[NOTE - This diary has not yet been edited, but is being provided primarily for those folks doing research on undertaking such a trip. There are many tidbits here that might provide you tips and hints on how to prepare for your trip and how to plan your itinerary. This diary was written by my sister Alice, who accompanied me on the trip. Jay]
In October of 1994, my brother and I decided to do a bike tour together in New Zealand. He lived in Germany at the time and I in Atlanta. Having heard numerous tales of my brother's adventures around the world (ski-touring, hiking treks, bike touring, sailing), I was determined to get off the sideline and be a part of just one of these escapades. I had other reasons. My brother, Jay, had been in Germany for eight years and I thought this might be a chance to renew family bonds. Jay is four years older than me, so as we grew up, we seemed to miss each other in the cycle of school and college. And let's face it, in my youth, spending time with my brother was not an objective. A few years ago, Jay and I had toyed with the idea of doing a year-long bike tour around the world, but it never materialized. Instead, we both got new jobs. So, when the New Zealand idea crystallized, I knew that this was a chance for retribution. Besides, if I couldn't muster the energy and organization to do a three week bike tour, well, I was lost to the trappings of society's work wheel forever.
Why we chose New Zealand, I can't really say. Perhaps because of our climate requirements. Or that it was noted as exceptional bike touring country. Or maybe we just wanted to get as far away as possible. (More likely the reason was that New Zealand represented just one of a few land masses, besides Antarctica, that Jay hadn't visited). Whatever the case, New Zealand conjured pleasing images and that's all I needed. When your friends say, "Wow, you're going to New Zealand?" that's a good indicator that you made the right choice.
Planning the trip would be no small feat, particularly with a expansive ocean between the two of us. Our ability to email, quite frankly, made it all possible. We sent daily reports to each other filled with destination ideas, biking equipment checklists, and general excitement. Having never done a bike tour, I deluged Jay with questions on attire, spare parts, and bike maintenance. We scoured the Internet for stories of bike touring in New Zealand and found several good accounts. In two short months, we were able to organize our trip with nary a phone call.
Here are excerpts from my trip journal:
Friday, December 30th
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean
Finally in the air heading west! I met Jay in the Chicago airport and located him rappin' with two Germans. They were also embarking on an eight week cycle venture in NZ. (Made our three-week trip seem downright skimpy in comparison). I am presently flanked by two Germans with Jay seated in front of me. From the sounds around me, I feel as if I am on a Lufthansa flight not good ole' United Air Lines. Not much chance of me having a friendly chat about Newt Gingrich's book deal. Jay on the other hand is enjoying more rambunctious aisle-mates. His is next to a young woman with two small, but vocal, children. The three of them are sharing two seats. One look at this scenario, and we knew that chances of switching seats to sit together was a poor bet.
I had a frenzied morning getting mailings finished at work and packing all my paraphernalia. My attempts to secure the bike box the prior evening were thwarted as I could not remove my handlebars. I broke my roommates wrench in the process and dragged my neighbor over in his poinsettia red socks to have a tug. No luck. So the morning was devoted to a quick trip to the bike shop for some peace of mind. The female mechanic got the nut turned - no problem. ( I shall not share this information with Chris, my neighbor). Finally with some help from a friend, several sheets of bubble wrap, and a roll of duct tape, the bike settled into its transport home. As nerves began to settle I wondered what has Jay got me into now.
Sunday, January 1, 1995
No, I did not skip a day of writing. We just passed over the International Date Line at which point we rung in the New Year. Technically there really wasn't a 12 o'clock hour for us to count down. Instead the pilot announced that we were "8 miles from 1995". We all counted down the 10 seconds with the pilot who sped up to count down the last five seconds. We clapped and thank heavens there was no groggy harmonizing of "Old Lang Syne"
Arrived in NZ at 7:30 am. The weather is beautiful, in the 70's. Thanks to Jay's "Alto-Thermo Twin Sensor" watch, we will be able to keep tabs on the current conditions: barometer, altitude, temperature, and even the time.
Our bikes appeared to make the journey OK. There were a few exposed bike parts but nothing so big that a PowerBar could escape through. We passed Customs and met several other fellow cyclists. Two women were traveling alone for 8 or more weeks. As always, lots of German travelers. We parted with our aisle neighbor, Susan, an American working on a degree in Auckland. She's an ornithologist of all things. Jay and I milked her for information and I found out some tips on native bird life. We soon discovered that Susan is on-line, so we had her fire off a note to all our email friends. I'm sure this will not be the last of our cyberspace connections. Jay will no doubt be scouring the countryside for access . . . perhaps we'll see some pretty scenery along the way.
The flight from Auckland to Christchurch was stunning. Turquoise water and undulating hills that rose to volcanic peaks and snow-capped mountains. It was from these friendly skies, that I distinguished my first flock of sheep. (I have a premonition, that I may never put on another wool sweater when I'm done with this country). The landscape was much browner that I thought it would be. This is either the way things are or a result of sever deforestation. I think the ladder is sadly the case. Nonetheless, it was still a grand sight.
Christchurch is a lovely town. Charming parks and assorted flowers gracing almost every yard. The hostel we stayed in was par for the course. An older whitewashed house that opened onto a spacious yard bordered by a colorful splash of flowers. Definitely, the most beautiful hostel I've stayed in. No wonder NZ was rated best hostels in the world. Jay and I spent a good part of the day piecing our bikes back together. We briefly talked with other travelers and ate some Chinese food from one of the only spots open during the holiday. Now we will try and catch some Z's - Jay is already snoring happily on the bunk above me. For me, it takes a few articles and the silencing of our boisterous German roommates. My ear plugs will provide only partial relief.
Monday, January 2, 1995
"If you're heading south from Chirstchurch and there's a nor'wester, don't bother." These were the words from our touring guidebook that somehow escaped us. We left Christchurch around 9:30 am after packing and attending to a few bike maintenance requirements. We felt alive after a solid night's rest and left the city limits in high spirits. It was not long that we began to feel a steady, strong wind coming straight at us. The pedals began to move slower and the moisture was sucked from our skin due to the brilliant sun. I noticed less of the sheep and the vista of snow-capped peaks and concentrated on moving forward. When we departed from the main drag, we landed on a side road that was quiet and uninhabited. After a long stretch, we were anxious to get to Charing Cross for something cool. When we got there, we found a couple of trees - that's it. We learned quickly that towns marked on maps do not imply commerce. The next town was 20 km, Horrorata, and our water bottles were dry. With determination (or stupidity) we pressed on as the wind began to have a commanding presence. Jay had the audacity to wear a T-shirt with a big picture of a hamburger on the back. While this made me salivate, it wasn't too much of a problem since I slipped back for much of the ride.
After what seemed like an eternity, we landed in Horrorata and bought juice, apples, biscuits, gorp, and, of course, the makings for PB & J. (No donuts to be had). We inquired with the shop keeper about lodging ahead but the picture was bleak. Four Germans rode up who were experiencing the same windy trek. Jay conversed with them awhile and we swapped war stories. After an hour-long stay we headed out again. Destination unknown as it was unclear whether there was lodging at Mt. Hutt. And since we bailed on the tent scene at the last minute from advice off the Internet, there was no chance of camping when we got there. We would probably have to go another 17 km to get to a town with a room. The scenario was grim , and as I was contemplating the values of life on a bike, I saw a sign for Mt Hutt - 40 km. So this was my indoctrination to bike touring - first day, bike over 100 km with little food or water and a headwind that cut your pride to pieces. Must I endure 20 more days of this? Well, things took a turn for the worst when the wind became so fierce that it literally stopped us dead in motion. The hurricane-like force toppled Jay right off his seat. After being pushed off the side of the rode several more times, it became physically impossible to ride. We pushed our bikes a ways and then came up with Plan B. And that was to turn around, enjoy a tail wind and find a new destination. Which is exactly what we did. The wind was so strong that we barely had to pedal. We averaged about 35km/hr - FAST. The smiles returned to our face and we applauded ourselves for a brilliant strategy. We ended up in Rakaia, a fishing town. On the way to a possible hotel, I got caught in some deep gravel and fell over. A final finishing touch to my first day of bike touring.
Jay and I got a room in a hotel that smelled like, of all things, fish and chips. We ate dinner and retreated to our room at which point Jay proclaimed that his shirt "smelled like wind". I didn't doubt it. Well, the guidebook says that our trek for tomorrow should be an easy day of riding unless there's a "southerly". What I want to know is when do the "easterlies" arrive!! (TOTAL KM - 100)
Tuesday, January 3, 1996
Woke up in the shadow of the Big Fish. This is NZ's equivalent
to the Big Peach in South Carolina. Jay and I enjoyed a leisurely
breakfast as the rain fell. We dined on "Cornies" (Corn
Flakes), white toast, undercooked bacon, eggs, and cooked tomatoes.
We devoured it; however, I must say, Kiwis will not be remembered
for their cuisine. You have to own a deep fryer to live in this
country. I'm sure that there is nary a vegetarian around here.
Even if you wanted to, you couldn't because vegetables seem to
be exotic fare. The horrible thing is your really want to become
a vegetarian when you see all those innocent, woolly sheep being
trucked off to the "slaughters".
The hotel proprietor was extremely friendly as are most of the kiwis we've met. She lent us her paper in which we found some particularly hilarious pieces. One featured a few thieves who made off with a few 10 kg boxes. Upon returning home with their loot, they discovered they were proud owners of 150 pregnancy kits. I was impressed with their coverage of environmental issues, and the paper has a weekly section devoted to science. By the end of breakfast, the rain had stopped so we headed off to Ashburton. During our day of riding, we experienced rain (not much), sunshine, clouds, hail, thunder, and of course, wind. We made good timing over our first 40 km to Ashburton. We called ahead for lodging in Geraldine which turned out to be a smart move. After Ashburton and lots of heavy holiday traffic, we peeled off for the side roads which were quiet, windy, and lined with paddocks of sheep. Jay and I got into the habit of "yippee-ah-yahhing" at the sheep, thus triggering a stampede in the opposite direction. Soon enough, we turned directly into the wind and fought our way the last 20 km. Geraldine is a quaint town that actually had two "dairies". We pulled into the Geraldine Motor Camp and got keys to our 4 x 4 hut. About one hour later, we saw our German friends from Hororata setting up their tent. They had pushed on the previous day to the gorge in the nor'wester. They said it took them 2 hours to bike 12 km. And to top it of they had torrential rains and wound up with two inches of water in their tent that morning. (We had made the right move). Frank and Kathryn ate dinner with us in town which was very enjoyable. I managed to get a salad and lasagna - not bad for NZ. (TOTAL KM - 85)
Wednesday, January 4, 1995
There are times I want to throw my bicycle over the nearest
hillside. The past 3 days have been long and draining, and my
will and endurance are certainly being tested. From rough weather
to tough hills, a cycle tourist is exposed and vulnerable to the
landscape and the skies above. But just when you've had enough,
you will come upon a vista that is so personal than it could never
be from a car window. Today, was no exception. The scenery from
Geraldine to Lake Tekapo was stunning. From glacier capped mountains
to roadside wildflowers, there were treats waiting around every
corner and over every pass.
670 meters higher at Burke's pass. We glisten with sweat but have passed our last major hurdle of the day. The monument at the top reads:
"O ye who enter the portals of the Mackenzie to found homes, take the word of a child of the misty gorges, and plant forest trees for your lives: so shall your mountain facings and river flats be preserved to your children's children and for everymore." 1917
And now a word about bird life. I have seen more species dead than alive. Cycling allows you to experience nature up close, including road kills. Thrushes, sparrows, finches and magpies , you name it. Magpies, an introduced species, have to be the dumbest of the avian creatures. They just aren't evolving away from low flights across roadways. Today, Jay found a bird with a red face - should be easy to identify once we can get our hands on a bird book. I've noticed a common hawk that has a distinct white patch at the base of its tail. Should also be easy to identify. As far as fauna, we've also seen more dead than alive (with the exception of sheep). These road kills are not as easy to make out. Some bunnies, a prickly creature, and a fox-looking critter. Often I see some rope on the side of the road, and thinking I'm still in Georgia, I mistake if for a snake which are non-existent in NZ. Most of NZ's native animals are extinct due to the introduction of species. The natives were not equipped with the natural defenses to deal with these exotic intruders. We did see 18 of New Zealand's Hell's Angels today on Harley Davidsons. A rare siting indeed.
Tonight, we were hoping to get a room at the hostel but even though, we called ahead it was booked. This was supposedly the hostel with "a million dollar view". Instead, we are at the Alpine Inn, the most expensive accommodations in town and quite popular with the Japanese bus tour crowd. They even had the karoke going on in the lounge. As Jay and I pondered this, we concluded that karoke "borders on the bizarre". I am now icing my swollen tender knee praying the pain will subside with time. Jay and I are walking around like an old couple. But hey, we are in a spectacular setting and are clean (despite the European bath).
Before we left for NZ, my mother loaded us up with New Yorker articles. We continue to read these wondering if we'll ever finish them all. That's my excuse to Jay when he leaves me in the dust. "But, Jay, I'm loaded down with all these New Yorker pieces". This has provided quite a bit of comic relief. (TOTAL KM - 90)
Thursday, January 5, 1995
Although we originally planned to take a rest day in Lake Tekapo, we opted to ride 50 km to Twizel. Before we departed, we visited the Church of the Good Sheppard which sits on the banks of the Lake. The alter in the church has a large viewing window of the scenery, including Mount Cook, NZ's highest mountain. I doubt I would have been able to listen to any sermon with that magnificent backdrop.
Our ride was fantastic with 360 degree views and the splendor of the mountain range. For much of our trek we road along the turquoise canals created for NZ's hydroelectricity works. Side road traffic was sparse. There were some long, lonely stretches that gave the impression that we had been plunked down in the middle of nowhere. NZ is so remote and sparsely populated - it's just mind-boggling sometimes. I am also impressed with the country's kind eye towards travelers. The signage is faultless, and they have rest areas and picnic spots everywhere. And not one trash can was overflowing with fish and chip refuse. Their restrooms and showers are clean too. Today, Jay and I picnicked along a lovely stream. I got dive-bombed during my "pishhing". This particular bird had a funny long tail that it would fan. Reminded me of an American Redstart. Anyway, we needed a break as we were planning on lunching in the town of Lake Pukaki. Again the map tricked us - no landmarks of any kind in Pukaki, just the lake.
After our stop here in the invisible town, we cruised the last 8 km to the township of Twizel. Now, Twizel is sort of a joke town with the natives. It arose with the Ministry of Work's hydro project, but now suffers from an identity crisis. The homes are all generic, only 3 styles for the workers. Despite this, Jay and I managed to warm up to Twizel. We hit all the important stops and saw their wonderful info center that was geared toward the environment as it was run by the Department of Conservation. There was a young girl working there doing her internship affiliation with a university. We also happened upon a new restaurant in the dreary "Black Stilt Mall". The restaurant was beautifully decorated and had decent fare. We actually gorged on our first pasta dish. Hooray! They had quite a crowd for such a misfit little town. Jay and I are confident that Twizel will renew it's reputation. One day, it will no longer be the butt of laughter in the bar circle. One thing it never lacked was scenery - a good place to start their PR campaign. (TOTAL KM - 50)
Friday, January 6, 1995
Jay and I crammed a load of laundry into the wash and it took an eternity to dry. I thought we might be stuck in Twizel another day. One of the workers in the area spoke to me this morning about the town. He was in the region in 1968 when the canals were being built. His first job was to build a fence for tree seedlings to grow. Twizel was barren before the 17,000 families descended upon it for the project. Now, there are trees and old dorm-like buildings that housed the bachelors. In fact, our "backpacker" unit used to be their lodging. We had been in the executive wing that was equipped with phone jacks.
To start our short day of cycling, I dragged Jay to the Black Stilt captivity breeding area. Predation and loss of habitat (due to the hydroelectric project) has practically done this bird in. Only 120 birds exist - the world's rarest bird. Many are now breeding with the Pied Stilt to form a hybrid. There was an educational center and viewing area, but it wasn't like seeing them in the wild. Still, the stilt is a beautiful bird - silky black color with red legs and eyes.
Our ride to Omarama was like a drive through southwestern United States, brown and dry. By mid-afternoon, we made it into town where planes and gliders graced the clear blue skies. Yes, we just happened upon the World Glider Championships. We spent the afternoon in awe of these silent crafts taking full advantage of the northwest winds. Apparently, Omarama is one of the best sites for gliding and is where many world records have been set. Jay and I decided to bag our impending 100 km ride up Lindis Pass to experience the opening ceremony the next day. Wayne, an Australian bartender we met at a restaurant, told us that 15,000 people were expected. We'll see about that. (TOTAL KM - 32)
Just returned from the opening day ceremonies which ended up being a big dust storm with the predominant northwest winds. Everyone looked as though they had put a long day in on the farm - a layer of grit covered everything. The day featured formation flying, helicopter bungee jumping, glider acrobatics, and a mock WWII spitfire fight. About 5,000 people were actually on hand. In between events, I couldn't help notice the gulls and oystercatchers performing their own aerial show without the fanfare. When Jay and I took a break to eat, we met two 16 year old girls from of all places, Tarras. This is the infamous town between here and Wanaka where we have inquired time and time again whether there are any accommodations. They assured us there were not. Darn - looks like there's no way around a long one.
In the morning, just because we haven't gotten much exercise lately, we hiked up through the surrounding hills. Incredible yellow and green lichen everywhere. The hike took longer than anticipated and we fell short of reaching the summit. The descent was not fun - between the wind and my knees, my psyche was zapped. So much for resting the joints on our day off.
Saturday, January 8, 1995
The "toxic-team" took off this morning in a misty rain at 7:30 am. With our Gore-tex, yellow pants and booties, we looked as though we were ready to transport plutonium. Either that or lobsters. I woke up about 3:00 am to hear hard rain coming down. I swallowed hard and prayed for relief to arrive by morning. Fortunately, my prayers were acknowledged and mostly we just dealt with a cold mist.
Drugs are the way to go!. After about 40 minutes into our ride and Lindis Pass looming ahead, I popped some Advil to combat the knee aches aches and pains. Within 15 minutes I felt better and even got a dose of relief from my chronic shoulder knot. Gradually, we rose higher and higher in Lindis Pass which seemed to go on and on .... I could not get the "Long and Winding Road" out of my head. The temperatures dropped and the drizzle intensified as we made the last push to the top. There, we were greeted by 10 Italians on motorcycles. They were part of a group of 42 who shipped their bikes over for their three week vacation. They were quite jovial and seemed to be having a grand time. We posed for pictures as they shook in disbelief at the prospect of riding on a motorless two-wheeler. Soon we began our chilly descent. The next 12 km were downhill and our sweat from the haul up quickly became clammy and cool.
After 79 km we arrived in Tarras - the town with no accommodations. We ate our standard PB & J and then enjoyed some tea and dessert in a cozy, warm sandwich shop. I had a raisin scone that was divine. Here, we encountered our first Americans on bikes. These Iowans were on a four week trip and riding tandem and pulling a bag carrier behind them. To date, homo sapien americanus had been a rare sight. Wayne, the Omarama bartender, told us earlier that there really were not that many American travelers and most were older. We attribute this phenomena to the steep lane cost and distance. Not many young people are going to have the cash to budget travel to New Zealand. Now, we did see some Americans at the Gliding Championship, and it was easy to spot them because they were wearing sweaters with Old Glory plastered on them. As the Kiwis snickered, I quickly wanted to feign my best NZ accent so I would not be an accomplice to this nightmarish display of patriotism.
We arrived in Wanaka at about 4 pm just as the air show was finishing up. We encountered the most traffic we have experienced to date. Wanaka is situated on the lake and is supposed to be Queenstown without the hype. It's a busy little summertime spot with lots of shops and exceptional natural areas to do some tramping. After our longest day of biking, it will be nice to spend an extra day here and check out the scene. (TOTAL KM - 113)
Footnote: NZ does not comprehend the intricacies of designing a picnic table . For some reason, they place the bench very far from the table thus making it difficult to transport food safely from your plate to your mouth.
Sunday, January 9, 1995
I'm presently sitting on the western shore of Lake Wanaka. Terns fly overhead and grebes dabble in the water for underwater morsels. I believe I am also being dined on by the notorious sand flies I have read so much about. I gotta go . . . .
Back again. Just finished dinner and discussion with the German crowd. I was the only odd wo(man) out. you would have thought that German was the primary language around her. Today, was a beautiful day in Wanaka - sunny, warm and light winds (something unusual). I noticed that the planted trees along the lake all lean southeast. This must be either the prevailing winds' work or some genetic evolutionary adaptation. Unfortunately, Jay did not get to enjoy the outdoors today due to a stomach virus. One of the Germans said NZ is the only country he's visited and lost weight. Says something about the food. I made dinner which consisted of Campbell's tomato soup, bread, fruit, salad, and sliced tomatoes and avocados. It was probably the healthiest meal we've had to date. If Jay doesn't' feel better then we'll probably stay another day in Wanaka. (I can think of worse scenarios).
Monday, January 10, 1995
From this point on, I vow to eat in more often. We just returned from Tekano Cafe, an adorable eatery that was really quite good. However, I could barely touch my dinner after the long wait between appetizers and the main dish. Luckily, Richard, the Backpacker worker, came in dressed in his floppy wool hat and a leather jacket hanging off his scrawny body. I begged him to take the leftovers.
Earlier in the day, I had spent some time discussing class warfare with Richard and a paua diving Australian. Richard was all over the globe with his topics and points and the Australian, who looked like a pub abuser, retorted with short, uncertain comments. Jay and I can't quite figure Richard out. He's a laymen in the nicest sense who's down on government and social hierarchal system. He begs for a simpler time where people counted. He seems to be a sort of institution at this backpacker, at least in my eyes. He cleans the place, does the yard work, and gardens. His accent is so thick that it's difficult to comprehend what he's saying. I think the transient nature of the backpacker has a warped influence on Richard. He flits about and engages in conversation at a random level. Although I think he enjoys seeing and meeting different people, he could use a more stable crowd that would not pick up and leave one day later. I don't know, I could have him all wrong.
Jay and I took a gorgeous tramp along the west bank of the lake. It was good to hike a bit and sit quietly on the bluff. The mountain views were clear and the limestone tinted lake was no different than Caribbean waters. I could have sat at that lovely spot for hours.
Tuesday, January 11, 1995
Departed at 10:00 am for the Crown Range - the short cut to Queenstown. We debated whether to bike 100km on sealed road or 50 km on partial gravel. We opted for the shorter but questionable route. The first 25 km were scenic, gradually ascending and paralleling the Cordona River. We reached Cordona in 1.5 hours and enjoyed a Coca-Cola on tap. The restaurant was an old hotel that was an oasis. We had heard positive comments about it and sure enough it was a gem. Very appealing with a wonderful backyard in which I would have loved to have invited 50 of my closest friends for a party. From this point on, our day went downhill or should I say "uphill". The sealed road ended at the restaurant and the gravel became demanding. My back tire skirted about trying to get a firm hold. Mountain bike tires would have reduced my stress load. The few cars that did pass by interrupted a concentrated path. I'm sure the drivers looked at us like we had lost are marbles back in Wanaka. The scenery was beautiful though, with the river, streams, and springs; however, I missed a good deal of I was busy comparing rock sizes in my quest to find the path of least resistance. We ran into a Canadian touring the opposite way. He, with his helmet proudly displaying the maple leaf, gave us a blow by blow of what to expect. I found solace in the fact that there were now three idiots in the vicinity. After we parted, the road began to climb and get steeper. Several hills were impossible to bike, so I began flexing those pushing muscles. At the last and final hill I fell off my bike for the third fall of the trip. Luckily no one saw me spread over the roadway with my shoe off and covered in a film of dust. The next 2 km was a push fest, and just when the sky seemed reachable, the bend would turn, and I saw the road continue to wind up and up. Finally, at the summit, we lay exhausted on the grass with 3 other cyclists who had just accomplished the flip side. I must say the view was incredible and my prior frustration dissipated. The Crown Range is the highest main road in NZ at 1121 meters. The descent was scary for me as I took a cautious pace with the gravel. Jay zoomed past me. My hands began to ache from applying the brakes constantly. But we made it after some fun, paved hairpin turns that took us to the highway.
Arrowtown is a charming town that has turned its historic gold mining routes into a tourist destination. The town did not go overboard as an American town might have. We ate dinner at the Old Stone Cottage and walked along the Arrow River. There are some wonderful shops on the strip and I debated about whether to purchase some soft lambs wool rugs. We sauntered around that evening which was easy to do since the light of summer lasts until 10:00 pm. (TOTAL KM - 59)
Wednesday, January 12, 1995
Little did William Gilber Rees (highly esteemed pioneer and 1st settler of Queenstown in 1860) realize that the fertile soil he set foot on would now be a mecca for thrill seekers. Bungee jumping, tandem skydiving, paragliding, white water rafting . . . you get the picture. The scene in 1860 was a bit different for Mr. Rees and his family:
"No fires have cleared the country . . . progress was not only fatiguing but really painful. Speargrass often more than 3 feet high and masses of matagouri constantly impeded us."
Jay and I purposely stayed in Arrowtown to avoid Queenstown. We had read and heard too much. But we took a bus over there to spend the day, fearing we would be accosted as soon as we debused. Our bus was the first 4 wheel transport we had taken since our airport ride. It seemed so foreign as the scenery whizzed by. No time for inspection or casual perusal. We were glad that we did take public transport as the road was fairly busy. Queenstown is nestled along the shores of Lake Wakatipu with a stunning backdrop of mountains. Jay and I were pleasantly surprised with Queenstown. Yes, there was plenty to do and a slew of tourist shops, but it didn't jump out and grab you. Perhaps as Americans we are either desensitized or Queenstown seemed mild in comparison to the U.S. tourist traps. We walked around and peeked in a few shops. The good thing about being on bikes is that anything you buy, you must carry, thus limiting your purchase power. So far, all I've bought is postcards and food.
Queenstown has a lovely park that ran the length of a small peninsula. We found an excellent sitting rock 10 meter off shore. There we just absorbed the scenery and the absence of speed boats that we had envisioned.
Thursday, January 13, 1995
Woke up to yet another warm, blue-sky day. We left our humble 2 X 2 shack after taking a snapshot of Jay's fail-proof safety rigging, mid-air suspension bicycle lock. We rode about 8-10 km and came upon the famous Kawarau River suspension bridge where the most picturesque of bungee jumping locales is situated. The gorge was . . . well . . . gorgeous with its turquoise water. We walked over to watch a few thrill-seekers, mostly Japanese, take the leap. They had all sorts of watching decks for those who chose to live vicariously through the plunges of others. The outfitter was sending them off one after the other like any profitable business venture.
Our ride for the day was adjacent to this river and later the Clutha River from Cromwell. The Kawarau ran calm most of the stretch until we heard a thunderous noise echoing off the gorge wall. Upon inspection, all we could see was white rapids. Looked like a Class V or VI to me - no boats in site. As we approached Cromwell, we began to see fruit stands. I bought a bag of cherries that had to be the best $3 I've spent this trip. Eating those cherries really brought the fact home that it was summer. Back home, folks were dealing with cold fronts and arctic air blasts and here I was. I could adjust to a two summer year effortlessly.
The woman at the fruit stand told us about Cromwell and how a dam had been developed and opened last year. The city was at the convergence of the Kawarau and Clutha and WAS a lovely setting. She had been dead set against the dam, but the political alliances became too powerful.
One km out of town, we joined forces with Ben, a 10 year old
on bike, who escorted us through town via the short-cut. We offered
him a cookie for his services which he gladly accepted. Cromwell
seemed to have been sold off to the dam-builders. The visitor's
center was one big propaganda commercial on how great the dam
is for the town. I t made me unsettled. Out of Cromwell, we followed
the Cluthra River. This was a hot, windless stretch. Jay and I
kept looking over at that water beckoning us. So, we gave in,
stripped down and jumped in . . . and out just as fast. The water
was so cold it stole your breath. Still, it was invigorating and
made the rest of our ride a wee bit milder.
We arrived in Alexandra at 4:00 pm. Not too much to this town. It's surrounded by dark brown, barren hills that almost looked as if they had been charred by fire. Our hostel, along the banks of the Clutha River, is filled with young cherry pickers, earning 80 cents a kilo. Experienced pickers can earn about $100/day. Their rooms are a mess and they've taken over the hostel. Fortunately, we have a side room off the main building. Gosh, I feel old sometimes. (TOTAL KM - 80)
Friday, January 14, 1995
This was a day that marked a low point in the trip for me. We had an extremely hilly ride. They just kept coming and coming - very exasperating. Plus, we had a headwind - surprise. And on top of that, my intestinal system wasn't cooperating. We did stop at a lovely cottage adorned with an exploding garden. We also ran into our first sheep blockade and took the obligatory picture.
The backpacker we are staying in is newly opened and quite modern. The owner took us out to a pond for a swim. The temperature was more tolerable than the river, but the sun was intense. I did not see one bottle of sunblock besides ours. These folks are going to get a big wake up call. Later in the evening we went to the Roxburough movie theatre to see "Clear and Present Danger". I couldn't believe they had a cinema when Alexandra, a much larger town, didn't. Walking home was a divine - perfect temperatures and a glorious sky.
Saturday, January 15, 1995
And now a word about NZ vehicular traffic. First of all, 50 percent of the cars passing us on the highway are hauling a hitch. By that I mean, either boats, RV's, or open trailers. When a car passes, you can't relax until all of it passes. Why if you don't have a trailer hitch on your car down here, then I'm sure the resale value drops drastically. The Kiwis haul all sorts of recreational stuff around the countryside - chairs, bikes, kayaks, paddles, you name it. And they are strapped down precariously so that you wonder if you might get decapitated by a soaring b-bque grill or speared by a fishing pole. We have experienced an increase in traffic since we are on the main road to Dunedin. The motorcycles, of which there are plenty, pass by at rip-roaring speeds. I think its an ego boost for the driver of these two-wheeled, noise polluting monsters to pass their silent, slow cousins at maximum speed. I would say about 75% of all vehicles drivers donate a wide berth to us, and then a "rat shooter" (as we say in my family) will come along with little appreciation for the delicacies of bicycle balance.
Since we are doing a tour of the Catlins tomorrow, we pressed on to Milton and bypassed Lawrence. The thought of getting up at 6:00 am to bike the last 32 km was too much, so we opted for the long haul.
The landscape really changed today (as it does most days). We went from an arid, brown region with rocky slopes to green, rounded hills. Very pastoral and of course, a zillion sheep. During the last 20 km, we dropped through a forested gorge with rocky sides. I didn't see any water but the scenery took me by surprise because most of the landscape has been so open. (TOTAL KM - 90)
Sunday, January 16, 1995
After some anxiety about meeting points, Jay and I were picked up for our two day tour of the Catlins. Fergus and Mary Sutherland were our trip leaders, and we were joined by five other folks. We took four different walks during the day, all wonderful and diverse. Since we didn't go to the west coast to see the sea and rain forest, this was an ample substitute.
Our first stop was a 10 minute walk to Nuggets Point. A cool wind blew and we shivered in our inadequate outerwear. We walked along a narrow path through the steep sided cliff face. The brush and trees all were windswept from the extreme conditions. At the Point, we were immersed in bountiful sea life. Fur seals lazed around the rocky slopes, many high up on rocky islands just off the coast. Fur seals were almost done in by the traders but now they are the most plentiful of marine mammals. We also got a glimpse of elephant seals lollygagging in the water. The elephant seals are much bigger than the fur but also extremely rare. Bird life was abundant. New birds for the list every turn. Off the coast, huge flocks of sooty shearwaters circled around like a sandstorm darkening the water with their shadows. Gannetts, black-backed gulls, and spotted shag could be seen on the rocky island tops. Red-billed gulls and white fronted terns sailed past us in full aerial display. Everywhere activity - dolphins feeding further out, red-polls fleeting along the coastal banks and Stewart Island shag just within binocular vision.
Our next outing was along the coast to walk on the beach. Here, we saw three Hooker's sealions napping in the sand. Huge creatures just doing their best to catch a nap despite the incessant wind and sand in their face, pesky flies and human interruption. We saw a young male, a female pup, and an older male with a furry mane. The latter was a huge beast. We all sat within ample distance and just admired these extraordinary creatures.
The final journey was a three hour trek that was memorable
and highlighted the diversity of the area and how untamed places
of NZ can be. We made a steep trek to the top of some cliffs and
looked back down on the forests and a wide swath of open beaches.
Here, we had an aerial view of our upcoming tramp. Global boulders
dotted the hill top along with more windswept trees. We made our
way down to the beach and walked for 30 minutes before we entered
the adjacent rain forest. Such an odd feeling to go from an open
landscape to the dense, close feeling of a forest. To have sand
in your ears and mud on your feet. To hear the quiet of the woods
and the distant surf roaring. Earlier we glimpsed the rain forest
on a short trek to a waterfall. Both places were thick with ferns,
fern trees, epiphytes, and moss - just as you would envision in
the Amazon. An incredible rich green mat of vegetation.
Fergus stopped to point out botanical features or to call a local fantail to our attention. He caught a crayfish for us to examine from a shallow bog. At one point, we were stunned to find in the midst of this subtropical habitat a stray cow obviously befuddled and lost. Seeing this misplaced bovine, I thought, painted a stark picture of NZ's favored and prominent habitat - pastureland. Here, in this wee patch of remnant rain forest, we encounter of all things - a cow.
We continued to see more birds: brown creeper, tomtits, wood pigeons, and bellbirds. The bellbirds reminded me of the wood thrush as the melodic song resonated through the evening. Finally, we walked along some tidal flats and up to the Ferguson's house which had a million dollar view of the tidal flats, cliff hangs and the Pacific Ocean. At dinner, we dined on a wonderfully nutritious meal and listened to Fergus recount shipwreck stories of the Auckland Islands.
Monday, January 17, 1995
Tonight, a few folks are out snorkeling in the cold tidal water. I missed out as I was beach combing for paua shells.
The last 36 hours have overloaded my senses. We have definitely seen the Catlins. This morning we rose at 5:00 am to tramp over to the coastal head in misty rains to see the yellow-eyed penguins. We sat above them on the hillside and watched 7 penguins prepare themselves for their daily swim. These particular penguins, one of the world's rarest, depart each morning at dawn to feed all day and return in the late afternoon. They swim around 40 km before returning to shore. Chicks are left behind. The penguins spend quite a bit of time on the shore before waddling down to the water line. In fact, they strand around stoically with their arms pointed sideways as if they were paying homage to a patron saint. Mary says they look as if they were engaged in a tai-chi exercise. Finally, they make their way through the kelp and into the sea where they frolic and preen before heading out. We also glimpsed one of the chicks hiding out in the brush. A gray downy ball. As I headed back to the car I looked at my watch - 7:30 am. I couldn't believe I had experienced all this and walked about 3 miles before the 8 o'clock hour. We made 4 more treks before lunch. The Cathedral Caves on the coast is a popular destination but thanks to the poor weather, we had it almost to ourselves. I tromped down in my borrowed "gum boots" which were invaluable in the penguin trek. The caves were magnificent and just make you reach for the closest Pentax, Nikon, or Minolta equipment. We examined chitins, limpets, mussels, snails, polycheats, fanworms, and sea anenomes before traversing into the depths of the cave. The walls were like a cathedral and made you want to bust out into a Gregorian Chant. In the far back, we climbed up big stones to see thread hanging glow worms and spiders. Everywhere little treasures to be cherished.
Our last 3 treks were to see some fossils, the fernbird, and a successional forest. I told Jay we would have to make a collage of our pictures form this 2 day stint because it would look like we traveled to 5 countries not just 5 miles down the road. We retuned to gorge on pizza, fruit, gingerbread, and cheese toast. I quickly became groggy but forced myself out to enjoy the clearing skies at high tide.
Tuesday, January 18, 1995
Jay and I were both commenting today how we felt fit. Those hills are a bit easier these days. I think the previous night's sleep helped immensely. We had a glorious ride today along the coast and relished a tail wind that made it smooth sailing. We had to cut over on a gravel hill that went way up. My derailler was maladjusted so the slightest incline could have landed me with some more bruises to match the ones I still display from Crown Range. Once I walked my bike to the top which took a good 30 minutes, Jay fixed it. Then we sailed down the bumpy road until we hit the seaside. The coastal ride had little traffic and few houses . . . mostly pastureland. There were a few towns that were dotted with summer homes and more as we got closer to Dunedin. We found the boogie board capital of NZ in Brighton. Here there was a wonderful cove filled with children enjoying the shallow water and surf. A couple of sealions frolicked nearby which did not phase the kids one it.
We arrived in Dunedin by the late afternoon and checked into a backpacker. We rode downtown and found the Computer Science Department at Otago University. We found a young man, a technician, who let us use his account. So finally Jay got to email and he was like a kid in a candy shop. After our successful cyberspace quest completed, we devoured a whole pizza and the sauntered over to the Visitor's Center. Then we hit a cafe and Jay overdosed on chocolate as we consumed the newspaper. We read about the Japanese earthquake but couldn't find any update on the glider championships. Tonight, we will go to the Metropolis, a 45-seat movie theatre that was recommended to us. (TOTAL KM - 60)
Wednesday, January 19, 1995
We spent today on the Peninsula with Robin, our native friend
from the Catlins. Biking to her home on Broad Bay was a treat.
The weather was cool but nothing that a little natural horsepower
wouldn't cure. The road ran along the water's edge and was flat
(something new). We whizzed by grey ducks, black swans, red-billed
gulls, white-faced herons, and little shags who dabbled in the
serene bay water. Traffic was thin and the peninsula was dotted
with homes bother permanent and seasonal. Old boat docks lined
portions of the harbor. Hardly any commercial activity could be
found. We made it to Robins house by 11:30 am and toured her "lovely"
home and colorful garden. Her home was well protected by shrubs
and trees so it felt like a nature sanctuary upon entry. She had
"heaps of" perennials, a vegetable/herb garden, and
plun tree ripe with succulent fruit. Inside her home, she had
a "conservatory (all-glass porch) that looked over the bay.
As we chatted, the air filled with the aroma of fresh baked bread.
Robin gave us some tips on art spots as I was admiring some of
her art and tile pieces. Then, she treated us to bread and a garden
salad that I had been craving for some time. She then taxied us
to Taiaroa Head to see the Royal Albatross. There was a visitor's
center that we toured but the real show was being put on by the
winged masters of flight. As they are gigantic birds, they require
a generous wind to lift their bodies into flight. Taiaroa Head
is perfectly situated for this and the wind blew strong and steady
while we were there. Albatrosses have a wing span of 3 meters
- almost twice the length of me! They utilize the prevailing winds
around Antarctica as their flight path, lighting on land forms
along the way to feed and breed. Many of these aerial creatures
fly up to 500 km a day - about the distance we have biked in 3
weeks! Even though we did not pay the $25 to get the special viewing
tour, we saw many fly over the center. Skillfully, they glided
in the face of wind, tilting their bodies precisely and confidently
to maximize their lift and direction. The Head is also home to
colonies of spotted and Stewart Island shag. In the water, fur
seals put on a show for us swimming, darting, and jumping completely
out of the water. The Caribbean blue water was so clear that you
could see them perfectly underwater. Robin commented that it was
healthy for her to see these spectacles through the eyes of a
visitor as it's easy to get jaded about the natural treasures
in one's own backyard.
We went to back to Robin and accepted her offer to stay for "tea". She went to pick-up her partner, Graham, in Dunedin and left us for 2 hours. Jay took a nap in the grass while I examined the flowering properties of clovers and stole plums from their tree. We then took a short but difficult ride up to Larnach Castle. The road went straight up, and I was not mentally prepared for this. I thought our last day of cycling would be pain-free. Thye bummer of it was that we almost made it all the way but we ran out of time. So, after much exertion, we never got to see the bloody castle that that guy had to build on the highest point of the peninsula. Upon return, we met Graham and had another nutritious, filling meal complete with NZ wine. We bagged our prior plans to see a movie and opted for dessert. A most pleasant evening with exceptional company. Jay and I raced the sun back to Dunedin and made it back in 30 minutes.
(TOTAL KM - 35)
Friday, January 21, 1995
Made it to Christchurch yesterday sitting in the front seat
hump on the Atomic Shuttle. The 5 hour trip was made short by
our light conversation with Philip, the driver. Before leaving
Dunedin, Jay and I made a few short trips and shopping runs. We
made a pilgrimage to Baldwin Street, in a headwind. Baldwin is
the world's steepest street according to the Guiness Book of World
Records. Why Jay was gallantly attempting to cycle to the top,
I chatted with Lloyd Bleckie, a resident of Baldwin, who gave
me a few statistics on the street. Meanwhile, Jay halted about
three quarters of the way up, running out of arm strength. Afterwards,
we visited the Otago Museum where we had a pleasant discussion
with a 12-year old wearing a Washington Redskins hat. Jay and
I have been amazed at the children in the country who are so friendly
and engaging. We could not help but think that American children
would either be too shy or lack the patience to converse like
these kids do. We visited the Maori cultural history portion of
the museum but ran out of time. I was able to pick up a couple
of mementos from shops that Robin recommended. I bought a picture
of the yellow-eyed penguins by Mary Taylor, an artist I had been
The rest of the afternoon was in the shuttle which was buffetted
by strong NE winds as we watche Philip inhale, singlehandedly
an entire bag of large coin-sized mints. As he said, and I have
no doubt, "I'll wash it down with a couple of Canterbury
Draught when I get home."
Jay and I had some pasta at a nice restaurant in town, and later , we saw "Priscilla, Queen of teh Desert". Christchurch was hopping, particularly compared to when we last saw in on January 2nd during the holiday. Kids were loitering around, and there was a general aura that you might experience in towns like Amsterdam. I almost had a beer spilled on me and Jay (or his bike, were not sure which one) was goaded by a group of young girls whose limbs protruded from the car window. My favorite part of the evening, however, was riding back to the hostel at 1:00 am. The night had overtaken the loud streets so that all you heard was wind and silence while the clouds peeled across the luminescent sky. The air was exhilerating and stole my drowsiness as I pedalled fast and furious homeward.
Saturday, January 22, 1995
Today, Jay and I spent the day in Christchurch. Even though, I barely shopped, Jay's patience was certainly being put to the test. I bought a few obligatory things for the folks back home. Then Jay and I went to see our 4th movie - "Once Were Warriors", a violent, draining movie about a Maori family coping with an abusive father. Very powerful. When we returned to the hostel, we discovered that Jay's Levi and a denim shirt had been stolen from the laundry line. Mary Kay, a fellow American, realized upon our discovery that she also had a denim shirt stolen. These items are so expensive down here that it's no wonder. So unfortunately aftern enjoying NZ's incredibly safe country, we realize that there's no place safe from theft and the power of commercialism. Oh well . . . no worries.