Yo peeps and peepettes

Well I managed to get out of Oz. Left Andy’s house after a great 3 days chilling and doing normal stuff like eating take-aways and going to the cinema. Andy was a great host although she was a bit shocked to hear Morgan had only known me for a few days. She was under the impression that we’d been mates in SA. She handled this new found knowledge with aplomb though and didn’t throw me out which was a bonus.

I had a bit of a hiccup at the airport as it turns out you need a flight out of NZ before they’ll let you in. I found this out at the check in desk so I had 15 minutes to decide when I’m leaving NZ, where I’m flying from and then buy a ticket to America. After a quick rush round to the Travel Agent, which is no easy feat when you have a bike balanced on a trolley, I managed to get myself a ticket from Auckland to LA for March 31st. This gives me around 75 days in NZ.

Each section of my journey I seem to have a theme. The theme for NZ is going to be meandering and taking it easy. The theme in Oz was meeting great people and making sure I did enough miles so that cycling round the world in under a year was attainable. With that pretty much done I can now meander and take it easy so I’ve given myself a target of 3000 miles to be cycled in 75 days.

I arrived in Christchurch (ChCh) at 1am on January 14th. Rowena and Morgan had arranged a place for me to stay in ChCh with Rowena’s sister, Ange and her husband, Ives. Ange had offered to pick me up from the airport but, in true cycling round the world fashion, I declined and decided to ride the 20 miles or so from the airport to the suburb of Sumner. Probably not one of my brighter ideas as I was cycling through the city at closing time for the clubs so took a mixture of abuse and well wishes from the drunkards staggering home. I also happened to get my most random bit of abuse ever when I guy shouted at me “You look like a terrorist mate” which got me wondering what terrorists look like in NZ and made my instantly suspicious of anybody on a bike with panniers.

Additional excitement was provided once I got to Sumner and attempted to find Ange’s house. Ange had said she’d leave the key outside in a shoe. In NZ a lot of the houses are sub-divisions so 2/15 means the second house of number 15. Morgan had just written down the number 2 and I didn’t know about the whole sub division thing so went looking for the first house with a 2 on the outside. I found some shoes outside number 2 but no keys. After searching for a while I figured I best knock on the door and after some serious knocking an old lady answered the door and I figured this wasn’t the right house. Luckily she was the old lady of the confident and sprightly sort rather than the panicky call the police sort and wasn’t vaguely worried about inviting a stranger into her house at 4am. I had a phone number and a surname so she went through the phone book and found me the correct address I was looking for. 100 metres more pedaling and I was at the right place and into a welcome bed.

Next afternoon I woke up and met my hosts Ange and Ives. Like her sister Rowena, Ange is one of those people where nothing is too much trouble. I thought it was pretty revealing when I noticed a book on her shelf called “How to Say No More”. If you’ve met someone who everyone thinks needs to say no more then you’ve usually met a great person. I recommended she read Danny Wallace’s “Yes Man” in an effort to counteract the negative effects of the other book. Ives is one of the most active people I’ve ever met. One day while I was lying around reading he went rock climbing, surfing and mountain biking. In a way he reminded me of one of those religious people except his religion is fun. If they weren’t out doing something fun and active then they were planning something fun and active.

On about my third day there, I had the option of mountain biking with the guys or a road ride with the girls. I’d been out with Ives for a quick jaunt on the MTB the day before and apart from being beasted up a hill, I realised my MTBing skills were even more appalling than when I was in England. I had zero balance. Maybe if someone had chucked on 35kgs of panniers I’d have been better but that didn’t seem in the spirit. So I decided to go out riding with the girls hopeful I’d get a bit of an easier ride. I’d like to say that my decision was in no way influenced by the idea of cycling with 5 lycra clad women before anybody says anything.

The easier ride didn’t quite materialise as I expected. The ride was short but involved a 6 km climb straight from the off. The girls were all pretty fit and we set a decent pace going up the hill. I had the excuse that I was on an unloaded Bessie, with her big racks and wide tires, and they were all on light road bikes but it’s just that, an excuse. It was a great ride though and riding without panniers felt like heaven. I pushed the pedals and the bike actually responded. I was climbing with the speedo showing double figures instead of the usual 4 miles an hour. The weather was also great and the views of ChCh and the surrounding bays were awesome. It was just an added bonus that I was cycling with 5 women and got big smiles of “lucky bastard” from the blokes we’d pass going the opposite way. That’s what amazed me about ChCh. At any given time the ratio of male to female cyclists was pretty much equal. In England most cycling clubs are pretty much all male and it’s a shame these divisions exist as it’s great that weekends and activities can be planned where everyone can take part fully.

By Thursday I’d run out of excuses to hang around Ange and Ives’ place. Bessie was fully serviced and with a new chain, rear cassette and front rings, we were ready for the hills of NZ. I’d had a great time and, once again, I was completely in awe of the kindness of strangers. Every time I start a new section of my journey is feels daunting for some reason. Like it did the day I left home. The feeling goes after a few days but that first day is a bit of a “first day at school” moment and I have no idea what to expect. “Will I be able to find places to sleep?”, “Will I be able to find Stagg Chili?” and “Are the cows as friendly in NZ?” are just some of the questions troubling me. Yes, with great difficultly and no are the answers in case you were wondering.

Luckily I was ready for the hills as within 2 minutes of leaving it was climb time. Evan’s Pass was first on the agenda, a little 3km, 250 metre climb to let the legs know they ain’t in Oz no more. This was following by Gebble’s Pass, similar to Evans and then 20 miles of flat before my main course of a 6 km, 450 m climb over to the French town of Akaroa. None of the climbs were that steep, just long and constant. Having said that I had the reward of the great descents and as with pretty much every descent in NZ, I was accompanied by great scenery to take the pain out of the climbs and add even more pleasure on the way down. That night, I arrived in Akaroa and set up camp next to the lake.

In the morning I headed into the small French town of Akaroa. It was founded by a group of French settlers in 19th century and has tried to retain some of it’s French charm so you cycle down Rue Lavaud, turn left into Rue Benoit while passing all the shops with cheesy French names. While there I was asked by a old lady if I’d take part in a questionnaire. I say old lady but now I realise she was actually the devil in old lady form. After helping her with the questionnaire she suggested an alternative route back out of Akaroa that, while a bit steeper than the way I’d come in, would mean I wouldn’t lose any height once I’d done the climb. One half of her advice was an outrageous understatement and the other half was an outright lie. The road she sent me up was a 4 km, 650 m world of pain. It works out to an average gradient of around 1 in 6 but this only tells half the story as the first 2 km aren’t that bad, maybe 1 in 8 before you get to the last 2 kms of 1 in 4. You know things aren’t looking good when the cars go past in 1st gear with the passengers looking at you sympathetically. At the top I started pedaling along what’s the lip of an old volcano. This would be the section where I don’t lose or gain any height that Beelzebub had been referring to but which turned out to be a sequence of steep down hills followed by steeper up hills. I eventually dragged myself into Little River, having taken 5 hours to cycle 30 miles, set up camp and passed out.

After Little River I headed inland, avoiding the main highways, heading for the quieter, more scenic regions along the Southern Alps that run down the spine of the South Island. My intention was to head south and then kick further inland again towards the Lakes region before coming back out to the coast again along the Otago Rail Trail.

My route took me over Burke’s Pass which was my first climb since Akaroa. It was 750m and after my pasting at the hands of the 650 m climb out of Akaroa, I approached it with some trepidation. I got to the town of Burke’s Pass which is at the foot of the climb and, engaging in some top class procrastination, I got talking to some locals. First question I asked was how high was the climb and I was told it was 750 m which I already knew. Next question was the important one, how long was the climb? 2 kms I was told. I did some calculations and worked out I was looking at a 1 in 3 climb. Luckily the women I’d asked saw my look of horror and explained that I was already at 550 m and had been climbing unnoticed for the last 40 kms so I now had a nice little saunter of 1 in 10 for the remainder. One thing I’ve learnt about NZ is that it isn’t the mountain passes you need to worry about. They’re usually gradual and the biggest test is of your patience as you twiddle up them for hours on end. It’s the rolling hills that’ll hurt you as you constantly lose and gain height over a very short space of time.

It was here that I also figured out why Kiwis are the leaders in the world of extreme sports. I reckon they suffer from danger envy. Kiwis have been hearing Aussies go on and on about how dangerous Oz is and how they have 9 out 10 of the most dangerous snakes and how “YOU’RE GONNA DIE” if you do anything, that the Kiwis had to even things up by doing bungee jumping, cave rafting, river sledging and anything else you can think of that’ll kill you.

After Burke’s Pass I headed to the stunning Lake Tekapo. The lakes in this region have been given the most vivid hue of blue from fine rock left behind when they were created by the encroaching glaciers. If you get there on a clear day, the shade of blue is enhanced by the reflection from the sky and even more special. It was 30C when I arrived and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so I sat and had a nice long lunch by the lake before setting off for Lake Pukaki with it’s much vaunted views of Mt Cook. Since I’d come over Burke’s Pass I’d had majestic views of the Southern Alps. It makes putting in the miles so much easier when you have such amazing scenery around you.

I arrived at Lake Pukaki and noticed a spot by the lake with a few tents already erected. I headed over that way and pitched my tent. I was dying for a cup of tea but didn’t have any milk so asked one of my fellow campers if I could borrow some milk. She looked at me a bit funny, said yes, so I wandered back to my camp and brought my cup over. We got talking and I asked if they wanted some books as I had some I’d finished and I know it can be difficult to find decent books to which they said yes. After I came over with the books they invited me to join them They introduced themselves as Nikki and Heather, two Northern English girls from over the Lakes way. They’d been traveling round India and Sri Lanka before coming to NZ and after talking to them, India and Sri Lanka are now on my agenda. We had a fair bit in common as Heather worked in a bike shop when she wasn’t at uni and had been to a talk given by Alastair Humphreys, a guy who’s the round the world cyclist of round the world cyclists and someone I’d gotten some advice from in the past. We lit a fire and Nikki pointed out one of the most awesome comets I’ve ever seen which easily took up a third of the sky.

Nikki also explained why she’d looked at me funny when I asked for milk. A guy had asked them for milk the night before and they’d said yes. In the morning, they’d left their tents and gone for a walk and the guy had gone into their tents and covered the inside of the tent with honey which was one of the more random acts of tent vandalism I’d heard of. Hopefully I left them with a more positive impression of milk borrowers. Great thing that came out of our meeting was that I think I convinced them to cycle the Bangkok to Singapore route as their next place to go. They left their email addresses so I can send details when I get back and I can also answer any questions they may have. The more long distance cyclists the better.

The next morning I headed for the fearsome Mt Cook which just a few days before had claimed the lives of some Japanese climbers. The road hugs Lake Pukaki for the 55kms from the turn off and so you’ve got the majestic Mt Cook in front of you and the distinctive blue of the lake to your right. A truly awesome ride. I camped in the DOC park for the night and set off again in the morning. Along the way I noticed a bloke riding an Orbit bike which are made in Sheffield so I figured he’d be a northerner. Turns out he was from Seacroft in Leeds just across from where I used to live in East End Park. He’d cycled across America twice in both directions so I got some advice from him with regards to my route. Seems everyone I meet has an influence on where I’m heading.

I left Paul in the small town of Twizel and headed for the town of Omarama where I found another great spot to camp next to the river. Seems I find a great spot to camp every night in NZ and they’ve all been free which increases the pleasure. In the morning I left Omarama and headed over Lindis Pass which is a 1000 m climb but one of those long gradual climbs with an even better long gradual descent on the other side. Think I measured that I didn’t have to pedal for 10 kms on the other side. I also met a great looking Chilean girl called Claudia in the tiny town of Tarras. Her English wasn’t that great and she was trying to explain to me that she’d seen some guys cycling the South Island on unicycles. This involved a game of charades with her trying to describe their seats to me which looked more like she was telling me she’d met some guys with massive erections. I was going to say fair enough but eventually I figured out the unicycle thing. She was amazed that South America wasn’t on my itinerary and set about selling the place to me which wasn’t too difficult. Further down the road I stopped to help a young guy who was having problems with his bike. After we had it sorted, we cycled along together. He asked me how old I was and when I told him he said it was great that someone my age was cycling round the world. The highs of Claudia to the lows of some 14 year old kid making me feel my age in the space of 15 miles.

The next day I joined the famous Otago Central Rail Trail (OCRT) which is 150 kms of disused Railway Track that the DOC have converted into a trail for cyclists and walkers. It took me in the direction of Dunedin which I was headed for as I’d ran out of books a few days before. Running out of books is fatal to my attempts to take things easy as I start increasing my mileage in an effort to get to a bookshop. The OCRT is brilliant with no steep hills, unbelievable scenery and most of the time it’s just you out there on your own. With it’s tunnels and viaducts you really get a sense of traveling the gold fields of the past. The track is a bit rough in places but Bessie handled it all with her 2 inch wide MTB-style tires. It made a welcome change from pounding the roads. As a bonus there’s a sequence of huts along the way and I spent the night in one of the better ones and had a great sleep. People ask me if I ever get lonely when I’m out there on my own but the time I most wish I was with someone is when there’s something positive to share. The tough times I get through on my own and the monotony of endless miles I can cope with. It’s those moments when you see something amazing or find that great place to sleep for the night that you kind of wish there was someone there. I guess more so that you’d have someone to reminisce with when it’s finished.

As I said earlier, my theme for NZ would be meandering and taking it easy. I’d decided to go for an average mileage of around 40 miles a day, a lot less than the 60 miles a day I’d been aiming for in Oz. I wanted to see more of NZ and I’d figured reducing my mileage and meandering more would help. So far I’ve succeeded only in the meandering aspect of my aim and I’m still averaging similar miles to Oz. I just seems that’s the mileage I feel comfortable doing. I’ve done 700 miles since I left ChCh and a direct route would have been 200 miles. This may mean I leave NZ with more miles than my target which will have an impact on my route through North America. After talking to Paul I’m considering another route which wouldn’t involve Canada and, weather-wise, would be a better option. I don’t have to decide for another month or so but I need to buy a ticket to the UK to fulfill my visa requirements before I leave NZ.

Anyways best go. Apologies that it’s another long one and well done to anyone who makes it to the end of this email. The South Island is low on internet cafes but high on great things to write about.


Lots of Love,

Craig. XXX

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