Te Tawhio o Whanganui, (a loop of the Whanganui) was the brainchild of John “Sifter” Randall. It's a very different beast from the only other “Dirt-Brevet” type activities I have been involved in, in that everyone has to stay at the same town each night, but the route they take is up to them. The starting and finishing point was in Whanganui and the towns in question were Eltham, Ohura and Raetihi.
|Motua gardens, Whanganui - 02/02/2013 Te Tawhio O Whanganui.|
I admit to having limited knowledge of the areas we were going into, but with the new xmas present from my wife – a Garmin Etrex 20 GPS, I was hoping I could wing it and at least hook in with some other riders. Sifter and Bill (not-Gareth-at-all) Brierly had put some routes online so it was actually possible to just follow the dotted line if you were happy enough doing that.
My first GPS mishap happened as we tried to navigate our way out of Whanganui, me being a complete newbie, I had it on the wrong setting and the whole group of us missed the first turn! Novices. We were so full of excitement from our pre-event korero and couldn't wait to get started.
We settled down into a nice rhythm in the midday sun and headed as far off the main road as we could. There weren't too many course options for us on that first day, but as we hit our first patch of gravel that amazing feeling hit us. We instantly felt sorry for anyone not out there at that moment in time, feeling the crunch of gravel beneath their wheels. Bikes, gravel, scenery, friends - we were just getting started. There was a cool moist breeze coming off the coast at times, but by the time we got to Patea we were happy to stop for some serious refueling in the shade. It was also a chance to check in with some riders I hadn't seen since the previous years Kiwi Brevet, Stephen “Stealth” Butterworth, with two more Cambridge based riders in tow, Matt and Michael, and Peter Maindonald who had shown me how to build some DIY fork mounted water bottle holders. On the approach to Patea I had noticed Sifter gesticulating as we passed a small graveyard, apparently the resting place of the famous Maori entertainer Prince Tui Teka. Poi E was the ear-worm of the day for those that realised the significance.
|Getting close to Eltham, Mt Taranaki in the distance.|
By the time we got to the days destination, the Presbyterian camp in Eltham we were really looking forward to freshening up, not so Sifter and Dave Sharp, they wanted to do another 50kms and 900 metres of climbing up to Dawson Falls on the flanks of Mount Taranaki. Myself, I was content with my 120kms, a refreshing swim in the waterhole next to our lodgings and a very large Pizza from Daveys Patch Pizza emporium. Next time I will get the medium!
|Outside the Pizza shop, Ash and Pilsener were traveling mostly on the road but in no way were they afraid of the gravel.|
Eltham to Ohura, 151.5kms, 3121 metres climbing.
|Stealth's Cotic SSer. Photo by Bill Brierly.|
|Heading in to the Bridge to Somewhere|
|Photo-ops on the Bridge to Somewhere, Matt, Peter and Michael|
|Matt, Peter and Stealth.|
Day 3, Ohura to Raetihi, 172.7 kms, 3266 metres climbing.
We thought we had cheated mother nature with 2 days of scorching weather, but as predicted (a week earlier) on the third day it started to rain. I was sitting at breakfast nattering away to Simon Kennet when I looked around and noticed we were the only two people left in the dining room. Cripes, time to hit the road. I rudely terminated the conversation and headed off, eventually catching up to Mathew Peploe on his Alfine equipped Yeti Big Top and Karin on her Cyclo cross bike. We rode in a pace line trying not to eat each others rooster-tail of water. Something was leaking into my eyes causing me intense pain, I can only assume it was years of toxins being washed out of my helmet by the deluge. We got to Taumaranui having ridden on the seal the whole time and called in at the Supermarket for supplies. We were wet, but not too cold, until I went inside to make a purchase. The air conditioning was on and I nearly had hypothermia by the time I got through the checkout.
|Karin on her CX bike at the top of a rise|
|This was not Fishers track, but it was a great climb with awesome views from the top.|
|Peter Maindonald's rig. Photo by Bill Brierly.|
We rolled into Raetihi to the Snowy Waters Lodge with 173 kms on the clock. We were served an amazing roast meal, with pudding, with an open fridge stacked with beers for our purchase. The hosts were once again incredibly friendly and they gave us a little talk about the work they were doing and their views on conservation and how it related to farming which they were also doing. The accommodation was top notch with comfy bunk beds and the hosts kindly ran all our clothes through the washing machine that night and the drier the next morning. Watching people trying to locate their matching pairs of Ground Effect socks the next morning was pretty funny.
Raetihi to Wanganui, 103 kms, 1720 metres climbing.
|Matt's Alfine Yeti Big-Top minus gear.|
We'd picked up Geoff Tilbrook somewhere along the way and he was riding very well considering he had a broken finger and his Dr had told him not to do the event at all. There was one last hill that seemed to be called Gentle Annie, aren't they all. It loomed up at us laying down a challenge. This is your last chance. Stealth took off like a scalded cat on his singlespeed and spanked us to the top. I am sure that one was double points!
|Karate Monkey atop the Gentle Annie climb.|
About an hour later my buddy Dirk turned up and we rode back to the car collection point and loaded up the MX5 for the trip back. All up we covered around 550 kms in two whole and two half days of riding. Not enough to inflict any serious butt-trauma, despite two dampish days.
I had a great 4 days, met some lovely new people and got a better appreciation of life in some of the more depressed rural areas of New Zealand. We don't realise how lucky we have it hidden away here in the capital - all the more reason visit the provinces and stimulate their economy. I estimate I had been on less than 15% of the roads we travelled so that was a major bonus.
Te Tawhio o Whanganui loosely translated means “A loop of the Whanganui”. Sifter has promised to move the loop further north for the next time, so it will be a completely different loop.
If you are new to Brevet/Bike Packing this might be the ideal event to cut your teeth on.