As I walked out of the dairy in Tikitiki I heard a stranger say “safe journey young lady, safe journey.” I turned around and spotted an elderly Maori man perched on a bench outside the barbers shop. As I jumped back on my bike I thanked him and he nodded. A big smile spread across his face as he watched me pedal away.

That is the kind of thing I’ll remember the East Cape for.

Last Wednesday I walked into a bike shop to buy a few repair tools and I walked out with half price pannier bags. Four days later – after watching the RWC final – I set off on a solo cycle tour around the East Cape, starting at Okere Falls. I had a map, a general plan of where I was going each day and everything I needed to be self-sufficient.

It didn’t take long for the reality of touring with a full-suspension mountain bike with chunky tyres, packed to the brim with camping gear, to set in. But as always the thought of ‘character building’ won and it wasn’t long before tired legs gave way to singing, contemplating the world and soaking up my surroundings.

I was excited to finally reach the coast near Opotiki and spent my first night camping on Waiotahi Beach surrounded by driftwood. I met a friendly artist from Napier who told me tales about his cycle trip around Australia, which started as a pub-bet. He bid me farewell and I climbed into my sleeping bag before 8pm.

Stopping for road works at the top of a hill on the way around the coast, I was greeted by a bunch of larrikin road workers. “There are more big hills ahead, you’re gonna need some fish n chips in the next town, girl” (in a ‘Maori voice’) one said as I headed off. They were right, and I did get some hot chips at a roadside shop later in the day! I was entertained by comments from drivers and the relentless toots from truckies. Ah, what top-notch lads.

“Be careful Dulkara, the east cape is dodgy. Have you seen the movie Boy? It’s like that,” a friend warned me the day I left home. Two days later I was sitting in the local pub at Waihau Bay, where Boy was filmed. It happened to be a special locals night, with a free keg of beer and a community pot-luck. There were 48 other people at the pub and I was the only pakeha! I grabbed a seat and asked if I could join a group of middle-aged women. Before I knew it, I’d been whole-heartedly welcomed into their group and was being introduced to everyone in the pub. They shouted me drinks, fed me well and I was even picked up from the beach at 7am and taken back to someone’s house for a cooked breakfast! I was sent on my way with a few tips and a big hug.

The next day, at the end of the road by the East Cape lighthouse, I approached a local man about getting some drinking water. I came away from the conversation with the keys to the 4 bedroom holiday house right next to the lighthouse! I enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower, electricity and my pick of 4 bedrooms (I ended up crashing on the floor in the lounge in my sleeping bag!)

One of the highlights of my trip was hanging out at the East Cape lighthouse. I enjoyed watching the sun go down, gazing out over East Island, imagining life there as a lighthouse keeper. The wind picked up and the howling was relentless. I walked the 700 and something steps up to the lighthouse 3 times that afternoon/evening, and again in the morning for sunrise.

After East Cape, I had a very hilly inland ride to Tokomaru Bay. Somewhere not very much near anywhere, an angry guard-dog chased me down the road for a good few hundred metres. Adrenaline kicked in and I was off like a rocket! It had started to rain after lunch and I was sick of being inland, so I took up an offer of a free ride with a courier driver to Gisborne. I then jumped on a bus to Rotorua the next morning and biked back to Okere Falls, arriving mid-afternoon.

Fine kiwi cuisine

I enjoyed NZs finest cuisine. Although ice creams lack nutritional value in terms of a sports food, the psychological edge gained from fantasizing over my next tip top cone far outweighed the poor CHO/protein/fat ratios!

At some point during the 4 big days riding I consumed: a steak and cheese pie, a sausage roll, $1 mixture, cookie time, flavoured milk, ham and cheese toastie and hot chips. Reasonable effort for small-town NZ dairies eh?

What a trip!

It’s definitely a place that rewards people who throw themselves into the community and talk to the locals. It was great to have no cellphone reception, beautiful isolated beaches and stunning weather. Apart from being chased by a few dogs, swooped on by 2 magpies and being stung in the ear by a bee, it was a peaceful trip. I had some great discussions with locals about mining, the pros and cons of the social welfare system and Maori culture. And…the tarmac gods were kind to me – I’m proud to say that with 5-10hrs riding each day, I didn’t get one puncture. Not one!

Back to Okere Falls

I arrived back home mid-afternoon, dropped my bike and had a bite to eat and headed straight to the put-in for an afternoon paddle. Perfect as my upper body had just been cruising for 5 days! Bring on a weekend of Kaituna paddling before heading South to the Bliss-Stick factory near Taihape.

Until the next adventure.

Dulkara

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