New year. New Zealand. New friends.

After a long flight we finally arrived at our hotel in Auckland around 330pm on NewYears Eve. It seemed our bike, tent and shoe cleaning regime had been up to scratch so we passed through bio-control at the airport without too much difficulty. It was strange leaving so quickly after Christmas especially after my ma’s hospital appointment on Christmas eve and without getting to really see friends and family much again after the main seasonal activities. However, despite some apprehension I was still excited to finally get to land in a country I have wanted to visit for some time. Deemed the land of adventure it was also now a country of new friends too.

We managed to stay awake long enough to watch midnight fireworks from the Skytower though it’s fair to say I’m not a fan of busy new year bars and felt particularly unglamorous so we soon headed back to catch up on sleep. Fully charged the next day we set about sightseeing, going up the skytower and walking around the harbour. This city has a great feel, a fantastic sense of space and fabulous arty industrial areas. A brilliant start to this new adventure.

The following day we would prepare to leave – final shopping (I needed a new camping mug for this tea-aholic Brit), bike building and dinner and beers with Darragh, our first meet up with newish friends here since meeting on the Africa trip. Smiles and ales later we said goodbye. Unfortunately I had not been quite so lucky to meet other older friends from Bristol but we had to get moving.

We made our way round the coast with a plan to reach Miranda. However, with very steep climbs, up and down all day after a month without riding we eventually stopped after 90km at Orere Point. Relieved to reach a camp site we were sore, tired and early to rest. We had made a plan to meet fellow rider, Vince, from our Africa trip too in a few days and wanted to make good Southerly progress. Fortunately roads were flat and after a great lunch stop in a very friendly, quirky cafe and our first hokey pokey ice-cream we were 107km down the road in Te Aroha. Vince would pick us up the next day in Tirau and take us and our bikes to Rotarua.

All went as planned and soon we were in the town known for being geo-thermal and therefore also a little stinky. We visited bubbling mud pools, hot springs, lakes, coffee shops and scenery a-plenty. On our way we passed through a trout farm where we met guy called Red who invited us back for smoked fresh trout the following day. We were really getting a kiwi welcome. Vince had driven up from Wellington to show us round and now a complete stranger was preparing food for us all. Amazing.

The route we planned should then have taken us to Taupo but just a few days into our trip we were changing plans. Given Vince had now shown us around here he would now drop us in art-deco town, Napier. However, before leaving Rotarua there was just time to squeeze in another spa, known as DeBretts and ….a bit of biking!

While obviously keen riders it’s fair to say John and I generally prefer tarmac. Yes, I have a mountain bike, have ridden trails and we rode rough sections through Africa and Nepal but when it comes to technical riding I am a wuss though I will have a go. Vince, being more a downhill rider was determined to show us the technical trails through the redwoods in Rotaura and had brought two spare mountain bikes for us to use. After a steep, gravelly climb we would follow the intermediate route downhill. Known as “corners” the route twisted through the trees, jumping, screeching and whooshing until we reached the bottom. It was the slowest time Vince had ever recorded, John had taken a wee tumble and I had certainly walked significant sections yet despite this we had smiles on our faces and not just because we were now safe at the car!

Another hot spa and a drive across to the coast we’re now in Napier. John and I will be back on the road bikes soon enough to continue our journey. We’ve had such a welcoming start and stunning scenery so far and look forward to meeting Vince again and other newly made friends as we make our way through the next few months.

Gutted only to have missed my old pals it’s great to be able to consolidate new friendships.

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