After our camper van adventure in the Northlands and our very restful and recalibrating stay with our friends in the Mount, it was time to finally hit the road and get back in the saddle again. We were both feeling pretty confident about the bike tune-up that we had gotten from a local bike shop: they had replaced our chains that had been worn down over 2500 km of riding, as well as my rear brake cable and brake pads, and a bolt holding Christian’s derailleur together that had mysteriously fallen off. We had biked back from the shop with no problems and our bikes were shiny clean again, ready for a new adventure. We packed up our panniers (which seemed to be way more full than they had when we got there, partly because Christian had purchased a tome of a book that he insisted on carrying around until he finished it, and I had purchased a sweatshirt because it was much colder than I though it was going to be), and loaded them on the bikes with Natalia’s help. Interested in seeing what it felt like to ride a fully loaded bike, Natalia wanted to take a test ride in the parking lot. Unfortunately the incompetent bike mechanic had forgotten to tighten the handlebars (a fact I hadn’t realized on the 3km bike ride back from the shop), and when she tried to turn around, they came loose and she almost fell off. So problem #1 and a hint that maybe the bike mechanics hadn’t put that much effort into our bikes after all. Great.
So we pulled away with the promise that we would see Al and Nati in Rotorua the next day, and set out into a gloriously sunny day with a brisk wind which we were beginning to realize is pretty much the default weather here in New Zealand. More on that later…
We had a pretty good idea of where we needed to go (Rotorua) and how we would get there (using Google map bike directions- which we were really excited about because we hadn’t had that option in Japan and knew it was going to save us the huge headache of getting lost, ending up either on highways bikes weren’t allowed on if using the driving directions or walking paths through fields, unsuitable for biking on). So we were optimistic, stopped for some groceries at the Countdown grocery along the way and were feeling pretty good to be back on the bikes at long last. Until we hit a highway that didn’t allow bicycles that Google maps biking directions had sent us to. Wonderful! There was a huge shoulder and we really didn’t see any other option so we pretended to ignore the signs and road along the state highway, pretending to be confident that the signs were wrong and we (with our trusty Google map directions) were right. Right…
After two exits and about 12 km later (during which I noticed that my brake pads hadn’t been set up properly so had to stop and readjust them), we finally came to an intersection, got off the highway and found signs for the bike route. Hurray!!
Feeling good, we stop for some lunch in a little field next to the truck pull-off and get back on our bikes, excited to be on the Rotorua bike route at long last. We imagine a nice path winding it’s way all the way to Rotorua and keeping us away from the cars that drive far too fast in our opinion here. But no, the Rotorua bike path only lasts a mere kilometre and then abruptly ends, sending us onto a side road that isn’t the toll road, but has all manner of trucks not wanting to pay the $3.70 toll fee. We steel ourselves against the sound of thundering trucks that feel far too close, pass through the town of Te Puke and are relieved when the Google directions finally take us off the busy road onto a side route that looks like it will cut out a bit of distance and be a lot more peaceful to ride on. The name of this road is Maungarangi Rd. and after 10 kilometres of biking, it turns into a gravel road. And then it gets steeper… and it keeps going like this for 6 gruelling kilometres until…
We could not believe it. We have reached a dead end after 16km and there is really no other choice but to turn back. It’s already 3:30pm and we have about 46km more to go. I feel like crying. I am absolutely exhausted at this point (I don’t seem to have my biking muscles anymore and my bike feels heavier than ever- not to mention the clicking noise every time my pedals rotate and the problems Christian is still having with his derailleur), but Christian is resolute that we have no choice and better just get on with it. I really, really don’t want to go back all that way and wrack my brain for a solution to save me from the misery of biking up and down more very steep hills on loose gravel and making it to Rotorua maybe by 9pm if we’re lucky and don’t get lost again. I notice on one of the signs blocking our way that there is a phone number to call to request permission to access the site, and I think if we call, maybe they’ll be nice and just let us through. We could lift our bikes over the fence if we really had to and surely it wouldn’t be that much further before we hit the real road again.
So I call, not expecting an answer, and a nice man on the other end picks up. When I tell him we’re trying to get to Rotorua and Google maps sent us this way, he is extremely sympathetic and genuinely worried for us. He tells me there is no way through on that road and we will end up lost in the middle of the forest if we try and go that way. My heart falls….But….He says he has some guys that are just finishing work for the day in a site close by and he can ask them to come and pick us up and drive us to Rotorua.
What?! For real?! I tell him we have two bikes and lots of stuff and he says, no worries, just turn around and they will be on the road shortly. I thank him profusely, still not believing our luck, and deliver the good news to Christian. We whoop with joy, and slowly start biking back, still a bit worried that no one will actually come for us. After about 20 minutes of biking (or walking my bike, in my case, up hills I can’t muster the energy to climb), a little white pickup truck pulls up.
“Are you here to save us?” I ask, and the window is wound down by a burly construction worker and his buddy in the passenger seat. Tracy Chapman is blasting on the speakers and they quickly jump out, laughing their heads off at us and eager to get our bikes in the back of the truck that doesn’t quite seem big enough. After a couple of tries, they both manage to fit and one of them chucks a gasoline can that won’t fit back in into the bush saying they’ll come back to get it on Monday, no worries.
We pile into the truck and before even introducing themselves, they pass back to us two cold bottles of beer. They’re pretty curious about what we’re doing at the end of a logging road and after finding out about Canada and our adventures, it’s time to turn the volume back up:
These two kiwi guys are as authentic as it gets. Luke and Jody are an absolute hoot, cracking jokes the whole time (between Tracy Chapman songs, of course. We are listening to the whole album). It’s Friday afternoon, they’re off for the weekend and ready to party. They have known each since they were kids and have a serious bromance going on. We are driving pretty fast and realize just how far away from Rotorua we actually were. As we get closer to the town, Luke decides to act as our tour guide, explaining all there is to do in town and the best extreme sports to try out. They are snapchatting the drive like crazy and keep getting calls from their girlfriends. They also keep honking their horn at people they don’t know pretending they do just for fun, and decide they should drop us off at the place Luke had to stay when his girlfriend kicked him out of the house. These two make a great little comedy duo and we just sit quietly in the back, partially in fear of our lives and possessions because Jody is driving pretty fast and keeps forgetting our bikes are on the back, and partially so grateful and so happy that we have been saved and get a cultural experience out of the bargain. The two pull up outside the Backyard Inn, unload our bikes, grab a photo, wish us well and drive off honking the horn the whole way. We are safely in Rotorua and we shake our heads over how wrong the day began, but just how right it ended up.
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.