Up early to try and beat the wind I was on the road before 8am. I'd had a restless night of tent flapping and then chasing what I think was a hedgehog (I didn't have my glasses on) out of the tent porch at 2am.
The wind wasn't too strong as I made my way back along the coast road. There wasn't a soul around and that was generally the case for the next few hours. Quiet roads, sunshine and I was lost in my own world of pedalling.
Reaching the little town of Pirinoa I was surprised to find quite a large general store there and so took the opportunity to indulge in my second breakfast of the day, an egg and bacon pie and a can of coke. I've definitely gotten into the kiwi flow of eating pies at any time of the day and as I sat outside with a man in a van chomping on his morning pie we had a nice chat to pass the time.
As the road neared Featherstone and turned west I rejoined the TA route and was now riding smack bang into the wind. I had my sights set on reaching a campsite just outside of Upper Hut that night but one teeny little obstacle was in my path - the Rimutaka Railway Trail over the Rimutaka Range. Arriving to start the trail at 1pm I had a spot of lunch and didn't stay too long. I already had forty eight miles in my legs and was looking at another twenty before the day was out and so I set off up the gravel track before I could change my mind.
If I'd have thought about it I would have realised that being a rail trail the ascent would be a long and slow incline and I was thrilled to find that was the case. The Rimutaka Railway was part of a government policy to form a national railway network in 1871. It was not without it's challenges, creating a railway over the rugged Rimutaka Range was not the preferred option but tunnelling through the range was deemed too costly. The task was assigned to an English engineer, John Barraclough Fell who designed a system that used wheels positioned horizontally to grasp a raised central rail to give the train extra pulling power on steep gradients. Built in 1878 it was in use for seventy seven years until the Rimutaka Tunnel was opened in 1955.
The climb up to the summit tunnel was a slow gentle spin for just under an hour and the views up had been a nice distraction along the way.
Once at the summit there was a six mile downhill to enjoy although at times I had to pedal on the downhills confronted with the ever present westerly winds. Rolling up to the Te Murua general store I was only a few miles from the holiday park and it was time to stock up on nice extras for the evening given I wasn't riding much further. Into my backpack went a litre of chocolate milk (I figured that 500ml for each leg seemed reasonable given my recent exploits) and a tin of fruit cocktail for dessert - I'd be eating like a queen tonight!
After a sixty eight mile day I was again ready for a rest and spent the evening chatting with Mick, a TA brevet rider as we swapped stories of our experiences on the trail to date.
A relaxed start to the following morning and I had time to call my Mam on the phone. It was so good to hear her voice and catch up on all of the news from back home. I felt like I was nearly in Wellington, I had only twenty five miles to ride until I could have a well deserved full days rest off the bike to explore the city. Rather annoyingly those twenty five miles were all into a strong headwind and it felt like torture to be so close and yet so far away still.
Finally reaching the outskirts of the city I was joined by a woman riding alongside me who asked me how my TA journey was going. I explained that I was doing it in my own time and not the thirty day challenge of the brevet and she said that was great and she'd have to let her husband know as he started the ride. I did a double take as she mentioned her husband Jonathan - none other than one of the Kennett Bros legends of New Zealand cycling and one of the creators of the Tour Aotearoa!! Of all the places and all the people and I bumped into Bronnie Kennett. I could have chatted to her for ages but I'd actually just ridden past the iRide bike shop I was meant to be going to and so I bid her farewell and headed back to the shop. Explaining the fiasco I'd had with my front tyre the mechanic got straight to work on it whilst I treat myself to one of the tastiest cheese scones to date with a nice pot of tea.
I felt dazed and windswept and wasn't quite with it when he came over to say that the front tyre was tubeless again, my patch was fine and he'd had to replace the inner valve as he also couldn't get any air into it. I felt better knowing that it hadn't just been my incompetence in getting the tyre reinflated and was sorted and on my way to the hostel before I knew it.
Settled, showered, laundry done and fading fast I decided to visit The Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongerewa. Voted as one of the best in the world and although not usually a museum person I thoroughly enjoyed my time there learning more about New Zealand, it's history, the Maori culture and many other wonderful things. It was strange to be back in a city in the hustle and bustle but Wellington seemed like a pretty cool place to spend some time.
Promised a free breakfast of pancakes between 7am - 9am, I was up at 8am after a very unsettled sleep due to the noise from the bar next door until the early hours (even with ear plugs in). Hostels really aren't places that are great to sleep in but there were no campsites within easy reach of the city. With a huge queue of hungry hostellers waiting to use the two pans for pancakes I gave up on the idea of a free breakfast and headed out to the supermarket to buy my own.
I was heading for Zealandia today, Wellingtons vision to restore a valley forest to it's pre-human state and also the world's first fully fenced urban ecosanctuary. To get there I decided to hop on the Wellington cable car and also had time to check out the museum at the top before the free shuttle ride to the sanctuary.
As the electric van pulled up and our driver Julian appeared I couldn't help but think that this was slightly reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Driving us the five minutes to Zealandia he was full of wonderful facts and figures about the sanctuary, it's creation and the ongoing challenges it faces.
I'd booked myself onto a two hour guided tour which was led by Des. There were a group of around eight of us and for the next two and half hours he took us around part of the five hundred and sixty acre enclosed park and showed us the amazing natural flora, fauna and birdlife within the sanctuary. His knowledge was incredible, he'd been guiding here for twenty years and was a born and bred Wellingtonian. Having spent the last four weeks listening to some of the most beautiful and different birdsong in the rainforests of the North Island, actually seeing the birds that I'd been listening to was fantastic. Among them were the Tui, Toutouwai (North Island Robin), Tieke, Korimako, Kereru and the Kaka. We were also lucky enough to see the Kakariki (red-crowned parakeet) and the vulnerable Takahe of which there are only four hundred in the whole of New Zealand.
I've always been interested in wildlife and birdlife since I was around seven or eight and joined the school wildlife club and seeing such beautiful, different birds in their natural environment here in New Zealand was really special. It's so important that we try to preserve the many species that are rapidly disappearing from the world we live in and in New Zealand particularly there are many species here which are endangered and are only found in this country and so would be completely eradicated if they are lost from here.
I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with writing and sorting out a few things for the coming days, my time in Wellington was brief but enjoyable.
That brings me to the end of my North Island adventures after five weeks of pedalling. Tomorrow I'll board the ferry across the Cook Strait into Picton to embark on the second leg of my Tour Aotearoa journey, New Zealand's South Island. A whole new island to explore, I can't wait!