Day 1. Monday 10th May, 2021. Raetihi to Whanganui. Distance 80km, climbing 1030m.
Sunday was a day of drizzle as we drove south to Raetihi. Thirteen keen cyclists checked into the Raetihi Holiday Park either in cabins or motorhomes. Next morning at breakfast time the kitchen was a hive of activity as we fuelled up on porridge, muesli, toast and filled flasks for the day ahead. The skies had cleared by 8.30am and our group gathered for a compulsory photo before heading down SH 4 to Whanganui.
Every 10kms we stopped to regroup and take time to gaze at the rugged steep hillsides dropping down to the Mangawhero stream. After about 30kms we arrived at Raukawa Lookout, time for morning coffee and snacks while we looked down at the waterfall.
On our journey we passed a couple of schools, many farmhouses and woolsheds, a mug fence, a few cattle but mostly sheep on the hills. The autumn colours were just stunning – deep reds, oranges and yellows.
Lunch was at about 50kms sitting against fences at the top of one of the 7 significant Parapara hill climbs. Then downhill to the junction of SH4 and the Whanganui River Road, onto Upokongaro where a new cycling/walking bridge crosses the Whanganui river.
It was 7km along a river path to the holiday park. Unfortunately about 3km from our destination the temperature dropped, rain started so we were all pleased to check into our accommodation and warm up in the showers. Everyone decided to dine in rather than cycle a further 3km to the nearest eatery.
Day 2. Tuesday. Out and about in Whanganui.
Another fine day with rain forecast for the evening. At 9am we gathered at the top of the road for the obligatory photoshoot.
Cycling along the road, then path following the Whanganui River, Margaret had requested we all check out the i site, park bikes outside and have a coffee at the adjacent cafe.
Then we split up to spend the day how we wanted. Some visited art/ceramic galleries, glass blowing, friends, bike shops, supermarkets, museums or walked around the town admiring some of the murals. A group cycled to The Yellow House to enjoy an all day breakfast, salads and quiche.
The city cycle path continues 8kms to Castlecliff and the river mouth. There was a brisk headwind so it was great to arrive at the holiday park, shower and relax. Fish, chips and burgers from the local dairy was the dinner choice for most. We spent a quiet night relaxing, chatting and checking out the wind blown beach.
Day 3. Wednesday. Castlecliff to Mangamahu. Distance 70kms. Climbing 690m.
At 9am after a night of rain the weather cleared briefly so we assembled outside the holiday park for a photo before heading to the mouth of the Whanganui River. The wind was howling in with the breakwater having little effect. Some of the homes in Castlecliff are rather weather beaten as southerlies race across the landscape. We retraced our route along the top of the stopbank before crossing the river on the most westerly bridge.
Putiki church door was open today so we peeked inside but didn’t linger as a school group was being given a talk. After a short cycle to the south side of town we grind our way up the steep Durie Hill and a short stop at the Memorial Tower and elevator (not working).
Drizzle started along with a temperature drop as the next hour we cycled along the hilltops to Fordell. Out of the cool wind the local bus shelter proved to be the ideal spot to squeeze in for morning coffee. Several headed across the road to the local garage for a hot pie.
The sealed road then dropped down into the valleys, lush paddocks, lots of trees, fields of dried corn, cattle, a few sheep surrounded by very steep hillsides. After crossing a second bridge we found a pretty nice lunch spot inside a farm gate.
Just as we were finishing refueling our engines the temperature dropped, the cold wind increased in intensity so we high tailed it along the road to Mangamahu settlement. The local church was the most picturesque upkept building, the hotel and shop had seen better days.
For 12 kms the winding, undulating road followed a very muddy Mangamahu stream, until we reached bridge 54 and High Peaks Farm Stay.
Most walked up the steep, wet, gravel track to our accommodation- shearers quarters, sleep out and farm house. It was a cold night so thankfully our hosts, Stuart & Michelle, had a roaring fire going in the house. We had all carried some food to prepare a communal dinner – sausages (cooked on the barbecue), potatoes, salads and garlic bread. After our delicious meal time to celebrate Maria’s birthday with a delicious chocolate cake.
Day 4. Thursday. Mangamahu to Ohakune. Distance 62kms. Climbing 1038m.
With a cool temperature of 5 degrees early riser Marlene was up at 6.30am to stoke the fire providing warmth before our 8.30 departure.
The farm house group headed down the hill to pick up guys from the shearers quarters, back across bridge 54 before heading north. The up and down sealed road continued to follow the brown Mangamahu stream passing lovely homesteads and green pasture surrounded by high hills on both sides of the valley.
After about 20kms the road turned to gravel at the bottom of Burma Hill, 11% assent! The 4 electric bikers cycled up, the rest of us pushed loaded steeds 1.3kms up the steep, sandy climb. The tandem needed several extra helping hands but eventually all reached the top and a well earned morning coffee rest. It was apparent there are often slips on this back road but they seem to get cleared regularly.
After a long descent we turned into the sealed Whangaehu Valley Road before another significant climb to our lunch stop at the top. Sun was breaking through the clouds but a cool wind kept the temperature low.
About 20kms from SH49 there was the first view of Ruapehu, the top dressed in white, then many more glimpses as we got closer. Then after cycling about 7kms along the main road we turned into Rangataua township, along a back road to Ohakune and the Alpine Motel. All pleased to arrive with the mountain wind making it bitterly cold. Later we walked to an Italian restaurant for a meal – pizza, risotto or pasta. Ohakune temperature forecast for the night was 0 degrees.
Day 5. Friday. Ohakune to Raetihi. Distance 18kms.
Woke up to a cool minus 2 degrees with a white ground and brilliant blue skies overhead. Our group had decided on a 9am start to give time for the morning to warm up. Bikes were all loaded for our short cycle back to Raetihi. First stop for the group photo was at the children’s playground and big carrot on the outskirts of Ohakune.
Our group then cycled about 5kms along the main road before a back loop road detour. The wind was still very cool, especially in the shade, with frost on the grass verges and ice on the top of puddles. Along the way we saw carrots growing in a couple of paddocks and harvesting machinery.
Arriving back in Raetihi we gathered at a cafe on the sunny side of the main street to enjoy a final coffee and cake together. After coffee Neale decided to check out the cafe opposite arriving back with a scrumptious home made bacon & egg pie and reporting that meat pies were still in the oven.
Then it was around the corner to the holiday park to unload panniers, store bikes on vehicles, say our farewells and purchase freshly cooked pies from the cafe before leaving Raetihi.
Huge thank you Margaret for your wonderful organization and making our Raetihi/Whanganui/Ohakune tour a very memorable cycling journey.