Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Hauraki Rail Trail – Paeroa to Thames

On Sunday 19 July, we had planned to take the bikes on the historic train that runs between Waihi and Waikino, and then bike through the Karangahake Gorge and on to Paeroa. But it didn’t happen, we had to change our plan.

The Goldfields Historic Railway is the last vestige of a railway that was originally built in 1905 to transport mining materials, goods and people to and from Waihi, which was then one of the largest gold and silver mining operations in New Zealand.

The railway is now maintained and managed by volunteers who run the train as a tourist attraction, especially during holiday times. Until the cycling track between Waihi and Waikino was completed (in late 2013), cyclists riding between Paeroa and Waihi, had to put their bikes on the train for the final stretch.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the Waihi Railway station, there was no one there, and there was no train to be seen. A phone call to the number listed on the information board established that it would not be running at all that day. We heard later that debris on the line as a result of bad weather and a minor derailment the previous day had required maintenance to be carried out, hence there would be no train trips.

Disappointing, but not the end of the world. We could ride the Paeroa to Thames leg of the trail instead. So we went back to the motel, loaded the bikes into the car and drove to Paeroa. 

“World famous in New Zealand”. Paeroa’s original claim to fame – the L&P soft drink
takes pride of place in the town (photo by John)

The distance from Paeroa to Thames is 33 km, and the plan was to bike until we’d covered a goodly distance, then turn around. At least that’s what I thought. After about 25 km, I figured that would do us and I would have been happy to go back, but John wanted to go the whole distance. I think he was looking for some sort of record (for us), and we sure achieved that. We ended up riding a total of 72 km – the longest one-day ride we had done to date.

The track is quite straight – with just two very slight kinks in the whole 33 km. The landscape is flat. If it wasn’t for the hills in the distance, one could imagine oneself in Holland.

The track is quite straight – for miles! (photo by John)

It is mainly dairy and beef country – we saw lots of cattle, but very few sheep

There were a lot of bridges over small streams or water-filled ditches, which relieved the monotony of continuous flatness, as they were all raised a fair height above the water.

One of the many bridges (photo by John)

Same bridge, different view (photo by John)

After about 10 km, we diverted off the track into Hikutaia, where we had morning tea on the sunny deck of “The Convenient Cow” café. It was nicely sheltered from the cold southerly.

The Convenient Cow café in Hikutaia (photo by John)

Other interruptions to the flow of the straight track were the many farm and stock crossings. They occurred where the track crossed a road or farm track between paddocks – presumably for dairy herds to make their way to the milking sheds. There would be locked gates and concrete cattle stops on each side of the farm track. The farm tracks were often muddy.

At first John would dismount each time and walk across the cattle stop, as narrow spaces cause him some bother because of his impaired sense of balance. However, I didn’t stop to get off. I just rode through them. Eventually, he got the knack of it too.

John dismounts to negotiate the paired cattle stops on either side of a farm track

The sign at each cattle stop

There are several advantages to riding this trail in the winter. One of them is the lack of people. Apparently, this trail gets very busy during the summer time. We had the place to ourselves. I think we saw fewer than half a dozen cyclists the whole day. The other thing I love about this time of year is the stark beauty of the bare deciduous trees. They look so majestic, and yet so delicate.

Love those trees!

Toetoe plumes waving in the southerly (photo by John)

We came across a small group of cows standing in a strip of muddy, squishy ground between the track and a nice green paddock. It bothered me to see them there without anything to eat. It looked like all the hay they might have been fed had been either trampled into the mud, or blown through the fence onto the track. A couple of the cows were craning their necks through the fence to try to reach the hay on the side of the track. I know my effort was pathetic, but I gathered up some of the hay, and held handfuls out to them. The first cow was rather suspicious of me, but then she took the hay, and soon several other cows came along to check it out as well.

This one is for my friend Pat, who loves cows (photo by John)

After 33 km of open rural spaces, we arrived at Thames. The track changed to smooth concrete, and we went through a subway under the state highway. It was several kilometres before we arrived at the historic Shortland Wharf (built in 1868), at the mouth of the Kaueranga River.

The sign near the highway underpass

View across the Firth of Thames, from Shortland Wharf

We expected to find a nice café or two at the wharf, but there was nothing there that appealed, so we rode through the town to a café at the far end – Café Melbourne – where we had lunch.

We were on our way back by 2pm. This time we were riding into a cold southerly headwind.

Although I had used the level 3 assist for some of the way there, John suggested we should just use level 2 going back, forcing us to pedal harder, against the wind. He was a bit concerned that we might not have enough battery power to get us home if we used up too much energy. Actually, we made it back with plenty of spare capacity left in the batteries. Despite the headwind (sometimes crosswind), it was not too bad plodding along on level 2.

Another 19 km back to Paeroa!

Somewhere along the way, a thoughtful soul had nailed some plastic garden chairs to some trees, presumably to give cyclists the chance to sit down on something marginally more comfortable than a bike saddle. We made grateful use of them for a little while.

A brief respite for the nether regions … (photo by John)

The view from the plastic chairs (photo by John)

It was just after 4 pm when we got back to Hikutaia’s Convenient Cow Café. I would have been happy to just keep on going all the way to Paeroa, but John said we needed the break - and yes, we did need a break. The knees had started to complain by about 50 km, and we still had quite a way to go.

So we had a “real fruit ice cream”, which was huge (the equivalent of three scoops the lady told me after she’d given us them) and it took us a long time to eat it. Meanwhile a man came into the café saying he was waiting to pick up some bikers who were due there shortly. I asked if he drove the shuttle. He sounded surprised, and said yes, he did drive the shuttle but not today. It turned out he drove an airport shuttle between Tauranga and Auckland, not the cyclists’ shuttle along the Hauraki Rail Trail. If he had been, and he was going to Paeroa, we would have hitched a ride. 

By 4:40 we were on our way again, another 13 km to go, and not much more daylight to do it in. I put on my parka as by now it was bitterly cold. We cranked up the e-assist to 3, and later to 4, and pedalled along quite well. We rode into the outskirts of Paeroa just as the sun dipped down below the horizon at 5:15. By the time we got back to the car, we had biked 72.5 km - the longest ride we have done in one day. My knees, hands and derrière certainly felt like it too! But despite these discomforts, we felt quite chuffed with our achievement.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hauraki Rail Trail – Waihi to Waikino

After our time in Auckland, we wanted to have a few days of biking before going home. The direction in which we would be heading (New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay or Hauraki Rail Trail) was dependent on what the weather was doing. The forecast told us that our best chances would be towards Coromandel, so we headed to Paeroa, the town in the centre of the Hauraki Rail Trail.

This is one of the easiest and most popular biking trails in New Zealand, running on a former railway line, roughly north to south, from Thames to Paeroa (33 km) and from Paeroa to Te Aroha (21 km). From Paeroa, the most scenically spectacular part of the trail heads east to Waihi (25 km). 

So on Saturday 18 July, we left Auckland in torrential rain, with a few mini-tornadoes apparently causing a bit of havoc. When we got to Paeroa, it looked as if something nasty had ripped through there as well, as there was a lot of tree debris on the road. It was still raining.

The man at the information centre was very chatty and helpful, but he thought that the trail might be a bit soggy after the downpours the area had received in the last couple of days. However he suggested we might enjoy lunch at the Ohinemuri Estate winery, ten minutes up the road towards Waihi. As it happened we couldn’t get in to there, so we had a simpler, but still pleasant lunch at the Talisman Café.

The setting for the café was quite charming, with tracks and a little bridge, carvings and pottery in the grounds. Inside, John was delighted to find a friendly cat, which was very happy to be picked up and petted for a while. John has been missing our elderly cat Tim, who died last year.

The Talisman Café (photo by John)

Happiness is a friendly, purring cat to hold …

The Talisman’s garden

It had stopped raining during lunch and when we got to Waihi, it was almost fine. We found a motel to stay in for the next couple of nights, and unloaded the bikes for a ride to Waikino, 10 km away.

Despite the misgivings of the man at the information centre, the gravel track was in quite reasonable condition – give or take a few puddles. Except for a few short steep-ish up-and-downs to get to river level, the track is flat and runs alongside the Ohinemuri River.

The first of two bridges over the Ohinemuri River (photo by John)

The track is flat and skirts the Ohinemuri River (photo by John)

A few of the puddles were quite large. I took the careful way around the edge, but in one case, I lost momentum and stalled in the boggy edge, and got my feet wet! John advised that I should go through the middle of the puddles, as that is where the gravel is the highest, therefore the ground firmest, and the water shallowest. Smarty-pants! Later I developed a trick to not stall, nor get my feet wet: coming up to a puddle, I would rev up my throttle, and power through without pedalling, while sticking my feet out the sides. Yeehaa!

Very pleasant riverside biking (photo by John)

The only place where the track went through a cutting (photo by John)

The light was very changeable, giving rise to this dramatic shot
(photo by John)

After 10 km, we arrived at the second bridge. Once on the other side, we went through a subway under the road to get to the historic Waikino Railway Station.

The bridge to the Waikino train station (photo by John)

It was 4 pm by now and the station and its café were deserted. A timetable board told us that in the winter time, the train would run on weekends and in the school holidays. Well, it was still the school holidays (just one more day) and tomorrow was Sunday, so we decided that next morning, we would take the train from Waihi to Waikino, before riding the next section of the trail, through the Karangahake Gorge to Paeroa.

The historic train station at Waikino was deserted (photo by John)

On the way back to Waihi – one last photo of the river, which was running quite high (photo by John)

In the evening we took a drive into Waihi, towards the far end of town. The lampposts in the median strip looked quite dramatic, all lit up in red. We followed a suggestion from the motel owner and had dinner at the local RSA (Returned Services Association), which was open to non-members. It was an interesting experience. The surroundings were very plain, as was the food, but it was very good value. And at least the sound of the sports TV, which was playing endless highlights from the previous night’s rugby match of the All Blacks vs the Argentinian Pumas, was turned down to an acceptable level.

Dramatic lighting on the median strip in Waihi’s main road (photo by John)

Pavlova and sticky date pudding at the RSA – it couldn’t get more Kiwi than that!

Biking in Auckland

We’ve been away for the last two weeks. We first visited one of our daughters in Te Awamutu, then spent time with another daughter in Auckland and helped to mind our grandchildren – aged three and five-and-a-half – during the second week of the school holidays.

On one of the days we were able to go out for a bike ride – sans grandchildren – and enjoyed visiting new places.

We started the day with breakfast in the café in Cornwall Park, near where we were staying. The park is a great place for walking and biking and family fun. On the day we arrived in Auckland, we all went for a bike ride there – grandson on his own little bike, granddaughter on a child seat with Dad, and Mum, Oma and Opa on their own bikes. It was great!

Cornwall Park is a great place to walk or cycle (photo by John)

Today, fortified with brekkie and excellent coffee, we drove to Kentigern Close in Pakuranga, from where we cycled the Pakuranga Rotary Pathway. Nine kilometres of fully paved path, along the waterfront, with views on the Tamaki River estuary and mudflats on one side, and fabulous, gobsmackingly enormous houses with wonderful gardens on the other. Very pleasant riding.

Views on the Tamaki River estuary … (photo by John)

… gorgeous houses … (photo by John)

… and lush gardens

At the end of the pathway, we made our way through quiet suburban streets to the Half Moon Bay ferry, where we took a trip across the harbour into downtown Auckland.

Dinghy storage near the Half Moon Bay ferry wharf (photo by John)

Two Waiheke ferries at Half Moon Bay

Bikes on the ferry (photo by John)

Wake and clouds

From the Downtown Ferry Terminal, we first rode towards the Wynyard Quarter. We had a wonderful afternoon walking around there last Christmas, so we knew it wasn’t very far. On our bikes, we covered the distance quite quickly, of course. We looked at the flash luxury launches tied up at the wharf – some private cruisers, others available for hire to entertain your dozens of friends (or clients) for an afternoon or evening of jollifications on the water. So "Auckland" ...

This is called the Silo Park (photo by John)

I was intrigued by the shrink-wrapped yacht, in the process of being refurbished

Having got to the end of the Wynyard Quarter, we turned around and biked in the direction of Mission Bay, along a smooth shared pedestrian and cycle path

The foot/cycle path along Tamaki Drive, near Hobson Bay (photo by John)

Looking back at the city from Okahu Bay

Time for a chocolate stop at Mission Bay, with a view towards volcanic Rangitoto Island
(photo by John) 

Although on the map, the “official” waterfront ride seems to finish at Mission Bay, we kept going beyond there, through Kohimarama, and as far as St Heliers Bay. It is a beautiful ride with great views, although occasionally you have to watch out for low-hanging pohutukawa branches and tree roots trying to break though the sealed surface. At St Heliers we talked to another cyclist to find out whether it was feasible to go around the next point. John reckoned that if we kept following the coastline long enough, we would end up back where we had started, at Pakuranga. But there was no coastal track, and carrying on would have involved a hefty hill climb. So we turned around and went back to the downtown ferry terminal.

Another view on Rangitoto from Mission Bay (photo by John)

The Auckland transport and ferry system is more generous towards Gold Card holders than Wellington's, as there was no time restriction on when we could travel for free. We returned on the ferry at 3:30 pm – in Wellington that would have been outside the “freebie” non-peak-hour time.

Pulling away from the Ferry Terminal

The Auckland skyline

When the ferry was pulling into Half Moon Bay, we saw that there was a boardwalk track heading towards the left from the ferry terminal, so we just had to check that out. It took us to Bucklands Beach, which is a narrow peninsula with a golf club at the end.

The boardwalk between Half Moon Bay and Bucklands Beach (photo by John)

By the time we had biked back to the Pakuranga end of the Rotary Pathway, the sun was about to set. It had been quite a long day, but we had explored some nice areas of Auckand, that we had never been to before. We rode 50 km all up.

View from Half Moon Bay

The last of the sun over the Tamaki River estuary (photo by John)

The downside was that at this time, well after 5 pm, the infamous Auckland traffic mayhem was in full swing, and it took us a lo-o-ong time to get back to our accommodation. But at least, thanks to “Siri” on my iPhone, we didn’t get lost.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Pukerua – Pauatahanui – Whitby

In amongst the horrible wintry days, we do get some lovely fine ones, and Wednesday 1 July was such a day – cold, but sunny and calm. With our e-bikes, we took the train from Takapu Road to Pukerua Bay. We discovered that the Takapu Road station had had a make-over since we were there last. A flash new shelter had been installed.

The new shelter at Takapu Road station (photo by John)

As the train sped past Porirua Harbour, the view was gorgeous – flat calm, like a mirror, with lovely reflections of the Whitireia Peninsula opposite.

We had a couple of false starts trying to find the pedestrian overbridge near Pukerua Bay station. John thought it was this way, I thought it was that way. We found it – it is a much safer way to get across SH1 than trying to do so at ground level.

The ramp of the Pukerua Bay pedestrian bridge over SH1 (photo by John)

We rode down Te Ara Harakeke, the shared walking/cycle path alongside the motorway. Whee! No need to pedal! When we got to Whenua Tapu (the cemetery), I suggested we go up Airlies Road, towards Karehana Bay, rather than taking the easy way down the cycle path to Plimmerton.

We’ve only ridden up there once before, on John’s suggestion and with my serious misgivings. It was before we had the e-bikes, and he claimed it would be “just up a little hill" and then it would be all downhill to the Karehana Bay. It wasn’t.

It is quite a lot of uphill, and rather steep at that. That first time I struggled up it, huffing and puffing, having to get off and walk, purple-faced with the effort, cursing and muttering dark grumblings. This time however, with the e-bikes, it was a whole lot easier. I won’t say it was a doddle, it was still hard work, but with the e-assist set at 3 and sometimes 4, at least I did not have to get off and walk.

Downhill all the way to Karehana Bay from here (photo by John)

When we got to the bottom, we noticed some activity and a big crane at the wharf by the Boating Club. We went to investigate. They were repairing the wharf, propping up some of the piles which had become wobbly.

Wharf repairs at the Plimmerton Boating Club (photo by John)

The other wharf and boat launching ramp by the Boating Club (photo by John)

We rode along, through Plimmerton, onto the track that runs beside the railway line. There is a little beach on the other side of the Ngati Toa Domain, but I’ve never seen any people there.

A nice little beach north of the Ngati Toa Domain (photo by John)

At the Domain, we crossed the railway line and SH1, to head towards the Camborne Walkway – one of our favourite tracks. The Pauatahanui Inlet was calm and mirror-like. We watched a grey heron wading through the shallow water at the edge. Long, slow steps, very regal.

Watching the heron (photo by John)

A glimpse of the reflections between the boat sheds (photo by John)

One of the sheds had a painting on each end wall. One side showed the poet Sam Hunt and his dog Minstrel, the other side a seascape with what I assume must be one of his poems. Sam Hunt is a well-known poet, apparently much-loved by NZers, who lived in several of the boatsheds on the Pauatahanui Inlet.

Sam Hunt and his dog Minstrel – and me … (photo by John)

Some of my friends gasp in horror when I say that I detest poetry. I am probably too practical – poetry is too vague and waffly to my taste, a pointless waste of time and energy. And I must admit that I don’t like Sam Hunt’s voice or his delivery either, when he reads his poems. But he’s a local hero, so there you go.

Toetoe and flax (photo by John)

On Te Ara Piko – “The Meandering Path” along the edge of the inlet – we found that two new information panels had been installed at Ration Point. Each featured a photo of the landscape one sees from there, with smaller photos and details pointing out some of the highlights.

Two new information panels at Ration Point (photo by John)

We carried on around the inlet, to the Ground Up Café for lunch, and then rode into Whitby, intending to return to Porirua via Bothamley Park.

Whitby has a very extensive network of walkways which are lovely to bike on. The only trouble is that they are not properly signposted. There are signs with a picture of a walking man pointing to where a track starts, but there is no information as to where it leads.

And we got lost. I am completely directionally challenged – I need a map, and then I still have to turn it round and round to figure out which way I am facing. So I have to rely on John, who seems to have a natural flair for direction most of the time. We went up this path and down that road. All very pleasant, but we clearly weren't making any headway. When I said “You’re lost, aren’t you?”, he replied “That’s OK, we just have to keep the sun on our right, and we’ll get there”. Such confidence.

Whitby has some lovely walking/cycling pathways (photo by John)

We rode under some big macrocarpas …

… and beside a pleasant stream (photo by John)

We-e-ell, he was right, in principle, as we did get to Porirua – eventually. Then again, he was wrong, because we didn’t go via Bothamley Park. Instead of going south towards Bothamley Park and Cannons Creek, we went north towards the Inlet again. We came down Postgate Drive, and ended up on Paremata Road.

This is where we ended up, on Paremata Road

Looking towards the Paremata Bridge

Fortunately there was a foot/cycle path along the water’s edge (there isn’t further around the Inlet, and it is rather hazardous to bike there). So we biked back to Porirua past the Aotea Lagoon, and then along the Porirua Stream, back to Takapu Road, where our car was parked.

The last couple of kilometres through Tawa are on a lovely wide, smooth path, and here John challenged me, “I’ll race you!”. We cranked our assist levels up to 5, and belted along like a couple of youngsters! Nobody else was around, so we didn’t endanger anyone. I was winning, but in the end I had to admit defeat, as my legs couldn’t keep it up. In fact I paid for it in pain in the next few days, especially as I had three dancing nights that week as well. Scottish Country dancing is hard on the old calf muscles!

Despite getting lost, we’d had a great ride – 43 km.