Tour Aotearoa Day 9 – Tamarunui to Mosley Homestead – Into the Whanganui National Park

My bike felt heavy today. As the remote wilderness of Whanganui National Park beckoned, a lack of shops or opportunities to resupply meant my bike was loaded with extra water and two days of food. This added weight was a small sacrifice for the beautiful riding and landscapes that lay ahead. Even for New Zealand, the home of unique and breathtakingly-beautiful landscapes, the next few days of pedalling promised to be truly special.

The 270-kilometre-long Whanganui River is New Zealand’s longest navigable waterway and has a history that reaches back through time, from the splashing paddles of a Maori canoe to the puttering jetboat engines of the first European settlers. This is a landscape of rugged and magical beauty.

I reached Whakahoro, a mostly-deserted settlement that’s home to only a few hardcore locals, after bouncing 40 kilometres along a rough gravel road. Other than this gravel road or the Whanganui River itself, the village is virtually inaccessible, and consequently, few people make the effort to come here. Those who do are adequately rewarded.

From Whakahoro, I joined the Kaiwaukaka Track, leaving the wide, flowing expanse of the Whanganui river and heading alongside the Kaiwaukaka Stream. Originally a horse-and-cart track, this trail is now a Grade 4 mountain bike trail that’s part of the ‘Mountains to Sea’ trail network, and is described as ‘a true backcountry trail best suited to fit, experienced and well-equipped mountain bikers with no fear of sweat or mud.’ Thankfully, it hasn’t rained recently, for I’d heard horror stories that in the wet it can become a nearly-impassable muddy track.

As I cranked my bike up a hill, the lush bush parted at a clearing to reveal a stunning vista of the national park, which appeared like a bright green tablecloth that was stretched to the horizon in large ripples that flowed down into the steep valleys and peaks. The remote valleys and peaks appeared pristine and untouched by people, but the truth is that it’s just too remote and inhospitable for most people to live. These steep valleys were cleared to provide farms for returning veterans after World War One, but the soil was too bad, the valleys too isolated, and within two decades of hard labour, they’d nearly all left in search of better lives. I saw glimpses of these beautiful farms, preserved time capsules of a forgotten time which the native forest is gradually reclaiming.

I met few people and, though it was difficult riding, I enjoyed the rare privilege of cycling through this wild landscape. In addition to the lack of shops, my research found few accommodation options, and it seemed that at last the hooped bivvy tent I’d carried around for the last nine days would earn its place in my panniers.

After a particularly difficult ten kilometres, I arrived at Mosley Homestead on the banks of the Waione Stream. This small outbuilding was spartan and basic, but compared to the wilderness outside its doors, it felt like a luxurious shelter, offering toilets, a water tap, and a clearing with lots of space for camping. As I was the only person around, I spread my foam mat across the floor, leaned my bike against the wall, and enjoyed my first night camping of the Tour Aotearoa. I’m always surprised by how giving up so many luxuries and comforts to pursue a simple life can simultaneously be so satisfying.