New Zealand Bike Adventure
When two elderly gentlemen from Australia embarked on a three-and-a-half-week bike trip in New Zealand they did not expect it to be cut short by the Corona Virus pandemic. It was more likely that they found it too hard and gave up. This is a satirical view of the trip.
Rick (the writer).
How it worked.
The plan was to travel by pushbike from Auckland to Wellington around the coast as follows:
· Click here to see the planned route in Google Maps.
· Take our touring bikes with us. My children suggested I take a different bike. See this photo. Noel could sit in the front and I could pedal.
· All gear carried on the bikes.
· Accommodation pre-booked at motels, hotels, cabins, Airbnb etc with separate beds (sometimes a double and a single and we took it in turns for the double). All accommodation bookmarked in Maps.me to allow for easy navigation to our destination.
· Distance each day varied between 45km and 100km dependant on available accommodation and terrain.
· Travel on bike trails where convenient and possible.
· Breakfast purchased in advance (usually in a supermarket the night before) cereal, toast, yoghurt etc. Anything left we carried for the next day(s). Breaks in cafes along the way if possible. Lunch at places along the way if possible (see this photo). Dinner at hotel, cafe or purchased in supermarkets and cooked at accommodation. Here are photos of some of the places we stopped for a break in: Convenient Cow Café in Hikutaia, Te Puru Store, Tapu Store, a Servo somewhere, Matata, Omaio Café, and this photo of Noel with all his friends in a stop between Whakatane and Opotiki. Some days, we knew there was no lunch or other stops and purchased something in advance. Noel had the idea that we purchase some “freeze dried” food for emergencies but we could not find anywhere that sold it. We did purchase and carry some pasta meals that Noel cooked late in the trip.
· Visit tourist attractions along the way if they looked interesting and time permitted.
· Rest days every 3 or 4 days.
· Total distance 1300km.
· In Wellington, to stay with a relative for a few days.
What did not Work
· My original plan was to take my electric touring bike to New Zealand. Unfortunately, it was impossible to transport the bike and battery in a manner that was convenient. The battery could not be taken on the plane with the bike. Both could be shipped, but the time to get to New Zealand and through customs was unknown and it was expensive. I investigated purchasing a battery in Auckland, which could be done, but the cost was $1,300. Noel was not happy with me having an electric bike because it gave me an advantage. Not that it mattered, because he was always ahead of me.
· Voice commands to my GoPro when there was traffic noise. Noel caught me a few times yelling at or with fiddling with the GoPro.
· Trying to pay by card. Most people in New Zealand hate the banks and only accepted cash because the banks take a small fee on each card transaction. However, when the Corona Virus lockdown occurred many would have obtained card terminals.
· Noel’s Australia Post New Zealand SIM card. It worked, but there were restrictions. For example, only texts between Australia Post SIM’s were free. In contrast, I purchased a New Zealand SIM that used one of the local carriers for less than the Australia Post SIM. It was valid for 30 days. It provided free calls and texts and some internet data and worked well. I would not recommend the Australia Post New Zealand SIM card (and I suspect Noel would agree with me).
· Our legs. We had to push our bikes twice. 1. After we got off the ferry to Coromandel and Maps.me sent us up a steep road. 2. Coming out of Whakatane.
Cafe in Opotiki. They made great toasted sandwiches and milkshakes. We went there three times. The last day we went there (which was the day NZ announced their lockdown plan) a tattooed Maori was riding a bike down the Main Street of Opotiki yelling “Martial Law”.
Waihi to Tauranga. The traffic was horrendous. Log trucks, container trucks and every car in New Zealand was on the road. Also, there was a headwind to cope with. It was not enjoyable. Only good thing was the road had a wide shoulder most of the way. The road was so noisy I had difficulty hearing Noel yelling at me from a lunch stop on the other side of the road and nearly rode past him. See this photo of the lunch stop.
How we Navigated
We used Maps.me mostly and occasionally Google Maps. Noel recorded our route using a Garmin App on his iPhone. He uploaded the data at the end of each day’s ride to Strava so that others could view the route and other parameters. The Garmin App is overly complicated and did not record correctly once.
Maps.me was painful on occasions. It sent us, or suggested, the wrong way a few times:
· After we got off the ferry from Auckland, we plotted a route to our accommodation in Coromandel. It sent us off the main road up a road so steep we had to walk. It did not seem the easiest way, so we asked a lady coming down on a bike. She confirmed that it was not the way and gave us directions to use the main roads. Later, we checked where it may have sent us and could not find a sensible route.
· It had trouble finding the Jucy Snooze hotel in Auckland, but its map appeared to be out of date.
· It did not like us using the Hauraki Bike Trail. Kept shouting at us to use other routes. About halfway along the trail, we stopped at some toilets (see this photo). I then plotted the route to our destination as “hiking” and it then followed the Bike Trail OK.
· One day I plotted a route to our destination, and it directed us via a route inland, about 130km total distance. Nah, I thought, and we ignored it.
· Tauranga. We had all the ground floor of a modern house plus a double garage. See this photo.
· Even though the hotel in Whakatane was 500 years old, in need of repair, and I would give it a minus 2-star rating, it had some good features. It was in the centre of town, had a large communal kitchen, lounge and free clothes dryer. And it was cheap and only had a few guests. Here a few photos: Bathroom, Communal Kitchen, Lounge, Bedroom, Balcony and Lobby.
I suffer from chaffing like most bike riders, so I purchased some “Step One” underpants based on their assertion that they minimise chaffing. They were extremely comfortable and no chaffing. And I installed a more comfortable bike seat. Noel should have a better seat as well because he often complained about a sore bottom.
Noel lost a thermos flask which had his drink additive in it. I advanced him some Zero tablets, but he never gave them back.
Near Te Kaha I passed some kids selling lemonade. They yelled out to me and I stopped, and they gave me a drink for free because “you are on a bike”. I asked them if the bike rider in front of me (Noel) stopped and one said, “he was going too fast”. I felt a bit guilty later and should have given them some money.
· Jucy Snooze Hotel in Auckland adequate. Wandered around and found a Chinese restaurant nearby.
· The motel unit in Coromandel was the most expensive and there was a fishing competition on nearby with some units rented by fishermen. They were noisy, smoking, drinking, and cooking stuff outside their units but not a major problem. The unit was roomy and adequate. Not far into town for pizza.
· The Lady Bowen at Thames had shared bathroom facilities which Noel thought could have been easily split into male and female sections. Walked to nearby hotel for dinner. Breakfast was included and good. See this outside photo.
· Palm Court at Waihi was the smallest unit and internet initially not working but fixed later. Few kilometres walk into town where we had our best meal in a Thai restaurant.
· Units at Te Kaha adequate. No mobile service. Paid for WiFi but it kept dropping out. See this photo outside and this photo inside the unit, this photo of Noel having a Grandpa nap and this photo of the Te Kaha Store.
· Thai at Waihi.
· Turkish cafe at Whakatane.
· And of course, the ones Noel cooked like in this photo.
The “Rest” Day in Whakatane
Noel got up that day and said, “Let us find something to do for the day?”. “OK I said”. So, we walked over to a visitor centre and are told about a nice walk across a hill to a town called Ohope and we can catch a bus back.
There was no sign signifying the start of the walk, and we had to ask someone where it started. There was a useless sign on the ground which was difficult to see. Three hours later and 10,000 steep steps up and down we got to the town where we had lunch. My legs were sore from riding 100 km the day before. It was supposed to be a rest day. The café in the town where we had lunch was nice (see this photo and this photo), but the bus back was filled with screaming schoolchildren (which we waited for one hour to catch). Nevertheless, it was a pleasant walk through bush and on a beach. Also, lovely views including White Island with its volcano. See this photo of White Island in the distance on the right. We rode through Ohope the next day.
They Say We Say
· They say streams, we say creeks.
· They say WOF (Warrant of Fitness), we say roadworthy.
· They say no exit road, we say no through road.
· They say Countdown, we say Woolworths.
· Attendants on the train station at Papatoetoe. Helped us to get in the correct carriage for bikes and helped a young boy look for his lost phone.
· Bike shop in Auckland pumped up our tyres for free.
· Car hire lady in Gisborne gave us a larger vehicle at no extra cost and she even drove us to the Gisborne airport to get it. There were no issues driving the car one way. In fact, we got the impression that was what she wanted us to do. Noel got frustrated trying to configure the inbuilt Sat Nav system in the car.
· Guy in Opotiki where we hired our bus from allowed us to disassemble and pack our bikes inside his workshop (it was pouring rain outside). See this photo. He also advised us on the best driving route to Wellington which we took.
· Thermals. Days were pleasant with no need for thermals.
· Rain gear. No rain in the 10 days we rode. However, the day after our last riding day when we drove to Gisborne it poured rain most of the way.
· Bungee type tow rope. I took it just in case.
· First Aid items.
· Toilet items carried on the bike.
· When we arrived in Auckland, the border force officers opened our bike boxes and checked them thoroughly.
· Driving Creek Railway. We had time to kill in Coromandel, so we took a bus there. We paid to do the tour and it was excellent. Interesting train, lovely views, and rail switchbacks.
· Museum in Thames and the gold mine tour to see the stamper in action. Both were interesting and stamper was very loud.
· Maritime Museum near Paeroa. See this photo of the sign that enticed us. The lady took us around for a personal tour (I think we were the first visitors for ages). Had lunch at bakery in nearby Paeroa. See this photo.
· A taste of Australia in a store beside the Te Puru store. See this photo.
· Huge old pumping station in Waihi and massive hole where they dug for gold.
· Every bridge, even the tiny ones, are allocated a number shown on a post.
· Riding through a 1km tunnel on the Hauraki Rail Trail. At least there were lights in the ceiling (not like the tunnel in France that others will remember).
· Ruins of old battery along the Hauraki Rail Trail. See this photo. It was massive according to the information board pictures.
· Hundreds of birds on the beach near Thames. See this photo.
· The construction works around Pier 4 in Auckland. They were annoying and noisy, but the result will be great.
· Ferry from Auckland to Coromandel. See this photo of Noel waiting for the ferry. Lots of people getting off at islands along the way for day hiking trips.
· School crossings. Before children cross, barriers from each side are swung out with a huge red stop sign on them. Nifty.
· The morning traffic coming into Tauranga. It was kilometres long.
· Flat land. Not much in New Zealand but there was a lot between Tauranga and Whakatane. See this photo.
· Free spring water on roadside between Whakatane and Opotiki. See this photo.
· Whakatane is pronounced Fakatane which Noel loved saying.
· See here for plots of routes between towns and elevations.
· I had a flat tyre 500m before arriving at our accommodation in Tauranga. Tyre stuffed. Luckily, there was a bike shop nearby and I purchased a new tyre and tube and they fitted it.
· Noel adjusted one of the cables on his bike, but it was a minor problem.
After Whakatane, the scenery improved and there was considerably less traffic. See this photo of a beautiful river scene between Opotiki and Te Kaha.
At Auckland airport on arrival in New Zealand, we had to assemble our bikes in a large room near the terminal. A group of bored guys from Vanuatu were sitting around the room waiting for a transit flight. We gave them an hour of entertainment as they watched us. See this photo.
No Midsomer Murders
New Zealand Television is terrible. Few channels, lots of Australian soapies and no commercial free channels. Worst of all, no Midsomer Murders.
· On the Hauraki Bike Trail, I stopped to change my GoPro battery and left a zip open. Further on, I went over a bridge and heard some things fall off the bike. I stopped, went back, picked up everything and do not believe I lost anything.
· On the Hauraki Bike Trail, I took a corner too fast and slid into a ditch filled with water covered in algae but did not fall off. Noel was behind me and said it was a beautifully controlled 2-wheel slide into the ditch.
· On our second day in New Zealand I receive a text that my CC has some suspicious transactions. Rang them and confirmed two transactions were not mine. They blocked my card. All our accommodations bookings were done using that card (mostly in Booking.com) so I had to spend some time on the Internet changing to another card.
· On the way between Tauranga and Whakatane, there was detour in place. Increased our distance by about 10km.
· In Opotiki, a siren sounded one night which worried at least one of the other motel inhabitants because she spoke to me about it. Turns out there are tsunami warning sirens in the towns along the coast near White Island. The night we heard the siren was a weekly test.
· When we decided to cut short out trip, we rode back from Te Kaha to Opotiki and went to the motel we had stayed in the previous night. The lady owner said she had rooms, but they were not ready. She rang a few other places to see if they could accommodate us, but they all refused (we think because of how long we had been in NZ and we were Australian). In the end we waited for her to get one unit ready for us.
On the way to Tauranga, Noel noticed his back light was missing its cover & batteries. I rented him one of my spares for a small price.
In Auckland, we rode from the Airport to Papatoetoe (about 8km) and took a train from Papatoetoe to Britomart into Central Auckland. An attendant directed us where to wait for the train on Papatoetoe station and after the train arrived and the doors opened, a ramp came out from underneath the train to cover the gap between the train and the station. Clever. Trains were very modern.
Time to Leave
The following things occurred which were the trigger for us to leave:
· The shop lady in Te Kaha told me that there were supposed to be 2 more groups of riders from Australia like us staying in the motel. They never turned up or advised they were not coming.
· Got an email in the morning in Te Kaha that a hotel 2 days away had cancelled our booking.
· The shop lady in Te Kaha also told me that the Maori’s will close the road around the East Cape in a few days only allowing locals and supply trucks in. Shops would be closed to tourists and only supply locals.
· I needed to make a few phone calls. Public phone outside shop not working and no mobile service so the shop lady let me use their landline. Rang the forward accommodation places but nobody answered any of my calls.
· Qantas were stopping international flights at the end of March.
· The rules on self-isolation changed. When we arrived on 13th March there were no rules on self-isolation for international arrivals. Some days later a rule was brought in that if you arrived after the 16th March you had to self-isolate (which did not apply to us). Then on the 22nd March the rule changed again stating that if you arrived in New Zealand from any country in the last 14 days you had to self-isolate (which did apply to us). The lady at the Opotiki motel said she knew the rule applied to us and could have told the authorities but did not. She said she realised our situation and was happy for us to stay at the motel knowing we were making efforts to go home ASAP.
How We Got Home
When we decided to leave, we were at least 7 hours drive from either Auckland or Wellington airports. Back in the motel room in Opotiki we discussed a few options and decided to:
· Change our Qantas bookings. We had already changed them a few times earlier and the Qantas website was painful.
· Next day to investigate a hire place in Opotiki. At the hire place we decided to hire a 12-seater bus (that was all they had) for a day and loaded all our gear and bikes into the bus.
· Drove to Gisborne (2 hours), hired a car and picked up two bike boxes. Noel had reserved both days ago.
· Drove both vehicles back to Opotiki (2 hours). See this photo of the bus and the car.
· Returned the bus and packed our bikes and gear into the boxes.
· Drove to Taupo in the car (3 hours) and stayed the night there. We were the only ones in the motel and the lady asked us no questions. Got food at local supermarket and cooked it in the motel.
· Next day left at 6:30 to drive to Wellington Airport on Highway 1 (5 hours) and got plane home.
The Good News
· Got a full refund on Travel Insurance for Ann, my wife, who intended flying to New Zealand and meet me at the trip end.
· Got full refunds from all pre-paid accommodation bookings.
· Got refunds from Qantas for airfares, less cancellation fees. However, it took 5 weeks.
· The relative in Wellington obtained bike boxes for us but they were not needed.
The Bad News
Qantas charged us cancellation fees for all (I think) booking changes.
Click here for a 10-minute YouTube video of the trip highlights.
8 out of 10. It was an adventure.