Tour Aotearoa Day 11 – From Whanganui to Makouri Lodge

Heavy rain drummed on the roof as I woke up. I was glad I wasn’t camping and glad I’d sneaked through the claggy mud trails of the previous days while it was dry. As today’s route was mostly on quiet roads, the rain shouldn’t cause many problems and I was glad for the respite a day of mostly paved surfaces should bring. I snuck out of Whanganui at dawn while the city was still sleeping, scoffing a McDonalds, and then setting off, enjoying the cool morning air and golden light.

It was a mostly uneventful morning. The route cut inland, undulating over low hills and across farmland, and I’d covered 62 kilometres before stepping from the bike in Hunterville. Here, a small café was the first thing I’d seen open on this sparse section of the Tour Aotearoa. It provided a fantastic lunch, while I read a pamphlet about the town; this is home to the Huntaway sheepdog, which uses its voice (or bark?) to herd sheep.

After lunch, the route continued through tiny dot-on-the-map settlements – blink and you’ll miss them – that had been cleared from the primeval forest, with the biggest trees providing timber for the houses and fenceposts. Many of these villages had seen dramatic rises and falls, such as Pemberton, where I paused to admire the pastoral scenery. A campaign of the 1880’s ‘put the small man on the land’ had embraced small farmsteads and in the space of seven years, Pemberton had risen from a humble campsite to a community hub and district centre. But this success would be short-lived; further surveys revealed nearby Rangiwahia to have better land, and soon Pemberton was abandoned.

I passed through Rangiwahia soon after. The town name is poetically translated as the ‘cloud piercer’ or the ‘opening in the heavens’, due to its higher elevation. It’s an accurate name as in this region huge peaks and valleys dominate, making the cycling challenging with huge thigh-burning ascents and over-too-quickly descents. Rangiwahia is often described as being situated in a natural clearing, but this is a myth. It was still an impenetrable tangle of pines and bushes, it was just slightly less dense than its surroundings. The clearings today result from the hard labour of those early settlers, and thinking of their struggle motivates me to keep pushing over these relentless hills.

After 11 hours and 20 minutes in the saddle, I’d spun another 137 kilometres of New Zealand beneath my wheels, including over 2,000 metres of elevation climbed, and I was feeling confident with how the trip was going. I treated myself to a stay in the Makouri Lodge, a luxury selection of riverside cabins and lodges in a tranquil location in the foothills of the Ruahine Mountains which form a spine up the centre of the island.