Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hutt River Trail – Silverstream to Totara Park

Last Sunday, 16 November, we were joined by my sister and her husband to ride the Hutt River Trail from Silverstream to the Totara Park Bridge. This time we all rode folding bikes. John and I rode our new electric folders, and Aimée and Neil rode the original ones.

John and I rode our e-bikes without electric assist (i.e. with the dial set to 0), so that we would not have an unfair advantage over Aimée and Neil. However, I must admit that I enjoyed using the throttle to give me a boost to go zipping past them occasionally. Because the e-bike is heavier than I’ve been used to, I did tend to trail behind the others, so the throttle boost came in very handy to catch up without having to slog my guts out.

The Hutt River Trail just north of the Silverstream bridges (photo by John)

I don’t know who built these “cairns”, but they’ve been there for years (photo by John)

Approaching the Totara Park Bridge. The cabbage trees look gorgeous when they flower
 (photo by John)

When we got to the Totara Park Bridge, we debated whether we should get off the trail and ride into Upper Hutt for a coffee, but Aimée was feeling tired, and opted for turning around and going back to the cars. She has been very busy potting, and both had worked hard in the garden the previous day, getting everything looking good for her Pottery Open Weekend (refer my last blog post).

On the way back, we had to go through one of those irritating zig-zag gates – designed to stop hoons and their trail bikes. I found it quite tricky to manoeuvre through this gate with the new bike, as the back of it is very heavy to lift as you work your way around the zigzag. And as I was trying to steer the front end through, my left hand accidentally tweaked the throttle, resulting in the bike nearly rearing up! Woah!

I think this place is called Moonshine Park (photo by John)

By the time we got back to the cars, we had biked 18 km. We agreed to head into Lower Hutt to the Janus Bakkerij for lunch. The young man who brought us our food offered to take a photo of us all.

Lunch at Janus Bakkerij (photo by a café staffer with John's camera)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Another milestone – my 100th blog post

Today is a special day. Not only is this my 100th blog post, but today’s ride is a new departure for us.

After weeks of intensive research by John, and numerous visits to cycle retailers, we decided to take the plunge and “graduate” to electric bikes. And not just electric bikes, but electric folding bikes.

They are beautiful, red, and heavy (because of the weight of the motor and the battery). The brand is SmartMotion, the model is e20. John has written up technical details on his website. Of course the batteries for the electric motors needed to be fully charged before we could take them for their first ride. And John added mirrors on both of the bikes, as he considers them essential, especially if you want to ride on the road.

Our new prize possessions! (photo by John)

The first ride John wanted us to do on these new bikes was a tour around our suburb. While he has often biked around our area on his road bike, I have never accompanied him because I wasn’t prepared to tackle the steep hills. But now that excuse is no longer valid.

First, read the instructions, John said. Then a bit of a lesson on what the on-board computer tells you and what the screen and buttons say and do. And so, off we went, up the road – and I do mean UP.

The “electric assist” has five levels, but you still have to do the pedalling – the bike doesn’t just do it all for you. Initially, I thought there were only three assist levels, so I pedalled up the steep street with the assist set at level 3, into the galeforce wind, but I still needed a bit of a boost to get me to the top.

Enter the throttle. What a marvellous thing! It sits next to the left handle and when you twist it towards you a little, it gives the bike a burst of energy. The further you twist, the greater the extra oomph. How cool!

John took us on his usual ride around the suburb. In the next few photos you can see how steep the streets are and how high the hills are that surround us.

The start of Mauldeth Terrace, in a relatively new part of Churton Park (photo by John)

Mauldeth Terrace disappears from view as it dips down the hill.
The suburb in the background is Newlands (photo by John)

After a meander around the streets, we ended up – surprise, surprise – at the local café, for a coffee and a chat about our findings.

The electric assist certainly takes some getting used to. Whereas on the “old” bikes changing the gears to suit the terrain had become second nature, I now had the assist level to think of, as well as the gears. To begin with, I forgot to change the gears down (there are eight gears) as I was cranking up the assist to get up a hill, so it was still in need of a throttle boost.

The gear change is a different mechanism, whereby you click one lever with your right index finger to go up a gear, and another lever with your thumb to go down a gear. This causes me a bit of bother, as my right thumb is painful and weak (getting old and arthritic is such a bummer!). But I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

The throttle is just inside the left handle, which is quite narrow, and I found that my hand was straying onto the throttle without my realising it, giving me surprise boosts! Something else to beware of and get used to.

The seat sits atop a suspension seatpost, which means that it sinks a little as you start riding. So I had to stop twice to adjust the height.

A coffee stop at Simmer Café (photo by John)

Don’t they look great! (photo by John)

On our way home, we went down a path that provides shortcuts between several streets. I hadn’t known about the existence of this path. It goes through a nice bit of "wilderness”, where you have the sense of being far away from the suburbs.

On the shortcut walkway (photo by John)

More meandering around the suburb, and finally over possibly the worst hill to get home again. John reckons that on an ordinary bike, this bit is the “killer”. That’s why he always gets home looking quite knackered after a ride.

Up the “killer” hill of Cambrian Street (photo by John)

We biked 12 km. Though you still have to pedal, thanks to the electric assist, the “up hill and down dale” ride had raised only a mild sweat for us. It was still a good work-out though.

The purchase of these electrically assisted bikes means that we will now be able to undertake somewhat more challenging rides. Last night I had a browse through the Kennett Brothers' book Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails, and found myself thinking “Oh yes, we could do this …, and that …, oh and maybe even that …”. It will extend our scope from “easiest” to “intermediate” level rides. But I think we will leave the “advanced” ones to the young and fit and expert.

Now we have a wee problem, however. Our garage is getting very full. The Giant Expressway folding bikes will have to go. But John is feeling a bit possessive about them – or should that be “obsessive”? He’s not keen to sell them – yet. But perhaps my sister and brother-in-law will want them, in which case they won’t go too far away.

Years ago, when my life was dominated by weaving and I owned over a dozen looms of different types and sizes, we had a saying: “Looms are sly, they multiply”. Perhaps that can be said of bikes too?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Plimmerton – A very short ride

On Wednesday, 12 November, we went for a ride near Plimmerton. The plan was to ride along Karehana Bay, then turn back and ride via Paremata to the Camborne Walkway, and back.

However, the wind along the waterfront at Plimmerton and Karehana Bay was so strong, it made the ride quite a struggle. The tide was high, and at times the seaspray slapped over the wall onto the footpath.

Having turned around and biked back to Plimmerton, John wasn’t feeling 100% - he’s been plagued by recurring nose bleeds in the last week – so we decided to call it a day and go home, even though we'd biked only five kilometres. 

The sea was being roughed up by a strong nor’west wind (photo by John)

                                                           * * * * * * * * * * *

This is my 99th blog post. So it is appropriate that my next post will be a special one, with a surprise. Watch this space!

Waikanae River Loop Track

Last Saturday, 8 November, we went for another ride with my sister and brother-in-law. As it was a lovely day, we went up the Kapiti Coast to ride the Waikanae River track. We parked at the Otaihanga Domain and biked along the southern bank first.

Along the southern bank of the Waikanae River (photo by John)

We loved this swathe of yellow buttercups (photo by John)

We enjoyed showing Aimée and Neil this lovely track that they had never been to before. It’s great how biking gives you access to places you wouldn’t be able to go to in a car.

When we got to SH1, we walked our bikes across the bridge, and returned on the northern bank. The track goes past the Kapiti Equestrian Centre. Every time I ride past there, I think how much fun it would be to get back into horse riding. I used to ride when I was young, and also for about a year, when my children were learning to ride. But I think riding a bike is probably a whole lot cheaper, and rather more versatile.

Aimée and Neil ride past the Equestrian Centre (photo by John)

We rode around the Waimanu Lagoon on our way to a café to have lunch. We stopped to take a look at a plaque telling the story about Henry, the black swan, who struck up a lifelong friendship with a goose named Thomas. I wrote about this plaque in another blog post last year.

Reading the story about Henry and Thomas (photo by John)

The cormorant tree, by the Waimanu Lagoon. Over time, the birds’ droppings end up killing the tree (photo by John)

Then we rode through the streets of Waikanae Beach to Café Waimea, which overlooks the beach, and had a delicious lunch in the sun.

Lunch in the sun

A postprandial photo before heading home (photo by John)

We returned to the cars, having biked 16 km. We’re hoping for another nice day this coming weekend, so we can all go for another ride.

That will be the last weekend that Aimée and Neil can go biking with us before Christmas, as their weekends will be taken up with markets and studio open days. Aimée is a potter, and this is a busy time of year for her. Here are details about where and when you can view, and hopefully buy, her pots. I'm sure she would love to see you. Do browse her gallery of work on her website.

Details of Aimée’s Open Weekend on 22 and 23 November
(Click to enlarge)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Wellington South Coast

On Thursday 30 October we went for a ride on the Wellington South Coast. It was a lovely day, but there was a northerly blowing.

We rode from Lyall Bay to Owhiro Bay. There was a great view of the South Island, with the snow on Tapuaenuku, the highest peak of the Seaward Kaikouras, standing out.

Great view of the South Island from near Island Bay (photo by John

A flock of seagulls at the outlet of the Owhiro Stream (photo by John)

At Owhiro Bay, we carried on towards the end of the road, where the path to Red Rocks begins. The path looked a lot more civilised than it did a year-and-a-bit ago, when a southerly storm had ‘rearranged’ the coast. Still, I was not game to go cycling on it – not this time anyway. But I was intrigued to see how neatly the shadows showed up the steps of the old quarry.

The old Owhiro Bay quarry

We turned around and at Island Bay, we diverted into The Parade, heading towards the local shops. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with regard to the City Council’s plans to install cycle lanes. There is a cycle lane on the outside of parked cars on both sides of the road. I gather that there are plans to move it to be between the footpath and the parked cars. And some local residents have objected.

The Wellington Cycling Advocates Network has been very active in liaising with the City Council to get the best results for cyclists and for the community in the area. Their recent submission to the Council makes interesting reading.

On the corner of Reef Street and The Parade is a building with a mural on it. It depicts a scene of Island Bay with its fishing boats. The building once housed a restaurant, but is now a gallery owned by artist Michael McCormack, and I guess he painted the mural. We didn’t go inside, but I think we should have. I like the work that’s on his website.

Michael McCormack Studio Gallery, on the corner of Reef Street and The Parade (photo by John)

We stopped to have lunch at the Blue Belle Café – so-so coffee, but very nice roast vege salad – then walked our bikes along the footpath to the end of the shopping area, before turning around for the return journey. There is no cycle lane in the shopping area (I think that this is what some of the above-mentioned fuss is about).

Lunch at the Blue Belle Café (photo by John)

The cycle lane runs along most of The Parade between the shops and the beach (photo by John)

Back along the waterfront, John took a photo of the repairs being made to the road at Princess Bay, which was damaged by last year’s June storm. Approaching it, I marvelled at how high above the beach it was, and yet that storm caused such damage. The breakers must have been absolutely mountainous!

Repairs to the road at Princess Bay (photo by John)

We got back to the car, having biked 18 km. On the way home, we stopped at Burke’s Cycles, where John wanted to get some new free-wheel cassettes. He had replaced the chains on our bikes, and during this ride it turned out that the smallest sprocket skipped under load, as it was also worn. Not surprising, since the bikes have done more than 2,300 km by now. Since then, he has also replaced the rear brake pads, as they, too, are worn. Very handy to have your own in-house bike mechanic! And John actually enjoys having projects like this to work on.

While we were there, John had a long chat with Simon, the guy who sold him our folding bikes, about electric bikes. He told us they are the up-and-coming trend. They sell at least one or two electrically assisted bikes every week. There is a folding electric bike in the shop, and Simon suggested we could have a try of it around their back yard. Very nice! It would make all the difference on those Wellington hills. Nice price too, though. And rather heavy – it would be a mission to heave them into our little car! But we think such bikes may be in our (near?) future …

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Pauatahanui and Battle Hill Farm

After our successful Akatarawa ride with the Folding Goldies, John was scouting around for another interesting ride we could do. Using Google Earth, he found that there appeared to be a track that ran all the way from Bradey Road – off the Paremata-Haywards Road, near Pauatahanui – to the top of Takapu Road.

If this was a rideable track, the Folding Goldies could take the train to Mana, ride along Te Ara Piko, on the northern edge of the Pauatahanui Inlet, then ride this track beyond Bradey Road, across country, down Takapu Road into Tawa, where they could take the train back to Wellington from the Takapu Road station.

This sounded like a plausible idea, so on Saturday, 25 October, we set out to check out how far we could get up Bradey Road. This was supposed to be an “easy-peasy” ride, along the flat and only as far up Bradey Road as we felt like, and return the way we came.

We parked at Motukaraka Point, thus avoiding having to bike on Grays Road, which is quite busy with car traffic on weekends. Te Ara Piko begins as a nice smooth gravel path, continues on a boardwalk over some of the swampy areas, and ends up as a protected cycle path alongside Gray’s Road, just before reaching Pauatahanui Village.

Motukaraka Point (photo by John)
Te Ara Piko – The Meandering Path (photo by John)

After coffee at the Ground Up Café in Pauatahanui, we rode towards the road to Haywards, past the roundabout. Though there was quite a bit of traffic, it wasn’t too daunting because there was a nice wide shoulder. We had to cross the road to turn into Bradey Road.

At first it headed downhill, but then there was a steep stretch up the next hill. With my muscles still not quite recovered from the Akatarawa effort, I found myself having to get off yet again, and walk. We met two young women on horseback going the other way, and I reckoned they had the better deal, getting the horses to do the hard hill work.

Bradey Road (photo by John)

After a while we came to the end of the sealed road, and it became a gravel track, which took us into a pleasant valley.

Bradey Road becomes a gravel track … (photo by John)

… through a pleasant valley (photo by John)

We were being watched by a horse on the top of the hill (photo by John)

We went past a few farm entrances and then we hit the end of the road. The way was blocked by a locked gate with dire warnings on it. So that was that. We had to turn around and go back the way we came.

The end of the road (photo by John)

The way back – such a pretty valley (photo by John)

We returned to the car, along Te Ara Piko. John commented on how wriggly the boardwalk was, and wondered if the designer had had a hard night’s drinking when he drew up the plans. But it was probably intended to be this way. After all, it is called “The Meandering Path”.

The Meandering Path (photo by John)

We stopped near one of the little bridges to take a “selfie”. Not the mobile phone variety though. John’s bike-mounted camera does not need a tripod, nor a long arm!

Portrait of a couple of happy, aging bikers (photo by John)

Since we were in the area, John wanted to take a look at Battle Hill. We didn’t know much about it, John just knew that there were some mountain bike tracks. “Don’t worry”, he said, “I won’t make you go riding on mountains bike tracks”. Yeah, really?

From Pauatahanui, we headed up the Paekakariki Hill Road, and after 6 km, we reached Battle Hill Farm Forest Park. It is a beautiful area. Amazing to think we have lived in Wellington for nearly 50 years, and we have never been there. It is actually a working farm, an education facility and an outdoors activity park, with walkways and mountain bike tracks.

The original homestead is now the ranger’s office and information centre. There was no one about, but the information lobby was open, so we had a look inside.

The original homestead (photo by John)
From the homestead verandah (photo by John)

In the lobby was a large map of the park, which included descriptions of the various tracks. One of them, the Wetlands Walk, just 3.1 km long, had an “easy” bike symbol next to it. So we thought, yes, we can do that. So out came the bikes, and off we set.

The beginning of the track was nice and easy – a gravel road. Then the red arrow pointed us towards a fairly rough track in a paddock. So far, so good.

The gravel road was nice and easy … (photo by John)
… the track in the paddock was pretty rough

But now the track started to climb. With my newfound “prowess” on hills – after all I rode the Akatarawa Road only a few days earlier! – I tackled it with gusto. But I soon had to get off and walk, when it became too steep. I started to question the wisdom of trying to ride this track, but John kept saying “it will probably only be for a short distance, it will go round that hill and flatten out”.

It didn’t. It kept climbing and climbing, and getting rougher and rougher. But the views were so spectacular that we persevered. We passed, and later looked down on, a large area of cabbage trees.

The track started to climb (photo by John)

A large area of cabbage trees (photo by John)

Overlooking Battle Hill, where a battle between Government forces and Ngati Toa was fought in 1846 (photo by John)

There were a few places where the track was rideable, but most of the time we had to walk. And somewhere along the way, we must have missed a red track marker, because we ended up down a steep paddock with no sign of a track, and what looked like a drop. John walked down to check, and we ended up having to climb back up to the top and find a different way down.

There was a near-vertical drop at the base of this bump (photo by John)

When we finally found the track, it went past this pretty scene (photo by John)

It was quite an adventure. Only 3 km, but it took over an hour. This was definitely not an “easy” bike track. In fact, I don’t think it was a bike track at all.

We don’t know how we got it so wrong. The "easy" bike symbol on the map was probably a mistake, as there is nothing about it on the website. From looking at the video on the website, it looks like there are some nice tracks, even suitable for buggies, so should be rideable. We will probably go back some time and investigate further, perhaps even just to walk, because it is such a stunningly beautiful area.

On the way home, we sidetracked off the motorway and drove up Takapu Road, right down to the end. It was 4 km of narrow, undulating, sealed road through a beautiful valley, which would also be an interesting ride. At the end of the road we found ourselves at a gate to Belmont Regional Park. Possibly another area to explore …