Another double logging truck shot
past at more than eighty kilometres an hour, the invisible
whack of its' backdraft pushing my bike and buggy onto the
grass verge once again. I recovered my composure in time
to notice Stuart's fist thrown into the air in protest at
the driver's lack of courtesy. But this was no truckers'
tea party; we were on Suicide Highway; otherwise known as
North Island's notoriously dangerous State Highway Two.
We weren't keen to cycle such a nasty stretch of road, but
if we were to carry on travelling north, a section of it
was inevitable. We took advice and timed it so we would
cycle at the weekend, where the traffic and trucks were
minimal. Or so they said. This killer stretch of road has
taken the lives of more than forty people in five years
and is lined with police warnings to motorists. At one point
on the road seventy five simple white crosses in a field
act as a morbid reminder of the danger and ever mounting
Another cryptic police warning
to distract motorists
One of the drawbacks of holidaying
in North Island is the heavy traffic on roads that simply
weren't designed to carry so many cars. Cars are very cheap
here, and the roads are flooded with inexpensive Japanese
imports. In Auckland, our hosts told us that eighty new
cars are sold every day to this comparatively small population.
Second hand cars are even cheaper, insurance isn't compulsory
and fuel is cheap so most young people can afford to own
and run a car. This leads to misuse; both North and South
Island are plagued by 'hoons,' kids in souped-up Nissans,
carrying a carload of overexcited teenagers, tearing around
the streets pumping loud music and revving engines noisily.
On more than one occasion we have almost settled down to
camp at a deserted roadside, only to find 'hoon signals'
at the last minute; empty beer cans, chewed up earth, piles
of cigarette butts. Hoons come at nightfall, and they come
unannounced. We met a reformed hoon back at a beautiful
wild campspot near the Maruia Falls in South Island. He
is now a respectable dairy farmer, although the tattoos
up his arms, shaved head and nervous twitch gave some indication
of a more rowdy past. "Watch out for the hoonies here,"
he said with glee. "They come late and drive hard. Doing
their donuts. You don't want to be in your tent when they
turn up." Enough said, he lit up a cigarette, turned up
his speakers, accelerated and spun through three hundred
and sixty degrees before speeding off into the night. Once
Hoons aside, we found Highway Two
stressful and tough; hilly, windy and winding, with little
hard shoulder to protect us. We witnessed the aftermath
of two road accidents; while police held up the traffic,
they let us through and we turned our heads away to avoid
viewing the carnage as bodies were cut out of wrecks. By
Saturday afternoon we decided to give ourselves a break
from the intense concentration and pulled into a campsite,
planning an early night and a getaway at first light. "Daylight
saving time ends tomorrow," the woman at the counter informed
me as I paid for a tent space, "don't forget to adjust your
Stuart's wristwatch beeped a wake
up call. For once Cameron hadn't woken before us. "It's
seven o clock, we'd better get on our way." Determined to
make the most of a quiet Sunday morning on Suicide Highway
we packed the tent, lifted sleeping children into their
buggies still in their pyjamas and pedalled onto the unforgiving
road. But if we had hoped to beat the cars then we had been
naïve, as it was almost as busy as the day before. "Can
you believe it?" Stuart asked, during a pause for breath,
"eight o' clock on a Sunday morning and it's like this."
"You did change your watch didn't you?" I confirmed as we
rode off, shouting at Stuart through the smog. We gritted
our teeth, ignoring the noise, diesel fumes and sheeps excrement
being flung at us from passing trucks.
By eleven, we were jaded, and relieved
when we saw a sign for a café. 'Open seven days a week 10am-7pm.'
Unfortunately it was a kilometre and a half up a hill. We
arrived sweating and tired, but there was no sign of life
from the café. Extremely indignant and desperate for refreshment
I grabbed the mobile phone and rang the phone number left
on the door in case of emergencies. A sleepy voice answered
and confirmed that the café would be opening as promised
at ten. I cursed as the phone went dead. "But its eleven
o clock now and we've cycled all the way to have lunch with
a bunch of idiots who've forgotten to change their watches."
But we were too hungry to leave, and had no idea whether
there would be another café on the highway. "I hate this
road,"complained Stuart as we tried and failed to shelter
from the hot morning sun. "Great big diesel filled trucks
polluting our air. It's not right. Here we are saving the
planet, doing our bit not to spoil their environment.. and
they drive past with no respect for our efforts, guzzling
fuel in their four wheel drive off road monsters..pumping
hot exhaust gases in our faces as they speed along on their
pointless journeys, going nowhere important quickly for
a barby or boat trip, trailing their boats, camping trailers
and kitchen sinks, spewing sheeps piss, throwing up dust,
beeping their horns, driving us off the road. There's nothing
green about this country. We sweat our guts out every day,
powering ourselves across their stupid hills, but does anyone
care? And I wouldn't mind but when they get to the campsites
they pay less than us to stay there. Do we get a discount
for being quiet and environmentally friendly? Not at all.
We come in, put up our tent and try to enjoy the peace while
they all guzzle the electricity and dump their sewage all
over the place and chew up the grass. And then they have
the cheek to invade our quiet Sunday morning. Unbelievable.you
know what, I think there should be a.." The stress was telling.
The café owner appeared and halted
his rant, bustling about in the kitchen. But we waited in
vain to be served, getting more exasperated by the minute.
Half an hour later she came over with her notebook. "You
do realise Daylight Saving Time ended last night," she said
as we ordered. "Yes we do realise that and we changed our
watches." I answered. "Then you'll be aware that it's still
only half past nine and I've opened up a half hour early
for you?" she said. We looked at her, mouths open. We had
put our watches an hour back instead of forward and were
running two hours ahead of NZ time. "Oh my god, we got the
kids up at five," I said to Stuart. "And it's breakfast
time not lunchtime," he replied. "and the bloody highway
was still a nightmare."
It was a relief to
leave Suicide Highway and get back onto quieter back routes, without having to make any kind of accident claim.
The stress was telling and for days we were stuck on Family
On a Bike time, living the life of time travellers, out
of sync with the rest of the world. Waking at six in the
morning and on our way by seven, catching the sunrise, having
lunch at breakfast time and dinner for lunch while the nation's
hoons slept soundly in their beds.
A happy sign on one of the quieter
routes North of Auckland