New Zealand (Part 1)

It’s the 3rd January and I’m awoken by the angry tone of the alarm clock at 2:30am. I reluctantly drag myself from the comfort of my warm bed, chuck on my clothes, shove some porridge down my neck and reach for my bag. I pack my camcorder, camera, some fruit and my waterproofs and then move my tired legs onto my bike and wearily make my way to the start of Roy’s Peak, a 20 minute bike ride away.

The weather is cool and the wind calm and, after locking my bike up around the boundary fence, I start the 2 hour walk up to the summit in time for sunrise. I find the summit a few hours later, with the light already fracturing the sky as I arrive. However, seeing as it was cloudy, I decide against taking a typical landscape photo and decide instead on a different approach, applying a little humor at the same time. So I whip my clothes off and pose for this lovely naked photo instead! Enjoy!!

Brisk early morning photo op, Roy's Peak. (Above)

Arriving in New Zealand

After leaving Australia my next ‘port’ of call was New Zealand. After arriving in Auckland, sorting out my bicycle ready for riding again and restocking my supplies my route was to head north to Cape Reinga, staying with hosts Michelle and Simon at Mairangi bay on the way.

The first days riding in New Zealand was wet with an unexpected undulating route and, after arriving at Michelle and Simon’s house and knocking on their door I was greeting by a reindeer. Strange I know! This was no ordinary reindeer however, as this reindeer was laughing and full of energy and it turns out was part of a game involving 2 of the family members. It was nice to walk into a warm family home and it instantly filled me with nostalgia about my life back in Abingdon. It was this feeling which had me postpone leaving and staying for an extra day to check out parts of Auckland with the family.

The day out entailed a boat trip to Rangitoto, followed by ice cream, and a brief look around the marina where the local boat show was being held then. It was then time for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants on offer before walking back to the car to go home. I profusely thanked the family for their hospitality and the next day continued heading north. I made it to a place called Sheep World and at this point I had a crisis of confidence. It was at this time I realized that it wasn’t worth cycling 4 days north to the Cape when I would then have to cycle 4 days back the way I had just come, and all just for a photo! I decided to turned around and head back to Auckland. Not before a brief stay at Sheep World, during which time I had a falling out with the owner for ripping me off for the campsite which had facilities in much need of refurbishment!

Ferry to Pine Harbour (Above)

It was not long after this that it was suggested to me that I should take the ferry to Pine Harbour to escape the chaotic Auckland traffic. I enjoy ferry rides as it’s a welcomed pace from the bike and you can normally grab a hot drink, enjoy the views and explore the narrow corridors and open decks while aboard. After the ferry reached Pine Harbour I made my way along the coast and then inland, where I came to a place called Matamata aerodrome. I pulled in and noticed some activity at the small house on the corner and a shout from the door way told me to come inside. I walked inside and not long after had a few whisky and cokes inside me and was laughing with the other residents of building. The man in charge’s name was Bevan; a lively character who was always cleaning the kitchen, keeping himself busy with odd jobs during the day and drinking with friends in the evening. It turns out I would be stuck here for a week as the weather was some of the worst for this time of year ever seen by the locals. Luckily for me the house was also host to a young Indian trainee pilot called Abinav, who kindly offered to take me up in the small training aircraft a couple times. Having been in the Air scouts and having gone up in aircraft a few times before doing aerobatics among other things made me relish this opportunity and I couldn’t wait to get in the cockpit.

On one of the flights we flew to Whangarei (pronounced fa-nga-rei) an hour and a half flight and during this time Abinav explained about the various frequencies of the airspaces we flew through. He also told me to watch out for certain clouds to avoid turbulence and keep an eye out for other aircraft. We landed at our destination and after a brief coffee we enlisted the help of 2 stewards to assist in pushing the aircraft out of the mud so we could taxi back to the runway. The 3 hour total flight time was excellent and I helped navigate back to Matamata from Whangarei while having a unique perspective of Auckland from the aircraft window. The weather deteriorated on the return journey and at times we were thrown around like a lottery ball. I loved it!!

Flight to Whangarei (Above)

During my stay at Matamata I also visited Hobbiton and, even though I was skeptical about the expensive price tag, I was quickly reassured with the interesting facts the guides threw around during the 2 hour tour and the visit to the pub at the end to enjoy a pint of Ale made me feel like I was inside the film! On my last night, while enjoyed the evening chatting with Bevan’s friends over a few beers, I had to run off to answer a brief call of nature when I managed to slice my head open on the back of a door! There was blood everywhere and to this day I still don’t know exactly how I managed to do it! Luckily one of the guests was a trainee nurse and managed to clean me up and put some butterfly stitches on my head. Due to this act of stupidity I postponed leaving for 2 more days to give my head a chance to heal. During this time I ended up being a chauffeur for Bevan, driving him around the town to run errands so I didn’t have to pay the camp fee.

After leaving Matamata I didn’t end up ride my bike for some time as I took the bus all the way down to Omarama on the South Island. On the way down I stayed with Warm Showers hosts Rose and Trevor in Taupo. Experienced bicycle tourers themselves they gave me advice, stories from their own experiences and excellent home cooked meals. They were keen mountain bikers and one day Trevor loaded 2 bikes onto their bus and we drove from Taupo and rode the great lake MTB trail towards Kinloch, between Whakaipo bay and Whangamata Bay. The riding reminded me of being on a rollercoaster, with the track having excellent muddy switchbacks that you can carve the back wheel into and great downhill sections making you grin from ear to ear. Even though I fell off at times, I absolutely loved riding a £3000 full carbon fiber bike which was much lighter than my usual steed! I can’t wait to go mountain biking again when I arrive back home and I’m still annoyed at myself for not having my GoPro with me at the time.

Mountain bike Rose and Trevor lent me (Above)

Meeting old friends

I spent a few more days in Taupo and caught the bus to Levin to stay with friends Rob and Jenny, whom I’d previously stayed with on my last trip around New Zealand back in 2010. Again they were excellent hosts and I was very well looked after. Rob lent me the use of his car and it presented the opportunity for me to explore a few walking trails in the area and visit one of my favorite shops in New Zealand called Swazi. Swazi is a small company that make excellent outdoor merino clothing.

While Rob was working Jenny drove me around showing me a place called Foxton, where we parked and walked along the beach and around the Holben Parade Reserve. We dropped in the Levin swimming pool on the way back which was my first swim I had experienced since my swim in the sea in Thailand some time ago. I only managing 20 lengths before I realized I wasn’t the fit person I once was, but I felt excellent on exiting the pool with my back feeling relaxed and legs being rejuvenated with the different motions swimming has compared to riding a bicycle.

On the weekend Rob and I walked a section of the Te Aratoa Trail with a few of his friends. The long-distance trial that runs from Cape Reinga, the most northern point on the North Island, all the way down to Bluff at the most southern tip on the South Island. The section we walked was called the Paekakariki Escarpment Track, which took us near very steep cliff edges and up some rapidly steep ascents. We also crossed a few suspension bridges during the two hour walk, which are a rather common site around New Zealand.

I like a good walk, especially as it gives me the chance to see things that riding on my bike simply wouldn’t allow. The views were excellent and, at times, granted me a sneaky peak at the South Island. It was also great to spend some time with Rob and it made me remember a trail we did last time I was in Levin, back in 2010. Staying with Rob and Jenny has felt like a home away from home, which made it especially hard when it was time to leave. The main reason was because they made my stay with them so pleasant and without experience like this my journey wouldn’t have been as enjoyable and I might have found myself packing my bags long ago. These opportunities give me a chance to unwind and relax and to temporarily think about something else other than my bike and the large distance I still must travel.

When I was ready to move on Jenny very kindly drove me 100km south to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and, after we went our separate ways, I immediately had a hankering to be back at their house, chatting over a beer while watching the sunset over the Tararua mountain range in the distance.

Devils Staircase, Lake Wakatipu, South Island (Above)

Arriving in the South Island.

After taking the ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton I spent the night in a hostel in Picton itself before climbing aboard a train to Christchurch the next day. I had some friends I was due to meet down in Queenstown so I decided to stay using the train for the moment to make sure I reached them in time. The train ride was around 6 hours and I mostly spent of the time in the viewing carriage. The viewing carriage had metal bars for windows and during the train journey I sat watching the world go by with the wind in my face, smelling the fumes of the powerful diesel engine as we twisted along the track towards Christchurch.

Once I reached Christchurch I cycled from the station and was met by Jess who, like Rob and Jenny, was also from Levin but studying in Christchurch. I was welcomed with a lovely dinner and later I went out and bought a bottle of wine for the house as a thank you for the wonderful hospitality. Jess and I cycled the next morning into the heart of Christchurch to the C4 café. During the bike ride I could help but notice the damage that was caused by the 2010 earthquake, which had happened only a few months after I had last been here. The first thing I noticed was the spire of Christchurch cathedral, near Victoria square, as it was completely destroyed. There was much damage around the city and at times I found it hard to differentiate between emergency repairs and genuine construction work. Jess informed me that around 5:00pm you’ll see more construction workers than people in suits. That night Jess took us 20 minutes outside of Christchurch to walk around Buckley’s bay. The walk was about an hour long and as I usually find with any types of fitness, other than cycling, I struggled! At the top of the hill we had a nice view over Diamond Harbour however, which made it worth the effort! I was getting quite hungry on the return journey down the hill so Jess suggested we go to a little food venue afterwards called Smash Palace. Pulling up on the bicycles we both went up to the bus, which is where they make the food and drinks, and ordered a much needed burger and chips! Coloured lights were draped over the forecourt on catenary wire in a sort of maypole system and we found a seat in a corner and devoured our dinner. It tasted great and I became nostalgic with the thought of sitting in pub gardens back home doing the same thing.

Once I was ready to leave Christchurch I headed back to Christchurch train station. Yes still no cycling! This train was labeled as one of the 7 best train rides in the world, which consisted of a 5-hour journey to Greymouth through the Southern Alps. I was feeling tired and, even though this was a train mecca, I was looking forward to snoozing like the old man. My plans of sleep were dashed however as I was kept awake by the amazing views of mountain peaks and big clear blue skies. The train ride was gentle and slowly wound through the mountain and over bridges, giving me views of the flat plains with crystal clear glacial water running through. During the journey people were constantly taking out there smartphones and fighting each other over the best space to take their photos.

After the train arrived in Greymouth I took a succession of different buses to reach Queenstown, where I met Callum and Charlotte. They were friends from back home and I was instantly happy to see familiar faces. Along with seeing them I had come to Queenstown to try and hike the Routeburn track. However, Callum and Charlotte told me the Routeburn track had suffered from landslides recently so we couldn’t complete the walk. We instead decided to walk up Ben Lomond, a mountain located not far outside the town.

When Callum and Charlotte left Queenstown a few day later I decided to stay a little longer and explore further. When I finally left myself I meet up with them again northeast of Queenstown in a place called Omarama in central Otaga. Now in Omarama I have been staying at the top 10 Holiday park where I’m assisting a guy called Tony with various odd jobs in exchange for accommodation.

Exploring Omarama, South Island. (Above)

Extending my stay

I’ve decided to stay in New Zealand longer than expected after extending my time from November 20th to Feb 16th. I know what you’re thinking by the way……not much cycling has happened so far in New Zealand! During my extra time here I plan to do some exploring on my bike around the South Island before leaving for San Francisco in February. Time off the bicycle has been enjoyable though, but let me assure you I will be putting foot to pedal again, as I can say this with confidence writing this from the “open all hours to provide you with an abundance of crap food choices” McDonalds.

Stay tuned for the next blog entry (New Zealand Part 2) which will feature much more cycling Doolally!

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