Sunday, 8 December 2013

Hawke's Bay Cycle Trails – Day 3

Last week we went to Hawkes Bay for a few days’ riding the wonderful cycling trails in the region. This is the post about the third day of that holiday. You can check out days 1 & 2 here.

Day 3 – Saturday 30 November
Hastings to Havelock North, then Tukituki Loop

This was to be a “killer” of a day, but I didn’t know that when we set out. Having said that, it was a great ride, and at the end, I was immensely proud of myself for having completed 50 kms, much of it on a Grade 3 trail!

We were going to ride the Tukutuki River Trail. I thought we were just going to do the flat part of the trail, because as you know, I don’t like hills. And since it was an “easy ride” from Hastings to Havelock North, from where that trail starts, we set off on our bikes, right from our cottage.

The whole Napier/Hastings/Havelock North area is very bike-friendly. Many roads have either a dedicated cycle track separate from the road, or cycle lanes on the road, delineated with green lines, and cycle symbols painted on the road. There are also reminders to motorists that “Cycle lanes are for cyclists”, with a warning not to use them for parking.

There are bike lanes on many roads (photo by John)

It was about 4 kms from the cottage to Havelock North. Along most of the length of Havelock Road, there was a separate foot/cycle path, where posts on each side of every driveway warned cyclists to watch for exiting vehicles.

The foot/cycle path along Havelock Road had warning posts at every driveway (photo by John)

Havelock North’s town centre is very pleasant, and there is a row of nice cafés opposite a park. Of course, with a hard day's riding ahead of us, we just had to fortify ourselves with coffee and a muffin, didn’t we?

After that, we made use of the public toilet facilities across the road, and the “automatic loos” made me laugh. As you shut the door, a male American voice tells you to push the green button to lock the door, and when you do, it tells you that the door is locked and that you’ve got ten minutes to do your business. It was almost tempting to stay in there for ten minutes to see what would happen if you outstayed your welcome, but I had better things to do with my time …

Then, there is no flush button on the toilet, but a notice tells you that it will flush when you wash your hands or when you unlock the door (for those mucky people who don’t bother to wash!). The washing facilities are three sensor-driven automatic dispensers in a row: soap, water, dryer. And lo! as the water ran to wash my hands, the toilet flushed. I thought this was really funny and laughed out loud. Maybe I have a warped sense of humour. When I came out, there were some people waiting outside, and I wondered whether they’d heard me cackling …

Right, on with more serious matters.

We headed out along Te Mata Road, towards the Tukituki Loop. It was uphill – slightly – but it slowed me down. And the wind was blowing, but it wasn’t too bad at that stage. As the day wore on, it got stronger and stronger, a real struggle in places where we had to head into it. The forecast had been for strong or galeforce winds in Hawke’s Bay. When we watched the news that night, we saw that the wind had caused a great deal of damage in Auckland and Christchurch, and near our home, the Johnsonville Christmas parade had had to be cancelled.

Eventually we got to the top of the hill, and I enjoyed freewheeling down towards the corner where the Tuki Kitchen Café is. Only it is not called that anymore, it is now called the Tandem Café.

Having “just” had coffee, we didn’t stop, but went up the hill towards the top of the Tukituki Loop. This is where things got dodgy. When we set out in the morning, I thought we were going to ride just the lower (flat) part of the Tukituki Loop. But sadly, my sense of direction is quite useless, and I have to trust John completely in that. And he directed us up the hill, to do the complete loop. Traitor!

OMG, it was such hard work! Riding up the hill, on the road, I managed it, in first gear, but cripes! it was hard. In Jonathan Kennett’s book “The NZ Cycle Trails”, when describing this trail, he writes “on the way, you must ride the ‘Mad Mile’ – a section of Waimarama Road with no shoulder space”. It was a 100km speed limit road, and quite a few cars whizzed by, while I tried to keep as close to the edge as I could. Having a rear-view mirror on my handlebar helped.

I was grateful for the trees along the road, providing patches of shade in which to stop and catch my breath. I must say, John was very patient, waiting for me to catch up; and very encouraging: “You can do it!” and “You’re doing very well”. When we got to the top, there was a gorgeous view over the river below. I had to puff out, so I stopped to take some pictures.

The view over the Tukituki River valley, from the top of hill on the Waimarama Road

Looking back over the Tukituki River

Then we freewheeled down the hill, wheee! For a while we rode on a more or less flat track along the base of the spectacular Craggy Range and Te Mata Peak. As we got close to the Craggy Range Winery, the track became a smooth “yellow brick road”, which lasted for about a kilometer. Very nice to ride on.

We rode along the base of Te Mata Peak
The “yellow brick road” along the Craggy Range Winery frontage

For a while we rode through pleasant scenery, on a reasonably flat track, edged with trees providing shade. Eventually we arrived at Red Bridge, which we crossed, and now the return journey down to the coast began. But if I thought it would all be downhill from here, I had another think coming …

Pleasant flat riding under the trees (photo by John)

Soon after the bridge, the road started to climb again (photo by John)

On the other side of the river, the Tukituki Road was varied – sometimes gentle rises, sometimes thankfully flat. But then we came to a set of steep hills. Steeper than anything we’d met so far, and in some places I couldn’t ride, I had to get off and walk. Every time we thought the next downhill would take us down to the river, we’d go round a bend in the road and then it was another uphill and another gully. Down, and back up, several times.

John was very attentive – in the sections where I had to walk, he would even park his bike and walk down to meet me and take my bike, so I wouldn’t have to push it up the hill! Such a sweetie! But I told him that I would be fine, and could do it myself – in fact, the bike gave me something to lean on!

At one of the “peaks”, John took a photo of a sign pointing to the lookout – which just goes to show that we had got to a fair height. He interpreted it as "Look out! Hills!"

While sitting in the shade of a tree for a bit, we were overtaken by a young woman – wearing lycra cycling gear, so she was probably one of those fit young things who made a habit of riding hills – and even she complained of how steep and how windy it was.

We had struggled up a hill high enough to warrant a Lookout sign! (photo by John)

The view from the rolling hills (photo by John)

Finally we got to the turn-off at Moore Road, which was straight, and going downhill to the river. Ah, the relief!

Moore Road. Ah, the relief of a straight downhill to the river! (photo by John)

At the bottom of Moore Road, we finally joined the cycle track again, on top of the stopbank. But it was another 15 kms to Black Bridge. And ouch! my behind was sore, my legs were sore, and my hands were sore. And though we were now more or less on the flat, we were riding on the lime sand path, which was not completely smooth, and we were struggling against the wind. A really bad headwind. The only redeeming thing about the wind was that if it hadn’t been blowing, it would have been too hot. As it was, I was so hot, that my face was all encrusted with salt from dried-up perspiration! The temperature reached 28 degrees during the day.

The Craggy Range seen from across the other side of the river. Note how the trees and grass are bending in the wind!

We were now back on the river flats, where there were orchards, and fields with young corn (maize) growing in disciplined rows. One orchard wasn’t taking any chances with its crop: there was netting draped over all the trees. We couldn’t quite make out what fruit they were bearing – perhaps cherries. The mind boggles at the miles and miles of netting this would require!

The orchardist made sure the birds weren’t going to get any of the fruit! (photo by John)

A field of newly sprouting corn (photo by John)

Finally, finally, we reached Black Bridge, where we turned back inland to complete the Tukituki Loop. And – hallelujah! – there was the sign pointing the way to the Bivvy Café, only 700 metres to go!

We had been to the Bivvy Café last time we were here, in March, and we were looking forward to stopping there. In fact, the thought of a fruit smoothie at the Bivvy had sustained me for the last 15 kms! The café is actually just a coffee caravan, parked in a cleared space among the vines, with seats under some shade sails. We were the only customers, and Kate, the owner, said that it had been very quiet, probably because of the wind. And as if to prove her point, the shade sails flapped furiously in the wind. But also, this was the day of the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, so many of the local hardcore cyclists may have been away.

We enjoyed our smoothie, and just a small snack, because we were planning to have lunch at the Tandem Café, another 40 minutes’ riding (according to Kate), further up the valley.

The Bivvy Café

Interesting clouds gather over the hills (photo by John)

Actually, it only took us only 30 minutes to get to the Tandem Café, because we now had the wind behind us. What bliss!

This café had changed owners since we were here in March, and they now also hired out bikes and tandem bikes, one of which was on display alongside the terrace where we had our lunch.

A tandem bike – available to rent (photo by John)

The inside of the café was decorated with bicycle wheels of all types and sizes, some quite old, and some modern or relatively new.

Anyone would think this was a cyclists’ café! (photo by John)

We felt we had deserved our lunch after such a long and exhausting ride, but frankly, my appetite just wasn’t what it usually is. And the ride wasn’t quite finished yet. We still had to bike back to Hastings! Up one more b… hill to get to Havelock North, and then another few more kilometres back to our cottage.

As we pulled up outside the cottage driveway, my bike computer showed 49 kms. And would you believe it? John carried on for another 500 metres, just so he could make it a round 50 kms! I suppose I could have too, but NO-O-O! All I wanted was to get off that bike!

Later, in the beautiful, soft early evening light, John took some photos of the trees and the sheep in the paddock next to the cottage. And a while later we were treated to a wonderful sunset. A very satisfying finish to a long and arduous day’s cycling.

The trees seem to glow in the early evening light (photo by John)

The Craggy Range, seen from our cottage (photo by John)
We were treated to a beautiful sunset (photo by John)

I must admit I was pretty chuffed with myself for having achieved (nearly) 50 kms in one day. Now I know that I can manage at least some of the hills, and some of the road cycling conditions that are graded “Level 3 – Intermediate”. Which means that it will give us lots more options of tracks to try on the great Nga Haerenga (NZ Cycle Trails). Bring it on!

Postscript: John tells me that, now that we have new, thicker tyres on our bikes, the mileage reading should be increased by 3 percent, since the circumference of the wheels is that little bit bigger, so we cover that little bit more ground for every revolution. Well, he is a scientist!

So I did more than 50 kms, 50.47 kms, in fact! (49+3%= 50.47. 

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