After checking out, we rode down to a general store and bought a few snacks while people ogled our bikes. After so many years, I still actually like the attention that riding a recumbent attracts. Added eyeballs means added safety!
I scarfed some leftover thai food while Kerry was in the store, and answered a few polite questions. The number one question people ask is, "is that more comfortable than a regular bike?" To which my stock answer is, "pretty much all the time, yes, except when going over really bumpy roads because you can't stand up on the pedals."
Ten minutes later we were off, towards the south end of Rotorua, and a roadside attraction called Te Puia that linked up with a trail that runs alongside Highway 5. The first mile or so of the trail turned out to be an amazing off-road area designed for mountain bikes:
Dirt roads? I am enthusiastic! The new surface will make a nice change.
It was bumpy, but we totally rocked it. Afterward we hooked up with the regular trail, a nice cement lane following the highway. Smooth sailing for many miles with a slight uphill grade, taking us closer to the center of the island.
We were in high spirits when we stopped to chomp our supermarket snacks. GRAMMIE! HAM!!!!!
Just after our snack stop we noticed a fellow cyclist on the other side of the road, moving cautiously along in the almost nonexistent space between the hillside and the highway. We waved him over to chat, and recommended he use the separate lane we were using. He was on the seventh week of his trip, and started all the way down in Christchurch on the southern island. Wow!
Eventually the lane wandered away from Highway 5 and down a couple side roads, enveloping us in sunshine and the quiet noises of the countryside. We stopped for a few photos:
And I took a time-lapse movie of the clouds rolling over the hillside:
The bike path went even farther afield, through some wonderfully bumpy farmland. We were on a narrow track routed carefully between actively grazed fields, with cattle close enough on either side that we could reach out and poke them - if they didn't dodge away so quickly. As long as we kept our bikes moving they seemed to ignore us, but if either of us stopped - and especially if we made eye contact with any of the animals - they would jerk out of their relaxed state and move hastily away.
We spent a while discussing whether the cows saw us as one large animal, or a human riding on some other animal, or just an incomprehensible monster made out of legs and struts and wire. There's just no way to tell.
At this point Kerry asked me: "I've always wondered, why do hills have ridges on them like that? Is it something to do with the grass, or the rocks in the soil, or wind currents causing erosion?"
"Those are good guesses, but actually you're looking at trails stomped into the soil by hundreds of grazing animals over decades of grazing. Four-legged critters don't like standing uphill - or downhill - so they stand sideways. As they walk along they naturally make - and then follow - trails along the hills."
We stopped here to take a photo of this bulldozed hillside, documenting just how thin the soil is in most of New Zealand, and a funny thing occurred to me. The little region of the Discworld in Terry Pratchett's books, the one where Tiffany Aching lives, is called The Chalk by locals. Could Terry have been referring to New Zealand when he wrote about that region?
(On further thought, probably not. The most likely counterpart to The Chalk is Uffington, Oxfordshire in England.)
Very post-modern: It's a photo of Kerry taking a selfie!
We encountered another lonesome goat, tied up to keep him out of trouble. Here's a little video of Kerry saying "hi":
Of course once she said "hi" it was impossible to move on without giving him a little snack. So here's a video of that too!
Continuing on into the hills... Mile after mile of gorgeous terrain, in gorgeous weather. It was can't-miss photography: Anywhere you aim the lens, you get a great shot.
Our encounters with other cycle tourists have been pretty rare. Not a lot of people have the chutzpah to pedal in such hilly territory I guess. Or maybe they're just impatient, or their time is too limited...
There are at least five different species of parasitic plant infesting this tree. Most of the leaves you see are from parasites. It is riddled with parasites! And yet, it survives.
Sheep gotta have their toilet paper! Gotta!
After a while we went downhill and passed by the Waimangu thermal attraction - the one with Frying Pan Lake - but the place was shutting down for the evening. So we parked for a while and ate snacks. We thought about coming back the next day but as soon as we saw how steep the outgoing road was, we decided against it. Cycling does have its limitations...
The hills continued to delight us. We had to stop and admire the view half a dozen times...
As the sun sank lower the ridges became more prominent...
The wind picked up a bit as well. To give you an idea of how it felt, blowing gently through the grass and trees, I took this short video. Some day soon I think all pictures will be like this: Bracketed by a few seconds of video on either side to convey the mood.
Check out these shots, facing almost directly into the setting sun:
It was a long, fast ride down from those winding hills. Here's a video of Kerry rolling along:
Biking in New Zealand is pretty nifty.
The cycling route left the road, and went through a bunch of rough mountain-bike trail again, this time with thicker vegetation and more twists and turns. It was equally beautiful and challenging.
Can you believe THIS is a biking trail? Gorgeous!
Riding a mountain bike trail one-handed on a recumbent so I can video the experience with the other hand. It's the 2010's for sure, yo!
Here's one of the videos I took:
Mountain biking on recumbents! WE ROCK. Okay, in full disclosure, this video is actually sped up 2x. But we still ROCK.
Here's a quick video of Kerry rounding a curve on one of the dirt bike trails. Fantastic!
They trail eventually spit us back out by the highway, and after a few more miles of riding alongside it, we ended up at the Waiotapu Tavern.
We checked in, hurled our equipment into the tiny room, and walked over to the bar and ordered a massive pile of food. The place was empty except for us and we were too tired to chat, so we watched the television while we stuffed our faces.
The TV was tuned to some local New Zealand channel, showing a program about a home improvement competition between families. The family members were being made to run an obstacle course in order to win funding for their next project - a typical jumped-up reality show scenario.
They were moving big wheelbarrows of cement from one place to the next. One woman lost control of her wheelbarrow and face-planted, and her relatives all screamed and squealed in fear and rushed to her, and then the program cut to commercial and ended the episode. Through the next half-hour of local news and advertisements, they kept teasing the next episode by airing that sequence - of the woman face-planting and her family moaning in agony - over and over again, like it was the most exciting piece of programming they'd ever run in the history of New Zealand television.
After the tenth or eleventh time of hearing "Ugh - THUD! Waahh, oh no, waaah eeerrrrgggh boo hoo!" I got up and unplugged the television ... but the joke was on me because the audio was playing through a restaurant-wide stereo system, and kept going even with the television disabled. I tracked down the barkeep and had a word with him, and he got the whole thing shut off.
The bedroom wasn't just tiny, it was microscopic - barely enough room for the bed and our bikes, with nothing else in it - and it had one large window with a metal grille in front of it to prevent thievery, and trap us thoroughly inside in the event of a fire. The window faced straight out to the highway, but we were compelled to keep it open because it was the only way to circulate air.
All night long, trucks went barreling down the highway. If we shut the window the room would heat up and stink in less than an hour. We didn't get very good sleep, but it didn't mess with our mood too much: We'd just had another amazing epic New Zealand day!