29.0 mi / 11.6 mph / 585 ft. climbing
Home: Robert’s AirBNB
Today we were continuing south and east to Palmerston North, New Zealand’s 7th-largest metropolitan area. The elderly lady running the Marton Motel warned about all the trucks on the road going that way (“they do it to avoid the weigh station on the highway!”), and I think my routing was already doing its best to minimize our time with them, but her advice was appreciated nonetheless!
A few miles in we were forced to be briefly on SH1 (with a shoulder, so it was fine), and we turned left onto Karariki/Halcombe Road. The big trucks that turned with us proved that this is the road we were warned about. Luckily there weren’t too many of them, and our eastward direction gave us a big downhill to the bridge over the Rangitikei River, helping to minimize our period of vulnerability. When I originally plotted the route the obvious path was to continue straight into Halcombe, but when I checked against Strava’s heatmaps, the bright glow (indicating heavy cyclist usage) suddenly disappeared after the river and instead branched off in non-obvious directions. So I put us on one of those branches, even though I wasn’t quite sure why. But the advice we got and now our experience explained it: the trucks made Karariki/Halcombe Rd no fun to ride on, but it was the only reasonable way across the Rangitikei River, so Strava users (and now us) would grit their teeth and bust ass across the bridge, but then get off it as soon as possible. It’s exciting to me when on-the-ground knowledge like that is revealed in aggregated data!
We turned south onto Mingaroa Road, a farm road with no center stripe (though one abruptly appeared for no reason a mile or two later) and the minimal traffic that we’d gotten spoiled with over the last few days. What it didn’t have was the egg-carton peaks and valleys that surrounded us yesterday and in the days before. This was much flatter farmland, where we saw actual planted crops (a rarity thus far in NZ) and even a large circular irrigator!
We skirted around the town of Feilding, close enough to stop at a town’s-edge gas station for lunch, and from that point it stayed busier as we were drawn into the gravitational well of Palmerston North. Luckily there were good (if sometimes annoying) cycling facilities built in to make the approach easier.
Riding along the trail, I was surprised and (a little scared) to see some sort of large animal on the asphalt under the shade of a tree, and it appeared to be clambering to its feet as we approached. At the last moment, I realized it was a human! A woman with a big backpack, knees up and pointed toward us, laying down for a rest. We might have actually seen her yesterday, along with a couple of other big-backpack walkers on the road. Our route since Feilding (and a portion of yesterday’s route) has had us unintentionally following “Te Araroa”, New Zealand’s country-long hiking (“tramping”) trail. This is hopefully one of the just-get-through-it sections of the “trail”.
One final section of no-fun busy-city-street riding brought us into Palmerston and a bit early to our AirBNB, but our host was in the driveway as we approached and said the place was all ready for us. Two bedrooms, laundry, and tons of space for less money than our motel room last night meant that pushing on today and then resting for two nights was the right call.
Plus, it made it easier to celebrate Rett’s birthday! We were still a day early, but I took her over to The Fat Farmer, a small-plates place of the type she likes where we could try new-to-us things like pan-fried goat cheese, or raw thin-sliced asparagus.
We’re heading for Wellington for the holidays, and already have a place booked starting 22 Dec., the time by which we wanted to be off the roads as summer holiday travel goes into overdrive. There are two routes to the city at the southern tip of the narrowing peninsula: direct along the west coast, not recommended due to all the traffic being funneled onto a single road, or longer up and over the mountain range to the east of Palmerston and then in the back way. Since we had taken extra time to hike the Tongariro Crossing (totally worth it!), we no longer had time to ride the longer route, and the highway route was a non-starter, so our plan was to take the Capital Connection, a once-a-day commuter train from Palmerston North straight into Wellington.
I was nervous about getting our bikes and all of our luggage onto the train (that’s part of why we’re in Palmerston North for two nights, in case we need to make multiple attempts), so I sent a message to a local WarmShowers couple, asking if they had any advice/experience. Not only did they quickly reply and set my mind at ease, they also said that they were currently hosting Anna and Moritz (the couple we had met three nights ago in Pipiriki) and that we should drop by for a coffee! Well, they were a couple miles from our AirBNB at an opposite corner of town, so not super-convenient, but they happened to be just steps away from The Fat Farmer! So when we finished up our dinner, we strolled over and were warmly welcomed (with wine!) It was really nice to have an impromptu “party” to add to Rett’s just-the-two-of-us birthday, especially with like-minded people with whom we can create these ephemeral but important communities.
We had taken an Uber to the restaurant, but we walked the two miles home, sightseeing in suburbia.
My nerves had been calmed about the Capital Connection train, except…last night the train’s unofficial Facebook group (sadly, the best source of information) posted that today’s train wouldn’t run due to mechanical issues. Ugh! We weren’t planning on getting on this one, but how long are these mechanical issues going to last?! They run buses to replace the train when this happens, but that doesn’t help us, because the buses don’t have bicycle accommodations like the train does.
So I rode over to the i-SITE (the name for New Zealand tourist information offices) in the center of town where Pamela and Andrew had recommended to go buy tickets and to give them a heads-up that we’d be taking bikes. They didn’t exactly ease my nerves, saying that I should probably just buy tickets on-board the train, because if I buy them now and the train isn’t running tomorrow, we can’t get a refund. And after tomorrow, the train runs for only one more day before going on “holiday” until the New Year. But at least they helped confirm some of my concerns, and we have some options in our back pocket.
By mid-afternoon the Facebook group had posted that, while the morning Palmerston->Wellington train hadn’t run, the evening Wellington->Palmerston run would be happening, so that’s at least a good sign for tomorrow morning!