Tapapakanga Topographical Troubles

Friday morning was lovely at Ray’s Rest – hazy sun and calm. At one stage the sea was glassy. We were heading on, but as always it took a while to get organised. Then it disappeared; it goes out a very long way when it goes out. We said our goodbyes to Suzanne and Les – it had been a lovely couple of days catching up with them both. Wyn was on a roll with the biking and keen to get a few more kms on the clock. She decided to ride north and I was to finish the packing up and follow. By the time I’d started off in Suzi she was at Kaiaua already and moving on. I stopped at the Kaiaua fish and chip shop and ordered up some snapper for lunch. It was a busy little place. I caught up with Wyn up the road and we stopped further on at a great little picnic spot where the Warahau Regional Park meets the sea. Here we enjoyed our snapper and the view across the Firth of Thames. We were almost opposite Ngarimu Bay where I lived until I was 6. It was interesting trying to pick out which bay was the one.

We carried on north to the Tapapakanga Regional Park. This is another ne that morothomers can stay at. The booking people were apologetic that the parking area beside the beach was unavailable until October on account of wet ground. They said that we’d have to stay in the main car park, and didn’t exactly sell it as a location. However when we arrived at the gem of a bay that is the heart of the park it was clear that the carpark is a great place to park up, with a view of the sea not many metres away. The beachside park would be even better, but the car park wasn’t bad at all.

The Regional Park is centred on the homestead of the family who settled there in 1900 without road access. They raised 14 children there in a 4-bedroom kauri villa that doubled as a schoolhouse and post office. It is just above the beach with fabulous views out over the Firth of Thames to the Coromandel. The Auckand Regional Council bought it in the 1980s and developed it as another farm park. Good on them – it is wonderful.

There were already several motorhomes in residence at the rear of the car park. One was just leaving so we took their position and were soon settled in. Wyn was keen for more mountain bike riding and found in the information a 6.5km loop track. The park brochure had a good map with the walking and biking tracks marked on so we took that to guide us. The brochure had the rider “not to be used for navigational purposes” on the map, an ominous warning as it turned out. The different tracks were all colour coded – the ARC does well like this. So we just had to follow the yellow poles and all would be well. The route promised to take us to a trig – we hadn’t quite connected this with the fact that trigs are usually on top of hills. Off we went at about 4pm on what was supposed to be an hour’s ride. We picked up the yellow pole route, which for a start coincided with the red one. Both headed off up a hill in the middle of a paddock; no track just grass and sheep and lambs. It took a bit of getting used to riding up a grassy hill; we settled into a zig-zag to ease the slope. Further up the yellow route diverged and stayed low. We followed it dubiously, with much checking of the map and scanning of the slopes. A ranger passing by in a 4-wheel drive assured us we were on the right route, but mentioned that once past the trig there were a few bits where the marker poles were missing or not visible. We didn’t think it could be much of a problem and pressed on. The route continued a sidling sort of climb with no trace of a ground track; just poles at various points. It was weird just riding around and up and down the paddocks. Finally there was a steep climb and the trig. The views were well worth the effort; across the Firth of Thames to the Coromandel Ranges way up towards the top and north to Waiheke Island. There was a breeze but it was warm and we were in t-shirts. The route from here was straight down the other side. Wyn saw me leave a long skid mark straight down the top section and walked that bit but was soon wizzing down as well. From here there was actually a grassy track down through bush but this too turned into a mystery tour. The yellow route diverged again, on an upwards path. We followed it and then lost it in a gully. I figured it had to go up so we chose more open grass bits. This got steeper but I was determined to see how much I could ride up. It was a bit like a yacht taking upwind, and sort of fun except when changing tacks it got tricky. On one change I lost my balance and my bike headed off downhill. By a feat of desperation I managed to leap off and over it and not get tangled up in it. Not getting tangled up was the good news; the bad news was that I had just made a huge leap in the air down a steep grassy hill. Running down hill was the only way to make contact again and I managed to slow my run and stop with a few bits of my dignity intact and without taking out Wyn behind me. Like a good cowboy I was soon back on my horse but I was a bit more circumspect with my tacking from then on. We came to the top of the ridge and saw that the track had stayed in the gully and soon rejoined it. From here on the track was actually a track and the markers were obvious which was lucky because the sun was setting and we still had a way to go. There was a good long wizz down another paddock and then tracks and roads back to the carpark. We were annoyed at having had to rely on a map that bore little relationship with reality and marker posts that were missing and invisible for some sections with no actual ground track to give any lead. On the information board at the car park there is an excellent map which shows exactly where the mountain bike trail goes. Why the park map in the park brochure is completely different and deficient is a mystery; everything else we’ve seen of the ARC tracks and signage has been excellent.

Earlier in the afternoon we’d had visions of getting back hot and eager for a swim and a sit in the sun. However by the time we got back the sun had gone and so had any enthusiasm for a dip. Instead it was showers and tea and TV; Intrepid Journeys and Thank God You’re Here. Because of our intrepid bike journey we were tuckered out. I fell asleep and missed the first part of TGYH and then Wyn fell asleep and missed the rest of it. It was a very funny episode. We were very tired.

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