I’d just cycled an easy 35km and I pull over into a rest stop on one of the corners near Bully Point, crunching to a stop just before I peeled into the sand. There was a lone campervan half hidden under the Kowhai trees, it’s empty canvas chairs hugging the beach while a single child entertained himself with sticks under the trees. Two Tui’s, fat with Kowhai nectar, were playing in the branches above me, disturbing a Kereru that took flight making its familiar whoop-whoop as it dropped then arced upwards into the top of another tree. Not far from shore shags dove for their late afternoon meal on a glassy lake, creating ripples as they popped back up within a bank of swans, with necks erect and unconcerned as they glided sliently by. The late afternoon sun was descending into the western hills casing a triangle of glinting sapphire like lights off the lake’s surface, too bright to look at, under a patchwork of watery blue sky and pale cirrus cloud. Cycling in this environment, you can’t help but feel lucky!
It was my day to do a long-slow-distance ride, so I took off in the mid-afternoon to cycle 60km from home to Mission Bay on the eastern side of Lake Taupo, and back. It is a beautiful ride, but the traffic can cause unease with no verge beyond the white-line to hide on during long passing lanes, and the narrow, windy sections along Bully Point where you rub shoulders with cars and a sheer rock-face; (or pure air above a harrowing-looking drop into the lake, depending on which direction you’re travelling). More than one cyclist has been killed on this stretch, the most recent this last summer on the northern climb up Hatepe Hill. This was playing on my mind as my legs developed their rhythm up the hill, but I cast these thoughts aside as I listened to the Jazz playing in my ear and the steady thump of my heart, my eyes soak up the scenery and my skin the warmth of the sun. I put all my faith in the Gods that today was too nice a day to die.
As it was my long-slow-ride I stopped for a rest at Mission Bay to feast my eyes on the lake. I pulled up beside a caravan lodged right on the waters edge and started chatting to its proprietor. We chatted about beauty and the birds and how they’re making a come-back in the area. About a friendly and independent Scaup (Black Teal) that seemed to have abandoned his own kind to hang around camp and the swans, and how her grandchildren have named him Zachary Quack after the duck from Hairy Maclary fame.
As I rode home I revealed in my feelings of freedom and the scenery unfolding before me, breathing in the different scents. The smell of lake weed and pumice, the eucalypts as you come through Hallets Bay, the earthy smell of decaying leaf litter in the bush as you pass the bridge into Hatepe, and the christmas smell of pine trees at the top of the Hill.
The magpie that hit me on the way out tried to take another swipe at me on my return journey through the pines, but I was ready for him and he didn’t quite make contact with my helmet this time. Continuing to scan the treetops I flew through the small section of forestry at the top of Hatepe Hill. Recently tracts of the forest at the northern end have been felled, opened up a vast vista revealing the radiata pine plantation that stretches into the distance along the eastern side of the plateau. The recent excavation exposing the scrappy arid dry pumice of the land, as it waits for it’s new plantation. At 40kmph I cascaded down the hill, shooting past the fisher men and woman casting their lines at the mouth of the Waitahanui River. With the wind at my back I crested Airport hill and took my last glimpse of the lake which was darken into a deep orange as the sun began to set, then all too soon I was home.