Real bikers: Athol Berry, Reg Churton, Matthew Crozier, Carol Gilbertson, Pieter Holl, Lyn Jobbins, Margaret Law, Janette Lloyd, Maureen McRae, Neale Soper, Sue Woolnough.
E-bikers: Peter Arnold, Roz Chadwick, Wendy Clow, June Cripps, Rebecca Heap, Marlene Hiestand, Maria Jackson, Chris Pyke.
Leader: Margaret Law
1st May – New Plymouth to Opunake, 65km, 910m of climbing
19 anxious riders departed from the Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park, along the walkway into the centre of town and the wind wand, with wild weather warnings for the North Island forecast.
After a quick stop at a bakery for the morning tea/lunch essentials, we split into two groups and set off up Carrington Road. Group 1 went through to Pukeiti Gardens while Group 2 stopped at Pouakai Zoo (closed Mondays) for a hot thermos cuppa and snack.
Serious rain held off and the sun even came out BUT… there was no clear mountain view. Pukeiti Gardens gave us an enjoyable stretch and explore.
We all lunched on the side of the road in drizzle about 1pm, but had experienced some great vistas along the way.
Arriving in Opunake we learnt that Sir Peter Snell was born there. Down the hill to the beach and a great hostess at the park let us put our e-bikes in the “ice cream shop”. Ablutions complete, it was off to the “local” for pizza, hamburgers, and a pint.
2nd May – Opunake to Hawera – 56 km, 520m of climbing
We left the Opunake at 8:30 am and, after splitting into our two groups, rode the 30kms to Manaia, stopping on the way at a relocated and beautifully refurbished Anglican church. It proved to be a very nice ride with a slight tailwind and no sign of rain. On the way the cloud cleared over Mt Taranaki and, for a few seconds, we could see the top.
On reaching Manaia, we stopped at the very busy and highly recommended Yarrows Bakery and Café. The quality and value of the food here can only be described as excellent. Needless to say, large quantities were purchased by the group.
A further 20kms and we arrived at the Hawera Water Tower, which we climbed, and then had lunch in the garden below.
After lunch we rode the short distance to KD Walsey’s Elvis Presley Museum, where we were given a private tour by the man himself (KD, not Elvis) of his beautifully curated collection of memorabilia, amassed over 60 years of collecting. Thanks to Marlene for arranging this highlight of the tour.
This was followed by long uphill and 8km ride to our accommodation for the night at Wheatley Downs Farmstay. Not long after our arrival, an unfortunate door handle malfunction led to Maureen being locked in the toilet for several hours. In spite of the sterling efforts of Gary (owner), Neale and Maureen herself, the door remained resolutely shut and a local builder eventually had to be called. The good news is that Maureen was released in time for the excellent meal that Rebecca and Matt prepared (with only a little help from others) for us.
3rd May – Hawera to Stratford – 50km, 660m of climbing
A great downhill ride to start the day. The mountain poked its top out for a while. Views back to Hāwera.
Morning tea stop at Eltham, with a trip to the old bank, which is now a shop selling house collectables.
Rain coats went on and it was on to Pembroke with the hope of climbing the mountain to the Stratford Mountain Lodge. However, the weather gods didn’t play ball and we all headed to camp, wet.
4th May – Stratford for the day
Waking in the morning, we were disappointed the overnight rain had not abated. Forecasts were asking motorists to stay off the local roads with possible flooding and strong winds. After watching the weather on TV and much group discussion, we decided to cancel today’s cycling and call this a rest day. Fortunately, and with numerous phone calls from Margaret, all of our accommodation for the rest of the tour was able to be rescheduled at no additional cost.
What did 19 restless cyclists do on a very wet day?
– rug up and walk down to Stratford shops for coffee, lunch, op-shopping, galleries;
– uber to the supermarket, shopping for dinner; and – crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, knitting, reading, sleeping, socializing etc.
In the evening, we all enjoyed another delicious meal ably prepared by Carol, Reg and Neale. Bolognaise sauce, spaghetti, roast kumara & pumpkin and broccoli followed by hokey pokey ice creams.
5th May – Stratford to Opunake – 47km, 310m of climbing
After our rest day in Stratford, we were ready to head off again, even in light drizzle, for what looked like an easy day.
We were expecting some strong north-east tailwinds, and it wasn’t cold.
First stop was the Possum Products factory. Nice to see a range of vintage style hats and boots being made.
Easy going with gradual downhill or flat runs. We decided not to take the side leg up to Dawson Falls as the mountain was almost completely covered in cloud, so we went in the other direction to Hollard Gardens. A great comfortable place to stop for free coffee and tea.
One could get pleasantly lost amongst the many paths in the gardens – it was a maze!
Almost no peddling was required to get down to Kaponga. The 4 Square was the only shop open in this small town, but very well supplied with hot food for morning tea. The vintage cars drew some attention.
Eltham Rd was a straight speed trip all the way to Opunake. We turned around and biked into the wind for a short while, just to appreciate how easy our ride was.
Lunch in the Opunake square with the Peter Snell statue overlooking us, before settling back into cabins at the beach.
We needed more exercise, so set off on the Opunake 9km loop track. This was very scenic, and probably the most effort we put in today, mostly on a gravel track. Out to the headland, some stayed at the gallery for a while.
On to the flax mill ruins, then over to Opunake Lake.
For dinner, some went back for another visit to the Surf Inn Bar. The pizza and burgers are very good here. A bit noisier on this Friday night though.
6th May – Opunake to Oakura – 65km, 510m of climbing
We left the campground at the now customary time of 8.30am and, after purchasing morning tea at one of the two 4 Square stores in town (there’s at least one in every small Taranaki town), we rode north on SH45 (The Surf Highway) in our two groups in light drizzle and a brisk headwind.
After a brief stop in Rahotu to admire the collection of mugs adorning the front gate and fence of a home and the commemorative entranceway to the local school, we continued on, turning off the main road after 22km to head down to Cape Egmont Lighthouse.
It was here that we learned that the ford across the stream on the coastal track was uncrossable. Unperturbed, Margaret approached a nearby farmer who was very happy for us to use his farm track (a paper road?) to cross to the next road. After a short delay while Peter fixed his puncture (the only mechanical issue on tour) we crossed the farm and rode the Coast Road to the Cape Egmont Boat Club and Historic Cape Light and Museum (which was closed).
And then it was back to the main road and on to Okato. By now the rain had stopped and the wind had dropped. After a leisurely lunch, we viewed the town’s historic bridge and church before heading north.
After turning off the main road on to Lower Pitone Road, we headed down to the coast and around to Lower Timaru Road and the Oakura Coastal Walkway.
While we were able to cross the Timaru Stream on a footbridge, we had become aware that the footbridge over the Whenuariki Stream had been washed away in a storm. We weren’t looking forward to the long slog back up to the main road and down the next side road. However, we managed to avoid that slog as it was low tide and we were able to take our bikes down onto the beach and cross the stream there.
From there it was a short ride along the walkway to our accommodation at the Oakura Beach Holiday Park. That evening, we had a very enjoyable meal at the nearby Black Sand Pizzeria and Bistro.
7th May – Oakura to New Plymouth – 46km, 420m of climbing
Our remaining group of 14 gathered outside the Oakura camp office at 8.30am.
With Paritutu and the Sugar Loaf Islands in sight, the NE winds had still not abated. As we cycled north, 16kms up and down hills, Paritutu was getting ever closer.
On reaching suburbia and the camp ground we unloaded our panniers into our vehicles before heading back down the hill to enjoy morning coffee at The Bach.
June had planned a tiki tour along the coastal walkway to Bell Block. Unfortunately, the very impressive Te Rewa Rewa Bridge is being repainted, so the obligatory photo does not feature Mt Taranaki (still in cloud) through the arches.
On reaching Bell Block, Neale was the only cyclist to ride the criterium circuit then twice around the velodrome.
After a lunch stop at the bakery, June guided us back to the camping ground on an alternative trail and then the coastal walkway.
Several folk departed for home. In the evening, the remaining group of nine enjoyed fish, chips and burgers at Catch & Co.
A huge thank you again Margaret for your wonderful organization and making this South Taranaki tour a very memorable cycling journey for all.