Category Archives: friends

Mangatutu Three Hot Springs

Deciding it was high-time that Carl put his recently acquired bikepacking set-up to good use, we finally found a weekend free of other commitments and headed for the hills. Choosing a much hotter and head-windy day for the third annual overnighter to Mangatutu Hot Springs, it was great to have some company on this iteration of the trip.

I managed to cobble the requisite gear onto my bike in plenty of time – note extra water portage for the hottest day of the season so far.

Carl didn’t faff for too long after I arrived at his house and soon we were off into the strong northerly wind, conscious of the high-twenties of centigrade to deal with. With tyres, that have actual tread on them, it was noisy and slow going as we climbed up Puketitiri Rd. However, there was little traffic, the weather was pleasantly warm and the whole road fills me with nostalgia. Carl kept a good pace and there were few photos stops – so these two links will have to do.

A brief respite at Patoka School was used to fill water bottles and prepare for the last thirty-odd kilometres of climbing. Up to Patoka the road approaches five to six hundred metres above sea level; after Patoka the road undulates, constantly flirting either side of six hundred metres. At Ball’s Clearing the seal finishes and we enjoyed the change in surface to gravel – if not the steep hills as we rode into the evening.

Passing a collection of pick-ups, we missed the Search & Rescue training exercise and, thoroughly spent, dropped off the last pass to the campground. Almost-matching tents were pitched, dinners cooked & consumed before well deserved soaks in the eponymous hot springs. It was a brilliantly clear night, with the full moon casting long shadows as it rose. Despite the clear night, it was warm; rather worn out from the hills and the headwind, we slept well.

Cattle kept beady eyes on us as we climbed out of the Mohaka River valley.

There were plenty more hills to lay eyes on as we were pushed along by the warm northerly.

Carl shows me again why I really should get around to fitting some aerobars to my bike.

Leaving the Mohaka far behind, we were soon back at Ball’s Clearing and whizzing down the seal back home.

Yet, there were still many small hills to get up. Nearing Taradale it was fun to be caught up by someone on a gravel bike (who’d ridden roads I’d half-hoped we’d have the energy for) and consequently yarn about past & upcoming bikepacking events.

Beer & refreshments awaited us as we returned – pleased with a successful outing where Carl proved a capable bikepacker and excellent riding buddy. Now, to find some more hills and get some more miles under the wheels.

Fab Rotorua Weekend

With the ever-kindness of friends, it was an easy decision to extend a hectic one-day conference trip to Rotorua to include staying at Lake Tarawera, catching up with friends and a little mountain-biking.

An interesting day stuck inside over, I had a bit of time before meeting Roger at a self-billed craft beer pub in Eat Streat. My step count (this corporate challenge thing is good motivation for ensuring a moderate level of daily activity) having suffered from sitting in a conference room all day, this spare time was easily accounted for with a stroll down to, and around a little of, the shore of Lake Rotorua.

Bike tree!

Absolutely years since I’d been to the living Maori village of Ohinemutu, it was a pleasant stroll in the fading light amongst the buildings and geothermal steam.

I retraced my steps through the village and continued around the lake for a while, finding more paths that I can’t remember the last time I walked – probably as a child, having lived forty minutes’ drive away.

Walking back past the museum, I found Roger quite at home at Brew – he’d only been living in Rotorua a matter of weeks. With tasty beer to add to the occasion, it was great catching up once again – a lot of talk about bikes, naturally. Planning the following day’s ride was also high on the agenda.

A stunningly clear evening led to a frosty start as we met Luke (another ex-Pukekohe biking buddy) for an early ride in the forest. I’ve ridden with Luke a bit over the last few years here, but Roger & I could marvel at how great it was to be out for a Rotorua sortie. I’ve since checked, it was over eight years between such rides – well too long! Even with all the riding I’ve done in the forest over twenty-plus years, I’m still being shown new trails. It seems the locals can build fantastic trails faster than I can ride them.

Luke took us off-piste to ride a recently developed/developing trail in a part of the forest I rarely go – and so close to the old parking lot. The first half was mostly rideable for me down the side of a loamy forested slope; but then it got steeper with a narrow ribbon of a rut cut in the dirt – I lost my footing once trying to walk down it. Such fun but.

Follow that ribbon.

Surely I’m somewhere further up the hill treating the roots a bit more circumspectly.

Back out in the open, it was fresh on the skin and crunchy under tyre.

Tumeke was another trail new to me, graded at about my limit it was great fun and rideable for me until the very bottom. His home calling, Luke left us to head further out. With another trail I barely remembered completed, Roger & I opted for the shuttle to enable us to head to the extremity of the forest in a timely manner.

From the drop-off point we charged up (well, it was charging for me) to Tuhoto Ariki – a wonderful piece of rooty singletrack through native forest. Beautiful riding, we had an absolute blast constantly marveling at the trail and its sublime mid-winter condition. My riding diary tells me I last rode this in 2007, when it was quite new – I remember it being muddy and rather hard work. Perhaps I’m a little fitter now, but it surpassed all my expectations – twenty minutes of challenging singletrack bliss.

Further out is Kung Fu Walrus – we tootled out there, I remembered it fondly from May. This time I was hoping that the last hundred metres wasn’t closed for logging – poor trail closure signage (i.e. none) that time necessitating a big push back up the hill.

There may be a lookout over Green Lake just before the trail. I also may have been having a sufficiently good time.

Another fun trail, there is plenty to keep me on my toes – and a few things I can’t quite ride every time. Which is great to keep me coming back to master them. Heading back to the van, there was yet another new trail for me: the much more mellow, but still enjoyable, Taura. Nearing the end of the ride, for old time’s sake, I nipped off for a quick blast around the Dipper (my earliest memories of MTBing are on this trail). Somehow in the few minutes I left him, Roger had managed to talk himself into a job of doing a pre-race sweep (checking signs, tape etc.) of a fifty kilometre course early the next morning. I say “job”, but something so pleasurable can’t really be called so.

I had planned to leave Rotorua that afternoon to return home for the final in the local cyclocross series which I’d been riding in (and much to my surprise, winning the B-grade on my MTB). But all this time with old friends and actually riding trails rather than muddy, grassy laps of a vineyard had me questioning my decision. I popped back to the lake for lunch before heading out again to catch up further with Luke and his family. I eventually ditched my cyclocross plan for riding proper trails, thus staying another night.

It didn’t seem so cold out at the lake early Sunday morning, but as I drove into Rotorua the cloud descended and the mercury dropped. Roger and I met for another frosty ride, hitting the 50 km course about quarter to eight. Snaking around some of the inner trails for quite a while, it was good fun in the trees before heading out into the open. Exposed to the cold, the surface was hard and we found ourselves sliding around a few corners.

1ºC is still shorts weather.

Rolling along the Creek trail we found a little bit of barrier tape to reinstate, but that was about it – mostly we just rode bikes and had fun in the excellent dry conditions. About fifteen kilometres in Roger realised he didn’t have the energy after the previous day’s ride and a few weeks of illness. Not to worry, I was happy to ride on, up the only big hills on the course and discover some more new-to-me trails. I thoroughly enjoyed heading out the back of the forest again. Realising I might be caught by some fast racers (they started ninety-odd minutes after us), I barely stopped.

Returning to the western side of the forest, the long-course confusingly rejoined parts I’d already ridden – and plenty of riders just heading out. From here there wasn’t much point in carrying on riding the course as the short-course racers were already there. I zipped down the old exit trail to finish my ride – it was good fun putting in a good three hours of riding with little stopping, and getting a few PBs.

Roger’s bike was waiting with Marlena.

Somehow I ended up with another bike to take home with me – Roger lending me a steel singlespeed to have little bit of a go on before the Worlds in November. Saying goodbye amidst promises to not leave it so long between Rotorua rides, I popped back out to the lake to clean up and pack. What a great weekend with old friends and bikes. Special thanks to Terry and Bronwyn for having me to stay, yet again. I was safely back in Napier before it even got dark – that makes the drive so much easier.

The Christmas Letter 2016

Once again, I try to look back on the year. 2016 has definitely been momentous in many ways and on the whole, another excellent year. I’m still loving life in Napier, my work is great overall, having my own house is fantastic and I’m riding bikes plenty (with twelve days to go, I’m rapidly closing in on 10,000 km for the year – easily my biggest year ever; half of that is commuting to work).

The year started off with a couple of overnight bikepacking trips as some form of light training. This one riding the gravel road from Wairoa past Lake Waikaremoana towards Rotorua.

I also persuaded Steve to join me on a great local ride to Everett’s Campsite for another overnighter. The hills back there are well worth seeing and riding.

That and commuting to work was basically my preparation for my Tour Aotearoa attempt. Mum & Dad came up to Napier and dropped me off at Cape Reinga – the goal being to ride 3000 km to Bluff self-supported on a new route that was a mixture of as many cycle trails and backroads as possible (two-hundred odd others were also doing this). It was a grand adventure and I was thrilled with all I saw, the experiences I had and how I rode – finishing two days sooner than I needed to, in sixteen days, overcoming some horrendous weather and slight illness to do so.

Crossing the Hokianga to Rawene – I was feeling far less than brilliant and rested/was sick for a couple of hours in the heat. I got better.

The Timber Trail in the Central North Island was a highlight, even in the early morning mist. I must return.

Much to my surprise, my favourite day was through northern Manawatu. So close to where I went to university – yet I’d never been there, the rural landscape was sensational. The hilly gravel roads were excellent too.

Another highlight was staying overnight in the remote old gold mining area of Big River; even better because best-sister Adele joined me for a couple of days.

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is also on the must-return-to list, as it’s supposed to be beautiful – but it sparked the start of about four-hundred kilometres of rain for me, so I didn’t see much.

After freezing riding up the Cardrona Valley, being blown by a storm to Mossburn and then battling the same storm (reduced to pushing my bike alongside a flat highway into 120 km/hr winds) I was well pleased and satisfied to finish in 16.1 days.

It took quite some time to recover from that; I kept riding to work, but I was eating five meals a day for weeks afterwards – on the ride, I lost about four kilograms that I didn’t really have spare!

My winter break was a week down in Central Otago for Adele & James’s wedding. A fantastic time of family, friends, celebration, beautiful scenery and good food. I loved it.

Perhaps my only bikepacking event for this season, was a very enjoyable four days on backroads around Rotorua. It was fascinating returning to an area near where I grew up and seeing it from the different perspectives that a bike and being older give.

Still recovering from 550 km of riding in four days, came the sudden (but ultimately unsurprising) news of the passing of my grandfather (the last of my grandparents to go). Thus set in motion a whirlwind November. One weekend I was in Sydney for the funeral (it went as well as could be expected), then back to work for a blur of a week, before being back in Australia the next weekend for a long planned trip seeing best-friends from Canada (who were back for a family wedding). A month after all that, it still looms large.

We stayed at Arapiles, where Adele joined me for the renowned rock-climbing (it was quite a family & friends month). I almost popped my other shoulder and swore off rock-climbing forever. I didn’t sleep much camping in the west-Victorian weather, but it was a great trip.

I did, of course, take a bike and managed a great day’s gravel riding in Grampians National Park.

Later this week I head south for two weeks with my family – I’m really looking forward to it. While generally quiet, which is how I tend to like it, 2016 has proved to have its share of momentous occasions and has been one of the best yet. I’m eagerly looking forward to next year and seeing what it holds. There are no fixed plans, but it promises to be another great year in Hawke’s Bay, exploring a little further afield, work will be busy and challenging, and I sure hope for plenty of riding, in different places, with whoever will come along for it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – do come and visit Napier if you’re so inclined.

Australia Daze

Hardly having recovered from a great four days of riding the Geyserland Gravel Grind, on came the sudden but ultimately unsurprising news of the passing of my last surviving grandparent. Thus set in progress a few weeks of excessive traveling (compared to my now low level), tiredness and turmoil that I’ve not recovered from yet. My grandfather had emigrated to Sydney in 1964 with his family (that being my mother’s family) and never left. So a whirlwind trip ensued with late-flight bookings, all a week before I was due to go to Victoria for a week of visiting best-friends-from-Canada – who were back all too briefly.

So we Pheasants from NZ congregated at the family home, of over fifty years, near Parramatta with my uncle and aunt and prepared for the funeral. It was very hot, as it usually was when visiting my grandparents. There were plenty of photos to go through and stories to share. Somehow I’d been nominated as Pheasant speaker, so I really had to sort out my memories and impressions of a man I didn’t really spend that much time with – having grown up so far away. But I managed and the cycling connection & inspiration were particularly meaningful to me. Friday was hot again and we Kiwis wilted; however, the funeral went as well as could be expected and I managed to deliver my speech more fluently than writing and practicing it.

Suddenly, I was back in NZ – overnighting in Auckland at dear friends’ house again – and home to get through a week of work. It was a tough week and I was in no mood to drive to Wellington and fly to Melbourne very early Saturday morning. I don’t remember much of that week and within an hour of starting the drive I had to pull over for a micro-nap. All was well after that and I was well looked after, slept deeply and then got up at 3.30 am for the early morning flight.

Reunited with best-sister at Melbourne airport, we loaded all our gear (my bike and Adele’s climbing gear – heavier than my bike bag!) into the rental car (brand new – ten kilometres on the odometer) and headed west. Tired and hungry, we stopped in Ballarat for an early pancake lunch – yum! Although the extravagant amounts of whipped butter were disturbing. Some time mid-afternoon we arrived at the Arapiles – I’m told the best place for trad. rock-climbing in Australia and a small mecca for climbers the world over. When Adele found out, eventually – communication and knowledge of my exact plans were not strong – that I was coming here for a week, there was no way she was missing out. We met her friends Claire & Reg at the campground. They went for a little climb, I slept in the tent.

Rocks – a little part of Mt Arapiles (it’s more of a hill) rising out of the surrounding plains.

Sunday was a miserable day of weather, some time was spent in the shelter avoiding the rain and mist – I assembled my bike for something to do, and it needed doing of course. We popped into the closest town, Natimuk, for something else to do. We wandered, there was a fair bit of the town’s history displayed on signs around the place – so that was interesting.

A rather burnt out, roofless old shop.

Ready for launch. Oh, about thirty years ago.

Things cleared a little by Monday morning, although it was very windy overnight – or just seemed that way in the tent. The others climbed and Reg left to return to NZ. I’d heard of the Arapiles Big Sky Trail, so set out to explore that. I had a pretty easy run into town, mostly downhill and then flat past plenty of fields.

I eventually found the house where Megan, Alex & Finn were staying. Reunited finally after over three and a half years – excitement! Finn was an awful lot bigger, not unexpected, and had developed quite a Canadian accent; Megan & Alex didn’t seem to have grown much or changed their accents. Making plans for a bit of climbing in the afternoon, I left too soon and headed back on the trail to camp for lunch. The northern side of the loop was much less well-maintained and I slowed. Recent rain had both damaged the surface and really got the grass growing.

Watch for snakes. Yeah right, I could hardly even see the trail – let alone a snake.

Mt Arapiles off over the fields.

The trail actually went up a little hill. There is Mitre Lake – with water in it, a most unusual sight I’m told. The trail around the edge of the lake was extremely muddy and I struggled to push my bike through it as my shoes picked up a thick layer of mud, as did my tyres – so much so that the wheels would not turn.

I rode past Mitre Rock and back to camp. The “Canadians” turned up and we all went back to Mitre Rock to join Lincoln & Al (they’d arrived from Canberra, very excited they have an international airport now #canberrainternational; they’d also stayed for six-ish weeks in the house I was living in in Canada in 2011 – so good to see them again) for some easy climbing.

Adele was pleased to lead me up an easy route.

It was enjoyable, until I subluxed my shoulder (the one that hasn’t had surgery). In some discomfort, I did somehow get to the top of the first pitch without popping it completely. Claire followed me up.

You can just see Natimuk in this picture. I rested my shoulder a bit, swore off rock-climbing for ever (not much of a hardship for me) and we decided I’d abseil down using my good arm.

I was a bit glum and sore from almost wrecking my other shoulder, so returned to camp. The discomfort took a few days to disappear, but all is well now.

Some of the locals hopped through camp.

Tuesday morning was miserable again, so we headed into the larger town of Horsham to resupply and swim & shower. It cleared markedly in the afternoon. Megan was excited to get her hands on a bike, so we headed up the summit road to check out the view of the surrounds.

Past not completely harvested fields….

Up the hill; staged shot you say? Nonsense.

At the top, I looked at things.

This is one of the things I saw, damn Mitre Lake and all its mud again. Not to mention Mitre Rock in front of it, that almost ruined my shoulder. Not bitter at all.

After so long, there was some catching-up to be done – especially after Grandad’s passing (Megan & I only know each other because our grandparents were great friends, having been in the same cycling club in London in the 1940s). So the summit was a good spot for that, it was mostly free of the flies & mosquitoes lower down at the campground.

A perfect little ride down – interesting scenery, warmth but not the heat that was to come, no wind, no traffic…

We rejoined the others climbing at a smaller crag partway down the road.

Alex found a rather placid stumpy-tailed lizard; Finn was keen to take it back to Canada as a pet. Consensus was it wouldn’t survive the winters.

Wednesday I got up as the sun rose on the rock; I had a grand adventure in the Grampians. A hundred kilometre gravel ride, during which I didn’t see a soul for four or five hours.

Thursday morning Alex borrowed my bike; in exchange I was schooled in the ways of Pokemon-something. But there were other rewards, the best/only strong cup of tea I had all week for one.

Adele & Claire kept climbing things.

Spot the climber/sister – it gets progressively more difficult.

Thursday was the hottest day of the week, 34ºC, so we Kiwis went into Horsham again for respite in the afternoon.

I remembered the concept of sundowners from being on safari. I stashed a large bottle of stout in my frame bag and it was back up to the summit again – I almost expired in the heat. There were a lot of clouds, and possibly even more mosquitoes – I was eaten, some of the bites still show. So memorable for reasons unexpected. A kangaroo leapt right in front of me as I rode back to camp in the dark – quite a fright, especially after the deer the previous day.

Friday the weather was a bit pants again. After mooching around in the local cafe – we took a drive out to Little Desert National Park to have a look. We did some sort of nature walk looking at varieties of eucalypts. There were a lot of trees for a desert, in fact it wasn’t very deserty at all. #rubbishdesert

Now that the cafe was finally open (short week – Friday, Saturday & Sunday) there was a bit of a crowd of extended friends for dinner.

Adele & Claire climbed more things – I think they had a good week! Which was just as well, I was poor climbing company – no surprises there though.

Then Saturday came around, there were too-rushed goodbyes, promises of further bike adventures, the long drive back to Melbourne and arriving back in Wellington in the early hours of Sunday morning. Thankfully, good friends Elizabeth & Nigel had a spare comfy bed for me – I was over sleeping in a cold, and later hot, tent with all the wind. Big cooked breakfast too – thanks guys.

Sunday I took a detour via Martinborough for the Toast festival – a good excuse to spend excellent time with Pheasant family, eat plenty of interesting food, drink some local wine & enjoy the atmosphere.

Eventually, I made it home – rather pleased that all that travel was over. It turned out to be a physically and emotionally draining month. Great to see so much of family and dear friends, but tiring and left feeling that the distance to loved ones is still too great. I’m surprised to still be discovering just how strong my grandfather’s legacy is in my life and how that’s still influencing me now.
I was so over the travel, I’d have been quite happy not to go back to Australia for quite some time. But as it happens, first day back at work rather put the kibosh on that. Now I’m coming around to the idea, I hear one can fly Wellington direct to Canberra now.