Category Archives: NZ

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.

Mega Grind 2017

Erik and Pete are the masterminds behind the Geyserland Gravel Grinds. The GGG was the only bikepacking event I did last year, and was full of relaxed days of riding followed by social evenings at shared campsites. Familiar with the calibre of route-planning, I was excited to learn this year that they had expanded their suite of events to three: an overnight Mini Grind, the GGG and the 800 km Mega Grind. As soon as it was announced, I signed up for the Mega Grind, as it was the longest and would take me to parts of the North Island I’d never been to.

Very much in a touring mindset, eager to see new places and spend some time biking, my preparation was suitably low-key. I figured I could finish in four and a half days, 160 km per day not being too much with my base level of fitness. Maybe I’d finish closer to four days if I pushed it. Up to Rotorua after work on Thursday it was a relaxed trip to the night-before gathering.

Close to fifty of us gathered Friday morning near the museum in fair weather; after a short briefing we were off through the early traffic – not much to deal with as we were soon on cycle paths and then heading up the Mamakus. I was familiar with the first few hours from the last day of last year’s GGG – up on to the Mamakus, lovely gravel riding along the ridge before descending to Tokoroa. There was plenty of group riding to be had as people chatted away and it was all very leisurely. Only stopping for a short pit stop and to grab a pie (the first of quite a few), I was soon on the road again leaving town.

Gravel roads and bunches of bikepackers atop the Mamakus.

Shortly after I was caught by a couple of riders. It was great to ride with Pete, whose brainchild this route was, and chat away; Pete had a fantastic top-ten finish in this year’s Tour Divide, so to chat as we rode a similar pace (I think he’s a fair bit faster than me, but was being nice) was most helpful. I’d planned to get to the start of the Timber Trail (~175 km) that day and sleep there; with Pete’s knowledge of the trail I was beginning to think I could maybe do a little more.

I was familiar with this section of the Waikato River Trail from last year’s Tour Aotearoa – so was not surprised by the relentless number of pinch climbs appearing each time we got close to the mighty river. It was warm, but not hot, as we made reasonable pace. There was a big group of riders in Mangakino, refuelling and restocking for the remote Timber Trail ahead – I stocked up for potentially more than 250 km between shops.

Six hundred metres of ascent was slowed on the road by the southerly we were riding into. There were a few riders around, just ahead or behind me. Back to the infamous wire swing bridge after the road petered out to an overgrown double track, there was a fair queue of riders waiting to get across. Somehow it was more manageable than on the TA and I was soon over and making slow process up the bush track before eventually joining gravel forest roads again. I passed a few people before Pete caught up to me, again, and it was about now I was easily convinced I’d have enough time to summit the Timber Trail (the highest point on the course, just under 1000 m) – unfortunately my dynamo light had showed itself to be faulty the previous week, so I had borrowed a headlight and was unsure just how much run-time I’d get out of it.

Pausing to eat at the historic Caterpillar tractor (which I slept next to the previous year), another group gathered. Some decided to call it a day while a fair few pressed. The climb is steady and my legs were still reasonably good, to my surprise, and it only took us an hour and we managed to descend a fair bit before it was finally too dark to go on without lights. Crossing a couple of the massive swing bridges (my photos were better last year on a misty morning) we were soon at the shelter Pete had told me about. Pleased with almost two hundred kilometres, I thought it sensible to get some rest and I bedded down for the night on a bench in the shelter. The rest carried on into the night, aiming to finish the trail that night (another sixty kilometres of slow-going bike trail).

Up at dawn, I’d slept OK – but not great as I had been in a constant state of peril of falling off the bench. The Timber Trail was as good as last time – I’m determined to return and ride it with a more fun bike (suspension please) in far more than six hours to appreciate the scenery, the forest, the native bird calls, and the extensive history. As it was, I loved it – especially the lovely chorus of native birds. The trail is in pretty ordinary condition from kilometres fifty to sixty and again around the seventy kilometre marker – I was not the only one to have a very sore back from the section just before the Ongarue Spiral.

Off the trail at the planned time of ten o’clock, I was now on completely new-to-me roads. Excited to say the least.

I think the Ongarue Rugby Club has seen better days – I like to imagine what those may have been like when riding through such places.

I spotted another rider! So I pulled in, slightly off route at the Flashpackers – and somehow ended up with fried eggs, toast and a big pot of tea. Luxury, I didn’t even have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper. Enough faffing (stops can really extend themselves easily) I said goodbye to Les, and that was the last I’ve seen of a Mega Grind rider.

Turning south off a short stretch of highway, I saw this sign and knew it to be a very good sign:

Gentle valley floor riding, overall descending, ensued surrounded by hills, hills and more hills. It was stunningly beautiful and I was loving it – also very happy at how I was getting along and wondering if I might make it past Mokau and 175 km that day. Suddenly, a railway line. I wasn’t expecting that; clearly disused I clearly hadn’t paid enough attention to where we were heading. Soon in Ohura, yet another place I’d not heard of, it was clear that this was the old line that used to go through Whangamomona (of this trip last year) to Taranaki. With a bit of refuelling to be had, from my own supplies as the Cossie Club was not open yet, I gave a couple of local youths on bikes a crash course in bikepacking before leaving town and straight into a big climb and wonderful gravel.

A bit of descent had us on a the farming plateau of Waitaanga before a huge plunge through a beautiful native-bush clad gorge of upper reaches of the Tongaporutu River, which we then followed out to the coast at a more gentle gradient. Thirty kilometres of highway was not too tedious as there was sometimes a shoulder and the wind was now, apparently, at my back – it did not always seem so.

Baches at Tongaporutu.

I made Mokau, my provisional goal for the day and almost halfway around the course, around five o’clock – still many hours of daylight left to get a bit further. So after a huge burger, I was fuelled up again and rolling into the evening. Leaving the highway behind it was a very pleasant, gentle, gravelled climb up one river valley before cresting the watershed and plunging down into the next catchment area. I hadn’t really come prepared for much night riding – my fingers getting the coldest (I had enough other layers) once the sun had gone.

The last two climbs were steeper, but surmountable – I still seemed to have energy left in my legs. Only four kilometres out of Marokopa, where I would sleep, there was another climb – hot work going up, cold whizzing down. Well over halfway now, I found a verandah to sleep under and laid my head for the night – pleased with my first 200 km+ day since the TA, and surprised with how “easy” it was (easy in inverted commas because obviously it was still a fair bit of work propelling a laden bike, but my body seemed far stronger than it should be, had been before; especially considering the amount of riding I’ve been doing recently – few long or hard rides). In part this was because I’d lost over six hundred metres of altitude that day, but there was still a fair bit of climbing – I went to sleep happy, and slept well.

For a change, actually managing to get riding before six o’clock, there was a fair bit of flat riding on Sunday deserted roads – this didn’t help in warming up any. But as the next two hundred kilometres showed plainly, you can’t go far around here without finding a hill. Climbing to the highest point of the day (a staggering 250 m!) there were still no more cars, but the hills were still stunning. Then, there’s Kawhia Harbour in the distance:

Riding around here, on the flat for a bit, was very pleasant as the day warmed.

Stopping for bacon & eggs after three and a half hours, I’d been feeling a little more sluggish than the previous day. Still I was nowhere near wanting to leave my bike on this fence.

Leaving Kawhia Harbour we headed for Raglan. If anything, the hills became more numerous – but not bigger. With more fuel in me and the day warming, I was getting my legs back to normal. By my estimate, I’d be in Raglan by three; as the route got near to Raglan it turned off west for the coast, a definite long-cut around Mt Karioi. Immediately the road turned to gravel and one could see why it was sign-posted as closed during the upcoming NZ Rally – it was utterly sublime. Full of twists and turns, snaking down valleys to sea level and then rising back up – this section was the highlight of the route for me. The sea crashing into the rugged coast, the trees long since succumbing to the prevailing wind and bending away from the coast and there were wonderful, large stands of native forest.

I stopped here a bit to take in the trees forming not merely a canopy, but a blanket of purest green. Mesmerising.

Closer to Raglan, the view opened up north and the traffic increased a little – which wasn’t hard, for an hour or so I’d seen next to none.

I did make Raglan by three o’clock, my plan was coming together as I tried to estimate just how far I’d get that night. I was bemused to see I’d, without getting more than 250 m above sea level, already climbed 2000 m that day – there were many, many little hills. Two pies devoured I hit the highway out of town.

It was awful. A sunny Sunday afternoon seemed to have brought most of Hamilton to town, and they were now leaving. Thankfully the course looped off the highway and onto a gravel back road for a bit. I was displeased to have to join it again, mercifully for less than two kilometres. Turning left at the T-junction, I watched in disbelief as a van just in front of me, at speed, locked up its wheels to avoid another car, started fishtailing, went out of control and barrel-rolled down the highway eventually coming to rest on its now crumpled roof.

There were plenty of people around the gas station rushing to the aid of the driver, so I turned around and did a spot of traffic management before deciding it was time to get off this mad road. Rather subdued when I realised that if I’d been a few seconds faster I’d have been occupying the same time & space that a crappy old Ford Econovan seemed intent on rolling through, I slowed a bit rather keen on messaging loved ones. I was surprised to see an ambulance already heading towards the scene from a back road. Then I came across a recently wrecked road bike (of the motorcycle kind) in a ditch and understood the ambulance’s apparent promptness. Suddenly, I wasn’t so keen on riding a bike on roads – especially remembering some of the tragedies in the international bikepacking community earlier in the year.

After that drama, the roads to Ngaruwahia turned out to be very pleasant and I soon got my head back in a good place and pedaled on. I was surprised to be informed by a sign that I got as close as seventy-five kilometres from my old home of Pukekohe – which is Auckland now. I’d come all this way to get so close to the big smoke?! Unimpressed. But at least I now know where Glen Massey is. We turned away from Auckland.

Stopping to snack as the route joined the cycle trail beside the Waikato River, I set off into the evening through Hamilton to Cambridge. I had been wondering why I’d not bothered to remove the bell from my bike – it turned out to be mighty useful along the busy pathway that evening. The section through the Hamilton Gardens was tedious and poorly signposted for all its twists and turns, but I was soon on back roads in the failing light.

I was having dinner in Cambridge at nine o’clock still rather keen on the plan I’d been formulating to all day to push on and finish this thing that night. It was just over a hundred kilometres and involved the decent climb over the Mamakus. I figured I could be in Rotorua around three in the morning. Just as I was about to leave, I witnessed yet another car crash – I’d recommend not going anywhere near a road in the Waikato!

Having already ridden two hundred and forty kilometres, getting to the finish would be by far my biggest day ever on a bike. Alas, in my effort to try to conserve what light I did have for the Mamakus, I made it too difficult for me to see and I just wore myself out more. I probably wasn’t mentally prepared for more hills near Arapuni Dam and for the first time in seven hundred kilometres I got really slow. It just wasn’t fun (Pete’s words of Friday ringing in my ear), so I realised a bit of sleep would be best and I gave up on my plan of finishing within three days. It was a little disappointing, but as I’d planned on a four day finish the pill wasn’t too bitter.

On back roads through dairy farms at that time, there was little night time traffic so when I saw a strange little (shorter than me) two and a half sided corrugated iron shed, I’d found my resting place for the night. Only after I’d set up my bed did I realise all the grass was making my eyes a little puffy & my nose run, and I had invaded a small bird’s home.

We stared at each other a lot; I slept well and woke to find I still had both my eyes. Success.

An earlier start (five-thirty) and I was off to Putaruru for breakfast. I wore extra layers as it was chilly and as it was relatively flat (compared to the previous morning anyway) I never really warmed up. I was feeling average, but with only seventy kilometres to go it was easy to keep on going. With a full English breakfast in me from the Crazy Cow Cafe (I was too tired to appreciate all the amoosing puns), I was away again and heading for the hills – well, the last hill. Ascending four hundred and fifty metres it’s pretty steady, with a few little pinches; Leslie Rd does seem to be one of those hills that just keeps on giving. Finally I was at the top riding into a stiff easterly and negotiating the huge puddles that form the end of the paper road.

All downhill from here! Or not, the wind was strong enough to necessitate pedaling down hill. Height of rudeness. Still, at least it had nothing on my Invercargill to Bluff TA experience. But that couldn’t come close to dampening my spirits as I turned the pedals around all the way to the finish.

Time to lie on the grass, too tired to ask the small guided tour group to move so I could get a better photo.

I was, and still am, so thrilled to have ridden far stronger and longer than I ever have, or imagined I might. At three days and three hours, that’s an average of 250 km/day – compare that with 180-odd/day I did on TA. I had the same bike and carried the same gear, and had done even less preparation this time around – not to mention entering this event with less of a deadline and firmly just wanting to have a look around a different part of NZ. (Admittedly, this was only three days in a row, not two weeks – and the weather was amazing too.)

So I’m a little taken aback, how did this suddenly happen with no plan or desire? In part, taking a bit more care of what I’ve been eating in the previous six weeks has meant that I am currently carrying significantly less weight on me than for the last ten or so years. As has been usefully pointed out – how much money would one pay to get fancy gear to lose so much mass from one’s bike and gear? The answer would be thousands and involve titanium and fancy composites. After mentally spending these thousands in my mind, sense prevailed remembering what some guru said a few years ago: “Ride what you have”. Another component of this step-change I guess is more in my mind – and that comes from talking to, reading about other people that perform absolutely amazing feats of endurance. Obviously, I’m nowhere near that – but it does open one’s eyes to what is possible, and maybe just rubs off a little, eventually.

Now I’m looking around for more events and routes I can challenge myself on. The cool thing is I can see many areas to improve and with a bit more discipline I should be able to push my boundaries far more (I did after all carry a tent the whole way around and not use it, oops – which is what I did for all but the first night of TA; I think I may be learning slowly!).

Thanks to Pete and Erik for such a great route and well organised event – the hours and days that go into planning such a thing are immense, and all for the love of it. I certainly got to see parts of this country that I’d not before, and probably wouldn’t have otherwise. More importantly, I’ve suddenly seen other things I did not see before.

Apologies for shortage of good photos, I was having too much fun riding my bike. But I suspect if you’ve managed to read this far, you might not mind so much.

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.