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Cape to Cape: friends cycle from Cape Egmont to East Cape

A celebration of good health and rural New Zealand.

Katrina Duncan and her friend Anouk Minnaar biked across the North Island from Cape Egmont in Taranaki to East Cape in Tairawhiti. It turned out to be a celebration of good health and rural New Zealand. Katrina tells her story to Hans van Kregten.

“I have to admit I shed some tears when I climbed the 300 steps to the East Cape Lighthouse”, says Katrina Duncan after she crossed the North Island by bike at its widest. Two weeks earlier she and her friend Anouk Minnaar had set off from Cape Egmont in Taranaki on the Kopiko Aotearoa ride across isolated rural New Zealand.

“After New Plymouth, the biggest town we came across was Opotiki. What we came across away from the traditional tourist spots was stunning scenery, and incredible kindness from local communities. As a tourist operator, I see that when the world kicks Covid-19 in the butt, here in Tairawhiti we are sitting on an enormous new tourism magnet. This winter, I would love to develop some products around it.”

Katrina's tears got flowing because in 2018 she battled breast cancer and underwent harsh chemo treatment that sapped her energy for months.

“The completion of the ride for me was proof that the cancer hadn't got me down and that I am healthy again. We rode 1075 kilometres and climbed over 16,000 metres in a fortnight. There were some big days with over 100 kilometres in the saddle. Yes, my butt felt it and I had tired muscles but the elation at the end of each ride will be a defining memory.

The Kopiko ride is the brainchild of Jonathan Kennett, a Wellington-based biking organiser and guidebook writer. He and his brothers are also the main organisers of the Tour of Aotearoa, the 3000-kilometre ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff that already attracts thousands of riders.

Kopiko means ‘to go alternately in opposite directions, meander, wander, ramble'.

“Well, the route was certainly meandering, but the focus was on keeping going and getting to the East Cape in two weeks. What I liked about the ride was the simplicity of it all. You get up, you eat, ride, pause, eat, ride, eat and sleep. A simple bubble. It is quite good for the soul. Of course, it helps to ride through beautiful, unspoilt, rural New Zealand.”

The organisation of the initial Kopiko was low-key and entries were organised through the word of web. Some 250 riders set out over several days in both directions from both capes in February. It was a test drive of the new concept.

“It meant that riders occasionally encountered each other but solitude was abundant”, Katrina says.

There was initial anxiety.

“Through my cycle touring business in Gisborne I spend quite a bit of time on bicycles, but the longest ride I had done in many years was just 50-60 kilometres. I chose what I thought was the easy way with the prevailing winds — most ride East to West. Those tailwinds decided to turn up on our last day into East Cape. After day four I realised I could do this — I was managing the stages quite easily and my confidence increased quickly. We were helped by great weather and good planning. If you love riding bikes and are generally fit you can do it, if you take your time.”

Entering Tairawhiti a homecoming

The Kopiko ride takes in Taranaki, the Forgotten World Highway with stops in the Republic of Whangamomona and the reborn market town of Ohura, the Timber Trail and Waikato River Trail, the gravel road through the Ureweras and alongside Lake Waikaremoana, and then a long route through the Tairawhiti region taking in the Rere Falls and Motu Trails.

Entering Tairawhiti was a homecoming.

“That was the other time I cried — when we got close to the Gisborne district at Ruakituri, after we finished a long 17 percent climb and survived other hills that seemed to go on all day.

“I wanted to show Anouk, who lives in Christchurch, the best things about our region. I wasn't disappointed. The manaakitanga experienced throughout our region was superb. The farm stay on the remote Ruakituri Road was a wonderful experience, followed the next day by the relaxed welcome and three great coffees at the Tiniroto Tavern.

“Then there was a glorious evening at the remote Taaheke shearers' quarters in Peheri, a drink stop at Te Wera station and finishing a long day in the saddle in Matawai.

“Anouk and I loved the remote serenity including the merely dribbling Rere Falls, the always exciting Rere Rockslide and the majestic sheep stations.

“The Rockslide was one of the many control points where riders were to catch a picture, preferably sliding down it. My knowledge of the slide and many previous bruises caused us to chicken out of that one, but the slide was the source of serious talking points among riders with stories of cuts, carnage and exhilaration.

“By the time I got to the slide, I felt really happy. I first feared that by the time I got to Tairawhiti, I would use any excuse to stop. In fact, it turned out that I was thinking of any excuse to keep on going by the end.

“This is the wonderful thing about cycling. You start to love that bubble and you don't want to leave it.

“What helped was the companionship of my experienced bike-packing tour buddy Anouk. She knew what she was doing after completing the ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff last year. She was handy with the repair kit and didn't panic when her back wheel rim disintegrated after riding the Pakihi Track.

“That incident also showed the incredible trust and friendliness that abounds in provincial New Zealand. We were rescued and loaned a car by John from Motu Trails and Shuttles so that we could pick up a new wheel in Whakatane, then drop it at an Opotiki-based chainsaw mechanic who dismantled and rebuilt the wheel and in the process provided us a comfy bed for the night!

“I only had two punctures on the trip. The last one, at Te Araroa was a slow one and happened when it started to drizzle. With the lighthouse in sight we added some air a couple of times.

“When we got to the end, the tube breathed out for the last time. It seemed like the bike ran out of steam before I did.

“I was elated, and felt I could keep going forever.

“Pity you can't bike ride the ocean!”

Katrina and Anouk at the departure point, Pungarehu/Cape Egmont.
A map showing the Cape to Cape Kopiko Aotearoa Trail.
Katrina (left) and Anouk near Waiotapu, Rotorua.
The Waikato River Trail.
Katrina at Maramataha Bridge, Timber Trail.
Katrina at Lake Waikaremoana.
Dawn at Ruakituri.
Katrina and Anouk at Lake Waikaremoana.
Near East Cape.
Katrina and Anouk arrive at East Cape.