I was late to discover 'The Karioi Classic' and first did this brilliant gravel ride around Mt. Karioi and the Whaanga Coast (near Raglan) in 2017. I was quick to register for the July 2021 event—dubbed 'The Last Dance'—as it was the final time the event was being run.
What I didn't realise at the time was the weekend would result in a life changing decision.
I drove down on Friday afternoon as had taken it, and Monday, off to make a long weekend. A lovely day and zero traffic combined with some of my favourite roads—SH22 from Tuakau, Glen Murray & Ohautira Rd—made the journey to Raglan as pleasant as the destination. I was in my old Fiat Bravo HGT, my gravel bike an easy fit inside (with the front wheel removed). In the distance, Mt. Karioi which was hub of the weekend activities.
It was a stunning evening in Raglan, so nice a walk to get dinner ended up far longer than intended!
Pipiwharauroa Trail Ride
On Saturday I did a ride from Raglan around the inland side of Mt. Karioi and the Pipiwharauroa Trail to the Te Uku wind farm. It was another lovely day and I braved the 'Danger' dog guarding Wharf Espresso café (was so friendly) to fuel up for the hills ahead.
The first part of the ride was a preview of tomorrows 'race'. Running clockwise around the mountain this year means the final downhill of my previous anti-clockwise Karioi rides would be the first climb. Wind turbines in the distance, seen from the foothills of Mt. Karioi.
The wind farm access road is part of the Pipiwharauroa trail.
Then it gets more trail.
No escaping that ever present mountain.
At 67km this 'prep' ride was longer, and possibly harder, than the 50km 'race' I was doing tomorrow.
Another beautiful Raglan evening to end a lovely day, 'Last Dance' tomorrow...
The Karioi Classic "The Last Dance" 50km
Race day dawned fine and calm. It is a big event with 540 entries. Approx. 60% opt for the 50km version I was doing, with the balance doing 85km by adding a longer loop before the shared coastal road return to Raglan.
From the Stewart St start there is a paced stage to the timing start on Te Hutewai Rd where the climbing soon begins. I prefer to start at the back and ride through a pack rather than having to deal with people passing me.
This photo is at the start of the initial climb; I'm no. 10 but that reflects when signed up, not a ranking! Happy smiling faces before the hill gets serious.
There was a mix of mountain bikes, full suspension & hard tail, gravel bikes like mine and quite a few single gear/fixed wheel bikes. I need gears for these gradients, can't imagine riding it with one!
The '15' (km/h) recommended speed for this Te Hutewai Rd hairpin was less achievable going up compared to previous years descents. No cooked brake pad aroma here this year!
I spoke to the couple on this tandem mountain bike before the start. Apparently it handles OK but takes a lot of stopping on gravel. Much more weight but similar tyre footprint as a normal bike.
The benefit of going the 'other' way is this fabulous Ruapuke Rd descent with views to the coast. In previous years it was a climb. This section of the Whaanga Coast back to Raglan is famous as a World Rally Championship Stage. It is a superb place to watch the rally as you can see cars coming in all the way from the coast, but they also swoop right past you. Short of hiring a helicopter I think it is the best WRC spectator spot in NZ.
Further along the Whaanga Coast, rolling hills, lovely gravel road and coastal views.
I didn't take many photos this year (unlike 2017) so purchased the official package. Partially because it was the last one but also to have a decent photo of my new Ground Effect Merino top. It was a random draw prize from The Big Bike Film Night. Brett Cotter's film compilations have been an entertaining inspiration to 'get out there', a feeling that was, alongside other influences, playing on my mind as I rode.
The grimace captured was more due to trying to breathe, climbing into a headwind along this stage, and the realisation some of those passing me along here (about 2:30:00 into the race) were completing the 85km version!
As I approached the Raglan Airport perimeter finish, feeling better than I look below!, I noticed an ambulance depart the race finish compound in the direction of the course, which was a concern. I was happy with my ride and glad to get in before some looming grey clouds came to anything.
I hung around for a while, supporting others finishing, before heading back to my nearby motel for a lovely hot shower. While there the rain arrived, heavy intermittent showers I suspect might have got some still riding.
My Strava record includes the 'regulated' 2km stretch to the official timing start.
A sobering end
I was a bit late to the prize giving in the Raglan Town Hall, as waited for a heavy rain shower to pass before dashing up the road from my motel. Missed the start but one of the winners mentioned 'condolences' in his acceptance speech. I later found out there was a fatal medical incident during the race. I don't know, or wish to know, the circumstances but offer my condolences to all involved. It was a reminder that life and time is precious.
The Karioi Classic is a brilliant community event, supporting the local Karioi Project, but the work and risk of running it in an increasingly complicated world brought it to a close. Understandable, but sad. Raglan is such a nice place I might just continue the annual pilgrimage and ride it anyway.
Oh là là; chocolate heaven and where it led
Monday dawned grey and wet but it was still quite warm for the time of year. I had passed by La La Land—boutique chocolate Cafe—after dinner last night but was too full to indulge. Besides, figured it opens early (7:30 till late) so could start the day there instead.
The store is tiny, but packed full of treats made by 'chocolate alchemists' along with a menu of crepe, waffles and drinks to tempt. I ordered a hot chocolate and Berry (of the day, was strawberry) Coulis waffle.
The hot chocolate was lovely; rich, thick and not too sweet (unlike so many) as I had ordered without 'enhancement'. It is perched on one a cute wall 'table', a re-purposed piano lid!
Then this arrived, so fresh and tasting as good as it looks. I suspect they replenished every bit of energy expended over the past couple of days, and then some! Just in case of famine I also got a bag of hand-made chocolates to take home...
Heading home and a change of plans
Part of leaving Raglan fairly early, for me, on holiday, was an intention to do a short day ride on a road I discovered on the way home in 2017. Back then I wrote 'a lovely drive. It would also be a great ride'.
The weather in Raglan wasn't promising, but the further North I drove the better it got.
By the time I got to Port Waikato, the departure point, it was a really nice day! With all that chocolate goodness to power me it was time for that ride.
Limestone Downs - The Decision Ride
After an, awkward as usual, selfie I hit the road South through Limestone Downs to Nikau Cave & Café, about 30km away. I still had the race number on, firmly attached with the traditional Karioi ride flax ties.
One mucky Fiat, abandoned but just resting.
Love this rolling country; a road so quiet I only saw a handful of cars during the ride.
With a gravel bike these signs are an invitation for the fun to start!
For quite a while I had been considering something, no one event triggered it but a series of thoughts came together when I stopped and took this photo.
This valley is stunning, something about the lush green, limestone, babbling stream and (then at least) warm sunny silence struck me. I just wanted to keep riding and decided, pending the outcome of some changes at work, I just might.
I've yet to visit Europe; had saved for that but COVID-19 changed the world. With no desire to travel anywhere for a long time, even fully vaccinated, decided I could invest some of that locally with a summer break in New Zealand.
It should have been a scary thing to consider, leaving a job in the middle of a pandemic, but felt strangely calm. I took that to be a sign maybe it was right. With all that to mull over I kept riding. There was a coffee and, although didn't need it, lunch waiting further along the road.
The Nikau Cave & Cafe
Part of the attraction of this ride was the destination. Nikau Cave & Café is about 30km from Port Waikato, perfectly placed to refuel before the return ride. I had checked it was open Mondays, not all country cafés are seven days but (as I write) they are.
I would not have time for the main attraction, reportedly spectacular glow worm caves, but arrived in time for a late lunch.
There were only a few locals there, judging from their conversations with staff, and the owner had claimed one of the long tables to layout paper work. Turns out it was just to support their liquor license renewal, had some exposure to that when TWL had liquor sub-tenancies and it is not fun!
I wasn't starving so opted for a toastie rather than one of the more substantial meals on offer. All the food is prepared on-site and quite a bit is grown on the farm and adjacent gardens. They were roasting meat and veges so opted for beef toasted sandwich and latte to accompany it. Both were nice, so had another coffee before I hit the road.
Grey clouds rolled in on the way back, a brief (but heavy) shower was over by the time I stopped and put on my rain-shell.
Port Waikato-Waikaretu Rd after the rain passed.
The Waikato River mouth at Port Waikato.
Mucky bike reunites with mucky car at the end of a significant long weekend. On 3rd August 2021, partially because of a restructure which preserved my role in a different structure, I resigned from my position at The Warehouse Group. I'm taking this opportunity to have a summer break in New Zealand from October through at least the end of March. Then I will decide what's next.
One way to Nikau Cave & Café on Strava.
TO2122 Index > What's next?