I was smiling this morning as I packed my tent away and watched as the sun slowly climbed over the low hills. Dew covered everything, but my tent dried quickly once it was draped over some convenient dry brown gorse in the sun. The dry dying gorse was in stark contrast to the lush green grass and native bush surrounding me. The herbicide was doing it’s thing well.
I was a little taken aback by the bridge above. It crossed the Waikato River just a few hundred meters down from where I was camped, and my first thought was “Hey! They’ve copied the Balclutha stegosaurus bridge!”. Balclutha is a small town in Southland, the region of the South Island of New Zealand that I grew up in. Crossing the stegosaurus bridge in Balclutha on the way north to central Otago each Christmas holidays for camping was always a highlight.
The view from the fake Waikato stegosaurus bridge was nice enough though. The Waikato River reminded me of the Clutha River.
I made it to the small community of Pukekawa just in time for the morning service at the Pukekawa Methodist Church. The modest congregation of eight was visibly taken aback when I walked in during the first hymn of the morning. The service started at 9:30am, and I got there 5 minutes late.
After recovering from the shock, the remaining three verses of the hymn were completed, and we all sat down. “Welcome to church!” the lively pastor said. “Were you the one on the strange bike back there? I passed you a while back. I thought it was a piece of gym equipment you were riding!”
“I’m cycling down to Christchurch,” I said, not bothering to elaborate on any other details.
The service lasted an hour, including a sermon centered around the beginning of Ephesians chapter 4. Unity among believers.
After the service, I was chatting with the congregation outside as I watched the three-strong Sunday school climb a tree on the corner of the small church property. The kids were at least five meters or more off the ground in the tree. All three of them girls. Not a word of reproach or warning from anyone sounded as they yelled out “Look at us! We’re so high up the tree! We’re going all the way to the top!” I love New Zealand.
I got a few offers for lunch, and in the end I decided to cycle the 10km or so to Susan and David Bovill’s place in Onewhero. I was glad I did. Once I was off the not-very-busy highway 22, I was into another world altogether. Worlds away from China. In more than 45 minutes, only three cars passed on the quiet rolling hill sealed road. I breathed in the tranquility deeply.
Susan and David treated me to a great relaxed New Zealand Sunday lunch of dark wholemeal bread, rich tomato soup, cheese, and some fantastic muffins made by David’s mother. “I realise what I forgot,” David’s mother exclaimed. “I forgot to put the sugar in them!”
I wouldn’t have noticed. The date and carrot muffins were delicious. As was the soup, bread, and copious amounts of cheese that I consumed. Thanks Susan!
Susan called ahead to the Nikau Caves and Cafe and let them know that I would be coming. “They’re a great Christian couple that I’m sure would let you camp on their property,” she said.
The ride to Nikau Caves, on the route that I chose to take, was a grueling roller-coaster ride on deserted gravel roads along a ridge high up in the Waikato hills. Over the period of 4 hours, I climbed an aggregate total of 1,100 vertical meters. And I loved every minute of it. Not one vehicle passed me for the whole afternoon. Stopping in a sheltered spot out of the wind, I was able to savour the rich natural atmosphere.
Tree ferns towered above me, providing sporadic shade from the intense sun.
I finally rolled into the Nikau Caves and Cafe carpark at around 7pm. The sun was getting low on the hills, and where the hills blocked the sun, it was cold.
Ann and Peter run the very un-touristy Nikau Caves. They have grown children, and bubble with enthusiasm and passion for life and where they live. I can’t blame them. The location of their 7 month old cafe at the caves site (which has been running as a commercial venture for 15 years) is second to none. Nestled in a small alcove in the limestone hills, the cafe with its massive north-facing windows looks out onto classic Waikato rural scenery.
I didn’t get the chance to visit the caves themselves, but the positive energy of the whole place would be enough to get me back there someday.
Ann bakes amazing bread (for sale at the cafe), and treated me to as many slices as I could handle of a new variety she had been experimenting with. It was as close to a solid stout German bread as any bread outside of Germany will come. Fresh out of the oven, Peter and I sat down and devoured slice after slice with good cheese and salami. Washed down with a darker than dark homebrew beer made by Peter and Ann’s daughter’s husband, and the appetizer was complete.
Emily, the wife of said beer brewer, also happens to be the women’s shearing world record holder. Peter has also been shearing for all his life, and despite the rigors of his chosen profession and the fact that he is approaching 60 years old, he is not stopping yet.
Nikau Caves is a fascinating place, even if you never get to see the caves…