After back surgery a few years ago, I was advised to do low impact exercises, such as swimming and biking. Biking is not nearly as zen as swimming, although it can be on a bike trail without traffic. I often lose my cares and worries pumping up a hill and gliding down the other side. While I could travel from A to B in a car, biking the same ground provides a chance to photograph flowers up close, pet horses, and picnic on a hillside. Laying in the soft grass, exhausted from pedaling 25 miles, brings back my childhood.
New Zealand is not a country with roads conducive to biking unless you have a death wish. John hoped he could bike the 14 kilometers to work each day and leave me the loaner car. However, the road from Ahipara to Kaitaia is a two-way, two-lane road, with little to no shoulder. (Hikers coming off 90 Mile beach are warned to be cautious when hiking that road as hills and curves impact visibility.) In our quest to continue biking while here, we found great designated trails.
90 Mile Beach:
While not technically a trail, we have used the beach as a place to ride. The beach at low tide is wide enough to accommodate a plane ( this is the emergency plan for Barrier Air flights that take off from little Kaitaia airport and need to make an unscheduled landing). With hard-packed sand and just a few water crossings, the beach is a nice, no-incline ride. We cross the River of Souls when it is barely an inch deep, and head north. Tua Tua (clam) diggers and torpedo fisherman are out, and if we are lucky, we get to see Josephine and Eugene, a beautiful chestnut mare and her foal. Disadvantages: 1) a great back wind going north turns into a wicked headwind on the return trip 2)Cleaning sand out of the gears
The Twin Coast Trail:
This beauty stretches from Horeke eastward across the Northland region to Opua, near the Bay of Islands. The trail replaced a now-defunct rail line and travels through Okaihau (no gas station and one cafe) and on to Kaihoke, which is a happening place in terms of bike towns. The town boasts of a Pioneer Village, a Countdown Supermarket, a New World supermarket (Kaitaia only has a Pack-N-Save), a KFC, and the Bank Bar! The latter is a renovated old bank building with an unusual assortment of characters, including an older Mauri gentleman in cowboy gear. The beer was cheap, but the food limited. The scenery on the trail was fantastic and so peace-filled, except for the cow we encountered in the middle of the path. Disadvantages: Every mile or so, sometimes more frequently, there are barriers to keep out the motorcycles. This means you dismount, pass your bike through as you walk around the barrier.
The Hauraki Bike trail:
This trail can be taken from Auckland all the way to Te Aroha, a distance of 112 kilometers. Before you are impressed, we did not do the whole thing. We started in Paeroa, and did a section that heads towards Waikino, ending in Waihi. We think we did at least 40 kilometers round trip, although probably more. You can stop along the way to do the Windows Walk at the Karangehake Gorge. An old rail line for an abandoned ore mine features spots (“windows”) where you walk through an old mine shaft and look out on the gorge. If the rain is good, the water rushing through the gorge can be thrilling. At Waikino, a small town on the trail, is a restored train depot, with train rides and a great cafe. A 37-kilometer addition to this trail is planned to be completed in 2019. South from Paeroa is Te Aroha, only 20 minutes by car, and we stayed overnight after a much-needed soak in the Te Aroha mineral baths. Disadvantages: None
I think one of my favorite places in New Zealand is Kaikoura on the South Island. The town suffered a significant earthquake in 2016, yet remains very charming. Mountains behind you and the ocean in front of you- hard to beat the views. We biked this trail, which is truly mountain biking, through woods and backcountry. We opted to not do the actual mountain climb on bikes, as the trail to the mountain was challenging enough. This trail is an actual loop that follows the Kowhai and Hapuku Rivers and ascends up the mountains. The forest we biked through was wonderful, and that part of the trail spills out into farmland. Disadvantages: Just a sore tush from all the bumps.
Alps 2 Ocean:
A popular South Island trail, Alps 2 Ocean stretches over 300 kilometers from Aoraki(Mt. Cook Village) to Oamaru on the Pacific Ocean. We had a blast biking a section of this trail from Twizel to Lake Pukaki. While sections can be challenging, much of the ride was over wide open areas with great vistas. Lake Pukaki is one of a series of lakes in the region and is stunning in color and has Mt. Cook as a backdrop. We stopped by a freshwater salmon farm and watched locals catching fish on the Ruataniwha Dam. The pizza in Twizel at the end of the ride was the best. I hope to complete more of this trail in the future.
The list of trails left to explore is long, and choosing one to do over another seems impossible. I would like to to do a multi-day bike trip with tents and sleeping bags and complete an entire trail from start to finish. I just need to find someone to cook me a meal at the end of each day. A glass of wine would be nice as well.