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Leaving Auckland behind
My journey out of the North Shore did not go quite as planned. An extended breakfast led to me rolling out of Murray’s bay at 9am, which although not horrendous is later than I like to hit the road. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again so it wasn’t a big deal; a much more serious problem was when I got a flat tire. Lola doesn’t get punctures! I refused to believe this ludicrous situation, but within half a mile it became quite clear that I was going to have to. It was a slow leak, but I swapped the tube anyway and headed for Devonport to catch the ferry across to the city. By 12pm I was just disembarking and had covered a measly 8 miles – I normally like to have at least 30 done by midday. If my mood was a little low, it was certainly lifted by getting recognized not once but twice on Queen Street! I’d met with Tourism NZ a few days earlier, and it seemed they had been very efficient in getting the word out about my journey. Feeling a little like a rock star, I finally found my rhythm and pedaled through the suburbs of the city. It seemed to take an age to leave the remnants of the city behind, but by the time I arrived in Bombay I was able to see fields and mountains again. At Te Kauwhata I felt I’d covered enough ground to call it a day, and camped outside the Catholic Church as a guest of Father Keenan. I often take the diversity of my camping spots for granted, but this time I was very thankful for the offer of a spot to pitch my tent. Looking for spots to camp wild can be one of the highlights of my journey, and undoubtedly the remote places I’ve slept are among the most special, but at times it can really be an energy drain. So to the Catholic Church at Te Kauwhata, thank you!
Despite resting in the shadow of the cross I slept with one eye open. I can’t pinpoint why, but I just wasn’t totally comfortable in the town, and so it was lethargically that I rode back onto the highway. Just south of Huntly I turned off onto 1B and thankfully avoided the worst of the Labour Day traffic. I was headed for Cambridge, where old family friends from Ireland had now settled. The ride was flat, the sky clear and the wind tame. In no time at all I cycled into the town and stopped for a breather in the main street. Cambridge is a very attractive town, with a pretty main drag populated primarily by local businesses. The architecture is noting fancy, but adds to the atmosphere and there are some very pleasant landmarks such as the clock tower and the sculpture of the horses. Horse studs bring in big money here, and that relative wealth is apparent with a very short time. Riding across the high level bridge I could see the Waikato River set dramatically into the land, with high banks protecting it on either side.
The thick native bush
My friends lived south of Leamington; far enough to take me right back out into the countryside. On a trip like this, nothing quite compares to seeing a familiar face, and the last person I visited that I’d known in the U.K was way back in Chicago! I felt able to relax instantly, and didn’t have to worry about being interesting, impressive, funny or harmless to strangers. Three days of relaxation passed in a flash. The continued support of Tourism NZ helped to make my stay productive as well as restful, and the regional office for Waikato organized for me to visit Maungatautari, an ecological Island reserve, where local guide Phil Brown would show me around. Maungatautari is an extinct volcano, dominating the landscape east of Cambridge. What’s unique is that there has been a pest-excluding fence build around a 3,400 hectare section. All vermin such as possums, rats and mice have been removed, and it is now populated by native bush and a stunning array of birdlife. The flora and fauna is unique in its concentration and diversity, and it’s really a humbling experience to walk the tracks that crisscross through. Phil Brown is the official photographer for the site, and as a guide knows everything there is to know. Between telling me the past, present and future of Maungatautari he was also able to point out things such as Kiwi holes and identify the birds that’s hopped around above our heads. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to retain everything he said, but I did capture it all on video and I think it’ll make a great addition to the documentary.
The next day I finally managed to leave the comfort of my bed at the Fleming’s house, and headed east for Rotorua. Even cycling along highway 5 I could see Maungatautari to the south, standing proud and observing everything’s from its position on top of the world. After about 30km I reached Tirau, a small town whose main claim to fame seems to be the corrugated iron artwork that permeates all the commercial building. Most shop fronts have their sign made out of the material, and the Tourist Information centre (called i-Site in NZ) is in fact a giant corrugated iron dog. At the far end of town I called into the Clock Peddler, following up on a recommendation by the Tourist Office. This is a shop of the style that I wasn’t sure existed any more – a store with only one aim – to have as many and as large a variety of clocks as possible. It’s fair to say I’ve never seen so many in one place. This is another part of my journey that I love – the chance encounters with the odd and the extraordinary. Who would have thought the ‘clock centre’ of New Zealand would be based in Tirau, or even that I would find it so interesting? But I did, and pedaled away feeling a warm sense of satisfaction, and a renewed love for the ‘curious.’
Rebecca at Hamilton and Waikato Regional Tourism had one last treat set up for me – a meeting with Jeff at the Tirau Museum. A few kilometers out of the town I found the pace via a modest sign at the side of the road. Cycling in it seemed more like a glorified shed than anything else. Finding the office empty, I rang the bell for attention. An old air raid siren when off outside, operated by the button I’d pressed, and I began to realize this was not your average museum. Jeff appeared around the corner, wearing a vest and smoking a cigarette. He warmly shook my hand and made a cup of tea straight away - a very British start to a conversation. A beekeeper all his life, the museum has sprung up out of his hobby of obsessively collecting things of interest. It sounded worth seeing, but nothing could have prepared me for what was inside.
Imagine you are an explorer, seeking riches and gold beyond your wildest dreams. You eventually stumble across a promising area, and after digging for a while you uncover a locked box. When you open it, more treasure than you could ever imagine sits inside. This is something like the experience of entering Jeff’s Tirau Museum. Room after room of the most incredible collection of photos, gems, weaponry, machinery – odds and ends you never knew existed until you see them there. A whirlwind tour left me and my camera breathless by the end. I honestly believe you could spend a week in the place and still want to go back for more. Jeff’s personal tour also added to the experience, and every article has a story to go with it. I’ve said previously that I’m a fan of museums anyway, but sometimes I do feel a detachment from the history caused by the sterile glass cases and identical notice boards. No such worries with Jeff – every item comes to life and opens a world or intrigue.
Jeff’ has a humble attitude about his ‘hobby,’ but it is a collection quite like no other. It’s one of those things that I film and can’t wait to review the footage. After eventually tearing myself away, I turned my wheels towards Rotorua, and climbed the first real hills I’d seen in a few days.