Waihola, NZ to Dunedin, NZ

31.2 mi / 9.6 mph / 2334 ft. climbing
Home: Lesley’s AirBNB

There are two ways into Dunedin from the south. The first is inland along the Highway 1 corridor (with some alternate roads) and is mostly flat until 2 or 3 good hills at the end. The second cuts straight to the coast, and rides along the ocean for miles, with just one of those Dunedin-entry hills at the end. The problem is that it has a 1000-foot steep up-and-down right at the beginning to cross over to the coast, but the campground host astutely (especially for a big fat dude) understood that tackling big climbs is easier at the beginning of the day than at the end, and unequivocally recommended the coast route.

Despite the recommendation aligning perfectly with Rett’s preferences (he also reported that traffic would be minimal), she was still surprised in the morning that we’d be taking that route. But she quickly accepted her fate, and up we went.

Smart moo cows looking curiously at a couple of idiots choosing to climb a giant hill on their heavy-as-a-cow bicycles.

On the way up, just five cars passed us, confirming the campground host’s recommendation and making the climb so much easier for us. And we needed every bit of help that we could get like that, since it reached grades of 11 to 13 percent, which is steep enough to require a bit of walking, or better, stopping and resting, until Rett’s heartbeat could recover a bit and she could restart. She was somewhat miffed at her need to stop, but I reminded her that a 12% grade (which she rode up most of the way) is twice as steep as a 6% grade, and a 6% grade is a steep climb! The road-builders took a 6% hill, stacked a second 6% hill over it, and they still couldn’t stop her!

High above Lake Waihola (I think that’s roughly last night’s campground down there on the near shore).
Not quite as dramatic as the Crown Range above Queenstown, but it will never stop making us feel badass when we see airplanes flying bellow us.

During one of those pauses, we looked back down a curve and glimpsed our own personal Gollum shadowing us, just like he trailed the Fellowship of the Ring into Moria. This was “Orange”, a girl we had first noticed two days ago at our rain-chilled lunch stop at the Whistling Frog Cafe (so named for her orange Ortlieb pannier set matching her orange bike). She then passed us the next day as we were taking a break while climbing the big morning hill out of Kaka Point, and we re-passed her as she pulled over at the Matwai Falls trailhead. She followed us into the Four Square grocery in Owaka (mirroring our 2nd breakfast stop), and then she somehow got around us again because we saw her feet poking out of her already-set-up tent when we arrived to the Waihola campground last night. When we saw her below us again this morning, Rett pushed the pedals back into motion, and we didn’t see her anymore on the up or downhill.

Rett racing airplanes (the only reason she lost is because the airplane was going down and she was still going uphill).
There’s the ocean, beyond those hay bales and 1000 feet below us!

The hill was symmetrical, and a steep curving downhill is not the reward you would expect to earn from your effort, because you need to be squeezing your brakes the whole way down to keep from flying off the road. But this was the best 12% downhill ever. Echoing yesterday’s “rollers”, it mixed steep downhill sections with short uphills, so we could just let it rip on the downs and then count on gravity (rather than our brakes) to shed our excess speed on the ups. And while the ups slowed us, our momentum easily carried us to the next down without any pedaling effort (unlike yesterday), so it was truly like riding a 1000-foot high roller coaster with a track three-and-a-half miles long. And due to the speed-math, zero cars passed us on that dive. Glorious!

Rett joyfully riding one-handed down one of the best downhills we’ve ever descended.

At the bottom we passed the small settlement of Taieri Mouth, whose river harbor reminded me of the quiet fishing villages of Nova Scotia. It would have been an ideal place to stop for 2nd-breakfast, but the town appears to not have any retail establishments. Which is a double-crime, because far too many people live there for there to be no store, so not only were we denied 2nd-breakfast, “our” road became filled with far too many cars driving back and forth to Dunedin to get their 2nd-breakfasts (and everything else). Ok, the traffic still wasn’t too bad, but c’mon, someone open a store in Taieri Mouth!

We were then granted 15 miles of the best coastal riding we’ve done in New Zealand, with the ocean being constantly in arms-reach, and many pull-offs and beaches making it easy to stop wherever we wanted. At one of those breaks, Orange again came past us, stopping just ahead for her break on the same stretch of beachside cliffs, and kept her back to us as we passed behind her again.

Coastal riding.
A pretty good place to reapply sunscreen, though some of the hills protecting Dunedin are beginning to loom ahead.

Even though global warming has seemingly eliminated the cold and snowy northern winters of our birthplaces, my out-of-date childhood experiences still triggered a link to us riding along a flower-filled blue-ocean coast in Baja, Mexico two Februarys ago. “How strange and lucky we are to be in this warm vibrant place at a time of year we associate with the long drag of grey cold lifelessness!”

Baja, Mexico, or South Island, New Zealand? Who can say!
The green waters of the Pacific Ocean near Dunedin, New Zealand.

Since 2nd-breakfast wasn’t a thing, we got some hot takeaways for pre-lunch (meat pie and sausage roll) at the very Baja-like general store (eggs sitting on the counter for individual purchase!) in the beach community of Brighton. As we’re finishing up, there is Orange, who has stopped and is also eating a meat pie! Ok, enough!! “WHO ARE YOU AND WHY HAVE YOU BEEN FOLLOWING US FOR DAYS?!?!”

Ok, maybe that’s not quite how it went down. It turns out her real name is Smeago… I mean, Zoe. The strange thing is not how frequently we’ve been encountering each other, but how, despite our nearly-identical paces, none of us have made any real attempt to communicate with each other until now. Whether it was stress, exhaustion, distraction, or simply not having the time to allocate to social interaction, we missed the chance to get to know someone we likely could have formed a great bike-touring bond with. I guess road-relationships are like regular relationships in that way: you need mental and emotional space in your life to allow them to form and flourish.

I asked where she was going from here (since we’re now no longer on an especially-popular bike touring route), and she said “probably further up the coast, but then maybe head back inland at Oamaru.” Until a few days ago, I had been planning on heading inland after Dunedin, but now we would first be heading further up the coast, and not turning inland until…Oamaru. Further proof of how close our alternate-universe relationship is! But she was staying at the holiday park in Dunedin, while we were doing three nights in an AirBNB, so there’s a good chance this will be the last time we cross paths…especially since Rett and I have already been to Mount Doom!

The campground host’s prescience continued, as the 400-foot hill into Dunedin, while objectively easier by every metric besides time-of-day, had Rett crying in pain and frustration. I’m not sure why New Zealand’s European settlers decided that “giant steep hills” indicated “great place to build a city” (Auckland, Wellington, and now Dunedin all fit this pattern). I guess the good thing is that the hills enforce a compactness, so even while just running errands before checking into our AirBNB (also up an 13% hill, just three blocks from the city’s center!) we were able to fall into a decent self-tour of the architecturally-stunning city.

While navigating to the brewery for lunch, look, there is the old courthouse on the right, and the iconic train station ahead.
Colonnade at the railway station, with what feels like a railroad-tie motif on the columns.
Rett and the severely-underused Dunedin Railway Station.
Noisy Brewing, our lunch stop with a good list of non-IPAs.
Rett stopped at the Chemist Warehouse at a mall on the main commercial strip, and here is the eye-popping facade-wall of the block to the north.
I remember being able to watch NFL games when we arrived in Auckland, but this is the only real NFL reference I’ve seen since then (football-player-sized passer-by was merely coincidental!)

After checking into our really nice multi-level hillside house, we cleaned up, did laundry, and then walked down to brewery #2 of the day for dinner. Steamer Basin is an even-more Rett-beer brewery, which is exactly what you’d expect for a spot hidden down Harry Potter-esqe “No Name Alley”. There we were met by Ron and Fay, two great Dunedin locals who we had much-less of a reason to interact with than Orange/Zoe/Gollum. Ron is the third cousin of Rett’s friend Amanda from the Seattle area, which sounds bit like a real version of the joke-exaggeration “my ex-wife’s great-uncle’s dog-groomer’s priest…” But in this case, everyone thankfully had the openness and space available to make the connection, of course facilitated by Amanda, whose nature seems built around creating such connections between humans on this planet. Not only does the world need more people like her, we could have used her help with Zoe too, to help overcome our own insular natures. Recognizing our tiredness and their city’s hilliness, Ron and Fay kindly drove us back up (an even-steeper-route than we rode) to our AirBNB, with plans to give us a tour the city tomorrow!

One of the literally dozens (hundreds?) of grand old buildings seen on the walk to Dunedin.
Rett wanted to buy this church to live in, and we later learned from Ron that it is private, non-religious use!
A gothic monument with more elegant buildings behind.
Hello gargoyles!
We would laugh later when we saw this building standing in as a fancy New York hotel in Netflix’s “The Royal Treatment” (2022)


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