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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Rotorua - Tolaga Bay, 27th November - 4th December


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This latest section of our travel has seen us travel through the wildest and least inhabited area of the North island of New Zealand. An area famous for fishing, early missionary settlements, high levels of Maori in the population and high levels of dope growing. Our own experience of the region proved that this is indeed true. On one occasion we were chatting to one of the campsite cleaners in Te Kaha who was explaining that marijuana is the currency in her town and that she has grown and smoked it since she was 12 years old and she is now 45! We met some more cyclists on this leg of the journey too and stayed with 2 more couchsurfing families. Kyril and Gaylene in the town of Whakatane and Josie and Paul in a town named Wairoa. In between Rotarua and here we have clocked up 500 km in just a week of cycling, and despite a couple of punctures; the cycling has been really good – we feel fitter and stronger, clocking up 94 km in one day between Rotorua and Whakatane!

The first day back on the bikes after our rest in the thermally active area of Rotorua was great, it was good to be back on the bikes and on the road again. Despite being overtaken by a Dutch cyclist on one of the first hills out of the town, we found the going good and relatively flat, in fact we overtook that same cyclist again a few kms later while she was taking a break. As it turned out it was not to be the only time we came into contact with her. We had packed a really nice lunch which we enjoyed in the sun by the road side somewhere around half way between the two towns. When we arrived in Whakatane in amazing time, we rewarded ourselves with some nice chips from a Chinese takeaway before searching for Kyril and Gaylene’s house where we expected to stay 2 nights. Kyril and Gaylene are a lovely couple, they are heavily involved in the community and have been missionaries for the 7 day Adventist church both in Whakatane and in other parts of the world. They were extremely generous and friendly, we spent a lovely couple of days at their place.

Kyril is an excellent gardener, indeed, so competent a gardener that he has made their half an acre plot feed them for most of the year with fresh fruit and vegetables. He has even created his own strain of runner beans which are chunky black beans – we must contact him when we are settled again so that we can borrow a few as seeds because they taste delicious. He had built some brilliant fruit cages around his strawberry patch, using old tv aerial poles connected together with electrician’s corner joins. He has some clever snail traps, set into the earth with the entrance to the trap facing east, the reason for this he says is that this protects the snails from the prevailing winds and they are more likely to go in there to protect themselves from the weather, there they find a couple of snail pellets and of course they never wake up. He also advises that you plant your roses on a north-south line, maximising the warmth of the sun during the winter months enabling the plant to put on a good show of flowers in the summer.

Both Kyril and Gaylene are full of knowledge about their local area and are keen to show people around and share their house with them. During our second day in Whakatane we went for a 12 km walk up through the hills around Whakatane and the neighbouring area, tramping up and down the hills in the sunshine, stopping to have some sandwiches on the stunning beach and enjoying another massive icecream together in the early afternoon. We discovered a new flavour of icecream on this occasion – ‘Goldrush’ a combination of vanilla, honeycomb and chocolate bits – seriously moreish, yet, guilt-free for us cyclists as we need so much more food to keep our energy up. Honest!! It was so nice just to walk together through the native bushland, through the tree-ferns, palms and the Pohutakawa trees which are now starting to some into flower. They are the New Zealand Christmas tree, covered with stunning red flowers nestled on silver and green foliage.



The walk took us around 4 hours and we didn’t quite make it all the way round the full 18 km or so, giving up and ringing Kyril who had kindly offered to pick us up if we wanted him to. On the way back through the main shopping area we overtook that same Dutch cyclist that we had seen the day before. After stopping at Pak and Save to pick up some provisions, we drove home to see her again. Viola, the Dutch cyclist has become a good friend to Mel and I and we have spent lots of time together since Whakatane as our journeys seem to have coincided regularly.

We left Whakatane the following morning and followed the coast road to Opotiki and then on to Tirohangi Motor Camp. The weather was not pleasant and for the next few days it was both cold and wet.
The Pathway to Sunrise - near Opotiki

We were both cheered by the news that the weather back home in the UK was hugely cold and that there has been more snow than there has ever been in all history (At least that is what the news would have us believe). I think we can cope with a little bit of rain and wind; being soaked through is never as bad as trying to cycle through 4 feet of snow on the roads of Britain.

The day we left I received a text from my brother Eugene who has been keeping in touch with all thing Norwich City FC related and it was the best txt from home that I have ever received regarding the ‘pride of Anglia’ – It read Norwich 4 Ipswich 1 – the best result we have ever had against the old enemy and the result takes us up to 5th in the championship table. Since then we have also beaten Derby 2-1 and we are sitting in 4th place in the table. This kind of news coming though has been really inspiring to me. Norwich City are a club on the up, full of players who will run and run all day and never give up. When I need a little extra motivation in order to make it up a massive mountain on the bike, I think of all the hard work that Paul Lambert, the management team, the players and supporters are putting into the football back home and it gives me strength! Portsmouth next – come on boys!!

On our trip round the East Cape we also met 7 other cyclists, one other English guy named James, a Kiwi pair, a scientist from Portsmouth and 2 Swiss couples, one of whom were travelling with a 1 year old boy who was travelling in a trolley like our own. Brave people to bring a child all the way over here. They make a mockery of all those parents who say that they would love to do something like this, but just couldn’t with the kids – we have all met the type haven’t we? The little baby is loving the trip, spending lots of quality time with his mum and dad and looking up at all the interesting people and places along the way. Viola and Mel seem to think that it is a bit dangerous to be carting a child around on New Zealand’s roads and they might have something there I suppose.

Lots of the towns on the East Cape are almost deserted, commercial buildings and old homesteads are empty and falling down. It seems to me that the people used to live and work here, but have since left in search of a better life. In some areas there are brick built chimney stacks standing alone in empty paddocks, reminders of the families and wider communities which used to live there, but who are now long since gone.

We bumped into Viola again at a rather disgusting campsite on the beach at Te Araroa. She had hooked up with a fire fighter from Gisborne named Garry. He is a keen fisherman, cyclist, Kayaker and all round nice guy who took the time to give us all a lift to the East Cape Lighthouse which marks the most Easterly point of the North island. It was such a great thing to be able to do. We didn’t anticipate being able to visit the lighthouse as it is at the end of a long unsealed road. We were really pleased to go there though, as it gave us the chance to see another major landmark on our travels, take some pictures and to talk fishing, something which I haven’t had much of a chance to do since we arrived in the country 3 months ago.


I was able to do a spot of fishing on the wharf next to a campsite in Tolaga Bay a few days after our visit to the lighthouse, having been re-enthused by Garry. I was offered the chance to take a Crayfish pot onto the wharf and try my luck with that as well. Mel came with me and read her magazines, wrote her diary and soaked up the sun while I tried in vain to catch something for dinner.

The wharf juts out into the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by sandstone cliffs, full of caves and cathedral coloured rocky outcrops which were being slammed by the waves, each time a wave hit the back of a cave the water would collide with the rock and a sound like thunder would reverberate across the surface of the water. Luckily for me, Mel had a back up plan, should I not catch a fish and she cooked up the nicest chilli and rice, this followed an incredible rich, vegetable soup which she had prepared for lunch earlier in the day. I am such a spoiled husband!

The Swiss couples and Viola were also staying on the same site as us again. We were all able to enjoy the facilities on the campsite in relative peace and quiet. This has been a trend of the East Cape, empty campsites, varying in cleanliness and quality, but nice to spend time in because of they are so empty, bar us cyclists anyway.

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