New Zealand 2014/15
Monday, December 22
The first day of summer.
There is a lovely, small ferry that makes a 5 minute run across the harbour from Whangiata to Cook's Beach. The rear mud guard is rubbing worse than ever. On the far side I disassemble it, determined to throw it away. Except the rear rack shares a bolt with the mud guard. If I remove the rear guard, the bolt is too long and will hit the cogs. Finally I realize I can tuck the end of the guard on the other side of the frame – problem solved!
The Cook's Beach road is the best we have ridden so far. It is quiet and scenic – everything you want in a country road. "A bit lumpy" said a local on the ferry – he rides to Hot Water Beach and back each day.
Hot Water Beach is spectacular. Surfers ride the waves. Red rock cliffs frame that impossibly blue water. The only drawback is that up to a thousand people show up at low tide to dig holes in the sand and soak in the thermal-heated water. By the busload, apparently. Not our cup of tea. We arrived at high tide and were practically alone.
Hot Water Beach
Hot Wave Café is very laid back. We have a fabulous lunch of pannini with Caesar salad, sitting by a window that opens onto a garden of trees, shrubbery and birds. "It's like a painter's pallet. All the layers are just waiting," says Mary.
Painter's pallet. No, wait – that's lunch!
Avocados are spectacular. You can buy a bagful for two dollars at the roadside stands (honour system). Mary won't let me do it – they weigh too much, and we can't eat that many avocadoes. (Why not?)
Hydrangea grow like weeds by the roadside.
The route is still undecided: do we continue down the coast and follow the beach, or do we cut across country and head inland? Maybe the inland traffic will be lighter and the roads quieter …
After Hot Water Beach we are back on the highway. The S25 is busy. On a steep descent we are passed by a double hitch trailer. I heard him coming and could slow down enough to let him pass. But there wasn't enough room to let his buddy pass – he had to wait for an opening in the traffic. Perhaps double-hitch trucks should be banned from some roads as well?
Room for a double-hitch?
For supper we break sprigs of rosemary off a waist-high shrub to rub into our fresh New Zealand lamb. The sunset is truly spectacular, except I was asleep and missed it.
Fresh rosemary and accompaniment
Tuesday December 23
We roll out of Tiarau under light cloud cover. There is enough of an onshore breeze to put on a second layer of clothing.
The road passes through dairy farms nestled between tall, rolling hills and has a serviceable shoulder. Road surfaces in New Zealand are extremely good. They show the mild climate at its best. There are no potholes or seams to avoid. Their only downside is that they are made of stone chips sealed in tarmac, rather than a smooth asphalt surface.
Our Lonely Planet guide says there is long, steep hill about 14 km out of town. We decide to walk from the bottom. Part way up a local slowed to our pace on her bike. New Zealanders stay at home Christmas and Boxing Day, she says. On December 27 the roads go mad. New Zealand drivers have a terrible reputation. "That was until we did so well in world cycling," she says. "It seems the day after they started giving us space."
The Lonely Planet faked us out. We could have made that hill with no problem. At the bottom on the other side there is a side road to Opoutere, which has nothing to commend it except a beach, and what a beach it is! We walk Lady CoMo in through old pines and a bird sanctuary to a beach that seems to stretch for miles.
There may have been a dozen people on it. What a sight. I body surf in the waves, letting the rolling surf carry me in to shore and deposit me in a froth of foam. Glorious.
Opoutere Beach – count the footprints
We exit through a commercial camp ground. If ever there was a place to camp, this would be it. Except there are no shaded spots. Our tent would be in the sun all day. One gets spoiled camping in Canada.
Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree …
We ride on to Whangamata, a beach resort town. It has facilities, and shops, and groceries, and a lovely motel (Breakers). A decision is made. We will take a room here for 3 nights. The question of where we will be on Christmas Day has been answered.