492km Raetihi to Te Kouma
For most cyclists, New Zealand ends at Bluff, the little township at the bottom end of the South Island that faces out to the ocean and the icy world of Antarctica. But for us, New Zealand finished on the Coromandel Peninsula, in the tranquil sheltered bay of Te Kouma.
We arrived there on a sunny autumn afternoon, the culmination of 11 days cycling from Wellington through gorges, over high plateaus and around vast lakes. Like most of our farewells to a country, this one brought a strange mixture of jubilation and sadness. We celebrated completing another country with fresh oysters from a seaside shop (divine with a dusting of freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkling of chilli sauce) and then settled down in a park to ponder the next step: San Francisco and a summer in North America.
The next few months will bring some of the world’s most soulful scenery our way, from Rocky Mountain highs to lonely prairie plains and all the while we’ll be getting steadily closer to home. In a way, we’ve been edging slowly homeward from the day we stepped our our front doors. The whole time we’ve worked our way further and further east, knowing that inevitably we’d return to where we took our first pedal strokes, just outside Montreal, and to where we grew up, in the Maritime provinces. But it was hard to imagine this while we walked through the souks of the Middle East, camped out with nomads in Central Asia or cycled through remote villages in Laos.
Now, after nearly 3 years in the saddle, our arrival in North America will be the first time we’re back in our home culture, a place we ought to know and understand intimately. Instead we’re bracing for a second round of culture shock, the same kind that hit us when we entered Australia from Singapore. We know that many friends and family are waiting to see us, and that will be wonderful, but what we’re far less sure about is whether Canada will feel like home at all or ever again.
One thing is for sure. We won’t have time for much leisurely contemplation once we reach San Francisco. With an ambitious goal of cycling up to 8,000km in just 5 months, including a few weeks visiting folks along the way, we’ll be putting in some long days to reach Nova Scotia before the snow flies. Then it’ll be time to sit back with a hard-earned mug of hot chocolate, admire the glorious autumn colours we’ve missed so much while we’ve been away and ask ourselves the big question. What next?