It’s a shockingly broken sleep, filled with heavy rain and screeching wheels. Distorted voices drift through the sodden tent walls. No way to tell distance or direction. Drunken shouts, aggressive or just trying to be heard over the roar of the rain.? Brakes squeal as they round the corner, braking right by my head or so it seems. No, it wasn’t my best night’s sleep but this is the price to pay for urban camping.
My spot is hidden down by the river and slightly under the bridge. It’s darkish but the street lights still peer through the grey walls of my tent. After the pitch darkness of camping in the wild the artificial lights seem vulgar and intrusive. The noises of urban life echo through my dreams and shake me awake throughout the night.
As I ride out of town the next morning a deep mist fills the valley. I cross the Whanganui River; the waters are to be my travel companion for the next few days on the Bridge to Nowhere Trail. We make a brief introduction as I pass over a bridge. A quick handshake and then off I go.
The road out of Taumaruni is pretty steep but it’s nice and quiet. I see just one farmer all morning as he drives a quad through the mist. We stop and have a chat as his three dogs jump out and have a sniff around. I feel bad for them, I have been riding and camping a week straight at this point and the smell is starting to ripen. They look positively relieved to be jumping back up onto the back of the quad as they drive away.
The steep hill gets the blood pumping early and local wildlife has me staring into the distance watching shapes bob and weave across the road. I can’t quite make out what the creatures are but they are scattered all over the fields and road. As my view flashes in and out with every turn the blotches become clearer, the whole hill side is covered with goats. Running up the road and jumping off the sidings. They prance in the sun and bleat happily at this strange panting stranger in the midst. They dart away from me, jumping into the nearby fields before disappearing into the bush.
I soon come across more local fauna, wild turkeys burst from the bush making a clamorous racket. I didn’t know wild turkeys were a thing if I am honest. But these specimens looked decidedly feral and there weren’t any farms nearby. They sat insolently on the fence long enough for me to grab my camera before moving the moment I took the picture.
These birds weren’t the only strange thing I would see on that ride. I did a full on double take as I spotted none other than an ostrich away in the distance. Not wild to the best of my knowledge but one of the strangest and most unexpected sights. Looking around for a someone to explain or corroborate what I was witnessing I was left looking around an empty road. The mystery would have to remain.
The road narrowed and switched to gravel but maintained it silence. The farmer on the quad had been my only companion who didn’t walk on four legs or have feathers. The track flowed gently downhill, like a stream winding its way down to my new friend the Whanganui. The road took the easiest path, brushing along the side of the hills, easing me almost 40km of downhill without a single pedal stroke.
The next valley leaves aside any pretence of farming and steep tree clad walls rise up either side. Rural New Zealand gave way to Backcountry New Zealand in the space of a few kilometres. This was the start of the Bridge to Nowhere Trail. The sun greeted me and reintroduced me to the Whanganui.
Whakohoro is a bizarre little spot, a stammering of buildings at literally the end of the road It looked practically deserted my thoughts of finding a midday snack seemed unlikely. But I’m soon sitting in the Blue Duck Cafe eating a cheese and pineapple panini and chatting to a fellow bikepacker. It’s surprising how many people want to come talk to you when you show up smelly and filthy on an equally smelly and filthy bike. I chat with John for a while (he had an epic story about being robbed at gun point in Bolivia) and it was time to head into the hills yet again.
I followed a muddy cobble path that was soon eaten by the forest. The path was tight and deeply rutted. In fact, rutted wasn’t even the word. Huge bomb holes of mud captured my wheel and sent me stumbling onto the cross bar. I then had to step off into almost knee-deep muck to yank my bike back out.
I teeter along narrow wooden boards to spare the path from erosion, the boards slick and crooked. My feet slide precariously and manoeuvring the bike is tricky in the narrow confines. I finally end up pushing the bike whilst walking in the mud. It’s cold seeps quickly into my shoes. A slow viscous squelch follows my every step.
Every movement becomes vocal; me, grunting and heaving as I drag the bike. The rubbing and whirring of my clogged wheels trying to roll through the dirt-plastered frame. The slip and slap of my shoes on wet ground. My feet are now twice the size with the amount of extra material caked around them. Not just mud but clumps of fallen leaf and small stones are encrusted into the mass like an ice-cream dipped in hundreds and thousands.
I fall numerous times, little stumbles whilst holding the bike throws me off balance, I slip and the grey brown smears along my knees migrate to all over my body. I keep at it for a few hours. My feet numb from the cold but having reached saturation it can’t get too much worse. The exercise keeping me warm and baking the mud to my sweating body.
Best Camping Spot So Far?
Passing the first shelter I see, I continue onward and upward. There is still plenty of light and the weather and bugs are fine so despite being covered in mud I push on. About 30 minutes later I finally manage to get on my bike and make a few token pedal strokes as the path widens and flattens out slightly. The bomb holes become small ruts again.
I roll into a wide grass-filled clearing. Bisected in the middle by a winding gurgling stream, a lively ribbon cutting through the soft grass. A few Matagouri bushes add some variety to the little oasis in the riot of vegetation. The thick brush surrounding the clearing is alive with dripping water and hushed animal sounds. Waterfalls hidden in the forest add white noise like background music. The steep sides of the valley circle protectively, the tall shoulders flanked with lush vibrant trees. The colours of the forest clashing with the dull grey of the sky.
This is definitely the spot for me! I pull out my tent and set my food cooking whilst I precariously dangle over the crooked stream. Confident that no one else will be coming along the path, I strip off and wash the thick mud that is caked all over me. The clear waters run thick and murky for quite some time as I methodically wash each leg. I take off the socks and wash them inside and out before wringing them dry and putting them back on clean-ish feet.
After my spa day in the creek I wander back up to the tent for food and to admire the towering hills all around me. The bugs are busy eating someone or something else and I am left to my own devices for once. I celebrate by wandering around camp naked whilst brushing my teeth as the sky starts to darken.
The peace and tranquility are all encompassing. The hustle and bustle of city life has never ventured this far off the beaten track. This is a loud place that quietens the mind. The noises of the trees and the river and the waterfalls all become a gentle lullaby. Contentedly I climb into bed and let the sounds rock me to sleep. And it’s a real, fitful sleep, a deep sleep of a day of hard work and struggle after a long week of hard work and struggle. It’s a wonderful feeling.