Day 2: Whakapara to Russell - Foray into New Zealand's far north - CycleBlaze

December 6, 2022

Day 2: Whakapara to Russell

A day of three parts

It's a late start this morning. At 9.30 we board the vans which will take the group and bikes 20km out of the city and up the state highway to the Russell turn-off. Understandably, the tour organisers go to great lengths to avoid losing their clients in road accidents, so we are happy to sit out the morning commuter traffic. 

Moving out
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Whakapara - a dot on the map rather than an actual place -  is our start point. From here, the rural road meanders its way to the east coast before turning northish. As we found yesterday, road shoulders are not a thing in Northland. But there is very little traffic, drivers are courteous and we both have bike radars that alert us to vehicles approaching from behind. So Part One proceeds pleasantly, enjoyably even. The Helena Bay hill at around the 12km mark is a good climb but not steep enough to detract from the overall experience.   

After a quickish descent I'm waved down to make a right turn into a café carpark.  It's well short of lunchtime but, with no other suitable candidates further along the road, needs must. It's a great spot, with views overlooking the dense Northland bush.  The view of the hazy grey sky is a little concerning though.  It appears to be resolving itself into some action. Will it or won't it? Oh yes, it will. Spots of rain dot the ground, heralding Part Two of today's ride.

Bush outlook from café deck
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Rain jackets on, we continue the descent. In minutes, the weather has made up its mind and is bucketing down. Strangely, this is not a phenomenon we're used to while cycle touring. There were a couple of memorably sodden days in France in 2019, but that's about it. We are in the subtropical far North though, the nearest that New Zealand gets to the equator,  so it is to be expected. And we have a long way to ride after the early lunch stop. Part Two progresses less joyfully.

As we approach the coast, mother Nature lets up a little. With rain no longer streaming down my glasses I can again appreciate my surroundings. Bruce, who knows his native timber, reports sightings of kauri, totara and rimu trees amongst the lush bush. I'm just happy to be able to see again.

Proof that we're now in the Far North
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Once we reach Helena Bay, there's a long stretch heading north before we see the sea again. Part Three is characterised by a series of short climbs and descents. Really, it's just a succession of ups and downs - none too long but cumulatively energy-sapping. When we do reach the coast again, these undulations become more pronounced as we navigate the headlands between each bay. One wee nameless bay in particular stands out. I remember freewheeling downhill, smiling at the 25km per hour speed limit sign, only to see the next rise begin almost immediately.  The bay itself whizzed by in just a few nano-seconds.

Disappointingly, there is no photographic evidence of this stretch of coastline. It's beyond my limited resources to consider stopping and restarting; I'm in survival mode. Traffic is still light along this section though the road has narrowed. Part Three rolls on.

Within 10km of our destination, road traffic amps up. Generally, the cars are courteous but trucks . . . not so much. Later, other riders report close encounters and I have my own when a truck driver can't wait to turn off the road across traffic. I have only a couple of seconds to claim my right of way before he finishes his turning manoeuvre.

One final push uphill (not a literal push though I did think about the option) sees us cruise down into the picturesque township of Russell. Once described as 'the hell-hole of New Zealand' due to its murky past, Russell has since pulled up its socks and is on its best behaviour. My exploration though is limited to the Duke of Russell pub on the beachfront, followed by a short walk to the passenger ferry that will take us to Paihia, home for the next three nights. Cheers!

I didn't have to move far from my cider to take this...The wharf and bay, looking out towards Paihia.
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And Russell from departing ferry.
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Paihia wharf by night, with the lights of Russell in the distance.
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Note : I was robbed by Garmin and Strava of at least 200 metres of elevation, just so you know . . .I worked hard for those metres!
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Today's ride: 73 km (45 miles)
Total: 109 km (68 miles)

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