Beyond Cape Palliser

When one thinks of the south Wairarapa area, words like windy, quiet roads, exposed and rugged all come to mind – should be good for cycling then!

It was with these thoughts that myself and friends John, Annette and Stephen had a week away in mid-April 2013 to ride some of the south Wairarapa coastal area.

Having driven by car to our base at Masterton, we unloaded the bikes and on a cool morning set off with loaded panniers. Ahh, that feeling of a loaded bike again – it is a good one. It required just a few minutes to adjust to the heavier handling bikes.

All too soon, the cry was heard that it was “time for a pie”! Finding a good bakery in Carterton, we indulged. The locals amused us – an elderly Irish lady walking by made a few funny quips about the brightness of our yellow riding shirts and needing sunglasses and then another older lady stopped to tell us that “the best way to eat a pie is straight from the paper bag” – just as we were all doing. The pies were good too!

Upon leaving Featherston, we headed south west on Western Lake Road. It  was easy rolling countryside ahead, the steep Rimutaka range immediately to our right and a placid Lake Wairarapa on our left.

vertAs we rode, the weather was changing and the odd spot of rain turned into a steady drizzle. We had lunch whilst we waited for the showers to pass, but no such luck. Just to make the ride more unpleasant, the wind picked up and it became a tad gusty.

We had the initial thought of camping at Ocean Beach, right on the south coast. However as we got further south and given the strong winds at that time, we decided to change tack and headed to a farm some 30+kms east, near Pirinoa, where we had been offered accommodation.

The next day dawned as a beauty. The ideas was to catch a coffee at the Lake Ferry Hotel, but upon arriving at 9:30am-ish, we found that the hotel did not open until 11:00am! With our hopes dashed, we viewed the Lake Onoke area before returning north and then east along the coastal road.

What a spectacular coast. With waves crashing on the rocks and the rugged landscape of the Aorangi Range, it is so New Zealand.

We stopped at the Putangirua Pinnacles, a ‘badlands type’ landscape where through erosion, softer sedimentary layers have been removed leaving the more resistant cemented silts or rocks as pinnacles. For any ‘Lord of The Rings’ film fans, this was the filming location where in The Return of the King, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride along the Dimholt Road to meet the Army of the Dead.

We rolled into the small fishing village of Ngawi late in the afternoon to the site of many bulldozers parked on the beach. Due to the rough stoney beach, bulldozers are used to launch the fishing boats that are stored in large steel cradles.

The beauty of Ngawi is that it has a “CAMPING PERMITTED” sign on the beach front. How good is that! There was a public toilet across the road beside the fire station and a mobile takeaway-food caravan nearby. Absolutely perfect. We were serenaded to the sounds of crashing waves as we fell into a deep and peaceful sleep in our tents.

Overnight the wind had increased, but it was to our benefit as we headed towards Cape Palliser. The day was brilliantly clear with deep blue skies. The Cape Palliser lighthouse, first lit in 1897, is still operational today, although now remotely computer controlled. Its red and white striped colour really is a beacon on that lonely and desolate south-east corner of New Zealand.

We had obtained permission in advance to transit along an approximate 9km privately owned section of coast via Maori land, DOC estate and finally through White Rock Station. The riding was variable with a combination of dirt tracks, rocky paths, together with approximately 1km of sand dune to push up and over before descending to the smooth station roads. The long waves were a surfer’s delight, while the foreshore was covered in large rocks and washed-up logs. Obviously the seas get rather rough here at times, albeit not today thank goodness! We had the most gorgeous day to enjoy this part of the ride.

Just before Te Kaukau Point, the road leaves the coast and heads inland, basically following the Opouawe River and associated wetland areas. This is a very quiet road and an area that is suffering with the current drought. Very few animals were to be seen as many farms have destocked due to the drought.We camped near the Tuturumuri Hall, in what was obviously a farm paddock. Having got the OK from a nearby house, we settled and were enjoying a coffee when a car drove into our campsite. It was the owner of the land who just happened to have driven from Wainuiomata for a couple of days – their holiday house was in the next paddock. They were completely unphased by our presence and were happy to have us camp. We we then invited to the house for a cuppa and to use the facilities. Viv and Craig were a very friendly couple that we enjoyed breakfast with the next morning also.

Our final day on the road was a challenging ride into the wind, before summitting the Whakapuni hill, where the wind turbines were turning rapidly.

Martinborough was the stop for a large cooked brunch before the final ride through to Masterton.

It was windy at times, with sunshine, quieter roads, exposed coastlines and rugged country. It was typical Wairarapa!

An excellent ride, challenging but not too challenging, with delightful scenery and wonderful people.

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