Te Apiti mud-fest (Waimarama, Kairakau S24O)

Waipukurau. Saturday. One o’clock.

That’s where Carl had to be to meet his family returning from Palmerston North. Why drive when you can ride a bike and camp at the beach overnight? A plan was hatched during the week to enable this and get some bikepacking, not to mention training for Tour Aotearoa for Carl, in. I managed to work in a paper road (a legal right of way that only exists on paper, not as an actual road) I’d wanted to ride for some time into the plan.

Friday after work there was much rushing to get my bike loaded before we rendezvoused at the mouth of the Tutaekuri River. Battling a strong on-shore wind, we met and the drizzle set in. Nearing six o’clock, would we have enough time to ride with loaded bikes the forty kilometres over the hills to Waimarama before the pub kitchen closed? (This is becoming a theme, one I quite like – ensuring one rides efficiently and fast enough to get one’s dinner. Strong motivation.)

Familiar cycle trails were easy miles as the rain strengthened. We crossed the Red Bridge and things became less familiar – I had been on this road once before, back in July. On a grey, damp evening traffic was light; there was ample opportunity to ride side-by-side and discuss bikepacking, TA details and thankfully, little work. With only three hundred metres of climbing, it was a leisurely Friday evening ride – the rain and the summer heat making it rather muggy. Ascending the last climb, the rain had ceased and it was pleasant riding as we drew closer to that kitchen.

At the crest of that climb, Waimarama Beach and Bare Island stretched in front of us.

Whizzing off the hill and along the flats, we made a bee-line for the pub, put our orders in and went to make camp at the local camping ground while the light held, as did the clouds. We returned to demolish our meals in one of those pubs where the patrons propping up the bar have not seen people riding into the local from a distant place, loaded with camping gear – it’s fun and amusing to be accorded astonishment and respect for such a small ride. Marveling at how achievable and great Friday-after-work bikepacking escapes are, we began plotting other possible ventures.

Rising after a sound sleep, decamping, and snacking we rolled off into a grey morning at the leisurely hour of seven o’clock. Gradually climbing up Te Apiti Road through farmland was an easy warm-up for the day. After ten kilometres we reached the end of the road and lifted our bikes over the gate onto Te Apiti Station. Checking in with the manager the day before, he’d warned Carl that it was raining and the track would be boggy. We figured we could deal with this.

It definitely wasn’t boggy. The track hardly looked wet. But we quickly found, when we couldn’t even ride up the first short, steep rise, that the innocent looking dirt track was exceptionally tacky. Rolling over it, walking over, the surface much preferred to detach itself from the earth and fasten itself to tyres and shoes. I have never experienced such vasty quantities of such adhesive mud.

For two hours we tried to ride on the grass when possible; most often we couldn’t and so resorted to churning through the tackiness. This mostly consisted of pushing one’s bike until the wheels bound themselves in the frame, then dragging the bike and finally succumbing and stopping to remove vast wads of mud from, well, everything. At one stage in the middle of it all, we rode a few hundred metres and it was incredible! Just when it seemed to be getting better, we struck the worst patch yet – unfortunately this coincided with a steep, slippery ascent from which there was no escape to grass on the side. Getting ridiculous by then, we finally could look down and see a gravel farm track – it was almost over! That two hours got us a massive five and a half kilometres.

You know it’s bad when your 2.4″ tyres turn into 4″ fat tyres; and you know it has gotten worse when the mud has bridged over the rims.

My new shoes, bought to be more comfortable for hike-a-bike, were getting a bit of walking in – but not looking so new all of a sudden. On the bright side, I did grow a couple of inches in stature.

Usually I have plenty of clearance between tyre and fork – not this day.

Nope, that wheel is not turning.

The countryside was ruggedly beautiful, but mostly I remember the remarkable mud. Bliss to be on a gravel road, our speed increased as we crested a couple of smaller hills before rolling down to Kairakau Beach. A small settlement of holiday homes, we tried to find somewhere to clean our bikes and shed a few kilograms of mud. Once again attracting attention for being a little mad, two dear older couples from Napier with long (five or so generations) ties to the area plied us with a large pot of tea and biscuits. And let us use their hose to wash our bikes from brown back to black. Fantastic.

Carl had somewhere to be and I had to get home as I was expecting guests. It turns out that riding out of Kairakau involves a good 250 m climb at a decent seven percent gradient. A different type of work, but preferable to making little progress through the mud. We parted ways at Elsthorpe, I stopped in at a country equestrian meet expecting a food stall of some sort – I was not disappointed. I enjoyed my first ride along the undulating Kahuranaki Road and arrived home in plenty of time after battling the same on-shore wind.

A most excellent little outing, made more memorable by being a lot more challenging than expected. As I’m starting to say more often on little adventures that don’t go quite to plan – good training for something. What something will be remains to be seen.

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