32.0 mi / 10.6 mph / 866 ft. climbing
Home: Steve and Dorene’s AirBNB
We didn’t have the time or energy to see anything in Taupo last night, so this morning we headed to the waterfront center that had two exciting draws for us. One was “The World’s Coolest McDonald’s”, which has a genuine DC-3 airplane sitting next to it. And you can climb up and eat your meal inside the cabin! We’re pretty big fans of McDonald’s anyway, so that’s where we headed for breakfast.
A couple we had met in Rotorua had mentioned a great discount shop for Merino wool clothing in Taupo, so after breakfast we walked over to check that out. Before we came to New Zealand, Rett had been interested in replacing some of her merino items, but I thought maybe waiting until we got to the world’s merino epicenter would be a better place to restock? Unfortunately they didn’t have any of the specific styles Rett was looking for, though if we were just living a normal life it would have been an amazing place to stock up on more-casual merino clothing, at some really good prices.
The ride would take us from the north to the south end of Lake Taupo, riding along the eastern shore. Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake, which probably goes a long way to explaining the outdoor/watersports/adventure/triathlon focus of the town. But as people spoiled enough to have grown up on actual “Great Lakes”, it’s difficult to be impressed by a lake that you can ride from one end to the other of in a single day! Ok, the grey day probably didn’t help our impression either.
Riding SH1 the whole way to our destination wasn’t ideal, but the only other option (going around the west side of the lake) was nearly twice as long, so we just bit the bullet and dealt with the traffic. For most of it the volume wasn’t actually that bad, perhaps due to our luck of this non-ideal segment falling on a Sunday. At one point the road left the lake shore and climbed a big hill (with all the traffic going around us in the passing lane), but at the top of the hill there was a gravel section that slowed everyone down to 30mph (or less for the big trucks), and that had a similar caravan-creating effect as controlled one-way construction zones do.
So when we hit the dreaded shoulderless blind-curve sections down at the lake shore again, we got the caravan pros-and-cons: periods with no vehicles coming up behind us, and periods with long lines including the massive trucks.
At one point taking a break on the side of the road, we could literally feel the ground shaking beneath our feet when the trucks roared by. That’s something you luckily(?) don’t notice when riding, but you still notice their terrifying mass (and thus, momentum) through every other sense.
Despite the constant fear of death that accompanied us along the narrowed main artery of New Zealand’s transportation system, and around the cliff-enforced hairpin curves, we actually covered the whole terrifying stretch without anyone trying to make an unsafe pass around us, or any angry drivers findng a way to express their displeasure at us. While the drivers get some credit for being chill, a good part of the credit also goes to Rett’s newfound willingness and ability to strategically pull off the road and let the caravans rumble by.
Even once the road straightened out and we were able to relax, all that did was give me mental space to notice how crazy New Zealand’s shoulder policy is. When we were going around those lake-edge bends, it made sense that the shoulder disappeared, because there was simply no room to make the road wider. Same for old bridges. But there are plenty of other places where the shoulder disappears (or narrows) for no discernible reason at all. Basically it feels like New Zealand has no standards-book for road-building, so the road width and striping is determined on-the-fly by whoever is on-site managing the crew that day. Or even the same guy just gets bored and decides to turn the knob on the asphalt-spreader back-and-forth between “WIDE” and “NARROW” like a contestant on The Price is Right as he looks back to the audience for approval.
We luckily hit the final long shoulderless bridge when no other traffic was nearby, and then we were in Taurangi and could turn off through a park to our AirBNB (a bikes-only short-cut!) Our unit is in the lower-level of our hosts’ house, and not only is it really-cleverly designed to optimize the space for AirBNB guests’ needs, our ex-Canadian host was also rightly-proud of their effort to actually improve the comfort and efficiency of their house: insulation in the walls! Double-pane windows! They’re wild modern ideas that totally make things better, but most New Zealand houses haven’t bothered with.
We’ve been hoping to do the Tongariro Crossing hike two days from now after arriving in National Park, but the weather is now looking terrible for it. By pure luck, our host runs a transport business that shuttles people to the hike, and tomorrow’s weather was the only decent option over the next few days, so we hoped that we might be able to work something out with him to pull it off ahead-of-schedule. But it turns out tremendous luck and baffling coincidence don’t always accompany bike touring. Just most of the time.