Cable Bay, NZ to Waiare, NZ

34.9 mi / 9.1 mph / 2709 ft. climbing
Home: Puketi Recreation Area DOC Campsite

We still have ten days until our flight out of New Zealand (to Hawaii!), but today will be our last “big” ride on these islands. And staying true to our relatively-unstructured meanderings around this country, we’re taking the long way, climbing high into the mountains and taking two days to reach Kerikeri, when we could do it in one day if we took the direct route.

We were awake to see the sunrise for the third day in a row. Witnessing three sunsets in a row is rare enough, but I believe three sunrises is unprecedented for us.

One of the reasons to take the longer route is that it would minimize the amount of time we would need to ride on SH10, and while “23 miles” hardly sounds like “minimal”, there are no other options along this bay-carved coast. At 8:30am the highway was literally 10x busier than it was a 5:30pm last night (we should have left then!), and it felt like it was 25% big trucks (NZ’s transport agency actually lists the percentage of heavy vehicles for different highway segments, and I’ve never seen a number anywhere close to what this segment felt like). So that wasn’t fun, but we only had a couple moments where we needed to cheat in our dice game against Death. And once we left the line of coastal settlements (Cable Bay, Coopers Beach, Mangonui) behind, volumes decreased to more-reasonable levels.

I wonder what this guy looked like in life if he looks this cool in death.
The difficulty/risk of taking photos on busy highways perhaps gives the false impression that we’re never on busy highways, so, here’s a busy highway.

That calmer traffic freed us up to gawk at the appearance of a Devils Tower-like butte suddenly dominating over the green countryside. It’s not quite as tall or monolithic as the ‘Close Encounters’ icon, but it’s nearer in scale than I initially thought. Though I couldn’t find any of those details on Taratara Mountain’s Wikipedia page, because in this country of wonders, Taratara Mountain doesn’t merit a Wikipedia page, and is barely noted at all! (in contrast to Devil’s Tower, which is a United States National Monument).

Taratara Mountain, which somehow manages to stay an unknown secret, despite literally sticking out like a sore thumb.
The cows are like “what? there’s a crazy mountain behind us? Uh huh, sure.”
Even Rett has other things to look at besides the butte leering over the hillside at her. Maybe that’s just how its cloaking effect works, it averts peoples’ gaze.
Just like Devils Tower has the similar Missouri Buttes in its neighborhood, related buttes rise up around Taratara.

The small town of Kaeo (that has nearly as many vowels as residents) held another surprise (at least for Rett): an Alice in Wonderland-themed cafe called Madhatters. Actually its full name is “Madhatters donna,s cafe” [sic] according to their Facebook page, with branding as terrible as their food is good (I got a really unique open-faced lamb burger with egg for lunch).

“One pill, makes you smaller….”
Madhatters Cafe had a nice stack of goofy hats for customers to wear.
Fall color on the way out of Kaeo.

Just after Kaeo we finally turned off SH10 and left the traffic behind. Unfortunately yesterday’s luck didn’t repeat itself, and the road turned to gravel roughly where the map expected it to, after about three miles. Worse, it was fairly rough and wet enough to be slick, so we had to choose our path carefully. Thankfully the surface changed to a drier, redder, smoother surface at the exact point where we began the 1000-foot 5% climb that would end our day.

Normally we like a “wet” gravel since the surface is usually compacted in smooth, but here in the late-season shadow of a gorge, it’s a bit too wet!
When I stopped to get a photo of this Mandalorian-Viking, a voice from the house up the drive called out “it’s $10 a photo!” He was kidding. I think!
The Mandalorian-Viking’s home.
The much nicer surface for our big hillclimb.
Near the top in the forest the gravel surface got wetter and rougher again.

One reason we went out of our way to climb a giant hill was to stay at one final Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite. Five months ago, we bought an annual pass, thinking that we were some of the rare tourists that would be staying in the country long enough to camp at at least 20 DOC sites in order to get our money’s worth. But we failed to hit that target; even with tonight’s stay, we’re only at our 14th night at a DOC site, and only 13th for which the DOC pass was valid. We extracted a bit of additional value from no-risk, provisional reservations (if the reservation doesn’t cost anything, nothing can be lost for cancelling!), but still definitely ended up “overpaying” for DOC sites.

Ironically, we did much better at Top 10 Holiday Parks. We used our NZ$55 Top 10 pass to get far more than $55 in benefits, including 10% off of 17 nights (and would have done better if we’d bought it sooner, since overall we stayed 24 nights at 13 different Top 10 Holiday Parks!) I guess the overall effect was that we transferred money from a private corporation to New Zealand public lands, so we don’t terribly mind being camping Robin Hoods.

The campsite wasn’t especially scenic, and it was misting and windy for the first hour after we arrived, so even our “free” night wasn’t feeling particularly “worth it”. On the other hand, it was the first DOC site we’ve been at that had shower rooms (still cold though, so while Rett got cleaned up, I skipped it). And then there was a small gazebo-like shelter that we could set up under to do dinner without getting wet. There was even a big amenity-filled cabin building, but we didn’t have access to that. And oddly, a couple guys from a rental company showed up and set up a big white party tent (including stacks of chairs) on the cabin’s “lawn”. Is someone having a DOC wedding in this remote place tomorrow?

The clock said we were eating dessert by 5:06pm, and we were in bed by 7:18pm. A new record for us that was perhaps a way to start adapting to the more-eastern time zones we will soon be returning to? Or, maybe it had just started misting again and there was nothing else to do but get in the tent and fall asleep.


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