Sitting around chatting with fellow cyclists staying at Mike and Kay’s backpackers last night, I made a good decision: not to take the main TA route through spectacular country to the Whanganui river, then a jet board ride down to Pipiriki. But to get there by road.
My reasons were: our route book said the track was unsuitable for heavily laden touring bikes – mine’s a gravel bike so more capable than that but still not as capable of the rough stuff as a mountain bike. And I am carrying a bit too much; I’m tired and I wanted to get to Pipiriki by 2pm so I had time to catch up on the blog, start my column due tomorrow afternoon, do my laundry and relax a bit – coming via the river, I wouldn’t have arrived til 7pm, after a far harder ride; and I know the road route well from successive Tours of NZ road races, and it is one of my favourites in the North Island.
A fourth factor kicked in over night. It was cold, dropping to 9c because we were high up on the plateau. I slept poorly because I kept waking up to put on more clothes. Also Highway 4 was near by, and the NI Main Trunk rail line so lots of trucks and trains through the night even though we were in a fairly remote part of the country.
Somewhere around 2am, I wrapped my towel around my head for warmth. When at 5am I added my third and final layer on my upper body, I took this photo to commemorate the occasion…
I was up at 6, for a very sociable breakfast in Mike and Kay’s kitchen with fellow riders, each of us making up what we were carrying…in my case a very big bowl of porridge, my standard breakfast, whether I’m riding or not. Mike, our host, is on the far right.
The first 20km of the ride was a steady but substantial climb up to National Park, which is the highest point on Hwy 4. Along the way were fabulous views of Mount Ruapehu, the tallest peak in the North Island, and its fellow volcanic neighbours. It is 2,797m high, and our largest active volcano.
At National Park, I had my second breakfast – eggs Benedict with bacon — and a big coffee before the exhilarating 30km, gently downhill with some ups, to Raetahi. I spent the day riding conservatively, but I still averaged 20km/h on that stretch. Then the real fun began, the 28km of winding road down to Pipiriki on the Whanganui River.
During the descent, I caught up with Eric from Hawke’s Bay who’s been staying in the same locations as me for the past four nights. As ever, I’m always up for a chat and break in the shade.
I arrived as planned at 2pm and have had a useful afternoon. As some of the riders I’ve got to know a bit over recent days came in from their jet boat ride they enthused about it being the best day of the tour so far. While they were exhilarated, they were also tired. I’m happy with the decision I took. It was as close to a half day ride – 90km in 4 and a half hours- I’m going to get on the whole Tour, with no full days off. Having clocked up 1,000km in 10 days – one third of the way to Bluff — I look forward to coming back to ride the trail on an unburdened MTB, followed by a jet boat, or canoe-camping trip with Lynn down the river.