Its been almost two years,
and I can finally look back and laugh…
A long dreamt of ride around the bottom of the north island of New Zealand, I’d been putting it off for a few years, for reasons rather than excuses, however there was something looming over the horizon that gave a sense of now or never (how naive we were back then about the impact Covid was to have) and I needed to get it done.
I’d really wanted to do this ride with my kiwi mates Craig and Paul but their circumstances didn’t line up with mine and with what I thought was a reasonable weather forecast I decided to go for it. This route is known as the Wild Coast Trail and it takes in awe inspiring coastal views and mountainous back country in its hundred or so miles, Craig had warned me about the wind and as usual I’d decided that he was exaggerating!
Setting off from my daughters place with a heavily loaded bike my first stop was for breakfast, Avocado on toast followed by a flat white, sat looking out over Wellington harbour, New Zealand at its finest. The bike was moving nicely, I’d consciously decided to go for comfort rather than speed, a tent to help deal with the sandflies, plenty of food and a full camera kit, the one mistake was only having three litres of water, I thought that would have been plenty…
Reaching Eastbourne brought the solitude and gravel I was seeking, the trail along the coast sees very little motorised traffic, walkers and bikes mostly and by the lighthouse they’d mostly disappeared, stopping frequently to gaze at the sea and take in the views of the Kaikoura Ranges over on the south island I was thoroughly enjoying my day, no schedule to keep, and a sunset at about 9pm meant I could amble along.
The first climb of the day soon came, a short grunt uphill had me off and pushing, the weight of the bike making itself felt now, I got to the top and looked down on the Khyber Pass! really! I dropped to the river crossing, fortunately there’s a bridge there, then onto the coast road and along to the start of the Remutuka Trail which goes through the Orongorongo sheep station giving more ocean views to my right, riding on a double track that occasionally meanders into the bush until I came to Barneys Whare or hut, a privately owned shack that’s sadly always locked up, it’d make a great bothy. I decide to get some food and make a brew here, it dawns on me that due to the heat I’ve been drinking quite a lot and am down to just a litre of water, this is slightly concerning.
Moving on and eventually I get to Ocean Beach Road, I know there’s a small campsite there and am expecting to be able to refill my water bottles, when I arrive at Corner Creek campsite its looking pretty abandoned, I get myself under some shade and consider my options, I’m almost out of water now and feeling pretty stupid. If I turn back and head home it’s probably about six hours to get home but that means missing out on the Rimutuka crossing…..
Before I’ve made my decision I’m joined by four young blokes who’ve been cray fishing, by the look on their faces they weren’t expecting to see anyone here, I suspect they’ve taken more crayfish than is legal and are a bit sheepish, however the ice is soon broken when they break out the beers. We have a good chat, they are intrigued as to why someone would come all the way from England to ride a bike around here, they give me a litre of water and I get on my way, grateful for the beer but a bit wary about the water having caught Giardiasis from roof water before (roof water is collected straight from the roof into a tank, along with dead possums and god knows what else)
Along Ocean Beach Road there are small settlements, or bachs as they are known here, holiday homes essentially, all closed up, not a soul around, I mooch around a couple looking for a tap but with no success. After an hour of soft gravel I finally hit some tarmac, relieved to have something solid under my tyres I reckon I’ve got a three hour ride to get to Featherston which is a small town where I know I’ll be able to get water and probably a train back to Wellington.
Of course as soon as I head away from the beach the road goes up, steeply, running on empty and quite dehydrated I’m soon off and pushing again, no sense of embarrassment at all, besides there’s no one around to witness my walk of shame.
The road winds around, up and down and seems to take forever, the occasional car passes me by and I consider flagging one down, I’m feeling pretty done now and realise that I’m not far away from being in a desperate situation, and then like an oasis in the desert I see a church house in the distance, every good cycle tourist knows that all churches have an outside tap, at least they do in England!
I speed up, spurred on by the hope of water and I’m relieved to see a hose pipe, I let it run to empty the hose and am soon enough drinking cold fresh water, I empty the suspect water onto the roses in the garden and refill three full litres of fresh cold water. This stroke of luck gives me the strength to carry on with my original plan despite the dark drawing in.
I head up hill through native bush towards my camp spot, its been a long day when I arrive at Cross Creek campsite but I get to making some food and brewing tea, the sky is glowing above me as I climb into my tent, feeling pretty pleased with myself that once again I’d gotten away with it.
What’s that famous saying, pride comes before a fall?
I wake with a start, the wind is absolutely howling outside the tent and blowing the canvas onto my face, I fear that the high tech but super light carbon poles are sure to break, I hear my bike fall outside the tent, I’d stupidly left it standing against the remains of the train station as I was so tired last night, schoolboy error, I decided that it was only my body weight that was keeping the tent grounded so I stayed put.
The wind never stopped, so at about 5am I crawled out and spent thirty minutes trying to break camp and checking the bike, the sensible thing would have been to head downhill and ride to Featherston and the train, but that meant not going over the Remutukas, so I did the stupid thing and went up. Pushing a loaded bike uphill, downhill and along the flat for another hour brought me to a swing bridge. The wind was even worse here, funnelling straight down the valley to my right and hitting the bridge with a ferocity I’ve never witnessed before, it was frankly terrifying. I decided to sit it out and make a brew, then another, it wasn’t weakening.
Eventually I walked out a few yards and thought to myself that it wasn’t that bad, if I positioned myself on the right with the bike to my left I could hold onto the bike and the wire and crouch down when a particularly strong gust came through, fortunately the noise of the wind ripping through the bush gave a few seconds warning to get down. It was probably only a few minutes crossing that swing bridge but it felt like hours, I was genuinely scared, no one knew where I was, I’d not brought my Spot tracker, and if I’d gone over the edge they’d have never found me two hundred feet below in a native forest.
When I finally got inside the tunnel on the other side the relief was so strong that it took a few minutes to compose myself and then started the descent to safety, it was still windy on this side of the mountains but mostly on my back, I don’t remember much of the descent through the forest but once I hit the main highway it struck me as odd that there were no cars around? Hitting the gravel again and following the Hutt River trail to home was back to being a pleasant ride, the sun was out, the wind had gone, stopping to buy coffee and food and looking round I started to doubt myself, did all that really happen, was I dreaming?
Back home and showered, we heard the news that the main highway over the mountain had been closed due to the high winds, windy Welly (as it is known) is used to high winds, so for the winds to have closed the road it must have been serious, next time I’ll go light and fast and take more water, and definitely check the forecast for wind!
Words and pictures – Steve Makin