We arrived in Wellington about 5:00 pm. There is a cycle path from the Interislander Ferry Terminal into the city center. The backpacker hostels in the center were full due to ANZAC weekend so we spent one night at the Ibis Hotel and the next two nights at Nomads Backpacker Hostel. We did lots of walking, visited the Te Papa Museum, the Cathedral, the Parliament, etc. We ate lots of food on Cuba Street and we basically relaxed. On Tuesday morning we caught the train to National Park. The train is relaxing and gives a good snapshot of the scenery on the North Island.
Departing the train at National Park we were greeted with very cold temperatures, wind, and isolation. Almost nobody was there. We would call this the “mud season” – the time between a busy ski season and a summer hiking/camping season. It was dead. We contemplated riding another 35 km but the weather was so cold and the wind was so gusty that we felt it would not be safe. The local backpacker’s hostel with the climbing wall had a very friendly Canadian work/travel employee who “made” the place. For as isolated as we were, we had a fun time.
The next morning we were greeted with sunshine and a gentle tail wind so we cycled to Turangi. After a coffee/lunch the weather changed and got quite cold so we found The Sportsman Motel, bought some groceries, cooked dinner, and relaxed with a game of billiards. We shared the motel with a fly fisherman who’d been on the river for 13 hours that day catching trout and braving the cold water and wind.
Turangi to Lake Taupo was a beautiful ride with a great tailwind. The last twenty kilometers into town on the Great Lake Cycle Path were peaceful, scenic and warm. Everyone else must have also thought it was a great day so lodging was scarce and expensive. We ended up with a room at an “adult” backpacker’s lodge. Adult meaning “handrails” in the bathroom I’m guessing. After checking in to our room we took our unloaded bikes on a track to see Huka Falls. After about 4 km of pushing our bikes with the sun rapidly setting we turned back for safety reasons.
After a good night’s rest we loaded our bikes and headed on the highway (with a bicycle lane) to Huka Falls and onwards towards Rotorua. The falls were powerful even though they weren’t tall.
The ride to Rotorua on the Thermal Highway led up to it’s name. There was steam rising from lots of rivers, small lakes, and cracks in the ground. The geology was quite interesting. About 20 km from Rotorua, just at the traffic started getting really heavy, a concrete cycle path appeared on the east side of the highway making the ride into town lovely. We spent the night at a very old,dated, spa motel with no “working” spa, but the price was right allowing us to dine at the Pig and Whistle – a pub in the city center.
The sunny and warm ride to Tauranga was up and down with hills but I didn’t seem to notice because I was excited to meet up with a sister of a friend from the US. I loved staying at a house, curling my feet up on a comfy couch and reading my book. I also love the conversation, delicious dinner at The Mount, sleeping in a great bed, homemade corn-fritters for breakfast, and an easy hike up Mt. Maunganui (Maunganui being the Maori word for mountain so it’s like going up “mountain mountain”.
We started cycling just after noon for Waihi but ended up stopping at Katikati because the traffic and hills were wearing us down. We found a lovely B&B at the edge of town and relaxed in the large living room doing research on the good wifi for Australia and Auckland.
After a good night’s rest we rode the next hilly 20 km to Waihi where we stopped for a bit a sightseeing. Cycling around the Martha Mine (a open-pit gold and silver mine) was an interesting diversion. A very large heavy industrial dump truck yields 9 ounces of gold. In other words, it’s a lot of work for a little gold but it must be profitable with the price of gold above $1600 USD per ounce.
We stopped in town for a meat pie and baked kumaras before starting the Haurtiki Rail Trail towards Thames. The first part of the trail to Paeroa is a lot of fun: tunnels, switchbacks along the river, suspension bridges, and great scenery. We arrived around 3:00 pm and decided to stay for the night. We found the Paeroa Motel and got a good off-season rate plus great conversation with the new owners.
After a fair night’s sleep (the new owners are in the process of buying new bedding and mattresses which will help) we pedaled the remaining 30 km to Thames. Because the weather was so nice, and there was a convenient bus to Auckland, we decided to hop on a day early. The bus dropped us off at the Sky Tower Center and we found a great room at the Best Western just around the corner.
Arriving in Auckland a day early gave us extra time to go bike shopping for Eric. After several false starts (bike stores closed or with no touring stock) we ended up at Wallis Cycles. They staff was great and two hours later Eric rode away on his new Surly Orge. All his packs transferred from his old bike and they even gave him a little money on trade-in. Hopefully the new bike will help with his neck problems. If this smile on his face is any indication, I’m sure it will.
Late that afternoon we cycled to Taringi where we met up with more relatives of our long-time friends from the US. Being at their home, chatting with their family, eating delicious food and having a great car tour of Auckland the next day were like a mini holiday – lots of fun a rejuvenating.
Pouring rain greeted us on the day we rode to our airport hotel. We dropped our bags at the Auckland Grand Chancellor Airport Hotel and cycled (in the rain) the additional 3 km to Natural High, a cycle shop near Auckland Airport. This shop is great. We bought bicycle boxes and packed our bikes in their shop. Then the owner gave us a ride to the airport so we could store our packaged bikes until Sunday. (We had to do this because the shop was on winter hours and closed on Saturday.)
On our final day in New Zealand, we boxed our panniers and then caught the airport shuttle back to the Auckland City Center. We loved the trip to the top of Sky Tower.
We also enjoyed visiting the Auckland Art Museum in Albert Park where we saw the second Billy Apple exhibit. (The first was at the Turangi Gallery.) Our friends met us there, gave us a walking tour of Auckland University, and took us to the International Food Court for a SE Asian dinner.
We traveled over 3500 kilometers in NZ bringing our grand total to 10,000 km to date. On to Australia!