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Kōpiko Aotearoa

18 March 2020

Words and Photos: Cherie Rusbatch

A significant journey by bike was long overdue for me. And an excuse for a new bike was equally overdue. So I was keen-as when hushed whispers circulated last year that Jonathan Kennett was organising the Kōpiko Aotearoa for 2020. The 1100 remote kilometres from Taranaki to East Cape was mostly new terrain for me to add to the fizz. I teamed up with my sister Katie, and two great mates Bevan and Angela. Safety in numbers!

Cherie and Katie on the Kopiko start line, Cape Taranaki.

Sitting next to brevet king Scott Emmens at Ground Effect was immensely helpful. It was my first brevet and there was much ruminating over bikes, gear and strategy. Incredibly helpful for me but no doubt painful for him - thanks Scott.

Participants (it's not race!) had the option to travel either way. Scott, his wife Jo and the Ground Effect Revolutionaries (Ollie, Anja, Tristan and Sasha) were travelling from East to West. We chose to go against the flow, hoping the prevailing westerly wind would prevail.

Ollie, Tristan and Anja (the four and a half day crew!) exiting the Pureora Timber Trail.

Connecting with Sasha the next day on the Timber Trail.

The 15km pre-start blat to Cape Egmont Lighthouse on a rainy early morning was not confidence boosting, and my bike was heavy. However, the sun was out by the time we hit Pukeiti, and accompanied us for the ten days to the Bay of Plenty. Happy days. The wind failed us just once in the final push to the East Cape Lighthouse but we brushed it aside in our enthusiasm to finish.

Taranaki - bikes, tractors and sunshine.

We had planned to ride a not-too-taxing hundred-ish km each day, mixed with a few shorter days - to rest the legs, ensure we got some hot pool time at Waikete near Rotorua, and to fortify ourselves for the big hills of the big station country that lay beyond.

Hot springs revival.

It is worth confessing that I hadn’t trained with a fully loaded bike - mainly due to my reluctance to give my mtb the full brevet makeover (rigid seat post and slick tyres). This omission in the planning process turned out to be just fine. Phew.

The big event, within the big event, was crossing paths with Scott and Jo. This happened on the Waikato River Trail not far from Whakamaru. Spirits were high and expectations met.

Happy work mates.

As luck would have it, the shorter days meant the Ruatahuna Store was still open as we rode along side Lake Waikaremoana. We attributed our perkiness on the hills that day to their excellent french toast. However it had become apparent that we had kinda fallen behind the ‘pack’, and were now course sweepers for the 'Westies'. As we rolled out of Lake Whakamarino Lodge to embark on the ominous isolated big hill section towards Motu and the coast, things got a bit quiet. But then a cool thing happened, our band of four became five. We picked up Cath and the chat zone was reinvigorated for the remainder of the trip.

Cath, Katie, Ange, Cherie & Bevan - all smiles at East Cape.

I was powered most mornings by oat sachets and chocolate coated coffee beans. Upon reflection there just seemed to be a second breakfast opportunity every day. Not a single pie was consumed by Katie and I (Bevan and Angela might have downed one or two). The food was soooo good, at one point we had three pork roast dinners in a row. Lou at Te Wera Farmstay tracked us to her door with the roast beef arriving at the table shortly thereafter. The hospitality of the locals was outstanding, thank you.

Roast beef goodness.

Once you hit the road on a Brevet the world shrinks and becomes wonderfully simple. It's just about food, the next hill, where to sleep, spinning the wheels and staying on course. The feeling is magic. For us it was a holiday. We estimated a cumulative day spent in the chat zone with locals and patting dogs.

Dog day afternoon.

We pedalled under lucky stars for 12 days on our KA. That hubris will no doubt bite us with the weather gods getting us back on another trip.

Taranaki was the scenic highlight. No surprises there.