By Lyn Jobbins
This East Coast ACTA tour had been rescheduled from March to November 2020 due to the Covid 19 lockdown. On the Monday evening 11 keen cyclists gathered for a meeting in the dining area at Opotiki Holiday Park to go over details for the tour. The weather forecast for the next 6 days was looking settled but could change after departing Gisborne. The support vehicle was fuelled up, breakfast and lunch supplies for the next few days purchased. There was a roster where cyclists would take turns driving 10kms then changing to the next person.
Some of us had a chance to look around Opotiki where aquaculture (mussels), horticulture (mainly kiwifruit), forestry and agriculture are the primary industries employing local folk. There is a strong history in the area with the museum covering early days dating back to Maori settlements in the 12th century.
Day 1, Opotiki to Te Kaha. Distance 76kms
Breakfast in the camp kitchen, gear packed and van loaded, we left the motor camp at 8.30am. Heading to the start of the 11km long Dunes Trail we crossed the huge suspension bridge.
Then the gravel path heads east, weaving among the sandhills. There are no big hills and the trail crosses a beach along a boardwalk. Lots of lookout spots and great sea views across to the billowing steam from Whakaari, White Island.
The traffic was considerate and loaded logging trucks passed on the other side of SH35. Everywhere bush, secluded beaches, a turquoise sea then a long bridge across the beautiful Motu river. After 20kms Simon had set up a roadside morning coffee stop. Out came all the thermos and delicious home baking.
We passed a number of seaside settlements, beaches strewn with driftwood and several marae. Pockets of local industry were spotted along the way- kiwifruit, bee hives, macadamia, cattle and paddocks of newly sowncorn. At Omaio we parked in the shade for lunch – wraps, bread, salad ingredients, apples and mandarins. Then everyone could not resist the temptation to double back to the Omaio store, relax from the 22 degree heat and sample the ice cream.
The settlement of Te Kaha is 70kms northeast of Opotiki, we checked out the beautifully carved meeting house with the tekoteko figure on the roof. Then a left turn led us to Pahaoa Marae, a lovely setting on a slight hill above the beach. Mattresses had been set out, showers extremely welcome and a storeroom for bikes among a lovely grassy setting. At 5pm Claudette called us for dinner – roast beef, chicken breast, potatoes, salads followed by fresh fruit salad, pavlova and chocolate mousse.
After dining Simon gave us a talk about the settlement of Te Kaha and Claudette elaborated on her family and the history of the area. Then a walk along the beach to the river on an awesome evening with the tide coming in and sun going down.
Day 2, Te Kaha to Te Araroa. Distance 82kms
A longer day ahead so we were all ready and van packed at 7.45am after a great stay at PahaoaMarae.
The day started off cloudy and yah a tail wind from the north west. The early start was threefold – to walk to a beautiful waterfall recommended by our hostess Claudette, to have coffee at Pacific Coast Macadamia farm and to watch whales along the coast. None of these 3 plans eventuated. The waterfall was 45 minutes walk up a creek, the macadamia cafe did not open till 10am and whales were no where to be seen. Instead we settled for roadside morning coffee as we hit the coast again.
Just along the road at Raukokore we arrived at the pretty little white wooden church standing beside a lone pohutukawa. Inside the sun streams through stained glass windows reflecting on the beautifully carved warm kauri furniture. Outside a man tends to the upkeep of the local cemetery and a horse wanders across to the beach.
Further along SH 35 at Waihau Bay the movie Boy was filmed. At this settlement there is a wharf, hotel and cafe where several of us enjoyed another coffee.
The highway then leaves the coast heading inland, up hills, along valleys and scrub to reach the sea again at Hicks Bay. Then it was a slog up a big hill but we were rewarded at Hicks Bay Motel near the top where we all devoured ice creams in the shade.
On the descent Simon’s phone fell off his bike, skidded across the road and luckly was eventually located undamaged. We arrived at Te Araroa Motor Camp to find there was NO Booking for our group. Billy, the proprietor, rang around and found 2 units at Hicks Bay Motel so we booked a 4 bed and 5 bed unit for the next 2 nights. So it was back up the steep hill to our newly arranged accommodation which proved a better deal than the motor camp.
The lads cooked us all a wonderful meal, spaghetti bolognese washed down with refreshments from the bottle store. Besides chatting about the various challenges of the day we listened to talks from Carol on Te Araroa and Lyn about East Cape lighthouse.
Day 3. Hicks Bay Motels to East Cape lighthouse and return. Distance 55kms.
Our stay up at Hicks Bay Motel worked out splendidly and it was great not having to pack and load the van this morning. Assembling at 8.30am we all headed back down the hill to the Manuka Cafe for an early morning coffee. Then on to little Te Araroa where a huge and ancient 350 year old pohutukawa sprawls beside the school.
After topping up the shopping at the local 4 Square, Phil decided to have a rest day so headed back to the motel in the van with the shopping. Ten of us headed out to the lighthouse, however gravel on the road was very chunky so June, Livia and Maurice decided to head back to camp leaving 7 cyclists heading to the lighthouse. The sea views were amazing as we followed the coast with strong head winds in places. The 20km to the lighthouse was a mixture of friendly gravel, unhelpful gravel, narrow bends and tarseal. Several notices stated the Provincial Growth Fund is being used to gradually seal all the road to the lighthouse. In places we shared the road with wandering stock especially horses, but they seem to be used to traffic.
The lighthouse at the tip of the Cape is New Zealand’s easternmost point. Lunch in the shade was enjoyed before climbing through the bush to the lighthouse and a view so splendid you forget about the 800 steps it took to get us to the top. From there we could look across to East Island, home of the original lighthouse before it was relocated to the mainland in 1922.
With the help of a tail wind our group made a good time back to Te Araroa stopping for refreshments before tackling the big hill again.
In the motel kitchen we prepared another communal meal – sausages with mushroom gravy, potatoes, peas and ice creams in a cone to finish off another great day.
Day 4, Hicks Bay to Te Puia Springs. Distance 82kms.
Everyone was ready at 7.50am so we headed downhill again from the Hicks Bay Motel. A quick cycle along the flat to Te Araroa then the first of 7 climbs for the day. When not climbing we had the challenge of strong head winds through rolling farming and forestry country and the day getting warmer. After 30kms all were pleased to arrive at Tikitiki, refuel with coffee and home baking before walking up the incline to St. Mary’s Church.
The church looks conventional, but inside it’s a riot of Maori carvings, stained glass windows and woven Tukutuku panels from ceiling to floor created by local Ngati Porou craftspeople.
Heading south again we wound around the estuary towards Ruatoria. To our right we caught glimpses of Mt. Hikurangi and passed a turnoff indicating 20km to the base of the Mt. At 1754 metres it is the highest non – volcanic peak in the North Island and sacred to the Maori people.
Reaching Ruatoria we set up the lunch table in the domain and most supplemented lunch with a Ruatoria pie manufactured in the factory across the road. The business was started 16 years ago, employs about 13 people who make 5500 pies a week. Employees are all local Maori and the business has boomed this year since Covid 19.
All too soon it was time to tackle the last 30km for the day to Te Puia. The terrain was up and down, the afternoon very hot with road tar melting so we were all pleased to finally reach the Te Puia Hotel built in 1901. Rooms in the charming old- style hotel were all comfortable and refurbished last year. Gathering in the bar for drinks we perused all the old photos on the wall. Adjourning to the dining room we enjoyed substantial meals from the selection on the menu – steak with mushroom sauce, pan fried fish, seafood platter or burgers followed by apple pie, pavlova or sticky date pudding.
Several of us had a wonderful soak in the hot, mineral pool. The natural springs flowing throughout the village are fed from the hills and local folk claim the waters have healing properties.
Day 5. Te Puia to Tologa Bay. Distance 74kms.
A later start as we thought we had a shorter day – wrong 74kms! A great downhill into Tokomaru Bay then a left turn to check out the old wharf under repair. We then headed to Cafe 35, renowned for their freshly baked paua pies – sampled by most of the crew.
After topping up the pantry at the 4 square it was off up Busby Hill quite a climb with the day getting warmer – mid 20’s. Simon got his 3rd flat tyre but we found some shade to fit a new tube. Had decided, maybe unwisely, to check out Anaura Bay, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches of the East Cape. It was 7kms off SH 35, a headwind, a 10% climb to 680m (we walked) then a great downhill to gorgeous beach. There is a camping ground here as well as a DOC site at the northern end.
Well deserved lunch under the pohutukawa before grinding our way back up the hill which proved kinder from the eastern side.
Reaching Tologa Bay we all piled into into the dairy for ice creams, drinks and to stand by the air conditioning unit – outside it was very warm!
After another 3 kms we were very pleased to arrive at the camp ground – on the beachfront, adjacent to the old wharf and Cooks Walkway. Neale and Lyn started the ball rolling with a refreshing dip in the Pacific Ocean and others followed. Phil and Maurice prepared a delicious meal of Tuna and Pasta Bake with stir fried vegetables. We ate at the picnic table outside the units, overlooking the beach and wharf.
Before the sun went down it was time for a walk along the 660m long wharf. In recent years the wharf, opened in 1929, has undergone extensive restoration work with supports replaced and now the balustrades being strengthened. Being a Saturday evening we chatted to folk fishing and admired the gurnard they had caught.
Day 6. Tologa Bay to Gisborne. Distance 62kms.
This was a day of 2 halves. A lovely calm morning and we all enjoyed breakfast sitting around the picnic table again. Packed up we were ready for an 8.30am start.
We cycled along the valleys, very pleased that being Sunday we didn’t have any loaded logging trucks go past. After 26kms we made a left turn and headed the 4 kms down to Whangara, the settlement where the film Whale Rider was shot. From the top of the hill can look over to the marae and see the sculpture of a white whale with a rider on the back.
Heading back to SH 35 the southerly picked up and by the time we reached the coast again cycling conditions were unpleasant. The beaches would be great to stop at on a calm day but folk were packing up in the blustery conditions. We had a brief lunch stop at Wainui, then onto the cycle trail into Gisborne.
Later in the day we all walked into town heading for the RSA, which was closed. However nearby we found Breakers one of the only restaurants opened on a Sunday evening. Amongst the 60’s American styled decor we refueled on lamb shanks, pork belly, schnitzel or fish. Then on our way back to camp, a detour to Pak n Save for ice cream and cones.
Day 6. Rest day in Gisborne.
Meeting at 8am most of us decided to head into town for an all day breakfast. We found Nina’s Kitchen open and ready to welcome us this Monday morning. After dining we dispersed in various directions – bike shop, coffee, washing, sleeping, checking out the town, geocaching and restocking breakfast and lunch supplies.
Monday evening our dining choices were again very limited as most restaurants did not open again till Tuesday pm. However we found the Chinese Palace and 11 of us all sat around a circular table. The waitress was keen for us to all order the banquet meal $33 per head but we decided to order individually. Service was prompt, meals delicious and the evening was enjoyed by all.
Day 7. Gisborne to Eastwoodhill Arboretum. Distance 38kms.
Our group decided on a 9am start. Carol and Lyn detoured to Pak n Save to buy fresh chickens then caught up with the group for morning coffee at Gisborne Airport. Lots of passengers, wearing masks, waiting around for the Auckland flight. Leaving the airport we passed the Aviation Museum and popped in where the restorers showed us around. All the aircraft are still operational except the Douglas DC3 and the Grumman Avenger (with folding wings).
Next stop was a cemetery to find the Poverty Bay Monument. A previous evening we had shared the story of the Matawhero ‘massacre’, an infamous incident during the Maori Wars when Te Kooti and his followers killed 54 folk. This was his utu for his 1866 exile to the Chatham Islands.
The next 25kms from the outskirts of Gisborne we were cycling on flat roads passed vineyards, orchards of kiwifruit, citrus, apples and fields of corn and pumpkins. In places the lavender hedges were in full bloom. Up a hill and we arrived at Eastwoodhill Arboretum. Spread over 131 hectares is the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the Equator and over 25kms of walking tracks. After sharing lunch in the well equipped kitchen most of us went for a walk in the gardens or among the trees.it
Over the last few days much planning had gone towards our last communal meal. Carol, Janette, June and Livia prepared potatoes, kumara, pumpkin and beetroot for roasting. John and Neale roasted 3 chickens and made gravy. We finished off this hearty meal with apple pie and custard.
Day 8. Eastwoohhill Arboretum to Motu. Distance 84km.
It had rained intermittently during the night and the drizzle continued while we enjoyed breakfast in the warmth. All too soon it was time to put on wet weather cycling gear and face the elements.
First stop was just along the road at the picturesque Rere Falls, quite a spectacular sight with the overnight rain.
Further on is Rere Rock Slide, a 60 metre natural waterslide, not enticing in the cold today but popular in summer. It is recommended you use a boogie board, inner tube or wear a wetsuit.
We had a break from drizzle during morning coffee but the wet was more persistent after that while cycling on 27kms of gravel. June had a problem with her pedals and resorted to riding in the van. Lyn couldn’t unlock the steering wheel at the start of her turn to drive but Neale came to the rescue, cycling back 4kms! Lunch had been grabbing some snacks along the way so we were all pleased to reach Matawai where the majority warmed up with a pie. It was then 15kms downhill to the Motu Community Centre. After unloading the van we changed into warm clothes, had showers, hot drinks and a late lunch. The afternoon was spent relaxing by the fire while drying out wet clothing and footwear.
The local community had prepared a delicious evening meal for our group – roast pork and trimmings, chicken, potato gratin, broccoli/cauliflower salad and to finish the meal rhubarb/apple crumble, ice cream and cream.
Boris, the Russian blueboar pig was thrilled to clean up all the bones and food scraps. We spent the evening relaxing by the fire.
Day 9. Motu to Opotiki. Distance 65kms
During the night a couple of showers arrived but by morning the skies were much brighter. It was business as usual as we enjoyed breakfast, packed up the van, then headed off about 8.30am.
Leaving Motu on the gravelly coach road we encountered the first of 3 decent climbs up Taumatakaretu Hill, ascending from 500 to 790 metres over 6 kilometers. The surface was a little muddy in places after yesterday’s drizzle but generally the whole 48kms of Motu gravel was very rideable. Everyone enjoyed the long downhills – Carol our leader for the day clocked a top speed of 39km/hr. The scenery varied, remote bush, isolated lush valleys, panoramic views in all directions and only several vehicles past us. Simon managed to get another puncture, quickly sorted with lots of help.
The highpoint, almost 800m, is the most common drop-off for riders doing the Pakihi Track, almost downhill to the track start near the coast. The track had just reopened after a recent slip. The following day, Janette and her friend planned to ride back UP the Motu road, stay for the night in the Pakihi Hut then cycle on the track back to Opotiki!
We found great spots for both morning coffee and our last shared lunch.
During the final 10km to the coast we encountered a team of horses grazing beside the road. Livia, our keen horsewoman, guided us passed a couple of the runaways. After 10 days our group reached SH 35 again, a brisk tailwind propelled us back to Opotiki Holiday Park, where we unloaded the support van, collected our gear and set off ready for our next journey.
11 cyclists, 9 days cycling, rest day in Gisborne, 598kms, 125kms gravel, 4 e-bikes, 1 support vehicle. Hearty thanks to all the crew who contributed in various ways – Simon, Carol, Brian, John, Phil, Janette, June, Livia, Maurice, Neale, Lyn – for a successful and enjoyable ACTA cycle tour.