December 7, 2012
A rainstorm and high winds during the night. Each gust of wind pushes the back wall of the tent towards the middle, banging me in the head and waking me up. I slide down to the bottom of the tent and curl up there for a few hours of uninterrupted rest. Another rainstorm blows in while we’re breakfasting under a covered terrace. We run out and quickly dissemble the tent, barely getting everything under cover, before the next downpour starts. Our hostel mother says it’s not advisable to ride over the mountain on bicycles, but Christof is convinced we’re fit enough to manage it. The road is just across the street from our hostel. We can see the bottom of it from where we are; the top disappears in a blanket of fog and clouds. Vanessa’s guide book describes this part of the journey as a double shot of Espresso, and is the reason she and Evan choose to take the bus to Whitianga.
The ascent is rough, and at times so steep I’m not sure that I can cycle and breathe at the same time. Interminable and challenging. Worse than anything we encountered crossing the Rockies. Halfway up the mountain, another storm driving rains and high winds before it breaks. Stopping to put on rain gear, we discover that the storm is a friend in disguise. The winds have come to our aid, and it’s like having the soft hand of an invisible friendly giant on our backs, gently pushing us up the mountain.
The climb, like childbirth, is forgotten the moment it’s over. Only the exhilaration and joy remain. And splendid mountaintop views of toy-like volcanic hills half-hidden in mists and rising steeply from a surreal blue-green ocean. The quiet deserted roads, unexpected views, incredible boisterous plant life, the ferns tower overhead like palms, make us grateful we chose to ride.
Lunch at a charming improvised place in a small cove. Close to the water, next to a wooden house, what looks like discarded wooden furniture has been set up on gravel under a tarp. Life is easy, people friendly and artistic, the food simple and delicious. Christof has pizza directly out of an outdoor oven and I have a bowl of green lipped mussels right out of the ocean. We discover ginger beer, a drink so delicious it can compare with lemonade.
Two eateries next door to one another cooperate easily without competition. One serves food, the other coffee and desserts. After lunch we step over to the cafe which doubles as a gallery and a shop. Settling into the comfortable sofas with a cup of coffee, we attach our machines to their wifi and cozily watch the next deluge darken the sky as the view of the bay disappears. Two American girls – heads full of unwashed dreadlocks dressed in colorful harem pants – who’ve been roaming Asia for the past years, share their adventurous travel stories with us. They’re earning their keep in New Zealand by helping a woman care for two small children. Unfortunately they have to leave before we can benefit from their experience.
When the rain stops we discover that my tire has gone flat.
While we struggle to climb an impossibly steep hill, people hanging out of window of a passing bus yell and scream at us. Annoyed, our irritation evaporates once we realize that Vanessa and Evan are cheering us on! They awaken my inner show-off and give it the energy needed to attack the unbelievably steep incline head-on. Once the bus has disappeared over the crest of the hill, I immediately revert to slowly snaking across the entire width of the hill again.
Another rain storm drenches us to the bone, and we arrive in Whitianga looking like something the cat dragged in. At the entrance of the supermarket, where a group of teenagers and teachers sell raffle tickets for a school benefit, we run into a couple of seasoned cyclists from Germany. They say forty-five kilometers on these hills is comparable to one hundred elsewhere.
We have barely set up camp for the evening when the next deluge begins.