Category Archives: travel

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.

Dobies Ode-ies

For the first time in over ten years, I phoned in sick to work at the start of the week – so this week has been even quieter than the last few months generally have. But with enforced rest (no riding a bike for a week, absurd), I’ve got time for a rather nostalgic post on this neglected platform.

I was mortified after a not-so-recent bike-commute that I’d worn a hole in my bike shorts. Usually, that wouldn’t be a big deal – but I just didn’t think it was possible with NZO Dobies. Roomy, comfortable and (almost, it turns out) indestructible, Dobies have been my go-to MTBing shorts for over ten years – my first pair was handed down to Adele and still have plenty of life left in them after a decade (maybe I should steal them back). I ordered two new pairs eight years ago before embarking on quite a few years of travel and much mountain-biking.

It is one of those pairs, the (once) black ones, that have finally worn through. I think that’s a pretty fantastic show of longevity as I’ve clocked up well over twenty-five thousand kilometres of mountain-biking in that time in all sorts of conditions. As I was thinking that over, I realised these shorts have been part of an awful lot of my bike adventures and it would be worth doing a quick search through my photos of me on bikes. So now I’ll reminisce for the joy of it; at least, I don’t think I’m mourning a pair of shorts.

Earliest picture of said Dobies, late 2008; fitting as on a trip with Roger & Mark to Whangamata – I really started to get into riding more once I met those two.  Notable also for the NZO socks, gloves, shirt & buff.

Queen Charlotte Walkway trip early 2009 – that three-day ride remains as a highlight of all riding trips. 

Living the dream – riding in western USA mid-2009; the start of my time away from NZ, the riding was fantastic. This must have been the ride I met Chip, a recurring riding buddy whose bike-over-the-head pose I’m trying for the first time here.

Black shorts may not have been the best idea on a day that reached 40ºC by nine in the morning – riding the Bootleg Canyon trails, near Boulder City, Nevada. The brewpub was welcome relief at eleven o’clock.

Having a blast on Just Outstanding somewhere in the Sierra Nevadas. A weekend spent camping with MTB randoms I met on – what could go wrong? Cannell Plunge is one of my all-time favourites – on which I completely cooked my brakes, they were never the same.

Black Dobies turn up in the teafields of Kenya – some excellent biking & exploring to be done, I was to return despite the dislocated shoulder incident.

Then a whole summer and fall of biking in the Canadian Rockies. Here Black Dobies are a late ring-in for a Calgarian team competing in the 24 Hours of Adrenaline. Suitable photos worthy of portraying what a fantabulous summer of biking it was are, sadly, lacking.

Black Dobies were on the excellent three-month west-USA road trip with Valerie; here just out of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Riding around the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Wonderful riding just out of Sedona.

Tahoe Rim Trail!

The McKenzie River Trail, Oregon – a ride memorable for cool new friends.

Following all that there was a return to the UK and plenty of riding with great buddies in the south and south-west of England – alas, I seem to have few photos of myself on those pretty countryside rides.

But the shorts couldn’t be kept away from North America – here, arguably the best MTB holiday I’ve been on, in Moab, Utah. Excellent friends, sublime riding, good food and conditions combined for a memorable & often-remembered week.

Following that trip, it was a cracking summer in the UK during which it didn’t rain for months – I rode plenty in preparation for:

My first multi-day MTB event – the three-day Rift Valley Odyssey, I didn’t need much persuasion to visit East Africa again.

Then I was made redundant, so the Black Dobies & I set off biking across Western Europe. A couple of thousand kilometres took me from London to Italy, I was traveling light so the shorts were in constant use.

On a bridge between Germany & Belgium, it seemed I was constantly crossing borders – the shorts were often confused as to which country they were in.

Crossing the Alps into Italy.

Another month of constant Dobies wearing – working on a vineyard in Aosta Valley & hiking in the Alps. The pockets were never the same after I stuffed eighty walnuts in them while out for a siesta-replacing walk.

Just a little ride around Mt Kilimanjaro; another trip to Tanzania, perche no?

Then I was back in NZ, for good!  Dragging best-sister up steep hills on bikes happened a fair bit that summer.

My first bikepacking event seemed like a good idea. The Kiwi Brevet was a sublime 1150 km loop around the top half of the South Island – Black Dobies got punished again. 

From the same trip, this seems to be the last momentous photo I have of Black Dobies.

There was another year of riding – some bikepacking, much commuting, a little mountain-biking – before the horrid revelation that I’d actually worn them out, I still can’t quite believe it. Eight years – how is it possible to withstand all that biking and traveling? Never mind, I received a new pair as a Christmas gift. Probably I don’t to need steal my original pair back, that may have been why Adele got me the new pair.

You’ll be pleased to know the days are getting longer & warmer – soon I’ll have more tales of biking, exploring & bikepacking to tell and I’ll not need to resort to writing about shorts.

Taranaki Trip

A trip for work for a one-day workshop on the other side of the North Island evolved into a little road-trip due to the places we planned to stop on the route. I say a little road-trip as it was only nine-hundred-odd kilometres over three days. That doesn’t really give a picture of how difficult and slow the driving was in places as we took in four significantly windy and steep roads: the Gentle Annie (Napier to Taihape), the Paraparas (Raetihi to Whanganui), the Forgotten Highway (Stratford to Taumaranui) and the Napier-Taupo highway. I’d think a case could be made for those being among the most tortuous long roads in the North Island – each crossing some very hilly and rugged country.

Somehow I ended driving all those, which was fine but tiring. I was exciting to be driving the Gentle Annie for the first time I remember – I know this rough road was mentioned every so often when I was young, but I have no recollection of having traveled it. Mostly I was interested to see it firsthand as I think bikepacking it one summer will be great as it opens so much more country to explore. It’s no longer a gravel road, but with hilliness of the road is well-known and spoken of in hushed tones if bicycles are part of the same conversation. It was stunning country and I look forward to exploring it more slowly by bike.

I relived a very small part of my Tour Aotearoa driving into Whanganui for lunch before distant memories of university summer holiday work flooded back as we went through South Taranaki. Work things done for the day, there was just enough time to pull bikes out of the car ride the famed Coastal Path in New Plymouth before dark. It was all very pleasant and nice to be out in the fresh sea air after a day mostly in the car.

So many choices; I want to know if Colin’s cat is still in the same place.

Fortunately we had some dim lights to do a bit of urban mountain-biking through a couple of reserves and parks as night fell. That could even be the first time I’ve been to Pukekura Park, shocking.

The WorkSafe workshop proved useful – but Taranaki sure was a long way to go for it. But it did enable a plan to be hatched for the drive home in what was now the weekend. That plan took us through the twisty Forgotten World Highway into another extremely hilly area. Thankfully we made the Whangamomona Hotel just before nightfall as it meant we could take in the spectacular views across this remote area. That there is even a road, let alone a rail line, through here beggars belief. Some of the rail tunnels are over a kilometre long – which is very unusual for NZ.

Much to our surprise, the Whangamomona Hotel – seemingly in the middle of nothing but a lot of hills – was absolutely packed. Just as well we’d booked rooms; a birthday party had really swelled the crowd, I’m unsure if the group on a collection of classic motorbikes was separate or not. We enjoyed the history of the place as we waited for dinner – the kitchen was understandably very busy. The history is rather quirky – not just because it’s in the backblocks and has a proud pioneering & frontier history, but also because the town seceded from NZ in 1989 and declared itself a republic when they were unhappy with new regional council boundaries.

I had a bit of time to wander the town before we left Saturday morning for the rest of the adventure – it didn’t take long.

A little family road-trip to the start

When I first hatched this plan to ride the inaugural Tour Aotearoa, Dad immediately volunteered to drive me to the start at the very top of the country. Not only that, he also offered to pick me up at the end – should I get there. This was a tremendous help as it took a lot of the planning out from the get-go.

It just so happened that I went and moved far away from my parents – all the way to Napier in the North Island. Nonplussed, Mum & Dad flew north and turned up at my house a few days before we set off on a good Pheasant roadtrip to far-flung parts of the country – wasn’t quite like childhood, as I had a bike next to me in the car not a sister.

We took it pretty easy heading north – as I was in Wave Two of the starters, I didn’t have to line up until Tuesday. So we spent three days making our way the seven-hundred-odd kilometres north visiting family and friends along the way. The highlight was definitely the visit to Matakohe – a place we’ve been many times before. Where the Pheasants settled way back when, there is a little bit of family stuff in the comprehensive and very well-done Kauri Museum. But this time I’d arranged a visit to a much smaller historic building.

Fortunately, David & Sherry were going to be in their small house the weekend we were traveling north. It just so happens that they had rescued their house forty years ago from its fate as a hay barn and faithfully restored it. This house was the house of my great-grandfather at the turn of the previous century and was where my grandfather and his siblings grew up, until the family moved south to Auckland for better educational opportunities. I was thrilled to be able to arrange the visit as Dad had never been inside the house, only looked in the windows.

It was a special visit discussing family history, how my great-aunt helped with the restoration details thanks to an extremely detailed memory, talking of the restoration in general, looking around the house in detail and roaming the grounds trying to imagine what it was like growing up on the edge of the Kaipara Harbour over a hundred years ago. Thanks to David & Sherry for having us – & doing such a thorough and incredible job of saving a bit, probably the biggest bit, of Pheasant family history around. Dad & I managed a walk down to where the wharf used to be – boats from here would have been the main connection with Auckland (boat to Helensville, then train to Auckland).

Leaving Matakohe, thoughts begin to turn more to just what I was about to embark on. This was probably brought on by driving north through, & stopping to buy riding food in, Dargaville – I could see some of the terrain I’d be riding through, up & over in but a few days’ time. At our accommodation in Kaitaia, the bike was pulled from the car and the final pack for 3000 km of adventure was completed with no drama. Ride time!