Tuesday, March 3rd: Today’s remarkable ride over the Rimutakas and down into Wellington was going to be a spectacular way to conclude the North Island half of my Tour Aotearoa. Anticipating the joys, and mindful of my crucial needs to meet in town to set me up for the South Island, I set my alarm for 5.30am and managed to pedal away at 6.59am – 1 minute ahead of schedule. This was my fastest departure, and second earliest, to date on the Tour. Less pfaffing, more packing.
Within half an hour I was at the start of the 20km Remutaka Cycle Trail (confusingly it is spelt with an e not an i). The first couple of kms took me into the bush and up to the old rail line at Cross Creek. I’ll let the two photos below of information boards tell you the gist of the railway’s story.
From there the route followed the line up and over the Rimutakas. While the gradient was an easy 1 in 15, the surface wasn’t, thanks to a fair bit of loose, quite large gravel. It was a misty, tho, warm morning and I had the track entirely to myself.
The photo above is another of the “proof of progress” selfies. I took it at the entrance to the first of the run of I think five tunnels on the line. Indeed, I was as happy as I look.
But as soon as I entered the tunnel, things went wrong very quickly. Advised of the tunnels in the TA route guide, I was sort of prepared. I had a head torch, but it was rather weak. I had a headlight on my bike, but it was down below my bar bags and, to accommodate them, I’d turned its bracket to one side, so most of the light shone up.
With this less than perfect illumination I set off into the vast darkness of the long tunnel. The dim head torch swung with every turn of my head back and forth over the wet track; the bike’s brighter headlight swung back and forth over the tunnel roof with every turn of the handlebars.
This was so disorienting, I found myself going slower and slower until I hit a small bump and toppled off my bike to my left and landed in the wet, muddy, rocky right angle where tunnel floor and wall met. Riding in short sleeves, my left elbow took quite a knock and graze. I picked up my slightly bloody and very muddy self and walked the rest of the way through the tunnel. I’m a fast learner. I walked through all the other tunnels too.
At the Summit shelter, I met four old boys out for a ride up the track from the Wellington end. We had a good chat, and they asked me all about the Tour. Our comments on the very dry weather prompted one of them to ask me where I’d found the mud which coated my back, and left hip and leg. “In a tunnel,” I replied. “But don’t ask me how.”
The descent from the summit was glorious, with the track smooth and fast. At the end of the trail, I paused at the Te Marua dairy for a steak pie, bottle of chocolate milk and a banana, which I quickly scoffed and continued on my way down the Hutt river valley cycle path. Gradually over some 40km the number of people, houses and cars gradually increased until I was in the thick of urban NZ at Petone and began the seaside ride beside the motorway into Wellington.
After a 93km day, I arrived at 1.30pm at the IRide bike shop right on the TA route and handed my bike over to Bradley. I hung out in the shop’s excellent cafe for 90 minutes while his mechanics worked on the bike. (The work would have taken only 20 minutes or so, but I was in a queue.) Thanks for the excellent service, Bradley!
Next stop, Bivouac. With James’ help, I opted for a heavy duty thermal liner for my existing bag. The combination of the two should keep me warm and toasty down to about 5c – a more practical, and cheaper option than buying a new bag.
From there I headed around the Wellington waterfront and up the hill to Hataitai to stay overnight with old friends Richard and Jackie. We had a grand catch up over afternoon tea and dinner, between which I did practical things such as laundry, selecting a few items of superfluous kit to post home to Lynn and figuring out a better way to pack my bike. This has taken some weight off the front wheel, which will improve handling on gravel roads.
Their hospitality even extended to a home visit by a GP to check out my elbow. Actually, their daughter Rebecca and granddaughter Julia popped in to say hello after a school debating match. R & J mentioned my elbow to Rebecca, who is indeed a GP. Her verdict was it was OK, but should it become sore or infected, I might need painkillers and antibiotics. No problem, I said. I showed her the ones my GP, Graeme, had given me for the trip.
Heck, I packed the wrong pump and lights. But at least I’ve got the right drugs.
So, a big thank you to the North Island and all the people I met along the way for a fabulous first half of my Tour Aotearoa. South Island, here I come!