Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From the Mountains to the Beach

Brrrr....it was cooollllddd this morning! I even used my thermal liner in my sleeping bag. Also, it was raining...so much for a dry tent! Raetihi is at an elevation of 520 meters.

Since there was no chance of my shorts and towel getting dry on the bike, I popped them, and Leandra's too, in the dryer ($1 for 25 mins.). It took two cycles, but everything was dry. It was nice to not have anything hanging off the bike.

After breakfast, the rain had pretty much stopped, but it was still cloudy and cold. I wore my long pants and a long sleeve wool shirt. We got on the road at almost 9:00. According to the map book, we had a mostly downhill ride for the day into Wanganui. That would make sense because Wanganui is on the coast. This would be our first time on the west coast of New Zealand.

About 10 km into the day the rain returned in earnest. I was ahead of Leandra. I pulled off and pulled out my raingear before the rain got too heavy. I decided to try wearing the Da Brim instead of the helmet cover.

Remember the map said it was mostly downhill? Yeah, I suppose, overall, that was true but, there were some doozy hills to go up too! In all fairness to the map book, the actual route map did show a few bold uphill arrows. There is nothing finer than climbing in the raingear sauna! You begin to wonder if you are just as wet as with no raingear!

We stopped to see Raukawa Falls. A couple pulled up in a campervan. Turns out they were from Seattle (that's the second time I've met Seattle people!). The Falls were pretty, but the water wasn't as pretty as Huka Falls.

At this point it had not been raining for long enough for the jacket and pants to dry enough to put them away. Raingear stowed, we took off again. Less than a km down the road it started to rain again. First it was pretty light. Then...not so light. Out came the raingear. Aaannndd, a nice long uphill!

The scenery was pretty, even in the rain. It kind of looked like photos I've seen of the Great Smoky Mountains. Today there were definitely more sheep than cows. But, also the occasional horses, goats and even a pig!

About 1:30 we were starting to get hungry. We found a place to pull off so we could pull out bagels, pb and honey. Once again, my little camp stool came in handy! The rain had mostly stopped, which was much nicer for lunch. I took my rain pants off, but not the jacket. By the way, the Da Brim was doing a nice job of mostly keeping the rain off my glasses. It would, however, be nice if there was a rain cover attachment to keep all the rain out of the helmet. I will make that design suggestion to the company when I get home.

After a few more ups and downs, it started to rain again. Rain pants back on! Just in time for a long steep up to Bennyfield Hill (280 meters). I know we were overall losing elevation, but it seemed the other way around. I'm sure that's because the downhills go by so fast and the uphills...well...they don't.

Finally we crested the top of the last up and it was downhill, then flat into Wanganui. And, the sun came out! I went from full raingear with long pants and long sleeve shirt underneath to shorts, short sleeve shirt and sun sleeves! What a day!

Just outside of the "Welcome to Wanganui" sign, we saw the same guy we had seen at the Arapuni Dam. His name was Brian. Since we had no idea where the bus station was in Wanganui, Brian got out his map of the city and we had a look. It didn't show the location, but it was helpful to get an idea of where it might be (somewhere near the city center). Also verified where the Castlecliff Seaside Holiday Park was (our camping destination).

We came in along the Whanganui River. Side note: Notice the difference in spelling? Wanganui vs. Whanganui? Both are correct. Whanganui is the Maori spelling. Apparently, there was a referendum to change the spelling to include the "h". The problem is that it also changes the pronunciation from "Wong-a-new-ee" to "Fong-a-new-ee". Some signs include the "h" and some don't. Quite confusing actually!

Anyway, we crossed the river on the City Bridge to get to the City Center. We stopped at a park to use the restroom and a guy asked us if we were hungry. There was some kind of event that was just ending. We said no, but asked if he knew where the Intercity Bus station was. He gave us directions which we followed pretty well to the station.

Since we hadn't seen any camping places on our way or near the station, we continued on to our planned stay in Castlecliff. We didn't really know which way to go, but I figured, since it was on the coast, and I could see the river on my left, we just needed to continue west. Soon we came to a round-a-bout with a sign pointing to Castlecliff. Also there was a McDonalds so we stopped to use the wifi. It was 6:00 so we ate dinner too. Unfortunately as has been the case about half the time, the wifi wouldn't connect. We keep saying we should check first and buy food only if the wifi is working, but we keep forgetting to do that. I have eaten more McDonalds food on this trip than I have in the last 5 years or so!

We finally found the Holiday Park after riding through the industrial area of Castlecliff (more a suburb of Wanganui). It was about 6.5 km from the bus station. It was not right on the beach, but just a couple of blocks away.

When we arrived at 7:15 the guy in the office (who I joked about whether my name was Welch or, the Maori spelling, Whelch) said the sunset would be about 7:45. We went to our site, set up the tents (without the rainfly) dropped everything else off the bikes and rode down to the beach to watch the sunset on the West Coast of New Zealand. The beach was a black sand beach. I walked out to a large piece of driftwood to try to get some good photos. There were a few clouds off the coast, but still, it was a pretty sunset.

Then, it was back to set up the rest of camp, shower and hit the sack. While we were watching the sunset at the beach, my tent rolled to a few sites down from our site. Imagine my brief shock returning to our campsite and not seeing my tent!

Our bus in the morning to Wellington was at 8:25. I set the alarm for 5:30. We planned to just get up, get packed and ride to the bus without breakfast until we got to the station. It took about 1/2 hour to ride back to the station and a little over 1/2 hour to pack everything up for the bus. Just as we were eating our breakfast of pitas with peanutbutter and honey the bus pulled up. The driver loaded our stuff first. We finished our breakfast then got on the bus. The bus was not very crowded so we each got our own two seats.

We are now stopped in Palmerston North. We will get into Wellington at about 12:15. Hopefully, I'll be able to publish this post and the previous posts.

And, here's some more photos!

Day 10 New Zealand Insights

In keeping with my Insights From the Road tradition, I've compiled a list of New Zealand Insights.

1) You can even get sunburned in the rain!
2) The chances of seeing a Kiwi Bird in the wild are slim to none. However, seeing dead hedgehogs on the side of the road is as common as dead opossums at home.
3) Clerks in stores always tell you the total then say "Thanks". As in, "5 and 20 thanks".
4) Staying in a Holiday Park can hardly be called camping.
5) In light of #4, a fuel canister for cooking is just extra weight to carry.
6) After 10 days, one can pretty much ignore the constant sound of the cicadas.
7) Shoes appear to be optional (many barefoot people--even in stores and cafes).
8) You can accumulate alot of money in coins ($2 and $1) that you forget to spend.
9) New Zealanders are "sign happy". There are signs for everything. Even how to merge into traffic ("Merge With a Zip"). On the upside, it makes it pretty easy to get around!
And finally...
10) Getting on the road early is hard because it doesn't get light outside until about 6:30am.

Our Own Tongariro Crossing

We did it! We actually got up at 6:00 and hit the road at 7:55! It's our earliest start yet!

Today we were heading into and through Tongariro National Park. There is a famous trek called the Tongariro Crossing. We did our own crossing. First we had a decent climb, then a nice downhill to Lake Rotoaira. We pulled off at a little wayside/viewpoint. With my little monocular scope I could see what appeared to be black swans on the lake. There was also a nice view of Mt. Tongariro. About half way up the mountain there is a vent that steam was coming out of. We were still in the thermal area.

We had another longish climb up to the Tongariro Highlands. We had spectacular views of Tongariro, Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu. We kept stopping to take even more photos! Since we were basically riding the length of the mountains, we saw them from all angles.

We stopped to fix some lunch (bagels with peanutbutter and honey) at a place called Mangatepopo Camp School. The kids were up on the mountain today. It looked like a pretty cool school to go to!

We made it to the town of National Park. We stopped at a cafe/store/post office. I was finally able to get stamps and send the postcards from Waitomo Caves. I also had a Coke and a chocolate/coconut brownie.

From National Park we continued toward Raetihi into an extremely fierce headwind. I was wearing the Da Brim. I thought perhaps if I angled it just right I could utilize the Bernoulli Effect and fly! But...no. However, except for not really having to use my brakes going down some of the hills (the Da Brim was doing the braking), it didn't seem to be that bad. I never took it off.

Finally, we hit a long downhill into Raetihi. The wind was still blowing, but but I was flying along anyway. For several kilometers I managed to go at or above 30 kph. It made the last 10 or so km go by pretty fast!

We pulled into Raetihi with the plan of staying at The International Airport and Backpackers* (*airport not included). I had seen the place online at home. It looked intriguing. However, when we arrived it said "No Vacancy". That was okay. We just went to the Holiday Park instead. Turned out to be our cheapest night of camping yet ($10).

I finally figured out how much Betsy is off in kilometers. For every actual 1 kilometer on the road, Betsy says I've gone 1.8 kilometers. So, today's ride in "Betsy km" was 99.0 (really 85.4km or 53.4 miles).

We also saw a Kiwi road sign today. Of course we didn't see any Kiwi birds (they are pretty nocturnal). Also saw a whole herd of deer (including a buck with quite the nice set of antlers). We weren't quite sure what the deal was because they had ear tags on them.

Tomorrow is Leandra's last full day of riding. We will ride to Wanganui. From there we will take a bus to Wellington. Then, we will have 1 1/2 days in Wellington before Leandra goes home and I continue to the South Island. It seems like we just started! I'll be sad to see her go, but I'm excited to ride the South Island.

Here's some Tongariro and other photos from the day.

Huka Means Foam

Since Leandra and I didn't make it all the way to Taupo yesterday, we decided to get up early so we could do the additional km. Yeah...that didn't happen. I set my watch alarm for 6:00 but, once again, I must have slept through it because when I woke up it was 6:30. We packed up pretty quick, but then we started talking to Tilmann and Tatsu (that is the now correct spelling). Actually, Tatsu and I were waiting while Tilmann had Leandra held in captive conversation. When it was getting on to 8:30 (we had hoped to leave at 7:30), I told Leandra we needed to get going. Tilmann still wasn't feeling well, so him and Tatsu were only going to Taupo (thus, I think Tilmann was in no hurry).

As we took off from Golden Springs, it was pretty foggy. We wondered if some of the fog is caused by all the thermal activity. By about 45 minutes into the ride, the sun was shining so we stopped to apply sunscreen. Tatsu caught up to us and said Tilmann had told him to go ahead. He would meet him at McDonalds in Taupo at 1:00.

We finally got to the turn off for Huka Falls. By then it was about 11:00 so we decided to stop at The Hub Cafe (bean riding?) for a mid-morning snack. We had fresh, warm chocolate chip/banana muffins and I had hot chocolate (with a lovely pink marshmallow). The cafe was at one of the places where the helicopters take off to fly over the falls and the other geothermal areas (such as Craters of the Moon). So, while we were enjoying our muffins, the helicopters were taking off and landing right outside the door. Kind of weird.

After our snack we rode down to the falls. Huka Falls was not the largest falls I've ever seen, but certainly the most beautiful color of water! The water flows through a pretty narrow gorge. It's all frothy and foamy and a beautiful aquamarine color (see the photos below)! "Huka" in Maori means "Foam". It was definitely foamy!

From Huka Falls, we rode back up to the main road. When we got to a scenic outlook (looking down to Lake Taupo), the Bike Victoria group was there (we had seen the tail end of them at Fitzgerald's Glade Cafe--where we got the free food from the support crew). We think they were finishing for the day in Taupo (we saw all the luggage in Taupo). A mother and young daughter rode into the lookout on a tandem Bike Friday. The mom said the little girl had been riding the tandem since she was 5. I got several questions about Da Brim. The people my age wanted to know where I got it.

Tatsu was also at the lookout. He had been there for awhile (even dried out his tent). We were not far from McDonalds. After taking photos, Leandra and I headed down into town. From the lookout we could see a Pak 'n Save (big yellow building) but when we got into town, we decided to try a Countdown store instead. It was pretty good. Prices were pretty close to Pak 'n Save.

After restocking we looked for McDonalds. Who should we happen to see at McDonalds? Why, Tatsu, of course! Tilmann was in Taupo, but not at McDonalds. We said goodbye to Tatsu (he was headed out) and went into Mickey D's for lunch and wifi.

Since we still had 50 km to go to get to Turangi, we didn't dawdle too long in McDonalds. We wish we had had more time to visit the beach in Taupo. Because of the thermal activity, the beach sand is warm. In fact if you dig down a bit, it's is downright hot!

We followed the lake edge and rode out of Taupo. Basically, we had to ride to the other end of the lake (it's a big lake!). It was quite scenic riding along the lake. It was nice and sunny until we got further south. There were some nasty looking clouds ahead of us. Still, we pushed on, determined to make it to Turangi.

Just before the town limits of Turangi, it started to sprinkle. We had no idea where we would be staying in Turangi. As we were about to go inquire at the iSite info area, we saw a place called Parkland Motor Lodge. They also have tent sites. We decided it was fine for us. Whew! We made it! It ended up being about 57 miles. Of course it has continued to rain off and on. Our tents will be good and soaked...again.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Geysers, Mud and Some Maori Culture

Today we started out by going to Te Puia, the Maori Arts and Crafts Cultural Center and Geothermal area.

We did the Cultural Show first. It was a welcoming ceremony as well as some of the traditional dances. It lasted 45 minutes. Interestingly, before we went in to the meeting house, we had to remove our shoes (and leave them outside) and remove hats. But, we could take flash photography and video during the performance to our heart's content! THAT wouldn't happen at home!

After the show, we took ourselves on the tour of the geothermal stuff. There were geysers, bubbling mud pools, steaming vents (with that sulphur smell) and thermal springs. It was all pretty cool--or should I say, HOT! We finally got to see a couple of Kiwi birds in the "Kiwi House". They are much bigger than I thought--about the size of a bowling ball.

We also went through the Carving school and the Weaving school. Te Puia is an active school for Maori Carvers and Weavers.

After we had seen everything, we spent a little time in the gift shop. By then it was about noon. We still had 80 km to ride to get to Taupo. We returned to the bikes and had a little snack before we hit the road.

Today was pretty much a straight shot down SH 5. After leaving Rotorua, I noticed a bike path running parallel to SH 5. We hopped on that and rode for about 10 km. It was great! It looked to be pretty new.

As we continued to work our way toward Taupo, we were battling a pretty bad headwind. I didn't even wear my Da Brim as I would have been blown all over the road.

We had about 16 or so km of climbing, but not too steep. Then we had a lovely downhill! Our little snack had disappeared so we stopped at Lake Ngahewa Recreation Area to eat some more. We had peanutbutter and Nutella sandwiches.

Just after we pulled back out onto the road, we met Jurgen, a German cyclist headed north. He told us we should go to the Thermal Wonderland just down the road. The only problem was that we still had quite aways to go and it was already almost 4:00. We didn't end up seeing the wonderland.

We kept pedaling against the wind, still planning on getting to Taupo. We also wanted to stop at Huka Falls. When we got to Golden Springs I noticed a Holiday Park with tent sites. Leandra and I concluded that since it was already 5:00, and we had another long climb, that we would stay here tonight instead of getting to Taupo. This holiday park even has a special spot for cyclists! AND, it has a thermal stream with a couple of warm pools! We set up our stuff and went for a soak in one of the pools. It was HEAVEN!

After showering, we went up to the kitchen to cook dinner. Earlier, when we first arrived, we saw Tatsi's friend Tilman. Then we saw Tatsi. They were here tonight too! a very nice couple from Vancouver, BC are here too. Tatsi, Bruce and Jane and Leandra and I all fixed our dinner at the same time. Then we chatted for awhile. Tatsi downloaded some photos he took of us yesterday onto my SD card!

It was a great evening! Now I must go to bed. We must make up tomorrow the distance we didn't do today. Hopefully, I can get some wifi and publish this and the last few posts.

Here's some photos from Te Puia, the ride and Holiday Park.