20.6 mi / 8.5 mph / 2014 ft. climbing
Home: Omana Clifftop Campground
We knew rain was supposed to come in the morning, but it held off long enough (as forecasted) to allow us to get the tent packed up dry (surprisingly, we didn’t even have any condensation inside after pitching on the grass in this relatively-humid climate…I hope that continues!) We had been smart enough (a rarity for us) to eliminate the complexity of camp-breakfast from the morning routine, and instead take advantage of nearby civilization by eating there after riding just a few miles on empty stomachs.
The rain managed to catch us pretty well in those few miles, and then the coffee shop next to the grocery store didn’t really have any breakfast food items, so we returned a bit back down the hill to Carpark Cafe that Rett found. We pulled off our wet outer layers and dried off a bit before stepping into the bustling diner and having our first NZ breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, all slightly different than American, but nothing so crazy as Marmite!)
With the rain stopped, we headed back to the SeaLink ferry terminal to take us off the island, even though our tickets weren’t until 1:30pm. We knew there was a public toilet on the hill above the terminal where we could finish our morning routines, and then Rett wanted to make some Thanksgiving calls to family (it was now Friday for us, but still Thursday in the US). Around 11:15am, rain threatened again, so we headed down the final stretch to the actual terminal for protection. Our general idea had been to then walk back up the hill for one final winery visit, but when chatting with the friendly ferry workers, one said that it was no problem for us to get on an earlier ferry (like the one leaving in 15 minutes) if we wanted to. We mulled it over for a couple minutes, and then decided to take advantage of his offer. That struck me as a direct benefit of being in a country that matches our native language; we wouldn’t have even thought to ask if an earlier ferry was possible, so without the natural conversation that doesn’t need to be forced through translation, we would have never known that it was.
On this boat we were able to lash our bikes to the rails, which was good because another passenger warned that the windy and rainy weather was likely to make it a rougher crossing. This time we spent the whole transit inside the enclosed passenger deck, making sure to use their outlets to charge our devices in the middle of this multi-day camping period. One big advantage of the SeaLink ferry was that it would take us to Half Moon Bay, miles east of our Central Auckland departure terminal, nearly to the eastern edge of the Auckland metro area. So we could skip a lot of city/suburban riding.
Upon disembarking (with the pedestrians ahead of the cars), we were greeted with cold blasting winds and more spitting rain. Thankfully it settled as soon as we got away from the water, but just getting through the hills and turns of Howick made us glad that we only had this fraction of suburbia to fight through. We had lunch in a hilltop park, relying on a line of trees for protection from the wind.
I thought the riding might get easier once we got on Whitford Road and left all the intersections behind, but it was quite the opposite. The shoulderless winding road was packed with fast-moving cars, and it became genuinely terrifying for them to pass within inches of our handlebars while we wobbled up steep hills at 4mph with the gusty winds slamming into us from the side making us even more unstable than usual.
Rett pulled over into a driveway in despair, and I was at a loss for solutions myself. Continuing forward seemed untenable, but going back wouldn’t be much easier. Should we just sit here for hours until traffic died down? We looked into the properties that the driveway belonged to, half-hoping to find someone with a truck that could rescue us, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Eventually Rett’s stubbornness reasserted itself over her fear, and she decided to push on.
Luckily, our breaking point had been the peak of the danger, and conditions quickly improved. We moved into an area with more tree cover that helped with the wind, we got some lucky breaks in the traffic, and soon after a shoulder appeared, and along with passing lanes on subsequent uphills, that gave us some space to maneuver the rest of the way. Not that there still weren’t assholes passing way too fast and close.
In Beachlands we stopped at the Countdown, and the new shopping center plus housing helped explain some of why we’d had such a tough time coming from the west: later historic aerial viewing confirmed that the town has doubled in size since 2015, while the sole road connecting it with Auckland has not changed in anticipation of the increased commuter load.
With our bikes we were able to cut through some trails and enter through the western back door of Omana Regional Park (a wooden gate in the livestock fence separating it from a flock of sheep on the other side). We had an even larger amount of open lawn to chose from as a tent spot than we did at last night’s regional park campground. We stayed at the western end, having a whole section completely to ourselves, but with enough other parties set up in other areas to help it not feel creepy. The website again undersold this campground. This one did only have vault toilets, but still had sinks with running water, and the same wooden cold-shower stalls, and the same rubbish/recycling bins, making it a really nice place to stay.
Right when we wanted to cook dinner, some light rain came through, so we had to wait that out in the tent, and then I just went out after it cleared to heat up our Indian dinners and brought Rett’s to her in the tent. A longer and more-stressful day than we’d expected, so it was definitely good that we’d decided to come back to the mainland two hours earlier than planned!