Zealand Town’, which begs the question, are all the other ones fake??

Having looked at the weather forecast (rain storms) we’d booked a cabin at a campsite in Paparoa 27km further down the road. We got there just in time for the first few spots of rain to start…

There are more hills in the picture – you just can’t see them for the drizzly rain!

Our tent has now been in and out of its bag so many times and jiggled around on the back of my bike that it’s really starting to look very tired. The chances of it being anything close to waterproof is very slim, so we have now decided to be fair weather campers where possible from now on!

Once again we were pretty tired by the end of our ride, which isn’t a surprise really as since Whanganui (with a couple of exceptions) we have climbed 900 – 1200m every day over a distance of 70-90km. We had a talk about our immediate plans and have now decided to take a couple of proper days off in Dargaville, where we will be tomorrow.

Throughout our journey of almost two years we haven’t really learned to take time off. Whenever we get somewhere there are always things to see and do and we feel guilty if we don’t see and/or do them. There has been a few times when we have conked out and this is another one of those so we clearly haven’t learned our lessons!  Our final few weeks in New Zealand will however, hopefully be different: in about a week’s time we will be in Kerikeri where we will visit my cousin Debbie and her family for a week. We’ll then head south to the North Shore area of Auckland to stay with an ex-work colleague of mine, Keith, for a few days. If we have time we are then hoping to go to Mission Bay to stay with fellow Shand Stoater-riding cyclist, Rod, for a couple of nights. Finally, as mentioned earlier, we’ll have a few nights in central Auckland before we fly home. So, although there will undoubtedly be more hills in the near future there will also be quite a bit of time off our saddles too!

Tuesday 10 March 20 – Paparoa to Dargaville – 50km

Blimey it was hard getting up and going this morning! We both said that our legs we tired and sore, so the thought of getting on our bikes even to do the relatively short hop of 50km to Dargaville wasn’t appealing. But the thought of a couple of days off spurred us into action and we were on the road by 8:30am…straight into a couple of hills! But then New Zealand dealt us a better hand, or so we thought. The terrain flattened out and we’d popped out of the hills…

…straight into a stiff headwind. So the next 35km consisted of a slow grind into the wind and avoiding the rain showers that regularly came our way. We managed to thread our way around all bar one of the showers and at that point we found shelter under the eaves of someone’s garage. So, although it was pretty tough going physically, we did manage to stay dry – so it was a sort of result!

This part of New Zealand is the kumara (sweet potato) capital and we passed loads of farms selling it at the side of the road. We even found this guy which apparently looks like a kumara though I know what I think it looks like…

It seemed an obvious choice to have some with our dinner later on, which was delicious and surprisingly tasted slightly different from the sweet potato we would get at home. Anyway, we got to our hostel in Dargaville at midday, got settled, had lunch and crashed out. This is what the next two and a half days will be all about – recover from the relentless hills and get our cycling mojo back for the last leg into Auckland.

Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 March 20 – Dargaville – 0km!

We ate well…

…(one fine left-overs breakfast, and yes we ate it all plus toast!), slept a lot and mooched around the hostel and the town, where there’s very little to do – so absolutely nothing happened! The most that we managed over 48 hours was to walk to the river side, about 500m, and back…


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