I toured New Zealand with my Jenny twelve years ago. We saw my brother and his lovely family and sailed in the Bay of Islands and then took off in an old Camper-van for a month and experienced the beauty of North and South Island.
Since starting to ride long distances a few years ago I wanted to return and experience this beautiful country close up and on a bike. I have registered to ride Tour Aotearoa starting on the 3rd March 2020 – a 3000km ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff. So there was a good excuse to explore and recce some of the country, it’s roads and trails, before next year and visit family again after 12 years.
This Blog is an account of 14 days Bikepacking with my Mason Bokeh in March 2019. This first part describes six days around the Coromandel whilst visiting my brother and his family in their Bach in Whangamata and down in Mt Maunganui.
Part 2 ( to follow) will cover eight days riding further south in North Island. In between I rode for a day on Waiheke Island whilst saying hello to an old school pal – last together 51 years ago!
The map below shows my track (from my SpotGen3 tracker) which took in some spectacular roads and trails. I covered a little over 2000km with 22,400m of climbing. Whilst the ride was mainly on sealed roads I rode a few hundred kilometres on gravel and over one hundred on trails including the Hauraki Rail Trail, Coromandel Coastal Walkway and the Pureora Forest Timber Trail.
The rough stuff was intentional. Not least to get off the beaten track but also to test a prototype front fork with eyelets for cages on my Mason Bokeh for Dom Mason – the designer of the Mason family of award winning bikes made for riding fast over tough terrain – #fastfar bike company.
My main guide for the rides was the Kennett Brothers book – Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails. They also organise the Tour Aotearoa and are famous for developing long distance and trail riding in New Zealand. Great advocates for biking in New Zealand.
I was staying with my brother and his wife in East Auckland in Cockle Bay. They were headed for their Bach in Whangamata for the weekend and I planned to ride down to join them and take in The Hauraki Rail trail on the way. I delayed my start for a day due to heavy rain forecast – wimp I hear you say – but it backfired because the following day was probably worse and I got soaked good and proper.
I set out at dawn in light rain and took the scenic route via Maraetai to Clevedon and then via Kawakawa Bay to the Firth of Thames. The rain turned heavy early on and at 20km I got my first puncture – luckily right next to a garage so I had shelter and a coffee fixing it. I had tried to run my tyres tubeless but before leaving the UK had real problems getting them to hold air and after a few days with deflated tyres every morning gave up and stuck tubes in. I think it was a dodgy sealant that caused the problem.
Back on the road the rain persisted and a second puncture at 100km was sorted with rain pouring down my neck!
I picked up the Hauraki Rail Trail at Kopu and followed it through to Waihi. Flat through farmland with endless cows and not another person, the trail turns at Paeroa and heads through The Karangahake gorge past the old gold mining works. It then emerges in Waihi with its enormous Martha open-cast gold mine crater and historic Cornish pump-house standing proudly on the hillside above the town. Gold mining is still active to this day.
The rail trail runs out into Waihi and the road over the hills to Whangamata has a couple of good climbs before descending into this vibrant coastal resort with beautiful golden beaches.
Visiting family gave me the ride down the coast to Tauranga and Mt Maunganui. A fairly uneventful couple of days riding there and back mainly along State Highway 2 which was ok at the weekend but weekdays, with commercial trucks, was a bit sketchy at times where the shoulder ran out.
A lovely family get together and a walk up Mt Maunganui were special as was the diversion off the highway on the return leg via Golden Valley.
Whangamata sits on the Pacific Coast on the southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula and I wanted to ride to the northern point and ride the Coastal Walkway that runs between Stony and Fletcher Bays for 10km.
I started riding early up State Highway 25 to Whitianga via the Cooks Beach road and the ferry. Lunch at Whitianga and then continued along the Highway to Coromandel where I found a nice Motel for the night.
The next morning I was away at first light and not quite sure what the day held. I was riding the gravel road over the mountains to Kennedy Bay and then north via Little Bay, Port Charles (named by Captain Cook in 1769) to Stony Bay and the start of The Coromandel Coastal Walkway that was the only route to make a complete Coastal circuit of the peninsula. I had been told in Coromandel that bikes were allowed on the Walkway. I was not sure if I could complete the circuit back to Coromandel in a day but had my tent if needed.
Cloud was hanging over the mountains as I climbed on the gravel road. Made for a beautiful early morning and once over the top it cleared into a glorious day on the descent to Kennedy Bay.
The ride to the Coastal Walkway was spectacular and almost free of traffic – about a dozen vehicles all morning. I found a lovely secluded cafe and got a coffee and bite to eat.
The Walkway itself was very special. I had to push the bike a fair bit but most was ok riding. Described as ‘like walking through a 10km film set’. There were breathtaking views everywhere. The sort of place where one has a permanent smile on your face and a few expletives gasping at the beauty.
Once at Fletcher Bay I picked up the gravel road again and followed the coast south to Colville where the sealed road ran back to Coromandel Town and after 124km and 2400m of elevation I was happy to book back into the motel. A tough day with 85km of gravel and 10km Coastal Walkway but one of the very best on a bike! A couple of pints of IPA at the Star And Garter went down well.
Back to Auckland
Up at first light I followed the road south from Coromandel down the Firth of Thames and picked up my outward track at Kopu after a good lunch break at an excellent garden centre cafe.
It was a hot day and I needed plenty of water and ice cream stops for the long haul around the Firth of Thames and the sharp climbs towards my destination at Cockle Bay.
The six days saw 815km and 9166m elevation. It was nice to have no time limits for a change.