Category Archives: roadtrip

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!

West Coast Week

Probably coming close to doubling the amount of time I’ve spent on the West Coast ever, it was a great week exploring various parts of the area previously unseen by me. Unfortunately Adele had to work for most of our stay – that after all being the whole reason she is there – but at least there was a long weekend in there to enjoy together. Activities were varied for the week, hopefully James enjoyed having a few extra people around during the working week – at least, he was pretty easy to persuade to go mountain-biking with.

First up we headed up to the Denniston Plateau, an old coal mining area just north east of Westport. Considering its proximity to town it was remarkably remote – helped by the very steep hill we had to drive up to get onto the plateau. We timed our ride well and didn’t get wet at all as we explored a loop, recommended by the local bike shop, taking in part of the trail network up there. It was a great fun loop with a variety of trail surfaces that seemed to change in an instant. From bog standard gravel road, to smooth almost-slickrock double track to quite rocky singletrack. Well worth the drive up and with a few decent little pinch climbs to keep us honest.

At times the trail got rocky, narrow and steep.

I’ve not seen such an interesting sign-in hut before – this for the coal mine just down the road.

Back near the car, I couldn’t resist poking around some of the old mine buildings long since abandoned. These, below, near the powerhouse and changehouse. A little bit down the hill we found the main historic displays detailing working in the various mines and life in such a wet and isolated place as the company town must have been. We also happened across Mum & Dad out exploring a bit; unfortunately the cloud and rain really rolled in, so I abandoned a scheme to ride down the closed bridle track to sea-level.

The next day’s ride was a stunner on the Old Ghost Road – which is not quite completed; even so, there’s more than enough there for its own post.

The warm sunny weather persisted, much to our surprise and pleasure (the West Coast is notorious for its rainfall), into Friday. With a day off the bikes, James & Dad headed out for a round of golf while Mum & I took the drive south to Cape Foulwind. It was a much better visit that the one twenty years previous – where both of us were completely overcome with hayfever and remember little else. The beach and coast was looking fantastic and we spent some time watching the seals basking in the sunshine or playing in various rocky pools.

Spot the seals and rocks.

Friday evening walk on the beach and sundowners.

Saturday the weather turned somewhat, but we were keen for a day out to Reefton. Somehow we got our three mountain bikes on and in the Vitara and the five of us piled in for the hour drive south-east. Bikes assembled, we rode from town to do the Murray Creek Circuit that had been given four stars in the most recent edition of the NZ MTBing bible – which interestingly uses a scale of zero to four. We would have liked to do a bigger ride, but didn’t want to keep Mum & Dad waiting too long.

Leaving the highway after a couple of kilometres, it was a steady climb through beautiful native forest beside the creek passing various mining relics and even an old town site – Cementown, one of the more boring names for a town possible. It got a bit muggy at times as we were surrounded by all the trees keeping the moisture in. For most of the climb we followed an old road from gold-mining days that was still a good wide and even surface.

Opting for the singletrack route, we continued climbing as we turned left at Waitahu Junction back towards town. It was a rare point when the thick canopy of trees opened enough to look down on the view below – this down to the Waitahu River:

The track narrowed and soon it became apparent we were on some new singletrack. Around the time we were passing the last gold mines (well the head of the shafts – a look at a plan on a signboard showed that the hill was riddled with various mines off two deep vertical shafts) the trail became really quite good. There wasn’t a lot of overall altitude gain or loss for a while and trail was lush – there was one point where they’d worked really hard to put some tight switchbacks in, much too steep and compact for me to climb. With littles bits where one still had to work hard to crest a rise, it was a good mixture with the flowing singletrack. I was disappointed when the trail became gravel closer to town – even if it was still fun.

Reefton looking pretty much as it is – small and surrounded by hills and native forest.

Back in town to savour a fun little ride and eat lunch, we loaded up again and headed out to Waiuta. I’d never heard of Waiuta until the Kiwi Brevet earlier in the year and was then disappointed I didn’t have time to stop as I rode past and into my favourite part of the entire brevet course – the Big River Trail. Once a company town for yet another gold mine, this one lasting about fifty years; Waiuta went into decline in the fifties after the mine closed. I thought the rest of the family would enjoy going up to this remote corner of the country and enjoy poking around what is left. I think I was right, even if it made for a long day by the time we got back to Westport.

Sunday the weather proper rolled in and was quite wild. But that didn’t put us off driving south along the coast to harvest large mussels (Adele & James had been talking of them for a while) off the rocks at low-tide. Unfortunately, with the stormy weather the tide wasn’t quite as low as it might have been on a calm day – but how wet we got was worth it for this rather large pan filled with fresh mussels, white wine, butter and garlic. It’s even better considering Adele doesn’t like mussels, so there were more for the rest of us.

The Charming Creek ride/walk was reported as being beautiful by Adele & James – following an old river-side railway through tunnels, over swing bridges, beside huge native trees and past, once again, old mining equipment. I decided to ride, naturally, while Mum, Dad & Adele walked on the public holiday Monday. While happy to walk and ride in the rain, we didn’t factor in the cumulative rainfall over the previous day or so.

The river was absolutely raging and the trail wet under wheel (so much so, that I put my over-trousers on to keep the spray from my wheels away). All that wasn’t much of a problem, but the number of waterfalls seen became an issue when I emerged from a tunnel to find a torrent of water dumping right on to the trail. I pondered awhile – it didn’t take long to see that I’d be absolutely soaked trying to pass under it or, worse, swept into the river. Not keen on either outcome, it was disappointing but prudent to turn around after only two and a half kilometres. That trail will have to keep for another visit.

That was about our stay in Westport – most enjoyable, there’s so much to do and still left to explore. One just needs to be able to time outdoor activities with the famed rain to make the most of it. Tuesday Mum, Dad & I left for home down the West Coast. It sure is a long, & at times slow, drive to Haast. It’s definitely just short of twenty years since I’ve been down that way, so we stopped to look at some of the more famous sights – the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and a brief glance at Fox Glacier.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen so much flax in one spot.

The wild West Coast – a whole lot less wild than the previous two days.

There definitely isn’t a lot to do in Haast Township of a cold, dark evening – but that didn’t matter as we were exhausted from the slow and winding drive. The whitebait was excellent.

Following day we set off for home to complete our little road-trip.

Over Haast Pass and away from the West Coast, the rain was gone and the sun was out.

Not a bad spot for lunch, near Bannockburn.

A quicker trip through Canterbury

It had been a while since a Pheasant road-trip around the South Island and even longer since I’d accompanied Dad to one of his work farm-visits. So Mum, Dad & I set off north to visit Adele in her new home near Westport – stopping overnight as Dad had some of his last farm visits. While Dad visited clients near Cust, Mum and I popped into Oxford – disappointing. But I’d had my eye on the map and was keen to go exploring the Ashley Gorge a bit.

I wanted to see this end of the Ashley River as on the Kiwi Brevet this year we ended up further up the Ashley River in a part of the country I previously had no idea about. But we turned away from the river at the bottom of Lees Valley on to a off-road route and so I never saw the road through the Ashley Gorge.

After driving half an hour up the road, I was glad that the Brevet route didn’t go through there. I was expecting a nice winding road carving through the hills at close to river-level. It definitely was not. As the road left the tarseal/tarmac/asphalt it climbed steeply, working the car’s engine hard and wound its way high above the river as we gazed over the precipitous drop below us. After half an hour of steady, but by no means quick, progress we were left look at this:

I realise just how isolated Lees Valley is now – and am quite glad we got into it on the Brevet through MacDonald Downs Station. Mindful of the time remaining to return to pick Dad up, and Mum’s desire to buy chestnuts from a roadside stall, there was no point in descending to the river to turn around right away. Having collected Dad, it was off again north to Culverden.

Near Culverden are Keith and Jenny, who are in the middle of trying to organise the finer points of moving on from their farm that they’ve had over the last twenty years – there’s an awful lot to do and many things to be moved or disposed of. They must be some of Dad’s oldest clients, of about forty years, so there’s a little history there and I was amused to stumble upon a photo of Dad standing around an open fire near the beach where we lived thirty-odd years ago.

Apart from my fleeting Brevet ride past, it must be about fifteen years since my last visit – so it was good to see Keith & Jenny and hear of their plans for retirement and of some of their travels. While Keith & Dad were out together looking over the farm one last time, I was intrigued by all the things that there were to get rid of after twenty years – naturally I went and poked around through various sheds. I found a few new things, but a lot things that remind me the eighties and nineties – & some that predated my memory.

A good flying visit, no doubt more of Keith & Jenny to be seen as they move much further south. Strangely for Culverden, it was pretty damp – so as we drove on there was a lot of cloud and mist to see, particularly over the Lewis Pass. With a few more stretches of the Brevet route much more easily driven than ridden, it was through the tortuous Buller Gorge to turn up at Adele’s home-for-a-year-or-so at Carters Beach.