Whanganui, NZ to Marton, NZ

43.9 mi / 9.9 mph / 2319 ft. climbing
Home: Marton Motel

I told Rett that we can subtract 200 feet from the day’s climbing (as calculated by RideWithGPS), but didn’t tell her why. When I initially looked at the cliff-steep jump in the elevation profile on the way out of Whanganui, I loved the surprise of learning how we would avoid riding it, and I wanted Rett to feel the same.

Riding into Whanganui, preparing to cross back over to the east side of the river, and then somehow get up to that orange hilltop tower.
Right after the bridge, a steep hill looms in front of us, but we go into this 107-year-old tunnel guarded by a line of fierce and wild Maori figures?
If I was part of an indigenous, colonized culture, I think I would screw around and see if there was any limit to wacky-ass shit that I could trick the colonizers into displaying as “serious native art”. That’s probably not what’s happening here, but these guys were awesome whether they’re pure representations of Maori traditions, or a funny way to goof on the white man.
Into the tunnel, which seems to be a time-machine, or faster-than-light spacecraft? Maybe the “1916” is the year we’ll be transported back to?

We entered a long tunnel that took us to an elevator! An elevator that would take us and our heavy-ass bikes 215 feet up to the top of Durie Hill! It was built over a century ago to open access to the new hilltop suburb, and continues to run today as the most-unique form of “public transportation” we’ve ever been on. The trip cost NZ$2 per person (you can tap-to-pay, so they’re keeping up with modern times), and my impression is that these days most use is by tourists rather than “commuters”, which is precisely why I was excited to use it: certainly the historic/tourist aspect was fun and interesting, but we were first-and-foremost using it as public transportation, a way to get from A to B (without ever using it to return to point A, extremely unusual for an elevator!) while saving our legs and lungs a tough morning workout. Using it as originally intended!

Our two giant bikes, us, and the elevator operator all managed to fit inside for the one-way ride to the top.

We pressed the “call” button at the end of the tunnel, listened to the clanking as the elevator came down, and were welcomed aboard by a younger, cuter Elon Musk-turned-elevator-operator (it is an electric-powered form of transportation, after all!) His enthusiastic, interested, and helpful (he was happy to aid in loading our bikes onboard) history-club demeanor is part of what says “tourist attraction” to me, but the elevator is also open and running through the whole workday, 7 days a week, so it must see some regular-commuter use too. [I now see that our Elon Musk was in fact Anthonie Tonnon, owner of the company that currently operates the elevator, and he’s described as a “public transport enthusiast”, so now I’m even more proud to have used the elevator as intended!]

Now 20+ stories above the river, we could walk up a few more (on Rett’s still hike-worn legs) to the top of the orange tower we saw from below.
Looking down upon Whanganui from the Durie Hill Elevator tower. At the horizon you can glimpse a line of the blue Tasman Sea, our first sight of the ocean since leaving it at Tauranga 17 days ago. Remarkably, it took us only six days of actual riding to cross from one side of the country to the other, along what appears to be one of its widest sections.

From the top of the elevator we still had a bit of an upward climb to do over the next 12 miles, but most of it was on a nearly-undetectable and unusually-steady slope, especially considering how the usual New Zealand landscape of deep valleys and steep-sided green hills fell away to our left and right. Another big bonus to the elevator is that it transported us instantly from the bustling center of the 19th-biggest city in the country, at the bottom, to a nearly-empty suburban street at the top, that quickly turned into an even-emptier country road. A wonderful way to escape town!

Ten miles in, we paused at the crossroads (literally and figuratively) of Fordell, to decide whether to turn right, for a 28-mile day with 5 miles of highway and other potentially-busier roads, or continue straight, for a 43-mile day on nearly-empty farm roads. It was basically Rett’s decision to make, as I couldn’t say how her dislike of New Zealand traffic would balance with her dislike of riding 15 more miles than necessary. While we weighed the options, a driver stopped just to have a friendly chat about our ride, and then a few minutes later, a cheerful lightly-loaded American bike tourer pulled up from behind. After chatting with him for a while about our rides and everything else (he was continuing straight, following the Tour Aotearoa route even further out-of-the-way than us), he mentioned that he was here for just 15 days and that this was his fifth time in NZ, and suddenly it clicked: this was Walter! Moritz and Anna had told us about meeting him earlier on the day that we met them at Pipiriki, and us four longer-termers had all sadly shook our heads at the idea of flying all this way to stay only 15 days! But he seemed to be having a great time, so he was certainly making the most of his brief window.

Perhaps inspired by Walter, or just by how great riding on empty roads the last two days had been, Rett decided that we should follow him on the long route. Within the first half mile, we had black cattle running alongside us as we rode, and then a group of mop-topped Highland cattle on the other side, clear confirmation that we had made the right choice.

If you’re like us, you’ve seen plenty of deer in your life, but you’ve probably never had 40 deer all staring directly at you, heads swiveling in perfect synchronicity as we rode by. It was WEIRD. Also as Rett noted, they moved like a school of fish, like one organism flowing through the grass. Venison is widely available in NZ supermarkets, so we knew that domestic deer herds existed, but this was the first time we’ve seen one.
Walter from Albuquerque rides toward us across the sheep-filled valley as we played a bit of leapfrog with him.
#FindRett riding across more mudstone cliffs.
Hey, it’s New Zealand, that probably means there are some green hills to enjoy!
A multi-species scouting party, all keeping a careful eye on us from the ridgeline.
#FindRett riding across the green New Zealand hills, on a road empty enough for me to not worry about her getting way ahead of me on her own while I wait to get the photo.

At 25 miles, the Mangatipona Road we were on crossed the Turakina River and ran into Turakina Valley Road. The Tour Aotearoa route continues east, but we turned south to get to Marton. That’s the point where, if there had not been a sign indicating the distance to Marton, I would have feared that I’d mistakenly sent us down a dead-end, because the road went from wonderfully-empty to the quietest we’ve been on in New Zealand. I noticed that we were approaching the top of a big hill after coming back up from the river, with a line of tall trees for shade on the roadside, and an obscenely-panoramic view of the sheep-filled countryside below us, so I called for a lunch stop. During the nearly-hour break, one (1) motorcycle and one (1) car drove by behind us.

One of our best roadside lunch spots in quite some time. To provide some sense of scale, there are hundreds of sheep grazing in the central green field straight in Rett’s view, but they’re basically invisible in this shot.
A few of the sheep grazing below our lunch spot.
Sheep-pasture panorama, our lunchtime TV screen.

All summer in the US, every time we told someone that we were going to New Zealand, they would absolutely gush, with unsettling similarity, about how it’s their favorite place in the world. Up until now, I’ve been having a wonderful time, but it hasn’t evoked quite that level of fervor in me (which isn’t a surprise, it seemed an impossible amount of hype to live up to anyway). But today, the pastoral solitude of the ride, combined with yesterday’s wild river gorge, and maybe even with a bit of the volcanoes receding behind us, I was finally feeling something like what they all felt. Even though I’m quite sure that zero of those earlier travelers had been gushing about eating lunch on the side of Turakina Valley Road, or had even come within 50 miles of Turakina Valley Road. But my guess is that New Zealand is able to trigger similar feelings in many of its varied environments, which is part of what makes the superlatives so universal.

In recognition of the moment, I reminded Rett that rather than searching down the road for a hidden post-lunch pee-spot, the complete absence of other humans on the road meant that she could just drop her pants right here, and so she did.

Back down at sheep-level, Lamby had plenty of flocks running as she yelled her “HIII SHEEEEPIEEES!!!”
I don’t know if breed or age is the bigger factor, but there is a wide variation in sheep-cuteness (many of them, like these, are super-cute!)
During a rest break to cool off in the shade of a giant tree during an extended hill-climb, Lamby has a little more luck making friends.
Just before reaching our motel in Marton, Rett pulled into a convenience store that offered 20 different flavor-designs of these bubble-drinks. They appear to be extremely-exempt from NZ’s general “no single-use plastics anywhere, including now produce bags in grocery stores” law, but they were really good and refreshing in the hot sunny afternoon.


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