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If it rains, go swimming! New Zealand Week Three

 

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If it rains, go swimming! New Zealand Week Three
Trounson Kauri Park to Waikaretu (Nikau Caves), 272km (Total so far 702km cycled)

Over six months of cycling, it’s gonna rain. Despite our lucky track record of great weather on bike trips, we knew we’d be in for the odd string of soggy days. And when it gets wet, we both get a bit grouchy. But Heron and Sitka schooled us on finding gold (or rather, gum) in mud.

imageThe week began with a literal load off – after more hiking in more majestic Kauri forest, we unpacked all of our gear at a tourist centre in Dargaville, to purge the un-absolutely-necessary bits in our bags and mail 65 pounds of excess weight (including the trailer cases themselves) ahead to our endpoint at Invercargill.

Our Bike Friday tandems fold into two hard-shell suitcases for easy transport by air or bus, and those cases convert into a handy trailer system that tows behind our bikes. But all that space leads to overpacking, excess weight and grumpy Daddy on many every uphill. So we ditched the trailer and the weight, for happier cycling. We felt so smart until the man at the post office said, “Yeah I see this once a week at least.” Apparently Dargaville’s the spot where everybody resolves to lighten their load.

imageNonetheless, as we packed everything we’d need for three months onto our steel steeds, a giddy sense of freedom flowed with us on the first day of our trailer-free bike tour.

Our bellies were full of gourmet breakfast thanks to our wonderful new friends Gerrard and Lorraine (who had offered up their lawn in Dargaville a week before, after briefly meeting us at a campground), and we made a steep climb up to the Dargaville Museum – at Heron’s insistence – where we were fascinated by the local history of Dalmatian immigrants (from present-day Croatia) who dug for the amber-like gum of the mighty Kauri tree around the turn of the century, as well as scenes from New Zealand’s pioneer days (Heron’s favourite subject at the moment), tales of shipwrecks in nearby Kaipara Harbour, and centuries-old Maori war canoes.

The rain started slowly at first that afternoon as we hummed along some gorgeous countryside; then it began to downpour and didn’t let up. We were drenched through our rain jackets even before we hit a long gravel road that quickly became a mud pit. All four wheels were rubbing and slurping with caked-on slop, and our resolve to stay positive eroded with each new hill and turn until we were muttering curse words to ourselves, both yearning for and dreading our arrival and inevitable tent-making in the teeming storm.

But Heron and Sitka didn’t notice the fouling of our mood – for each time we were forced to dismount and push, they became Heron and Sitka Land-Gillovich, immigrant gumdiggers seeking their fortune in the pooling muck. Being shown a sopping pile of sandstone goo every few minutes was sufficiently adorable to defuse our parental aversion to dirty hands and keep us slogging on.

imageThe boys’ merry karma served us well. We arrived after nightfall at the campground, resigned to erect our tent on a concrete slab under an awning, when a red truck pulled up. Ernie said his wife Sylvia had told him to go fetch the miserable-looking family she spotted from the window of their summer vacation home, and bring them in for a night’s reprieve in their spare bedrooms. It was a lovely evening with more new friends – these ones with freshly picked avocados and hot Milo for the boys, who slept instantly and happily with dreams of Kauri gum dancing in their heads.

imageThe next day it rained mercilessly again as we trudged back up the gravel road with the brothers Land-Gillovich, arriving at last to Pouto Point, where a room full of bunk beds perked us all up, and we took the boys’ cue by suggesting a rainy swim and stone-skipping session in the Tasman Sea. The freedom of thumbing our noses at the weather gods felt insanely good as we drifted on our backs on the shallow beach. We even had time for some crucial bike maintenance, scrubbing off the grit and rust to get our trusty tandems back to working order.

imageNext day, more rain, but an old fisherman named Rod made it awesome by ferrying us on his chugging charter boat across the treacherous Kaipara Harbour to avoid a 150km detour. Rod was a great sport, merrily fielding three hours of questions from the boys about his boat and fishing and the shipwrecks below. He even had a bin of cookies that made him an instant legend.

imageimageAgain, the rain wouldn’t dampen the boys’ spirits as we stumbled on a hot springs resort with a huge hot tub with an open roof letting in the drizzle, and a humongous hydro slide. We hesitated, but Heron pointed out that we would get wet anyways, so we might as well be in our togs (Kiwi for bathing suits). So we frolicked at the water park all afternoon, carefree about the clouds with almost nobody else around to share the slides with. And at our muddy campsite, we grumbled that the wet wouldn’t let up, while the boys found sticks and built a miniature house with bunk beds and a kitchen table.

At long last, after four days of rain, we got our relief at a splendid Warmshowers host, just outside Auckland. Mark and Moira, and their cool kids Zac and Talia, became fast new friends as our wet-dog clothes got laundered and our soppy gear dried out in a brief blast of sun. The boys all played battleship and learned new card games, we had a spectacular shared meal, and we left the next morning feeling like we had stopped off at home to get refreshed and replenished for the next stage of our trip.

imageWe’ve been happy to meet so many local folks who’ve offered up excellent route advice – Mark guided us along a fabulous ride into downtown Auckland, over the famous pink bike highway (a disused motorway off-ramp spruced up by the city) and along the beautiful Auckland waterfront that we’d planned to skip altogether.image

imageimageWe still took the commuter train out past the city sprawl (our tandems just barely squeezed in), and were rewarded for enduring all that rain with the most spectacular campsite so far, overlooking the undulating farm hills of the Waikato River valley at Pukekawa. The sunset was sublime, and our host Penny tipped us off to our next treat – a detour to Waikaretu where the boys made four new friends their age at a picturesque homestead, and where tomorrow we’ll explore some of New Zealand’s glow-worm caves, well out of the way of all the touristy shtick.

Whatever the weather, when you’re traveling with two gumdiggers likes ours, adventure reigns.

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Week 3 summary by Sitka: “Week Three was the best week ever because hydro slides are awesome!”

Week 3 summary by Heron: “This was a beautiful week with so many beautiful views. Auckland was beautiful too.” (He seems to have already forgotten the days that he wrote “Hilly. Rainy. Muddy,” in his journal.)

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7 Comments

  1. Glad to hear that all is well, and I’m enjoying reading about your adventures!

  2. Peggy Land says:

    Love hearing every well-chosen word and so many pics, best of all to know you are thriving on this adventure-filled voyage of discovery and family time. Yay boys for being such good sports and for their awesome parents! More! More!!

  3. Andy I. says:

    I love these pictures – what an adventure! Miss you Heron.

    Your friend, Andy

    1. Terra Life says:

      Hi andy, this is heron! Your family should come and bike with us for a bit here!

  4. Lucy Klein Horsman says:

    Glad to see you visited the glow worm caves. I was fascinated with those caves when we visited New Zealand.:)

  5. Saralyn says:

    So wonderfully written I *feel* the experience. Incredible!!!! Sending love.

  6. Robin L says:

    I’m smiling as I read this and hear your voice in the words, aren’t kids the best! Love and hugs to you all, can’t wait to hear about your next week

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