Orere Point, NZ to Thames, NZ

37.3 mi / 11.1 mph / 471 ft. climbing
Home: Rolleston Motel

We woke to a morning more sunny and more dry than any we’ve had so far in this camping stretch. That again made packing up the tent easy, and easy also was breakfast since we had claimed a picnic table. We then faced the long non-easy climb back out from the beach, starting with a vehicle-defeating pedestrian gate that also seemed cleverly designed specifically for bicycles: we could back the bikes (one at a time) into a corral just long enough to hold them, then flip the gate from one wall to the other, and wheel forward out the other side. We also could have used the code sent with our online booking to simply unlock the padlock on the vehicle gate, but since we avoided that at the previous two campgrounds as well, why start now? Yesterday afternoon a couple of rangers talked to the family next to us, and first I assumed they were confirming bookings, but they didn’t talk to us, so it seems they really trust the gate-code method to limit cheaters, since we weren’t checked at any of the three Auckland regional parks we stayed at.

Looking north from Beachview campground along the cliffs that edge the western side of the Firth of Thames.
Nearing the end of the park roads that will finally get us back to our route (cattle in the front, white sheep dotting the hill behind).

Once we exited the park, the gorgeous road back down to the sea continued to be as empty as it was yesterday, and maybe that’s why it seemed like we were passing through the most-vocal populations of birds and sheep that we’ve encountered so far.

Reverse of the previous photo, sheep in front, cattle behind.
Descending to the water on our last hill in some time.

Heading south with the water on our left and a peninsula past that extending north was structurally similar to riding along the Bay of Conception in Baja; it’s funny how the brain can pattern-match things like that, and apparently the sun curving “the wrong way” to the north wasn’t enough to prevent the match. We had 12 miles of that coast-riding, and while the road wasn’t glued to the water for the whole time, it was pretty ideal riding in either case.

Coast-riding along the Firth of Thames, not to be confused with the Bay of Conception.

In Kaiaua we stopped at “The Pink Shop”, an everything-shop suddenly bustling with two-wheeled customers. Several were getting ice creams, but Rett hustled us into hot second-breakfast sandwiches. With that extra fuel in her, she fought hard through the wind until we could make a left (eastward) turn and convert its hindering to helping.

The Pink Shop in Kaiaua is pink, and a place where seemingly everyone stops.

Kaiaua is technically where the Hauraki rail trail starts, but Strava’s heatmap shows most cyclists stay on the road. The reason quickly became obvious, as the white gravel path is so rough it looks difficult to ride even on mountain bike (though we did see several people doing it). Once we made our left turn (onto the busier SH25), the heatmap showed the same thing, though in this case the trail was officially closed for construction work, so I’m not sure if it’s avoided due to its poor quality or because it’s simply not an option. SH25 (“State Highway”) is definitely less-fun to ride on, but it improved a little once we got past the disappearing-shoulder sections at the west end.

A lunch stop at the only other business before the end of today’s route. We bought just drinks and chips and made our own sandwiches. The bright colors and simple construction also reminded us of Baja.
A scene that might make you think we’re deep in a tropical wilderness, even though we’re just on a highway. The pointy mountain is Kaitarakihi, 2795 ft. tall, and the mountainyest mountain we’ve seen.
Proof that we’re just on SH25, pointing to Kaitarakihi. New Zealand’s version of “rumble strips”, made with small thick strips of paint rising above the road surface, is far superior to the American version where the road is gouged out below the surface.
Crossing the wide Waihou River on the Kopu Bridge. I initially expected to take the one-lane old bridge (to the left) across, and was disappointed to see barriers preventing entry. But the bike route directed us onto this dedicated bike lane on the new bridge, so I guess it’s all good. The crazy thing is that this new bridge didn’t exist until 2012, so traffic on this semi-major highway had to pass over a one-lane bridge well into the 21st century!

We hooked a few miles north to our motel in Thames, for a break after three nights of low-amenity camping. I made a run out to Pak’n’Save, the first non-Countdown grocery store we’ve been to, excited to see what different products they sold. The answer was “almost the exact same products”, so I assumed that it’s just the “warehouse” brand of Countdown/Woolworths. But no, it turns out it’s the warehouse brand of Countdown/Woolworths sole competitor, New World! We’ve heard Kiwis complain about the grocery duopoly in their country, but it appears even worse than that. It might as well be a monopoly since the two operations are almost indistinguishable anyway!

On the way back I rode down the main retail strip of Thames (curiously one block over from SH25), and while the small storefronts that lined both sides of the street for four solid blocks all looked occupied, there were approximately zero humans to be seen. I guess things really close down on Sundays here! But it’s also interesting to see that as long as it’s not the grocery-store market, New Zealand has an endless supply of small independent businesses all competing with each other.

Our US$85 motel room was so nice (kitchenette, back patio), and Rett was feeling understandably worn out after six straight days of motion (which we haven’t done since Montana, four months ago) that we immediately decided to book a second night so that we could have a day off tomorrow. Unfortunately they were fully-booked (odd for Monday), so tomorrow we’ll make it seven straight days of motion. At least they had a hot tub that we took a soak in after dinner to loosen up our muscles!

The very nice Rolleston Motel, Thames.
Moonrise over the Coromandel mountains from our Thames motel.


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