The Land of the Long White Cloud
5 Nov 2007
It has been nearly 2 months since we arrived in New Zealand and right from the start it felt great to return to the country that we had such fond memories of from our last visit here about 12 years ago. That time we stayed for 2 years so 2 months has been a flying visit by comparison. We have spent some great times catching up with old pals, visiting old haunts, exploring new ones and generally enjoying being in Kiwi land. Mind you, not the best place to be when they crashed out of the Rugby World Cup that they were expecting to win, the whole place went into national mourning, the papers were even talking of folk needing counselling!!............. all because of sport, what next?!
As we mentioned briefly before, we are lucky enough to have friends who have a fabulous house on some land in a lovely part of north Canterbury 40mins from Christchurch. They kindly put us up, lent us a car and gave us an excellent base from which to re-explore the South Island (thanks Alan and Linda). We also mentioned that they have a few cows and sheep and we're delighted to report that most of the sheep lambed successfully during the time we were there but we managed to miss every birth............ so much for being ready with the hot water and towels! During the 4 weeks after arriving in Christchurch and before heading off on the bikes we enjoyed several social catch ups, a few local activities and a road trip down to the Southern Alps. We managed to ski a couple of times which was great (we needed a fix!!) and went off 'tramping' (or walking to the rest of the world), into the hills for a total of 8 days out in the bush. The best trip was the Rees Dart, named after the two river valleys it follows. It is a route that we had wanted to do when we were living here before but never got round to it so it was great to finally do it. It's a 5 day loop staying in the excellent back country huts that they have out here and travelling through some fantastic scenery. The route took us along classic south island wide open river valleys, thick native forest and high up onto two snowy alpine saddles. The weather was fantastic, clear sky's night and day and we had all the huts to ourselves as it is out of season. To put the icing on a great trip the 4x4 transport the we had arranged to collect us at the end of the route came early and saved us at least 4 or 5 km wandering on a not too interesting bit at the end - we are sometimes, no almost all the time, very lucky!
We finally dragged ourselves away from the comfort and security of Alan and Linda's on the 5th October on a clear and sunny but very windy day. The wind would have been our best friend had it been from behind but a full on head wind when our legs were not tuned to the riding was a bit of a shock. We managed the sum total of 46km on our first day and then collapsed in our tent by the side of the Wipra river, a bit shell shocked but really happy to be back on the road again. It's hard to explain and probably sounds a bit naff but heading off on a new leg of this journey of ours with no real fixed plan, no real idea of what is around the next corner can only be described as magical and we never forget how lucky we are to be doing it.
After that first day we had another 7 days of riding on the South Island only one of which was not windy, raining or both. The worst of those being a 4 ½ hour ride in the pouring rain to make it to the safe haven of a hostel in Nelson. When the weather is that bad sadly you don't get to look about and take in the views as you are too busy keeping your head down to get into the dry as soon as possible. When we stopped for a coffee we had to borrow plastic bags to stop our wet backsides soaking their seats. I'm sure the mop was out as soon as we left to clear up the puddles we left behind us! One good thing about the weather were the enforced coffee stops as you always get a good blether with the locals. At one stop where we hid in a cafe for over an hour we got 3 offers of lifts and another of accommodation when we made it over to the north island. At another we not only got an offer of somewhere to stay but we also got fish and chips for dinner. The kiwis have been so nice and friendly it has been great, why on earth we turned the lifts down and battled on in the foul weather remains a mystery (at least that's our story and we're sticking to it!).
Despite the efforts of the weather, the ride in the South Island was great. Mostly quiet roads and one good thing about all the rain was the waterfalls along the roadside were all in full flow and the rivers where all in spate, carrying trees, mud and who knows what down on their roaring way to the sea.
We made it across the Cook Strait from Picton to the North Island and the capital Wellington on 13th October, where we had a day off the bikes and caught a few sights, as well as doing the washing and having a hot shower, the free camping can make us a little anti social at times! It's also good to give our legs a rest now and again. As Capital cities of the world go I reckon Wellington must be as relaxed and chilled out as they come. No great hustle and bustle and the waiters in the cafes even have time for a wee chat. Although it was a 'day off' we took ourselves off for a walk up the Mount Victoria look out to get an aerial view of the city and a picnic lunch. On the way back down we ended up on the small manmade beach with an ice cream in our hands, excellent! Not a day for sunning one's self on the beach however as despite the strong sun the wind was yet again howling..............and not a soul out windsurfing, travesty!
Te Papa is the country's national museum so you have to pay it a visit, and we are so glad we did. Sitting in the saddle as we do for hours on end your mind comes up with lots of questions about the land and the people, past and present that have travelled those same routes. Places like Te papa are excellent for answering some of those questions and filling in some gaps. NZ has a really interesting and relatively recent history with first the arrival of the Maori then the European settlers (pakeha as we are known). It was one of those rare museums that we didn't leave feeling tired and felt that we would happily go back, that's what you get for 3million plus dollars I guess.
The north island started where the south left off in terms of weather. We caught the bus out of Wellington as the roads out of town were reported to be a bit of a nasty ride. We bussed the first 180km north to the town of Wanganui (some of the Maori names are great!) and that's where the fun started again. We only managed 33km in just over 2 hours into strong NW wind on busy wet roads before seeking shelter in the lounge and kitchen of a campground. The following day we managed another 30km before we were soaked and spent the next 2 hours in a café drying out and again getting words of support and advice from the locals. Our route up through the north Island took us way out west towards Mt. Taranaki then back to the centre and then north. One 153 km stretch was along the 'forgotten world highway', they like to give routes groovy names round here to help make them exciting to us tourists. It was a brilliant route along quiet roads through real rural back country NZ. Lots of sheep, sheep, more sheep and the odd herd of beef cattle. Right in the middle of the route is an old pioneering town called Whangamomona with no shops, no services but yes you guessed a pub. True with the pattern of this leg of our ride we had to go in for a coffee, and except for the quality of the coffee it was like going back to the days when folk made a hard living mining gold, clearing land for farms or working building the roads, complete with tunnels and big bridges.
By the time we got off the forgotten world we were in volcano country. We had chosen to visit this area again and hoped to do a bit of walking. Thanks to an improving weather forecast and an above and beyond taxi service provided by our friend Hamish we were able to walk what is billed as the best one day 'tramp' in the country, the Tongariro crossing. The route takes you right up and through 3 active volcanoes that were steaming away, stinking worse that Vicky's socks, and making some of the streams that run off or out of them almost too hot to put your hand in. We finished after dark on a beautiful moon lit night with Hamish waiting at the end of the dirt road to give us a lift back. A really great walk, through very different mountains the like of which neither of us had experienced before.
As we made our way up the country we stopped off at a kiwi couples house we had met through a website set up to offer accommodation to fellow cycle tourists. The web site is called 'warmshower.com' but Eion and Lisette provided way more than that. They took us to their family holiday hut out on the Maketu river estuary where we hung out, drank a few beers and chatted. We also enjoyed two kiwi culinary highlights of fresh bread that Eion made us over the open fire followed by white bait fritters made from white bait that he caught that morning whilst Vick and I were out for a canoe on the estuary and out to sea. It was a magic time doing real kiwi stuff with real locals! We rode off from their place with a smile and another "lucky buggers" moment!!
We had an afternoon off the bikes on the Coromandel Peninsular east of Auckland and went for a kayak out in the ocean to some wee islands and cathedral Cove. This is given the name because of a massive open ended cave that is shaped like the nave of a cathedral, very impressive.
Our last few days in NZ have been spent staying with our friend Julie and her family on the North Western edge of Auckland. A great time eating and sight seeing interspersed with a long visit to the bike shop for me to replace some broken bits and get spares ready for the wilds that await us in Chile and South America. (Do not buy Blackburn pannier racks, all 4 of ours have now bust!).
Well, it's been hard to summarise this leg of our trip as we have been doing a wide range of stuff, visited loads of interesting places and spent time with just so many fantastic people, some who have been friends for years, some that will be now, and others that have come into and gone out of our lives but not be forgotten. Where else do you have a conversation with a Maori man sporting a full face tattoo (moko) and how can you forget the lady that gives you some fruit cake to go with your dinner as you camp near the road side........... just magical moments. We often say it's not the places you go but the people you meet that give us so much pleasure and our time in New Zealand has just proved that to us once again. We have done some hard riding that couldn't end soon enough and some easy riding that makes you wonder why everybody doesn't cycle tour. All in all an excellent mix of experiences.
Just to end, the New Zealand Cycle stats for sado's (recorded daily by sado's):
o Longest Day 94km near Whangamomona
o Lowest average speed 13.9kmph Very hilly and windy on route to Turangi
o Fastest speed 72 kmph on route to catch ferry in Picton on South Island.
o Longest time in saddle 5hrs 1 min on Coromandel peninsular.
o Total Distance in NZ on bikes 1615. Plus 1 bus, 2 ferries and 2 trains
Vick and Vick