Tour de Tai Tapu
By Roy Sinclair
The road is a reminder of how rural roads once were. I cruise beside fields of farm animals. I see fresh milk and free-range eggs for sale, and a serve-yourself fruit stall with honesty box. Beyond Christchurch’s outer suburbs several kilometres of road are all but taken over by cyclists. The Old Tai Tapu Road leaves the main drag to Akaroa (SH 75) beyond Halswell and meanders near the Halswell River. It is a road I cycle regularly. My ride also includes traversing the length of Cashmere Road, surmounting the Halswell Downs. The return ride of 39km includes coffee at The Store @ Tai Tapu.
The road is a reminder of how rural roads once were. I cruise beside fields of farm animals. I see fresh milk and free-range eggs for sale, and a serve-yourself fruit stall with honesty box. Rolling along at 18km/hr I am in the slow lane. Lycra-clad men and women pass on road bikes. Some appear a tad overweight, their rear ends overflowing their bicycle seats’ restricted loading gauge.
As on the road, The Store café is all but taken over by cyclists. It’s mid-morning on a Wednesday and I am one of about 50 cycling coffee devotes. Café proprietors, Janice and Stephen Hoare, welcome cyclists. They agreed to place a memorial to Ross Bush, a Tai Tapu cyclist who perished in the February 2011 earthquake.
I chat to Graham White who tells me the average age of the Wednesday group is 72. White is the oldest at 87. Graham and his wife Janet are regular cyclists. They live on Old Tai Tapu Road, where Graham was born. “The midwife attending my mother was known as a drunk. But everything turned out alright, as things usually did those days,” he says. He cycled 10km to Halswell School.
“Some more prosperous kids had Sturmey Archer gears. Most of us had fixed gears.”
“The road was so rough we called it Riverbed Road. The occasional motor vehicle sent up clouds of dust. It was also a stock route to the Addington sale yards.
“It was difficult cycling amongst 500 cattle and their runny poo. That made us late for school and we got the strap.”
White was a runner until his knees gave out. When aged 70, he took up mountain biking and later bought a road bike.
Over the years Old Tai Tapu Road was sealed to become a recreational trail.
“Old Tai Tapu was a road for runners. Then the cyclists took over. From our home we can see 500 cyclists a day in groups of 20 or so. They start at daylight, chatting in good cheer.”
At the café all the outdoor tables are chocka. Staff rush around, precariously balancing flat whites, long blacks and yummy slices. Several women are part of the group.
White talks about some of them, in their 60s, being away in Otago pedalling 100km a day over several days.
“They softened their days with a couple of coffee stops. But 100km is still a 100km.”
Graham and Janet White say cycling the Old Tai Tapu Road two or three days a week is a wonderful social outlet.
“We know everyone here. Despite our age, we are considered worth talking to.”