Cycling the Tour Aotearoa – 90 Mile Beach

An attractive footpath winds down to the white lighthouse at Cape Reinga, backed by a foaming mass of white waves as the Tasman Sea collides against the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, there’s a gnarled Pohutukawa tree believed to be 800 years old, which is the sacred spot where the Maori believe their spirits will jump off on their final journey after death to Hawaiki.

It’s a sacred spot for me too, for it’s the start of a road that’s 3000 kilometres long. I’m at the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, with my heavy bike loaded up beside me, everything I’ll need to cycle across this wild country on the famous Tour Aotearoa.

Cycle Britain

My journey here started two years ago, when I was leading a bike tour in the United Kingdom from Lands End to John O’ Groats for my business, Cycle Britain. My group of clients were remembering a friend who’d sadly died, and I heard them reminiscing about his determination to pedal the Tour Aotearoa. By the third day of that tour, I’d decided I needed to live for the moment, and I committed to my own adventure on the Tour Aotearoa.

So here I am now, two years later. My first obstacle is 90 Mile Beach (Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē to the Maoris), a bizarre name as it’s actually 55 miles (88 kilometres) long. I leave Highway Route 1 and follow the Te Paki Stream Road, until eventually I’m cycling down a wet streambed, my tyres splashing through the flowing water, until after a few kilometres, I reach the beach.

There’s only a four-hour window at low tide when it’s possible to cycle across 90 Mile beach, so I must average 22 kilometres per hour non-stop for four hours in a race against the incoming tide. Today’s tide times mean I must begin at 07:30am and must finish by 11:30am. The sunrise paints the dunes golden, and I can’t wait to finally be on my way. Retreating waves reveal wet sand that glistens in the morning light and this sand is sufficiently compact that my tyres don’t sink into it. I’m making quick progress, but there are many distractions, from the beautiful coastline of the Tasman Sea which stretches into the horizon, to Waha, a local Maori man fishing for Trevally and Snapper who I stop to chat with, to dead sharks washed up on the beach. Though I’d like to pause for longer, I don’t want to get cut off by the incoming tide and must continue. I meet a group of five cyclists from New Zealand who are also just beginning the Tour Aotearoa, and it’s nice to know I’m not out here alone. I’m sure our paths will cross again.

As the tide starts coming in, racing up the sand, I encourage my legs to keep pedalling towards the village of Ahipara. It’s a relief to turn off the beach and onto paved road again, to roll into the Ahipara Holiday Park which provides comfortable accommodation for camping, holiday cottages, or motel-style rooms. So close to the sea (just a five-minute walk from 90 Mile Beach) there’s delicious seafood to sample and I’ll enjoy a relaxing afternoon, before continuing the journey south tomorrow.

I have 24 days to travel as far south as I can. Christmas with family has taken it’s toll on my fitness so I’m happy to set off slow and build the distances up. I don’t mind spending ten hours a day on the bike when the scenery is so spectacular. The weather forecast is good, with ten days of 25°C sun and not a breath of wind, so everything is in my favour to enjoy the Tour Aotearoa.

I hope this blog will provide inspiration for you to tackle your own bike touring/bikepacking adventures! If you have any questions, get in touch!