New Zealand Cycle Tour: Rotorua to Te Aroha 99km
With a cracking headache and a struggling encounter with the first fifteen kilometres out of Rotorua over the lower reaches of the Kaimai (plentiful food) Ranges I was remarkably glad to reach Fitzgerald Glade, a section of native forest that halos the highway and blocks out the sun. At the northern end lazes the Fitzgerald Glade Cafe, tucked below the towering tawa, rimu, mataī and five species of rātā. Indifferent to the years, the cafe ceiling sags ominously and the old milky glass panes are framed in peeling paint and surrounded by 70s decor, but the cafe continues to be a thriving ice cream and soda stop for motorists with sultry children, and for the tourists that have retired from photographing the trees in the neighbouring Tukorehe Scenic Reserve. For Scott and I it was a place to snooze after tucking into giant pork pies and electrolyte drinks. This was to be the first of many park bench slumbers.
After an hour we hopped back on the bikes to enjoy the brief decent down the Kaimais, we then turned right into the wind and onto the Waikato (flowing water) plains. We took the back country roads, and at first enjoyed the relative freedom this gave us, to look around, to weave about the road playing silly buggers in the sun. The road was straight, but undulated with many steep short rises and descents. The longer the day wore on the more the wind picked up and our speed slowly decreased. I hid behind Scott’s back wheel to get out of the wind.
Over the next 70kms our expressions changed from happy carefree cyclists weaving over the road to that of fraught and hungry travellers forging through an unrelenting thick wind, desperate to reach their destination that seemed increasingly distant by the minute.
Eighteen kilometres from Te Aroha (to love) Scott utter something about “a hot greasy hamburger and an ice cold bourbon mixer in the Te Aroha pub” and I was transformed into the velo-devil. I’d had enough of cycling. I’d had enough of the wind. I just wanted the torment of the days cycling to end. I charged onward like a horse that smells home, and jumping out of the saddle I pursued the top of each hillock with dogged intent, leaving Scott behind in my wake. I waited outside the pub for a solemn Scott to arrive.
In Te Aroha we found an enchanting YHA Hostel, besieged by flowers and herbs. The smallest and one of the oldest hostels in the country, it was cluttered with ancient mismatching furnishings, had threadbare carpet over warped hundred year old floor boards, and was decorated with doilies and maps. With the lovely small Helen as our host, it was like settling into the bosom and comfort of your quintessential grandmother’s house. So here, nestled at the top of the hill under a stand of old gum trees, the day was redeemed with the simplicity of a whiskey, a hammock, a fire red-sunset, a hot shower and access to a pillow.