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Bicycle touring the North Island of New Zealand

December 2013 (summer). About 2400 Km (Route map at end of page)

Although I have only recently returned from touring southern Sweden, its cycling time again already.

This time there is a conference in Rotorua, NZ, which is a good place to see real geology in volcanoes and boiling mud. After a midnight start from Darwin and a stopover in Brisbane i reassembled the bike in Auckland airport and rode off at 6pm to find my prearranged accommodation about 10 Km away for the first night. This supposedly easy trip became complicated due to road closures but some friendly local cyclists assisted me. Next morning i received valuable advice on cycling routes from a bike shop, which pointed me to a low traffic and scenic route eastwards out of the suburban sprawl of South Auckland. It was a pleasant and hilly ride and i joined in with a local cyclist doing her morning training ride for an upcoming ironman event. This route followed the coast of the Thames estuary and eventually i reached Thames at the south end of the Coromandel peninsula. This was the first smooth pavement and here i felt a regular thump indicative of a tyre failure. Oh no, i thought i had solved these problems! Fortunately there was a bike store in town and after some confused discussion they did have the size tyre i required, although they wanted to describe a 20 inch tyre as "metric" for some odd reason. As i installed the new tyre i realised i had started off with the wrong tyre, which explained the premature failure. To complete the day i rode up a nearby valley into pleasant scenic pastoral and forested areas where i noticed many anti-mining placards, despite this originally being a goldfield since the earliest NZ settlements.

  Coromandel peninsula (route 25), at Coromandel town.      Waihi gold mine pit. (Ore face hidden under recent collapse repairs on right)
coromandel township waihi pit

Riding around the peninsula next day was very pleasant and sunny, with several serious hills to cross, but each climb was only about 300m vertical and not too strenuous. And there were a few settlements where I could get a coffee. After 150 Km I stopped at Tairua for the night. Continuing south next day i stopped at Waihi to see the currently active open pit gold mine. Despite the economic importance of mining to this community there were many more anti-mining placards here also. Until now I had been riding on quiet secondary roads but here I had to use national route 2. The traffic was now heavy and unfriendly and there was often no road shoulder, particularly on the many bridges. I was glad to reach Tauranga for the night although I had trouble finding a quiet route to the city centre and ended up riding on a freeway of some sort, but not during a busy period fortunately! Although i was not far from Rotorua, i had 2 more days before the conference started so i took a long detour via Whakatane to enjoy more sunny cycling. I then used a circuitous back road towards Rotorua which was great, but also had very long uphill for some 15 km which i had not expected. On the last section towards Rotorua i met and rode with Claire from Dunedin who had never before visited the north island. I arrived to register for the conference and surprised many people when they found out i had cycled 750 km from Auckland, although a direct route is only about 250 km!

The 4 day conference was quite busy and well organised with really nice food, and many interesting papers as well as some contentious ones which i dispute. At the closing ceremony i received special mention because of my now famous small geology hammer and for traveling by bicycle.

Now it was time to resume cycling and i rode south towards Taupo. En route i detoured to see the Broadlands geothermal power station, which is famous amongst geochemists as the location of pioneering studies on the thermodynamics of geothermal fluids and their transport of gold. This visit was interesting, but there is just an unmanned power station and many pipes carrying steam to the station from many nearby boreholes. As i proceeded south it started to rain and i sought shelter in an estate management office. They were very kind and supplied a nice hot cup of tea to revive me while i waited for the rain to pass by. But the rain clouds remained in place and so they drove me to Taupo, some 10 km away, where it was dry at the very scenic lakeside town.

 Broadlands power station and geothermal steam collection field. (30 Km north of Taupo)
broadlands power stationbroadlands steam field

My next destination was Napier on the east coast, but it was 150 km away with no intervening towns. It was a long day with several serious hills to climb, but a good day of cycling. That evening i unexpectedly met Graeme and Anita who had also been at the conference and were now touring the nearby vineyards. After some pleasant local rides up into the foothills next day, i set off southwards, hoping to reach Wellington. There was another long day through pleasant pastoral lands, but with almost no intervening towns and an unfriendly headwind later in the day which ended at Dannevirke. This area must be consistently windy as there was a roadsign warning of winds for the next 15Km! This region was originally settled by Norwegians and has maintained its Scandinavian links. After finding a motel, the police visited me . This seems to have happened because i jokingly listed my vehicle registration number as "bike". Apparently a motorbike with this registration number had recently been stolen and the motel booking system is linked to the police. So don't joke about your registration number, however harmless that may seem!

Overnight the weather changed and now it was raining, so i bought a bus ticket to Palmerston North. After waiting on the cold sidewalk for over an hour, the bus arrived and failed to stop. How stupid is that! With help from the tourist information centre i complained, but the bus company, "Intercity bus lines" was unapologetic and simply said i must wait 5 hours for the next bus, which was nearly fully booked and they did not guarantee space for my bike. I was very annoyed, but helpless and wasted a day. When the bus arrived the very rude driver claimed there was no space for my bike, although the baggage space was very large and almost empty. I insisted and loaded the bike despite her arrogant objections. The driver made a point of walking back to my seat to try and annoy me, but i just ignored her rude comments. The "Intercity bus lines" company was so incompetent that i suggest you use an alternative where possible.

In Palmerston North i met Ian and Heather and stayed for a day to wait out the inclement weather. On a local ride i met another Ian, a veteran cyclist out on a training ride, so we rode together as he knew the local roads well and guided the way. He has authored some books on cycling and gave me 2 of his books. One of these was about Louise Sutherland, a Dunedin girl who cycled around much of the world back in the 1950's. Because of the bad weather i decided not to attempt to ride further south to Wellington and planned a return route northwards from here. Although the weather was still cloudy next day i set off westward to meet Neil at Marton, some 50 km west for a lunchtime meeting. But during our lunch it started to rain and so i stayed with Neil and Lorraine for the night, hoping for better weather tomorrow. Although it was not raining next day, the headwind was strong as i rode west through pastoral areas to Hawera, a surprisingly large town supporting the dairy industry. There was a steady stream of milk tanker trucks passing me all day, but they usually drove carefully and gave me space on the road which had only a little traffic.

Next day i turned north into fierce and gusty headwinds but after 50 km it started to rain and the cold driving rain forced me to take shelter in the entrance to a deserted building. I waited for the rain to pass, but it just became heavier and colder. A truck driver stopped nearby as he too was concerned about the strong winds which made driving dangerous. I asked him for a lift, but he was going south, so he offered to take me back to his place for the night. Although i was now back near my starting point of the day i was very grateful of a warm dry bed for the night and his hospitality. On Sunday he took me to New Plymouth where i filled in the day with some local rides.

 Wide open sunny pastures on route 3.

At last the weather had become fine and i set off early for a long 190 km ride though fairly open country on route 3 to the next town where i could find accommodation. It was sunny and cool, a perfect day for a long ride through 2 long river gorges and along the coastline, a really great day and a scenic route worth the long ride to Otorohanga, in a pastoral heartland valley. However 2 rather tough climbs near the end of the day came as an unwelcome surprise near Te Kuiti. The weather forecast was for heavy rain starting in 2 days time and i needed to be back in Auckland for my flight in 3 days, so i used the last remaining fine, but cloudy day for another long ride to Pukekohe, just south of Auckland. For part of this i was able to ride on secondary roads on the west bank of the river to avoid the nasty and busy route 1 on the east bank. But eventually i had to use route 1. Although the traffic was heavy, there was usually a good shoulder to ride on. Although this is classified as an expressway, there is a (poorly) marked bike lane in recognition of the absence of any alternative route. And as is too common for marked bike lanes, it simply disappeared at bridges!

The predictions of bad and wet weather were correct and next day was wet and cold. At least i had only 30 km to cover to reach the suburbs near the airport. I was glad to get out of the rain and wander around the gigantic boring shopping mall at Manukau to dry out and find hot coffee. Now i wait for my return flight to the tropics tomorrow to take me away from the cold rain.

Although i lost some 6 days to rainy weather, this was not unexpected, and i found many interesting riding destinations and friendly and helpful people. The north island is very different to the south island which i visited a few years ago. They are almost 2 different countries! And although there are plenty of bakeries and good coffee, they do not like putting fruit (sultanas, raisins) in their buns in NZ. You are supposed to eat cream filled buns to support the local dairy farms! NZ is a nice place to go cycling, just avoid the arrogant bus companies and rude bus drivers and remember to allow for some wet and windy weather. Although my tour was in December, officially summer, rain and cold windy weather is not unusual in summer in NZ.

I avoided riding on main arterial highways as much as possible. Even though there is often a shoulder on the road, it is discontinuous and ends at every bridge, causing traffic contention. This is a problem on the busy main highways, so try to avoid routes 1 and 2. There are many 2-trailer milk trucks in dairy farm areas, and logging trucks elsewhere. The logging truck drivers are noticeably less courteous than the milk truck drivers. I also avoided cycling in Auckland itself. The suburban traffic in south Auckland was quite aggressive, venturing into the city centre is not likely to be pleasant. Because the airport is in the southern suburbs, you can avoid Auckland city centre unless you intend to tour the northern tip of the island.

The most pleasant rides were around the Coromandel peninsula on route 25, and from New Plymouth to Te Kuiti on route 3.

Here is a detailed interactive route map. (Opens in a new window)

 Route Map   About 2400 Km
route map north island NZ