New Zealand Cycle Tour: Coromandel to Fletchers Bay 62kmTime in the Saddle: 4:17hours. Average 14.6kph. Max Speed 72kph
We left Coromandel late morning and headed north. For the next 27km the land rose and fell with hard climbs, steep descents and valley crossings until we came to the little hub of Colville. Colville is the northern most shop on the peninsula and was a hive of activity. Dust fleeced SUVs and clapped out old stationwagon’s full of raucous youths queued at the gas pumps and grocery shop. People milled around outside the shop drinking iced beverages and licking ice-blocks. The shop had an adjoining rural post office, apparently the last ‘real’ rural post office in the country. I bought a couple of handmade postcards for my kids and scrawled out my messages whilst sitting on a plank seat against the window of the shop, supping on my iced chocolate.
North of Colville the roads are gravel, and we had 200 odd kilometres of this ahead of us. We dragged out feet. We lunched, sunbathed and I scoured the mudflats of Colville Bay for items of interest, of which there was none. The tide was out on a full moon, and the bay so flat that the breakers could barely be seen in the distance.
The road north weaved around the coast, which was rugged and pohutakawa lined. The hills on the left all farmed countryside. The road wasn’t too difficult to negotiate in the gravel, we were slow and steady and the only real annoyance was the corrugations. Once we hit the top of the Coromandel peninsula we started heading east and up the top of the bluffs and were spoilt of some stunning views of ocean, islands and rocky bays.
We stopped to replenish our water supplies at Fantail Bay, one of the several Department of Conservation camping spots on the upper Coromandel. Scott who always cycles in full body lycra walked into camp with our water bottles, cleated race shoes crunching in the gravel. He passed by some young girls lounging beside their tent, who yelped in surprise when they spotted him wander by “Holy Shit!” of which Scott countered with a crazed “Arrhgg, scary alien cyclist”. They shrieked with laughter.
We were intending on stay at Port Jackson, another DOC campground. It had looked wonderfully inviting with a long sweeping beach in the brochure. However, when we crested the hill that exposed Port Jackson into view my heart sunk. What the brochure didn’t show was the canvas tent city that extended the length of the bay, the rows of aluminium fishing boats lining the golden sandy bay, the howling gale that battered the exposed beach, or the sign at the gate that said ‘FULL’. I eyed the camp in despair. Some campers stopped to stare at the crazy cyclists. We rode on.
We arrived at the end of the road and the last DOC camp this side of the Coromandel. The nasty nor-westerly that had helped us up all those hills was flattening tents in the Fletchers Bay Camp. The camp is situated in the lower opening of a valley and the wind was funnelling through in hard hitting squally bursts. Every now and then there would be a chorus of shrieks from campers as tents lifted or fell flat. Some had given up completely and sat merrily drinking and laughing around their de-assembled tents, recounting stories of their overnight battles with the wind.
Scott fastidious chose our spot, least our flimsy lightweight tent be torn from the ground during the night. We were offered advice by other campers, and potential areas were chosen then discarded, until a final site was chosen. We squashed ourselves between a knotted old tree, two sleepy Israelis in their beaten up red van, and a bend in the creek were the ‘big’ eel was according the resident camp kids.
After respective cold showers I attempted to prepare an unappetizing meal of rice and tuna whilst Scott did the bike maintenance. He discovered a broken spoke on his back wheel. Now, Scott is not very good at taking any type of bike malady in good humour, especially if it is his bike. I decided to give him some space and headed to the top of the nearest hill and I lay deep in the matted grass out of the stormy wind.
I watched the sun set and the moon rise over the troubled bay. I felt good.