Saturday, 30 January 2010

Yarrows Taranaki Cycle Challenge 2010

A night under my tent at North Egmont shared with possums chewing - the trees, not my tent! With a clear and moonlit sky I knew I was about to actually ride in an organised cycle event on a beautiful sunny day. I am not sure when this last occurred but it was long enough ago for me to appreciate it. I have ridden around this mountain and barely seen it four times before – twice in cycling events and twice while cycle touring. Could riding around the cloud be replaced with riding around the mountain on this day? Yes it can!

Ride Data:
Distance: 152km 7,549 Calories
Time: 5h03m50s 30 km/h
Elevation: Ascent: 1145m Descent: 1142m
Ride Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: New Plymouth, NZ 30 January 2010
The Yarrows Taranaki Cycle Challenge is a well organised and supported event. There were close to 2,000 participants this year, while dwarfed by the 12,000 Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge participants it is one of the larger cycling events in New Zealand.

With the undulating hills between New Plymouth and Okato at the start of the route I was quickly into a group of cyclists relative to my current (non) fitness level. Without much breeze this time, the route through to Opunake went quickly in 2h31m, some 38 minutes quicker than in the gale force winds of the Round the Mountain on a similar route two weeks prior. While I had already made a sizable time improvement, better conditions were most noticed after turning left out of Opunake for the climb up to Kaponga and onto Eltham. The Te Kiri relay interchange wissed by as bunch that was moving well. Quite a change from the previous time struggling just to move in a forwards direction. I stayed on the bunch until just shy of Kaponga when I dropped a little off the back swapping my drink bottles around. As I pedalled harder to try and rejoin the bunch it went down for no obvious reason. Lack of concentration and wheels touching I suspect. Not such a bad time to have let them go. Safely around the bunch (for me) it was mostly solo riding to the finish. Through the first 100km to Eltham in 3h21m I was now a remarkable 1h17m ahead of my time at the same place from only two weeks ago.

With recollections of barely pedalling from Eltham to New Plymouth I was looking forward to the last 50km. With no 120km/h southerly at my back on this occasion I quickly noted the fact that from Eltham to Midhurst it is uphill. With an afternoon breeze building, while not strong was enough to hold back a little on the way through to Inglewood and down to New Plymouth. It was a warm day and just shy of Inglewood I was finished my third and final drink bottle. As I past each of the remaining organised drink refill stations I looked at the stations and at my bottles and thought to myself “There’s no way I’m stopping” as continued in an ultimately futile pursuit of a sub-five hour ride. With the temperature close to 30degC and I was feeling a tad dehydrated when I reached the finish in 5h3m50s. Under five hours would have been nice, but can’t complain about being 1h7m faster than a mere fortnight ago.

With good weather there were some fast times set today. Unusually however, the quickest recreational riders finished a minute or so quicker than the winner of the more serious premier race which started after the recreational event as the temperature rose. Warmer or not, an amazing 61 riders from the recreational solo category were around the mountain quicker than Matthew Gorter’s Premier winning time of 3h53m33s.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Tour de Roadworks

Tour de Ranges Roadworks 2010

It was not the best start to the weekend when I was trapped at Wellington Airport for an extra 90-minutes due to rain and fog in Wellington. Waking up in Auckland on Saturday morning it was not any better with rain and mist covering the entire region witnessed during the drive from the North Shore down to Clevedon at the other end of the City.


The start of the ride was a little unusual with ‘GO’ being spoken without a proceeding countdown causing some confusion among the cyclists at the front of the start line. Once off the line there was the usual helter-skelter start as riders tried to get the preferred bunches at the front of the field. The hills through the first ten kilometres ably performed the duty of sorting the riders into groups nearer their own fitness and ability.

Ride Data:
Distance: 108km 5,358 Calories
Time: 3:58:55 27.1 km/h
Elevation: Ascent: 1158m Descent: 1168m
Ride Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: Auckland, NZ 23 January 2010


The route of the Tour de Ranges Roadworks has the potential to be a brilliant mix of scenery, undulating hills and very low motor-traffic volumes. Unfortunately the road conditions for 2010 were a let down due to roadworks and to a lesser extent the weather. Personally, I would not train on roads in this state. The gravel on the roads equates to shredding expensive tyres and potentially dangerous blowouts. Having ridden in other events that have altered their courses in the past, the further into the ride witnessing all the puncture repairs I was a tad surprised that the course had not been changed or relocated to elsewhere in the Auckland region today. It was certainly enough to give those at the elite end of the spectrum rather potty mouths! Fortunately I did not have lightweight race tyres on today and managed to complete the course puncture free. It felt like I was in the minority not puncturing today!


While I witnessed many punctures in the first 10-15km, with a smidgen of loose gravel sprinkled over the sealed roads the real trouble was further up the road. To call it roadworks may be kind, as that would presume that there would have to be some road. There were two or three large sections of roadworks in which the road became a loosely formed track with its surface consisting of rocks rather than bitumen or even gravel. Along these sections the distance to puncture ratio continued to decline rapidly with countless riders on road edge swapping inner-tubes and re-inflating their tyres.


Somewhere near Hunua my right eye became irritated. I presumed I had water and spray in it from a wheel in front of me. Unable to clear it, and regretting leaving my cycling glasses on my dining table in Wellington I was riding as a one-eyed alien the rest of the way to the finish. A combination of being half blind, rain and mist meant I completely missed the promised views of the Hunua Ranges from with the Tour de Ranges Roadworks gets its name.


A gradual incline from Mangatawhiri led to a sweet descent down to Kaiaua bringing us to the coast and even some sunshine! Wow! Without the rain and mist it was nice fast ride along the Seabird Coast before the route became more undulating with a couple of short climbs before the King of the Mountains climb up Snake Hill. The KOM, U23 and line honours went to Tom Findlay an hour-and-a-quarter in front of me – best I stick to my day job!!


Once over Snake Hill, it was back into the rain and mist with the last 20km was gentle and undulating offering the chance for me to regain my breath before I made a sprint at the line to ensure I finished in under four hours – 3:58:55 phew!!


St John Ambulance kindly rinsed my little eyeball at the finish but in the end it was a visit to the doctor and with aid of his magic gue and a couple of days it sorted itself out. Must not ever leave my glasses behind again!!!


Looking forward to returning with the roadworks completed and the hope of more sunshine. Any meaningful statistics on punctures today would make enlightening reading. There must have been 100 or so? More?? Not what one normally thinks of when speaking of cycling a century!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Egmont National Park: Pouakai Circuit “closed”?

My original intentions were to climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki today. I chickened on the forecast for high winds and periods of rain. Having cycled Round the Mountain the previous day in gale-force southerlies and seeing the dark clouds dumping rain on the Tararuas to the south I decided to believe the forecast with a leisurely non-alpine start of 10am.
Trip Data:
Distance: 25.37 km 6,029 Calories
Time: 8:03 19 min/km
Elevation: Ascent: 1697m Descent: 1711m
Trail Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: North Egmont, NZ 17 January 2010


The Pouakai Range lies to the North of Mt Taranaki and as such generally offers much better weather during a southerly weather pattern. I last did this circuit as a two-day tramp way back in 2001. Today I intended to use just a day before the “convenient” five-hour drive home to Wellington.


I began the walk passing signs that said something similar to:

Pouakai Circuit:

Track closed between Pouakai and Egmont Road closed.  The swingbridge over the Waiwhakaiho River gorge has been washed out.

I consulted my map for alternatives should I not be able to get across the river. There seemed to be a few alternatives to avoid the gorge, or a worst case three-hour diversion around it. This was enough for me to proceed and figure out what to do when I got there.


On the way to Holly Hut I passed two other parties that were returning to North Egmont having not proceeded beyond Holly Hut after seeing similar signs posted inside Holly Hut. Since leaving Holly Hut the second party had spoken to someone checking stoat traps whom was adamant that the swingbridge had been replaced and that they now had regretted not continuing around the circuit. Cool! I may not need to make use of the three hour diversion later in the day :). With all the track closed signs posted I never saw anyone else until after I had returned to the carpark at North Egmont.


The route from North Egmont to Holly Hut is well marked and very easy to follow. The

travel is easy apart from a few sections crossing land-slips where a little more care is required. The route starts off climbing from North Egmont before becoming gently undulating as you traverse the North-East side of Mt Taranaki. The expanse of the Ahukawakawa Swamp comes into view with “The Dome” as you head towards to Holly Hut.


Holly Hut is large and sophisticated with a solar system charging electric lighting! Now theres something you never see in the Tararuas.


Heading off to Pouakai from Holly Hut you walk around The Dome which is essentially a large lava bubble from past volcanic activty and follow the boardwalk system over the Ahukawakawa Swamp. Whilst walking over the boardwalk and swamp views ahead of the climbs up to Pouakai, Maude and Henry Peak are in prominent view. There is a nice picnic and viewing area part way across the swamp.


Once across the swamp, a staircase (Stairway to Heaven No1) has you rapidly rising towards Pouakai. After passing a side track up to the Pouakai Summit (no time for this for me today) the track down to Pouakai is soon reached – 1h30m from Holly Hut.


Pouakai Hut is sun filled with a huge deck overlooking New Plymouth and the Taranaki coastline. Of course, inside the hut there were the obligatory “Track closed to Egmont Road…..”. Best I get moving in case I need to make that diversion.


Soon after re-joining the track after leaving Pouakai the “Henry Peak staircase” (Stairway to Heaven No2) is prominently visible. The track leads around Maude Peak rather than over it before dropping into a saddle before what is surely the most extensive staircase I have seen in the backcountry. Last time I was here I was walking a waist deep trench from the erosion of trampers walking over it and then the water flowing down it. Now, wow what a massive staircase. Thankyou to all those who have put so much effort into building it.


Once at the top of the “Henry Peak Staircase”, about an hour from Pouakai Hut, a large viewing platform offers views over Holly Hut, The Dome and Ahukawakawa Swamp. An excellent overview of the past five hours of walking.


The descent from Henry Peak begins on boardwalk before descending into the beech forest that leads to Kaiaua Shelter which is about a further hour down the track. It is a bit of leap from Kaiaua Shelter into the Kai Auahi Stream before the stepped and laddered theme of this route resumes. Once reaching the Waiwhakaiho River the brand new swingbridge recently installed my the Department of Conservation was a welcome site.


As I passed a sign saying: “North Egmont Visitors Centre via Road 45 min; Visitors Centre via track 1hr 30min” I made what I consider a mistake of following the shorter route via the road. It was a 27 minute walk among the smell of the possum roadkill. While for the New Zealand forests, possums are better dead than alive, I was ready to dive back into the forest edge if an oncoming vehicle came speeding around the next corner. Becoming the next item of roadkill was certainly not on my agenda! I would certainly choose the track if I did this again!


Walking times: Signposted: Me:
North Egmont to Holly Hut: 4hrs 2hrs 30min
Holly Hut to Pouakai Hut: 2 to 3 hrs 1hr 29min
Pouakai Hut to North Egmont Visitors Centre: 5 to 7 hrs 4hrs 3min
Times shown in this table and inline blog text above are indicative only. Travel times in the backcountry are variable depending on fitness, terrain, the size of your party, weather conditions and stopping times for snacks, photography, your interest in botany and such like.
You can find more information on the Pouakai Circuit at DOC's website.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Round the Mountain against a Southerly Draft

The Round the Mountain is a 150km recreational event around Mt Taranaki. It also offers relay, and ‘bone collector’ events for teams of riders that do not wish to ride the 150km on the roads around Mt Taranaki. With Mt Taranaki shy and hiding behind the clouds all day “Round the Cloud” may have been more applicable.

Camping at the sheltered Lucy’s Gully the night before, a balmy 28degC in my tent I had no idea of the strength of the southerly gales until I got out of the car at the start at the Pukekura Park raceway.
Ride Data:
Distance: 149km 6,396 Calories
Time: 6:11:22 24.1 km/h
Elevation: Ascent: 1539m Descent: 1530m
Ride Data: Garmin Connect Player
Location: New Plymouth, NZ 16 January 2010

Although I have ridden in plenty of strong winds before (it comes with living in Wellington). What was new to me was how persistent they were. In Wellington it is very hilly and you fight into the breeze and find a cutting, gully or bay for an ever so slight breather before the wind hits you again. The Taranaki is largely flat, dairy farmed plains and aside from the significant bump of Mt Taranaki in the middle is relatively flat. This leaves absolutely nowhere to hide to get a brief respite from the gales.

Once away from the lee of Mt Taranaki, the southerly hit somewhere near Okato, it was all gale-force head and cross winds from here all the way through to Eltham. Fortunately I found myself in a good sized bunch climbing up from Opanake but unfortunately it lost its form after relay riders with fresh legs joined at Te Kiri. I was relieved when we were through to Kaponga but had forgotten it was still a good 15km to Eltham and the alleged tailwind. Heading toward Eltham I was starting to wonder if I would make the finish in under seven hours! Something I never contemplated prior to the event!
Once in Eltham, with an average speed a mere 21.4km/h the going certainly did get easier. There was a tailwind this time and not that all too frequent riding in a circle with a headwind the whole way. This was a very good thing!

From Stratford to Inglewood was a gentle downhill with a gale-force tailwind. A very sweetride often at over 60km/h, even after being tired from the first 100km/h of headwinds! For some reason the area between Inglewood and Egmont Village was slow going before picking up the pace again.

The 50km of tailwind was a fantastic way to finish the ride after questioning myself why I do this most weekends when I was riding into the gales for near 100km! Phew! Made it in a 6h11m.