Thursday morning’s fried chicken at the Oparau Roadhouse seems like an age ago, now it's Monday evening and I am back in Melbourne for dinner. The four days of riding deep through country New Zealand with mates, was a ride-party that cleared the stresses of a busy life. Thanks to Liam (The King) and the Cycling Journal crew, a few of us Aussies got to experience a huge slice of Kiwiana. How much fun can you pack into a few days?
Back to Wednesday and I was in Auckland, working with Cyco Bikeshop, to introduce Curve Cycling and our Belgie Ride to NZ. (A huge shout out to the crew that joined us, for those in Auckland, go get on the shop ride!) Meanwhile, my fellow Aussies, Peter "Pikey" Pan and JB the French model, were flying in to meet up for beers. Still buzzing from the shop ride and in anticipation for two-day commute ride ahead, we grabbed a few hours sleep. At Curve, I've led a cycling adventure or two, so when I apologised to Liam for my lack of preparation, the King wouldn't have a bar of it, "We got it covered cuz," and off we went to the Dirty Detours gravel ride in the Republic of Whangamomona.
"Gee, this weather is SHiiiT!" a farmer declared his forecast to the roadhouse, he wasn't wrong, and here we were getting our bikes ready and rain gear on. Kawhia is nestled near the mid-western coast of the North Island, and as with most of NZ, its wrinkly geology meant we were going to earn our 75km shakedown ride. The wind was monster, the sideways rain rolled in and out and off we went. We were now in the good hands of the King, and in Liam's kingdom, you are treated as equals. Thankfully, the winds were with us as we quickly hit our first bit of gravel... We each had gravel bikes, two with 650b and the other two with 700c wheels, so the banter for wheel supremacy began. Aussie gravel in most cases is similar to NZ gravel, but maybe overall a little deeper, and a little slower. The pace in country NZ isn't fast, it wasn't a race, and with tailwind assistance, we just cruised up an 8km gravel climb to enjoy the speccy sights. Even in the shitty weather, NZ's green grasses and ferns were almost fluorescent against dark clouds and mist.
Cruising along the ridge, more gravel, more views, more rain, more banter, more laughs. We knew that beers and warm showers awaited and it was all downhill to Pio Pio. The treasure of Pio Pio had to be the cafe, the restaurant and best of all, us Aussies were introduced to the delights of The Cosmopolitan Club (aka the Cossy), where we sampled its finest ales.
The Pio Pio Cossy Club
Rocking the Rocket Pooches
No rain today, but instead a forecast for a 125km of block headwind. The King just laughed off any concerns, "Bro, it's swirly in there, don't worry cuz." Yeah sure, we had a headwind, but we rolled turns at a steady pace, chatting, laughing and
getting deeper into the farmland and wilderness. The backroad traffic was intense, we saw a whole two cars, maybe three farmers, and a bunch of cattle and sheep. We were under 36 hours into our trip, and we had already gone Deep, forgetting the stresses of the city.
Lunch was in the ghost town of Ohura, once a vibrant town of thousands, now a population of 100. The town consisted of deserted shops were stuck in the 70s, many untouched since the day they closed, an old jail and few dead pubs. The local Cossy still had some life left in it, as with the town hall and one tiny church. But what was this alien vehicle we could see? A food truck? A Mexican food truck? WTAF! Here we were in the middle of nowhere eating world-class quesadillas with beers, corn chips and spicy salsa. We’d gone Deep and it was bliss.
The region is littered with tunnels, built in the early 1900s with manpower and dynamite. It was super trippy riding in the dark, towards the light, where we returned to picturesque farmland on to our final stretch to the Republic of Whangamomona.
Whangamomona. We'd been practising the name for days, our mate Mia, a Maori local had got us singing Phung-a-mo-mo-na, whereas a few of the farmers said, "just call it Whanga." Regardless, we were keen to get there and know more about the Republic.
Whanga, is a one-pub town. During a brief period while stuck in a battle between two shires, they just went off and announced themselves as republic. It stuck, the Whanga Pub was quickly declared as Parliament, and while the first and current presidents are human, they've also had a presidential pig and a sheep... Some of the farm vehicles and local characters look straight out of Mad Max… the lawlessness of Republic is real, but maybe it's because there's no one around. This is place is wholesome.
The vibe that Cycling Journal NZ had created around the town hall was awesome. Brothers Beer set up a pop-up bar, the locals chucked bacon and lamb on the barbie, and we got to talk bikes and drink beer with the 70 or so riders that descended on Whanga. They came from all over: Auckland, Wellington, Cambridge, New Plymouth and even Christchurch. The Kiwis were all riding a nice array of mainly gravel bikes, a couple braved it with their road bikes, and a few MTBs also joined along. A gravel bike was the pick and it was particularly humbling for me to see a couple of Curve bikes on course too. Liam clanged the pots to set us off, as we rolled out in a groupetto straight into the Whanga Saddle climb. A few of the more competitive spirits mistakenly thought this was a race, but today wasn't about racing, today was about enjoying the ride amongst some stunning scenery. There were a few timed sections on course, which made for some competitive fun, but did we need it? I wasn't there for a fast time, I was there to soak it in.
Smiles all round
The gravel roads dove into farmed valleys, which turned into lush, green rainforest. Some gravel was freshly laid and was super technical, which made for some interesting ascending and descending. About 60 clicks deep, our lunch stop delivered in spades; the local mums of this tiny town put on a classic spread of savoury and sweet goodies. All food donations went back to the school community, which would be about ten kids. The roll home was all smiles and bliss, the pace had dropped to a gentle cruise, and while we had a sprint for the finish line, the day had only just begun. It was now over to the Dirty Detours crew and locals of Whanga to treat us to some local traditions.
We woke a little slowly the next morning, I think most of New Zealand did, they were all licking their wounds from losing the Rugby semi-final, but that's a whole other story. After yesterday's ride, the town had treated us to a show: the Brothers Beer was flowing, the sun was shining, we spun yarns with our new Kiwi mates. Through the morning’s beer haze I recalled myself, Pikey and JB standing on the back of a ute in a Sheer, Pie, Beer competition, stirring up the Kiwi's, showing them how good us Aussies are at everything (especially sculling beer). Today in our slow state the King had a "recovery ride" for us but it wasn't really, it was another one of his hidden gems. We rolled out on reccy of what might be next year’s course... and oh boy… but I won't spoil it for you. I'll see you there next year with some more Aussies in tow.