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Cape Palliser Bikepacking and Backtracking

04 October 2022

Words: Cherie Rusbatch
Photos: Erin Swanson, Katie Rusbatch and Cherie Rusbatch

Making the most of North Island based friends and family, I packed my bike into its Tardis and flew to Wellington for three days of springtime bikepacking. Erin, Katie and I had previously spied the No. 8 Wired route on Bikepacking.com. With minimal discussion but plenty of enthusiasm we agreed on two things: it looked like a tasty part of Aotearoa; and to omit the Aorangi Forest section. It’s always good to have something to go back for.

After an excellent Thursday night out at Ombra it was an early doors drive with Katie to Greytown to meet Erin from Rotorua with her new touring bike, and to source the day's snacks from The French Baker. The baguette and pain au chocolat, with a bit of origami applied, squashed nicely inside my feedbag. We rolled out of Greytown heading east on the northern loop to Gladstone, the mighty Admiral Hill and Hinakura Road, planning to finish up for the night at the Martinborough Top 10.

Friday 16 September 2022 was one of those days. 55km into our 80km an impassable slip at Hinakura saw us staring down the barrel of a not so new and exciting combo for the three of us: ‘bikepacking and backtracking’. Our bad for not completing thorough research on South Wairarapa road closures. A kind farmer gave us a lift up the first hill. Then we were on our own to grovel back up the Admiral’s backside and back to Greytown. Let the bikepacking and backtracking begin.

Later that day - and somewhat later than originally planned - we found ourselves plonked in front of a roaring fire enjoying the banter of the Martinborough Hotel and its menu. Friendship and sibling relationships still intact we decided it was our resilience training day for 2022 ticked off, without the expense of doing a course.

Now for the southern loop. The infamous Dave Mitchell actually takes weather bookings. I’d placed a light wind and zero rain request with him for this particular weekend. Quite a big ask when we discovered the loo along the Matakitakiakupe/Cape Palliser coastline had been blown off its anchors after one too many northerlies. We rolled through the lush, green, big farm countryside with all bike and body grumblings drowned out by the chorus of a million lambs.

The White Rock Road popped us out on the wild spectacular Cape Palliser coastline. The huge crashing waves reminded me of the Pacific coastline in Patagonia.

The track has fallen into the sea in a couple of places, so best we did not follow suit. There are a handful of farm gates to negotiate, and one short punchy bike push. You must call White Rock and Ngapotiki Stations to seek permission to use the the coastal track as it passes through their lands. The 262 steps up to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse hurt, but the view is not to be missed.


Randomly positioned food caravans are an essential part of any bikepacking and backtracking trip. We pedalled on from the lighthouse to Ngawi for a ginger beer, and to be entertained by escapee sheep-lamb antics.

3.2 klicks up the road we were at the Waimeha Camping Village. Phone ahead to ensure you get a table by the roaring fire for dinner. Top tip - cabin No. 10 has an unobstructed view of the surfers, Tapuae-o-Uenuku down in the South Island, and the sunset.

The following day we arrived at the Land Girl cafe in Pirinoa bang on offical Ground Effect morning tea time, 10.30AM. The coffee was excellent and it was a cruisy pedal up Lake Ferry Road to the main square of Martinborough for a finishers' lunch at the The Neighbourhood Coffee House. 255km of mission accomplished.

There’s loads of stuff to stop for on this journey so be prepared to slam on the brakes and have the reading glasses handy. Aside from the scenery, there are multiple picnic tables and NZ's first wind farm Hau Nui. It’s worth cautioning the South Coast's mighty waves are doing a brilliant job of stealing the Cape Palliser Road. It’s worth checking with the South Wairarapa District Council after a big storm to ensure you’re bikepacking sans backtracking.