2 Janvier – 3 Janvier : Wellington - Looking for bicycles
We arrive by ferry to Wellington and have to reach a couchsurfing host at the other end of the city. We are welcomed by Alex, a sixty-something man who lives with his housemate. He has been hosting couchsurfers for years and continues to do it. We are invited for dinner. We sleep in the living room after having watch altogether a romantic movie on the TV.
The next day we start looking for bicycles. Wellington is definitely not the right place for it, some cycle shops yes but everything is super expensive. We finally manage to find a second-hand bike on the facebook marketplace. It looks great, we take it. We are still one bike short for Tom and need to buy some equipment as well. The day after we take a small boat to go across the bay and meet Sarah, Will's ex-wife. Will has welcomed us in the UK trading technical videos for his course on self-sufficiency. We find a bike on the other side for Tom and some equimment. The whole operation is pretty expensive. Sarah, lives in a very nice little house on the sea shore and encourages us to dive into the sea with her before we go out for drinks in the city together. We spend a very nice enjoyable evening with her and she has the kindness to take us and our bikes to the bus station by car where we await the bus that will take us north.
4 Janvier – 6 Janvier : Let the cycle tour begin ! Rotorua – (24km - flat)
We arrive round the beginning of the evening in town. First challenge, putting everything on the bikes ! It is quite the balancing act ! But it works and we dash to the campground as it is already quite late. The campground has mineral hot pools. Normal for this well-reknown geothermal area ! We enjoy a bit of bathing.
The next day, we are very lucky to be welcomed into a family's home through the Warmshowers network, which is dedicated to cyclists. Eva and Pete and their children live in Rotorua, in a very nice little house with a beautiful garden full of fruit trees and a nice veggie patch. We have a very lawn picnic together and take our bikes to get to Whakarewarewa, a living Maori village which is also organised to guide tours for tourists through their cultural heritage.
That is the full name of this village. The people living there are the Tuhuorangi Ngati Wahiao. This village is located in an intense geothermal active area. It is built around the hot pools and geysers and uses them for a number of things including cooking, bathing and even, in days of old, embalment. The current touristic activities are lead by these people and the village is still inhabited by their people. Right next door is Te Puia, another touristic attraction based on the geothermal activities and the Maori culture, except it is owned by the government and no one lives there. A number of years ago, the government tried to buy the land of this village and evict the Maori living there, in order to, and please notice the irony of it, transform the whole thing into a Maori cultural touristic attraction. Luckily the people living there put a stop to it and there are now two separated businesses running the touristic tours, though one is obviousy more authentic than the other.
We were welcomed with a performance from one of the family living in the village with ancient songs and dances, as well as batons and traditional bolas performances and the world famous Haka. Though it is made for tourists, it is also a good introduction into actual Maori culture which you cannot experience as an outsider much differently. It is a powerful and energetic moment with lots of love floating in the air. All the muscles including those of the eyes and tongs are used to perform and it gives an incredible feeling of strength and life. It is quite touching.
Guiding tours such as these are a long tradition in the Maori culture as they start as early as the nineteenth century. Women from this tribe were and are very outspoken and through contact with the settlers, some learned English. Maori who could bridge the culture and language gap were really sought after in these times to lead transactions between settlers and the Maori. These women developped quite an international reknown for taking around the foreigners and guiding through the culture of the Maori. Some even welcomed British royalty on visits or went to England with warriors and maidens to perform for them there. This has continued ever since, even through the hardships and the government making it hard for them, until today.
A small compilation of the Earth speaking direct to you from Waikite and Rotorua!
One of the world's wonders is most probably the result of the geothermal activity. These absolutely magnificent translucid blue pools, boiling softly or murderously, at a 100°C on the surface and more down below, coming straight from kilometers in depth after having touched the liquid magma. The mud pools with their popping sounds, the multiple colors of the minerals slowly cooling down, brought up from way down below to the air... There it really seems the Earth is expressing itself directly to you, it speaks through the rushing sound of the water, the popping of the mud bubbles, the boiling energy and the midst swirling around randomly. It is an unforgettable experience and you can easily understand the reverence for the Earth and its incredible power, there.
After this amazing experience, we bike back to our hosts which are having a get-together with their friends and a bbq dinner. We are kindly invited and spend a very good evening in the garden. We then sleep in the tree house of the kids. It is just wide enough to put in a double mattress and looks like a fairytale house, all wooden with little strings of blinking lights. Little curtains on the windows make it look like a real miniature house in a tree. Completely surreal !
7 Janvier : Rotorua – Waikite Valley – 30km (+380m)
We leave Rotorua through a nice cycle way along the highway. We soon leave the big road to start forward into the countryside. Some hills, our firsts, let us test ourselves a little before we get to Waikite. The camping provides access to the hot pools to bathe and a stroll path to go see the hot water spring. Its hot water is delicious for our muscles even with the hot sun shining.
The Waikite spring is a hot pool that growls and boils with a translucid blue water surrounded by ochre and green colors, it is a beautiful natural painting. We remain a long time admiring this small living painting.
At the camping, we meet Fabien, a french musician, who is touring the world on a bicycle, for about two years already, taking some breaks to go play in Maroco and earn some money before starting again. He is so much better equipped than us ! And way lighter too ! We have a nice friendly evening together.
8 Janvier : Waikite – Wai-o-Tapu – Kerosene Creek – Wai-o-Tapu – 16km (+140m)
In the morning, we are ready and we are three. Fabien rapidly puts some miles between us, the first slope is pretty steep ! I end up pushing my bike and Tom has to wait for me. I even hurt my arm pushing the bike which gently skids on the gravel on the road side ; Luckily, the rest of the road is a nice soft slope down to the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland.
It is organised like a theme park so we are a little worried especially when seeing the number of tourists. We gather at the Lady Knox geysere at 10 o'clock in the morning. We join with Fabien and wonder together how a natural geyser can be so precisely on-time everyday. The answer comes out several minutes later when a bit of soap is dropped inside and acts as a geyser starter ! This strange fact would have been discovered by prisonners working in the surrounding woods and coming regularly to this place to wash themselves.
The geothermal park itself is absolutely magnificent. I probably should stop writing this word all the time but the qualifiers are missing to describe all these colours, displayed here at a grand scale, that we rarely see in the nature and that are here of a depth and intensity that seems totally out-of-worldly. Towards the end of the walk there is an acid lake which is entirely fluorescent green-yellow, difficult to render this bizarre colour on a picture, you'll have to go and see it. We leave our gear and bags at the local tavern after this visit and start lighter for Kerosene Creek, a hot water river. On the way we find a mountain bike trail to get there, super nice in the middle of the woods. My wheels aren't really adapted for it but those of Tom's are perfect for this kind of trail. Returning from the creek, we have a go at another trail, grade 4, going way up and steeper. The way down is more difficult with my bike which slides all the way but it is still a great moment and a very good introduction to mountain biking !
9 Janvier : Wai-o-tapu – Taupo – 58km (+214m)
A very flat and quiet ride. The town is nice even with its pretty steep roads to get to the free camp. It is on the edge of a river and we do appreciate a cold plunge after a sunny day spent riding.
10 Janvier : Taupo – Moturere – 38km (+256m)
Taupo is a veyr big lake. We didn't find it particularly beautiful but it does have a cycle way along a one side which allows us to move forward lazily. Our offline map, maps.me, sends us then on a way which is barred by a pole and a sign requiring a permit to go through this wood logging area. Not risking to receive a log on our heads or to be the target for rebukes along the way, we are going backwards and take instead the highway. It is rather steep and it goes for a long time.
Reaching the flat area at the top, we stop a moment to take in the view. On one side, a land where all the trees have been harvested looks like a war zone, another where small trees have been planted back in the middle of all the bits and pieces leftovers and in the back big trees that seem to be about ripe for harvest. This huge monoculture of pines harvested in an industrial manner creates of course a number of environmental problems of which the most spectactular ones are probably the landslides that create deadly waves of muck and dead wood that lays to waste everything in their path, especially because in NZ, unfortunatel, most of these woods are located on slopes. During the everlasting slope down, we then meet a heavy-loaded breathless cyclist going the other way, we can only empathise with what he is going through. After a sharp way up with narrow curves on a high-traffic road, we finally arrive at our camping where we discover with joy the presence of a foodtruck which makes for a very nice lunchtime.
11 Janvier : Moturere – Turangi – 20km (flat) + 13,6km of moutain bike trail
That day was supposed to be a rest day but finally we used it to make a small leg in order to cut the long one on the next day. When getting to the camping that day, we still felt we didn't ride enough so we left our gear and went for a small mountain bike trail, grade 2, very nice along the river. It got us first to the National Trout Center where we saw enormous trouts. Mouth watering, we got to the counter and asked whether we could fish one or buy one. Turns out, to fish trouts in NZ you need a licence, then you can go fish in the rivers. However in this nursery center, adults are not allowed to fish, the children however can get a fishing course and fish in the pond where thousands of trouts are circling, they can then bring it back as is or have it smoked with manuka onsite. Looking at each other we wondered for a second whether we could rent a kid from someone but left empty handed !
12 Janvier : Turangi – Tongariro National Park Village – 58km (+914m)
This is a memorable day for its incredibly high physical intensity ! We spend the day going up. It starts with a very steep slope, even if pretty short compared to the next ones, which cuts our legs right then. Then we still have to continue to go up on steep slopes that never seem to end. We spend several hours going up under the sun, using all first gears. It is truly a mental exercise to have the patience and continuously provide the effort. We meet Philippe again at a look-out, he is Swiss and has been on the road around the world on a bicycle for abour 15months. He is going to the hostel in the National Park Village. Good on him because we are at a campsite which is 7km from the closest shop and have nothing to eat. We therefore get back on our bikes for another 14km back and forther after this very hard day.
13 Janvier : Tongariro – Taumarunui – 50,1km (+101m)
Today we woke up at 4:20 in our tent, under the rain. After debating about ten minutes whether we should get up at all, we dress up for a hike - raingear included. We take ourselves up to the reception where we miserably huddle with other would-be Tongariro hikers under the small sheltered space. The bus driver takes us all into the bus to give us a briefing. 70% chance of light rain to rain, 90% chance of zero visibility. Tom asks about tomorrow's weather. Worse, thunderstorms even. Well that is it for us. We go back to bed as does 80% of the other people minus a few extremely motivated people..
When we finally get on we stop 10km later to have a breakfast. That is where we meet an Aussie traveler with whom somehow we end up speaking for about two hours of the state of the world and human nature. I give him my book, "Songlines", by Chatwin, about aboriginals in Australia, but not only, also about human's primary nomadic nature. It's good that now we are finished with it, it goes back to Australia. Then we meet a German guy, one of the braves, who stayed in the bus. We discuss the Tongariro, second year he tried it so he had to go. It is always rainy anyway. Some views on the lake but no wider views. We didn't miss out. We leave both of their companies, some hours late on our schedule but that much happier about the world, as one always feels when meeting nice people.
The trail though hilly is nowhere near as tough as getting up to reach Tongariro. We arrive just in time for the rain to start again in Tamauranui. The tent is still wet from last night, a lot of our stuff is also pretty wet and we are quite tired. We decide to get a room. We chose by chance a motel which though way over our usual budget is probably less expensive than the others. Maybe it is because of our bicycles and that the owners cycle or maybe it is just late in the day but we get a slightly reduced price for a very spacious and comfortable room, with our own shower and a 20min access to the spa pool next door ! We top this with a delicious thai meal in a restaurant and we have a perfect restful evening !
14 Janvier – 17 Janvier : Forgotten World Highway – Taumarunui – Ohura (48km +400m) – Wangamomona (59km +520m) – Purangi (33km +450m) – via Inglewood & Bell's Block – New Plymouth (60km +460m)
Our host at the Taumarunui motel laughed a lot when we said we wanted to do the forgotten world highway with all our gear. We quickly understood why though the first day was really nice even with rainshowers here and there. You know how Alice in Wonderland slides into a hole and finds herself in a new world. Well here, as soon as we get out of Taumarunui, following the old railway line, we dive into an other world as well. The noise of the road becomes muffled and scarce, we are surrounded by flashy green hills on every side, we see no one apart from sheeps and cows. It really is the forgotten world. In Ohura we meet another french couple also cycling ? They just did 100km on gravel roads, they are exhausted. We also discover the gravel roads on the next days. After the moutain biking experience, i know my wheels are not the best fit for this but my bike holds fast and without harsh rear breaking, it behaves quite alright in fact.
In Wongamomona, the independant republic, we are stolen a tie cable and horned by lazy moto bikers. The welcome isn't very warm and so very different than Ohura the day before. We leave from this place a bit grumpy. Again some saddles, steep passes with several curves. When we get to the choice between Stratford on a comfortable sealed road or to turn right towards the gravels, we hesitate. Finally we chose the gravel adventure even with our already-tired legs.
It is beautiful and finally one gets used to everything even gravels. Well, that is until Tom gets a flat tire on his rear wheel. He already had one flat on the front one and used up the extra tube we had. We had forgotten about this detail ! I leave Tom pushing his bike and go forward as we read somewhere that in Purangi, our destination, there are people who may have the spare parts we need for the bike. On the way, i meet a woman and asks her my way explaining why as well. Claudia decides right away to help us and brings me to her farm, she loves cycling and has everything we need to repair Tom's tube ! She discusses with Andrew, her husband, to go and pick-up Tom but finally he arrives having alternatively blown his tire and ridden all the way to here. She leaves us to repair the bike with a tube repair kit and offers us a fresh drink afterwards. We stay a short while to rest, they offer us to stay even overnight if we wish but we want to move forward. In any case, after the bad feeling in Wongamomona, we are absolutely charmed even with the bike's issues.
We continue on the gravels. When it goes up, we push our strength and it goes up but when it goes down, we need to pay close attention so it is quite tiring overall. When we arrive in Purangi, an old village taken up and renovated by a great couple some thirty years ago, there is no one and we have no phone network here. What to do ? We wait. I go back a few kilometers to a kiwi reserve in case they are over there and meet some neighbours that say they should be back tonight. Tom enters the dormitory part which is the former school transformed into a very nice sleeping area and finds a landline phone and calls the number on the blackboard, it is a beekeeper who doesn't know when they will be back. As the sun goes down, we think that if we need to push it to the next campsite, we need to start soon.
At this moment, Laurel and Ian arrive ! Saved ! They are adorable and invite us to share their dinner. Ian tells us how he built his own boat based on a polynesian canoe design. It looks like a professional boat with carbon layers and all modern material, and he built it in his garage ! They have a big orchard and are self-sufficient in water and electricity. Kiwis through and through, they are from this region which they love. Ian replaces a lost screw on Tom's bike and we start the next day quite late in the morning after having had a really good rest and a very nice tea time together. To learn more about this inn unlike no other, it is HERE.
The road is hard, gravels are almost over but the slope is steep and long under the seriously shining sun. In the middle of nowhere, there is a wifi access point and nothing else. We stop for lunch. We begin again and in the middle of the slope, Tom has again a flat tire. We first think the repair hasnt hold. In a few minutes, the tube is changed, we know how to do it now. But it wasn't the tube. About 30km before our destination, we realise that Tom's rear wheel has a bent. It pushes weirdly on the tire which deflates damaging the tube. Nothing we can do about it, we need to reach New Plymouth to make the repair. The issue of course only gets worse from now onwards. The wheel is dancing more and more. Some 15km before we arrive, the first spokes come undone, the wheel starts to touch the chain. It is not possible anymore, he has to push the bike. It is long, very long, especially since we started late morning and that the day has been really hot and the slopes steep and long. It's like we are moving within an endless range of hills going up and down. We arrive in the city right before 8pm, exhausted.
We arrive at a hostel another 4km at the other end of the city. The reception is closed and the motels around are super expensive. To think about our situation, we stop in a burger joint and have dinner. With a full stomach, we feel a little better. We meet a couple on the street that we had seen in the South Island. There is a camping, 3km from here. We are walking but we don't have the drive anymore, Tom's bike protests at every step and he has to half carry it now. He can't take it anymore and I am also exhausted and all receptions of campings or any accomodation are closed at this time. We pass by a hotel with a bar that still seems to be opened. I go in and ask for the rates. It is quite expensive but as it is late we get a little discount, still too expensive but we need to stop now. We take it. The amazing happiness of a nice warm shower and the fresh beer that follows let us get our spirit back. We are going to need to find another bike though.
Article réalisé pendant cette période: Purangi Cycle Inn