Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Yesterday was a beautiful day, a bit nippy to start with, but very nice by lunchtime. We debated where to go – we’re getting to the stage where we need some new rides to try – and decided on Waikanae. We were fairly late setting out, as I had been to a class at the gym in the morning, followed by coffee with a friend, so it was about 2:30pm when we started cycling.

We parked at the Otaihanga Domain, on the southern bank of the Waikanae River, near the estuary. It is quite a small river, not terribly wide and quite shallow – less than knee-deep – at low tide. As it is the school holidays this week, there were quite a few families in the domain, enjoying the lovely day, and even some brave children venturing into the river to play. However the water must have been pretty cold, as I saw one boy – about eight or nine years old – come shivering and crying back to his Mum looking pretty miserable, and getting called “Wu-uss! Wu-uss!” by another boy. Kids can be so cruel.

Families enjoying the school holidays at the Otaihanga Domain

We took the track that follows the south bank of the river towards SH1. It is a wide gravel path that leads between tall trees in places, and through quite open areas in others.

The river is gentle and the track is wide (photo by John)

It looked like the council had been putting in a lot of work here. The track had been topped up with new gravel, and there was a lot of new planting going on. The young plants are all protected from the wind – and maybe from hungry rabbits or possums? – by shields that look like brown paper bags (but aren’t, of course).

New plantings of native trees (photo by John)

A sign entitled “BRINGING BACK THE BIRDS” near one of the newly planted areas explains that the purpose of the planting is to restore native forest so as to create a “wildlife corridor” between Kapiti Island and the Tararua Ranges. The Waikanae River Corridor Restoration Project is a collaboration between Transpower and the Kapiti Coast District Council. With the help of community volunteers, they will plant 15,000 native trees. They will also control possums, stoats and rats on both sides of this stretch of the river to protect wildlife and to boost forest regeneration.

Waikanae River Corridor Restoration Project sign

As we rode along there was lots of birdsong around us already. We could hear the squeaks, clicks and whistles of the tuis, as well as the twitterings of other birds that I could not identify. I also spotted one very silent bird – a heron – standing on a rock at the edge of some rapids, probably looking for some dinner to come swimming upstream. As I approached very slowly to take a picture of him, he cast a wary eye in my direction. I hoped he wouldn’t fly away before I had my photo, but luckily he stood his ground.

A heron hoping to catch his dinner by the rapids

The kōtuku – the NZ white heron – is associated with the Kapiti area, but it is actually quite rare. From what I can gather from the Te Ara website, this one was a white-faced or blue heron, which successfully started breeding in NZ in the 1940s, having migrated here from Australia.

The track is only about 5kms long before it reaches the SH1 bridge. From here you can go up to the road and cross the bridge to get to the other side of the river, but we knew from a previous ride that the top end of the track there is rather tricky to ride. Before we turned around though, John wanted to see whether the track carried on beyond the bridge. It didn’t. It petered out under the bridge, where we had a view of the local graffiti artists’ work on the pylons of the bridge.

Graffiti under the SH1 bridge

After a while of very pleasant cycling, we stopped at a seat to have our snack (John always brings an apple cut into wedges to share and some Whittakers chocolate mini slabs). We enjoyed the view and the sunshine, and John commented on the shape of the clouds, which seemed to radiate from a central point behind the trees across the river.

The clouds radiated out from behind the trees (photo by John)

When we got back to the track, John found that he had a flat tyre. While he was inspecting the tyre, a gentleman cycling past stopped to see if we had a problem. He was a bit older than us, but he turned out to be a very seasoned cyclist. We stopped to chat for a while. He was interested in our folding bikes, which are the same brand as his bike – Giant – but he had not come across these folders before. He told us that he had owned his current bike for six years, and in that time he had ridden 20,000 (yes, twenty thousand!) kilometres. Mostly just by riding around the local streets in Waikanae. How impressive. And here I am, being so chuffed that I have done 600km in six months! Looks like I have to up my game a bit. But, hey, this is not a competition!

After our chat, the gentleman went on his way, and John settled down to fix the puncture. Luckily he was well prepared, with a puncture repair kit on board. And fortunately there was a nice flat concrete pad by the seat we had just left, for him to turn his bike upside-down on, so he could perform his repair.

John had a flat tyre. Luckily he knew how to fix it

I watched John with interest as he levered the tyre off the back wheel, and exposed the inner tube. He had a bit of trouble finding the offending hole, but eventually he did. He applied a patch, and hey presto, all he needed to do then was to manoeuvre the tube and tyre back into place, and pump it back up to a suitable pressure. If I had been on my own and it had happened to me, I would not have known what to do. But John is very clever when it comes to such things.

While all this was going on, an elderly couple, out for a walk, came to join us. The lady had a sore knee, and needed to sit for a bit. Of course we shuffled along and made room for them and got talking. They too, had been seasoned cyclists in their day. The husband had been quite a competitive rider, taking part in major events.

When we told them about the other gentleman and his 20,000 kms in six years, the lady said that in her time she had ridden 70,000 kms. “Not all on the same bike of course”, she said, as she had moved her counter from bike to bike each time she upgraded. “I wasn’t going to let all those kilometres go to waste!”. Then her husband told the story of how he had taken part in an event in which he had ridden 120 kms in one day, only to come home and find that his wife had ridden 140 kms that day. “Well”, she said, “I rode from Waikanae to Raumati to have breakfast, then I rode to Harrisons (at Pekapeka) for lunch, then back to Paraparaumu for coffee, before heading home”. She made it sound like it really wasn’t much of a big deal. But wow! I was so impressed.

The tyre fixed, we set off again. About half-way back to the Domain, we crossed the river on a nice new footbridge, and rode the rest of the way on the north bank. Most of the track was wide and gravelly, but a short distance was on a skinny rut in a paddock.

Te Arawai Footbridge

When we got back to the Otaihanga Domain bridge, we joined the Kapiti Coastal Cycleway, and headed towards the Waikanae River estuary. From here you can see that Kapiti Island is really quite close. The beach leads off to the right, while at the edge of the estuary, there are two rows of posts. We wondered why they were there, as they were not part of an old jetty. In fact, a search through some of our store of photos shows that some years ago, there was only one row of posts.

What are these posts for? (photo by John)

This part of the estuary leads to the Waimanu Lagoon, which has been “tamed” to make a very attractive small lake surrounded by lovely homes with gorgeous gardens. We watched a young person manoeuvering a sailing dinghy around the lake, while the family looked on from the jetty.

Beautiful homes surround the lake. And is this a future America’s Cup hopeful?

A wide track circles the lake, and we rode about three-quarters of the way around it before heading into the Waikanae streets. The lake provides a habitat for many waterbirds – many black swans, ducks and geese.

We stopped by a small memorial stone which had a plaque with a poem dedicated to Henry, a black swan that lived to the great old age of 33 years. Henry first struck up a lifelong friendship with a goose, named Thomas, and later also paired up with Henrietta, a black female swan. Together, the threesome apparently raised many clutches of cygnets over the years. A lovely story, and a nice poem by Wellington author, actor and wedding celebrant Pinky Agnew.

The story of Henry, the black swan

While I was reading the poem about Henry, we heard a great honking kerfuffle further along the path – some geese were having a noisy squabble. But by the time we rode past them, peace had returned and they were all happily pottering on the grass together, including a mother with a pair of fluffy yellow goslings.

Geese and goslings

We saw a shag – or cormorant – sitting on a post, with his wings spread out to dry them in the sunshine. This is a fairly common sight, but what we hadn’t seen before was a tree full of nesting shags. In fact I had to check the Te Ara website again to see if these were really shags. But yes, it does say that shags nest in trees. There were at least a dozen nests and birds in a tree by the water’s edge.

A tree full of nesting pied shags (photo by John)

We left the lagoon to continue on the Kapiti Coastal Cycleway, which led us through the quiet flat roads of Waikanae. From Tutere Street we detoured up a steep-ish path at the end of which was the Waikanane Boat Club, overlooking the beach and Kapiti Island. By a seat in front of the clubhouse was the remainder of what looked like a winch – to pull boats ashore, I suppose – and a large rusty old anchor. Very rustic and photogenic.

Kapiti Island is quite close to shore (photo by John)

You would think that riding through suburban streets would be a bit ho-hum, but we saw some interesting sights there too. One was a small shop – open only on weekends – selling Kiwiana. The pictures in the windows looked rather old and faded, but what took John’s fancy was the collection of jandals nailed to the barge board (I think that’s what that bit of the roof is called).

This little shop sells Kiwiana, but only on weekends (photo by John)

Another quirky sight was a fence that was decorated with shell art. Every panel of the blue-painted fence contained scenes of birds, entirely made of shells, sitting on rope “branches” under a sun made of a coil of rope. Sadly the fence was not in the best of conditions, the paint was flaking and the ropes were fraying, but it all added to the charm. Someone had spent a serious amount of time in collecting the different kinds of shells and creating these decorations.

A quirkily decorated fence

We followed the Kapiti Coastal Cycleway signs as far as Williams Street, then turned around, as it was getting late. We stopped again briefly at the estuary for some photos.

The Waikanae River estuary with Kapiti Island beyond (photo by John)

It was 5:30pm when we got back to the car. The sun was still shining (daylight saving started last weekend!) so we thought we would get some fish and chips for dinner. Just along from the fish shop, I noticed the shape of a kōtuku – the white heron – embedded in the pavement. There are several of these in the footpaths of the Paraparaumu Beach shopping street.

Kōtuku decoration in the pavement (photo by John)

With our warm parcel of fish and chips clutched to my chest, we crossed the road to find a seat to eat our dinner. There are quite a few seats and picnic tables on top of the dune separating the road from the beach. A number of them were occupied by families also enjoying their dinners. But they were being plagued by whole flying squadrons of screeching seagulls. The ultimate scavengers.

To avoid them we drove right to the other end of the beach to sit at a picnic table unencumbered by these pests. Just one solitary seagull found us. He sat on a fence post and kept his beady eye on us the whole time we were eating. Needless to say, we weren’t going to give him anything.

When John had finished eating – he always eats faster than me – he tried to shoo the seagull away. He ran at the gull, waving his arms. To no avail. Worse, the seagull flew up and around us, squawking indignantly, which only served to alert the other seagulls, and within seconds a whole lot of them descended on the fence in front of us.

Predatory seagulls (photo by John)

Having all these gulls flapping about us was a bit of a Hitchcock moment, so I quickly finished the last of the chips, and crumpled up the paper they had been in. That seemed to be a sign for them that it was scavenging time, and they moved in. I escaped into the car, taking my rubbish with me. The gulls pounced on a chip that had fallen on the ground, screeching and squabbling for possession. They were so busy trying to outdo each other, they weren’t even bothered by the sound of the car starting up as we drove off.

We’d had a great afternoon – a good ride (22kms), sunshine, a bit of adventure with a flat tyre, some interesting conversations with fellow cyclists, sightings of all manner of birdlife, and dinner overlooking the beach. Brilliant!

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