We found ourselves in Gisborne with two possible options for the next leg of our cycle tour. One was the go inland over the Rere Falls and Motu Trails and the other was cycle along the coast around the East Cape. Originally we were going to take the inland route but at the last minute we chose not to because we felt our bikes weren’t up to the rough gravelly paths that are normally ridden on mountain bikes. The coast it was then.
Although we only had a few days to prepare for the trip after making the decision, there was a lot of anticipation about cycling the coast. We did lots of research about the route (probably too much) and some of the information we found was helpful but some sources were very misleading or left out vital information about what to expect. Having completed the East Cape, I feel obliged to write a fairly indepth account on what Jasmin and I have experienced during our trip.
Before leaving Gisborne a lot of people warned us about the amount of logging trucks that were going to be on the road. A very reliable source (a logging truck driver) told us that a fleet of 101 logging trucks leave Gisborne every day and do a circuit from the city to the logging sites and back again three times. This information scared us a little but we were reassured when we were told that the trucks would be empty as they passed us going up the coast. We were also reassured, in a way, by the Lonely Planet Cycling New Zealand guide book that described the route as ”the road less travelled” and the Pedallers’ Paradise (2011 edition) mentions the highway as being ”almost deserted”. To the credit of the Pedallers’ Paradise, it does mention that there is an increasing number of logging trucks making their presence known in the region. With all this taken into consideration we decided to take the risk and cycle the highway regardless of the trucks.
Our attitude at the time was “Well other people have cycled it and they got on fine with the logging trucks and so will we.”
We left Gisborne on a Monday morning, which was probably the worst time to set off because all the trucks were back on the road and trying to get a good start to the week.
A lot of trucks were passing us, which for a while was fine, because the highway leaving Gisborne had a wide hard shoulder for us to cycle in. As we got out passed Wainui Beach the hard shoulder got really tight and conditions got pretty tough for cycling in. Apart from the trucks there was a lot of holiday makers on the road and the traffic was quite bad. We found that we had to stay inside the white line as much as we could and the general feeling while cycling in these conditions was one of discomfort.
Between Pauawa and Tolaga Bay there was a lot of long, steep, windy hills. Climbing these hills alone was difficult but on some of the corners the hard-shoulder was non-existent and it was quite nerve wrecking to have the trucks passing us. After about 4pm there seemed to be a lull in the amount of traffic on the road and the last few kilometers into Tolaga Bay were very pleasant.
Starting off from Tolaga Bay at around 11am we had a quiet road for the first 10kms. As we went on though more and more trucks started to appear on the road but the route on this day was a lot straighter and the trucks were able to pass us easily enough. We had very pleasant riding until we came to the large hill before Tokomaru Bay. The corners on this hill were very tight and we decided after a few meters to get off the bikes and push them up so that we could safely keep in as trucks past us.
In Tokomaru Bay we found a beautiful backpackers called Stranded in Paradise and we decided to stay there for a few days. Leigh-Ann and Angus were great hosts and really made us feel at home. The hostel is in a super location and if you can get yourself out of bed at before 6am and go outside, you will have yourself the perfect vantage point for watching the sun rise over the beach. Stranded in Paradise really lived up to its name and I highly recommend you to stay there if you find yourself in Tokomaru Bay.
The day we left Tokomaru Bay we planned to go to Tikitiki where we read there was a backpackers and motor camp but we had our doubts whether or not they still existed. When we got there we inquired at the pub where they told us both places had been shut down for over 4 years. Luckily we still had plenty of daylight hours left so we decided to push on another 30kms to Te Araroa. This was a massive day for us. In total we cycled 76kms and had some crazy hills to climb along the way. The good thing was that it was Saturday and we hardly met any logging trucks on the road. We also heard that there wasn’t many logging sites after Te Araroa so the trucks wouldn’t be such a problem from here on out. Lovely.
The next day we set off but there was some really heavy winds in the area which was the tail end of a cyclone that had been out in the pacific. We only made it 10kms up the road to Hicks Bay because we couldn’t stay on our side of the road.
After the lousy day previous we decided to get up early and and put a few kilometers behind us. We cycled 44kms over a roller coaster road that had lots of uphill climbs and some really fun downhill sections to Waihau Bay. We considered staying there but it was early in the day and we were feeling good so we fueled up on coffee and cake and pushed on another 20kms to Whanarua. No logging trucks on this day.
That night in Whanarua the rain came in and it continued into the next day. We decided to cycle anyway because we were only going about 25kms up the coast to Te Kaha. The ride in the rain was actually quite pleasant and it also gave us the chance to put our waterproof panniers to the test. We were glad to find out that they worked perfectly and we had some dry clothes to change into once we reached our destination. That night we stayed at the Homestead Lodge. The location was idyllic. The back garden had a paved path that lead down onto the beach and at the foot of the garden there was a hot tub that you could sit in and watch the sun go down. Andre who runs the place was an awesome guy and put us in the double room with the sea view. He also gave us some oil to put on the chain when we were fixing up our bikes.
The next day was another biggie for us. We planned to cycle to Hawai Bay which was 40kms away but when we got there we realised that there was no shop to buy food and the camp site only excepted cash of which we had non (only debit cards). The only option was to push on a bit further. We were not sure where we were going to stop but because it was late in the day we knew that we had to cycle fast to make sure we didn’t run out of day light. We passed through Torere which didn’t have any shops or accommodation and then Omaio where we found a motor camp but there was no one around. Jasmin suggested that we should cycle on to Opotiki (our destination for the whole trip). I looked at the horizon and estimated that we had about 2 hours before the sun went down. So we pushed on for another 16kms of hard cycling into a strong head wind along the flat. We arrived at the camp site with just enough time to set up the tent and get to the supe market to buy dinner and beer before it closed at 9pm. That day we cycled 75kms.
Our plan was to end the trip in Opotiki but we decided to cycle another 50 kms or so to Whakatane which was a really good decision. The ride was beautiful and we got to make loads of stops on the way. One paticularly nice on was the Cheddar Valley Pottery workshop where the friendly owner gave us free coffee, fresh mandarins from a tree in the garden and a lot of good advice.
I would highly recommend anyone planning to cycle the East Cape to do so. Its a very challenging cycle with lots of steep gradients and windy roads but the landscape is nothing short of inspiring. As for the logging trucks, its up to you whether or not you want to tackle them. If you practice caution while cycling there is no reason you should have any problems although having trucks pass you constantly is uncomfortable. My best advice would be to start you trip on the weekend which will give you two full days to go from Gisborne to where the logging sites end (somewhere around Te Araroa). Alternatively, if you are coming the other direction, plan to end your trip on the weekend. Also know that the East Cape is very rural and isolated in places. It is well advised to bring enough food with you because some of the shops are spaced more than 50kms apart and some that are written about in the guide books, no longer exist. Stock up whenever you get the chance.I apologise for not going into more detail on the hills we encountered on the route. For that the Lonely Planet, Cycling New Zealand guide book and the Pedallers’ Paradise do a great job.