Thursday, November 17, 2016

Haven't you heard of CARs? A Tern on 22.

Cycletouring on Highway 22
Waingaro Hot Springs is reached through a winding valley with pine clad hills rising on all sides. It had rained off and on all day, mostly on for the last hour or so. I dripped into the office to ask about a cabin. "Did you get here on a bike?" asked the manager, eyeing my Tern outside. "Haven't you heard of CARs?" She found a key, and directed me up the hill to the cabins. "Enjoy your stay, come again, but next time, bring a CAR!"

This was the end of the first day of a two day bike trip on Highway 22, from Pokeno to Raglan, and on to Hamilton. The weather forecast hadn't been good, so I was relieved when it was only drizzling as the shuttle from Whangamata dropped me in Pokeno, diverting from the route to Auckland Airport. "Wouldn't want you to get squashed on the motorway, mate" said Steve the driver "and by the way, there's no shops after Tuakau, so make sure you've got plenty of food". In fact there were garages at Pukekawa and Glen Murray with basic supplies, but it was good advice, and I took the excuse to boost my fat and protein levels with a steak and mushroom pie at the Pokeno bakery. Squads of road workers were purchasing morning tea and I didn't feel out of place in my high viz gilet.

Tuakau chooks wait their turn to cross the Waikato River bridge
I cruised down the Waikato River to the Tuakau Bridge where an abseiling operation had reduced the road to one lane, then climbed up to Pukekawa, the "hill of bitter memories". These memories include massacres in the 1830s when warriors with the new musket technology swept down from the Bay of Islands, and the 20th century murders of Samuel Eyre and the Crewes. But now it's peaceful farmland, making for ideal cycle touring as Highway 22 makes its way south over the rolling hills. Unfortunately I'd missed the opening hours of the 90 year old Pukekawa Library, which vies for the title of smallest public library in NZ, and seems to have had a lick of paint since cycle tourist Bruce Ringer visited it in 1983.
Pukekawa Library, open 2-3pm Friday
Highway 22 near Pepepe
Opuatia cemetery commemorates its inhabitants interests with a softball mit, football, motorbike and Steinlagers on the graves. At Glen Murray I stopped for an icecream at the garage, then had a scrog stop at Naike school where kereru flapped noisily between trees and the pīpīwharauroa called after their winter holidays in the Pacific. But with the rain setting in it was good to reach Waingaro, and sink into a hot pool as the surface was pelted with raindrops. It was a short stagger up the hill to the pub, where the publican served me DB Bitter and lasagne, and introduced me to all the regulars by name.
Dress code at Waingaro Hot Springs
Waingaro River after rain
Next morning the rain seemed to be easing. I set off down valley for Raglan, noting a bulge in the back tyre. I made a mental note to get a new tyre when I got home, but a few kilometres down road the mental note acquired an exclamation mark as the tyre burst. I thought about emergency repairs, but a passing road crew responded to my tentative upturned thumb, and took me into Raglan "We're actually going the other way, but it's too wet to work, we just have to back in time for smoko".
Tern tyre loses the battle of the bulge
Easy riding to Raglan
Cyclery Raglan sorted out a nice fat BMX tyre for me so, to borrow from the esteemed leader elect of the free world, I didn't have to drain the swamp, I could just ride it. I biked across a nice new walking/biking bridge, and out to the heads, where locals eyed the storm surges of a higher than normal tide, thought about tsunamis, and decided to forego their morning walk.
Raglan harbour and Mt Karioi
Dietary advice, Raglan
After lunch at the bakery, I headed towards Hamilton on the main road. After a while I tired of the busy traffic, boosted by fleets of tankers ferrying in dihydrogen monoxide to replenish Raglan's polluted water supply.
Maungatawhiri's Saturday night dances are small but intimate affairs
The back road through Waitetuna looked an attractive alternative. Initially the quiet sealed road wended past farmlets and a forest reserve named for Ed Hillary. However as the contour lines developed an unhealthy affinity for each other, and washouts scoured the gravel, I started to think that I should have taken more note of the words "old" and "mountain" in the name Old Mountain Road. Near the summit, concrete blocks enforced a 3m wide road limit, reminiscent of the anti tank structures I'd seen on Korean roads. But on the top where the road intersects with Te Araroa, I shared views of limestone outcrops with the resident sheep and cows, and looked out on the fertile plains of the Waikato.
Width enforcement on Old Mountain Road
Summit of Old Mountain Road
A speedy descent took me to an ice cream stop at Whatawhata, and the bike lanes of Hamilton. Next day, as the Northern Explorer sped me south to quake shaken Wellington, I contemplated the advice I'd received at Waingaro Hot Springs. Should I have taken a CAR? Definitely not - Highway 22 is one of those roads that where driving a car would take too much concentration. On a bike I could look around me as I rode the rolling hills. But if I did it again, I'd hope for a better weather forecast... and check my tyres.