Thames, NZ to Hunua, NZ

42.5 mi / 10.6 mph / 1188 ft. climbing
Home: Claire’s Farmstay

When we left the Auckland area in November, we needed three days of riding around the coast to get to Thames. For the return we’d be taking a more-direct overland route requiring just two days. Well, “Auckland area” is doing quite a bit of work there; our target this time was the Papakura train station, where we would let Auckland’s public transit system take us the last 20 miles north through suburban hell to the city center.

There were literally only two places to split that ~60 mile route, the first at the Miranda Holiday Park in a too-short (and flat!) 18 miles, or a farmstay/B&B in a too-far (with hills!) 42 miles. Rett picked doing the long ride first, reasoning that going long on the second day plus catching a train would put too much pressure on us.

Highway 25 south out of Thames, and then west, was as busy as I remembered it, one of the busiest roads we’ve been on in New Zealand. Or maybe it was even busier on this Saturday at the end of the two-week school holiday, with families draining out of the Coromandel and returning to scheduled life in Auckland. But it was also still flat, straight, and (mostly) shouldered, leaving the bits where the shoulder narrowed to nearly nothing as the main stressor.

The biggest difference was probably the sun-angle. When we rode into Thames, the longest day of the year was less than a month away. On our way out, we’re more than four months past that longest day. That makes the days far shorter and the midday shadows far longer, but luckily it’s still warm enough for riding in shorts.

A stretch and rest on the way out of Thames.
A sign warned to stay away from this pink elephant because he was quarantined with COVID.

Things quieted considerably once we tipped north off the highway. We again ignored the Hauraki rail trail paralleling the road at this point, and flew past a family where the kids were probably confused why we were riding up on the road and not down in the ditch with them. But soon we left the trail and coast and headed west. A newly-opened bike trail crosses the Hunua Ranges (and I believe the Tour Aotearoa now uses it), but there is certainly no traffic-related reason to take that hillier, rough route. Our accommodation advertised itself as being on an off-highway “short-cut” between Auckland and the Coromandel, but thankfully it seems like word hasn’t gotten out.

Looking back to the Coromandel Peninsula (and I think one last view of the Pinnacles we hiked) now on the other side of the Firth of Thames.
Trees and country riding.
Goofy goats, a porky pig, and a demented doggie.
This strange run-down castle building was across from a small store/gas station, but otherwise in the middle of nowhere. We’ve seen very little “unusual architecture” like this in New Zealand, making it especially mysterious (the worn out sign suggests it was last some sort of spa.)
Beginning our 500-foot climb up from the valley floor gave a nice view of this grass so green I joked that it could be a sod farm, while it actually was…a sod farm. Another first in NZ!

Our accommodation was very clear that no check-in was allowed before 4pm (too busy working on the farm before then), so even with our late-as-possible morning departure, and the relatively-long ride, we still needed to take it slow over the last few miles. But with the shadows stretching even longer over the terraced green pastures fringed with reddening trees, it wasn’t a difficult place to linger in.

Slow-riding up to Hunua.
Perfect autumn riding.
“Power Metal” is my longest love in musical genres. I don’t think soaring melodies over double-bass drumming is quite the product being churned out here though.
Hmm, what’s Rett looking at?
Oh, horsies, of coursie, of coursie.
A nice home for this horse.

We paused at the top of a long gravel driveway to confirm that it was the correct one leading to our accommodation, and a guy coming the other way driving a work truck produced that confirmation. Steve had a cigarette in one hand, a bottle of Corona in the other, and a barely-understandable Kiwi accent in his mouth as he welcomed us and told us to carry on in while he drove out to do some work. It’s Saturday, a little extra entertainment while working is fair!

At the house we were met by his partner Claire, the actual driver behind the B&B. She showed us to our upstairs room, and luckily for us the two other rooms were unoccupied this night, so the bathroom was all ours. She offers a dinner, paid cash-only, and when seeing all the fresh garden produce and her from-scratch cooking of all-local food, we were sad that our cash-shortage forced us to cook up our own crap in her kitchen. She poured herself an L&P-and-bourbon, and after we ate, offered a taste of her homemade brandy.

As a one-time Britisher, she asked our American opinion of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (of whom her own was quite sour). It was also enlightening to hear her travails with keeping her livestock fed over the last two years of wild climate in New Zealand (our arrival in NZ finally and thankfully returned it to “normal”, where it has stayed since). The “winter” two years ago lasted so long that she ran out of silage and had to sell off most of her cattle, and then this winter the rain grew more grass than the animals had any chance of eating. Our outdoor-lifestyle makes me incredibly-dependent on weather forecasts for decision-making, but the idea of making decisions based on weather months in the future (for which science can offer little help) would be completely paralyzing to me.

The view from our upstairs rooms to Claire’s (high-spirited jumping) horses in her pastures.

As darkness fell, Steve blew into the house as a whirlwind of personality, immediately riffing into a loving argument with his partner about when to have their dinner (“I eat when I’m hungry! And I’m not hungry, blondie!”) It didn’t take long before he invited us out to his shed for a drink and a smoke. “Oh no, don’t subject them to Die Antwoord!”, Claire protested, pronouncing the name of the South African shock-hip-hop band “dye” rather than “dee”, but why would this 60-something couple know anything about Die Antwoord, much less listen to them?!

Before we knew exactly what was going on, we followed Steve outside to his lair where he cleared a bunch of crap off a couch to give us a place to sit, and handed out more Coronas from his fridge, and shared some more locally-grown produce with Rett. In this farm building that had hay and horse tack and a tractor at the other end, he began firing up his multitude of colored party lights, and got his computer driving the TV hanging from the ceiling, and the 14 speakers(!) began vibrating the steel walls and roof into a giant 15th speaker.

Rett, Steve (in the hat), and Die Antwoord (on the screen.

This wasn’t just an unexpected turn of events, it was unexpectable, and even more awesome for that! While Steve’s personality couldn’t have been more different than Bill-from-Hobbiton’s, he repeatedly echoed the same admiration of us and our relationship, so now (even with the Coronas and local-produce being at least partially-responsible for the compliments) I really have to believe them! “I knew you were great people right when I met you at the top of the drive”, which granted us access to one end of the Die Antwoord-horseshoe, while he said that if they get guests they don’t care for, he’ll intentionally come out on his own and play the music loud putting those opposite-people paradoxically close to us at the other end of the horseshoe. I don’t know if that was 100% true, but it sure made the online review I had read complaining (reasonably!) about the hosts playing loud music late into the night much funnier!

Neil & Rett partying at a 3-person farm-rave.


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