It’s time again for Jutta’s perspective from the back of Daisy2, reviewing our first week on the road, with 380km or so (our computers disagree on the exact distance) behind us so far of our planned 3000 kilometres from Cape Reinga in the north of NZ to Bluff at the bottom.
(Long distance cycling does seem to have a behind and bottoms focus!).
It’s now Monday morning, Feb 15 2016, and we’re having to wait an extra day (safely distant, by the way, from Sunday’s earthquake in Christchurch on the South Island) at Pouto Point for the fishing trawler to arrive that will ferry us across the mouth of Kaipara Habour to Helensville, from where we tandem on towards Auckland, hoping to get there tomorrow, Tuesday, evening.
After six hours cycling up and down roller-coaster roads yesterday, 25 km of it bum-crushing gravel torture for this stoker at the tandem’s rear, there is no turning back!
And why for heaven’s sake are we doing this?
“Ah, but the reward”, says Mark. “Just look at the romantic view across Kaipara Harbour,” he says (it is after all Valentine’s Day) as we munch our celebratory carbo-pasta jazzed up with a few veggies, ketchup and Parmesan.
Those guys in their cars get it too, by the way, (plus a bottle of wine, which we can’t carry).
Thanks to exhausting hill climbings I am now a fairly seasoned tourer and owner of well-greased calves.
It’s amazing how refreshing warm water out of plastic bike bottles tastes when the sun beats down on relentlessly treeless hills.
Once, and only once did we actually have to push the bike up the very last and extra steep bit. Luckily we have now discovered lemon-flavoured electrolyte powder to boost our staple drink and energy.
Day one, last Monday (after 380km it’s already Monday again), we started out at Cape Reinga in glorious sunshine with all the passengers of the bus that had taken us there waving good-bye.
So, what are we discovering?
New Zealand’s Northland along the West coast and off the beaten track seems in decline. Closed down businesses, pubs derelict, many houses abandoned or neglected.
Fancy a cup of tea or coffee? No way, nowhere. My English teacher at school yonks ago told us how fond English people were of having picnics. I think they have all emigrated and turned into self-sufficient Kiwis.
It’s a country of endless pastures and solitary farms, often only indicated by colourful, numbered post-boxes along the road. Traversing it by slow-motion transport makes some stretches seem almost monotonous and somewhat depleting.
Our tandem is obviously a great novelty and very dangerous in its silent approach.
While sheep, cows and most horses aren’t at all fussed by cars, lorries and noisy motorbikes, they all stop grazing at our sight and gaze instead.
One very rare pig (we’ve seen only four so far, against billions of sheep and cows) jumped and shot away in terror.
A pair of wild horses in the dunes at 90-Mile Beach eyed us with skittish curiosity for a while before withdrawing to a safe observing distance. Four turkeys fled, shrieking with outrage.
One Hitchcock-inspired seagull screeched wildly and kept swooping low towards us about 10 times, pulling up suddenly and veering away over our heads instead of completing the full-on attack. Bike helmets have their uses.
The forests remind me of Bavarian conifer woods, but feel curiously stark and out of place.
I think it’s because they’re not accompanied by deciduous trees, shrubs and brambles, nor inhabited by chirpy birds.
Tree-growing here happens on an industrial scale. Whole hillsides get felled in one go, a dead and sorry sight.
Forests in Germany are managed, to allow for different-aged trees to grow alongside mature stands before they get felled, which gives more of a sense of life-cycle.
Well, back to the rewards of long-distance cycling, this is my own first experience of heavy-duty tandeming since Scotland with Mark in 1979.
A definite highlight for us both this time has been the rainforests of Northland.
After we visited the 2000-year-old Kauri tree Tane Mahuta (Truly Lord of its Forest, as its name signifies in Maori), it – guess what gives the rainforest its name? – rained.
We got drenched, and decided to camp at the next possibility. A little later, tent safely set up and the usual pasta meal consumed, we were rewarded with a clear and starry night sky, broad Milky Way, Orion, Southern Cross and a profusion of STARS.
I knew we faced a 5-km climb straight away in the morning and felt somewhat daunted.
We awoke to day four, sunny and hot. To our utter surprise, we discovered that cycling uphill in the rainforest is easy and actually refreshing.
The plants give off such wonderful energy and oxygen, and are rich with bird song, native Tui in particular with their throated warbles. We just coasted up that hill, believe it or not enjoying every second of it and relishing the majesty and lushness of the forest that covered these lands.
By car you just would not have the time and immediacy to breathe it all in and savour the majesty and vibrancy. As cyclists we feel much more part of the environment.
The instant we left the rainforest, cycling felt like hard work.
We quickly felt depleted and in dire need of water (consuming as we do buckets full of the stuff).
We took a (horribly gravelly) detour but were rewarded with a beautiful walk through the Trounson Kauri Park, another “token” rainforest with many Kauri trees many hundred years old.
I say “token” rainforest, because it’s a park of 450 ha that one enlightened farmer by the name of Trounson sold and gifted to the government for preservation in the early 20th century, a rarity.
Hey-ho, it has meanwhile been confirmed that we will get ferried across on Tuesday. So, relaxingly delayed in backwater Pouto, very different from its 19th century hay day as thriving timber port, today we plan a 7km tour to New Zealand’s oldest lighthouse – in fact right now we’ve been offered a quad bike ride there this afternoon. Fancy that!