Sunday, 13 October 2013

Ara Harakeke

Today, we managed to get a great ride in, between two lots of rather heavy rain. The last few days have been pretty wet, and when I heard the rain clattering on the roof as I went to bed last night, I didn’t think we’d get to ride today. But we did. Today was sunny and calm, and even warm enough to take my jacket off. However, we’d only been home an hour or so after our ride, when we had another heavy downpour and thunder. We were glad we didn’t get caught out in that!

In view of the recent rain, we figured we’d better choose a sealed track, and so we decided on Ara Harakeke, the track that runs alongside SH1 from Plimmerton to Pukerua. We parked outside the Plimmerton railway station, ducked under the underpass, and tootled off onto the sealed path alongside the Domain. But, woah! We came around a bend in the track and found ... a lake!

A “lake” on the track! (photo by John)

A quick turn-around to an alternative route led across a bridge over a very swollen stream. This took us to the entrance of the Palmers Garden Centre, in front of which is a large display of Big Mac Slabs Furniture – beautiful garden furniture made from thick slabs of timber. It looks like a garden café, but there’s not a coffee cup in sight anywhere!

We crossed a very swollen stream

Not a cafe setting, but a display of garden furniture!

We rode up Ulric Street which winds through the Plimmerton Industrial Park, from the top of which there is access to the Ara Harakeke Way. It was glorious to pedal along the flat part of the track, and to see flowering broom, swathes of wild purple daisies, and even the delicate white blooms of some early flowering manuka.

Early-flowering manuka

I love it when the purple daisies cover whole hillsides on one side of the motorway, and when the manuka on the other side is in full flower, so that it looks like it’s been snowing. And at this time of the year, the hills in the distance look so soft and such a rich green, like a rumpled velvet counterpane. So beautiful!

Flowering broom and purple daisies, and velvety hills (photo by John)

Before long, we reached Whenua Tapu, from where the track started to climb. To begin with, it runs right next to the motorway, although elevated above it, then it goes through a bushy area which is really pretty.

A pretty bushy area, before the track becomes much steeper (photo by John)

The track became quite steep, but I was determined not to be a wuss this time. I was going to give it my best shot. Most of the way, I did OK. I used my lowest gear, and tried to just keep my legs pumping, while keeping my upper body as still as possible to conserve energy. It seemed to work in all but the steepest bits, where I still had to get off and walk. My legs just couldn’t do the worst of it, and the loading on my heart was just too much (I have a slightly leaky heart valve, which doesn’t help).

It was a struggle up that hill, but I made it! (photo by John)

BUT … I got to the bridge over the railway line at Pukerua without getting grumpy, and I felt pretty chuffed about that.

The bridges over the railway line – one for walkers and cyclists, the other for SH1

At the top of the Pukerua hill there are a few shops, and as always when we go past there, I shuddered at the sign advertising “Le Mer Day Spa”. The French word for “sea” is a feminine word, so it should be la mer, not le mer. And being a picky linguist, it makes me cringe every time I see it.

Aargh! It should be La Mer, not Le Mer!

Having reached the shops, we considered stopping for an icecream, but then decided not to. We turned around and whizzed down the hill back to Plimmerton. Wheeee!! Fabulous, the free-wheeling speed, the sun on our backs, and the wind in our hair! Oops, sorry, I just got a bit carried away there. Of course we didn’t have the wind in our hair, we were wearing helmets – but it sounded good …

When we got back to the Plimmerton Domain, there was a group from the local archery club practicing their skills. We stopped for a while to watch them. The bows are quite seriously sophisticated looking instruments. When I commented that it was something I would have been quite interested in learning when I was younger, a man in his fifties came over and said it was never too late to learn anything (I'd agree with that!). Lots of older people were wanting to learn, he said, but there was quite a waiting list to join the club.

Plimmerton archers and their targets (photo by John)

Modern-day archers

Back to Plimmerton, under the station underpass. I was quite taken by the cheerful murals in the tunnel.

Symbols and sights of Plimmerton in the station underpass

A tile and mosaic mural of the seashore in the station underpass
We rode past our car, and carried on towards Paremata, where we were planning to have lunch. We popped into a little side street for a look at the beach, which wasn’t there, as the tide was in, and waves covered the whole beach.

The tide was in at Plimmerton Beach (photo by John)

I thought the seats overlooking the beach were rather attractive – made of concrete, but with an artistic touch of paua. Concrete does not have to be ugly, it can be rather beautiful when polished up.

Artistic seats

We rode along the southernmost part of Ara Harakeke, between the water and the railway line, towards Paremata. At Mana Station we went through the underpass – no decorations here – and doubled back towards “Ruby’s”, a café with a nice courtyard, where we had a very satisfying lunch.

Lunch at “Ruby’s” (photo by John)

We still hadn’t had enough of cycling, so after lunch we kept going through the Ngatitoa Domain and Mana Yacht Club. Lots of yachts and pleasure boats were moored at the marina, but out towards the bridge, two fishing boats were anchored off the shore. One of them had an impressive array of masts and tackles and machinery on board, for what was actually quite a small boat.

Fishing boats anchored near the Paremata Bridge (photo by John)

Here we turned around and biked back, through Mana, and Plimmerton, past our car again, and along the foreshore at Karehana Bay. On previous rides in this area we had gone past the boating club at Karehana without stopping, as the gate across the driveway is usually closed. But this time John found a path around the side of a building which allowed us to go onto the wharf, from where there is a great view out towards Mana Island.

Mana is a strangely flat-topped island, which was a base for the Māori chief Te Rauparaha in the 1820s. A decade later, European settlement started there with a whaling station and later, sheep farming. These days the island is administered by DOC (Department of Conservation).

Mana Island (photo by John)

By now a brisk headwind had sprung up, and I thought to myself “this is good practice for when – if! – we get to ride in Holland (where the wind is ever present)”. Taking John to Holland to do some bike touring is one of the items on “my bucket list”.

When we got to the Hongoeka Marae sign, we turned around and rode all the way back to the car on the road, rather than on the foot/cycle path. This was easier, as, being the weekend, there were quite a few people walking on the footpath. Also, I need to extend my “comfort zone”, by riding on the road, rather than dedicated cycle paths, more often.

What with all this riding back and forth, we had managed to cover 25 kms by the time we got back to the car. On the way home, I noticed that the “Prestige Caravans” yard on the corner of Acheron Road had a lot of their caravans and motorhomes open for viewing, so we stopped for a nosey.

$125,000 worth of motorhome! (photo by John)

I love looking inside caravans or motorhomes. I think it would be rather fun to have a holiday in one, even though I’m not a fan of camping. It is quite amazing what they manage to fit into such a small space. All the ones we looked into had not only fully functioning kitchens with stove, microwave and fridge, but also had TV sets, and a toilet and shower squeezed into the tiniest of spaces. That is the main thing that puts me off camping – the fact that you have to tramp across a paddock to get to the ablutions block! Not much fun in the middle of the night, or in the rain!

Inspecting the top bunk (photo by John)

I remember the first time I ever saw inside a caravan. I was nine years old, and we were visiting a Home Show. At the time, my Mum, my sister and I were living in my grandmother’s house along with my uncle’s family and it was all a bit cramped. There was a severe housing shortage in the Netherlands in the 1950s, and a caravan seemed like some sort of solution. We kids thought it was a great idea. But I don’t think Mum did, as we ended up moving into another family’s attic not long after. A great move, as it turned out, as we had a fantastic year there, and our two families became great, lifelong friends.

Having decided that we were not going to sell the house, and we were not going to buy a motorhome, and we were not going to become “grey nomads”, we got back into our little car and drove home, feeling very satisfied with our day.

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