A 110km bicycle ride's a breeze when it's topped up with a wine or three, writes Katrina Johns.
A three-day leisurely cycling tour through some of the best wineries Hawke's Bay has to offer sounded like my kind of holiday. Well, I hoped it would be leisurely, as my feet don't get to meet the pedals of a bicycle very often.
Shortly after an easy and straightforward pick-up at Napier Airport, we were at Takaro Trails base at Ahuriri for a rundown on our next three days. The quality bikes were modern and lightweight and fitted with plenty of accessories — a pedometer, drink holder and twin saddlebags (a godsend). The turn-by-turn route description and map strapped to the handlebars made for easy navigation from the start. After a chat with Jenny, and being fitted out on our trusty steeds by Stewart, we were on our way.
We cycled along Napier's waterfront, around to Westshore, then to the estuary to view the bird sanctuary (and be assaulted by the odd challenging smell). The (frequently used) limestone tracks made for smooth cycling and didn't need too much muscle power — so, an easy workout for the legs. Mission Estate Winery was a fantastic first stop; a fine venue for lunch and a wine or three.
We headed off into Taradale to try out our bikes on the BMX track circuit — three cheeky local kids quickly judged our abilities: "You better stick to the left-hand track," one advised. "The others will be too scary for you."
A little further down the trail we stretched out our legs with a walk uphill to the expansive Otatara Pa site. The Tutaekuri River led us to the Moana Park Winery for another tasting, then on to the historic Puketapu Hotel for a beer, a look at some motorbikes and an entertaining hen party. The scenic track winding down the other side of the Tutaekuri River took us to our first night's accommodation at the grand Ormlie Lodge on Omarunui Rd. With my legs screaming at me to stop, we climbed up their beautiful, but steep, tree-lined driveway and were shown to our room, and a well-deserved lie down.
After a healthy breakfast of home-made granola and yoghurt we were back on our bikes and ready for day two. Our first stop of the day was just down the road at the Silky Oaks Chocolate factory — because everyone knows chocolate is the best cure for legs that ache just a little bit. Well, it worked. Fuelled up on chocolate, we were soon off on the long stretch back along the river to the coast and the fragrant aroma of the BioRich compost plant on State Highway 2.
The downside of day two was that had to cycle 35km before we got to sip our first glass of wine. Thankfully the arduous toil was made bearable by some of the most beautiful scenery, including a ride through the green tunnel on Oak Ave — the trees were planted in 1860 as a driveway to one of Hastings' original homesteads.
We stopped for lunch at Bunker Cafe at Hastings Golf Club and refueled by sharing a huge "half-size" portion of fish and chips.
Another couple of kilometres and we were in the winery region where we spent the afternoon with tasting stops at Ngatarawa, Oak Estate, Trinity Hill and our end-of-the-day pick-up point Te Awa.
During our transfer into Havelock North the anticipation built for our night of luxury accommodation at Porters Boutique Hotel.
After a rest and a shower in the massive bathroom, we set off to explore the town of Havelock North, which is right on the hotel's doorstep. Jenny had recommended a few places for dinner so we eagerly made our way up the hill to Pipi Cafe for a hearty, home-made meal. Although one of the more eccentric restaurants I've been too — pink-and-red walls, mismatched lights and furniture and a retro-red drinks fridge from which we were told to help ourselves to the beers — this place is a must visit.
While waiting for our meal to arrive, I flicked through Pipi's cookbooks (which were just lying on the tables) and the intro described Pipi as "the place where the unexpected is allowed and often does happen". It's a sentence that summed up the place perfectly.
Day three had the opposite issue to day two — all the winery visits were in the morning.
But that's okay, a couple of wine and cheese tastings set you up perfectly for your last day of cycling — and, here in one of New Zealand's greatest wine regions, no one judges you for drinking wine at 10am. It's also the perfect painkiller for legs (and bums) that are struggling slightly with the thought of a further 35km back on the bike.
The trails were beautiful — there's something so peaceful about cycling along with the vineyards on one side and the river on the other, the only sounds the swish of the grass, chirp of the birds and your wheels going round and round.
I have to admit that come the 92km mark I was flagging, but a couple of Panadol and a quick pep talk to self and I was ready to go. It wasn't long before we were back in Napier cycling along the beautifully maintained waterfront, among all the families out enjoying the city's fabulous coastline. After lunch and a last glass of wine at the Thirsty Whale pub, we made our way back to the Takaro Trails base to drop off our bikes, have a quick shower and depart for our flight to Auckland.
A total of 110km done and dusted (although I did 3km more than my partner — I figure it was probably all the extra wobbles from the wine). Takaro Trails was right in calling this its Leisurely Pathways tour — although it wasn't a piece of cake, it definitely wasn't too difficult for us non-cyclists. In fact, you could say it was just leisurely enough.
TIPS & TRICKS
Some of the things that helped us get through the three days
• Get padded bike shorts — your butt will thank you. They might not be the sexiest pair of clothes you'll ever buy but they were totally worth the investment.
• Stretch out those muscles at the end of each day. I've never believed my trainers when they harp on about stretching being important but it made all the difference, and meant my legs were good to go each morning.
• Ensure your seat is at the right height. Putting mine up slightly higher made all the difference to my legs, and took the pain out of my knee pretty much straight away.
• Drink the wine! I found after three glasses of wine, my cycling greatly improved, or at least I felt better about it. It's also a natural painkiller.
• Eat the desserts — you've earned them. The desserts we had at Ormlie Lodge and Porters were amazing, and after you've cycled 110km those extra calories will just disappear.
Jetstar flies Auckland to Napier daily. Fares start from $49.
For information on rentals and bike trails, go to takarotrails.co.nz.