Well that was one hell of a start to the Tour Aotearoa (TA). I came here seeking adventure and today New Zealand well and truly delivered. This first section of the TA is called ninety mile beach and you basically ride along the beach from Te Paki Stream all the way to Apihara Bay.
Thankfully the ride along the beach is only around 55 miles because if it were 90 I would be sitting in a corner of my tent slowly rocking back and forth mumbling incoherently. So the deal with this ride is that you can only ride on the beach 2-3 hours before low tide and 2-4 hours after low tide. To access the beach you ride down Te Paki Stream, a narrow sandy stream again in ryhthm with the tides. Today's low tide was at 8:50am and Tapotupotu campsite is around 10 miles from the turnoff to Te Paki Stream and so my alarm went off at 4am this morning. I was up and moving immediately, shoved a couple of oat bars down, dressed and packed everything up and was on the road at 4:45am. It was warm and breezy and as I started the gravel climb back up to the road the adrenaline was pumping. Riding in the dark added to my excitement as I spun the wheels to find my groove. An hour passes before I take the turn off onto the gravel road for Te Paki Stream. I nearly added to the squashed possum count on the road ride as there were a few possums just sat in the middle of the road that scurried out of sight and up the nearest tree as I lit up the road. Maybe next time, haha.
At this point my bright headtorch had run out of battery and so I started the stream with only my small bike light to show the way. It wasn't easy to figure out which side of the stream to try and ride and I had to guess if the sand was going to hold me and my load or face an early morning dip. The first few sections were tricky and made slightly more difficult by my inability to see further downstream as to where the least water was but I muddled through listening to the crunching sound of sand in my cranks.
There were a couple of sections of very soft sand that I had to get off an push through but my relief upon reaching the end of the stream and seeing the open beach was palpable. It was 6:30am and I was buoyed by the fact that I'd made it unscathed through the stream. The uncertainty of it had made me rather nervous last night as I pondered how it would be. In daylight it would be a much lesser beast to face so I was proud to have battled through it in the dark.
It wasn't long before the sky was waking in a burst of colour. Riding along the wet sand with the wind in my face I could only watch in awe as the day broke before me. The reflection on the water gave the impression of a double sunrise as the day dawned and my darkness became light.
I've always felt that there's something sacred about watching the sunrise or sunset. Something inherently primal and yet at the same time spiritual. Well this will be a sunrise that will stay with me for the rest of my years as it was truly magical. I felt giddy with joy at the marvel before me.
Nature's show over I knuckle down to the rhythmn of riding along the sand. There are a few birds nearby and nothing else for miles. Just me, BB and monkey.
Thirty miles into the day and I was definitely feeling it. My early start was catching up with me as the riding became mechanical. I'd seen the sunrise, I had sand dunes on my left and sea on my right and miles of beach ahead of me. Now I realised that this wasn't going to be a physical challenge but a mental one. Hours and miles of nothing but sand and sea with a fierce sun beating down and a growing headwind. My giddiness was no longer.
Five miles later and I saw two riders heading towards me. They were on their last day having ridden the entire TA from south to north and were in high spirits. I congratulated them and left with a renewed sense of purpose as I counted down the miles to the Utea holiday park to refill my water. Time slowed down in epic proportions as each glance at the GPS showed only tenths of a mile since my last glance. This is tough.
Seeing the green flag of the holiday park in the sand dunes was like seeing water in the desert. I dumped my bike and hauled myself up the sliding dunes. Stephen was sweeping up as I wandered in looking for water. Refilled with another 3 litres on my back I used the bathroom and came back to find him cutting fresh watermelon and offering me a slice. Oh it was good!
Back at the bike I gobbled down a tin of tuna and a few wraps. It was 9:30am and there was still twenty miles to ride to Apihara - I was nervous about making it before the tide came in as it was now on the turn back towards the dunes. I can only describe the miles that followed as painful. Not physical pain, although there was a bit of that, but pure mental anguish. The neverending bay ahead that wasn't getting any closer, the headwind that was increasing in strength and slowing me down, the boredom of the scenery that a few hours before had me soaring like a kite and the relentless thoughts of being stranded in the dunes if I couldn't make it to the bay before the tide came in.
With five miles left to ride I was splitting it down into chunks, let's get to that tree there, let's ride to that rock, ride to those surfers - all small gains towards the final goal. My fortunes turned as the wind moved behind me in those last few miles. Digging deep to keep the legs pumping I was cruising at 18mph at one point, willing it all to be over. Then it was. My turnoff to the road appeared and the tide was still quite a way out, it seemed like all of my worries of being stranded were pretty ridiculous now. I turned my back on the tide and pushed though the soft sand up to the road. Welcome to Apihara Bay.
I rode two minutes down the road to the holiday park and surveyed the damage. Horrendous looking chain, cassette and derailleur, rusted already by the salty water and harsh sand.
An hour later and you would never know what had occurred in the preceding six hours. Betty is as clean as she can be and lubed up ready for tomorrow. I've been showered, washed my hair and walked to the local shop to grab some supplies for dinner and my wet shoes and socks are drying by the tent. Life on the TA, highs, lows and everything inbetween and it's only day one.
- Number of microwave postboxes: 5
- Number of squashed possums seen (for the record they were not squashed by me): 10
- Number of dogs I've been chased by: 2
- Number of Kiwi's seen (the birds not the locals): 0
- Number of sandfly bites: 0 (and long may it continue)
- Number of factor 50 sun lotion bottles used: 1 (50ml)