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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Monday 13 May 2013

Western side of the Hutt River

It was another brilliant post-southerly day today. Clear, calm, and not very cold. We should have gone out for a ride early in the day, but being Mother’s Day, we were waiting around for our daughters to ring. One of them did just before lunch, but the other didn’t, though we did skype with her and her children after dinner.

By early afternoon we figured it was just too nice a day not to go for a ride. Besides, I had to give my new bike bell an outing! A thoughtful Mother’s Day present from my eldest. So the bikes were heaved into the car, and away we went. It took us just 15 minutes to get from “sitting around” to “on the road”.

The new bell matches my gloves!

Another bit of unexplored territory was the western side of the Hutt River trail. We parked just before the bridge over the rivermouth at Petone. The first 2.5 kms of the trail on this side ran on grass on top of a stopbank, which was hard work, but interestingly the first part of it went right though the Shandon Golf Club. Lots of people pulling golf trundlers and enjoying a round in the sun. Not being a golfer, I was surprised at the noise the whack of a golfclub on the ball makes. I hoped we wouldn’t get hit by any stray balls …

The Shandon Golf Club. The cycle trail runs on top of the stopbank (photo by John)

After the golf club, the track became a tiddly little rut through the lumpy and bumpy grass. It was so skinny and difficult to negotiate, that I nearly keeled off a couple of times, so I stayed on the grass after that.

The Melling Bridge. The track was lumpy and bumpy, but the scenery so pretty (photo by John)

Things improved after we ducked under the railway bridge, and the track became a rather more manageable gravel surface (I wouldn’t have said that a couple of months ago, I must be making progress!). It ran between the river and the Western Hutt Road. Here we encountered lots of people walking their dogs. We also saw a woman cyclist taking her little dog for walkies while it was sitting in a basket on her handlebar!

Soon the trail smoothed out to a sealed surface. Nice! I was just thinking I didn’t fancy going back the way we came – because of the lumpy grass track – when John suggested we cross the road bridge at Avalon and return on the eastern side of the river.

The Hutt River - from the Kennedy-Good Bridge at Avalon (photo by John)

On this side there were a lot of other cyclists – couples, both young and not so young, families with all the children on bikes, solitary cyclists, and a father (walking) pulling his little kid on a skateboard. An interesting observation – all the older men seem to be wearing beards, rather full beards at that! “Maybe there is a Santa Claus convention on somewhere”, John suggested. Note: John has a beard too …

It was a pleasant ride back to Seaview, by the rivermouth, and from there we pushed on a little further to where we had a lovely view out towards the entrance to the harbour and Cook Strait beyond.

Seaview - Looking out to the harbour entrance
We returned to the car by crossing the Petone bridge. Though there is a foot/cycle path, separated from the road by a barrier, it is not very wide. We had to get off and walk, as there were quite a few people dangling a hopeful fishing line off the bridge.

In all we rode 16.5 kms, in about 1 hour 45 minutes. Quite a nice afternoon ride.

"The Smiling Windmills" - Wind sculpture by Leon van den Eijkel at Avalon Park

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Thursday 9 May 2013

Upper end of the Hutt River Trail

On Sunday night a big southerly descended on Wellington, bringing thunder and lightening (very unusual for this part of the country) and torrential rain overnight and on most of Monday, accompanied by howling gales. It also became quite cold, and Monday was definitely a “huddle-by-the-heater” kind of day, the first really wintry day of the year.

The bonus is that such a southerly is usually followed by a couple of gloriously fine days. The sort of days that makes dedicated Wellingtonians say “You can’t beat Wellington on a day like this!”.

That was the sort of day we had today. So of course we had to make the most of it by going for a ride.

A crisp, sparkling day (photo by John)

We did another section of the Hutt Valley River Trail – from the Silverstream Bridges, past the kink in the river at Maoribank, across the river on a footbridge at Harcourt Park, down the other side of the river, across the Totara Park road bridge, and back to where we’d started from. We took about two and a half hours to do 23 kms.

It was a crisp, sparkling day, cloudless and calm, but COLD! At 10 am, when we set out, the heavy dew on the grass was glistening in the sunshine, and looked as if it might have been a bit frosty overnight – the upper part of the Hutt Valley gets more frosts than Wellington.

This was the first time we’d gone out when it was really quite cold. We dressed in layers, four in my case. Though there was no wind, it was still pretty chilly at first, especially in the shade of the trees, so we donned our windproofs and put on our woolly beanies under our helmets. We must have looked pretty silly, but there was nobody about to see us anyway.

There was a lot more water in the river than when we last rode here, six weeks ago. Some of the river channels that had been quite dry back then, were now full of swiftly flowing water, and small, previously dry, side streams burbled merrily along. Yep, the water shortage Wellington suffered in February and March is definitely a thing of the past.

A lot more water in the river (photo by John)

Despite the recent rain, the track was in good condition. We found out why when we came across a grader smoothing out the gravel surface. Even so, I found the gravel rather heavy going. My legs just did not seem to have any strength. Too much dancing in the past week, I thought (Scottish Country dancing is one of my passions. I regularly dance two evenings a week, but the last week has been bit excessive – six nights dancing in eight days). However, John thought that perhaps my saddle should be a bit higher, as I was not extending my legs fully on the down strokes. Once adjusted, it actually made quite a difference.

Evidence of the grader having been through (photo by John)

Last time we were up this way, we turned around near Maoribank, when we got to a bit of the track I didn’t like the look of because it was narrow and steep and winding. This time we carried on beyond there. In fact, the “scary” bit of track, which I walked, was actually only about 20 metres. Not worth fussing about, as John said. It led to a nice sealed path into Harcourt Park.

We stopped for a little rest beside a pond, and as soon as we sat down, a whole lot of solicitous ducks came paddling furiously towards us, thinking they were in for some yummy treats – only to drift away again, disappointed, as the only thing we had brought along was some of Whittaker’s delicious chocolate. Wellington's famous chocolate company Whittaker's makes individually wrapped mini slabs, which are perfect for taking along on bike trips. Peanut slabs for me, hokey-pokey slabs for John.

A little further on, we crossed a footbridge to explore the track on the other side of the river. It was a grass track on top of a stopbank, not the most comfortable surface to ride on, but it didn’t go on for too long. It soon became a gravel path again. We didn’t explore beyond the next bridge, as we were not sure whether the track would go as far as the next bridge again. And as we had to get home by 1pm, we did not want to risk having to backtrack. It will keep for another day. So we crossed the Totara Park road bridge, back to the track that we had come up on, and got home in time for my afternoon appointment.

The grass track on the stopbank (photo by John)