Friday, October 30, 2009

Rotorua, here we are!

After an cruisy 80-odd km ride from Taupo, the Rakiura riders have arrived at their final destination, Rotorua!
Well, it wasn't so cruisy leaving Taupo during morning rush hour. Our attempt at riding in a peloton for our final day didn't quite go as planned. But we managed to stay fairly close together compared out how spread out we'd been (as much as 30 kms between the lead bikes to the tail-end Charlies on the long days).
Once we passed the bottleneck outside the high school and got out onto the open road, ride conditions were positively delightful: gentle rolling hills (mostly downward sloping), pastoral land on either side, quiet roads with little traffic, a tailwind, and blue skies with the occasional cotton ball cloud. There was the whole matter of road construction about 20 kms out of Taupo which managed to temporarily capsize one rider. But even muddy unpaved roads couldn't slow our progress.
The plan had been to meet several local dignitaries near Waiotapu at 1:45 so they could usher us into town. But we had so much forward momentum all morning that we arrived at our appointed meeting spot 25 kms outside Rotorua 3 hours early! Delaying tactics like an extra pit-stop, an extra-long pie-stop just 10 kms later, and a tour of the Waiotapu mud pools did not stop us from itching to get going again by 12:30.
The locals, several Rotorua city councillors, were gracious and flexible however, and we met them 14 kms out from the hostel for a leisurely downhill jaunt in through town. Rounds of applause from at least one passing trucker, as well as cheers from a number of members assembled at the hostel for the Annual General Meeting this weekend, made us feel even more welcome.
Speaking of the AGM, Alex compiled some photos and video from the last six days for a presentation tonight to the members. We thought you'd enjoy seeing it, too. (Besides, hopefully it makes up for the few photos posted over the last couple of days.) Be sure to have your speakers on as you watch. Enjoy!

Many thanks to each one of your for your support. Riding for Rakiura has raised more than $50,000 for YHA NZ's Stewart Island Project. Whether your role was making a donation to a rider's Givealittle page, providing in-kind sponsorship, or even just sending good wishes and moral support, we couldn't have done this without you. So thanks!
One more thought before the Rakiura Riders sign off. While Rotorua marks our final destination for this ride, it's just the beginning of the Stewart Island Project. The six days of riding and countless hours spent preparing for them mark but a one leg of the several-year-long Stewart Island Project. But I think I speak for all when I say it's been an action-packed journey of blood, sweat, and laughs. Here's to more of the same as fundraising continues and construction begins on the new eco-hostel and learning centre.
On to the next leg of the Stewart Island Project journey!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Four seasons in one day

(Ed. note: Today's post is from our resident Senior Customer Services Consultant, Nicola.)

We woke up to a cold rainy day in Mountain Valley. It was a big contrast to what the sky looked like during our al fresco dinner on the deck last night.

Given the morning conditions, we were expecting another cold, wet day but it didn’t last long. We did ride through snow flurries and hail as we passed the local cafe, Oscaz at the Summit, but the sun came out at 10:30. Even with all that, would you believe that this was my best riding day ever? It really was!

The first half of our day was full of hills – mostly long gradual inclines but there was one short steep one to get us going. I told a few people that I loved the hills, and they looked at me a bit strangely. But it was true!

Thoroughly soggy by this point, a few of us stopped at a cafe ¾ of the way to Taupo to warm our feet in front of a gas heater and a fire. We had a good rest there with plenty of hot drinks all around. The others stopped a few kilometres back at a truck stop that I’m told had the best coffee. Some even said it was the best coffee in the North Island!

The second half of our day had us riding over rolling hills into Taupo. After four-and-a-half-days of this trip, I finally discovered that my bike has a third gear! I topped out at 50km/h down a hill, my personal best although definitely not the fastest of the group. (Sean and Yoko on the tandem road bike hold that record, with their 92.4 km/h (!!) speed down the big hill just before the Mountain Valley turn-off yesterday.)

As we neared Taupo, I heard a lot of “This must be the last hill!” comments, only to find another one looming. But after the big ones we had already done, these ones were easy!

Fighting headwinds through the outskirts of Taupo, we rode our way through town to the Taupo YHA. The very wise hostel staff had the outside spa all ready for us – great motivation to get us there. I can’t tell you how great it felt to soak in the hot water after all of the hills and weather conditions today!

Just one more day of riding after a good sleep tonight. Thanks for the spa and the comfy beds, guys!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A day of contrasts for the Rakiura riders

(Ed. note: Last night we stayed in the Central North Island equivalent of the far side of the moon. Te Pohue had no internet and very limited cell phone coverage. (It was kind of blissful!) Better late than never, here's yesterday's Riding for Rakiura report. Photos will hopefully be added later. Tonight's report, from Taupo, should be online by bedtime.)

In keeping with Larry’s pub-quote-of-the-day theme, today’s quote came from a rugby poster seen through the window of the Te Pohue Hotel: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

It was the easiest day distance-wise, but just about the most difficult effort-wise. The 50-odd kilometres we rode packed a deceptive punch; the first 20 kms out of Napier bore no resemblance to the 20+ kms of big hills into Te Pohue. In fact, the first half was a veritable walk in the park. The mounties leisurely rolled out of Napier along the waterfront bike trail, while the roadies had a great tour guide in Brian, who pointed out places like Bay View, a neighbourhood which didn’t exist before the great Napier earthquake in the 1900s pushed the land up out of the ocean.

A stop at a delightful garden cafe – our last coffee stop until Taupo – allowed us to continue basking in the denial glow. But it wasn’t long before that glow turned into a breathless, hill-busting grunt.

Having been briefed that tonight’s accommodation was in Te Pohue and that we’d have one heck of a climb out of Napier, you can imagine our joy upon arrival at the Te Pohue pub after ascending (and descending) a rather steep Dillons Hill and a few lesser stumps. We’d made it! Out came the sandwiches, off came the layers.

And you can imagine our shock when the support crew saw us pulled over on the side of the road and politely informed us we still had a 720-metre peak and 10 kms to go. “But a fantastic downhill,” Harry – our overnight addition to the support crew – reassured us. Great.

A couple of riders threatened to throw in the towel there and load their bikes on the trailer when the support van came back from an emergency run to Napier to buy more inner tubes. (In case we haven’t said it enough already, our three support crew are doing a yeoman’s job!)

Cooler heads prevailed after the potential-mutineers patronised the pub, and I’m pleased to report that everyone arrived at Mountain Valley, our stop for the night, under their own wheels.*
Nevertheless, that last hill climb reminded me there’s a reason Kiwis call them push-bikes. A few of us did push our bikes up the last peak. Those who didn’t must have been channelling Sir Ed when he “knocked the bastard off”.

All today's effort was the price to pay for the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. (No, I haven't yet been to Stewart Island, which I'm told would make today's vistas pale by comparison.)

Regardless, the Sound of Music movie sets had nothing on today. The last remnants of the snow storm two weeks ago (the biggest in 50 years, I’m told) lingered on distant mountain tops. Between us and them were kilometres of green hills, patches of forest, and streams and rivers. (And heaps of logging and cement trucks trying to run us off the road. But I digress.) Even our location tonight, while remote, is stunning for the running river below us and the stillness in the air. It’s incredibly peaceful.

After dinner (Mexican night on the menu) and our nightly awards ceremony, a group are off to the natural hot pools down the road for a well-deserved soak.

* Full disclosure: a few of us on road bikes got a lift from the SH5 turn-off over the last 6 kms of shingle, hilly road from a kind local farmer in a ute. But we all did the full highway mileage, which is where Riding for Rakiura's 556-km route stopped for the day. Or so we claim.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Riding on for Rakiura

(Ed. note: Tonight's post comes courtesy of the YHA Auckland Hostel Operations Manager.)

Riding for Rakiura – Day Three and our biggest challenge yet! 123 kms from Dannevirke to Napier - the Art Deco City. The rain came as promised along with a steady southerly wind that helped our team of riders move up the North Island.

There was a lot of personal achievement during Riding for Rakiura today, and I congratulate each of my fellow riders having pushed through the rain and the pain and arriving into Napier a better person for it.

Heavy rain and two flat tires attempted to damage my spirit 10 kms out of Dannevirke. But a thought for the day posted outside of the Sawyer Arms Pub 35 kms later provided all the motivation needed to push through the rain and the pain.

“It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen!”

The good people at the Sawyer Arms remind all of us that Rome was not built in a day, you don’t cycle from Dannevirke to Napier in an hour, and it takes more than one person to complete an important and lasting project like The Stewart Island Project. Ten years from now not one person will ask how long it took us to complete the Stewart Island Project, but I suspect that every person who visits Stewart Island in ten years will know that we did complete it. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen!

Day Four tomorrow starts with a 6am wake-up call! 45 kilometers of steep climbing. Today tested our stamina, tomorrow will test our strength, and having cycled with this team for three days now I know them hills will be conquered.

Thanks to all that continue to support, us and for those who are concerned for your loved ones – worry not, they have 14 other teammates looking out for them.

We’re Riding On for Rakiura!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Labouring Labour Day

(Sorry for the delay - due to technical difficulties we have had to submit this post a day late)

Amy here taking on blogging duties tonight.

After an early wake-up call, we were on the road at 8 a.m., heading to Dannevirke 107 kms away.

Despite the weather forecast the sun was out and the sky was clear. Our first stop of the day was at Mt Bruce's NZ national wildlife centre, a stunning spot to check in with each other and get some refreshments (the best coffees so far).

Making our way to lunch in Woodville alongside heavy traffic returning from holiday was no simple task. In our path were nasty magpies who had a swoop at us, cattle trucks who gave unexpected mud masks, and our ever-present support vehicle.

Not to outdo the fantastic job the support crew did yesterday getting stuck for 4 hours, today they managed to really get stuck - pulling over on the side of the road to help a rider, but ending up with half the van and trailer in a bog on the side of the road. Luckily several riders were there to help them get out.

Lunch was both enlightening and mortifying for me upon discovering that I am the only person wearing underwear when we ride. Not that we are all naturists, but apparently underwear is not the done thing when wearing cycle shorts. The padding built-in to our shorts is supposed to be all that is required, eliminating the chance for chafing due to rubbing seams. The shorts get washed every day, I'm told in protest! Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not willing to follow the pack. I don't suffer from chafing and I'm going too fast for anyone to see my VPL.

"Leader of the Pack" Mark, who doesn't let the fact that he's on a mountain bike slow him down, led the rest of the way to Dannevirke.

The good news tonight is that we are each in single rooms due to the unique configuration of this accommodation building. (It used to be a nurses' home.) We had curry for dinner, and individual rooms will be appreciated, as it may be tail winds tonight, in addition to the tail wind forecast for tomorrow!

Each night we also hold a series of riders awards - King/Queen of the hills (gifted to best effort, best grimace or anything else our support crew decided made that person the best) Best quote of the day, Hazard of the day, Sorest bum of the day, Pimp my bike award (goes to the first person to get off their bike and walk)

Tonight Mark and Robyn won King/Queen of the Hills, Maureen won Quote of the Day, the support crew won Hazard of the Day, Brian won Sorest Bum of the Day and I won the Pimp My Ride due to a spectacular accidental horizontal bike dismount. Success all round. Who'll win the awards tomorrow?...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The best laid plans

What is it the Scottish bard says "about the best laid schemes of mice and men"? The same could be said about day one for the Rakiura riders.

The plan was to shuttle everyone from YHA Wellington to Upper Hutt, where we'd depart together. Approximately 10 kms down the road, we'd split, with the mountain bike riders taking the less-steep-but-longer Rimutaka Rail Trail over the hill, while the road cyclists took State Highway 2 up and over the Rimutakas. We were to all meet up with the support van in Featherston for lunch, continue on to Carterton for afternoon tea, and end the day in Masterton. Brilliant.

The good news is we left Upper Hutt together; the seven rail trail riders had a great, muddy off-road trek; the eight road cyclists had a picture-perfect ride over the Rimutakas; and we're all in Masterton tonight, having just enjoyed fantastic homemade pizzas for dinner. The bad news -- if it really is all that bad -- is that a car accident at the summit of the Rimutaka Hill Road closed the road to traffic for four hours, stranding the support van on one side of the hill (with all the food).

What, a car accident not "all that bad", you ask? Well, yes, for two reasons:
  1. Although the car rolled 200 hundred metres down a steep embankment, and many rescue vehicles and a helicopter were required to reach the occupants, the worst injury was a broken arm; and
  2. The accident forced authorities to close the whole of SH 2 over the hill to vehicles, but the Rakiura roadies all managed to be allowed access. That meant we had nearly the entire highway to ourselves. Incredible!! Even better, the road had recently been resurfaced, so it was as smooth as we could hope for, without any broken glass littering the path and threatening our precious tires. To top it off, we had blue sky with just the occasional cloud and a slight cross breeze. (This area is known for its horizontal rain on some days.) That's not to say it wasn't a steep climb that didn't get us puffing, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some of us were expecting.
Meanwhile, the fat-tire crowd had an exhilarating off-road ride through tunnels as long as 500 metres and as dark as a moonless night -- but in the middle of the day. They emerged from the track with mud splatters and smiles from ear to ear. Can't beat that!

The roadies made an executive decision that, since the van was still stuck on the other side of the hill with our lunches, Featherston probably didn't have enough food and coffee choices to suit all riders. So we rolled on to Greytown without passing go. A stop at the chocolate shop for some and the French bakery for others, and we were raring to go. With no reason to stop in Carterton just 7 kms later, we rolled right through to Masterton.

We've just finished dinner and had our brief appointments with Bridget, our travelling massage therapist. (Financial types, take note: this is a rider-supported perk; no YHA or Stewart Island Project money is going toward her services. But it's a highly valuable indulgence, we think!)

Speaking of Bridget, she and Mike -- who form our superior support crew team -- get full credit for their entrepreneurial skills. Stuck in the traffic queue for a couple of hours at midday with a car-load of egg salad sandwiches (and the intended eaters 20 kms away) they decided to sell the sandos with all proceeds going to the Stewart Island Project. I think they netted a whopping $6. Hey, it all adds up!

Getting to Welly

A quick message tonight so that we can stock up on our rest. The South Islanders had an uneventful drive and ferry ride north (can't forget the 110-km dash to the ferry by our hardcore Nelson-based tandem duo), while the North Islanders arrived in Wellington via planes, buses and automobiles.

Quick introductions at Wellington YHA tonight before Mark and Alex's briefing, and then it was off to the last supper. Well, last supper before we tackle the Rimutakas tomorrow. Thanks to some last-minute schedule juggling, the initial plan to take off in two groups (those on road bikes vs those on mountain bikes) has been adjusted, and instead we'll depart Upper Hutt as a single group. Should make quite a statement, all of us in our flouro tops, with Mr Mike and Bridget (our dedicated support crew) in the van behind. It's all uphill from here!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let's get this show on the road

It's packing day for the Riding for Rakiura riders today.

Helen and Amy have arrived in Christchurch from points south (Te Anau and Queenstown, respectively). Alex has been busy ensuring that all logistics are sorted. Maureen, Mike, Mark, Sutter, Nicola, Alex and Ben are rushing to remove unnecessary gear from their bags and tidy up any loose ends at work in preparation for a week away from the office. And our more northerly compatriots are doing the same as they prepare to make their way to Wellington.

The final task on the South Islanders' to-do list today was loading the bike trailer after work this evening. We're off at the crack of dawn tomorrow (6 a.m.!!) from Christchurch so that we can get to Picton in time for the 1:10 p.m. Interislander crossing of Cook Strait. We'll meet Sean and Yoko on the ferry -- as if 556 kms wasn't enough, they're riding from Nelson to pick up the ferry in Picton. Bonus points for them!

The plan is for everyone to congregate at YHA Wellington in the evening for a team dinner and an early night in. Something tells me Sunday's going to be a big day...

Thank you to our sponsors

We have had an incredible response to our fundraising drive to find sponsors and raise money for the Riding for Rakiura bike ride. All of our riders have done an amazing job finding individual
sponsorship for their rides and have raised a total of $15000-00 so far.

Also our YHA business partners have really come out and shown their support giving to date nearly $29,000-00. That makes a total of almost $44,000-00 raised! Fantastic!! These donations will all go to the Stewart Island Project and help us on our way to building a learning centre and eco-hostel to support future generations of young people.

Our riders will be keeping us up to date with the ride as they go, so check this site for daily updates.

Thank you again to all our sponsors:

Adventure South

Cookie Time

Cycle Surgery

Glowing Skies

Hopkinson Team Architecture

House of Travel Christchurch City

Internet Access Company

Magic Bus


Queenstown Cleaners

Ruggedy Range

Spectrum Print


Young Hunter

Monday, October 19, 2009

Riding for Rakiura - 5 days and counting

Welcome to the Riding for Rakiura Blog spot.

Riding for Rakiura is a six day bike ride from Wellington to Rotorua to raise money for the Stewart Island Project.

We have 15 brave riders entering the ride which include staff from hostels, board members and national office staff. The ride will be over six days from Sunday October 25 to Friday October 30, starting in Wellington, travelling via Napier and ending in Rotorua where the YHA AGM is taking place.

Our fearless few are:

Ben Mitchell – National Chair
Mark Wells – YHA CEO
Coral Laughton – Board Member
Brian Young – Coral’s Partner
Helen Bell – YHA Te Anau Hostel Manager
Amy Patterson – YHA Queenstown Hostel Assistant
Larry Dart – Auckland International Business Development Manager
Sean Gidall – YHA Nelson Hostel Manager
Yoko Watanabe – YHA Nelson Hostel Assistant
Alex Swindells – Channel Marketing Manager
Nicola Ross – Customer Services Assistant
Sutter Schumacher – ICT Project Coordinator
Maureen McCloy – National Secretary
Mike Flaws – Maureen’s Partner
Robyn Houghton - Geriatrix (affiliate YHA Group)

Here's where we're heading and when we'll be there:

Date From To
Day 1 - 25th Oct Wellington - Masterton
Day 2 - 26th Oct Masterton - Dannevirke
Day 3 - 27th Oct Dannevirke - Napier
Day 4 - 28th Oct Napier - Te Pohue
Day 5 - 29th Oct Te Pohue - Taupo
Day 6 - 30th Oct Taupo - END: Rotorua

You can check out our route by clicking on the following links:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

Day 6:

We'll be updating our blog daily so you can keep a track of where we're at and who's doing what to keep the spirits up.

If you would like to make a donation to Riding for Rakiura or sponsor a rider check out