Waking to the pitter patter of rain on the tent I lay there and tentatively stretch my legs. Ooff, the top of my calf muscles groan in protest as they remember the epic effort of yesterdays hike-a-bike across the Aorangi forest. Knowing that I can have a nice lazy morning is wonderful as I turn over and try to snooze a little longer. My rumbling stomach is confused by the lack of food, it's usually had porridge by now and so I forget all thoughts of going back to sleep and set to work on breakfast.
Packing up whilst there's a break in the rain I'm on the road at 10:30am and uncertain as to how my legs will cope. It's overcast and dry but very windy as I ride along the road to Cape Palliser.
Following the coastline it's like riding to the edge of the world. Wild, rugged land battered by the elements make for harsh conditions out here. I wouldn't fancy being caught up in a storm round these parts.
With the wind mostly behind me I motor along passing only sheep and cows. Fifteen miles in and I pass Ngawi, a little fishing town nestled into the coast.
As the tarmac turns to gravel I continue towards the Cape. It isn't long before I see a few campervans and others by the shoreline and I stop to see what they're taking photographs of. Only then do I realise that it's the fur seal colony, they're well camouflaged against the rocks along the shore. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to come out here as it's one of the largest colonies of fur seals in New Zealand and as I cautiously approach them to get a better look I can't believe just how unbothered they are by my presence. It's special to be able to get so close to an animal in it's natural environment and they're everywhere. Heads bobbing in the water, tails splashing as they duck and dive around the rocks and many snoozing lazily and basking in the sunshine.
I ride on as I'll be coming back this way later and for now I want to see the lighthouse. Sat high on a rock on the most southern point of the North Island, Cape Palliser lighthouse has been shining since 1897. Having started my Tour Aotearoa over one thousand miles ago at Cape Reinga in the north and having passed through the centre of the island just before riding the Timber Trail it feels only right to come here and complete my journey on the North Island. Leaving BB locked in the car park, there's not a soul around as I climb the two hundred and fifty two steps up to the lighthouse. The information board said hundred and fifty two steps but I counted them for good measure, haha!
The view from the top looks out over the Cook Strait, a place of many previous shipwrecks. The beacon light from the lighthouse can be seen for twenty six nautical miles and flashes twice every twenty seconds to warn ships of the dangerous coastline. It was a tad windy up there but Monkey and I enjoyed our Cape selfie.
Now we were faced with the inevitable headwind riding back west. Lunch was overdue and coming down the lighthouse steps my calves felt like jelly and were involuntarily wobbling. Fighting the invisible force I stopped down by a little cove to eat and it was a lovely sight. This must have been the baby seal nursery as the little fellas were everywhere here, watched over by keen-eyed parents. The yelps and barks of the seals playing in the shallows was wonderful to hear and I sat and watched in awe at the beauty of nature's creatures.
I knew I needed to get on and ride into the horrible headwind the four miles back to Ngawi as there was a campsite there that I'd now decided I'd be staying at for the night. An overnight rest was not enough to appease my exhausted body and I fought the wind and my tiredness before collapsing in the shade of a tree by the camping spot. Knowing that staying put for any length of time would be the end of me I got up to look for a water tap as I figured that it may need treating before it would be drinkable. A lot of the free camping spots have signs saying that water should be boiled before drinking. I couldn't find any tap. There were the usual composting toilets with hand gel and a place over the road for campervans to get rid of waste but no sign of a tap, the only thing that I needed to be able to stay here overnight. A couple were wandering around the site also, surveying where they should park given the windy conditions and so I asked him if he'd seen a tap and he said no. I pottered around again to double check if I was missing something obvious and then spoke to the couple again. They asked me where I'd been and where I was riding and I told them that I didn't want to ride any further in the hideous wind but couldn't stay here without any water. At this point the woman asked how much I needed and I told her just a litre or two to cook with and she looked at her husband and said that they had plenty of water and I was welcome to some of it once they'd parked their camper. Relief swept over me and I thanked them and went to try and find a sheltered spot to pitch my tent from the wind. I decided to pitch close to a caravan to try and hide from the worst of the wind and as I saw a shadow inside look out to see what the noise was I popped round and knocked on their door. A man appeared and I told him that I was trying to hide from the wind so did he mind that I was so close to his caravan. He said it was fine and once I'd put the tent up the woman from earlier appeared by my tent. She said she'd put the kettle on and would I like to come in and join them for a cuppa. We introduced ourselves and Dave came over with a large bottle of water for me to fill my water bladder with. Gail waited as I bundled all of my stuff in the tent porch, locked Betty up and walked me over to their camper. It was a huge American winnebago sized beast with a Suzuki Jeep attached to the back - inside it seemed bigger than my flat had been in London! As the kettle boiled and tea was made the conversation flowed easily. They had been farmers and had retired in the last year and made the road their home to explore their country. More tea was poured and the chocolate biscuits came out, they were amazing, hokey pokey Squiggles. Hokey pokey is honeycomb and I was extra polite in only taking a couple when I would have happily devoured the whole packet, haha! We talked about anything and everything. I quizzed Dave about the farming industry in New Zealand as I had quite a few questions about the big farms (stations) that I'd seen in the Northlands. Next time I looked at my watch to see that I'd been in there for four hours. Time flies when you're having fun. They didn't seem to have any problem with me being there and had changed my afternoon from a miserable sufferfest to the most wonderful time making new friends. I thanked them profusely for the water, tea and biscuits and left them to their evening as I went to setup the rest of my stuff. The sun was shining now and I had a lovely spot right by the sea to watch the world go by.
I cooked and ate my dinner and sat in my tent to shelter from the still blowing wind whilst I watched the sun dip lower in the sky. Sat there watching the waves crash onto the pebbled beach I felt so grateful for the kindness of strangers. It never fails to amaze me how generous and kind people can be when you're travelling and I felt content and blessed to be there in the moment, in nature, watching the sun go down.
Getting up to stretch my legs I saw the man from the caravan next to me and we spoke briefly again before his wife Lorraine came out and started chatting to me. After a few minutes she said that she had a small gift for me and brought out a beautifully knitted flannel. She explained that she made them and gifted them to people and she'd seen my flannel (which is my towel and looks like it's seen much better days) drying in the sun and thought that I might like a new one.
I was stunned and overwhelmed by her gesture and gift. To encounter two such wonderful acts of kindness in the same day was incredible and I couldn't thank her enough. I hope that I can repay the kindness that I've experienced today forward to another person. I felt so lucky to have met these people and was radiating peace and contentment as the day turned to night and the colours of the sky were lit with beautiful shades of pinks and oranges.