New Zealand – Whakatane to Auckland
Denis Kertz, ©2000
I got up and headed to town on the bike to the same café where we had coffee yesterday but it didn’t open until 7:30 so I had to wait about 10 minutes. I ordered the pancakes with banana and bacon and it was good. Back at camp I packed up intending to continue to Tauranga while M&S were going to Rotorua, one of NZ’s main tourist centers famous for its thermal activity. I had no desire to visit Rotorua because I figured it would be too touristy and I had seen thermal activity before in our Yellowstone National Park and I also had limited time as well. Markus mentioned where they were going to have a mid-day break, which I thought odd so I mentioned again where I was headed for the day. That got M&S thinking whether they really wanted to go to Rotorua or save a few more days for their trip north of Auckland. Much discussion transpired but it was in Swiss-German, the Swiss language, so I couldn’t tell whether a discussion or an argument was in the works. Finally, Markus said they were going to Rotorua. But then some more discussion and the decision became Tauranga. The end result was we left at 10:00 rather than shortly after 9:00.
Tauranga was about 90K but it was flat virtually the entire way and not very scenic except for a couple of spots along the coast. There weren’t many places to stop along the way so at 50K I stopped at a BP gas station in Maniatutu and M&S joined me shortly about 12:50. At 1:30 we took off again. In a few K, SH 2 rejoined the Pacific Coast Highway and traffic increased quite a bit with a lot of trucks although there was a good shoulder.
Approaching Tauranga suddenly there was a decision to make as there was two ways into Tauranga, one over a toll bridge. I gambled that the bridge was the shorter route and intended to ask someone along the way if that was true but there was no place to stop and ask. So it was about a 6K gamble that ended well as bikes were allowed on the bridge (I was afraid they might not be allowed) and there was no toll charge for bikes. Once across the bridge it was a short ways to the info center in the town center. When M&S joined me, we decided on a nearby hostel for camping but first we checked email at the library next door. Shortly after 5:00 we left for the hostel and set up camp on a lawn area outside the hostel.
After cleaning up, M&S decided to join me for dinner so we walked downtown to scout out the possibilities. We picked a reasonable fish place and had fish & chips. Afterwards we looked for a desert place but nothing was open. We started walking to a grocery store we had been told about but it turned out to be a fair distance and since we weren’t sure it would even be open after 8:00 we abandoned and walked back to the hostel. Fortunately, I was able to buy some milk for breakfast right at the hostel.
The YHA proprietress was really nice and friendly. I bought a diet Coke that sold for $1.20 but had change only for either $1.15 or $1.50 and she insisted on taking the $1.15. When I asked her about a book exchange, she said basically I could take a book even if I didn’t have an exchange (which I did).
I had my usual breakfast but M&S had to run out to the grocery store. Then Markus discovered his front tire was flat and had to fix it. After breakfast I went to town to check another place for film but no luck. I picked up a few groceries and checked for some Fuji film for Markus but couldn’t find what he wanted. Both M&S were not feeling great so they were a little slow packing up. We finally left a little after 10:00 but M&S had to stop by a bike shop for a new tube so I headed out.
The first 10K were busy traffic with lots of trucks and minimal shoulder. The road was long undulations with some headwind. There was no scenery to get excited about as I expected. After 42K I stopped at Katikati for a break at the info center. I looked up the motorcamps in the Waihi Beach and had all the information available when M&S arrived about 30 minutes after I did. We agreed on the motorcamp and I took off at 1:30. In another 10K, a side road got me off SH 2 on to Waihi Beach. Another 9K and I pulled into a little store just beyond the motorcamp for an ice cream. Then I checked out the camp. Tent sites were $10 and they had a cabin for $16. I waited for M&S to arrive, which took longer than expected because Markus had another flat. M&S took a tent site and I went for the cabin with a small refrigerator, some dishes, and a washbasin – a luxury cabin.
After cleaning up, I walked to the beach as the sun was going down behind a hill. I picked up two beers and milk from a liquor store and a small store. After stashing my goods in my refrigerator, I started walking to check out eating-places. I ended up walking about a mile with nothing exciting except for two dogs walking down the sidewalk, one a large brown dog and the other a small black and white dog, an unlikely looking pair. When I turned around later and started walking back, I ran into Mutt and Jeff again coming the other way. I thought that a little strange and they probably thought the same of me.
I stopped at a tavern that had a restaurant that looked like it was in no hurry to open so I continued on to the RSA – Returning Servicemen Association. The RSAs used to be for returning servicemen but now were a general-purpose place. This place had a big bar and a restaurant. I had a peppered steak for $12.50 that was good.
Later, M&S stopped by to go for a beer but there wasn’t anything open nearby. However, I still had two beers in my refrigerator so we went to the lounge and talked about the upcoming travel through the Coromandel Peninsula. We expected this to be more free lancing to take side trips to areas of interest and that meant we might not be staying together as we had been.
I was up at 7:00 and ready to eat breakfast when I found my milk was frozen. I went to the camp kitchen and tried to thaw the sludge out in the microwave but couldn’t get the microwave oven to work. Finally I managed to use a small oven.
In contrast to the last two days, we were off at a timely 9:00 with a short trip to Waihi, 10K away. When I rejoined SH 2, the police had a line of about 8 cars and trucks set up for ticketing. In Waihi I caught up with M&S at a bike shop while I was looking for the info center. We went to the info center and found the gold mine, Waihi’s claim to fame (“heart of gold”), had no available tours for the day. So we watched a short video and biked to the northern lookout where you could see down in the huge tapered cylindrical excavation. Then we stopped in town for coffee, luxuriating in the short day, only 30K to Whangamata.
We left about 11:30 with some gradual climbing and then some more significant climbing to the Waihi Saddle. This was followed by a nice long winding descent. Some more up and down with improving scenery and into town. We stopped at the info center for information on accommodations. I finally found my film across the street at a pharmacy and found a place to check email. M&S had continued on grocery shopping and then left for camp. When I stopped at the motorcamp there was no one there but Markus came by to say they were unhappy with the motorcamp (no one was there) and decided to stay at a backpacker down the road for $18 so I joined them. The weather was cloudy with a few sprinkles and it looked for a while like it could rain so indoors was not a bad choice.
I heated up some minestrone soup I picked up for dinner along with some walnut bread. I checked the weather forecast, which looked like it was getting iffy. Then I sat back to read in the comfortable lounge.
I ate breakfast as usual. M&S were going to Opoutere, which had a nice beach and then to Tairua. I wanted to do the Peninsula Road and lookout and then Opoutere. So it looked like we might be splitting up. M&S left first and I followed a little later, just after 9:00. I stopped at the grocery store to get another loaf of their walnut bread. Then as I rode through town, Markus flagged me down at a café. They had stopped at the info center and were told that the Peninsula Road I had planned to take was closed due to logging so my plan was shot down. So I joined M&S for a leisurely coffee. Then we departed for Opoutere that was 12K north and 4K off on a side road. The side road was nice with a nice view of Wharekawa Harbor set against a distant mountain background.
At a carpark we left our bikes and walked 10 minutes to get to the beach. The beach was protected by a strip of land owned by the DoC so it was in pristine condition and unsoiled by development. It was also very scenic along its 6K length. I walked to the southern end on the hard packed sand where the harbor started and was a habitat for birds. Then I walked all the way to the other end, getting a great view of Slipper Island just off the coast. A great walk with good views and soothing surf.
When I got back to my bike at 2:30, M&S had already left about an hour earlier but left a note about meeting in Tairua. It was another 24K to Tairua with one sizable hill to climb. It was also very overcast after being sunny earlier. The climb was no problem but the road itself was. It had been newly sealed in places with some coarse gravel that was not good for cycling. I rolled into Tairua just after 4:00 with a view of boats in the long Tairua Harbor and the Paku volcanic peak with houses built on its lower part. Tomorrow I planned to climb to the top of the Paku Peak.
As I rolled into town I spotted M&S at their favorite spot – the grocery store. We stayed at a motorcamp ($10) just around the corner that was great for access to town. After setting up I walked through town and ate fish & chips at a bar and wrote my notes.
I was up at my usual time for my usual breakfast. We waited for the sun to dry out our tents. I decided to climb the Paku Peak that was nearby. M&S decided to join me so we cycled to the peak and up a steep road that went about ¾ of the way up to the peak. Then we walked the last part to the summit in about 10 minutes. The summit was a great view of the town, the harbor, and up and down the beach. Well worth the effort except we should have done the trip on unloaded bikes while we were waiting for out tents to dry out.
When I started cycling this morning, I noticed my cyclometer wasn’t displaying any distance or speed. My cyclometer had been erratic for the last couple of mornings. Initially I figured my wheel magnet and transmitter were misaligned but now I guessed that the battery in my cyclometer’s wireless transmitter must have died. So when we headed back to town after the peak climb, I shopped around for a 23A, 12-volt battery for my wireless transmitter. I was fortunate to find a replacement battery in the photo section of a pharmacy store and that fixed the problem.
Leaving town was a long climb of about 6K and then a descent to Whenuakite where a side road led to the scenic spots of Mercury Bay. First stop was the Hot Water Beach where you can dig a hole at low tide for a warm pool. M&S were waiting for me at the beach and we did a quick tour. The beach was nice and people were digging their holes at the south end of the beach. From Hot Water Beach it was another 10K to Hahei Beach and its attraction, Cathedral Cove. At the beach we discovered it was another 1K uphill and a 1.5-hour roundtrip walk to the cove. As it was already 2:30, M&S decided to forgo the cove and stopped for coffee in town. I decided to visit the cove and biked up a steep hill where there were some nice views at the top. The walk to the cove only took about 20 minutes but was worthwhile as there were two coves formed by huge limestone hills. Connecting the two coves was a hole in a limestone rock in the form of an arch and hence the namesake. A very scenic spot with a couple of interesting rock formations at the water’s edge. As I left, I met Markus who decided to make the trip after all so I turned around and gave him a guided tour.
We left the cove and were back in town by 3:30 and stopped for coffee at a café. When we left at 4:00 we headed to Flaxmill Bay. I had thought about staying at Hahei Beach but the weather forecast called for sprinkles in the morning and turning into rain so it seemed wise to get closer to Whitianga. Flaxmill was only about 13K away and a pleasant ride other than for the hill leaving Hahei Beach. When we got to Flaxmill in good time we decided to continue another K to a ferry landing where the ferry took us to Whitianga for $2. In Whitianga we found a motorcamp nearby for $10. We also found another Swiss cycling couple in camp that M&S had met in Wanaka and I had met at the backpacker in Wellington the morning I left. M&S decided to join me for dinner and we ate a good meal at a sports bar & grill in town and we stayed until almost 9:00 before returning to camp.
I got up and walked downtown for breakfast. I found a place near the ferry landing that had pancakes but it didn’t open until 9:00 so I bought a newspaper and read. I had pancakes with bacon and eggs but only a single pancake. It was misting when I got up and the forecast was for rain so today turned into a rest day, which was good since I had been on the bike 11 straight days. Later I joined M&S and we had coffee at a restaurant on the beachfront.
I spent the rest of the day reading, some grocery shopping, some email, and making a reservation to stay in Auckland. M&S told me about a ferry that went from Coromandel to Waiheke Island and then to Auckland and we discussed taking the ferry and doing some cycling on the island. This would fit well with my remaining time, especially given that its generally recommended to take public transport in or out of Auckland as access was not particularly bicycle friendly. In the evening I had seafood pizza on the beachfront that was good.
It drizzled off and on until about 2:30 when it rained hard for a while and then more off and on drizzle. Forecast was for clearing starting in the morning and being OK until Thursday with more rain.
I got up at the usual time for breakfast but there was no hurry to leave since Coromandel was only 46K and the weather was supposed to start cloudy and clear up later. After breakfast I packed right away since my tent was dry from the wind last night and I didn’t want to take a chance on a drizzle getting it wet. We waited until 10:00 when the weather appeared to be clearing with some blue patches of sky and my watch showed rising barometric pressure.
As we left Whitianga along the beach we could see what looked like rain when looking back. It was a small climb out of the beach area and then a steep 2K climb. Approaching Kuatunu at 15K, the rain caught up with us and I stopped at a little roadside park by the beach to take shelter under a tree for about 30 minutes. When M&S, who had stopped behind me, took off I joined them. From here the road undulated with an occasional big hill until starting the climb over Whangapoura Hill to reach Coromandel. This was a steep, hard climb made more difficult as most of the 3.5K climb was gravel and frequently rough gravel. It was a grind making it to the top.
The downhill to Coromandel wasn’t a whole lot better as it was mostly gravel too although a bit smoother but still requiring considerable braking to keep my speed under control. There were, however, a couple of great views of Coromandel below and some islands just off shore but limited somewhat by the overcast sky.
In town, I proceeded to the info center where M&S joined me shortly. After scouting out motorcamps we had coffee in a café and I had a good pumpkin and chocolate chip muffin. I was also a little chilled, drenched in perspiration from the hill climb. When we got to the motorcamp ($9), the sun finally came out and I warmed up nicely. It would have been nice to have this same sun lighten up the Coromandel views from the hill. Then we learned some bad news from Silvia who had stopped at the info center again. The ferry that we had hoped to catch to Waiheke Island had been discontinued a couple of months ago. Turns out a guy owned an island close to Waiheke and ran the ferry to drum up business for his island retreat. However, when business dropped off, he put his island and ferry up for sale. It was very disappointing to hear this since the ferry to Waiheke and then to Auckland seemed to fit so well with our travel plans.
After cleaning up, I walked downtown and had very good fish & chips at a bar, maybe the best of the trip. Then I picked up a few things for breakfast and walked back to camp.
When I got up, my tent was wet from some drizzle and the wind was howling and gusting. Today was predicted to be fine but it wasn’t. The weather was uncertain and the wind was likely dangerous for cycling. After breakfast we went downtown for coffee while waiting and evaluating the weather. M&S wanted to head to Auckland and I had hoped to head up the coast to Colville for more sight seeing. After coffee, the wind had lessened and cycling looked possible but still an iffy decision. As we were mulling this over the wind started picking up again and then some drizzle started so we decided to stay put.
After paying for another day in camp, I headed to the public library to kill time but the library was only open from 10:00-1:00 and had no newspapers or magazines. In fact, when I asked the librarian if they had newspapers, he gave me almost a look of disdain as if that was a silly idea. So I read part of a Readers Digest condensed book until 1:00. When I left the library, it was drizzling again. I wandered through town and found a used bookstore that took exchanges. So I finished my current book and got another for $3 with the exchange. Then I ate a good pizza at a café.
Back in camp, we discussed strategies for getting to Auckland. There was a bus to Auckland that could be picked up at either Coromandel or Thames, 55K south. M&S will probably cycle to Thames tomorrow then catch the bus to Auckland. I will probably join then to Thames but might stay overnight and catch the bus Thursday morning since I was in no hurry to make Auckland.
I was up at the usual time for usual breakfast. The plan was to cycle to Thames, 55K away, and possibly catch the bus to Auckland from there. We didn’t know exactly when the afternoon bus left Thames so we left promptly at 9:00. The weather looked OK although it was still cloudy. The road started flat but then climbed pretty steeply for 3K. A little later another 3K climb to Kurita Hill, some descent, and then another 1K climb before a final descent. The climbs gave nice views of the coast despite the overcast. After the last climb, the route was flat and easy the final 35K to Thames and we arrived at 12:30.
In Thames we learned the bus left at 3:40 but we didn’t know for sure it had room for three bikes. I was considering staying for the night and taking the 10:40 bus in the morning but finally decided that it might be better to make Auckland today, given the prospects for rain tomorrow. When the bus arrived at 3:25, the bus driver said he had room. We unloaded our bikes and he hung them on hooks by the front wheels and we were off. The ride was not very scenic so it was just as well to be zipping along on a bus.
Our arrival time was 5:35 so we managed to hit rush hour but we pulled in on schedule as it was getting dark. I had reservations for a backpacker downtown not far from the bus terminal. After we got our bearings we pushed our bikes to the backpacker. However, M&S were uneasy about the backpacker and it didn’t look that great from the outside. There was another backpacker right across the street that looked better and we decided to stay there. I got a single room ($30) that wasn’t the greatest but it was big enough to store my bike.
After cleaning up, M&S joined me for dinner and we eventually found a Chinese place in a food court that was fine. We also found two McDonalds, two Burger Kings, a Wendy’s, and a Pizza Hut, all within a few blocks.
After eating breakfast, I stopped at the Qantas office up the street to check my airline tickets. They didn’t open until 9:00 so I had to kill a few minutes. Then they told me I really had to check with American Airlines for any changes and that AA had an office in the airline center a few blocks away. At AA’s office I found Qantas had two flights on Saturday and the earlier flight would get me to Chicago at 9:16 pm but it was almost full. I could also get out Friday night at the same time as my current ticket for Sunday, around midnight. So I got put on the wait list for the earlier Saturday flight.
Back at the backpacker, I met M&S and we toured the nearby Sky Tower for $15. It was a great view from the top with the weather still good and we had coffee in the café as well. After the tower, M&S went to check on their flights and I went back to the backpacker to decide how to handle packing up my bike. There was a bike store right around the corner but they didn’t have a bike box. So I called the Bike Barn in New Market that Craig had told me about when I was in the backpacker in Napier. Gavin answered and said they could pack it up by tomorrow for $15 and he gave me an idea how to get to their place.
I dressed in my cycling clothes and biked to their shop about 4K away. Gavin was a very likeable mechanic and said the bike should be ready by noon tomorrow. I walked back, partly through the Auckland Domain (park) that was nice but I didn’t linger due to the threat of rain. Back at the backpacker I called AA and they said I still was on the wait list but was told that it probably wasn’t encouraging that I hadn’t gotten take off yet. Then I checked my email and bought some packing tape for my bike box.
At 5:00 I met M&S and we had coffee at a Starbucks, a favorite of Silvia from the year she spent in the US when in school. Then we walked to Planet Hollywood, an impressive building with a food court and a Borders Bookstore. We ate in the food court and then browsed in the bookstore before walking back to the backpacker.
After breakfast I walked to the Flight Centre at 8:30 to finalize my travel plans. It was drizzling a bit on my short walk and then it started raining fairly hard so I got a little wet. I had already decided to leave today even if my Saturday flight came through which it hadn’t. After my travel was set, I walked back to the backpacker and completed my packing and put my things in a storage room at the backpacker. Then Markus and I went across the street to check email. After email, we all went to the Planet Hollywood building for coffee and then on to the library. As it was about 12:30, I called the bike shop and found my bike was ready. By this time after an auspicious start, the weather was starting to look OK and I walked approximately 2 miles to the bike shop.
At the bike shop I paid $25 for the packing. Gavin was kind of excited about packing up my Litespeed, appreciating a good bike. The shop had a van and they gave me a ride back to the backpacker and I tipped $5 even though tipping is not expected in NZ. At the backpacker I put my water bottles in the bike box and taped it shut and put it in storage. I found getting to the airport would be easy as an airport bus came by every 30 minutes in the evening across the street at a cost of $12 or $10 if pre-purchased. To be sure about taking a bike, I waited about an hour for an airport bus to show up which was disconcerting (should have been at most 20 minutes during the day) but the bus driver said no problem but the bike would cost $5 additional. By this time the sky was amazingly cloudless. I also met the Portuguese guy I had met at the backpacker in Napier and we chatted a while.
I walked down to the wharf and saw the ferries, thinking it might have been nice to go to Waiheke Island if I had known the weather would turn nice. At 5:00 I met up with M&S and we ate at the same food court as yesterday, lingering over our last meal together. We left at 7:00 to return to the backpacker so I could pick up the airport bus. The bus came by at 7:30 and the driver loaded my luggage and didn’t charge for the bike. I didn’t complain.
I waved a final good-bye to Markus and Silvia as the bus pulled out. We had spent two weeks together after a chance meeting outside Gisborne although I never dreamed we would travel together that long. However, we traveled well together, pretty much going our separate ways when cycling during the day and meeting for a mid-day break and at camp at night. They were good company in the evenings, especially when it got dark so early at about 6:00. I probably learned more about Switzerland and its culture from Markus and Silvia than I did about New Zealand on this trip. Markus and Silvia were leaving in the morning for the northern part of the North Island until leaving Auckland on May 30.
At the airport I checked in and my bike went for free (I didn’t complain) even though I was allowed only two checked bags and the bike made three. After checking out several stores, I passed through customs and headed for the Qantas lounge where I was able to shower and use the Internet. I also had a beer and some food. I boarded and accepted champagne and then discovered the overhead lights didn’t work in our row. My seatmate and I were invited to move downstairs which he did but I elected to stay. So as on my flight over, I had my row all to myself.
First meal was only an hour or so after takeoff so I skipped it. I started watching The Green Mile but decided I wouldn’t be able to watch the entire long movie on the small screen. So I started browsing and discovered The Beach that I had read on the South Island. I found it was changed somewhat and was not all that interesting even though the book was good. I managed to sleep for about four hours or so and then had breakfast.
Landing in Los Angeles, I collected my baggage and cleared customs. I was able to put two of my bags on a conveyor just outside customs for transfer to my Chicago flight but had to take my bike box to the AA counter. There the guy tried to charge me $75 for checking my bike but I argued. Fortunately another guy at the counter told him I was right and I didn’t have to strangle him I checked in at the Admirals Club where I had a beer and did a quick email check. I called a limousine service to arrange for pickup in Chicago and warned them I was bringing a boxed bicycle. My flight to Chicago was uneventful. We got in about ½ hour early but it took about ½ hour for my bags to arrive. Then another 40 minutes for my limousine but my assigned limo was full of baggage so I had to wait another 15 minutes for another limo. This limo had only one other passenger and the bike box fit within the trunk. I got home just before 2:00 am.
New Zealand was truly a pedallers’ paradise. Almost every day was interesting scenery with only a few exceptions. Only the North Island’s east cape route didn’t fulfill expectations but almost everything else was awesome scenery. The variety of NZ’s scenery was just amazing with large rolling hills speckled with sheep, grand vistas from mountaintops like Mt. Roy and Avalanche Peak, rocky mountains and glaciers in the Southern Alps, fiords and sounds in Milford Sound (actually a fiord) and Marlborough Sounds, and coastal views around Kaikoura, Punakaiki, and the Cormandel Peninsula. With this variety of hilly terrain, it was surprising that the NZ roads weren’t more difficult to cycle. True, there were moments of torture (which builds character!) but generally only one or two significant climbs a day, with the exception of the Arthur’s Pass climb that was beyond category.
New Zealand has great accommodations for the cyclist, ranging from free camping to motorcamps and backpackers to motels. Although free camping was available, the US/NZ exchange rate made motorcamps a bargain and almost free. With the exception of the disappointing weather in the last week, the weather was fine with only an occasional bad weather day. For the most part, the weather was pleasantly cool and mostly sunny with minimal headwinds although the fall weather was reputedly warmer than usual. And to top if off, my bike was almost flawless with the only blemish a broken chain and a shifting problem. More surprising, not a single flat tire for over 2,000 miles making more than 4,000 consecutive miles of flat-free touring over the last year. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2000. All rights reserved.