51.7 mi / 10.5 mph / 2109 ft. climbing
Home: Julien and Sophie’s AirBNB
The only route south from Rotorua begins with a 10-mile, 800 ft. hill climb, all along busy SH5. Not a recipe for relaxed cycling. Except! The cycle-friendliness of Rotorua extends south, and a route has been designed that keeps you off the actual highway for 17 miles out of town! After an initial brief section on the shoulder, you get routed onto a “sidewalk” that continues for the next 6.5 miles! It’s very strange to have a concrete-square path designated for long-distance cycling (there are no businesses or residences along the highway), but it works! The “cracks” every five feet were barely noticeable, and the smooth concrete surface was actually way faster to ride on than the shitty large-grain chipseal that coats most highway shoulders here. The only concern was running into someone coming in the other direction bombing down the hill and crashing head-on into us on the narrow path, but the one party we encountered was paying attention and swerved over to the grass on their mountain bikes as we pulled to a stop.
The next phase shunted us onto an empty county road that looped away from SH5 a bit, which added mileage, but it was so worth it that we decided to continue following the bike route even when we came to the second, bigger loop and its gravel surface.
What we didn’t expect was that the farmer’s path we could see cows marching down (from a vantage point on the first loop road) was actually the second loop road that we would be routed onto! Suddenly we were in the middle of a herd, with the cows wanting to go one way, and us the opposite, but they were so skittish that even when walking our bikes, we created quite a bit of drama and chaos in their normally-unbothered morning.
Once we cleared the first herd it was more fun exploration for us, but that fun, and the path, came to a simultaneous end. Well, the path didn’t precisely end, but the only way forward was through a cow-tunnel under the main highway, coated with a four-inch layer of mud and manure. That wasn’t the right way, because we could now see the third loop road we wanted to be on, just on the other side of a small fenced pasture (containing more cows) to our left. It seemed we had somehow missed a fork where the “cow path” and “bike path” split into independent, parallel streams. Or, maybe cutting through this pasture was the route? We had already walked the bikes under a rope “gate” to escape the first herd, so I decided to just open this other rope gate and walk the bikes the 70 yards across this pasture too. Luckily these cows were less-skittish, and mostly just stared at us like we were morons. It turns out they were right, because the big steel gate on the opposite side was locked. Dammit! Well, we could backtrack, and try to find the fork, but why admit failure? We instead took all the bags off the bike, lifted them over the fence, clambered over ourselves, and continued onto the third loop road as if that was exactly how we’d planned it.
The third (and longest) loop road brought us by the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, a thermal zone that didn’t exist until the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption rejiggered the whole magma-plumbing system in the region! We didn’t have the time (or the desire to pay the admission) to tour yet another volcanic zone, but we did stop in their cafe for some really good 2nd-breakfast pastries!
Finally we “had” to get on SH5 for a few miles, but the shoulder was decent so it wasn’t too bad. We still took the opportunity to branch off onto Broadlands Road though, a country road that would take us through an unusually flat (for New Zealand!) valley. It had no shoulders, and had somewhat more than the ideal (zero) amount of traffic, but was still preferable over SH5.
We got drinks to go with lunch in the small crossroads of Reporoa, the only bit of retail in the 50 miles between Rotorua and Taupo. Taupo was hosting a half-Ironman today (Taupo is apparently home to the world’s 2nd-oldest full-Ironman, and next year’s half will be the world championship), and by luck I had stumbled upon that news last night, learning that our road into Taupo would be closed for the bike phase of the race. The city’s site said it would be closed until 1pm, and the Ironman site until 2pm, so we didn’t want to get to the closure point too early. But also the slowest riders would be done by 11:30am at the latest, so I figured even if we got there “early” they’d likely let us through. Well, we got to the closure point right around 1pm, and the only signs that a race had even taken place were the occasional energy-gel wrapper on road (oh, and a water bottle!) I had hoped that cars would still be slow to return, but no, they were already back in force, maybe even driving more aggressively and angry at “stupid cyclists” closing down their road at all.
Rett’s energy flagged and she struggled through the last last 10 miles, which is not terribly surprising on a nearly-five-hour ride, and I should have done a better job of noting how hilly the residential streets of Taupo are! But we made it to our basement-of-their-house AirBNB, Rett got a soak in their giant tub, and we crashed out after dinner.