Cape Palliser – Bottom of the North Island

With not a lot planned for Christmas (mainly due to not having enough spare annual leave to make the trip south worthwhile), I was pleased to get an invite to my uncle & aunt’s down in Martinborough. My cousins were also due to be there from Wellington & Sydney it was a great opportunity for catching up with all – especially to see Sasha & Blair who have had two sons since I last saw them (they left London & returned to NZ around the time I moved to Canada in 2010, I think).

After a day or two of festivities, warm sunshine, relaxing and generally having a good time I was itching for a little bike ride. Funnily enough, I’d come prepared with a bike in the car and a route in mind. In the depths of my mind I knew Cape Palliser was the southern-most point of the North Island, but I’d never had any reason to go there – until the day after Boxing Day.

Trying to beat the heat, I set off before the rest of the house was up – the road towards the coast is pretty straight and flat so the going was easy with a light tail breeze. Hitting the coast about two hours in and over the only hill worth mentioning on the whole ride, the breeze was different – a cooling, but hindering, southerly. As I expected, from my ride around the coast a little further west earlier in the year (Bikepacking from Wellington to Martinborough), the coast was reasonably rugged here too. But on such a nice day, remarkably beautiful too.

This memorial testified as to how dangerous this coast could be for passing ships.

Like that previous ride, I expected this remote stretch of coast to be pretty deserted. But there were many more genuine Kiwi baches down here than I expected. Being prime holiday season, this meant there was more traffic on the road than is almost certainly normal – but not enough to be a problem. Pleasingly in amongst the baches (a bach being Kiwi slang for a small holiday house – traditionally quite small and cobbled together at low cost) I struggled to spot any pretentious holiday homes; the one or two newer houses I saw blended in pretty well.

Also, there was less gravel road than I thought – only the last seven kilometres past Ngawi to the cape. Of course, rounding the cape the headwind strengthened – and the gravel was quite corrugated, annoyingly so as the speed I was capable of into the wind seemed to match the frequency of the corrugations in a most horrible way. Nonetheless, I was at the bottom of the island for the first time – in about the three hours I expected. Such a rocky promontory, of course, deserves a lighthouse.

My legs were thrilled to find that the beacon was at the top of the longest straight staircase I’m pretty sure I’ve ever seen – 254 steps straight up. Still, I didn’t ride all this way to not get the view – so I clip-clopped up in my bike shoes.

Ngawi seems to be where bulldozers come to retire to a life of occasionally launching small fishing boats out to see on large cradles – & then retrieving them later, one presumes. There were dozens of them in various states of repair. It was all rather curious.

Apparently, this one would be called Byron; I’m a little glad that I had to look that up.

At least going back on the gravel road the wind was at my back – so the bumps in the gravel were less noticeable. As I left the stunning coast, the wind was back to the nor-easter coming down the valley – which managed to sap most of my energy five kilometres from home. Pleased with a nice six hours on the bike finding yet another part of NZ I’ve not been to before.

After refuelling and cleaning up a bit, we popped down for a drink on the square in the centre of town. Looking quite of place (I suppose they/we usually do), three fully loaded bikepackers rolled in and stopped at the adjacent cafe (on Surly Krampii if anyone is interested). I couldn’t resist going & chatting to them – they were nearing the end of a week-long reconnaissance of the lower half of the North Island part of the Tour Aotearoa route. So it was interesting to hear of the beauty of the ride I hope I’m doing in two months’ time.

With (cousin) Chris having to get an early train the following morning to start the journey back to Sydney and the considerable amount of catering Antoinette & David had done the previous days, it was somewhat appropriate that we went out for a delicious Thai meal that night. That is because I figure the last time I had Christmas with my cousins was when David was a diplomat in Thailand and we went over for a Christmas-time visit. A bit of rather irrelevant Pheasant history there; hopefully it’s not so long between drinks (Christmases) next time – as I really enjoyed my weekend away. Although, I hear there’s a family wedding next year – so that should be fun.

Unfortunately, this weekend’s bikepacking adventures were put on ice as the New Year’s weather forecast was horrendous up towards Rotorua and I’ve been unusually ill – which is rather tedious, but hopefully next weekend works out.

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