This blog describes our six day bicycle ride around the East Cape of New Zealand – from Gisborne to Opotoki.
The timing of our trip was remarkable, as we squeezed it in just a week before New Zealand’s COVID-19 Level 4 shut down. This is also William’s first cycle tour.
Our adventure started with a long day on Friday 13th – luckily we had no bad luck or misfortune! We had a long drive from Wellington to Gisborne (7 hours) to drop our bikes off, then another 2 hour drive to Opotoki to leave our car and meet up with William, and then another 2 hours back to Gisborne with William’s car.
So we had a car at our start and end points, thanks to the helpfulness of the White Heron Motor Lodge in Gisborne and the Opotoki Holiday Park, who allowed us to park our cars on their premises.
62km from Gisborne
to Tologa Bay, total elevation gain 520m
The first day of our long awaited tour! We purposely timed our ride to start on a Saturday to try to avoid logging trucks – a strategy which proved successful as we were only passed by one truck – sans logs.
The weather forecast was not looking great, so we were delighted to wake up to a beautiful sunny day. We left the motel at around 9am, and stopped at Pak ‘n Save to buy some cheesy rolls – breakfast eaten in the car park. The first part of our ride was stunning, alongside the beach.
The traffic was quite heavy just out of Gisborne, but it got better. The first part of the ride was alongside the beaches, later swinging inland.
Jenny was the first
to experience a mechanical breakdown, with a bulging tyre tube under
the new tyre on her back wheel. We changed the tube and had no
problems with it for the rest of the trip.
The ride included two big hill climbs and lovely downhill runs, including one into Tologa Bay.
We arrived in Tologa Bay at around 2pm. The town consists of one main street – a pub and 3 small supermarkets. It was really hot, so we stopped at the pub for a beer. We got to practice our German with the German bartender, who also let us bring our bikes into the “biergarten” around the back. No craft beer here – we had to toast a successful ride with DB Draft – but it was properly cold.
We spread our custom around the 3 supermarkets – finding steak in one, also cheese, tomato, Vogals bread, biscuits and more beer.
was in the Tologa Bay Holiday park, which is alongside the historic
Tologa Bay Wharf. It dates back to the 1920’s and is the second
longest wharf in New Zealand at 600m long. We went to have a look at
it after our steak dinner.
52km from Tologa Bay
to Te Puia Springs, total elevation gain 649m
The weather today was perfect for cycling – cool and overcast but not raining, only a very light drizzle after the first hour or so. The first part of the ride was on easy, meandering roads through valleys, alongside cornfields and grazing sheep.
The first big hill
was just before Tokomaru Bay, which involved some pushing of
bicycles. The crank on Kris’s bicycle was clicking (unfortunately
this only started on the tour, not on our test ride at home), so he
is treating it gently by pushing on the steep parts of the hills.
This is not actually slowing us down much, as Kris can push his bike
just as fast as I pedal up a steep hill with a laden bike. William
goes faster but stops to rest more often. Our pattern on this trip is
to have a water stop and wait for each other at the top of each long
hill, so we stay together.
The long freewheel
down the hill into Tokomaro Bay was especially beautiful. A little
Jack Russell ran out to greet us – running across the road and
behind a fence before beginning to bark bravely to defend his
We stopped at the Tokomaro Bay Four Square supermarket (the only shop along our route) to buy a snack and food for the evening meal.
We noticed that some motorcyclists had stopped at the cafe, so we stopped there too for a coffee. Then we went to have a look at the beach. There was a sudden shower, which sent us quickly back under cover by the cafe for a few minutes until it cleared.
The road after Tologa Bay meandered easily for a bit before a long climb to Te Puia Springs (which is basically at the top of a hill).
We arrived at around 1.30pm. There is nothing in the town except the hotel, a small store, a derelict district council building and a hospital. The few houses around town all have utes parked outside and a few have boats.
The hotel didn’t
have great reviews online so we were a little apprehensive. However
it turned out to be quite good – it is in a grand old building that
has seen better days. There is a mineral smell from the hot pool
alongside the hotel, which you soon get used to. The manager was very
helpful, even offering to go buy us some food in Tologa Bay as the
hotel restaurant was closed. He must have experienced cyclists
arriving without food before – luckily we had already shopped. We ate
our food on a deck at the back of the hotel. We also chatted to a
retired Australian, who was very keen on the hot pool and some
returning hunters who parked up back of the hotel. There was not much
to do in the evening. Jenny soaked in the hot pool, Kris played chess
on his phone, Jenny and William walked around town and sat on the
front veranda until the sun set.
74km from Te Puia
Springs to Te Araroa (and around the town), total elevation gain 927m
We had a relatively early start at 8.30am, for the longest ride of our tour. The first part, out of Te Puia Springs, was all downhill, and the first 25km or so were relatively easy.
We had one long hill climb just out of Te Puia Springs.
We crossed the Waiapu River at Ruatoria (we didn’t go into the town). The route from here to Tikitiki followed the river through beautiful countryside with some lovely views.
A feature of these rides is that we cause quite a stir among some of the farm animals along the way – cows and horses wandering over to have a look at us or running alongside us. They don’t flinch if a car or truck roars by – but bicycles are clearly in another league. At one point a whole herd of piglets ran down a hill to see what we were doing.
We stopped at Tikitiki for some coffee and to get our water bottles filled up again before the big climbs. It was quite warm and humid and they were almost empty. There is only one place to buy coffee – the RSA, which is also a post office. They were sorting the mail at the front when we walked in. No espresso machine here, but it was good to have a caffeinated drink none the less.
We stopped to have a look at the St Mary’s church before continuing our journey. The interior is quite stunning, with unique Maori carving and design merged with European architecture.
After Tikitiki the
big hills started in earnest – three big inclines (and exhilarating
downhill runs) in all. The final downhill run took us down to sea
level again at Te Araroa.
It was a long and
strenuous day, but we all ended strong with enough energy left for a
little sight seeing.
Te Araroa has the
oldest and largest Pohutakawa tree in New Zealand – it is believed
to be over 350 years old and 40m at its widest point. It stands near
the beach, alongside a school.
We decided not to
ride to the East Cape lighthouse (most easterly light house in the
world), as it would have been another 20km there and 20km back on
We shopped for our
dinner (and ate some Ruatoria pies) at the local Four Square, before
finding our way to the Moreporks Nest backpackers, a little way out
When we got there, the manager was not at home, so we had to phone and wait, which was a bit annoying. We are the only guests in the backpackers, but there are quite a few foreign visitors in camper vans or tents on the grounds. The kitchen and bathrooms are shared facilities. We were already getting a little nervous about COVID-19, Kris growled at Jenny for standing close to a Frenchman to check out his new tattoos. Luckily we were the first to use the kitchen to make our dinner of bacon and eggs.
We sat on the verandah of the 130 year old colonial home for a little before the insects began to bite us and we retired for an early night.
62km from Te Araroa
to Waihau Bay, total elevation gain 646m
My heart sank when
we woke to hear rain and wind lashing against the hostel. Tropical
cyclone Gretel was passing through, bringing some much needed rain
and also warnings of 100km strong winds. The rain is welcome here, as
the whole region is in the midst of a drought – everything is
We had little choice but to pack up and ride, as all our accommodation is booked ahead of time. It wouldn’t be the first time Jenny and Kris have been drenched on a cycle trip, and we comforted ourselves by recalling all our rides in weather worse than this.
We actually had a
good start to the day, with some conversation over coffee and our
breakfast (toast and bananas) with a friendly Dutch couple in the
kitchen (while observing physical distancing).
We started out
taking a short cut to get back onto SH35, but we missed the turn off
and ended up at a dead end along a muddy road. We hadn’t even
started and our bikes and shoes were already all muddy.
The first part of
the ride was quite wet, but at least not cold. The landscape was
still beautiful in the mist around the mountaintops. The first hill
out of Te Araroa was the highest. Although the wind was strong it was
coming from the side or at our backs most of the time – when it was
behind us it was almost like having power assist on an electric bike!
The terrain was very hilly, and the rain began to ease up mid morning. We had a very scenic downhill run to Hicks Bay, but unfortunately for William, his rear brakes beginning to give out. He took the hills very gingerly for a while after that. We began to dry out a bit after midday and we stopped to replace William’s brake pads. We were well equipped for bicycle repairs (even had spare tyres and spokes), as we knew there is not much chance of getting parts on the Cape.
There was noticeably
much less traffic on the roads today, making for a very pleasant
We thought we had
arrived when we got to Cape Runaway, but our accommodation was still
10km away. We were a little worried about whether we would be able to
buy food at Waihau Bay, but this was unfounded. There is a restaurant
at the Lodge where we were staying, and a small shop and cafe next
door. There is not much else on the bay, except for some very up
market houses and a small wharf. This is evidently the town where the
movie “Boy” was shot.
Reception was a grumpy old Maori lady in the bar downstairs. However, we were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation – it is a huge apartment with a balcony overlooking the bay. It sleeps about 6 people, including two double bedrooms, both with an en-suite bathroom, as well as a huge lounge and kitchen. Fish and chips take-aways from the next door cafe seemed appropriate, eaten on our balcony. The seagulls kept a beady eye on our chips but we managed to keep them off the balcony.
38km from Waihau Bay
to Te Kaha, total elevation gain 434m
Today was a little akin to a rest day, with a short distance to cover. The weather was ideal and we had a slow start, enjoying breakfast at the Waihau Bay Cafe.
Our ride started
with a hill directly above the lodge, continuing along the stunning
coastline with turquoise blue seas and pohutakawa trees. Overall it
was a gentler ride than on previous days. At one point the “Tradie
Ladies” who had been staying at the Lodge passed us in their van,
we waved to each other.
We began to get
views of a smoking White Island in the distance.
The biggest hill was
around 100m climb, just before we crossed the Raukokore River. Once
again there was little traffic, except for a few logging trucks just
before Te Kaha.
We stopped at the Te
Kaha General Store, alongside a camping ground and about 2km away
from the resort, to buy some food and wine. The shop assistant was
wearing a mask – the first one we had seen on the East Cape.
We arrived at the Te Kaha Beach Resort around midday and spent the afternoon relaxing, drinking wine, eating ice cream etc.
Once again we were in luxury digs with a full apartment, including our own washing machine and dryer (when cycle touring the daily washing and drying of clothes is a real chore, thus my obsession). The resort is lovely, next to a small beach and also has its own bar and restaurant. There is not much else in Te Kaha, I think the big attraction here is fishing, apart from just relaxing.
70km from Te Kaha to
Opotoki, total elevation gain 818m
Our final day was quite strenuous again, although it started out as a gentle undulating ride alongside the coast. The road swings inland for a while before it crosses the Motu River, and the biggest hill climb (200m) starts on the other side.
There are no shops
or cafes along this stretch – each town just has a Marae, there are
beautiful bays, ocean views and not much else. At one point we did
stop and buy some avocados – just a rough sign on the side of the
road and an honesty box in the field.
The traffic began to pick up around 30km out from Opotoki, including some logging trucks. Some of them were excellent, giving us heaps of space, but a couple were too close.
We saw our first other cyclists – riding in a peloton. The lady at the Opotiki holiday park later told us that they had stayed there the previous night, they were also riding around the Cape, but with support vehicles carrying their luggage.
We decided to take the new Motu Dune Trail for our final 10km into Opotoki. It is a new easy mountain bike track along the dunes. They have obviously spent a lot of effort and money on it, it even has a boardwalk! Beautiful.
Our car was safe at
the holiday park, though it had suffered from being parked under a
tree obviously favored by roosting birds. We cleaned the car, our
clothes and packed the bikes up on the bike rack for the next day,
before going to the Irish pub for a big beer and steak meal.
We decided to spend
another day and night in Gisborne, as our first night had been so
The two hour ride
back to Gisborne along the Matawai Gorge was a little more relaxed
this time. We even stopped to admire the Tauranga bridge, about a 10
minute walk from the road.
We spent a little
time riding around and exploring Gisborne (about 34km in all). The
bike ride along the foreshore was the best.
We also found the
Sunshine Brewery, and enjoyed some good craft beer and pizza there.
We ate out again in
the evening – treating ourselves. The restaurants were pretty empty
and there were already directives out that we should do “social
distancing”. We were all washing our hands conscientiously before
we ate. However, we didn’t imagine that we would be in total
COVID-19 level 4 lock down less than a week later.
We enjoyed our last couple of days resting in Amsterdam, even though the weather remains unsettled and we had to dodge showers on our excursions around the city.
We took our bicycles to donate to a drop in center for underprivileged people on Saturday morning. They were happy to have them. We had to walk back to the hotel, and then to the railway station to catch a train to the airport.