Saturday 7 December 2013

Hawke's Bay Cycle Trails – Days 1 & 2

Last week we went to Hawkes Bay for a few days’ riding the wonderful cycling trails in the region. I had been watching the long-range forecast for a week or so, and there was a window of four fine days wedged between a wet Thursday and the Tuesday when I had to be back in Wellington for a meeting. It worked out perfectly.

Day 1 – Thursday 28 November

The way up to Hastings sure was wet. A deluge, in fact. It started to rain when we were going through the Manawatu Gorge. The river was very high, muddy, and fast-flowing, and there was a lot of vegetation debris rushing down the stream. Between there and Waipukurau, the rain came down in torrents. The windscreen wipers were doing overtime, going as fast as they could, and every time a big truck (of which there were many!) went by in the opposite direction, it would throw up so much water, that we could barely see out. Fortunately, by the time we got to Hastings the rain had all but stopped.

I had booked a cottage through the holidayhouses website. I had twice before found lovely cottages through this website, and again, we were not disappointed.

Arbor Vitae Cottage”, on the outskirts of Hastings, was perfect. It is in a beautiful setting. You enter the two-acre property through a beautiful garden, with an avenue of cherry trees leading past the main house. The cottage, separated from the house by a garage, is in its own small garden which you enter through a little gate, under an arbour of climbing jasmine. Box hedges on each side of the path, with an olive tree and other plants in the middle of each square. A terrace with a barbecue, table and chairs on one side and a seat and umbrella on the other side. The fence next to the garage was smothered in flowering star jasmine exuding a sweet perfume, which I will now associate forever with this holiday.

“Arbour Vitae Cottage” (photo by John)

Our “neighbours” were two sheep and three lambs, resident in the paddock next door. During our stay the lambs provided much entertainment with their antics. They had been born only a few days earlier, but were already quite boisterous, running around, climbing on one another and on their mums, and apparently feeding indiscriminately from either mother. We were amazed at how much they grew in the few days that we were there.

A peaceful, early morning scene in the paddock next door (photo by John)

Our “neighbours”. This photo was taken at sunset – the sheep are not actually pink (photo by John)

Day 2 – Friday 29 November
Napier Marine Parade to Ahuriri (part of the Coastal Ride), Taradale, Tutaekuri River-side track

After the torrential rains that had drenched Hawke’s Bay for the previous few days, Friday dawned as a gloriously beautiful day. Our plan was to ride on the cycle track along Napier’s Marine Parade, and carry on from there, in any one of the different options. We had a nice early start, we were biking before 9am (well …, that’s early for us!).

We parked the car at the southernmost end of Marine Parade, at the first carpark after the Winstone Aggregates plant. It was very bare and isolated, but the cycle track was smooth and a pleasure to ride on.

There was a strong surf at this wild, stony beach – and probably a strong rip too …

Next to the cycle track, at intervals, there were fitness stations consisting of bars at various heights, for exercises like sit-ups, chin-ups and other such tortures. Much more interesting were the three large “things” on the grass between the cycle track and the sea. We weren’t sure whether they were art statements, or whether they had some functional purpose. But they looked quite dramatic. (John has since done some research, and he thinks that they disguise vents for the Te Awa stormwater drainage system.)

Art or function? Or maybe both? (photo by John)

­­As we got closer to the Napier city centre, there were areas for people to rest or play – seating under canopies, water fountains, bike racks, barbecues, playgrounds. There is an enclosed “junior cycle track”, complete with mini-roads, traffic lights, traffic signs and pedestrian crossings. Right next to it is a seating area under a shade sail, from where parents can keep an eye on their kids. Further along there is a mini-golf course.

All this is new since the last time we visited Napier in March. The council is definitely wanting to attract more people to the area – perhaps as a response to the permanent closure of Marineland. The plans for the “Marine Parade Big Picture” sound quite extensive and exciting.

There are several sculptures along Marine Parade too. There is The Spirit of Napier, which stands atop a column over the Gilvray Fountain. The statue by Frank Szimay represents Napier rising from the ashes of the 1931 earthquake. It was unveiled in 1971.

The Spirit of Napier, by Frank Szirmay (photo by John)

Then there is the Millennium Arch, designed by Hawke’s Bay artist David Trubridge, which was commissioned to celebrate the start of the third Millennium in Napier. It depicts the rising of the sun over the sea towards Cape Kidnappers.

The Millennium Arch, by David Trubridge. What a shame about the hideous motels in the background … (photo by John)

A interesting bronze sculpture entitled The Trawlermen, is a feature on the forecourt of the National Aquarium, but unfortunately the light behind it did not make for a good picture.

Outside the iSite (Visitor Information Centre), the sculptured water feature by Para Matchitt is entitled The Heritage Fountain. The motifs reflect some of the things Hawke’s Bay is famous for – gannets, sunshine, rugged mountain ranges, sea and fish.

The Heritage Fountain, in front of the iSite (photo by John)

After we’d had a browse inside the information centre, we met a man with a most interesting bike. Actually we spotted his bike first, and John wanted to take a photo of it, because it was so quirky. Then the owner turned up, so we tried to talk to him. But it seemed that he couldn’t talk – perhaps he was deaf-mute. He mouthed, and pointed, and was obviously very proud of his bike, and delighted that we wanted to take a photo of him and his bike.

The bike was covered in cardboard, painted silver, held together with masses of duct tape. It had a plastic crate on the carrier – also painted silver – and had yellow cardboard tube “exhaust pipes”. Yellow “flames” on the side to give the impression of speed. I think he wanted to make his bike look like a motor bike. He proudly pointed at a shield on the front, with the dates 1978–2013 on it, and to a sign on the back of the crate that said “… to Invercargill” (I can’t remember what the dots stood for). It looked as if he had been on a very long bike trip from somewhere up north to the deep south.

You meet the most interesting people while biking (photo by John)

After that unusual encounter, we pushed on, below Napier’s famous Bluff Hill, past the port, and past the inner harbour at Ahuriri. There I watched the activities of a crew unloading crates of fish from a fishing boat into a truck marked “Hawke’s Bay Seafoods”.

Unloading the day’s catch

While I was doing this, John had gone on ahead, and photographed a Māori double-hulled sailing vessel. Upon searching for info about it on Google, I found out that this was Te Matau a Māui, one of seven waka hourua that spent 18 months traversing the Pacific Ocean. The aim of the voyage was to promote marine conservation, but it also focused on teaching and reviving traditional sailing and celestial navigation skills.  Interestingly, despite the intention to revive traditional sailing skills, it had a large bank of solar cells on its deck.

The waka is owned by Ngati Kahungunu Iwi, and is permanently berthed in the Ahuriri harbour.

Te Matau a Māui, a Māori double-hulled sailing vessel (waka hourua) (photo by John)

After this we went on a bit of a wild goose chase, trying to find a way round to the track that would lead us to Church Road. We ended up riding through unattractive streets that seemed to lead nowhere interesting, so we turned around and found our way back to the Boardwalk Café overlooking the beach at Ahuriri, where we stopped for coffee and a muffin.

Coffee at the Boardwalk Café at Ahuriri (photo by John)

After a pleasant interlude, we set off again. While we were crossing the road – walking our bikes on the pedestrian crossing – a woman came rushing up to us and asked us if our bikes were folding bikes. How do they fold, and how easy would it be to take them on a cruise ship or a plane? John showed her how his bike folded up, and she asked if he would come over to show her husband, who was sitting at a café table a dozen metres up the road.

We had quite a chat. They were Judy and Malcolm, NZers living in Washington DC for half the year, and in NZ for the other half. They obviously did a lot of travelling, and they wanted bikes to take along on long trips and cruises. Folding bikes would be ideal. We gave them our cards, and Judy said she would email us. They had recently biked down the Wanganui River road from Pipiriki to Wanganui and she would send us details about that ride.

Then, off we went, in search of Church Road, where we intended to have lunch at the Mission Estate Winery. There were no signs pointing the way. The cycle trails map was sketchy, showing only the main roads and the trails, not the smaller streets. But John’s (mostly) unfailing sense of direction got us there. We had to ride quite a distance on the main roads with lots of fast-moving traffic going past, but they did have wide cycle lanes on the edge of the roads, and it didn’t make me feel too uncomfortable.

Eventually we got onto a proper cycle track, silky smooth, along Prebensen Drive. As we curved into Church Road, the track stopped and we were back riding on the road. But soon we saw the beautiful white building of the Mission Estate Winery. Yay!

The tree-lined avenue leading to the Mission Estate Winery

Down the stately tree-lined avenue, then struggle (walk!) up the hill to the lovely old Mission building where the restaurant is. We parked our bikes in the bike stand, thoughtfully provided by the management, and locked them together.

It was just before midday when we arrived, and we were the first lunch customers. We chose a table on the terrace, under shade sails with vines growing along the rafters, overlooking the lawn, dotted with tables and umbrellas – but the lawn was still a bit soft and wet from the previous day’s rain.

Lunch on the terrace under the shade sails and vines

Tables on the lawn at the Mission Estate restaurant (photo by John)

Lunch was delicious! Lamb for John and fish for me. And some Mission Estate Riesling of course. The service was great, friendly and efficient staff, starched linen table cloths and napkins, even “proper” fish cutlery for me. I would have indulged in dessert, as the offerings on the menu sounded very enticing, but actually I was quite full! Strangely, I think the cycling actually reduces my appetite – which is all good, of course!

We took our time to enjoy lunch, but soon we were back on the road. Along Church Road, and into Gloucester Street, until we got to the Pettigrew Green Arena, a large sports centre associated with EIT (Eastern Institute of Technology). There we were able to get onto the cycle track on top of the stopbank, which skirts the Tutaekuri River.

Actually, the stopbank is quite a distance from the river, though the few glimpses we had of it showed that the level of the water was quite high, following the recent rains. The track led us past orchards and fields with various newly planted crops, and a few vineyards, back to the Napier Marine Parade.

Orchards below the stopbank

After ducking under a road bridge, the track climbs back to the stopbank (photo by John)

It was quite a long ride to get back to Marine Parade. As we approached it, we saw a long goods train slowly rolling across the bridge. To get across the railway line and the busy main road, the cycle track went underneath the bridges. But being very close to the river, which had spread outside of its normal banks after the recent rains, the path had a lot of water on it in the dips under both bridges. We just had to keep going on the flooded track. A bit creepy, because the water was very brown, and you didn’t know how deep it would be. But it was OK.

Once across to the seaward side of Marine Parade, we pedalled back to the car, past the Ravensdown Fertiliser works (a bit smelly!) on one side of the road, and the Winstone Aggregates plant on the other. The latter had an interesting mural on one of its buildings – which I didn’t notice at all, so intent was I on getting back to the car … But John saw it and took a picture of it. He also rather liked the shape of the mound of sand as it came off the conveyer belt.

The Ravensdown Fertiliser Works, seen from the riverside track (photo by John)

The Winstone mural, depicting stylised features of Marine Parade (photo by John)

John liked the shape of this huge mound of sand. It reminded him of Mt Egmont-Taranaki
(photo by John)

When we got back to the car, our bike computers showed that we had ridden just on 40 kms. That was the longest ride I had yet done in one day. But worse (or better, depending on your point of view) was yet to come, the next day.

The car, having sat in the sun all day, was boiling hot, so on our way back to Hastings, we stopped at Clive for an icecream to cool us off. We got back to the cottage at about 4pm, too tired and too hot to do much more than sit in the shade on the terrace with a book and a cool drink.

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