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My epic cycle journey, 1990

In 1990 I embarked on a solo 1500km cycle trip around the central North Island of New Zealand.

Averaging approximately 100 km/day over mountainous terrain, I journeyed from my home town of Woodville up the East coast via Napier, Wairoa and Lake Waikaremoana to Tauranga and then returned via Hamilton and Waitomo Caves down the West coast through Stratford and Wanganui to home again.

The above map is from memory. Some roads may have changed since the time and the stops are close approximations. I took a camera on the trip, but a problem with loading the film means I only have these memories.

It was an adventure of physical endurance as well as personal growth. Leaving home on Good Friday, the trip was a pilgrimage and time for spiritual reflection.

About 15 minutes into my journey, I got a puncture in the back wheel about 6km from home. My bike was fully loaded with gear. Pannier bags on the front and back for clothing, food, camping gear, sleeping bag, etc. All that had to come off so I could change the tube. Undeterred, I continued on. I passed another cyclist going up the first hill out of Dannevirke. I stopped for lunch in Ongaonga and again at 100 Km from home where I saw the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

I stayed overnight with relatives in Napier. They knew I was coming but were not expecting to see me so soon.

The journey on to Wairoa was hill after hill after hill. I went to a Catholic vigil service at the church there, but felt unwelcomed, out of place and alone.

On Easter Sunday I arrived at the summit of the Lake Road as the sun was setting. I had left Wairoa close to sea level that morning and now I was almost 1000 metres up with steep drops on the side of the narrow gravel road. It was the middle of nowhere. The last building was about an hour or two behind me. And it was getting dark. 

I prayed:

God, give me light.

My bike lamp illuminated a tiny section of the road in front of me. With the gravel road it bumped around a lot. The moon was full but it had not come up yet. I was heading downhill on a road I had never travelled before. In the dark.

Then the tiny dots of glow worms appeared along the side of the road.

My prayer had been answered. I still had no idea of where I would spend the night.

Ruatahuna is a tiny village. It had a petrol station / general store / motel. I think I was the only guest. The lady who owned the shop told me to sneak in the back to settle up in the morning so she wouldn’t have to open up so early for the locals.

I got another puncture the next day on the gravel road out of the forest.

In Kawerau I stayed with my grandparents for two nights, then I continued along the Pacific Ocean coast to Mt Maunganui to stay with more relatives.

Cycling up hills usually took an hour or more. Coming down was a lot faster. On one hill I reached a maximum speed of 66 Km/h if I remember correctly.

Over the other side of the Kaimai Ranges I passed a truck.

I stayed at a camping ground in Hamilton when I arrived there, but made some friends among the students at Waikato University Christian Fellowship and they offered me their couch for a few nights. 

On Anzac Day as I was saying goodbye to one my new friends, she said “I’ll see you in heaven if not before”. I replied, “If I’m good enough to get there”. She then explained from Ephesians 2:8-9 that it is by grace that we are saved and not by works. I spent a lot of time thinking about that on my journey home.

I arrived at Waitomo Caves and there was no accommodation at the hotel. A Hamilton friend had given me a phone number for their relative who lived nearby. I called them and they put me up for the night. They worked as tour guide and gave me a tour of the caves in the morning. More glow worms!

I cycled onwards towards the Taranaki coast of the Tasman Sea and met rain. Some of my gear had been soaked with a downpour in Hamilton. Now I was soaked too. I dried out and stayed in a campground in Awakino overnight. I tried fishing on the beach. No bites.

I journeyed on staying the next night in Stratford and then meeting and staying with friends in Wanganui.

Tail winds sped me home to Woodville from there. I averaged 25 Km/h for the last leg of the journey.

All up the trip was about 1200 Km and took  17 days, (11 cycling, 6 resting).

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