Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Cycling the North Island - Day 13 - Gentle Annie is not gentle!

Wednesday, 5th December 2012
As mentioned previously, I turned away from Tongariro due to bad weather and headed to Hastings, via the old Taihape-Napier Road. That's its official name, but cyclists know it as Gentle Annie, a nickname originating from a hill of the same name somewhere in the Kaweka Range. Whoever chose that name must have had a twisted sense of humour, because Gentle Annie is anything but gentle. It's the toughest ride I've ever experienced!

The road is 150 kilometres long, it stretches over several mountain ranges, farmland and large valleys, and it contains no less than three huge - I mean HUGE - climbs. Starting just off SH1, it greets you with a sweet downhill leading into a long valley with a small Maori settlement. As it starts climbing, steadily for several kilometres, it reaches a wide plateau covered by farmland. That's not the end, though; it doesn't stop climbing until the plateau's eastern side, a good place to check the bike's breaks before diving into an amazingly steep downhill ride leading into a massive valley, with nothing but a fence separating you from a deep drop. A successful descent is the perfect way to finish the day at the basic free campsite near the historic Springvale suspension bridge. The only thing spoiling the fun is the massive climb out of the valley, in plain view and a reason to feel apprehensive about the morning...

Thursday, 6th December 2012
The massive climb out of the valley was followed by a gentle but long climb across the second plateau, the dominating landscape being more farmland. At midday, finally the sweet reward - an incredibly exhilarating swoop where I almost beat my old speed record - 73,5km/h! Almost. It was so exciting that it made me forget, at least for a short while, about the unpleasant sense of false freedom and imprisonment invoked by miles and miles of electric fences, mercilessly encompassing the road, isolating it from the rest of the world. Beautiful undulating terrain, grassy green pastures of a shade so deep I can't even describe it, stretching as far as the horizon goes. Massive open spaces, so peaceful and devoid of people, yet so inaccessible. That's one of New Zealand's dark sides and biggest disappointments - despite the vast and scarcely populated land, there are fences everywhere and access is limited to that narrow stretch of grey that is the road, everything around being off limits. You never have to go far to see signs such as "private property, bugger off or you'll be castrated".

On a merrier note, I met some really nice people. When I ran out of water around midday and approached the only house within miles to top up my bottles, I was greeted by a lovely couple who didn't hesitate to invite me for lunch. I'm grateful for their hospitality. It was a nice break and a morale booster, perfectly timed as the worst part of the day was just about to make itself present. Soon after leaving the house, I found myself facing Gentle Annie's third and by far the hardest climb. I don't know how many hours it took me to reach the top, but it was one hell of a workout and the word knackered doesn't even begin to describe the state I was in. And that still wasn't the worst part. The worst part came right after the swoop down to the bottom of the third valley, which divides the Ruapehu and Hasting districts. As if to greet me in Hastings, a gust nearly knocked me off the bike the very moment I passed the Welcome sign. Then all hell broke loose.

Extreme headwind came out of nowhere, tall pine trees near the road were bending like little sticks and I seriously doubt the helmet would protect me should a trunk fall on my head. Riding became almost impossible, yet I managed to get clear of the forest and reach a recently logged out area. It was hardly any relief, though. The wind turned, for once in my favour, so strong that it pushed me up a steep hill for several metres... and then knocked me over. Riding became impossible. Gusts, heavy rain, flying dirt, no shelter and a depressing, barren landscape amidst stumps of recently logged out trees. That was my world for the next hour, until I reached the other side of the hill. Then, as sudden as it came, hell was gone. The rain stopped, the wind died away and I was in the clear. Probably just a local storm circling around the Kaweka valley, a gentle goodbye from Gentle Annie.

Yes, a goodbye, because that had been the last hill and from then on it was a sweet fifty-kilometre descent to the coast, to Hastings. A great reward and a relief to know that I was going to be able to reach the city that day, despite my extremely slow progress so far.

I arrived in Hastings at 7pm, got in touch with a buddy of mine who helped me sort out some accommodation, bought a pack of beer and took it easy for a few days. The only interesting things that happened during my well deserved break were the purchase of a new toy, the amazing Kindle Paperwhite to replace my old and recently broken ebook reader, and a visit to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. Gannets are big white birds living in huge coastal colonies, the one at Cape Kidnappers being accessible only at low tide, which meant we had to leave the house at 4am. It was well worth it, not just for the birds but also for the beautiful sunrise on the cliffs. A perfect break from all the cycling. I set out on Monday, my next destination Gisborne, 250km away.


  1. Jirko co je s tebou? Doufan že jsi v pohodě

  2. Ahoj Jirko, doufam ze se mas fajn. Mam na tebe dotaz. Jelikoz s tim mas zkusenosti obracim se na tebe o radu. Muj kluk se rozhodl vycestovat na zkusenou do evropy. Je mu 19 tak proc ne. Chtel by cestovat a hlavne nasetrit praci na dalsi cestovani. Mel bys nejakou radu do zacatku? Jaky jsou zajimave prace, " snadno sehnajici" a hlavne na co si dat pozor. A posledni jaky mas nazor na praci i zivot v Anglii, Australii a Novy Zeland? Predem diky za jakou koliv radu pro neznaleho. :) Mej se fajn a at se ti dari. Robpro

    1. Nazdar Robo, to sou mi veci, kde sou ty casy kdys pro kluka kupoval cdcka a ted chce razit do sveta :) najdi me kdyztak na facebooku nebo google+, proberem to tam.

  3. hezky ty si me pamatujes :))) to bych teda necekal .)

  4. Na feru jsem ti poslal žadost o pozvani Robert Procházka. Zatím hoj


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