Waikino, NZ to Whangamata, NZ

27.6 mi / 9.6 mph / 1948 ft. climbing
Home: NZ Surf & Stay

“Neil, wake up, something has been going at your bike.” It’s 12:30am, and I’m somewhat surprised that my critter-sensitivity has allowed me to sleep through activity that Rett detected, especially since I should have been primed: 7 hours earlier I had caught a glimpse of a rat’s tail slithering down my rear wheel as Rett alerted me to something going after the small bag of garbage on my rear rack. But apparently our months of experience telling us that critters are not a concern in New Zealand carried enough weight to win the battle for my sleepy subconscious.

Anyway, I hear it too now, so it’s time to get out of the tent and shoo whatever it is away. By the time I got to my bike it was smart enough to have scattered. But, holy shit! It has chewed a giant hole in the top pocket of my pannier!

A three-by-one inch hole chewed by a rat through the top of my pannier.

I’ve had these panniers for more than 20 years, and while they certainly have some tiny holes (from years of rubbing on the rack, etc.), experience has showed them to basically be indestructible. If it was possible for an animal to chew a hole in them, it surely would have happened long before now, and in some place with more critter-risk than New Zealand!

Closer inspection showed that wasn’t the only damage. I had my rain covers wrapping all of my panniers, and they have an elastic shock cord running through the hem to cinch them down around the bag. Well, this asshole had made a small cut through the hem and cut the shock cord, releasing the rain cover to give direct access to the pannier fabric!

What to do now? Putting food inside the tent (which we’ll occasionally do in raccoon country) seemed like a bad idea given how aggressive this fucker was; we’d likely just end up with a hole in our tent too! I ended up just collecting all of our food bits into two panniers and putting them on our chairs under the rainfly, but outside the tent body. Hopefully they’d be more wary about coming that close to us, and if they did, hopefully we’d wake up immediately.

Well, wake up we did, over and over. We could hear them running and searching under the rainfly, but they did seem more skittish and a whack on the tent fabric seemed enough to keep them from settling in for another chew-fest. All at the cost of most of a night’s sleep.

Or did we eventually fail in our night watch? Because in the light of morning, I discovered a completely-separate, even-bigger hole on the side of the pannier! Fuck!!! I think it’s more-likely that it happened at the same time as the first hole, and I just hadn’t noticed it, but either way, the pannier now isn’t far from losing its structural integrity!

Rat-chewed hole #2 in the side of my pannier.

My first instinct was to blame myself for allowing New Zealand’s general lack of deadly/nuisance animals to lull me into a false sense of food security, and a lax approach to camp organization and cleanliness. But, no! In my top pocket they were going after bananas. No animal that has caused us trouble before (raccoons, squirrels) has ever been interested in bananas. And from the side entry, they got into our tortillas. Which were Ziploc sealed inside their original plastic packaging! Every other time in my bike-camping life when animals have started nosing around, it’s because something isn’t well-sealed-up, and once I fix that, they lose interest. The fuckers here could apparently smell through an inch of solid steel!

To help us feel even less-culpable for our security failure, our bike touring neighbors, camped 60 yards away, got raided too. In their case they had multiple holes chewed through one of their drybags (luckily not their main Ortlieb panniers, because that would be the end of their waterproofness!) Proof that these rats have the ability to both smell through, and chew through, multiple fabric types: the smooth rubberized drybags, and the woven 1000D Cordura of my panniers.

Our neighbors also corroborated my memory and expectations: none of us had even heard of rats being a problem when camping in New Zealand, and not only had we read a load of blogs between us, we also had a combined 8 months of on-the-ground experience without a hint that rats were even a risk to be aware of.

The campground host, however, was not surprised. It sounds like this is far from the first rat attack here, and his explanation was that the river is the water source for the community downstream, so DOC avoids spreading rat-killing poison like they do in other areas. It seems strange that we wouldn’t have camped in similarly-sensitive areas before now, but that’s the best explanation I’ve got!

And it’s an explanation I want to believe, because while I don’t want to fall prey to another attack, I also don’t want to spend our remaining days in this country with rat-paranoia following us everywhere we camp. So, chalk this one up to the uniquely-evil Rats of the Waitawheta, see if I can patch up my pannier, and never think about it again.

A giant scouting troop descended on the camp in the morning, and while not as bad as the rats, they certainly disturbed the peace of our breakfast. Then we had a steep 11% gravel hill to climb to get us back out of the gorge, one Rett had been dreading for the the last 16 hours since we descended it, but her relatively-painless climb proved that lack-of-energy was the real problem yesterday.

Rather than returning to the trail to complete our eastward crossing of the mountains, we decided to take an alternate route on the roads. We knew it was a really-cool section of trail, but why not cover some more uncharted-territory? And I think it was a good choice, because it took us high through more Shire-lands, quite different than the gorge route.

A morning ride through another instantiation of the Shire.
All the traffic goes on the SH2 that parallels the trail, so we had a pretty empty ride.
A picture-perfect curve of road.
Some sort of fruit trees? We’re close to Tauranga, the area where we first saw the giant hedge-boxes surrounding orchards, and we began seeing them again here.

We re-crossed into charted territory for literally one block, to the New World supermarket in Waihi, which I remembered as our first visit to the red side of the red/green supermarket duopoly in New Zealand (green is Countdown/Woolworths). It felt strange back in November, to have lived here for 40 days and only ever gone to the green side, but it’s even stranger in retrospect because it feels like we’ve done a close to a 50/50 balance since then.

In November we veered south after Waihi, but this time we would veer north to the Coromandel Peninsula, making Waihi the crossing-point in an ugly figure-8. And while that lower loop of the 8 had taken us down to the coast, the upper loop would take us higher, to a double summit at 800 feet, some 500 feet higher than Waihi.

A climb like that isn’t normally too big of a concern, but this one is required to be climbed on shoulderless State Highway 25, the only road to the Coromandel. It turned out to be not bad, especially since we lucked into nearly zero cars passing us on the steepest/curviest part. At the summit viewpoint we saw a few day-riders doing the climb in the opposite direction, and seeing that there are other idiots as dumb as us out here (or dumber, since they presumably have more choice of where to ride than us) always makes me feel more comfortable. I imagine it could be a different story during the summer holidays though.

The white ocean and some distant islands, seen from 800 feet above sea level.

Our AirBNB-ish accommodation in Whangamata is part surf-school, and just a block from the beach. Again, the late-season timing gives it a chill half-empty vibe that is probably much different at the holidays.

The island on the right is Whenuakura, and we want to kayak to there!

Day 2

A nothing day, staying in our kitchen-equipped room through a bit of rain. Now that we’re on the Coromandel Peninsula, we need to figure out what we want to do on the Coromandel Peninsula!


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