Sunday 24 November 2013

Pencarrow and Baring Head

Wow, what a day! Today we rode to Pencarrow, and beyond to Baring Head. It is a ride that we’ve been promising ourselves to do for a while now, and it was glorious.

The start wasn’t too promising, actually, because despite the weatherman’s promise of “light winds”, there was a fairly brisk breeze from the south as we set out from Burdan’s Gate, near Eastbourne. My knees were still aching from Wednesday’s 31km ride, and pushing against a headwind, on gravel, I thought “this isn’t going to be much fun (grump, grump)”. But I soon got myself into a rhythm, and then I was fine.

With the wind in my face, I could understand why many cyclists wear these über-cool, yellow wrap-around sunglasses. I don't know about the yellow (or orange!), but the wrap-around would keep the wind out of their eyes. I have regular glasses, with clip-on sunnies (but not the flip-up ones!), and the wind manages to get around them and make my eyes water. I had tears streaming down my face!

The gravel road had been topped up with new gravel, relatively recently by the look of it. The many potholes had been filled, which was good, but the extra gravel made riding a little more skiddy, so you really had to watch where you were riding.

The gravel had been newly topped up (photo by John)

As we have cycled to Pencarrow a few times before, we didn’t stop for photos until we got to the  lighthouse. It is always a thrill to get there, it is such a beautiful building and such a beautiful coast. And nearly 10kms under our belt!

The Pencarrow Lighthouse. The haze in Cook Strait cleared later in the day (photo by John)

Somewhere along the road there is a cattlestop, and because our wheels are smaller than most, we got off our bikes and walked across. Just then, a woman jogger passed us with her dog, and I wondered how the dog would cope with the big gaps between the bars of the cattlestop. We were amazed to see how deftly the dog put his paws on the bars, and didn’t miss a beat! He’d obviously done that before!

We kept going, past the lighthouse, past Lake Kohangapiripiri, round to the next bay and to the second of the Parangarahu Lakes, Lake Kohangatera. A large information board by the gate giving access to this lake had a sign tacked onto it, advising that the Lake Kohangatera /Gollans Stream boardwalk has been removed. Apparently, this was because flooding from storms had pushed a large mat of vegetation against the boardwalk which could cause more flooding. The sign also said “ Due to severe drowning hazards do not attempt to cross Gollans Stream Wetland”.

Lake Kohangatera (photo by John)

This lake is larger than Lake Kohangapiripiri, and equally beautiful. I spotted some shags sitting on the water’s edge. Apparently there is a large colony of black shags on the northern shores of the lake.

Large shags resting by the water’s edge

Soon after the lakes, there was a sign saying “Pencarrow Station” and warning us that this was now private land.

A little way down, we came across the rusting hulk of a ship, on the edge of the road. On this wild coast, there have been more than 40 recorded shipwrecks over the last couple of centuries. Most of these have long since disappeared, but this one was the remains of the small steamer Paiaka which was wrecked in July 1906, fortunately with no loss of life. It lay buried in deep sand until 1987, when it was excavated by the Eastbourne Historical Society, and placed by the side of the road.

The rusting hull of the Paiaka, which was wrecked on this coast in 1906 (photo By John)

The remains of the Paiaka (photo by John)

After the “Private Land” sign, the road surface deteriorated. It was very rough and stony. I guess the farmer is not likely to want to ride a bike down this road, and it is fine for 4WD farm vehicles.

Once on private land, the road surface deteriorated (photo by John)

The road surface gradually got worse, until we got to the end of the road, where the “track” became a deep bed of coarse sand on which a four-wheel-drive vehicle, powered by a big engine would have trouble making progress, let alone a two-wheeled contraption, powered by two mere human legs!

Just before we gave up biking, we rode past a huge rock, where a bunch of people were practicing their rock climbing skills. That's something that would scare the bejeezus out of me – I don’t much like heights – but it looked impressive.

The perfect rock for a spot of climbing! (photo by John)
Is he hanging off, or climbing up, the overhang? (photo by John)

We parked the bikes at the edge of the track – we had to find a rocky spot for them, as the bike stands were sinking into the sand – and walked the 200 or so meters to some spectacular rocks.

Spectacular rocks at Baring Head

We scrambled up them (no need for ropes here!), and from the top we had a grand view of Cook Strait, and a walking track that is part of a network of tracks leading eventually to Wainuiomata.

The view from the top of the rocks (photo by John)

It's not hard to see why these rocks are popular with rock climbers (photo by John)

The walking track on the other side of the rocks (photo by John)

Above us, but hidden by the brow of the hill, was the Baring Head Lighthouse. We could just see the automated air sampling station, where atmospheric carbon dioxide monitoring is carried out. The huge trunk of driftwood in the foreground of the photo below, is testimony to the fierce storms that this coast is subject to, judging from how large it is and how far it is from the water’s edge.

The Baring Head Lighthouse is up there, just out of view behind the brow of the hill (photo by John)

It was after midday, and the wind had dropped to a gentle breeze. It was pretty hot out there, so we headed back, and looked for some shade for a rest. With the sun straight overhead, there wasn’t much shade to be had anywhere until we came to the only clump of trees we had seen along this coast. They were clustered by a small stream. We had a grateful rest in their shade for a little while, and ate our snack.

A few trees by a small steam provided welcome shade for a rest (photo by John)

On the way we had to go through several farm gates. At one of them, I was amused to see the bit of Kiwi ingenuity used to make one of the posts stay upright – with rocks behind it, bits of wire, some string, and a lump of driftwood!

A bit of Kiwi ingenuity keeps the gatepost upright (photo by John)

Between here and Lake Kohangatera, there were patches of deep gravel, one of which caused me to come a cropper. I was just thinking it was getting too dodgy, and I should get off, when I skidded and landed in a heap. One bruised knee and a skinned elbow. Ah, the joys of cycling!

Near Lake Kohangatera there is a woolshed, presumably belonging to Pencarrow Station. It looked quite deserted, and as if it hadn’t been used for a long time, though the fences of the yards were in good condition. John walked a little way up the very steep track alongside it, which perhaps leads to the homestead. From there he had a great view over the area.

The Pencarrow Station woolshed, with Lake Kohangatera in the background (photo by John)

The view towards Baring Head (photo by John)

From here we rode with only a couple of quick stops for photos, until we got back to Burdan’s Gate.

I like these vertical slabs of rock …

… and the curve of the road, just around the corner from the Pencarrow Lighthouse

When we got to Burdan’s Gate, the booth hiring out bikes and selling icecreams, Burdans Gate Bikes, had obviously been doing a brisk trade. We met a lot of cyclists on the road from Pencarrow, including whole families with kids, many of them apparently on hired bikes.

We loaded our bikes into the car, then spread out a picnic rug under the trees, and enjoyed a well-earned icecream. We were very satisfied with our 28km ride. My fitness must be improving, because, apart from the fall I had, I did not have too much trouble with the gravel road. And the padded bike pants work a treat!

We decided to flag lunch, as it was likely that the cafés in Days Bay would be very busy, since it was such a glorious day, and on a weekend too. In fact, when we drove through Days Bay on our way home, we saw that there wasn’t a carpark to be had, all the cafés seemed to be bursting at the seams, and there were masses of people enjoying the beach.

Instead we stopped at the Mojo coffee caravan on the Petone foreshore, for coffee and a biscuit. We sat on a bench and looked out at the beach and the gorgeous sparkling harbour, where it looked like a yacht race was in progress.

A yacht race on Wellington Harbour (photo by John)

While we were sitting there, a young couple arrived, with a twin buggy, in which were two cute little girls wearing identical hot pink sunhats with big pink daisies on them. They had a young puppy on a lead with them. While they were waiting for their coffee, the puppy hopped into the tray under the buggy to get out of the hot sun. Then when they continued on their walk, he stayed in the tray, and enjoyed the ride. He’d got it all sussed!

The beach at Petone was not as busy as the one in Days Bay

Thursday 21 November 2013

Petone and Hutt River Trail x2

I’m getting a bit behind with the write-ups of our rides. I have two rides to write up, and as they were pretty similar, I shall write them up in the same post.

On Wednesday 13 November, we rode along the Petone foreshore, and up onto the Hutt River Trail, up to a little way beyond the Avalon Bridge. When we looked at the weather forecast, it said the southerly would die down. So we thought we could ride to Pencarrow, which is beautiful, especially after a southerly.

However, as our house is sheltered from the southerly, we never know what it’s doing “out there”. When we got onto the motorway going towards Eastbourne, and saw how choppy the harbour was, we changed our minds. We didn’t fancy heading into a stiff southerly.

We parked at the motorway end of the Petone foreshore and rode along, crossed the bridge over the Hutt River at the other end, and headed up the Hutt River Trail. We stopped on the bridge to take a photo of some dredging that was going on downstream of the bridge.

Interestingly, it was not done by a dedicated dredge, but by a digger working from a flat barge, tethered to a small tugboat. Perhaps it was removing silt that had been brought down the river by the last flood, a couple of weeks earlier. I suppose this part of the river must be fairly shallow so they may be deepening it to reduce flooding upstream.

The digger dredging silt from the lower reaches of the Hutt River (photo by John)

Having ridden along here a few times now, we didn’t make many photo stops, but we did go down one of the rough tracks that leads down to the river’s edge at one stage.

A nice shot of the stony river’s edge (photo by John)

Surprisingly, the river was fairly low. A stark contrast with the flooding that occurred only a fortnight before. There had been very heavy rain and winds on 31 October, and the river rose to flood the riverbank carpark in Lower Hutt. The cycle track runs between the river and the carpark, and it must be a good 20 or 30 meters from the track to the normal water’s edge, and a drop of several metres from the track to the water. It seems incredible that this usually placid river could have risen so far, so quickly. The video on this Dominion Post report shows the river at its worst.

Trees on the opposite bank were knocked over by the force of the flood (photo by John)

In several other places along the cycle trail, patches of dried-up silt were evidence of the water having been over the top of the track.

We rode as far as a few kilometres beyond the Kennedy-Good Bridge, where we turned around. On the way back I wanted to take some pictures of the flowering cabbage trees that I had seen in the Hikoikoi Reserve near Petone. But we didn’t come back through the reserve. Oh, well, another time maybe. In the meantime I took a photo of the flaxes that are now flowering alongside the foreshore track.

Flowering flaxes

When we got back to the car, the harbour was still pretty choppy, so we were pleased we hadn’t gone to Pencarrow.

The harbour was still pretty choppy (photo by John)

After the ride, we went into Petone, and while John went to browse in his favourite hardware store, I paid a visit to the Dutch Shop, and was glad to see they had a plentiful supply of chocolate letters. This is a Dutch St Nicholas (Sinterklaas) tradition, whereby people are given their name’s initial in chocolate for the feast of Sinterklaas on 5 December.

I have not kept up the Dutch tradition of celebrating St Nicholas with my family, but I have tried to give my children chocolate letters for Christmas, when I have been able to get them. Of course, my kids are now grown up, but everyone still likes chocolate for Christmas, right?

When we went to have a coffee in Café Figg, we found that next door was a new shop called Scott Outlet, which sold cycling (and running and ski) clothing. I had been looking to buy a pair of padded bike pants that I could wear under my regular pedal-pusher trousers. I haven’t got the figure to ride around in lycra! I was heartened to see that the lady in the shop was similarly proportioned to me, and I felt much more comfortable asking her for what I needed, than I had been in proper bike shops, which are mostly geared to mountain bikers, full of testosterone! She was very helpful, and found me exactly what I wanted. Yay!

Scott Outlet, 194 Jackson Street, Petone (photo by John)

My new padded bike pants! (photo by John)

Now, for ride number two: Yesterday, 20 November, was a gloriously beautiful day, very summery. Wellington reached a 23 degree maximum, which I think is just about the ideal temperature. We went for a similar ride to last week’s, but this time skipping Petone, and starting from Seaview. We parked at the far end of Seaview, near the marina, and rode up the Hutt River trail.

John took this photo because he liked the curve and undulations of the track. This area was under water in the last flood, shown by the remains of silt at the edges of the track.

We stayed on the track closest to the river on the way up the valley. There was a bit of a headwind, and the gravel was making progress somewhat slow. But I was glad of my padded pants when riding on gravel!

We rode as far as the Stokes Valley roundabout, then turned around and came back on the sealed track, much of it on top of the stopbank.

Near here, across the river, is the quarry at the bottom of the Haywards Hill Road. This quarry was the site of some of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings sets, “Helm’s Deep” and “Minas Tirith”. Sadly the very elaborate sets have all been removed, and all that can be seen now is the scarred hillside of the quarry. Other places along the Hutt River have been used for these films too. For more information about the LOTR locations, check out Ian Brodie’s book “The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook”.

The Haywards Hill Quarry was used as a set location for the Lord of the Rings films (photo by John)

The track on the stopbank consists of concrete slabs, but it is not in the best of conditions – the slabs don’t join up smoothly, so it is pretty bumpy. There are also quite a few potholes, some mended, others not.

The track on top of the stopbank, near Avalon (photo by John)

When we got to Avalon Park, near the Kennedy-Good Bridge, we rode down the bank off the stopbank, to ride in the park. We thought we would take a rest on a seat under a tree, but the seat was surrounded by ducks sitting on the grass, with their heads tucked under their wings, and we didn’t want to disturb them. Besides, the seat had too many bird droppings on it, and the grass was probably covered in duck mess as well. So we gave that a miss, and carried on.

The duck pond at Avalon Park. No ducks to be seen – they were all resting in the shade of the trees (photo by John)

On our way back to the car, John took a picture of the track along Seaview Road, for the record. We took pictures of this track when it had been severely damaged by the southerly storm in June. The photo shows the new track, now that it has been repaired, and the eroded edge has been rebuilt.

The repaired foot/ cyclepath at Seaview (photo by John)

When we got back to the car we had done 28 kms. John suggested we ride past the marina to Point Howard “to make it a round 30kms”. It actually brought our total up to 31 kms.

The Seaview Marina

I was pretty chuffed that we had done 31 kms. We sure had worked up a good appetite – it seemed like a long time since breakfast – so we went to Days Bay to have lunch at the Chocolate Dayz Café.

Across the harbour, we could see that there were two very large cruise ships visiting Wellington. We suspected that some of the large number of people drifting in and out of the café while we were having lunch, may have been tourists off these ships, who had come across on the Days Bay ferry.

The beach at Days Bay. If you enlarge this photo by clicking on it, you can just make out the two large cruise ships in Wellington (photo by John)

On last week’s ride we did 22 kms, and on this last one 31 kms. That now brings my total to 827 kms since mid-March – say about 100kms a month? Quite pleasing, I think.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Wairarapa Weekend

We had a great couple of days in the Wairarapa last weekend (9 and 10 November). The trigger for going there was a dance organised by the Carterton Scottish Country Dance Club, entitled “Spring into Summer”, on the Saturday night. And spring into summer we sure did, as the weather was perfect. Summer is definitely on its way! But as well as dancing, we managed some cycling on both days – a total of 37 kms.

Before heading “over the hill”, we spent a couple of hours at the Highland Gathering in Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt. Here all sorts of Scottish activities were going on. Dancing competitions; piping and drumming competitions; about half a dozen “clan tents” displaying charts, tartans, books and paraphernalia to do with specific Scottish clans; a tug of war; a pipe band performance; a demonstration of Scottish Country dancing; even the opportunity to try shooting a "medieval" bow and arrow or a cross-bow (though I don’t know how that would be peculiarly Scottish). And of course, the usual coffee and food caravans, and a sausage sizzle.

On the stage, children and young people were competing in Highland and Irish dancing. They compete in their age groups and some of the girls are quite young. They look so cute in their formal kilt outfits, with matching socks, velvet vests and feather-topped hats. I’m sure these hats must have a special name, but I can’t find out anything about them.

Young Highland dancers’ competition

It is obvious that for the families of the children who compete, this is a whole way of life. Parents or support teams bring along their gazebos, folding chairs, picnic and all the costumes and trappings for the competitions. They settle themselves for the day at strategic points on the hillside facing the stage. It must be a great activity for families to be involved in.

Supporting families settle down to watch the competitions (photo by John)

Away from the main stage, under the trees, was the skirl of bagpipes and the sound of snare drums being practised, in preparation for facing the judges. You’d have to be good at ignoring all the other tunes being played while practising or performing your own piece. Impressive. The musicians perform individually in front of a judge, or in a pair consisting of a piper and a drummer. Interestingly, the competing tunes did not seem to clash or interfere with each other – not too much anyway.

Piping and drumming competitors

Some of the young people have multiple skills, competing in several categories. I watched one young woman in Irish dancing costume playing the bagpipes for a judge, having just been placed 2nd in Irish Dancing. Later I saw the same girl dancing in another Irish item, which required the most amazing stamina, calf muscle strength, and memory. And later again, I saw her performing a Highland dance, having changed her costume to a kilt and velvet jacket.

A gifted, multi-talented young woman plays the bagpipes before a judge

At midday, competitions stopped for the lunch break. To entertain the crowds, there was a performance by the Kapiti Coast Pipes and Drums Band. They marched onto the lawn in front of the stage, and formed a circle to play number of stirring tunes. I noticed that only the pipers had feathers in their caps, the drummers just had little red pompoms on top. I wonder why? I also noticed that the drummers had to wear their sporrans pushed to the back, because they would otherwise get in the way of their drums.

The Kapiti Coast Pipes and Drums (photo by John)

The drummers are twirling their drumsticks aloft

After the band had marched off into the distance, it was the turn of six members of the Upper Hutt Scottish Country Dance Club to demonstrate some dances. They performed four dances, on the grass. In between dances the leader (and teacher of the club) spoke about the dances, and about SCD in general, inviting anyone who would be interested in finding out more, to join them for their classes on Wednesday nights.

Members of the Upper Hutt SCD club dance a strathspey called “The Minister on the Loch”

We stayed to watch a little bit of the tug of war, then headed off, over the hill to Greytown and some lunch.

The tug of war (photo by John)

After lunch we cycled the Greytown to Woodside Rail Trail. Parts of the trail looked quite different from when we rode here in August. Back then, being winter, all the trees were bare, but now they were all wonderfully green. The young trees near the beginning of the trail, which in August were mere sticks, and which I thought were cherry trees, turned out in fact to be poplars, and they had grown considerably in the past few months.

The beautiful oak trees were in full leaf

I like this view of the path skirting the paddocks (photo by John)

It didn’t take us very long to get to the Woodside Station. This time, instead of going up to the new station, we took the track on the other side of the railway line, towards the old derelict station. When the new station was built, the old one was used as a storage shed for some years. But now it's been abandoned to the elements.

Vegetation tries to overwhelm the derelict old station building (photo by John)

Inside the old building, nature has tried to take over, with grass growing in gaps in the concrete floor, and the aerial roots of the creeper that is growing up to and into the roof, hanging from the rafters.

Inside the old building, grass grows in the gaps in the concrete (photo by John)

Aerial roots of a creeper hang from the rafters (photo by John)

The old and the new stations – basically the same design

On the way back I spotted some alpacas (or are they llamas?) in a paddock near a house. I had to peer through the trees to be able to take a picture of them.

Alpacas – or are they llamas?

These trees don’t look anything like “whomping trees” anymore now that they are in full leaf (refer to my Greytown post of 18 August) (photo by John)

It was a nice short ride, only 10kms, done in less than an hour, but just enough to keep us occupied before we checked into the motel we had booked in Carterton. The motel wasn’t anything to write home about – plain, very 1970s décor, fake Spanish hacienda. But it was clean, and the host was very pleasant.

It was still sunny so we found a place to sit by the motel’s pool. The area had obviously not yet been prepared for summer, as the water in the pool was a murky green and there was all sorts of debris floating on the top. But no matter, there were some chairs there and we sat in the sun with our orange juice, chippies and books for a while.

Before heading to the dance, we had dinner at the Carterton pub, Buckhorn Bar and Grill, where we had a very generously sized and reasonably priced meal. The interior of the pub had a Wild West theme, with photos of Indians and cowboys, posters of rifles and handguns of the era, and photos of Western movie stars.

Inside the “Buckhorn Bar and Grill” (photo by John)

Carterton’s Memorial Square in the late afternoon sun (photo by John)

The dance was very well attended, with more than 50 people there, many of them visitors from Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Rangitikei and even Wanganui.

The dance was well attended and everyone had a great time (photo by John)

On Sunday morning we parked the car in a side street and rode all around the side and back streets of Greytown. It is such a pretty township with lovely houses and gardens in tree-lined streets.

A delightful rose-covered cottage

Beautiful tree-lined streets (photo by John)

Riding on the roads was not a problem, as there was virtually no traffic, and it was all on the flat. I would think that for people like me, who don't like to risk having to compete with fast-moving traffic, the back streets of many NZ country towns would be a good alternative to dedicated cycling trails. And it is a good way to get to know a town, too.

Another gorgeous street (photo by John)

The township is not very large, and soon we were riding around the rural perimeter of the town. Here the new houses were set well back from the roadside, on rather large sections. If you were wanting a semi-rural lifestyle, this would be ideal – provided you had the funds, of course.

Along this road on the edge of town, large modern houses on huge sections are hidden from view behind the trees (photo by John)

At the end of Udy Street, we came to a gate and a sign saying Walkway/ Cycleway/ Nature Trail. So of course we wanted to try it out. But first we said hello to a horse by the fence. While we were doing so, I was amused to see a rooster come rushing over to us. He must have been thinking that if the horse was going to be given something nice to eat, he wanted some too! He was in such a hurry, he kept tripping himself up in the long grass! Quite comical.

A beautiful rooster rushed over to see if we had anything to offer

The cycleway really wasn’t very good to ride on. It was very rough and bumpy, and in places the gravel was deep and skiddy. It didn’t go very far though, because we soon got to the Waiohine River. I believe there are plans – long-term plans, perhaps – to join up this track with the Woodside trail to create a full loop. That would make a really lovely ride, especially if it would run beside the river some of the way.

Cycleway leading to the Waiohine River

The Waiohine River (photo by John)

The way back into the town led down some lovely lanes. Through a gap in a hedge, I spotted some sheep resting in the shade of some trees. I thought that would make a lovely peaceful picture, but as I pulled up and carefully approached the fence, one lot looked at me in alarm and got up, ready to run. Silly things. Fortunately, the ones under another tree, a bit further away stayed put, so I did get my peaceful, bucolic photo.

Sheep resting in the shade of a tree

I love the regularity of these trees and fence posts

We cycled pretty much all of the back streets on both sides of the main road, and clocked up 22 kms. We were intrigued by signs pointing this way or that, saying “Rug Sale”. The signs were everywhere, but we never actually came across the place where the rug sale was.

By about 1:30 pm, we thought it was time to stop for lunch, so we headed towards Martinborough to look for a winery with a café. We found what we wanted at the Margrain Vineyard Café. A lovely setting with tables scattered on the lawn overlooking the vines. We chose a table in the semi-shade of some large trees, as it was getting quite warm in the sun.

Lunch at the Margrain Vineyard Café (photo by John)

The vines

Lunch was very satisfying, and the glass of Riesling was so delicious that we stopped at the winery shop afterwards to buy a couple of bottles to take home.

After a leisurely lunch and yummy dessert, we went for a bike ride around the vines, circumnavigating Martinborough and finally through the square. We rode about five kilometres, which was enough, because by now a brisk breeze had sprung up and made the going a little harder.

Finally we walked around the Martinborough town centre, browsing the shops. Parked outside one of the shops was a magnificent motorbike, which had several admiring males around it – practically salivating … Of course John had to take a picture of it. It was a beautiful looking machine, I must say, but I’m happy with my bike, thank you.

This beautiful motorcycle stopped several men in their tracks (photo by John)