Kopiko Aotearoa 2022
Wow, when the Kennett Brothers devised the Kopiko Aotearoa 2022, they thought they were doing us a favour. Initially, the route was to start at the East Cape, two hours drive north of Gisborne. With the problematic situation with Covid, they changed the start to Gisborne. They also were forced to change routes through Te Urewera and Lake Waikeremoana. On paper, this route looked so much easier than the initial route. It also reduced the KMs from 1,100 to 800.
So I made the call to a couple of friends. One was in Melbourne. The other was just around the corner. We were set. Then covid struck. No flights in from Australia. And getting a spot in quarantine for 10 days was almost impossible. And, who has 10 days to spare as annual leave?
Anyway, the day arrived that we were to start. We flew into Gisborne on the 8:10 from Auckland. Unpacked our cardboard bike boxes, and assembled them in less than 30 minutes. We departed Gisborne at 10:15. Too late in retrospect. A late start equals a late finish. Almost too late to find food in Opotiki.
The course, the Covid course, runs from Gisborne to Opotiki and then cuts straight across the country to New Plymouth. Easy as, eh! Only, no it’s not. There are very few watering holes, whether that be a shop, café, or campsite. There’s also a lack of accommodation, especially if you don’t want to camp. The route is a mix of gravel and tar seal, with a very small amount of singletrack. The gravel is not hardpack, just loose mushy, almost porridge-like.
The next stage was from Opotiki to Waiotapu was interesting, to say the least. It’s still a pleasant mix of surface types, with a couple of very technical sections. As you roll through Ohiwa, on your way to Whakatane, make sure you take in the views. As shortly after this road section it gets crazy. Soon as you take the Burma road turn, the plush tarmac is replaced by some gritty single track. The singletrack blew my front tyre off of its rim. Now if only we had a working pump with us!
With misfortune comes experiences. I had the fortune of my traveling companion to find someone with a ute to take me to the nearest bike store. That encounter would be one of the most memorable. For he, Rick Boon was working for the Whakatane Kiwi trust. He was locating Kiwi, checking traps, and his story was amazing. He is a volunteer, and salt of the earth character. If only NZ had more people like Rick. More people trapping, more people helping our native flora and fauna. Making New Zealand a much better place than it currently is. Thanks, Rick.
After Whakatane, there’s really only Edgecombe to stock up on water. In a blistering 30ºC, I needed lots of it. After 9 hours of cycling, we were finally reduced to asking the local school principal if we could use the school’s water supply to refill our bottles. Fortunately, he said yes. He also told us that the entry to a nearby lake was only 800 meters away. The lake was a school kid’s favourite spot after school. Lake Rerewhakaaitu was not a lake to stick your head under. We named it cow lake. It smelled of cow manure. It wasn’t the best, but it had to do. And we only had 20km left to ride to get to Waiotapu.
Waiotapu Tavern has the best beer in the world. Well, I’m not sure Carlsburg would agree. After 10 hours of riding, a Heineken was well deserved. Surprisingly, we didn’t drink that much over the course of 5 days compared to the TA, but boy did I need a beer after that stage.
We stayed at the Waiotapu Tavern. It’s the only accommodation for quite some KMs. It was clean and friendly enough, unfortunately, the noise from the main highway thundered throughout the night. For it was too warm to close the windows, even with a fan. The sound of traffic left my Whoop recovery score in the low 20’s. That’s not a good number! The only good thing was that they made us a packed breakfast. As we were to be on the road for 5 am. We had a long day ahead of us.
Leaving Waiotapu Tavern along the Waikite valley road is one of the scenic highlights of the Kopiko. Sheer cliffs with geothermic activity, juxtaposed against traditional rolling English country landscapes. The sunrise was majestic. Dylan Thomas’esque, but without the accent.
Now with 60km to go before we could sit down and eat a decent breakfast, Whakamaru couldn’t come soon enough. The aim of today’s stage was to get to the Timbertrail Lodge. A place worth staying at, if you can get a booking. As it’s one of the North Island’s most popular family trails. Definitely worth the adventure. And it’s suitable for most ages and skill levels.
We grabbed some food and water at The Dam Café, Whakamaru. We were joined by Andrew’s sister, Jo. New Zealand is a small country. You quickly realise this when you’ve been here for a few months. As it turned out, Andrew’s sister knew a family we’d recently met living on Waiheke Island. Living Waiheke’s socialist dream. Her daughter spent some of the holidays in Orapiu, just around the next bay. Just before I moved to NZ, a friend once said to me ” Auckland’s a great place to bring up kids, but a bad place for an affair!” You quickly understand this to be true.
The next part of the journey is where you really start to discover things about yourself. As with any adventure, the Kopiko Aotearoa is a voyage of self-discovery. I was quickly discovering that I hadn’t got enough water. A discovery that would lead to all sorts of problems.
The Mangakino to Ongarue stage of the Kopiko Aotearoa is the same as the Tour Aotearoa. Although, this time we were staying at Camp Epic, halfway along the Timber Trail. The only difference was that I managed to drink 6 litres of water before we started the trail. I finished all of my water by the time we reached the centre of the North Island. The only thing that took my mind off of the fact was eating dumplings that Andrew’s sister had bought for us. I was entering the twilight zone.
Climbing the Eastern end of the Timber Trail you’re in the shade. That shade disappears climbing up Mount Pureora. Soon, we were literally baking. It was mid-thirties degrees Celcius. I had to make a decision, one that I’d soon regret. Taking water from a stream in NZ is fraught with danger. The risk of Giardia, and or campylobacter is high. Apparently, Giardia is a recent danger associated with NZ streams and rivers. Less than 20 years ago you could drink from most streams without fear of getting sick. That has all changed. And it changed the rest of my ride.
Taking my first sip of the water I’d filled up with from the stream, I knew it was bad. It was too late. The question I answered before filling up was “Do I allow myself to get extremely dehydrated and risk collapse? Or do I risk getting a bacterial infection, i.e. Giardia, and get hydrated and finish the day? The answer was easy. I could always reverse the effects of Giardia with antibiotics. Drink away!
I spent the next two and a half days wishing I’d planned better. Wishing that I’d brought an extra water bottle. My performance suffered. Every meal I ate, and every drink I had made me feel extremely nauseous. I paid the price of bad planning.
The Timber Trail and Camp Epic
I’d sent Andrew ahead to get food at the Timber Trail Lodge. We, well, I was running late to be able to get food at the lodge. They stop serving food to anyone not staying at the lodge at 4 pm. It was already 4, and we had 10 km to go. Andrew smashed it. He ordered beer and pizza, and enough pizza for breakfast. When I arrived it was almost too late. But Andrew’s generosity allowed me to shovel down 2 pizzas and a soda.
What irks me about the lodge is that they hold a captive market, but are so bloody rude to those not staying there. It was the same on the Tour Aotearoa. The lodge is everything to walkers and riders alike. Yet, they treat everyone with poor taste. I get that with covid you’re only allowed X amount of guests. Also, I get they need to treat their paying guest with a level of priority. What I don’t get is why they feel the need to be so rude and not support every trail user. Anyway, enough bitching.
Andrew and I were staying at Camp Epic. I wasn’t expecting much, but the beds were so comfy and the other campers were so friendly, it made the trip. I went to sleep at 7:30 and woke just after 6, albeit with a dose of giardia. It was cold pizza for breakfast, and we were off. I left Andrew to smash the second half of the timber trail. Again it was scorching. Again we were searching for water and food.
We arrived in Ongarue close to 12:30 pm. None of the usual amenities was open so we opted to take the highway instead of the gravel side road. I’m so glad we did. Halfway to the turning for Ohura, our next place to stay, we stumbled across an alpaca farm. A farm open to the public. A farm with coffee and refreshments. And so, we were saved.
Andrew and I walked into the small café/gift shop. We had a hunger, and Andrew ordered everything available. The woman looked at us and asked us if we were joking. Our faces definitely didn’t look as though they were joking. After troughing down the shop, we were off again. Next stop, Ohura.
Just a short sprint along the highway and we were on the road to Ohura. Some of the best riding on the course. Passing through rural King Country, past the farms and occasional Cossie club, that happened to be open. With a settlement of fewer than 10 houses, they still had a Cosmopolitan club. Probably just for the town’s mayor to drink at.
We finally arrived in Ohura. We managed to find the infamous Mexican food truck. It’s simply the best food on the Kopiko. Failing to stop in Ohura and sample some of the very accommodating Michelle’s Mexican food is close to sacrilege. For Michelle make the freshest Mexican around. Actually, she is the only one serving Mexican food for possibly 150km in every direction.
Michelle pretty much runs Ohura. We were staying in her B&B for the night, with Henry and Robyn, a delightful NZ farming couple. We shared stories over breakfast the following morning. Ohura is very quiet, so we managed to get some good sleep. Although, I was still suffering the effects of giardia. With ablutions done, were again on the road. This trip is all about eating, sleeping, riding and some bonus scenery thrown in.
I hadn’t really felt like eating breakfast but managed to grab some toast and a cup of coffee. What I was hanging out for was a big breakfast at the Whangamonoma Hotel. Before arriving there we’d have to ride a couple of the Seven Sisters, good climbing hills. We arrived before opening time, 10 am. Fortunately, the owner was partial to a bike ride or two and opened early. We ordered a couple of coffees each and the big breakfast. I knew I’d regret it, as tasty as it was.
After spending an hour chewing the fat, both literally and metaphorically we jumped back on our bikes again. It’s always sad to leave this little republic within NZ. But we had to get moving. We still had another 120 km to go. And we still had more of the seven sisters to mount.
It was the first climb out of Whangamonoma that I really started to feel queasy. I just couldn’t get comfy on the saddle, either. After 2 days fried in the sun, I’d developed saddle sores due to the sweat. This coupled with giardia wasn’t making life on the saddle very enjoyable. The nausea was overwhelming. I was feeling sick.
I don’t really remember too much after this, except Andrew gave me a choice, once we’d reached the top of one of the climbs. He offered me the chance to just ride straight to the airport and fly home that evening. It still meant another 60km or so, but I didn’t want to ruin his Kopiko Aotearoa. Secretly it’s all I wanted to do.
So with that, we continued on towards Lepperton and then made good progress to New Plymouth airport. As quickly as we started, we’d finished. 5 days from start to finish. 800km went by in a flash. We were booked on the 5 pm flight to Auckland. Bikes were packed. Checked in. And Andrew had a Koru Club membership, so we had a couple of beers, a nibble, and then we were home.
At this point, I just want to thank Liz and Louise. It’s a true privilege to be able to ride events, let alone events that take up to 3 weeks. So thanks to them both for allowing us to ride this amazing adventure. Thanks to Andrew for being a great riding companion, a fun and witty friend. And yep, I’m still suffering the effects of giardia and cycling palsy.
So what’s the next adventure, I hear you ask? I have no idea, but definitely not the Tour Te Waipounamu.