Hello from windy Makara beach at the bottom of the North Island of New Zealand! We arrived here yesterday after 2 days and 215km of biking from Whanganui town. The biking was fairly easy as we had a tail wind most of the way! It rained like hell on the 1st day cycling, to a point where I got very cold. This coupled with the trucks thundering past – 1m away from our handlebars down State Highway 1, made it a unique experience. I had my first puncture after only 20km cycling and had a freezing wet and cold pit stop to change the inner tube on the side of the road.
Levin was a pleasant one night stop-off in the tent. The most exciting thing that happened was that I ate the hottest Indian Bryani dish I have ever tasted. I spent 30 minutes with ice held against my lips, then 30 minutes on the toilet before I could think straight. The waiter and chef were laughing at me, however I think I got the last laugh. As I left the restaurant he asked “was everything ok with your food?” to which I replied with a very straight face “no there was one problem…… it was not hot enough”.
The next day’s cycle from Levin to Makara near Wellington was also with a tail wind, and we blew along very quickly until we reached Porirua. The traffic was getting extremely heavy by this stage but still there was a decent road shoulder to ride on. We pulled off SH1 at Porirua and headed on smaller roads through the small town of Tawa and then up, up and over a HUGE hill followed by a nice roll down the other side to Makara. We stayed at the Makara B&B, which is run by host’s Christine and Pat. They cooked us a delicious BBQ dinner of fresh Paua, Steak and chicken, washed down with crisp NZ wine. A wonderful evening. If you ever pass through Wellington and want to stay in a beautiful, quiet and peaceful setting, only 20 minutes from the city with lovely hospitality stay here!
The next stage of our trip is one of the hardest and most dangerous. Sea kayaking across the Cook Strait. The Cook Strait is a notoriously rough, windy and fickle stretch of water with huge tidal streams (i.e currents). It is a serious stretch of water for motor vessels, let alone tiny kayaks. We always knew we needed a weather window of low wind speeds, a clear day and low swells to even contemplate this crossing. The weather changes so fast in the strait that even the weather forecasts are fickle and often proved wrong.
We are working with Tim Taylor from NZ Kayaking for this section. Tim has driven down from Tauranga and supplied the kayaks and will paddle across with us. He is very experienced and we feel in very capable hands with his support.
The weather window we are waiting for seems to be tomorrow (Tuesday) morning – around 4AM – 12PM. We need 6 – 8 hours to get across safely. The wind speeds pick up tomorrow lunch time. So we MUST be over and in the safety of the sounds before lunchtime. The other issue is what route do we take into the sounds? Plan A was to head north of Arapawa Island and head into Ship Cove for the night. Plan B is to head into Tory channel, where the ferries go, which has some horrific currents for kayaks to negotiate (7 – 8 knots). However with an incoming tide and the northerly winds pushing us in that direction it could be an option. You can follow our real-time SPOT GPS tracker to see our route: http://axeoneverest.followmyspot.com/peak-to-peak-2013
We will be carrying EPIRB emergency beacons, Marine VHF radio’s, Satellite Phone’s and the SPOT messenger tracking our progress every ten minutes. We will not have a support boat with us. So the plan is to punch hard as possible across the strait, starting at 4:30AM and try and get into the sounds before lunch. Wish us luck!
Today we also did a small presentation to the local Makara primary school, got interviewed and photographed by the DOMINION newspaper (thanks Paul!), tested the double kayak out, and will hand our bikes over this evening to my cousin Liz and her partner. They have very kindly offered to pop them on the BLUEBRIDGE ferry tomorrow to send them to Picton – thank you Bluebridge for your support! And thank you Liz and partner for your awesome support also!
That’s all for now – the next time we report in, we will either have crossed the Cook Strait…..or not!
The guys are well on their way, having arrived and cleaned up in Whanganui, now on their bikes heading further South, already 110km down State Highway 1 at Levin as I write. Stages 1 and 2 successful, all on schedule running relatively smoothly!!! Stage 3 the cycling is going so quickly when following progress on their SPOT. The biggest hurdle is yet to come as there is a Gale Warning currently in place for Cook Strait this is likely to create a headache or two. http://www.metservice.com/marine/surf/makara
After our windy and icy climb of Tahurangi Peak, the highest peak on Mt Ruapehu, the highest point in the North Island, we were relieved to wake the next morning at 6am to a clear and windless day.
We were treated to an enormous sumptuous breakfast of sausages, bacon and eggs by Jim the legend Morrow before setting up the bikes and setting off for the 60km cycle to Taumaranui to meet the mighty Whanganui River. We chose to start paddling here because the river is too shallow further upstream. The ride from Whakapapa down 7 km (4 miles) of steep winding road was both freezing and fun. We reached top speeds of 64 km per hour on the hybrid mountain bike’s complete with panniers! We had a nice ride in 2.5 hours to reach Taumaranui. Here we did a quick grocery shop for 5 days food which we then loaded up in to the divorce machine (our sea eagle fast track inflatable kayak), under the watchful eyes of Jack and Rob who gave such helpful advice as ‘you will never get down the river in that f’in thing! You are carrying far too much food and not enough beer, and none of your gear is water proof!’
Undeterred we set off and promptly ran aground repeatedly for the next 20 km as we floundered down the river. It was too shallow to have the skeg (fin) in the divorce machine and controlling her heading saw us doing frequent 360’s and running into rocks where we had to jump out and push her off. However, she is made of tough stuff and 36 km later we had finished the first half day still intact but quite wet through, including some of our gear and food. At one point she filled up with so much water we were the divorce submarine, but taking the bungs out quickly; she shuddered back above the surface like a dog shaking itself free from water after a swim.
Over the next few days we got better and faster; halfway through day two the water was deep enough to put the skeg in and our control was much better. We paddled 7 – 8 hours every day, the longest distance was 60 km in one day, and the fastest speed we reached was 14.6 km per hour. Overall, we averaged around 8 km per hour. On day three it rained and we paddled in rain jackets but the river was still beautiful. I cannot describe what a beautiful and special place that is the mighty Whanganui River. The river banks are steep and lined with dense native bush, as you paddle your way through her many twists and turns you are continually mesmerized by the waterfalls, the cliffs, the bush and the birds. When it rains, cloud lines the tops of the steep sides and you feel like you are paddling into another world.
We reached Pipiriki on day 3; the place most people stop, but we still had 100km to reach the coast and Whanganui city. We spent the first three nights camping in our tent, the 4th night we found a beautiful little hut called Downes hut which we had all to ourselves. Today we paddled the remaining 44 km all the way out to Whanganui City; a hard slog as we battled the tide, head winds and long periods of still water.
So here we are tonight in Whanganui town, it’s very nice to have the first shower in 5 days as usual and wash the smelly clothes. We have deflated, washed and packed up the might Divorce Machine, and tomorrow will start our cycle South to Wellington and Makara Beach. Where if the weather gods are smiling on us, we will attempt to kayak across the Cook Strait. Something I certainly am deeply respectful of and getting more nervous and excited the closer the day gets. Thanks again to the nice messages and comments on Facebook, none of which I can reply to while on the road sorry. Axe out from Whanganui.
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Signing out until their next update!!