There’s me thinking I’d be blogging most evenings from the mini porch of my tent. In reality the last suitable quiet moment was almost 2 weeks ago in the Bay of Islands. So much has happened since. I cycled down from Paihia to Waipu and spent an afternoon and evening in suffocating heat under a burning hot sun enjoying the vast beach at Uretiti. Onwards to Goat Island and Leigh making it just in time to have dinner and a catch up with Nat, Si and little (not in personality) Kate. The gravel path climb between Pakiri and Goat Island was enough to finish me off for the day and make me truly question my sanity in taking on this New Zealand challenge. Obviously I ran out of water only to exacerbate the struggle and make myself seem that much more “tough”…not stupid. The entire pizza and banana split with hundreds and thousands was well deserved. After a fish and chips breakfast in Leigh I pushed on to Red Beach in good time, only to hear there was the option to gate crash Martin’s ASB Tennis evening out…you only live once right? So after exactly 1 hour on the beach and a swim with a swarm of baby jellyfish, I smashed out the ride over to Gulf Harbour to make the last ferry to Auckland City with 5 minutes to spare. Turned out the Captain’s assistant, errr the other ?sailor? was from Croydon no less!
After spending a lovely evening with Martin & co watching Del Potro smash a Russian dude, I made it to brunch with Nat and the gang the next morning, then cycled South to Miranda on the Firth of Thames via Clevedon. It was in Clevedon that I was first touched by the kindness of a stranger. He was a fellow cyclist, but holidaying with his young family. We chatted bikes and my route, which it turned out was closed after the big storm that had pushed back my start date. The storm had flattened the beach front of Kaiaua and much of the coastal road to the North was a mess with debris. Chris bought me coffee and my re-supply of snacks and we continued our cycling chat to the irritation of his eldest daughter who it would seem was a bit of a cycling protege. I suggested she read Victoria Pendleton’s autobiography as she would likely relate to the pushy father storyline 😉 That evening whilst setting up my tent at the Miranda hot springs, yet another generous woman came over and asked me to join her, her husband and their friends. We drove over to Kaiaua to see the devastation and source the “world famous” fish and chips. We drank into the evening, then floated in the hot pool discussing hip replacements and health insurance. Sorry, but this was actually right up my street. I should add, Felicity & co were all in their 70’s 🙂
By this point it was dawning on me that I would make it to Rotorua ahead of schedule, perfect, a rest day to be had on Lake Karapiro with the Drysdales! It was fantastic to see Mahe and his family, play with the kids, adventure on the farm and in the stream, eat, oh and eat some more. 11 years on from our time as friends in London, it felt very strange to be in an entirely different setting catching up on all those years. The hospitality they showed me was incredible. Sunday being a rest day from training, Mahe watched the kids and Juliette and I headed to Lake Karapiro for some paddle boarding. I think I only just about managed to hide my excitement at being at the site of New Zealand rowing and the high performance centre. I may be a cyclist currently, but once a rower, always a rower at heart so I was beside myself to be in a place where the best in the world train. I insisted that we paddle the length of the 2km course, Juliette insisted that we jump in…so we did, fully clothed of course.
With a fond farewell I set off to Rotorua thinking “95km, this will be easy”. Turns out Rotorua is uphill. Doh! Nonetheless I made it to Fran and Paul in time to drive down to Tongariro National Park ahead of our hike of the crossing the next day. Challenge one complete: Cape Reinga to Rotorua in 9 days including 2 of rest. 800km down. Uni friends found and many other wonderful people met and enjoyed along the way.
I realise this blog is very much a whistle stop summary of the journey so far, but what has shined through for me has been the kindness of the people I’ve met along the way. The people I’ve spent my evenings with in campsites, the friends who’ve welcomed me into their homes, fed me, done my washing, tolerated my salty, sweaty stench. The people I’ve met on the road in passing, everyone has taken the time to chat, join me for a snack, cheer me on and tell me about the country whether as guidance or helping with the route. It’s true what they say about Kiwis, they’re some of the friendliest and hospitable people in the world. This trip has already turned a big corner and its down to the people I’ve had the chance to meet. Huge thanks!!!