The 180km Forgotten World Highway had been on my list of cycle routes for some time. After we had spent a fortune in the supermarket stocking up on what would be regarded as a weeks worth of supplies for just two days, we were on our way. I told Ned not to buy 4 large cans of ravioli alongside 3 tins of tuna, apples, bananas, 3 cartons of milk, avocado, bread, pita, nuts, lollies, fruit cups, muesli and 3 litres of wine as this would be far too heavy to carry but he didn’t care. We were loaded.
Our half a days rest in Taumarunui set us into true holiday mode so we decided to stop at a free campsite just 15km up the road alongside the Whanganui river. It was an idyllic spot and provided the perfect place to swim and finally attempt to wash my hair. I put some tunes on my speaker as we set up camp and we enjoyed a few glasses of wine before dark. There was a rather odd guy in a car near our spot who was smoking a bit of the wacky backy and had two chickens roaming around. I noticed a little gas cooker outside his door and a saucepan which I gathered was to boil his eggs. I caught him watching me get changed. Weird. A few Kiwi holiday makers came up to ask to ask about our cycle, something we’ve had from the start of our trip. Lovely.
It was an early-ish start and after breakfast I walked in on a man having a poo in the campsite loo. Delightful. He found it so funny I heard him laughing in the toilet next door for the remainder of his business. We were on the road by 8am and had just 70km until cold beer at the pub in Whangamomona – cool name eh?! By 9am we had smashed out 25km and stopped for fruit muffins next to a horse who we named Headley after our knight in shining armour on the Waikato River Trail. We fed him apples and I platted his hair. He was such a good natured horse. A farmer pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride. I thought he meant a lift so declined but Ned said he meant on the horse. By the time he told me he had already left. I was gutted. A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch number one and a chance to dry our tents. The road was hilly but not as bad as everyone had made out. This was cycling at its best. Challenging hills rewarded with long decents, breathtaking farmland and native bush. Palm trees were everywhere.
We got caught behind a farmer shifting a few thousand sheep and I got sheep poo stuck between my mud guard and tyre. Luckily he let us pass because we were in the middle of a big climb and it was soul destroying to keep stopping and starting. We cycled on and saw a strange looking fella doing something next to his truck at the side of the road. As we passed his head popped up and he was holding a goats head. He had obviously just shot it. Only in New Zealand. We pedalled over 15k of what Kiwis call “metal road” which I don’t really understand because it’s gravel and dirt not metal. I fell off. Again. My poor tyres love to slip and slide on non-bitumen roads (bitumen being another new word I’ve learnt from Ned). The road was quiet and all vehicles gave us a wide berth and a wave.
We rolled into Whangamomona around 2pm and enjoyed a handle (like a pint) of their local dark ale. $9 a handle is pretty steep but it was delicious so I had another. After a second lunch at the pub we sat there for a good few hours catching up on our journal and eating ice cream. To my horror Ned ate the left over meals of the people next to us after they had left. “That filled a hole” he said. He told the waiter about this too. I put my head in my hands. I had a little snooze on the table bench outside the pub and woke myself up snoring. Everyone wanted to talk to us and ask about our trip. Mainly Kiwis, it is a lovely feeling. We had been there three hours. It was time to get back on the saddle. It’s never great getting back on the bike after a beer and a few hours rest and after 15km we were feeling it. We cycled up over a saddle and met two guys on quads moving their horses. The horses had stopped for a feed and the two men a beer. I asked a lot of questions about horses and the chap taught me a thing or two, mainly about how he likes to shift his stock with a joint and a beer.
We cycled past a fenced off forest with a small clearing. We agreed this would be camp, it was getting late and we were tired. I noticed warning signs on some of the trees about surveillance cameras which Ned found hilarious. Why would there be cameras on trees in the middle of nowhere without any phone reception. He had a point. We sneaked over the fence and set up camp before enjoying a glass of wine.
I was adamant we were going to get told off when a farmer swang by in the morning but he just wanted a chat and told us about his time cycling the world when he was 45. “Needed to do something for myself” he said. We turned off the Forgotten Highway onto a side road which took us slightly north of New Plymouth instead of on to Stratford. This road was supposedly bike friendly as there are less trucks but the first part was an uncomfortable 15km of metal gravel road. The route profile said different but this was by far our hardest climb so far. I fell off. Again.
We passed the small town of Purangi where there was a Cycling Inn at the Old School House. I suggested we pop in to ask for some water. We were greeted by Laurel who invited us in for coffee and cake with her and her husband Ian. They own the entire village and the one house in it. Over the years they’ve enjoyed hosting cycle tourists from all over the world. I was fascinated at their photos of guests and their bikes and set ups. Photos of those touring on folding bikes, tandem recumbents and with a couple of babies fascinated me most – bonkers! Despite Laurel’s delicious homebaking we felt like another snack 10km down the road so stopped at a playground for a picnic and a ride on the seesaw. It was mainly downhill after that but still some short and sweet climbs. Another great day cycling.
Suddenly there is was, Mount Taranaki. We had come to see it in all its glory but unfortunately it was covered with cloud. We continued cycling and came out onto the highway. I had forgotten what it was like to cycle beside busy hot noisy traffic. I had had enough and could not think of anything else except from getting off the bike. Ned noticed that my chain link was hanging on by a thread and my chain was just about to snap again. We were 10km from town, I had to hope I would make it. Ned stopped for an ice cream. I passed as I am fussy and like to enjoy ice cream in a picturesque setting rather than in a car park on the highway. It was then I realised we had taken the wrong turning somewhere and were a good 10km further from town. I wasn’t most pleased. After a while we turned onto the coastal walkway which was a lovely shared cycle path. There were no cafes or places to stop along the beach though which I thought was a real shame. I needed coffee. Once in New Plymouth I saw a quirky barber shop that sold coffee so we sat down for an iced coffee and cake.
We had made it. Our trip complete. After coffee it was time for beer so we moved next door for a cold one. It felt good to have reached our destination. A marvellous 7 days cycling with fantastic company. A massive thank you to Ned who sorted out our route, took care of me and my bike and provided me with many laughs and decent chatter.