23.2 mi / 7.9 mph / 2726 ft. climbing
Home: Christine and John’s Island House
The day’s forecast was clear with light winds (a rarity here!), and since we didn’t need to move out of our hosts’ home until tomorrow, we took the opportunity to do an unloaded day-ride around the island. The downside was that the combination of “midweek” + “not quite yet summer” meant that the weekender-focused wineries were unlikely to be open, but that probably kept the narrow hilly roads clearer for us.
We headed east and once we got past Onetangi, the last of the three main beaches on the island’s north coast, we had the whole eastern half of the island nearly to ourselves. We had left the residential areas behind, and the landscape opened up into classic New Zealand hills dotted with sheep.
I’ve been reading a lot of New Zealand bike touring blogs lately for routing ideas, and haven’t seen any photos as spectacular as even an average day from our Rocky Mountain summer. “Hilly green farmland” is so standard that little stands out. But then I realized that “hilly green farmland” describes some of our absolute favorite places to ride (e.g., the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, the Finger Lakes of New York), areas of quiet beauty that might not entice Instagram’s algorithm, but perfectly stimulate the algorithm in our minds and hearts.
There is a single 16-mile road that loops the fat eastern end of the island, and 10 of those miles are gravel. We set out clockwise on the gravel, hoping to make it by the (closed) Manowar Bay winery. The first couple miles went well (better once we dropped the air pressure in our tires), but then the steep ups-and-downs combined with looser rough gravel started making it dangerous. I made the decision to call it and turn around. Rett was disappointed but ultimately acquiesced, and we backtracked to the start of the loop.
She still wanted to do more distance though, so we continued counterclockwise on the loop, where it was paved for the first 6 miles. The offshoot would add another 800 feet of steep climbing to our day, but a sign at the crossroads indicated that the Passage Rock winery was actually open on Wednesday, so that might help make it worth it? Google disagreed, but the Maps hours were last updated 8 weeks ago, so maybe it was a case of the analog information being more up-to-date than digital? Darn it, no, the sign at their entrance said Friday-Sunday, though I even rode down the dirt drive to confirm which of the conflicting sources were correct (two different spots on their website disagreed as well).
The good news was that the ride took us up and down (with grades reaching 14%!) through a dense jungle forest, a completely different environment than the cleared farmland on the north side of the loop. And we stopped to eat our lunches in a cool shaded historic cemetery. Despite the dense greenery, bugs haven’t (yet!) been a problem, which feels almost unnatural.
After returning to the house, I went back out to Countdown for dinner groceries (repeating the 12%-grade climb back home again). Walking barefoot from the deck and across the grass to the grill, looking down to the blue water the whole time, made me feel like we were king and queen of this island life.
Since the house was only half-a-mile from relatively-secluded Palm Beach (where the southern end is reportedly treated as clothing-optional), I figured it would be silly to not see it during our time here. But since it was 300 feet down (and back up) in that half-mile, and Rett was understandably exhausted from our ride, I went down on my own near sunset. The beach was pretty great, but even better was the hike back up through the densest jungle-forest I’d been in so far, with the sunset birdsongs ringing all around the narrow gorge. Might have to bring Rett down tomorrow!