Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Cycling the North Island - Day 13 - Gentle Annie is not gentle!
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...
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".
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.