New Zealand post 4: MANAGING THE MAUNGATAPU TRACK
It’s hardly first light when we get away at 07h45 after cooking oats and coffee, cleaning up, re-packing our bikes, etc, etc, but the sky is blue, the sun is shining and we are rolling again!
We are cruising through beautiful farmlands. Everything is peaceful & pristine. Then we pass a farm gate with a glaring red sign “WARNING MULTIPLE HAZARD AREA!” – gosh, wonder what happens there? Just looks like a regular farmyard. A few km down the road we encounter the same thing at another farm entrance and then again at a very calm-looking grassy patch, leading to a perfectly innocent stand of trees!! OMG, this is the paranoid health and safety thing we’ve heard about. It’s the same mentality we encountered when clearing customs. I honestly get the feeling that there are so few problems here in NZ, that the Kiwis feel compelled to create issues where none exist. It’s quite bizarre!
As we fly down a hill, we come up behind a hiker we met yesterday, who is walking 3000km from North to South. “Multiple hazards! Multiple hazards coming through!” I call, as we wave and smile knowingly.
The first 12km are plain sailing. Then we reach the start of the Maungatapu Track and the fun begins. Steve quietly fails to mention until we are about 1/2 way up, that the guide book says this is the hardest climb we’ll do on the entire trip. Well, I don’t know what’s coming later, but this will be hard to beat! We climb 800m in just 7km and the surface becomes steadily more loose and rocky as we get higher. On any normal ride it wouldn’t be a problem, but the bikes are heavy as hell!
I try not to forget to look around.The vegetation is unbelievably lush and dense, but I just can’t get used to the lack of wildlife. Apart from the odd bird, all is so damn still. Apparently, apart from the bats, there are no indigenous mammals at all in NZ. Birds alone are endemic to the islands.
The downhill, when we eventually get there, is a very long, rocky mineshaft. It’s a balancing act. You need to brake since you don’t want to pick up too much speed and lose control of the heavy bike, but you also don’t want to wear out your pads. My method is to stand slightly, bum way off the back of the saddle, 2 fingers on the brake levers, gently feather, then let go completely to rest the hands whenever there’s a not-so-treacherous section…It gets me down in one piece.
Then wouldn’t you know it, we go straight back up! Shoo, shades of Kyrgyzstan’s ghastly gradients rear their heads, except here the surface is much worse!
We are pretty worn out by the time we reach the town of Nelson, where we stock up on groceries. Steve enquires about a park where we can picnic and then leads me to a grassy patch outside on office block- “This is not a park. I’m sure this is not it…”, “Yes, she said just round the corner. Must be this. It’s grassy…”, so we eat our lunch amidst the people coming and going. I feel like a squatter. Then we go in search of water and lo and behold, just a few meters down the road we find the botanical gardens – “here’s our park!!” As we’re leaving town we see numerous perfect picnic spots complete with tables and benches. Ah well, next time we’ll look harder…
We are now on a perfect, paved 2-way bike path, which skirts the town and avoids most traffic, except at intersections, where you need to pay attention. There are runners, bikers, dog walkers, old ladies on mobility scooters all using the path. It’s clean and safe and continues for miles – what a concept!
When we reach Richmond, at around 16h00, we are ready to call it a day. That climb has worn us out!
We head for a campground, but it’s grim – looks more like a “Po white trash” park, with mainly permanent motor homes and not one tent in sight. No ways I’m staying here and anyhow, rain is threatening.
We end up in a huge, comfy motel suite, which cost us a fortune, but we don’t care. I’m just so happy not to be in that campsite!!
I sink into a deep, hot bath and Steve goes off to buy a drink
(” bring me a bottle of red wine “). He comes back with some horrendous, sweet, slightly spritzed Crimson Cabernet! I drink it anyway.
Later we get an unexpected visitor in the form of Murray Gott, a Kiwi who used to work at the infamous Oak Lodge in CT back in the day. We reminisce over the bad wine well into the night.
Tomorrow’s ride may be a tad wobbly…