“The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry”.
A popular version of a famous quote, and one which applied to our second day almost from the off.
The original plan was to head to Greytown for morning tea, then to Gladstone for lunch at “The Gladders”, the famous country pub, before returning via Longbush Road. The planned round trip was about 70 km.
All very achievable – until we “turned right at the church” on the outskirts of Martinborough, and headed out on the wrong path. And what was intended as a 17 km first leg became a 37 km grind up unexpected hills through the Ponatahi valley. A growing awareness that we were on the wrong road did prompt a review about 5 km into the ride, but after a short back-track we decided to carry on, finally making it to Greytown a “little later” than intended. Still, everyone made it, and the coffee was welcome.
Pity the same can’t be said about the scenery. With the bulk of the ride through low hills and occasionally flatter farmland, the views were less than inspiring. If you are planning riding in this area, avoid the Ponatahi Valley – unless you like an “agricultural” view.
Advice from the crew at Green Jersey Cycles had recommended we avoid riding SH2 between Greytown and Carterton (en route to Gladstone) and opt instead to explore the back roads to the West of Greytown, before crossing the river, returning to cross SH2 and avoid Carterton by again using back roads to get onto the Gladstone Road.
Seemed like a good idea at the time – we had already experienced part of SH2 and were not keen on repeating the exercise – the 100 kph speed limit seems optional for cars and trucks when you are on a bike. And the quiet back roads certainly offered a more peaceful option. More promisingly, we stumbled across a shared walking/cycling track, which took us toward the river, then inland up river as expected. In keeping with the advice received, when the track veered close to the river bed we took the opportunity to go cross country, looking for the promised low water.
Wading through was relatively straight forward even carrying bikes – apart from wet boots all round – then more cross country work to climb out of the river bed, through the willow and other shrubs onto what appeared to be the intended track along the top of the stop bank. Easy for a hiker – less so for a biker!
Mistake number 2: it soon became apparent we had not gone far enough inland, and had crossed the river too early, missing the path to the expected road and had ended up on a 4WD farm track. And one which appeared to be still in active use. Still, it headed in the right direction back toward SH2, and although it was tough going, we were soon moving forward as intended.
Then a further shock – and a literal one this time. Not only was the land in use, the stop-bank was also crossed at regular intervals by the ubiquitous kiwi electric fences (actually tapes – but they are electrified). The first was hard up against a fence and gate and easily negotiated without incident, with Paul and Kev lifting the bikes over, and everyone successfully negotiating the barrier. The second however was different. Out in the open it was high enough off the ground to roll underneath. Bikes lifted over, and three of us safely on the other side, Paul was convinced the tape was not live when he accidentally flicked it with his hand.
Wrong: and unfortunately (for Paul) Dale got it all on video (Warning: NSFW language):
Still, no permanent harm done, and laughs all round.
Nearing the end of the stop-bank a quick detour around a couple of fields (a route clearly favoured by the local farmer), and through an open gate avoided further bush bashing, and effected a return to normal roading again. Gladstone here we come.
Fortunately this section was a (relatively) short 15 km, and we were soon tucking into the wonderful food at the Gladders. Croque Monsieur (the local version featuring a melted cheese and whole grain mustard sauce, over local ham off the bone, on craft-style sourdough bread) for three, a more traditional ham & cheese open sandwich for one, and fresh fish for the last – all washed down with lots of ice cold water (true!) Seriously tempting to stay on, but that was not an option.
The last stage back to Martinborough along Longbush Road was marked by both highs and lows: beautiful Autumn colour, and wonderful vistas (Steve’s description) through the valley, somewhat diminished by distance (35 km), too many hills, an occasional cold wind and rapidly approaching dark. Ultimately a long slog at the end of a long day, but successfully negotiated, albeit at varying speeds.
Tiring, but 95 km in a day was a new 5Men record – so well worth recording, even if the distance was increased by navigation “adjustments”, and the off-road experience. And in one case, it was obviously a shock to the system.