How the idea came to be
…After many hours spent pouring over the map of Wellington region I figured that the best way to further venture into and explore its backyard (the Wairarapa that is) was by bicycle. The relative inaccessibility of the Wairarapa (for the driving licence-less souls) added to its charm and appeal and so did the limited information about the coastal track passed the Pencarrow Light House (known as the Wild Coast). As there was somewhat limited info on the so called Wild Coast, I checked with the local iSITE and DOC centres in town if it was walk-able / cycle-able and to my delight the answer was yes. Now I needed to get a suitable bicycle from somewhere.
Life is so much better when shared, esp. with friends
The way I see it is that this ride was meant to be as my friend Bethan fortuitously happened to have a mountain bike and was happy to lend it to me (thank you for being so trusting, dear friend — muahahaha!). Now that I had the means to go about my plans I got chatting with people about my intentions and the advice I got was unequivocally: do not go alone (ie you sound pretty clueless), have puncture repair kit on you (plus, learn how to use it), test your gears to make sure you’re comfortable with the bicycle, and have a plan B in case you get stuck and things go wrong.
I did follow all of the above pieces of advice.
FRIEND FINDING: One great thing about Wellington, New Zealand in general, is that it attracts a lot of people with a passion for the outdoors. I have made friends with some amazing people who have pushed my passion for outdoor adventures to levels I have never dreamt possible. My friend, Kaleb, who does not need much persuasion for pretty much any outdoor activity under the sun, agreed to come along no questions asked. Cannot thank you enough, Kaleb, for putting up with my snail pace. His advice was to test ride the bike before we went as it’s a longish ride and simply being on the saddle for that long needed a little bit of practice (in hindsight the more practice the better).
GEAR TESTING: Sure enough I was out test riding the bike, and figuring out what the gears did the following day. On my test ride, I covered around 36 km in 2 hours and 30 minutes and was pretty confident we would perhaps need 6 hours to complete the ride now that I have had some practice but allowed an extra hour in my estimates to be on the safe side (and good thing I did). I was also pretty smug that I had ‘figured out’ the gears. But had I really!
PUNCTURE PREPAREDNESS: I got myself a spry puncture repair bottle which only requires a little spritz into the tire pressure valve. How awesome is that! I assume it works okay as luckily I never got to test it.
PLAN B 1: Get off the bike and push it for several hours to the nearest road then get a taxi to pick you up or be bold and hitchhike.
PLAN B 2: Be annoying and ask Kaleb’s lovely partner to pick you up from wherever.
With all our bases covered we were ready for the ride.
What you do not know cannot hurt you
We did the ride on a clear, windless summer’s day in late March. The day began with an early morning ferry ride across from Queen’s Wharf in the CBD to Days Bay which is a pretty cool thing in and of itself. It is not unusual that the ferry gets accompanied by pods of leaping dolphins which is always a cheerful site to see but no such luck that particular morning.
We were off riding at 8.15 am sharp. The first half of the coastal section of the ride is over the unsealed Pencarrow Road which was easy to ride on and did not take all that long to complete. Right in front of us we had a clear view of the Kaikouras, to the right was Wellington City beaming in all its morning glory and to the left were the luminous rolling green hills of the Eastbourne Regional Park. What a treat! Then once passed the Pencarrow Light House the route veered to the left and we got to enjoy the vast expanse of the ocean and its palette of at least four hues of blue. Just after the Pencarrow Light House there is a section of land which is private property but the owners keep the gates open and are cyclist friendly.
We continued on the Pencarrow Road and just before we got to the light house at Baring Head went up a steep hill on the left which took us on to the unsealed section of Coast Road. As I was struggling up the hill and simultaneously bragging to my friend how the bicycle loved this type of surface, he pointed out that I may want to change gears so it was easier for me to pedal up the hill. It did help changing gears, I must admit. Jeez, does one get more clueless than this I wondered. Anyhow, we cycled further inland away from the coast for a couple of kilometers where the road took a sharp right turn and after a steep decent merged into the sealed section of Coast Road. We then rode to the bottom of Coast Road and turned right to enter into the Wild Coast trail, the second half of the coastal section of the track. This part of the track took twice as long as the first half to complete as it’s sandy and bouldery. Although this section was tiring and got tedious at times, it was also fun because the landscape was varied. We had full view of Cape Palliser in the distance to the right and the varying landscape of the Rimutakas to the left, ranging from solid rock formations to vertical slopes covered in native bush. Also, we had to cross few streams, which was great fun!
We got to the end of the coastal section, which is 40 km in total, by 12.15 pm, four hours since we had begun the ride. The next 44 km were over sealed road, Western Lake Road, which is the less popular bottom part of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail. The ride started with two massive hills which was a bit frightening as the original plan was to make it to Featherston in time for the 4 pm train back to Wellington. Luckily, there were no more big hills after that. However, I was still a lot slower than my friend and we agreed to ride separately. Even if I did not make it for the 4 pm train (which seemed very possible, considering how slow I was at this point) there was another one at 8 pm or I could just check into a hotel for the night.
I enjoyed this section of the ride with Lake Wairarapa to the right and the long smooth road ahead. I am always taken aback by how different Wellington and the Wairarapa are climatically. The Wairarapa is somewhat less humid and feels a few degrees hotter and much drier than Wellington. All of which made me very, very thirsty. And saw the end of my water supplies well before I made it to Featherston. My friend had my back covered once more, though. Few kilometers outside of Featherston I spotted him riding down in my direction on the opposite side of the road. He had an extra bottle of water which he shared with me. Tepid, tea-temperature water has never tasted so good! I got to Featherston before 3 pm which was about 7 hours since we had begun the ride that morning. Was I sore (quite literally couldn’t fully extend my paws from clutching on to the handle bars the entire 7 hours till two days after the ride, and don’t let me get started on the impracticalities of sitting down). But what an amazing adventure that was! With an hour to kill in Featherston we headed off to the Bakery (the faster one of us had had time to squeeze in an extra visit) and treated ourselves to some baked goodies. Good food is always the best way to finish an adventure of any sort.
This was definitely way out of my comfort zone, and although doing things I am not good at is very scary I still do them ever so often just because there is fun to be had and great memories to be made so that any temporary discomfort is worth putting up with.