35.1 mi / 9.0 mph / 2721 ft. climbing
Home: Paul’s AirBNB
Continuing south out of Turangi we had six more miles to do on SH1, and although it had us rising up toward the volcanic high point at the center of the North Island, we were now well-clear of Lake Taupo, so the shoulders, good visibility, and surprisingly-low traffic left the slow-rolling chipseal as the sole remaining irritant.
Thus, when we turned off onto SH46 and saw maybe five vehicles in an hour, the sense of relief I felt came from a place broader than simply leaving SH1 behind: it came from the awareness that nearly-traffic-free roads do exist in New Zealand, something that I had been beginning to doubt again. Hopefully we can continue to find more of them!
SH46 around the south shore of Lake Rotoaira is the “long way” to National Park from Turangi, but it has a more-gradual climb than SH47 around the north shore, and likely a bit less traffic. The freedom to gawk at the volcanic slopes of Mount Tongariro as we rode (without having to worry about passing cars) was a joy.
Even once we joined SH47 to head south around the volcanoes, traffic increased, but still to something like only one vehicle per minute. And half of them were shuttle buses/vans/cars returning people from their Tongariro Crossing hike. When we do the hike, I will certainly keep in mind how much space the drivers gave us when choosing an operator!
The ride took us from our start point at 1200 ft. above sea-level to just about 3000 ft., but it was another relief to learn that significant climbing can be accomplished in New Zealand without any 10%+ grades. Much of the climbing was barely even noticeable as such, for which I guess we can thank all those previous 10%+ grades for making 5% feel like nothing.
The tiny town of National Park is basically a hiker/skier camp, with backpackers walking down the streets, a couple bars/restaurants, and a single Four Square gas-station/grocery store, which did an incredible job of tailoring its products for the town’s visitors. Backpacker meals, cycling gloves, and hiking poles are not things you usually expect to find at a gas-station store! And darn good groceries too, including a small but totally-usable produce section.
Days 2 and 3
Four days ago, everything looked set up nicely for us to do the 12-mile Tongariro Crossing (often cited as “one of the best day hikes in the world”) the day after we arrived, and then we would take a day off to rest our hiking muscles, and then ride onward. But the forecast deteriorated to the point where the shuttle companies (which is how most people, even with cars, do the one-way hike) cancelled their services for both Tuesday and Wednesday. Even if not for the gale force winds and potential snow(!!), spending the whole hike inside a cloud would have made it pointless anyway. Thursday was looking a bit better, and luckily we have the luxury of time to wait out the weather.
But even inside our AirBNB house at “only” 2700 ft., the temperature got down to 59F the first morning, so we definitely needed to fire up the wood-burning stove (the only form of heat in the house), which seemed kind of wild as we near the longest day of the year and the start of summer. But the second morning was even worse, down to 53F inside, so we kept the stove burning all day, conserving wood to make sure it would last. Nearly every place we’ve stayed in New Zealand has electric heating pads under the fitted sheets on the beds, and we finally had an opportunity to make use of them!