Pouto Point to Hamilton -Off Road Aotearoa- Part 4

Leaving Pouto Point

My food bag was looking defeated, three packets of dried soup mix and a breakfast sized portion of oats rattled forlornly in the bottom. This would get me back to Dargaville, just about.  If the boat couldn’t make it today, I would have to about turn and trudge back the way I had come. A gambler making the lowly walk home, the car keys a flash of memory on the green felt of the black jack table. I had played the waiting game, I was told Saturday the boat was coming by and would pick me up, weather permitting.

dawn sand dune pouto point

 

 

Saturday morning was sunny with a crisp breeze. I woke at dawn, anxious about missing the boat. The sun was barely up and I had already packed and rolled my bike across the cool sand to the ‘jetty’. A single rusted pole stuck resolutely from the clay coloured sandstone, this was the jetty.This was my ticket to the other side of Kaipara Harbour, by area one of the biggest harbours in the world.

I was well rested and excited to get back on the road. The unexpected ‘vacation’ left me feeling stifled and antsy, longing to put foot to pedal and let the world roll beneath me yet again. I worried too about my timings for the trip, resting here would put me back a few days. Those days would be added to the swirling vortex of my ever-changing itinerary. The where and when I would be arriving at various points, specifically meeting up with people for accommodation.

 

dawn pouto point

I chatted to some guys fishing whilst I squinted in vain into the horizon for a boat. Their eyes were sharper than mine and they pointed out the white and blue boat bobbing towards us. Now as a disclaimer I know very little of fishing, boats or really even the sea generally. I grew up in the suburbs of Manchester, England, about an hour drive from the nearest shoreline. Therefore, I apologise for my rookie explanations and ramblings of being at sea.

Crossing Kaipara Harbour

Rod (the skipper) welcomes me onto the Lady Frances with a firm handshake and big grin. His bright white beard, glowing in the sun, is cracked by a wholesome, rest-assuring smile. The smile follows up into his eyes that are bright and clear underneath expressive white eyebrows. I feel completely at ease as I take a seat on the deck and my bike is lashed to the roof (with my camera in it hence why so few pictures.)

Glancing around the boat I see twelve other passengers, all looking very keen and ready to fish. We make a slick getaway from my castaway situation and are quickly out into the harbour. Rod cuts the engine and the passengers spring into action. Reels whir followed by the solid plunk of the heavy sinkers and pilchards hitting the choppy water.

I sit back and watch the scene. My only experience fishing has been from the shore and it was painfully boring. Lying back amongst the coolers and bags of snacks I relish the sun beating through the gentle breeze. It’s not peaceful for long though as shouts go up and the reels start screaming.

People on all sides start pulling up Kawhai (similar to salmon or a trout but not actually related to either.) Fascinated, I watch, amazed as coolers start filling with fish. They are coming thick and fast, rods bending and people sweating, fighting these big fish from deep below the surface.

I watch enthralled as a shimmer of silver suddenly appears from the murky depths and finally breaking the surface. The Kawhai fight the whole way, smashing through the waves leaving a rainbow trail of water droplets, still flapping and writhing in the air, noisy claps as they fall back into the water and make to escape again.

We move around a few times, Rod hears the quiet as the fishing slows and people take a breather. He moves the boat to another spot seemingly at random (to me anyway) and suddenly the ordered chaos of fishing begins again.

An older Pacific Islander (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten0 becomes my favourite character to watch. His bag of caught fish is brimming with Kawhai, some still flapping as he casts again. Blood and sea water sloshes around his bare feet. Thick sturdy legs hold him steadfast as the boat rocks and he casts with grace, far beyond the others crowded lines. He doesn’t speak much but looks contentedly out to his line, his dark features shaded by a sun-bleached baseball cap and a pair of battered looking sunglasses.

Another man is also pulling in a good haul. Tall and slender he looks every part the deep-sea fisherman, his short white beard hides a weathered and grizzled looking face. Deep laughter lines accompany the wrinkles on his forehead as he squints into the sea. His muscles bulge, wiry and taut as he battles for a long time with a monster hidden below. I notice then that he has a large chunk missing from his arm, the muscle of his left forearm seemingly scooped out and replaced with a pink scar (this cements my idea of him as a deep-sea fisherman). People stop and watch as he draws on a cigarette and wrenches another turn with the reel. Whatever it is doesn’t want to be caught.

Fifteen minutes go by and the battle is still going strong. Chatter of cutting the line bubbles around the boat but he carries on, committed to the cause. I, for one, am glad, desperate to see what it is that he has pulled up. A sliver flash far below the surface. A really big Kawhai? The surface brakes and it is a shark. Over a meter long it has knotted itself into the line. Its grey back contrasting with its stark white underbelly is crisscrossed with the line. The fish and the man are both exhausted by the time it is brought on board. The Pacific Islander deftly guts and fillets the shark and hands back the meat to the gnarled smoking fisherman.

Hours go by and I chat my way through the group. I have been alone for a while on the beach and have little to add to the fishing talk all around, but the people are incredibly friendly and make me feel very welcome. The Pacific Islander even offers me a go which I readily jump to. Casting off a fraction of what he does I try to mimic everything I watched him do.

The line jerks and I frantically wind the reel…and pull up nothing. I have a few false starts along these lines and even Rod comes out to watch. Eventually I get a solid tug on the line, unmistakable, that was something definitely pulling at the line. I bend forward to create some slack and reel in hard. Drawing the fish ever closer I pull and strain, watching as the silver shadow below comes clearer and clearer.

I have caught a Kawhai too! I pull it on board and cut its throat like I had seen everyone else do. Moving to put it into the Islanders bag and he strongly refuses. I tried to argue that cooking a whole salmon on my little camping stove was going to be tricky but he insisted and expertly filleted the fish for me. Double bagging it and hoped it wouldn’t drip blood into my clothes or worse into my sleeping bag!

As the day started to wind down I chatted to Rod as we chugged gently down the winding river. We had spent most of the day out on the boat and I didn’t see much light for riding once we made shore. Rod kindly invited me back to his house to sleep in his spare caravan for the night. I was happy to accept. After a quick resupply in Helensville I packed ready for the morning.

Helensville to Auckland

I woke up at dawn, packed and ready to go but with a whole fish to eat. I chopped both the fillets into big juicy chunks and cooked them off with butter piece by piece. I’m not going to lie, I ate the whole thing for breakfast. It was probably 7 am and I ate around 500g of fish and 200g of butter. Shameless, it’s all energy and I was looking forward to a good long ride into Auckland.

Full of fish and excitement I made it into Auckland feeling strong. Auckland felt like a major checkpoint. A good indicator that my training was paying off.  By this time on the TransCanada ride I was practically crippled. Eight days in and I think I had already shipped my bike to Vancouver and had begun hitch hiking. However, that is another story.

I checked the ferry timetable to head over to Coromandel, it was a no go. Another logistical barrier thrown into my path. Apparently, I wasn’t very good at catching ferries, luckily this is a skill that doesn’t come up all that often, and I was adaptable. I couldn’t wait another day in Auckland,I felt like the trip was starting to lose momentum as it was.

I opted to straight line it down to Hamilton to meet an old friend. Straight and mostly flat but on busy roads, I wasn’t too excited about this ride. However, it is 140+ kms to Hamilton, now that was some motivation. A challenge to ride further than I ever had before.

Hamilton

An early start had me weaving through pre-rush-hour traffic. The spinning, ever changing formula for how far and fast I could travel whirled I my head, every variable adding minutes to the swirling mess of numbers. At this early stage, I wasn’t very good at estimating my speed and distance, six weeks later I had it dialled. According to my wild gu-estimations I would make Hamilton with 10 hours of riding including snack stops and a small siesta/ lunch break.

Low slung houses bordered the road and reminded me of the suburbs I grew up in, the only difference being the bright cloudless sky and the balmy heat. I followed SH1, straight and true, cutting through the city like a drip of paint from the splodge of urban development that is Auckland.

I was flying along, 30km/h on my GPS and riding a nice smooth bike lane practically the whole way out of South Auckland. My ten-hour target was looking very do-able! I enjoy testing myself and after lazing on the beach for a few days, followed by lazing on a boat, I felt great to be moving again. To feel the wind in my beard and the sweat on my back.

I watched the houses get further apart and green spaces creep into the gaps, like the initial conquering of man over nature was facing a sudden revolution. The grass and bush was making a counter-attack and were gaining traction. The city sounds began to dull and the birds and crickets came to the foreground, for their moment in the spotlight, their solo over the chorus of cars and people.

By mid-morning I was off the main roads and winding through the rolling hills of New Zealand’s farmland. The hills and a slight breeze were again thrown into the calculations. Constant checking of the GPS kept my average speed constant and my maths on track.

I had to stop often to check my maps and kept to the quieter roads. At one point, I realised I had been riding 2 hours without seeing another vehicle. At the time, this really stood out. I even started to make a short video claiming this was the quietest road in New Zealand, as soon as the words were out of my mouth a car sped around the corner. Typical!

As the sun passed its highest point I passed through Huntly. A moderate sized town, 95km from Auckland. The lush farmland was suddenly interrupted by giant, grey, cooling towers and the blue sky smeared with fumes from the power plant. I was completely taken by surprise at this abrupt display of industrialisation. The plant was huge, spider webs of pipes spread from the dark hub. I was impressed by the sheer scale of the thing and saddened by the human effect on the landscape. It’s grey walls and harsh steel fence were such a contrast to the gentle surroundings. My emotions were a starting to get a little raw at this point as exhaustion started to kick in.

Huntly was the beginning of the end.

I realised that I was getting slower and was starting to bonk. My outlook of the world became less rosy and the knowledge of having to push for another 50kms hit hard. I stopped for more sweets and planned to sugar rush my way to Hamilton.  Stepping off my bike my legs felt stiff and my back ached. Sweat had cooled and dried many times on my clothes leaving a high tide mark of salt. I gobbled handfuls of sweets in front of a bunch of bewildered school kids.

Riding out of Huntly was probably the most dangerous part of my ride, the only time I actually thought I might get run over. The road was very tight, a single lane each side. It wound in a shallow arc around an open coal quarry. The freight line ran adjacent to the road the steep hard rock embankment finished right on the side of the road. There wasn’t even a hint of a hard shoulder.

I rode the tightrope of the faded white line, my elbows brushing the wall of the train track. Squeezed by huge trucks and tankers as they sped by at 100km/h. I was back on SH1 and the national speed limit applied. The corner was shallow enough to keep on the gas but the wall created a blind bend. I had no other option but to run the gauntlet. I just had to get to the point where the train line veered away from the road and the blessed hard shoulder reappeared. The calm oasis of 1m wide stretch of tarmac had never looked so inviting.

I ate another handful of sweets whilst I tightened all of my straps and helmet. Then I sped off, head tucked, full sprint behind a truck, buffeted by the back draft. I wobbled and bounced across the pot holes and drainage grids, looking resolutely ahead and hoping everyone else was paying as much attention as I was. Chips of broken glass glittered up from the corners of the road. I shot past half a dozen sun bleached wreaths with faded pictures of young Mauri’s and simple wooden crosses marked with dates too recent for comfort. All of these rushed by, as did the cars, the trucks gave as much room as they could but the cars were franticly brushing past me without a care in the world.

I reached my life raft of tarmac after a 1km sprint. This was kilometre 95. My tiredness was forgotten as I stood shaking next to the rushing traffic. The adrenaline alone would get me another 10-15km. Another cyclist I spoke to later said he had got a taxi for that little section, to be honest I wish I had thought of that at the time.

The final 10km into Hamilton was a bleary daze, I was beyond tired, my legs spinning feebly. My bum was killing and I had cramp in my shoulder, I was also completely out of water. In classic Lewis style, I got lost riding into town and my phone GPS had seemingly gotten drunk, offering routes through buildings and road options where there was no road. I had to call my friend and get directed in like a sailor lost in the fog.

It had been about five years since I had last seen Emily, she rushed out the house to give me a big hug and stopped short about a meter away (I would assume this was the smell radius). A sticky high five would have to suffice until I had showered. I gulped water as I stretched.

I had struggled, it had been tough and I had despaired at times. But I had completed it. 145km 4900kcal and 8 hours of riding (my GPS died before I finished so I didn’t get the full readout.) This was my new longest ride. I asked immediately and hopefully whether Emily had eaten yet?

‘no, we were just bout to go Mc Donald’s’

I ate a Big Mac, Cheeseburger, Double Cheeseburger, Medium fries, Sundae and a Medium Fanta. I made it until 10.30 before I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

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