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To the end of New Zealand

Posted April 23rd, 2009

492km Raetihi to Te Kouma

Volcanoes in Tongariro National Park!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.

Friedel cycling against a green backdropThe 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. (more…)

Going North

Posted April 15th, 2009

291km Picton to Raetihi

DSC_7917.JPGIt’s a cloudy morning when we reluctantly make the decision to leave the South Island. With only a month left in New Zealand, it’s time to head north. First though, we collect one last South Island treat – fresh mussels straight from the fish plant. A 1kg bag of the tasty molluscs costs just $1.50 so we pack them into Friedel’s back bag and hope they’ll make the trip to Wellington unscathed.

With fresh seafood in tow, we roll down to the ferry terminal, buy a ticket and follow some fading blue lines on the pavement to a spot in the car park where cyclists are supposed to wait. We’re surrounded by ferry workers, who are taking turns putting train carriages into the boat and driving a lot of new cars on board. They’re doing this in reverse and at high speed. “Has there ever been an accident?” we ask. “Oh yeah. Once we crushed an entire truck with a train,” one fellow says proudly. We stand back and let them do their work without any further distractions.

When we roll off the ferry on the other side, it’s clear we are not going to cycle out of the Kiwi capital. There’s traffic flying everywhere on roads that simply aren’t designed with cyclists in mind and we aren’t in any mood to take risks after a German tourer died on New Zealand’s roads a few weeks ago. Stephan had been on the road for 3 years and when he was hit by a logging truck. We didn’t know Stephan but we had several friends in common and it’s a bit too close to home.

Instead, it’s off to the train station for us and thankfully Wellington’s trains are significantly more cyclist-friendly than the roads. The tickets are a snip and the bikes go into a luggage compartment free. The guard even helps unload our bikes when we descend in the seaside settlement of Plimmerton. We’ve come here for the Moana Lodge – a friendly backpackers so close to the beach that the waves sing you to sleep. “Sometimes the guests complain the waves are too loud,” says the owner later in the kitchen, as he tells us all about the ups and downs of running a hostel. (more…)

Cycling through the sounds

Posted April 6th, 2009

264km Seddon to Picton

On our way to Titirangi BayIt’s nearly time for us to start heading north, across Cook Strait and then up the North Island to Auckland, where in just over a month’s time we’ll board a plane for San Francisco. But we don’t want to get on that ferry. Not yet.

We think the picture says it all. It’s hard to find too many cycling photos that rival this view – the gorgeous sight as you reach the end of the Marlborough Sounds and look towards the North Island. Stunning, simply stunning.

Needless to say, the South Island’s charm has grown on us and we’ve forgiven it all those wet and miserable days at the start of our cycling here. Now we’re ooohing and aaahing at the many roads that run through the middle of nowhere and across hilltops, with views down over the cliffs to the aqua blue water far below.

It’s Kenepuru Road that’s caught our latest fancy. Right at the top end of the South Island, between the mussel capital of Havelock and the ferry docks at Picton, it dips and twists its way around a seemingly endless string of bays and sandy beaches. The traffic is light, there are practically no shops – just mile after mile of breathtaking landscapes.

Does it get more beautiful than this?We resolve to take it slow out here. Who needs to rush with five days of food on board, a plastic bottle full of petrol for our stove (it’s back to more primitive methods here for carrying extra fuel, none of these ‘approved filling containers’ for us) and a decision to give up showering for the better part of a week? These are the sacrifices we make for beautiful roads! (more…)

The Molesworth Road

Posted March 31st, 2009

507km Geraldine to Seddon

dsc_7802“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” is a common refrain from people when they consider bicycle touring. We always reply that this trip is 90% mental and just 10% physical. A small hill can seem like a mountain if you’re in a bad mood but with the right attitude, and a good supply of trail mix, you can scale peak after peak.

With this in mind, we made sure to put our ‘happy hats’ on as we breezed through the spa town of Hanmer Springs (stopping only to share a 1 litre tub of Hokey Pokey ice cream, the Kiwi favourite) and turned right for the Molesworth Road. In the 1800s, this was true pioneer territory as the explorers of the day searched the land, looking for rich grazing pastures and a shorter route between Christchurch and Nelson. Today it’s the country’s largest working farm and only open to the public for a few months each year.

As we turned right onto the dirt road, we wondered how much had really changed since those early days. We could imagine the men trekking their way up the same path as we pushed our bikes, carrying several days worth of food over the loose gravel, rutted surface and steep grades. Every car covered us in a fine layer of dust as it flew by on the way to Jacks Pass.

Just how much food were we carrying? That’s 1kg of porridge oats, 1kg of trail mix (our own blend of raw nuts, seeds, raisins and dried apricots) (more…)

Adventure is not in the guidebook

Posted March 22nd, 2009

478km Dunedin to Geraldine

“Adventure is not in the guidebook
And beauty is not on the map
Seek and ye shall find”
-Terry & Renny Russell, On the Loose

dsc_7700.jpgWe saw this inscription on a stone in the tranquil graveyard of the Church of the Holy Innocents, near Mount Peel and not far from the South Island city of Christchurch. It was one of those phrases that just struck a chord. So often we feel our trip is less about the places we’ve been and the sights we’ve seen than how we’ve grown and changed as people as we’ve cycled down the road.

It’s hard to describe how free we feel, pedalling our bikes as we did this week in Otago, with the landscape stretching out in front of us, all shades of gold in the autumn fields and intense blue in the sky. This is something we never knew existed before we left, not the landscape but the pure joy we could feel in a place like this.

There we are, on the little dirt roads that have become our favourite spots to bike. They’re hard going sometimes but they take you through these marvellous gorges and over high passes, where you barely see a car and spend most of your day talking to the sheep (although they never talk back and maybe that’s the charm of it – they’re a good listening ear when you have to figure something out).

dsc_7689.jpgOur day is broken by the spotting of some mushrooms far off in a field (we’ve found about 20 of them now, all giant and delicious eating!) or an apple tree loaded down with fruit and we fill our bags with all the excitement of kids at Christmas and carry on.

And at the end of the day, if we’re in a really good place, we pitch our tent off to the side somewhere, like we did as we rode the rail trail between the villages of Middlemarch and Ranfurly, and listen to the silence of the evening descending. There’s nothing out there. Just the sound of the sheep munching on the last bit of grass and maybe our campstove being lit up for a late cup of tea and then, as the last rays of the sun sink beneath the horizon, just quiet and us and the stars.

DSC_7743.JPGIf we’ve come close to heaven on this trip, then it must be in places like these and you do wonder, when life can be so fulfilling with such simple pleasures, do we ever really want to go back to a 9 to 5 job? It’s been on our minds a lot lately because, after all, we’ve been doing this cycling thing for over 2 years now and in September we’ll be back where we started (or at least that’s the plan and you know all about the best laid plans but all you can do is make them and hope for the best) and then what? Do we keep going or try out one of those crazy schemes we’ve come up with on the road for refilling the bank account?

Or maybe we should just ‘settle down’ – whatever that means. We increasingly get the feeling that’s what we should be doing, according to the more conventional rules of life. “Do you really think you’ll get work when you get back?” comes the question now more and more often when people discover just how long we’ve been out of the loop. Yes, well, we hope so but who’s to say for sure? If we were adventurous and resourceful enough to quit our jobs for a life on the road in the first place we can only hope that we’ll somehow figure out how to do the same thing in reverse but nothing is for certain. This is an adventure definitely not in any guidebook and we’re still seeking the answers.