Absolutely itching to get riding and make up some of the miles I hadn’t covered in the previous two days and unable to sleep more than an hour in the hot clubrooms, I got up & packed up as quietly as I could at three o’clock and headed into Auckland determined to miss as much traffic as possible.
Straight out of Helensville, the rural-ness and hilly-ness of the roads surprised me – even so close to Auckland, a city I lived near for four years, I was discovering new places. The biggest climb on the route into the city was first up, but it stayed hilly for a while as I quickly warmed up in the dark. The silence and lack of traffic so close to NZ’s biggest city was wonderful and gradually the city lights came into view. The cycle-trail into the centre was mostly off-road – but with major works on the north-western motorway, there were quite a few detours that weren’t on the GPS track and were a bit tricky to work out in the dark.
Two and a half hours later I was at the top of Queen Street and heading for the next photo checkpoint at the top of Mt Eden. Still pre-dawn, there were an astonishing number of people out running and walking to the summit of the volcanic hill. There was another Tour rider up there, so I even got a photo of myself to go with the dawn shots. I lingered awhile stretching and taking in the sunrise from such a great vantage point.
I thought I deserved another breakfast after the early start; while I looked on, the peak traffic built up.
The route through the rest of Auckland was pretty good, considering I ended up riding the second half of it in peak hour, and took us out to the airport before heading north through Manukau. In one of the more surreal sights of the trip, I was bemused to watch sheep dogs herding a flock of sheep in one of the biggest parks in a large first world city – maybe Auckland is just a big country town. The unfortunate part of riding through Auckland so early was I missed seeing quite a few friends who had turned into blue-dot watchers. Answering messages and phone calls helped to break up the city riding a bit. The family connections continued as I cycled past land near the airport my ancestors farmed for generations.
Crossing the Manukau Harbour near Onehunga.
Out of Manukau, by way of the large Totara Park that I had no idea existed, I was shortly heading for the Hunuas. There was a coastal route option, but I’d ridden that before and I’d not seen half of the Hunua Ranges route. The ride up past Ardmore Quarry and the old military prison, now being reclaimed by the trees around it, was steep and probably the hottest I was all tour as the day really began to heat up. The Hunuas were a regular destination for mountain-biking when I lived in Pukekohe but I was pleased to be discovering a different part of the ranges. After about the third food/supply stop for the day it flattened out considerably and I was on familiar roads.
Out of the foothills, the cross-wind off the Hauraki Gulf was not too bad for the fifteen or so kilometres of highway. Four in the afternoon and I’d already done 170 km for the day – knowing that the Hauraki Rail Trail was both flat and oriented so I’d have a tailwind, it was shaping up to be my biggest day yet on tour, and quite possibly ever. As I approached Pipiroa I was not surprised to see a large Australian sedan parked on the side of the highway with two people trying to pick the identity of bikepackers riding towards them. I’d gotten the idea that my aunt and uncle had become hooked on tracking the Tour’s, and my, progress – so it was great to stop and at the cafe have second-lunch while chatting with them.
Another photo checkpoint – dairy cows on the Hauraki Plains.
With that tailwind the Hauraki Rail Trail was fast, and just as flat as ever. With gifts gladly accepted from the first trail angel I’d come across (water, cherry tomatoes and muesli bars left on a table trailside) I was soon in Paeroa and then Te Aroha. This was my intended destination for the day – but I couldn’t give up such a great tailwind. I stopped and rested awhile over dinner and booked a cabin near Matamata. The deserted rural roads were quick with the wind behind me and it was only gradual, easy climb towards Matamata.
I reached my destination after dark – pretty pleased that my Tour was back on schedule (even slighty ahead perhaps). But I was more pleased with the day’s efforts. Over 260 km for the day – thirteen and a half hours of riding with plenty of stops and food (nearly four and a half hours’ worth!), I was still feeling pretty good after my biggest day on a bike. I had picked up a strange strain at the outer top of my left calf – I worked out that it was from unclipping my left leg so often in Auckland traffic. It was generally fine to ride with, but I couldn’t walk properly for quite some days. I loosened my cleats right off and it gradually improved back to normal.
Although expensive for a cabin (I think because of the hot springs I didn’t get take a swim in), it was worth paying for as I slept exceptionally well (not surprising after that day) and was able to get up and do it all again the following day.