Monday 19 October 2015

A Hawkes Bay Break: Cruisy

Note to self: sleep is essential. Do NOT imagine you can do without it; that by catching a plane near midnight, flying towards the sunrise, and touching down as the sun comes up, you can simply dust yourself off and launch into the new day. Your body knows otherwise.

The time difference between Australia and New Zealand means we are playing out that exact scenario on a recent trip to the North Island. Despite our attempts to sleep during the 3 hour flight, we arrive in Zombie mode. Neither coffee, nor a rousing breakfast in a café full of All Black fans watching their team win (again), is enough to perk us up for the long drive up the island to the Hawkes Bay region.

[Some contented Hawkes Bay cattle] 
Many stops, many coffees, a snooze or two, and a disproportionate number of oddly-timed snack/meals later, we arrive at our rural accommodation in the heart of Hawkes Bay. Dragging our confused bodies with us, we do a hasty reconnoitre, eat a quick meal, and flop into bed around 9pm. Our muddled brains actually think it’s 10pm, thanks to a mix-up over daylight saving. And that feels more than late enough for bed, and the hope of a standard 8 hours of shut-eye.

Our bodies have other plans, and we wake to the sounds of unfamiliar birds and farm machinery fully 12 hours later. Not since university days has either of us slept the clock around. At first we don’t believe our timepieces, but our mobile phones – which seem to know these things automatically – confirm the time.

I open the curtain onto a scene from a child’s painting. A field of yellow flowers is set against a steep and vividly green hill, which is criss-crossed with animal tracks and dotted with placid grazing cattle. A lone white goat and perfect blue sky complete the scene. People told us this is a beautiful part of a beautiful country, and they haven’t exaggerated.

[Our morning view on a Hawkes Bay farm] 

But country isn’t just for staring at. A small shed hides the means of getting closer to it all: two bicycles. Not just any old bicycles, these are cruiser bikes. AND they even have names. We’re accustomed to 21 speed mountain bikes with hard seats and an attitude to match. “Molly” and “Cooper”, our resident cruiser bikes, have a more relaxed outlook on life. Built for comfort, not speed – and not for hills, let alone mountains – these bikes are just right for cruising along the near-level cycle trails that lace the region.

[Lynne cruises a cycle path aboard "Molly"] 

And so to the stop bank that separates us from the river. We’ve not heard the term “stop bank” before, but it’s immediately clear it’s essentially the same as a levee bank, protecting the surrounding land from floods; in this case from the Tutaekuri River. That's one of several rivers draining east from the Kaweka and Ruahine mountain ranges to the west; rivers whose outwash has created the fertile plains that are key to Hawkes Bay’s agricultural bounty.

As with so many New Zealand rivers, the Tutaekuri flaunts its snowy upland origins, flowing swift, grey/blue and braided through the lowlands. Doubling as our local cycle path, the stop bank leads us gently along the river, winding through pasture, forest and fields of apples, and alongside some of the vineyards for which Hawkes Bay is famous. We blow away the cobwebs before finding some very decent coffee in the township of Taradale.

[The Tutaekuri River near Taradale] 
We then try the cycle path on the other side of the river, which soon passes beneath the impressive Otatara Pä. This series of connected Maori forts on hillocks above the river has fearsome wooden palisades, and we learn later that it was a highly-prized and much fought-over site. Distressingly part of the site was lost in the 1970s and 80s when it was quarried for road metal. Today it’s an historic site managed by the Department of Conservation in consultation with Ngäti Paarau of Waiohiki Marae (local Maori).

[Part of the Otatara Pa] 
On our ride back upstream, we get to try out the three gears on the cruiser bikes. We learn that third gear = “cruisy”; second gear = “almost-cruisy”; and third gear = “still-quite-close-to-cruisy”. Fortunately there are no actual hills, so we are only mildly pink-faced by the time we reach the village of Puketapu. But as it has a famous pub, we decide we’re parched, and stop for an ale in the shade.

New Zealand may be famous for its adrenaline charged adventures, and we’ve had our share of those. But we're learning it also does the cruisy end of things very well. And right now we have no complaints about that.