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January 2002: New Zealand's North Island


Note: Click on the images to see a larger version.

Greetings from New Zealand!

In mid-January we arrived in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand with about 1 million of NZ's 3.8 million people. The rest of the country is thankfully uncrowded, helping to make New Zealand one of the top outdoor holiday vacation destinations in the world.

Since we're now in the southern hemisphere, we are enjoying the warm weather of summer, with most days high around 25C (77F), with only a few days of rain.

The North Island, where we have spent the last month, has more people than the South Island, and the terrain has more thermal features (e.g., volcanoes, hot springs) than the South Island. We had previously taken two trips to New Zealand, but had spent only a few days in the North. We have been pleasantly surprised to find the beauty of the North Island beyond our original expectations - the South Island is generally considered the more spectacular of the two.

We started by cycling east to the Coromandel Peninsula, where we met Shelley's parents, Ray and Sue, who flew out from the USA to travel with us for a couple of weeks.

We spent about 10 days cycling around the peninsula, including one day of tough off-road touring on singletrack across the northern point of the peninsula from Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay. A friend of ours once said that he never met a hill he couldn't walk. We may have one for him on this trip! Carrying all our gear in the BOB trailers, the bikes were so hard to push up one hill that we had to stop, set our feet on the gravel and dirt, bench-press the bike one arm's length forward, hold the brakes on the bike (to keep it from rolling downhill), and then take two tentative steps forward while holding the bike in place. The views, however, were worth it!

After exploring much of the Coromandel Peninsula, we stuffed all our gear in the back of Ray and Sue's rental car. A Toyota Camry can hold an amazing amount of stuff when adequately persuaded! We drove back through the traffic of Auckland and to the Northlands, skipping back and forth between the Bay of Islands on the east coast, the Kauri Coast on the west, and the northern point of New Zealand at Cape Reinga.

In the 19th century, New Zealand's forests of the giant Kauri trees were virtually destroyed for their fine timber. The sap (gum) from these trees was collected for use in varnishes, spawning an industry of "gumdiggers" who (as the name suggests) dug for deposits of gum from ancient trees. The remaining trees are magnificent - the largest, named "Tane Mahuta", or "God of the Forest", is 2000 years old, 51 meters in height, with a trunk girth of nearly 14 meters. That's about 4.5 meters in diameter - over 14 feet across. The trees are now protected, and are only felled at special times for the building of Maori canoes. We were able to see many of these trees along the so-called "Kauri Coast" northwest of Auckland.

The northern tip of New Zealand becomes increasingly remote. At the tip of the Aupouri Peninsula sits Cape Reinga, where the solar-powered lighthouse sits on a wind-swept point overlooking the meeting of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea.

Sue and Ray returned to the USA after two weeks, and we continued to cycle down the east coast north of Auckland, finishing the month of January spending several days at nearly deserted campsites on the beautiful sandy beaches, coves, and bays around the Kerikeri peninsula and the Bay of Islands. One day we rode only 10km (6 miles!) between campsites. What kind of hurry should we be in?

Shelley on the Coromandel Penninsula
Shelley pulls a BOB trailer
on the Coromandel Penninsula

Sunset at Fletcher Bay
Sunset at Fletcher Bay

Cows in our way
Sharing the trail to Stony Bay

On the trail to Stony Bay
On the trail to Stony Bay

Shelley on the Single Track
Shelley negotiates some remote singletrack

Secluded campsite
Secluded campsite at Stony Bay

Shelley rides the Flying Fox
Shelley rides a
Flying Fox

Flowers at Opito Bay

with the Bitels
With the Bitels at Omapere

Lighthouse at Cape Reinga
Lighthouse at Cape Reinga

January 2002: New Zealand's North Island