Category Archives: family

The 2017 Letter – Just A Little Late

Predictably, the end of the year got busy – organising Christmas surprises is rather more fun and pressing than putting musings of the previous year through the keyboard. After spending most of the year, for various reasons, saying I was not coming home for consecutive Christmases, I got everything lined up and duly arrived in Oamaru for the festive season. Somehow I’d managed to keep the secret, and there was much surprise and many hugs – so much fun, although I don’t imagine I can pull off such a coup again.

Making a surprise visit does make it difficult to plan other activities for the rest of the stay – but it worked out well with lovely time with family, much food and drink and managing to get out bikepacking for a few days over various passes I’d had my eye on for a while – more on that in another post. Biking and traveling at that time of year does give plenty of opportunity to consider the year past and the one to come.

Looking back on 2016’s missive, 2017 did not have such momentous biking or family events – but it was still exceptional and with all sorts of wonderful things going on.

First bikepacking trip was whipping through the Alps2Ocean with Adele in two and a half days – ably supported, and ridden in parts, by Mum and Dad.

Living in Napier continues to be delight me. I enjoyed much time walking, biking and generally exploring the surrounds. With my house within easy walking distance of the city centre and many attractions, there’s never a shortage of places to wander and things to see. I particularly enjoyed my first proper taste of the Art Deco festival – even if it was curtailed a little by unseasonably wet weather.

A big dress-up party for the whole city for days – brilliant fun!

The odd local bikepacking overnighter kept my hand in, as did the occasional sortie on gravel roads out in the hills. There’s still plenty more to explore, many places left to bike. Somehow I ended up competing in the local winter cyclocross series – on my full-suspension mountain bike. It was even muddy. To my surprise, I did enough in the first three races to win the B Grade series (skipping the final race as biking in Rotorua is so much more fun!) – turns out big chunky tyres are useful in such conditions, who knew?

Seven thousand kilometres per year on various bikes seems to be the norm now, achieving that mark for the fourth consecutive year (2016 being bigger with the 3000 km Tour Aotearoa blip); well pleased to be able to spend so much time outside doing one of the things I love most. With the MTB park at work closed for a lot of the year after extensive storm damage, there were many rides up and down Te Mata Peak – always worth it for the ever-changing view. The descents are rather fun too.

If I can see this hill from my house, surely I can see my house from this hill??

I didn’t take a lot of leave from work during the year, preferring to save it for when I really want to take it. But two visits from family were definitely such times. Mum and Dad’s getting-close-to-annual winter visit was the most fun yet – the highlight getting away for a few days to the remote and hilly north-east Manawatu to stay on a big sheep station; the bike ride was pretty cool too. After two years, Adele and James finally visited for early-Christmas (I managed to get through that week without letting slip that I’d see them in less than two weeks) and it was a busy six days of biking, walking, seeing sights, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the company of loved ones.

Beach walks with parents – not so hilly.

I finally made it to Cape Kidnappers. It’s quite a long, flat, hard walk – but the views make up for it on a hot summer’s day.

Continuing to host the occasional cycle tourist through warmshowers, I got inspired early in the year to start hosting AirBnB guests. As well as bringing in a bit of extra money for home maintenance, it’s nice to sometimes have a bit of company in the house – as with the cycle tourists, it’s also great to hear accents from around the globe. Traveling abroad without leaving home in some ways.

I’ve enjoyed slowly learning various home maintenance tasks. AirBnB was very busy early on and helped to fund the major house maintenance and improvements of the year – a large scaffold for me to paint the north wall over two busy weeks and to have the window I’d been thinking about for two years installed. Well pleased with the result, & surprised that I rather enjoyed the painting (I did get to listen to a lot of audiobooks). I just have to wait for winter to see the real effect of the new window.

Yes, it is a house. But it’s in better condition than it was before.

Consistently challenged and inspired towards small steps of self-improvement in a way I didn’t expect made for an interesting year and opens up all sorts of things. The most unexpected was the difference making my diet a lot healthier had on my bikepacking. I signed up to the Mega Grind keen to do 800 km of bikepacking in an area of the North Island that I’d spent little time – despite being so close to where I grew up, and not far from my first job. It certainly delivered in that respect with fantastic North Island hilly terrain, coastal view and gravel roads.

What I was not expecting was the profound difference losing five or so kilograms of unnecessary mass would do to my biking. Previously, I’d been pleased with my ~180 km/day average on the Tour Aotearoa . Suddenly, with no real difference in preparation, bike or gear carried, I finished the event averaging 250 km/day! What in the how? Carrying less mass, and being able to bike stronger for longer was a revelation that quickly had me pondering what else I may be able to achieve. I’m excited to find out. Also, I’m no longer content with a sixteen day finish on the TA – I may have to go back sooner than previously anticipated.

Just a few days later I was back in Rotorua for a completely different kind of bike event – the Singlespeed World Championships. Really it’s just a big fancy dress party of five hundred people on mountain bikes with only one gear. And beer. What’s not to like? A complete blast with friends old and new.

Which rather leaves this year to consider. Excitingly, there are plenty of new things to learn, develop and be challenged by. With a few visits of family and friends on the cards, I’ll be happy to mostly stick around exploring home and the vicinity – with perhaps just one or two forays further afield. There’s plenty more strength to be gained, all in the name of riding slightly further and a little faster to explore more new places; I’d really like to do a different bikepacking event of over a thousand kilometres. With none of those on offer in NZ this year, that may take me to one of a few abroad I’ve got my eyes on to really put me outside my comfort zone.

Most definitely excited to find what this year holds, I hope it’s great for you too.

Sibling visit

A proposed Christmas in Napier was enough to finally get Adele and James to visit me. As it transpired, it was an early Christmas without the full complement of Pheasants. The warm dry December that allowed me to paint an exterior wall of my house at every spare moment continued for the six days they were here. It was wonderfully warm (Adele may have melted a bit) which meant we spent much time outside visiting many local attractions – many of which I’d not quite managed to get to previously.

First up, Shine Falls was about an hour drive north – the furtherest afield we’d venture during the whole stay. Situated in the Boundary Stream mainland island, I’d gotten close on previous bikepacking trips, but had never made it to the tallest falls in Hawke’s Bay.

Leaving the car, the open pasture quickly narrowed to walking up a bush clad gorge.

Purported to be an hour’s walk, the bushwalking reminded Adele and I of many such walks we did as a family when younger.

But we are fitter and stronger than we used to be; half an hour later – waterfalls. The mist and downdraft generated cooled us nicely after the warm later afternoon stroll. Pheasants don’t seem to have the “swim at every opportunity” gene, so we left that to James.

The walk down the valley only took twenty minutes so it turned out that the drive each way took longer than the entire walk! But that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for being outdoors, discovering new sights and enjoying the native forest; there may have also been ice cream on the return journey.

Adele was determined that my house should be decorated for Christmas – as I’m not usually home for Christmas, this has never occurred to me. I managed to minimise unnecessary consumption and am quite pleased with the lights adorning my deck, the miniature tree and tinsel down the bannisters. With all the weatherboard painting my barbecue had remained neglected; but with visitors keen to cook amazingly, it made a reappearance.

The following morning, mountain bikes were assembled and loaded for a quick introduction to the local trails.

Since the trees have been cleared from Gateway, the views to work and home have really opened up. The price of that being part of the trail network is now exposed to the sun.

The tides lined up well to walk along the beach to Cape Kidnappers. Cape Kidnappers, which I’d frequently looked over to from the end of my street, marveling at the cliffs rising out of the Pacific. With a quick turnaround from mountain-biking, we rushed out the door, stopped at Clive for pies, parked at Clifton and began the nine kilometre beach walk beneath the cliffs. The day was hot, but there was sufficient breeze that it was bearable as we made good time pounding along the increasingly revealed hard sand.

Leaving Clifton and looking back around the bay towards Napier.

The cliffs did stretch a long way, but I did at least know that before deciding we should walk rather than take the tourist bus through the sheep station.

At Black Reef we saw our first gannet colony.

Followed closely with the best views of the cape we would get, as the route then left the beach to climb above the cape.

Gannets! There were, literally, thousands.

How fascinating they were as they nested, fed young fur-ball chicks, landed, partners cutely preened each other on one’s return, took off, fought and generally made quite a racket. Very much worth the long walk – well, it was a long time to be walking on a flat surface in the sun. I really noticed all the walking over the following days – it turns out just two weeks of using spare time clambering over a scaffold and not walking around the Hill has quite an effect.

Heading back to the beach to return to Clifton, Black Reef is off the point at the end of that beach.

We were pretty spent that evening, so had a restful one waiting for good friends Dan and Jacqui to arrive from New Plymouth. There ensued a Saturday of winery tours, on which I drove everyone around – which was far more enjoyable than it sounds. I did get fed plenty of tasty food and got to do another staple Hawke’s Bay activity that I’d sadly neglected over the last thirty months.

Saturday night was the aforementioned early Christmas celebration which consisted of fantastic food, predictably lame crackers, great friends and receiving the big outdoor bean bag on which I’m currently sitting typing this. Sunday morning was equally slow to start – we went back out to the Mill Block to ride a few more trails in the heat. That necessitated a stop on the way back to town to swim in a river before Jacqui and Dan left for home.

I’d been keen to show off both the views from and bike trails of Te Mata Peak, so that was Monday morning sorted. Shielded from the blazing sun on the lower half of the climb, we did at least have a bit of a breeze to cool us on the more exposed parts. The peak was crawling with cruise ship tourists, many of whom you’d think had never seen mountain bikes before judging by their amusing comments. Even on a poor-weather day I appreciate the varying views – this day we enjoyed picking out the various places we’d visited as we turned and headed down most of the trail options.

Somehow I’d forgotten than Emma and Brent have a pool; really, cooling off in there was not the real reason we visited. Lunch at Chalk and Cheese was topped off by irresistible cheese tasting, which may be almost as good as wine tasting – so much delicious cheese, we may have bought a bit. With the mercury through thirty degrees Celsius, how could I not take my guests to the oldest ice creamery in the country? It was plain to see how they’ve been trading for ninety-odd years – delicious.

Somewhere in here I think there was another Napier Hill walk (still one of my favourite things to do out my front door), but a week later those six days are a bit of a blur of activity. The final day of the visit was spent packing bikes before a final art deco drive and tasty lunch on a patio down at West Quay (a kilogram of mussels, you say? Don’t mind if I do) – nice to do that as I so often ride home from work and see people drinking at Shed 2 and think how lovely it looks.

Just like that it was time for the trip to airport, plans for future trips were made and goodbyes said. It was worth the wait, Hawke’s Bay definitely turned on cracking weather which allowed much activity with dear family.

Wombling in Wimbledon

With Mum and Dad having come to stay for a ten days or so mid-winter, it was decided that we should go away for a few days together. Often I’d driven the highway south of home and looked east towards the coast and wondered at the long line of big hills and what might be there. This was as good a reason as any to choose north-eastern Manawatu for a quiet few days in the countryside. A house was duly booked on a big sheep farm.

Taking a couple of days off work, my birthday got off to a wonderful start – I even had presents to unwrap, most unusual. A leisurely morning of sorting bikes, strolling in the sun and packing over – we were off south on rural roads I’d not been on before. Lovely countryside, many hills and turns – we arrived at Spring Creek, just past Wimbledon (which seems to be pretty much a pub and little else).

We had this lovely old, spacious farmhouse for a few days.

The house was great to poke around and find all sorts of old things – just the general day-to-day items were interesting enough.

Birthday dinner was down the road at the Wimbledon pub – the seafood basket is huge and delicious. So big, that I found out two days later that a half serving satisfies even my hunger. I’ve long wanted to bikepack along Route 52 (a road that lost its state highway designation) – I may have to make that a priority just so I can have the seafood basket again.

1886 counts for a pretty old pub in NZ.

We were enjoying learning of the pioneering history of the area, how it was cleared of native forest (unfortunate as the hills are so steep, erosion and slips are now quite a problem), supplied from the coast (there was no road to Dannevirke, or anywhere for that matter). Our hosts, Shaun and Sue, were fifth generation farmers – so there were plenty of stories to hear.

With enough bikes for the three of us, we were keen to go for a ride to the coast. With only a couple of small hills and a stunning day on Friday, the thirteen kilometres was achievable for Mum & Dad – who hadn’t done a lot of riding recently.

I had plenty of time to stop for photos, admire the scenery.

Heading for Herbertville – we turned right at the foot of those hills.

I carried on a bit past Herbertville, just because – gravel!

Looking back towards the wonderfully named Cape Turnagain – where Captain Cook decided he’d gone far enough south, and turned back north.

South towards Castle Point – another place I’m yet to make it to.

Back to the house for a late lunch, we were all well pleased with our rides. Sue and Shaun had said we could drive to the top and back of the farm, passing some old buildings on the way. The Corolla somehow made its way up the steep hill and we found a old woolshed and some ruined houses.

Circling the woolshed trying to find a way in.

Mum made it in.

Said disused woolshed.

Carrying on up the hill – a bit of fun for the little car.

South over Manawatu.

Back north over the farm which reaches across the valley to the hills in the middle distance.

We went hunting for old farm houses – instead Dad got dwarfed by old pine trees.

The living room could do with a bit of a touch up.

I was determined to ride around the farm, so dragged the mountain-bike out Saturday morning and was rather chilled riding back up the same steep road we’d driven up the previous afternoon. Crossing a muddy ford opposite the abandoned woolshed, I finally discovered the elusive tumble-down house and laden lemon tree we’d been looking for yesterday.

Most of the remaining structure seemed to be supported by ivy.

Ivy did at least frame the windows nicely.

This may be a part of why we initially struggled to find the ruined house – yes, there is a house in there. Somewhere.

I ground my way to the top, huzzah for single chainrings up steep hills, and was rewarded with clearer views over eastern Manawatu.

The Ruahines in the distance.

I had a blast following rugged farm tracks along the ridge line before a steep, steep plummet back to the house.

The afternoon’s outing was to head back to the beach for a walk to Cape Turnagain, or thereabouts. We drove there this time. Wide, flat and with the cape rising out of the sea it was a very nice walk in the afternoon sun. Two hardy surfers followed and passed us, before heading into the Pacific. There were a few others out on quad bikes, but the crashing of the waves easily drowned out any potentially annoying motors.

We found dozens of seals enjoying the sun at the cape, so turned around and returned with the wind at our backs.

The tiki-touring continued – we drove past where I’d ridden south the day before to see how far the road went. Not much further was the answer. Back to the pub that night for dinner – Dad managed to find somewhere to watch the Bledisloe Cup test. Mum and I had one of our occasional close-fought Scrabble battles, I was particularly average.

I was determined to find some gravel roads and thought I’d planned a good loop around Birch Rd. Dad joined me on the Route 52 section getting up a couple of decent hills. Turning off the tarseal, it got much steeper and I bade farewell to Dad. As expected, it was all very hilly. The land use alternated between sheep pasture and pine forest; forestry dominated. Every section of pasture gave a different view. At times I could look right back across the farm and spy the route I’d ridden around the farm previously.

There was clearly some logging operations going on somewhere up the road. The gravel varied from nice smooth, old road to big chunky gravel that had recently been laid. Areas of perpetual winter shade were quite damp and the surface up the last big climb was hard going – almost muddy gravel that hadn’t packed down. I was keen to get to Weber, mainly just to explore more back roads and see what was in the village. But aware that that would be cutting short even more the time spent with Mum & Dad, I opted for the short loop and hurtled down the hill to Route 52.

I was surprised not to lose even half the altitude that would take me back to the house. The short section of Route 52 that remained really must be steep. Certainly, it was. Mum was also out riding when I returned. The rest of our wonderful break away from it all was spent lunching, packing and loading bikes. What a great stay – so much to do in a place that seems to have little of the trappings one is used to.

With plenty of time up our sleeves, we could stop and read off the longest place name in the world. Yes, it’s quite easily pronounceable – it’s not Welsh after all.

The even-more scenic (roundabout) route was taken as we didn’t have to be at friends of Mum & Dad’s until five-thirty for a very informative walk around their vineyard, sampling of their wine and a fantastic “simple” dinner. A late return home after a very relaxing weekend.

Wet Waikouaiti Week

The first week of the new year was spent in and around Mum and Dad’s place in Waikouaiti. It was nice to sit still for a week (Adele had gone back to work) and spend time hanging out at home, sorting through various family things, doing odd jobs and going on little day trips. It was not at all summery, however, with a whole lot of wind, rain and cold keeping us mostly to inside activities.

Quiet New Year’s was in Dunedin with Adele and some of her friends – we spent New Year’s Day at the “beach” which was very relaxing and not at all hypothermic in shorts and a T-shirt.

South Dunedin a couple of days later was even less inviting – but Dad, Mum & I had a nice lunch – inside.

Wet weather is good for museum visiting – this time the Otago Settlers Museum, which is worth the visit and has this impressive art deco entrance way to the old bus station.

We went home via Port Chalmers to check out the largest cruise ship to visit NZ – I can confirm it was in fact, large.

Things started to clear a little.

To try and find some slightly summery weather, I made an overnight break for Central Otago for a spot of mountain-biking with James, Dan & Jacqui.

On the way I stopped to visit friends on their lifestyle block at Goodwood. It was unbelievably windy and cold up there.

I looked out across some of the many hills I was rather missing not to be riding around and between.

The drive over the Pigroot was lovely – until I discovered fresh snow around Naseby. Snow, in the first week of January!

Back in East Otago, we took a family outing for lunch and a walk. Here looking over Karitane to Waikouaiti Beach – it was nice not to bike up that rather steep hill from Karitane.

Behind Waitati, the view is down to Blueskin Bay.

The clouds at Carey’s Bay could most charitably be labelled atmospheric – but only when they weren’t dumping rain.

We had a wonderful family lunch at the historic Carey’s Bay Hotel.

Driving towards the mouth of Otago Harbour, it was my first visit to the sleepy seaside settlement of Aramoana. Infamous for the 1990 massacre, it would form one of my earliest memories/impressions of big NZ national news. We went for a nice walk on the beach and promptly got caught in a downpour. Funny times (the latter, not the former).

It was a lovely lazy week at home with plenty of chat, reminiscing and thoughts of the future.

But gosh I was glad to be back in Hawke’s Bay, where it had really dried out and was actual, proper summer!