Athenree, NZ to Tauranga, NZ

33.7 mi / 9.9 mph / 1890 ft. climbing
Home: Barbara’s WarmShowers House

In addition to the “soft amenities” we got from the kind people at Athenree Holiday Park, the “hard amenities” at our first-time NZ holiday park also exceeded our expectations. Of course there were the hot pools, and the nice clean bathrooms and showers (Rett especially loved that they provided a stack of clean rags and told you to use one to wipe up the stainless-steel sink area when you were done), but the kitchen definitely made it possible to live without a picnic table at our site. It boasted some 10 burners worth of stovetops, two microwaves, a boiling-water dispenser, multiple refrigerators (and stickers for you to label your food with), and then of course more sinks to clean up in. Rett used the facilities this morning to experiment with oatmeal breakfast, since precooked bacon (that we use to make our standard bagel breakfast sandwiches) does not seem to exist in this country.

Leaving Athenree Hot Springs & Holiday Park.

A short relatively-peaceful prelude came to an end when we returned to SH2, which was the only available road running along this bay-carved coast for much of the day (I saw another cyclist use the acronym State HIghway Two, get it?) We had a shoulder for most of it, in many places a good 8 feet wide, but there were plenty of bridges where the shoulder disappeared that we needed to dash across (sometimes stopping and waiting for an opportunity to merge into traffic), and then in areas where the shoulder was simply narrower, there were plenty of asshole drivers (including logging truckers) who refused to slide over at all, even when they had plenty of room. Except for the bridges, it wasn’t especially dangerous (for example, we never had an instance of a vehicle squeezing back into us as an unexpected oncoming car threatens collision), but I could certainly understand how scary it felt to Rett, especially since she doesn’t have a mirror to know when to expect the wind blast from a close-passing truck (unless I tell her, which I try to do, but I’m never 100% perfect).

The shoulder wasn’t always this wide, but it was for a good portion of SH2. But you can see a sort of “median” marked in the middle of the road, and the most frustrating thing is that, when the shoulder narrowed, very few vehicles would nudge over into that median to give us a little more space. It’s as if they thought touching the center white lines would explode their cars.

Finally after 18 miles of that “fun”, we were able to turn off to an alternate road (curiously, we had slowly been catching up to a more-commuter looking cyclist for the last 10 miles, and he continued on SH2; I’m not sure why a local rider would choose this road!) Once on the Old Tauranga Highway, the universe changed instantly and completely. We were suddenly on a zero-vehicle road, and even though we never strayed more than half a mile from SH2, that half-mile gap was packed-in with the gorgeous New Zealand country side that didn’t exist next along SH2 (or if it did, our eyes certainly didn’t have time to see it!)

Ah, so much more peaceful on the Old Tauranga Highway.

Sadly the Old Highway didn’t even last for three miles, but when it returned us to SH2, we were able to cross over to the east side of it onto a well-defined Omokoroa to Tauranga cycleway, a mix of quiet roads and bike paths that definitely added miles, but miles that were totally worth it.

I was almost surprised to see that freight rail exists in New Zealand (we haven’t gone across many (any?) railroad tracks), but I guess it especially makes sense to see it near the nation’s busiest shipping port.

Even before we got onto SH2 in the morning, I noticed the first giant hedge walls blocking off the landscape. These green walls were 25 feet tall or more, only a couple feet wide, yet completely opaque. They would form giant boxes, maybe half the size of a football field, and on the occasions I could glimpse inside one, they were usually filled with some form of fruit tree, whose tops would reach only a quarter of the way to the open top of the “box”. I was fascinated by the structure and the secret, sheltered spaces that the structure created. They gave me the feeling I get only from monumental architecture, like cathedrals, or Frank Gehry’s Meta buildings in Menlo Park.

The 25-foot high “hedges” that fenced off most of our views today.
One corner of a hedge-square, matching the electric pole in height.
The view inside one of the hedge boxes. I needed to have Rett standing here for scale, because the kiwi trees in the center are probably tall enough for her to walk under.

When we exited a bike path and entered a road hedged in on both sides by outer walls of these boxes, Rett noticed a flat rear tire. We suspected tire wire from SH2, but found no evidence to pull out when changing the tube. At least we didn’t have to change it on SH2!

Tauranga is the 5th biggest city in New Zealand, so I thought it would be a good place to try our first WarmShowers stay in this country. Barbara graciously accepted our request, and while her house was pretty well located for us, our arrival time was not ideal, as schools were getting out and every school in the city must have been located along the route I chose. There were also some 12% hills for more fun.

Thus it was wonderful that Barbara was right at the door to her house when we turned in, with drinks, including a Lemon & Paeroa, a classic New Zealand specialty originally from the town we passed through just a few days ago.

Our host Barbara’s gorgeous back yard.

Our warm showers (such a small, but critical portion of the whole WarmShowers experience) were great, and when we were refreshed, Barbara was almost done preparing a wonderful meal for us: a whole roasted chicken, crisp-baked potatoes, and a colorful vegetable medley. On this late-November Thursday, it was the Thanksgiving dinner she didn’t even know that we’d been missing! (though she had been in the US recently visiting cousins, and even was in Seattle within a couple of weeks of us!) And we closed it out with some bread pudding and hokey-pokey ice cream, so she’s helping us check all the “Kiwianas” off our list!

Then, she offered something I don’t think we’ve ever had from a WarmShowers host: a tour around town! We gladly piled into her little 4×4 and she drove us down to the iconic Mount Maunganui, an improbable volcanic cone that sits at the mouth of the harbor at the tip of a completely-flat peninsula. While we didn’t ascend to the top, we circled partway around, once again marveling at what kind of stuff New Zealand manages to drop into “city parks”.

A statue of Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea, welcomes us to the harbor.
The Pohutukawa trees in this park are incredible even when you can’t see their Christmas colors.
Our host Barbara and Rett on the walk around Mount Maunganui.

On the way out she even took us on a quest to find a lighted tree for Christmas that Rett had spied from a distance, without even knowing how much we like Christmas lights. The whole exploration was something we theoretically could have done on our own on our bikes, but there was a 0% chance of us actually doing it (unless we were staying in town for a week). So we were delighted that Barbara gave this 5th-biggest-city the chance it deserved to show itself off to us.


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