Hunua, NZ to Auckland, NZ

34.9 mi / 10.9 mph / 1526 ft. climbing
Home: Martin’s AirBNB

No signs of our barn-rave remained in the morning, with Steve either still sleeping off his Coronas, or (as a true veteran partier) already out for the day. On our way out Rett briefly visited his shed to make an honor donation in exchange for his generosity with his home-grown produce.

Leaving our farmstay accommodation on a long driveway down-and-up far steeper than it looks in this photo!

The morning continued yesterday’s autumn perfection, with the light and the weather augmenting the gorgeous country. For our tastes, this direct, just-get-it-done route to Auckland might have accidentally ended up being scenically superior to the coast route we had taken on the way out. Maybe most remarkable was how close this rural beauty was to Auckland; Claire said it’s a 45-minute drive from her farm to the airport. Part of the beauty came from the fact that the road wound between real farms, not exurban houses planted on former farmland. Although there was a record number of horses, which is usually a good indicator of the wealth of a rural area. It was a bit like our drive when we moved from Chicago to Seattle; as we came over the Cascades, we kept disbelieving Google: “no, we’re surrounded by massive mountains, we can’t be only 45 minutes from our new home!” The sprawl of Chicago (incorrectly) taught us that unpopulated lands can’t exist this close to the center of a metropolis!

A beautiful fall morning ride in Hunua.
Despite the beautiful ride (or maybe because of it?) it seems I neglected to capture it well with my real camera, and only have a few junky phone shots.
Much to Lamby’s dismay, the sheep around here (or at this time of year?) have become less-excited by our arrival, and it seems the cows have taken their place.

And while Auckland is even more compact than the Seattle region (due to a much smaller population), it’s still not Hong Kong. We twisted and turned our way down the Hunua Gorge, and then BAM, right at the bottom a switch is flipped, the road widens, and we’re in a light-industrial suburb, though still some 20 miles from the Central Business District. We soon made our way to Papakura and the train station, except…the train isn’t running today! Due to maintenance/upgrades (which happens a lot on the train system here!), “bus replacement” is filling the train’s job for the weekend, but the buses don’t take bikes. Luckily I had discovered this yesterday rather than right now, and it was doubly-lucky that Rett had decided to do the long ride yesterday, because we would now be doing a nearly-as-long one again all the way to the CBD instead of our expected short-ride+train. Auckland Transport’s final boot to our ass was the steep overpass we had to climb to get over the non-operational train tracks!

The Great South Road would be our main route into Auckland, and we were briefly on it (going the wrong way) as we went a bit out of our way to a new bike path that would allow us to avoid a major highway interchange. A bike bridge took us over SH1, and I looked down to the path adjoining SH1 that we would spiral down to shortly. And it was absolutely jammed with people, all walking towards us. WTF?! Apparently we should have just stayed on the Great South Road because dealing with the interchange would be easier than dealing with this!

Hmm, rolling a couple of 100+ lb. tanks into this crowd seems like something even the Russians might back down from…

Thankfully, in the few minutes we spent deciding what to do, the oncoming crowd had become more spaced-out, so we could at least try riding upstream. It turned out to be an autism-awareness walk, and we saw far more costumes than we saw on Halloween (though April 28th is equivalent to Northern Hemisphere’s October 28th, so maybe it’s secret-Halloween here!) We went slowly, and had to stop a couple times, but most people saw us coming and moved out of the way. Good luck though to the guy we saw once we had mostly made it through, riding the opposite direction, into the back of the crowd!

A nice bike path once charity-walkers had thinned out!

The Great South Road isn’t the most-used bike route into the city from the south, but it’s definitely the most-direct. And it turned out to be pretty Great. It had bike lanes (or bus lanes, that bikes can use) for most of the way, though the bike lanes were refreshingly old-school, just a couple lines of paint between the curb (or parked cars) and the traffic lane(s). It’s the kind of thing cycling advocates would scoff at today, calling them worse-than-nothing, and something that only a few highly-confident cyclists would use. Well, we’re highly-confident cyclists, so they sure beat the alternative of “there isn’t room on this road for a concrete-protected two-way cycleway, so we won’t put in any cycling facility”.

So thanks to my planning, to Rett’s still-strong city-cycling abilities, and to those “basic” bike facilities that just ran straight with the road for 20 miles (rather than requiring incomprehensible twists and turns and wrong-side-of-the-road crossovers), we didn’t have a single screw-up the entire way. And nothing felt scary or dangerous, though riding in on a Sunday surely helped, especially through the nearly-empty industrial stretches.

Our two previous stays in Auckland weren’t too far from the center (~1 and ~4 miles), but this time we got a place for three nights just a couple blocks from the Sky Tower. That means it’s a (relatively-new) high-rise, one where many of the units seem to be AirBNBed. It’s a super-tiny unit, but has a good-sized balcony that can hold the bikes. And it’s pretty cool to be able to look over the city from the 14th floor!

Sunset view from our downtown Auckland AirBNB.
Post-sunset city lights.

Days 2 and 3

Being right in the center made it easy to get stuff (personal care items from Chemist Warehouse for Rett, a new cable for her Garmin Watch from JB HiFi, and a new front tire for me (Schwalbe Marathon Efficiency 700x40C, matching Rett’s two) from Evo Cycles). We’ve heard all sorts of dismissiveness towards Auckland in the rest of the country, some of it with mild racist undertones (Auckland has a huge foreign-born population, making it seem “foreign” to white New Zealanders), but being able to walk pedestrianized streets to literally hundreds of different shops buzzing with incredible variety and energy is a delight that you can’t find anywhere else in the country. Combined with our high-rise, we felt “cool” to be doing this sort of city-living, if only for a few days.

But the main reason for our location was to be close to the InterCity bus terminal, because we would be taking a bus out of here to Northland. And that’s because the cycling options north are reportedly tough in the best of times, and now there is a closure on SH1, sending all of its traffic onto those options. So a bus will allow us to teleport past the chaos into the quieter north, if we can manage to get our bikes on it with us.

I had done a lot of reading, and it sounds like there is essentially a fair bit of luck involved in whether the driver is going to let your bikes on the bus. So to maximize our luck, I ran down to the terminal early in the morning two days before our scheduled to departure, to see how it worked and what I could learn.

I’d already learned that double-decker buses have far less baggage capacity than the single-deckers, so I thought I had booked a run done by a single-decker, but no, sitting at the curb was a double-decker with a couple of guys crawled up into the luggage space loading it up. Once they had a moment free I asked them about bikes, and they were incredibly helpful and informative (far more so than anyone in the office or anyone I would have talked to on the phone). They let me know that I definitely want one of the later buses, because those are the single-deckers, so I went ahead and changed our booking. The next day I went back and confirmed with my own eyes that it would be a single-decker, and saw that the luggage space was big enough to hold our bikes standing upright (if the driver would allow it; the official terms say that both wheels need to be removed, pedals removed, handlebars turned sideways). But I now at least felt far more confident than I had a couple days earlier!

A rare old building standing in central Auckland.
A new building going up over old ones; it looked like this might be a new-tallest for Auckland).
Even though we had spent a lot of time in Auckland already, and even explored areas quite close to here, there were still many new discoveries to be made while running errands.
Hmm, Chicago, voted best big city in the U.S.A.? Sounds like a place we should check out soon…
The Sky Tower has always looked Soviet-shitty to me, but since New Zealand was obviously free of Soviet influence, my assumption that it was just mid-20th-century urban design concepts (of which the Soviet Union was a major contributor) that my taste is rebelling against. But I just learned this thing was built not in 1967, but 1997!


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