Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Kapiti Expressway cycle track

Last Thursday, 9 March, we had our second try at riding the cycle track alongside the new Kapiti Expressway

The Expressway had an open day for the general public on 18 February, and the celebrations included people being allowed to walk and cycle on a 5 km stretch of the new road between Paraparaumu and Waikanae. Unfortunately we weren’t able to go, so the following Tuesday, after biking from Paekakariki to Raumati, we wanted to try out the new cycle track that runs alongside it. But it wasn't open for use yet.

Access to the new cycle track at Raumati was still blocked off (photo by John)

We talked to one of the people still working on the completion and he said it would be opening at 3am (!) the following Friday, provided the weather didn’t throw a spanner in the works.

He told us the track would be open the following Friday (photo by John)

By diverting via a couple of Raumati roads, we managed to find a few stretches that were not blocked off, but then we met a man on a tractor, who told us we really should not be there, so we decided to come back another day.

This foot/cycle bridge over the Expressway could be reached from an access road alongside the track,
 but was still blocked off too (photo by John)

So last Thursday, we had another go at it. We drove to Raumati, parked the car in Leinster Ave, just off Poplar Avenue, and biked up to the start of the cycle track.

I was disappointed to find that the track was not completely smooth. It consisted of seal but with a fine gravel surface. We stopped to talk to a couple of surveyors, and asked whether the track was like this all the way. “Yes, and a few bits are worse” they said. I wondered why the track had not been properly sealed, and the short answer was “cost”. Of course.

Two surveyors still working on the track (photo by John)

We were now able to get onto the Rongomau Footbridge. It is an impressive black construction, with a sinuously curved ramp, designed to resemble an eel. It leads to the houses along the old SH1. The signpost pointed across the bridge to “Paraparaumu Shopping Centre”, but I wouldn’t go that way, biking along the old SH1, if I could go on the cycle track instead. However the bridge provided a great view on the Expressway.

The Rongomau Footbridge over the Expressway (photo by John)

View from the bridge looking south … (photo by John)

… and looking north (photo by John)

The track is nice and wide and in most places is a respectable distance away from the Expressway. There are lots of small areas of protected wetlands. We spotted a pukeko and a few ducks already taking possession. No doubt, in time, these areas will become home to more water-loving birds.

We were impressed with the plantings all along the road and cycle track. Plants must have been put in a year ago or more, as they seemed well established. In areas near housing, there were noise reduction walls, which were very attractive too.

One of the protected wetland areas, and a fenced-off culvert.
Note the surface of the track (photo by John)

Attractive, established planting (photo by John)

Noise reduction walls (photo by John)

Seating is provided every so often (photo by John)

I was in awe of all the planning that must have gone into the whole project – road, bridges, cycle track, plantings, wetlands ... No wonder it took three years to complete. It certainly is a beautiful result.

As we approached Paraparaumu, the Expressway went across one of the many new bridges. Here, the cycle track dips below the level of the road to its own bridge across the Wharemauku Stream. The track crosses another shared path, which leads from Coastlands shopping centre to Paraparaumu Beach, past the back of the airport.

The road bridge over the Wharemauku Stream, and the track between Coastlands and the beach

The road bridge on the far left and the foot/cycle bridge in the centre right

The Expressway bridges fly over several roads – Kapiti, Mazengarb, Otaihanga, and Te Moana Roads – while the cycle track crosses them at road level. Some of the crossings have buttons to activate cycle warnings to motorists. At the Te Moana Road traffic lights, there are even separate crossing lights, with appropriate symbols, for pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

Push buttons are provided to ensure cyclists’ safety

Between Raumati and Otaihanga, the cycle track runs on the left of the Expressway heading north. At Otaihanga Road, the track goes under the Expressway, and continues on the right hand side.

The bridge over the Waikanae River must be the longest, and here the bike track runs right next to the Expressway. On quite a few occasions, we’ve watched progress during the building phases of this bridge from below, on the Waikanae River track. It was interesting to see it from the top this time.

The Waikanae River bridge (photo by John)

Looking down on the Waikanae River track. There is access to the tracks
on both sides of the river from each end of the bridge

On the bridge, we met a young woman taking photographs. We exchanged hellos, and she said that a bit further along, we would meet the Prime Minister and the local MP. They were cycling a stretch of the track as a “photo opportunity”. I asked who she worked for, thinking she was a newspaper or TV reporter, but she said she worked for the PM – “I’m the PM’s photographer”.

Sure enough, before long, we saw them coming towards us, looking – as one news report described them – “like a pair of Mormons spreading the good word” in their white shirts and ties. 

Bill English, Prime Minister, and Nathan Guy, MP for Otaki

Mr English saw me taking a photo and stopped to talk. He was interested in my e-bike, and asked how far we were going on the track, and how often we biked. He was very patient while I fiddled with my phone to take another photo of him.

Me and the PM – and presumably a bodyguard? (photo by John)

He stopped to chat – only in NZ ... (he probably just wants my vote!)

Just here the cycle track diverts from the Expressway and goes through a short stretch of Waikanae suburban street. I found out later that this circumvents an area of historic Māori land, a wāhi tapu, belonging to the whānau of the author Patricia Grace. She refused to give up her ancestral land for the Expressway, and in 2014, she won her case in the courts. 

Further along, there is a retaining wall, which is decorated with stylised Māori patterns.

The retaining wall below Patricia Grace’s land

Near the intersection with Te Moana Road, we met a cluster of media people, armed with TV cameras and microphones, waiting for Bill English to return. I watched the TV news that evening, and while he commented on lots of other matters, he did not say anything about the Expressway or the cycle track.

Between Te Moana Road and Peka Peka, the surface of the track became rougher. Hopefully this will be remedied as time goes on. Work on the track is still going on, as evidenced by a small digger we encountered along the way.

The track was a bit rough in places (photo by John)

Work on the track is still going on (photo by John)

We made our way to Peka Peka for lunch at Harrisons. The Expressway ends at Peka Peka and rejoins the old SH1. The cycle track stops here too. Although there is signage pointing to Otaki, there are apparently no plans at this stage to extend the cycle track to Otaki, even when the next section of Expressway is built – something which has the Kapiti cycling community up in arms.

Some stretches of the cycle track are also suitable for horse riders – with a strip of grass running alongside it.

The cycle track also functions as a bridle path in some places (photo by John)

Coming up to the Mazengarb Road intersection on our way back (photo by John)

We biked 34 km that day (17 km each way). After we got back to the car, we drove to Paraparaumu Beach for an icecream, but had to use the old SH1 from Raumati, as there is no on-ramp there. However, we enjoyed driving a short stretch of the new Expressway from Paraparaumu to McKay’s on the way home.

Note: Alastair Smith (of Folding Goldies fame) has also written an account (here) of the cycle track, which he refers to as Te Ara Kapiti.


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Folding Goldies Ride – Te Whiti Riser

Last Wednesday, 1 March, we went on another Folding Goldies ride. This time, the organiser Alastair Smith suggested exploring the relatively newly completed Te Whiti Riser track. This is a 3.3 km track that meanders from Te Whiti Park in Lower Hutt up the Eastern Hills to connect with the ridge track that runs along the top of the Wainuiomata Hill. It is not very steep – no more than a 7% gradient – and according to Alastair’s email, “comfortably wide”.

The plan was to take the train to Woburn Station, ride the track to the top (about 230m of climbing), admire the views, and ride back down the same way. Then bike to Petone for lunch somewhere, and take the train back into town. As an added interest, Simon Morton of RNZ's This Way Up had asked to come along on the ride, and would probably want to do some interviews with FG members.

We had heard about this track, and were keen to try it, so this was a good opportunity. But unfortunately, for John and me, this turned out to be one of our less successful rides.

Instead of taking the train to Woburn, we parked the car on the Petone foreshore, and biked up to Woburn station, to meet the others. It was a large group, 11 including Simon – we are growing! Though not all ride "foldies", we are mostly all “goldies”.

Nigel emerges from the train with his bike (photo by John)

Unfolding the folding bikes on the platform – with so many bikes on the train at once,
the folding bikes had to be folded to be allowed on (photo by John)

Simon had already started interviewing people on the train, and he lost no time in talking to those of us waiting on the platform as well.

Simon Morton interviews Colin on the train (photo by Alastair Smith)

Simon talks to Frank at Woburn Station (photo by John)

Introductions – Désirée, Nigel, Colin, Frank (photo by John)

A group photo taken by Simon Morton

Introductions over, we biked along Whites Line to Te Whiti Park, from where the track starts.

Negotiating the gate at the bottom of the track ... (photo by John)

... and off they go (photo by John)

Though the track was not steep, it was gravel, and it did meander up a steep hillside, with likely steep drops beside the track. Because of his balance limitations John decided to ride his non-electric Giant. It is lighter and easier to manoeuvre than the e-bike.

The track was not particularly steep (photo by John)

John and I negotiate a corner (photo by Simon Morton)

Under normal circumstances, the gradient should not have presented any difficulties, even with a non-electric bike. But John was having trouble. After only a fairly short distance, he had to stop and catch his breath. Determined to keep going, he waited a few minutes and carried on. But standing astride his bike, leaning over his handlebars, panting and out of breath, he worried me.

Alastair waited for us to catch up (photo by John)

Alastair, concerned not to lose anyone, waited for us to catch up. “How are you going?” John wasn’t going too well, as for me, my response was “I’m hating it!”.

I was riding my e-bike – being such a sook when it comes to hills. But I found the track hard to negotiate because of its narrowness (only 1.2m wide) and the tight corners at times. And the drop to the side of the track freaked me out big time. I have mentioned in other blog posts how I have a fear of ditches and drops (going back to childhood days), which sets up a panic response. On this track, I was getting plenty of adrenalin surges. 

John had several stop/start goes, each time having to wait to recover before being able to go on. I was really concerned, and reminded him not to be a hero. It would be better to stop before things got even worse. We had a slightly longer stop at a bridge spanning a bush-clad gully. It was shady there, and a bit cooler than the brilliantly sunny and hot hillside we had just come up.

Another breather – in the shade – with Alastair keeping an eye on us

We carried on for another short distance, but finally John gave in, and agreed to stop. We didn’t want this to develop into a major emergency with a chopper having to medevac him out. We returned to the shade of the bridge, and told Alastair that we would wait there while the rest of the group rode to the top and came back. 

It was a good place to sit and wait. A bit of a cut-out on the bank made a useful seat, and after a while we amused ourselves taking photos. And the rear-facing camera on time-lapse on John’s bike took several pictures of us as well.

Recovering in the shade (photo by John’s time-lapse camera)

The sound of the cicadas was deafening! (photo by John)

The bridge clings to the edge of the gully, following its contours (photo by John)

John takes a photo of the gully below (photo by John)

Several large trees had been cut down to make room for the bridge (photo by John)

Supplejack vines hang from the trees (photo by John)

I wandered down the track to take some pictures of the view, which looks out over Lower Hutt.

A glimpse of the Hutt Valley down the track

Lower Hutt and the Western Hills

The track goes somewhere in amongst the trees and scrub to the top

It is a real pity we didn’t make it to the top, because the view is wonderful, looking out over the Hutt Valley, and out towards the harbour on one side, and down into the Wainuiomata Valley on the other – or so one of them told us.

The view from the top (photo by Alastair Smith)

Before long, the group returned, having made it to the top and back. Simon was among the first to get back. He is quite a seasoned cyclist and mountain bike rider. We really enjoyed his TV series “Along for the Ride”, a couple of years ago. 

Simon was among the first to get back. Note all the recording gear
hanging around his neck (photo by John)

Simon enquires how John is feeling now

A satisfied bunch of riders returns from the top (photo by John)

We gingerly made our way back down to the bottom of the track. Simon had a very useful tip for me. If I lowered my seat, I would have more control and I would be able to put a foot on the ground if I felt “unsafe” on tight corners. I did as he suggested, and the way down felt much less panicky. It really is a lovely track – barring any health or panic issues …

It really is a lovely track (photo by John)

Nearly there …

When everyone had got to the bottom of the track, and Alastair had counted us to make sure all were present and correct, Simon left the group. This was “work” for him after all, and he had to get back to the office. He promised to let us know when the programme would be aired on Radio NZ – probably in three or four weeks.

Note (added 5 April): The programme was aired on Radio NZ's "This Way Up" on 1 April, with the title "The bike gang with gold cards". It can still be accessed online here. (If you can't see the photos in this link, "refresh" the link, and the photos should appear.)

Dayll and Steven left the group along the way as well, so there were only eight of us left to have lunch at the Esplanade Cabaret on the Petone foreshore. This place was a revelation to us. We had biked past it numerous times, but didn’t know it was a café. The name Cabaret suggested a night time venue, so we never investigated.

It turned out to be a large and very busy café, upstairs, featuring a deck with a wonderful view out to the harbour. And they make the best iced coffee we have had anywhere in a long time …

Lunch at the Esplanade Cabaret in Petone (photo by John)

The view from the deck

After lunch, some took the train back to Wellington, and some decided to bike back. For John and me it was just a very short distance back to where we had parked the car.

By the time we got back to the car, John was feeling so awful, that I thought I should take him into A&E to have his heart checked out.

I think it was the right thing to do. They did the usual tests to see if he had suffered a heart attack. Negative, fortunately. But obviously something had happened that was not right. His heart suffers from the occasional “go-slow” (bigeminy), where effectively his heart rate goes down to about half of what it should be. We think that this is what caused him to not be able to cope with what normally would have been a relatively easy ride.

The hospital kept him in overnight and he did a treadmill test the next morning, which he managed OK. He came home later that day, but he is not quite back to his usual self yet. Let’s hope he comes right soon.

Note: Thank you to Simon and Alastair for sharing their photos.