Mis-Adventuring on the Coromandel
We’ve been having a heck of a time the last few days. First, we happen to be in New Zealand during a record rain storm – a once in 20 years sort of rain – that has been causing havoc around the country. We had to attempt to leave Waiheke Island twice by ferry. The first attempt was thwarted by the storm, which caused a cancellation of the ferry. On that day, we had enlisted the help of Tony, a bike advocate on the island and all around good bloke. It was a mad rush to the ferry landing in Orapiu, which we nearly didn’t make because Tony’s truck ran out of gas a few kilometers from the wharf. At one point, the truck stopped and stalled on a hill. We thought we were going to have to push it. It came back to life and had enough in it to make the top of the final hill, whereupon it coasted to the pier on nothing but fumes. All that drama… and then the ferry was cancelled. Tony’s son came to the rescue with a few gallons of petrol and we got a lift back to square one.
No matter, there was a break in the clouds the next day and we were determined to ride to the ferry landing this time. We packed up and pedaled off. It was our first real day of riding on this bicycle tour, so our legs were soft, but we managed up the climbs. Screaming down a hill a few kilometers from the wharf, Laura heard a god-awful screeching from her brakes. She stopped, barely managing to not crash into the bush. We took a look and found that one of her brake pads had fallen off! The screw that held the pad into the brake holder had vibrated off, and out slipped the brake pad. She had to ride really gingerly the last few kilometers and had to walk down some of the steeper hills. I did a quick inventory of our repair kit and we didn’t have any spare pads. Feeling like complete amateurs, we hoped for the best (that we would be able to find some brake pads in Coromandel).
The ride on the 360 Discovery Cruise ferry from Orapiu to Coromandel was lovely. We were actually really glad it was cancelled the day before, otherwise it would have not been a pretty sight. The ferry crew was cheerful and helpful. They didn’t question the bikes and helped us bring them aboard without so much as a blink. In the US, taking a loaded bike on a ferry or other transit almost always results in begging and pleading. Not the case here. In Coromandel, there was an awaiting bus to take us from the wharf to the town center. It was newly outfitted with bike racks only a few weeks old. Willie, our driver, was helpful and affable. We stuck the Bromptons in the boot of the bus with our backpacks and we were off.
Coromandel town is so named because it is on the Coromandel peninsula. In our heads we had imagined something a lot larger, but its main street lasts only about three or four blocks. In those few blocks, however, most of your needs are met. There are a few restaurants and pubs, a market, some fishing gear stores and what would be our eventual savior – a hardware store. There was no proper bike shop in Coromandel, so I figured our best bet would be the hardware store. Sure enough, there was a little shelf with a dusty array of lights, tubes (even 16 inch ones, presumably for kids bikes or wheelbarrows) and brake pads. Not a wide selection or even a brand you’d recognize, but they were there and we were grateful. I bought them and installed them right outside the hardware store to make sure they would work.
In Coromandel we stayed at the Tui Lodge that was very bicycle friendly. The woman that ran the place was accustomed to bicycle tourists and quickly offered us a towel. “I always give my cyclists towels because I know they can’t carry real ones.” She also had a small fleet of bicycles and bicycle helmets for guests to use. What has struck us about backpackers (which is what these hostel-like accommodations are called) is that they cater to a wide range of travelers. You can choose to have a private room, a bunk room, sleep in your camper or pitch a tent. In the US, all these things are mutually exclusive. Many RV “camp sites” don’t allow tenting, when it would hardly inconvenience the owner. It is absolutely refreshing how much it just makes sense. Another great things about backpackers is the wide range of people that stay there. It is not just for your crust punk or hippie types. At breakfast, you could be sitting down with a German backpacker, someone’s grandmother or a young professional out for a weekend of fun.
Did we mention the rain? After an amazingly torrential downpour Saturday night, we woke up Sunday morning to find that it was still coming down. There was a moment when we contemplated just staying another night, but that’s a slippery slope. We are getting soft in our old age. We packed up and accepted our damp and drizzly future, chalking it up to more character building. Our route for the day was Coromandel to Whitianga on route 25. It started out with a vengeance, with a leg burning 1200 foot climb in about 2 miles, with an average of about 8% grade and pitches well over that. It didn’t help that it was raining and blustery and at the beginning of our trip, so our hill climbing legs have yet to properly kick in. We made it to the top, but that was little relief because we had a steep, windy and wet descent ahead of us. We kept our speed in check and managed fine (thankful that Laura had rear brakes!). The first hill was the worst of it and everything afterward didn’t look nearly so bad. The country that we were passing (especially in the rain) reminded us a lot of Oregon. We joked a little to ourselves that we had flown to the edge of the world to ride in Oregon.
We rolled into Whitianga pooped but feeling good that we braved the rain. Although we’ve been in New Zealand for a while already, it finally feels like our bike tour is underway. Our bodies are achy, but our spirits high. Every grand sweeping vista we witness and thrilling descent reminds us why we’re doing all this in the first place.
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