Yesterday was the official start of our bike trip from the northern most tip of the North Island down to the southern most tip of the South Island. It would be a long first day. We left Paihia promptly at 7am for our 3 hour bus ride to Cape Reinga, our starting point. Bikes and luggage filled the lower compartments our our bus with six bikes taking up the back of the bus and all remaining seats with excited cyclists. As the scenery flashed by and the time passed a few heads started to lower and eyes closed. Buses will do that to you. We had one stop for coffee and a bite to eat since Marco (Italy) had eaten no breakfast before our departure. It was eleven before we found the parking lot at the top of the cape on the top of New Zealand. The landscape on the ride up consisted of sharp hills, pastureland and dotted forests that were quite tropical. There were quite a few small herds of cattle, bulls and a few scattered herds of cows taking advantage of the lush grasslands.
From the top of the headland we all gathered our gear and transferred it into the trailer that Vince, Kay and Michael (Vince’s son) would be pulling behind their SUV. The bus would head home empty now. Then all of us cyclists along with the crew took a hike down the trail to the official signed area of Cape Reinga. It was a great view of the end of the Cape and also of the meeting of theTasmanian Sea with the Southern Pacific Ocean. The difference in water temps and currents left a swirling vivid line off the end of the Cape. Pretty impressive. It was time for ;photos with the patient Kay working her way through everyone’s camera and phone. Terry mentioned that his smile was not as sincere towards the last of the shots. It was a buoyant group ready to get going. By noon we were on the road for 120K’s down the Coast and onto the Ninety Mile Beach to bring us into Apiwara, a coastal village and our next nights accommodation.
Cape Reinga is a sacred place for the Maori, the original people of the country. It is a place where their Spirits lift up to meet the Maker.
I took off with Scott, Lee, and Bridget. Bridget is a very athletic friendly woman from South Africa. She had also ridden the Cairo to Capetown trip a couple of years ago that was her connection to the people on this ride. She had raced that trip and done quite well, following it up with a solo trip down the Continental Divide from Canada to the Mexican border. The track is known to cyclists as the Great Divide. It is tough and long – 2700 miles. She ended her trip after she reached Boulder as she has a niece there and still had a nephew to visit in Milwaukee. After just a few K’s Bidget pulled up to us to say the Lee was having some problems with the winds on the descents. They can throw you around a little and be quite frightening. After determining that the bike itself was OK they continued their ride. Bridget and I kept on moving, finding Quintin dawdling long enough for us to catch up. He is from the UK and a strong light cyclist who has no problems with hills. With the headwind we experienced for most of the day, Quintin was a big help. Both of my riding partners have Garmins which track our route and displqy in on the units mounted on the handle bars. They make it unnecessary to stop to check the map and really save time. It was a tough long day with the unfavorable wind and the late start. When we were approaching our turn to the Ninety mile Beach at Kilometer 98, the wind had died down and our spirits lifted. The beach itself was such a welcome sight – not only because it was beautiful and exciting to have our bikes moving on the hard sand, but also because we knew that only 20Ks remained in our day. When we reached the motel just above the beach, we found that we had beaten our support vehicle and all the other cyclists in so there was nothing to do but find the bar and have a couple of cold refreshments.
When I saw that Scott and Lee had arrived i went out to see how the rest of their ride had been. Lee said awesome!, and I gave her a big hug. What an accomplishment for her, having never done a ride like this, never having ridden this kind of distance, and only being able to train on an indoor cycle trainer before she left. She was shining! Scott had a big grin on his face too. It turned out to be a great day despite the adverse cycling conditions. Everyone was tired and hungry – there would early bed for everyone tonight.
Bridget, Peter and I are roommates. Peter is a good friend of Terry’s from Wollongong, the same city where my buddy Barry resides. He is a manager at the prison facility and oversees a crew of 55 prisoners who make the bread for the whole state’s facilities. He and Terry had done a 4 month ride together through Eastern Europe a few years back. He is a fun loving Aussie with a great sense of humor and maybe just a little extra around the middle. The first couple of weeks or so will be Peter’s training ground as he gets into cycling shape.
Today we got up early and ready to cycle. Bridget was anxious to get going. She doesn’t like to wait around and neither does Quentin. So off we went about ten minutes ahead of the rest of the crew. Today’s conditions were great for cycling and the K’s just cruised by. Reaching the 35K coffee and lunch spot at 9am we decided to just keep going. Certainly not hungry after only a little over an hour of riding. The terrain was much like the previous day with lush forests interspersed with pastures of herd animals. I have been told that NZ is the largest producer of dairy in the world. Haven’t looked it up but we are seeing a lot of dairy cows as we move along. At the 60K mark we stopped at a nice little cafe for lunch, having not seen the lunch vehicle go by. We waited for either the vehicle or other cyclists to arrive but as both of my riding mates wanted to get going, off we went again. While waiting at the ferry just a few K’s later, Michael, Elizabeth and Marco pulled in. They told us that we had missed the lunch truck, as though we weren’t aware of that having cycled 30K beyond that point. It is a help for the crew to tick us off the list at the lunch stop so they would be aware that we weren’t somewhere behind and be waiting for us. However, Kay was aware of when we left as were several other cyclists. So we were fine.
The beach town we are in tonight is called Opononi. While Scott, Peter and I were having a refreshment at a nearby outdoor pub, we learned from an old drunk that Opo referred to a dolphin who used to come into the bay years ago and play with the local kids. That was prior to people knowing much about dolphins so that friendly behavior made that particular fish quite famous.
It’s early to bed for most of us as we have a big day tomorrow.