Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Whitireia Park Track

Today’s ride was the loop track around Whitireia Park, a headland at the entrance to Porirua Harbour. The weather was fine and calm, so calm in fact, that the water on the harbour was like glass. The views were stunning and the reflections of the hills, jetties and yachts anchored off shore were pretty near perfect.

Perfect reflections - Onepoto jetty

However, for me, this exercise was not 100% perfect. I found it quite taxing. Not only did I have a fall, but we also had to walk over a BIG hill, which to me, is rather like adding insult to injury - literally. I’m a “flatlander”, remember! When I huffed and puffed and grew purple in the face with the exertion, John said he “barely raised a sweat”. Ah phooey!

But let me start at the beginning.

A few days ago, John, always on the lookout for new places to explore by bike, discovered that there is a track that skirts the base of the hill that forms Whitireia Park. “Let’s do that next time it’s fine”.

As we were driving along Titahi Bay Road towards the start of the track at Onepoto, we were delighted with the gorgeous reflections on the water. This promised to be a lovely ride. We unloaded the bikes in a park by the Onepoto jetty. We watched a man take off in his red canoe, and we saw him again several times, as he was paddling on the harbour, while we were pedalling on the shore. I reckon he got the better deal, actually.

The man in the red canoe (photo by John)

The sealed road soon gave way to a smooth-ish, though narrow, gravel track. “This will be good if it’s like this all the way” I was thinking, just as I found out that the track was not level, but had a serious camber to each side. Of course I keeled off the edge, onto the wet grass verge, landing quite heavily on my shoulder and elbow. The thud made my brain rattle around its box like a pea in a tin. I sat on the ground for a minute, checking all my bits and pieces, and found I had skinned my knee, shin and elbow, and had a wet bum from the wet grass!

John meanwhile was way ahead of me and unaware I had got myself into a bit of strife. So I scrabbled to my feet, and rang my bell – my cute, loud, new bicycle bell – vigorously, several times,  to alert him.

He came back, “Are you OK?” – “Yeah, I’ll live” – “All right, let’s go. Take it easy”.

I negotiated the rest of this “nice” track more carefully after this. I should have been thankful for small mercies, because soon the track deteriorated. Stretches with lots of lumpy rocky bits, patches that were very muddy, even a bit of path that consisted of crushed shells and very loose fine gravel that was quite un-navigable. We had to get off the track, and walk along the stony beach for a short distance. Pretty horrible really, but the views were drop-dead gorgeous. The harbour is not very wide, and we could easily see the marina and yachts on the opposite side, with the hills behind. So pretty.

We came to a wetland where the Onepoto stream came dribbling down from the hill, and we crossed a bridge across the swamp. From here one track went along the shore, the other went up the hill. “No way, I don’t want to go up the hill!”. As it turned out, that was the track that we would later return on.

The wetland at the end of the Onepoto Stream (photo by John)

Round the point the track became grassy, with deep ruts. Very tricky to negotiate, as some of the ruts were so deep and skinny that your pedals would catch on the grassy edges. But if you rode on the grassy top of the track, you were liable to fall into the many rabbit holes. Lucky there was no-one else around – the air was fairly blue with the sound of our grunts and my expletives!

The lumpy grassy track (photo by John)

We arrived at a suitable resting spot, where we had to carry our bikes over the top of a four-step-high stile, beside a fence festooned with half a dozen pairs of shoes and jandals. I wondered what made people bring their old shoes just to hang them on a fence.

We sat on the bottom step of the stile for a breather, but John wanted to push on. “No rest for the wicked – not even for the walking wounded”, I complained. “Well, at least you’ll have an interesting story for your blog”, John suggested.

Near here the rocky shore showed quite clearly that sometime, millions of years ago, the rocks had been tipped up by tectonic forces, as you could see the vertical ridges which had once been horizontal layers under the sea.

Evidence of geological upheaval - tilted marine sediments (photo by John)

The hill above us was once a Maori pa site (in the 1800s), and the levels of kumara-growing terraces are still visible at the top of the hill.

We arrived at another carpark - Onehunga Bay. Yay! Smooth tarseal! We followed the road around the next point, only to find it came to a dead end. Now what? The choices were a steep tarsealed road, or a track up the hill towards what looked like a saddle, or go back the way we came.

Onehunga Bay (photo by John)

It seemed that the least of the three evils would be the track across the saddle. Well, maybe it was the least, but it was evil! It was not rideable, at least not for a scaredy-cat retiree, with a dislike of loose gravel and steep hillsides! It would be grand for invincible 20-or-30-somethings with a gung-ho attitude and plenty of oomph, and riding sturdy mountain bikes.

So we walked our bikes up the hill. From the bottom, the track had not seemed so steep, but it went around a corner, and yes, it was definitely steep. And it went up and up forever! Then when we finally started going down again I was still not game to ride, as the skiddy gravel would have had me either slam into the bank on my left, or fall off the edge and crash down into the gorse-covered gully on my right.

Now, I love gorse – especially when it is in bloom and it covers the hillsides in glorious gold – but its vicious thorns are not things you want to get up too close and personal with! My mother-in-law – bless her little cotton socks – used to say I was not supposed to like gorse, as it was a noxious weed. What was considered to be a useful hedging plant was imported from England in colonial days, but it quickly grew out of control in New Zealand’s much nicer climate, and millions have been spent on trying to eradicate it.

Walking beside my bike caused me a further few injuries, as my lower leg kept being assaulted by the pedal as I got in its way. No matter whether the pedal was up or down, or forward or back, it would jolly well find my leg! I finally twigged that I could fold the pedal in – it’s a folding bike, after all - and that mostly solved the conflict.

The hill track (photo by John)

Eventually the track flattened out on the valley floor, and lo and behold! we were back at the bridge over the swamp. Then we still had to ride the treacherous track where I had come to grief, in order to get back to the car.

In all, we covered only nine kilometres, but about a third of that was the walk over the hill. It took us a good (or maybe not so good?) two hours. Here is a map of the loop track.

This was definitely not one of my favourite rides. I must admit, though, that it is a beautiful area, with fabulous views, but the track is really more suited to walking than biking. Will I do this ride again? Nope, I don’t think so.

We ended the afternoon with coffee and cake at the Kaizen Café, in the Pataka complex in Porirua, and a quick look at an exhibition about delightfully gaudy Pakistani truck art.

Pakistan truck art - at Pataka's Bottle Creek Gallery

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