We were halfway of our planned route for the North Island and the summer welcomed us earlier this year. Because we used to live on the South Island, we were not used to the heat and we realized that it is much more comfortable to ride in cool climate than in hot days. Due to this change in temperature, our habits also had to change. We started having an early start, to take advantage of the morning breeze and around noon, we would take a longer break to wait until the sun cools down.
We left Rotorua relatively late, because in the morning we went to visit Red Woods Park,
with more than 5600 hectares of forest, various activities, mountain biking, hiking and horse riding. But what is most impressive is the tree size, the red trunk colour and the beauty of these native trees of the region. Centennial trees like these make us realize how small we are and how big our ego is. Nature is incredible and more and more we distance ourselves from it.
On the road, the cycle computer marked almost 36 degrees, so hot that even the asphalt was melting. New Zealand is a cold country most of the year, but with the climate change in the last years, the summer in the country got much hotter.
Our next destination was a campsite near the beautiful Huka Falls, another blue-coloured river for our collection. The stop at the waterfall was mandatory, an infinity of water and natural beauty. Due to our cycling habit change, we arrived quite early here and we were able to enjoy a wonderful bath in the river just before the waterfall. This was the first time myself, Mariana, had the guts to enter in a New Zealand river, and despite the cold, the bath was revitalizing.
The arrival in Taupo was quite busy, the city held the famous Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, with categories of mountain bike with 85km of track and the road of 160km, a beautiful event with a total of 10,000 subscriptions that stopped the City. We spent the morning and afternoon enjoying that beautiful day, there were people of all ages, men, women, children and all kinds of bikes, an inspiring day. But the funniest part was pedalling around the city with our loaded bikes, many people were curious about that scene and approached us asking where we were from, where we were going, how much we had already pedalled, and so on. The Kiwis are very friendly and hospitable in this sense, but when they are driving, well that’s another story, lol.
To end the day amazingly, in Taupo we were hosted by an incredible couple through the Warmshowers. Roel and Diane hosted us for two nights. Beautiful people, with plenty of experience in cycle touring, around New Zealand and some European countries. We spent a wonderful weekend, kayaking on the lake to see the famous 14-foot stone, which was carved for 4 years by the Maoris, including a sculpture made by Diane grandfather. The kayaks were beautiful, super well built by Diane herself and with the most beautiful history we have ever seen. Their son suffered a serious accident that ended up losing his leg movements, because of this they thought about an alternative for their son continuing practising sports, it was when the idea of building a kayak came up, an inspiring and love story.
During the time we were in Taupo, a job opportunity came up in Napier, coincidently Di and Roel had to go there and offered us a ride. They have told us that the road connecting Taupo and Napier can be quite busy with heavy trucks, including those logging trucks, and also has a little shoulder to ride on. So far, our experiences with trucks in New Zealand have not been very positive, because of this, we decided to avoid this road and accepted the ride.
We stayed in Napier for almost a week, doing a photo and video project for a Hotel. During those days we were able to get to know the charming city, which suffered a big fire and earthquake in 1931, after this disaster the city was completely rebuilt in just two years with the Art Deco style, becoming the capital of this movement. Artists and Architects from around the world were invited to come to the city to help with the projects and it’s reconstruction. This job gave us the opportunity to meet another wonderful couple, Jane and Hugh, the owners of the Hotel we did the job. They were pleased with our work and travel project, we will be forever grateful for this opportunity and the hospitality we got from them.
After five days in Napier, we headed towards the Route 52, an alternative route suggested on the NZ Cycle Trails book. Away from the busiest roads, it was one of the best choices we made, we pedalled in peace and without problems. On the second day of Route 52, we arrived at the Porangahau village and camped for the first time at the beach for two lovely nights, in front of a greenish sea. It was also the first time myself (Mariana) swum in a New Zealand beach, even living here for the past two years, I never had the courage to face the cold sea water. It was one of the best things I did, I felt renewed and full of energy for this new year that is about to come.
The next day the departure was early, and just after some kilometres, we arrived at a supposed touristic point (some of that New Zealand thing! lol). The city with the largest name in the world is a place in the middle of nowhere, just some farmlands. However, the city lost this title recently, according to www.fun-with-words.com, to Thailand. NEW ZEALAND stakes its claim on the Maori name for a hill near Porangahau, Hawkes Bay, which is spelt with either 85 or 92 letters.
The hill used to be called Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (85 letters). That’s a combination of the words taumata (brow of a hill), whakatangihanga (music making), koauau (flute), o (of), tamatea (name of a famous chief), turi pukaka (bony knees), piki maunga (climbing a mountain), horo (slip), nuku (move), pokai whenua (widely travelled), ki (to), tana (his), tahu (beloved).
Hawkes Bay Tourism’s Internet site says that Porangahau in New Zealand’s South Island, “boasts the longest place name in the world: Tetaumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapihimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaakitanarahu, officially entered in the Guinness Book of Records.” That stretches the name to 92 letters.
It says the name means “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed, and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played his flute to his loved one.”
Curiosities and road joke aside, we did not know this would be one of the hardest days we pedalled on the North Island. In addition to the strong heat, we face many inclined climbs, and others not so inclined, an eternal up and down with a total ascent of 1100m on 70km. That was our riding record compared to our previous days. Our pace is slow, an average of 40 to 50km per day, but on this day specifically, we were in the middle of nowhere, we had limited amount of food and we needed to keep faithful to the ride plan.
Arriving in Pongaroa late afternoon, we started looking for a place to spend the night and maybe sleep on a comfy bed, however, there was no accommodation in that little town. We stopped at a pub for dinner and had a nice cold beer, after all, we had a long hot day and we deserved it.
We spent the night in a Domain, that is used as camping ground when is not in use. We slept in the company of lots of sheeps and their lullabies, including the night after in Alfredton’s domain. These were our last camping experiences in New Zealand, because, until Wellington, we would be hosted by Warmshowers members, in Masterton by George, and Martinborough Jude and Bruce.
Our final destination on the North Island was the capital Wellington, and until then the road was quiet, with essentially smooth descents. There was only a big climb, to reach the town of Upper Hutt, 35km away from Wellington, through the famous Rimutaka rail trail, with a total of 60km length, this was an old railway.
The Rimutaka Railway was built as part of an ambitious 1871 Government policy to construct a national railway network to attract immigrants and to help improve New Zealand’s economic base.
Building this railway across the rugged Remutaka Ranges threw up a technological challenge much greater than found anywhere else in New Zealand. A tunnel was the preferred option but could not be afforded. So the ‘temporary’ solution was a steep mountain railway.
New Zealand chose Fell’s system to traverse the 4.8km Rimutaka Incline. This was an extremely innovative and bold engineering solution. It involved a centre rail – elevated above the running rail – gripped by a series of horizontal wheels fitted to the specially designed engines and brake vans which took trains up and down the incline.
On 11 September 1880 when the leading three carriages on a Greytown to Wellington train were blown off the track in strong winds near the Siberia tunnel; killing three passengers. The Rimutaka Incline section of the line over the Rimutaka Ranges between Wellington and the Wairarapa used the Fell system on the steep 1 in 15 section which was 4.8 km long.
For 77 years specially built Fell engines climbed the Rimutaka Incline connecting Wellington and the Wairarapa. The Rimutaka Incline was the third and last Fell system to be built. Railway technology continued to evolve swiftly, and within a few decades the innovative Fell system became old technology. Little updating was done on this ‘temporary solution’ Because a replacement tunnel would be built. Two world wars and a depression delayed this until 1955.
The day started cloudy, with strong winds and against us, but we had to move on, as we had a family from the Warmshowers waiting for us. It was certainly the windiest day up to this moment, on a gravel road, with a steady climb, but very smooth, what made it tough was the strong wind gusts, we had to hold tightly to the bike to not fall. Felippe had two falls and one of them was due to the strong winds, he lost his balance, the other one was in one of the tunnels we crossed, just because he had the brilliant idea of filming and pedalling at the same time, in a dark tunnel. LOL
Almost at the end of the climb, we got a place sheltered from the wind, and we took a break to rest and have a snack. The descent was smoother to the point it seemed that had no windy anymore. We arrived in Upper Hutt at the end of the day and were welcomed by Shelly and Baden, an incredible family who just got another member into bicycle family team, little Clifford with only 3 months. Despite all the duties that requires a newborn, they welcomed us amazingly well, we were able to share some good laughs, conversations, recipes and bicycle travel experiences. Shelly and Baden just completed their bike trip around South and Central America.
We stayed for two nights in Upper Hutt and headed towards Wellington, where we had the opportunity to stay in two different Warmshowers, due to our stay there was for a week and we needed some time, to clean the bicycles and gear. We also celebrated my birthday next to our dear friend Ramonzinho. It was an amazing week, meeting wonderful people, especially our last hosts from Warmshowers, Ruth, Matt and Stuart.
We would like to express here once again our gratitude to all the people who somehow crossed our path during our New Zealand adventure. It was here where everything started, it was where we had the opportunity to start living this big dream. New Zealand has welcomed us with open arms for two years, and we will be forever grateful for everything.
Now it’s time to fly, literally! It’s time to get to know another country, another culture, other customs, it’s time to cycle around Australia.