Cycle trails in Hawke’s Bay

After a week of sour spring weather and plummeting temperatures, it is a joy to wake up and see sunshine streaming through the curtains. At last, we can set our wheels spinning along some of Hawke's Bay's cycle trails. The thing is, there are so many to choose from, which way should we go? A few days beforehand we pored over a trail map and came up with a plan to do a couple of different trails for variety. We'd previously tried out the Water Ride along Napier's Marine Parade to Westshore and the Landscapes Ride from Clive to Te Awanga Beach. With bikes loaded on the back of the four-wheel drive, we head out of town towards Bridge Pa and the Wineries Ride. This region is known as the Bridge Pa Triangle. The stony landscape here was once thought of as a dirt-poor sheep and cattle farming area. But thanks to the foresight of pioneer grape growers, it is now one of the region's premier wine-growing locations. It seems as if we are the only people in the universe this morning. Certainly, there are no other cyclists in sight. As we park next to Bridge Pa Aerodrome, a small plane gathers speed and is soon aloft. We crane our necks to watch the black dragonfly climbing upwards then disappearing over the hills, taking its sound with it. Across the limestone path we glide, along Ngatawara Road that leads straight as a die to Highway 50. A late-rising rooster crows from behind a scrubby hedge in a nearby paddock. We pass a blacksmith's sign, a flock of white sheep with a lone black one, past an edgy, squawking magpie on guard high up in a macrocarpa tree (thank goodness for the helmets) and past the shiny grey-green leaves of the olive trees at The Village Press — known for producing some of the finest olive oil in Hawke's Bay. Ngatarawa Vineyard's red 'open' flag waves a welcome in the breeze. We zoom past docile-looking ginger cattle down a majestic driveway expecting to see an equally majestic building at the end. But, no — we instead find the sprucely renovated, red-roofed racing stables (built in 1890 and now the cellar door) set in a formal garden of trees and hedged borders. On the manicured lawn, little fountains spout merrily into a pond. "2013 was one of the greatest ever vintages. There are good years and average years, but this was exceptional," says Frank Heuser, pouring us a tasting of sauvignon blanc. He has the happy countenance of one satisfied in his work. Ngatarawa Vineyard is the oldest in this area, having been established in 1981 from a partnership between landowner Garry Glazebrook and wine-maker Alwyn Corban. In 1999, the Glazebrooks sold their shareholding at Ngatarawa to the Corban family. Alwyn is a descendant of New Zealand pioneer winemaker Assid Corban, who planted his vineyard in Henderson in 1902. After such pleasant wine-tasting, and with a bottle tucked into our backpack, we wobble off down the driveway, laughing more now than we were pre-tasting. We're in pursuit of something to eat and find it just around the corner at Ash Ridge Winery and Café where we order paninis and relax as other lunch patrons trickle in and sit at tables beside the olive grove. At Ash Ridge the 2013 vintage has made them happy too. "Everybody is looking forward to what is coming out this year," says Phil Wilcock as he pours us a tasting of rose, which — according to the leaflet — is "bursting with strawberries." That'll do me. Another bottle goes into the backpack and that's our limit. You can also book your bike ride from Ash Ridge Wines as On Yer Bike winery tours are run from here. We decide to double back and head down Ngatarawa Road. It has taken us quite some time to go a very short distance, due to sipping and eating! We'll have to speed up this afternoon if we want to get home before sundown. However, before we go very far, we notice that Salvare Estate is now open and we simply can't resist going in. At Salvare they advise, 'slow down and enjoy the journey'. Who are we to argue? A friendly young man offers us a tasting of Salvare's range of olive oils, mustards and vinaigrettes. He lays them out on the counter with a dish of bread cubes. We oblige by dipping and tasting and nodding approvingly. Such hard work is this! A few metres down the road we see a posse of fellow cyclists, pennants fluttering as they disappear into a winery. Obviously they are part of a tour group. We DIY bikers head over to Havelock North to do part of the Landscapes Ride. Along the stock bank beside the Tuki Tuki River, the only sound we can hear is a gentle chorus of birds. White blossoms cascade like fairy dresses from a wild plum tree. The trail stretches out for miles ahead, completely flat, which is a good thing after such an exhausting morning. The ride gives an elevated view of orchards whose branches are still bare, yet to kick into life with the warmth of spring. Rabbits skitter away at the sound of our tyres. On the riverbank we catch sight of a pheasant scuttling into the safety of the undergrowth and a few quail on the wing. Could we be bold foragers and catch a few for dinner, I joke? "You'd have to be pretty quick," says Glenn. Less shy are the cattle grazing amiably, unworried as we pedal by, refusing to be interrupted as they chew the sweet grass — not even worrying when I inch closer to take a photo. If you take this ride further, it ends up at Black Bridge where you can turn right and head even further to Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton Beaches. The truly energetic could then cross over to the other side of the Tuki Tuki River via Red Bridge and end up back in Havelock North. One is limited only by time, inclination and of course, the weather. But today, although the weather gods are on our side, we opt for 'one more gate along the way', then turn back towards the car park. Te Mata Peak, with its bitten-into outline, is even more stunning in the muted, late-afternoon sun. Neatly pruned vines stretch out in straight rows and willows will soon sport fresh growth. Biking slowly helps us to savour the landscape laid out before us. 'Enjoy the ride' has certainly been our motto today. For the latest reviews, subscribe to our Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine here.
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