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Biking Around NZ - December Diary

1st Dec 2010 - up to the Coromandel Peninsula

rose garden and imperial bath house in rotoruaFrom Rotorua to Omokoroa, about 53 miles. Leaving the campsite we passed a scotsman which reminded us of our recent tour around southern scotland and the rather run down splendours of Gretna Green and so we set off singing (Piaf style) 'Je ne regretna Green'... We started off by doing a quick tour of Rotorua - impressive early 20th Century english style central bath house. But more delightful still were the roses in the nearby gardens. The blooms seemed even bigger than the ones in England. And the scent of roses was lovely - pervading the whole area. Which is a pleasant change from sulphur which is the predominant smell of Rotorua. It would be a great place to do Mozart's Don Giovanni since the final dragging down to hell could be done with the aid of a hot thermal spot. The picture is, of course, of the bath house (now a rather expensive art museum) surrounded by rose gardens.Eventually we sped off around Lake Rotorua, in heavy traffic. Then out on the Tauranga Direct Road (we would have preferred an indirect road but couldn't find one). Up and down was the style of the day - rarely level. On an early incline we both had mechanical problems together - my cable snapped so all my back gears stopped working and guy's gears got stuck with the chain catching awkwardly. Luckily on the way out of Rotorua we'd passed a bike shop and I'd bought a spare cable. So we had lunch...Another 20 miles off up and down biking saw us into Tauranga where we shopped, missed out the middle of town, and swung up the coast on the horrendously busy 2A with signs for Auckland 200 kms. Hauled up at Omokoroa Holiday Park after about 10 miles ($30 for the both of us - I think we got some sort of kindly biker concession). We drank the beat beeer aso far of the trip - both from Dunedin breweries - Emerson's Wheat Beer and Green Man Brewery's Green Man Stout. Both absolutely delicious. The campsite has got lots of international school students about. Apparently they'll be off at 7am, which is a bit earlier than us.

2nd Dec 2010 - Pacific Beaches...

katikati mural of local schoolA very pleasant days cycling that started, after a brief 6 km visit to Omokoroa harbour, unpleasantly by a bike ride along State Highway 2 for about 21 kms to Katikati, a place that is noted for its murals (I'll try to upload some examples) where we had an early lunch. The murals are pretty good but I don't think I saw anything that was quite as good as the murals that we saw on the NW coast of America. Still, they gave a delightful depth to the history of the area that's rapidly disappearing under the weight of new development. For this coastal area is evidently a real estate hot spot where the Californian lifestyle can be enjoyed to the full - indeed pickup trucks are ubiquitous.... and it does require oil supplies permitting. Then sped on to Waihi Beach where the surf was good - ideal for the intermediate surfer so Steve was a little subdued (someone was paddling out as we stared at the surf)....On the other hand we did see plenty of evidence that they do dump raw sewage in the sea - an outfall straight into the Pacific. They evidently need Surfers Against Sewage here too. But the need to maximise profit on development may count against them.views of the pacific near opoutereWe then headed north for Opoutere where there's a Youth Hostel. There's a pleasant road through Golden Valley that we used to avoid the main road. Then along the coastal highway for about 20 kms to Whangamata where we found a New World store to stock up. Then on along through low wooded hills to the Youth Hostel at OpoutereI booked in and, having noticed various signs about bikers getting a low carbon discount asked for the said discount. The member of staff looked utterly puzzled even though she had two notices in her own hostel advertising this discount! I took her to the notice which after a bit of sighing she agreed appeared to offer us a discount. Then she said she needed to phone head office to check. Obviously (to us but not to her!).the head office would be closed at 7.40pm. So I haven't paid and everything is delayed until after 9am tomorrow. This low carbon traveller scheme seems to be, like so much eco stuff, hardly used. The reaction is not good - as if you are pulling a fast one so there's evidently a bit of a gap in staff training. Plus they don't seem to have heard of it. But then again we all know that what really counts in most of New Zealand, beautiful and friendly as it is, is not being eco but the property developer's profit margin.We walked to the huge Pacific - still nice waves - on a beach settling into darkness.....

3rd Dec 2010 - to Whaitanga along the Coromandel Coast

mercury bay commemorative plaqueAbout 40 miles, from Opoutere to Whaitanga (Harbourside Holiday Park). We discovered that you can go from Coromandel town to Auckland on a passenger ferry. zit takes, we were told by a man walking along the shore, bikes. The price is, according to their web site, about $50 dollars. So we are now doing the trip to Coromandel Town tomorrow with the idea of catching the late afternoon ferry. There's only one ferry on a Saturday. Today, after we finally paid and did indeed get the low carbon traveller discount (and not only are we cycling we're planting trees to offset the carbon of our plane flight here) we cycled the pretty delightful miles from Opoutere then along to Cook's Bay, where Steve swam in the dear old Pacific rollers (pretty small) and we saw where Captain Cook landed in order to measure the transit of mercury. Hence the bigger bay's name - Mercury Bay. Then we got a little passenger ferry that took us across to Whaitanga where we stopped cycling at about 5pm, a pretty early stop for us.People exclaim, just as they did in the USA about how tough it must be cycling. Of course, once your legs are used to it and the bike is mechanically sound it isn't particularly tough at all. I guess for a portly non-cyclist it would be a recipe for a heart attack but they just need to start small and work up to it. Don't think they'll bother. The weather today was perfect cycling weather - 24 degrees centigrade and partly cloudy. The hills today were relatively lengthy but a nice gradient usually and the lower temperatures made them quite enjoyable. And the downhills are pretty good.Drank Coromandel beer - Easy Rider - which was one of those biscuity hoppy fruity things. Brewed in Coromandel Town.

4th Dec 2010 - We've Reached Auckland...

view back along the road at the big col between whitianga and coromandel townCycled from Whaitanga Harbourside Holiday Park to Hannaford's Wharf - a total of about 60 km, so about 40 miles. Then got the ferry into Auckland where we are now at rest in the Youth Hostel dining room plowing our way through a very large amount of tea, preceded by a bottle of DB Export. Ah they have teapots here....! The ride from Whaitanga went over a modest col early on, but then, between Te Rerenga and Coromandel Town there was a really impressive climb, I guess of over a thousand feet, with stunning views over the Coromandel coast.
view over coromandel town from the big colWe saw lots of fishing tackle and boats today - this is evidently a favourite place to go out on the sea to catch fish. In Coromandel Town we booked ferry tickets to Auckland and discovered we had one hour to get to the little Wharf where the boats call. This sounded OK but we couldn't afford a puncture. About half way Guy got a puncture.... We fixed this as rapidly as possible and sped on. Guy's bike was limping along because the whole tyre had been blown open along a slit and it looked like the slit could spread. We headed along a road that turned to gravel, bah...! But we did make it with about 10 mins to spare. The boat sped along (catamaran) between the islands of Auckland Harbour with tremendous views of sea, islands and mountain. It reminded me of a greek ferry weaving its way in the cyclades. But without the jangly music. Anyway, booked in, ate tofu in a cheap Thai place and returned with milk and a bottle of DB Export (NZ's historic beer apparently) to the hostel.

5th Dec 2010 - A Day in Auckland...

auckland0 miles on route because we decided to sort out Guy's tyre before proceeding, and to try to fix up a train and ferry so we can do a round trip on bikes to Cape Reinga from here in Auckland and then be whisked back to Wellington and the ferry before everything stops for Christmas. Well it turned out that train bookings are shut until Monday so that didn't work but we did the following useful things: got a tyre and inner tube for Guy's bike, visited the Auckland Art Gallery (reduced version owing to redevelopment), visited the Winter Gardens (lovely hot and cool houses) including the fern garden, visited a brew pub called the Shakespeare Tavern (a raspberry beer and a stout were their brews alongside several others,both good), and generally exhausted ourselves walking around the relatively ugly but interesting city (yes, it doesn't look pretty, just like a sunny Manchester really). We also discovered that the ferry out to a northern suburb doesn't run very often so we'll probably just plough through the sububs by bike. Finished with another cheap and excellent Thai meal from just up the hill from the hostel. Now drinking tea and considering our route when not reading books (Port Tarascon by Daudet in my case, Guy is reading Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian - which I just read for the third time).

6th Dec 2010 - The Unbearable Awkwardness of (getting out of) Auckland

owera beachFrom Auckland to Whangateau Family Holiday Park. About 53 miles (c. 85 kms). The morning was pretty busy since Guy needed to fit his tyre and then we wanted to book a train/ferry ticket all the way from Auckland to Picton on South Island - this is so we can be on the quieter island when it gets to be Christmas. We managed to book the tickets for the 20th December. The ferries get very booked up over Christmas so you have to book ahead. Then we got the ferry across the harbour to Devonport (really wanted the ferry to Gulf Harbour but that only runs commuting hours - would have allowed us to mias the endless suburban sprawl of Auckland), had a first lunch there outside the New World supermarket, looked for books (which we haven't the space to carry) in Devonport's secondhand bookshops and finally cycled out on Lake Road. The main road out of Auckland is the SH1 and it's a motorway with bikes banned. After Lake Road we found our way to the East Coast Road which held good pretty much to the big junction where we deviated off to Orewa, where Steve went to the sea and floated around in the small (yes, very) surf - you can see the situation in the picture, taken just after my dip. Surf vans were drawn up with sad looking surfers - though the water was really warm 'cos it is shallow a long way out (indeed, I found it hard to get out of knee depth). Then we ploughed on inland to where the coast road meets the SH1, by now no longer a motorway, and headed north.This is very like cycling on a busy bit of the non-motorway A1 in the UK. The problem is that there is not a continuous shoulder all along it that is fit to cycle on at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour, plus slow bits where we crawl up steep hills. The shoulder is sometimes good but sometimes they have skimped on the tarmac, just doing up to the white line in smooth stuff. And sometimes the shoulder disappears - most notably at just about every bridge - so at most valley bottoms. And the huge trailer pulling trucks are often not inclined to obey the law that you see advertised about giving bikes 1.5m room.... so a truck goes past at high speed rather too near. Cars are mostly ok apart from the fairly rare bone head. They also put studs and textures into the white line so crossing the line between shoulder and carriageway requires care - especially after speeding down a hill and reaching a bridge with no shoulder... And then there are glass bottles and tops ready to slice your tyre if you aren't paying attention. So you really do need to take care on SH1 and similar. Passed a honey farm just before Warkworth but we were, as cyclists so often are, a bit too slow to catch them open... [We managed to visit it in the end, when we were cycling back down from Cape Reinga - see the entry for 17th December].Anyhow, reached Warkworth without too much trouble and headed off towards Whangateau and Leigh. A much quieter road though fast. Sped along to Whangateau and pitched, cooked and read. Two excellent beers - Wobbly Boot (dark beer) from Harringtons and Pig and Whistle (Harringtons again). The Wobbly Boot is superb and deserves a prize. Hope we see the brewery in Christchurch.Interesting fact of the day - Auckland has only 1 million inhabitants but sprawls over approx the same area as London due to its low rise bungalow and lawn infested nature. Makes it a bit unmanageable surely if oil ever gets really dear.

7th Dec 2010 - Gum Diggers and Kauri Trees

the wharf at leighFrom Whangateau Family Holiday Park to Paparoa Motor Camp, about 56 miles (I guess about 84 kms). Headed out at about 10.20am and stopped briefly to see the Wharf at Leigh - it does indeed look great for snorkelling and there's an island just offshore called Goat Island covered in bush. Slow progress because of a big hill with a downhill that turned to gravel and then another hill after Pakiri. Finally sped up when the road wound along a valley through to Wellsford. Saw a friendly mountain biker who encouraged us onward on the first of the day's ascents. Why are racing cyclists so uncommunicative? They rarely respond to our presence with a wave - just too cool perhaps to talk to two sweaty slow heavy tourers. We are very likely doing more miles than them... Certainly more effort. Wellsford had a museum of the settlement of the area - their big day is 29th May when the celebrate the first ship leaving England. Apparently most of the migrants came from Brum or Nottingham and got a package including 50 acres of land. But the land was bush and clearing it for farming was no joke. Some simply stayed in Auckland. Gum digging was part of clearing the land - after the big kauri trees were cut down, the gum diggers dug up the lumps of resin from the centuries of kauri trees (which are restricted to this area north). Tomorrow we'll be going to the Kauri Museum. They tried to get a colony called Port Albert going, named after Queen Victoria's beloved deceased husband. It didn't work too well but Wellsford is doing OK.Lots of lovely old curious objects - gumdiggers wore a proper suit on their evenings in town or when having their proper photo taken and so saw some great old photos of the life of a gum digger.We then ploughed reluctantly along the SH1 again, now a little quieter than when we saw it near Wellington.Then turned off at Brynderwyn and made it to Paparoa by about 7pm. The hills are less steep on this side of the peninsula (at the moment at least). Paid over 7 dollars for a packet of Nut cornflakes just so we can have a breakfast tomorrow am! (that's about £3.50). $14 each for this pleasant small campsite. Enjoying Port Tarascon (Daudet, free Kindle ebook) and it seems surprisingly relevant since it is a silly french story about a colony of southern french people who are duped into founding a colony on a sodden Pacific island, led by the heroic buffoon Tartarin...

8th Dec 2010 - More Kauris and a Slight Buckle in my Wheel

kauri museum - guy looking small beside a kauri tree chunkFrom Paparoa Motor Camp to Dept of Conservation (DOC) trounson forest campsite about 60 miles, veru fortunately lots of them were flat and we had the wind behind us a fair bit., First of all we went to the Kauri Museum. Kauris are probably more often known as gum trees. They were cleared in by the thousand as the settlers got the land ready for farming. They can grow to an immense size and the kauri museum gave examples of this through photos and logs from trees that had been cut down. They are certainly amazing trees. They exude a resin when damaged so an old tree can have a mass of resin or gum around its roots. So when the land had been cleared there was a period when gum diggers would recover the gum from the ground. The value of this was not just commercial in terms of polish, etc, but also the gum could be shaped and polished so it had an ornamental quality like jet. The Kauri Museum gave us the story of the lives of gum diggers and just about everyone else that was part of the kauri exploitation ecosystem, right down to the life of the towns that grew up as the settlers began to farm.The area is and was heavily beef and dairy focussed. As a veggie that doesn't produce that much of use to me, though milk is certainly useful. It is sad to see how little there is left of the Kauri forests. It's also a evident that the vegetarian is a rare creature around here.After two hours at the museum we zoomed off to Ruawei where we got lunch from a Four Square supermarket *nd ate it by the broad river estuary. Margaret, a statistician from Cambridge chatted to us. Her positive description of the DOC campsite that I'm now at was part of the reason for coming here. She mentioned that NZ is in a mild recession so it isn't that easy to get work here at the moment. We discussed travelling. She asked if we were permanent cycle tourists living cheap for years on end. We liked the idea but confessed to having jobs to go back to. I guess there are eternal cyclists moving around continental blocks wiith the seasons but that isn't our situation. We've heard tales of these mythical (?) creatures before, who cycle between climate zones following an endless summer. You'd need a bit more money...We eventually headed up to Dargaville - flat with a following wind. We then hung around shopping and munching for an amazing hour outside the Countdown supermarket. And finally at 6pm we headed to where we now, once again helped by the wind and a gentle valley road. Finally did the hilliest bit of the day in the final 8kms to the DoC campsite. Moderately busy but settled down to a nice salad with some Mac's black beer deagged her, mostly by me (Steve). My rear wheel wasn't too happy (too much beer perhaps?) and a spoke gave way about half way from Dargaville. I can cope by slackening off my back brakes a bit so the resulting wobble in my back wheel doesn't cause the wheel to catch. Hmmmm, last time a spoke broke in that wheel was near Mallaig when heading for a ferry and it didn't get mended until we got back home.Now off to bed.Now off to bed.

9th Dec 2010 - Darby and Joan, Enormous Trees

darby and joan kauris, clive parker and guyFrom Trounson Park DOC to Rawene Motor Camp. About 42 miles. We started the day with walks in the kauri reserves. The kauri is what would have been called a gum tree but it is a lot more than something for our benefit. It's a big part of the bush ecosystem. The trees are huge - more than the length of a car (well, my car is a fiat panda) wide. They zoom up to a height before breaking into a fine set of branches not totally unlike, to my eyes, a scots pine. We eventually got going at, oh dear, about 1pm. And the road rapidly turned into gravel. So we crawled along for about 7kms before we met the main road (SH12) at a high point from where we zoomed down. At the bottom we found a visitors centre, where we ate a pretty hopeless diet of cream cake and chocolate chunks. I had a cup of coffee too. And a few old roast peanuts. This diet did help us push on up the hill from the visitors centre, which passed several big kauri trees including the delightfully named Darby and Joan where we met a cyclist - Clive Parker (see www.cliveparker.co.uk) who we had a good chat with about bikes, touring, touring cyclists we'd met, and a few other things. We cycled together for a short few kms but he is lighter and. frankly, a bit faster than us (inclined as we are to endless diversions, visits, photo opportunities, impromtu swims, literary moments, etc, etc).
Tane Mahuta - king of the forest kauri treeSaw the Lord of the Forest - the biggest tree, we are told, in NZ (tho' we were suspicious). It is, though, enormous. It's the biggest aspidistra, no kauri, in the world, well NZ anyway. Now running a bit late, we sped through Opononi - a very pretty location but you're a long way from Auckland's money and second homes here I think. The population density of northern scotland I'd guess and not so many well paid jobs or even perhaps jobs. Then, after a quick shop, we reached Rawene a little after 7pm....The views over the estuary are wonderful. Sea and mountains and a big sky, turning mauve as the sun started to sink.

10th Dec 2010 - Quiet Backroads Towards 90 Mile Beach

near rawene - mangroves and hillsFrom Rawene Motor Camp through to Ariha, about 47 miles. After trying to see Clendon House - a house with a long history, not grand, but very much of the early days of NZ. But it was only open at weekends and today is Friday. So we got lunch for our journey and caught the 11.30am ferry for the short crossing across the estuary. Then the road was speedy along the estuary followed by a climb over a modest saddle and then down to where we headed for the coast. Then had lunch about 11kms along at Broadwood, where there was a four square mini mart. Then another 20 kms to the next junction, and then a quick 17kms over a slightly less hilly road until we reached the junction for Ariha. Originally we were planning to continue to Kaitai but after a dip in the sea (steve) at the start of 90 mile beach and reading the guide, we decided where we were was better (more choice of accommodation). So we are pitched at the Ariha YHA and campground where we're paying $13.5 each. We found some Speight's dark ale, which is a Newcastle Brown sort of thing, and so unexciting.The picture is actually from yesterday - just as we were arriving in Rawene we passed through an area of mangroves. A beautiful area, backed by low sandy looking hills.

11th Dec 2010 - Squillions of Mosquitos and and Even More Wobbly Back Wheel

ratana church on the way to waitiki landingFrom Ahipura YHA motor campground through to Waitiki Landing, about 70 miles or a tiny bit over a hundred kms. We set off at about 11am after considering the options for camping tonight. Basically it looks like Waitiki Landing because nowhere else seems to have food and be a neat short-ish distance from Cape Reinga. Plowing out to Kaitia I thought that the whole area looked pretty poor. Kaitia just doesn't look prosperous, just dowdy and as if no-one cared. There was a distinct headwind - a WNW - which slowed us down, gusting occasionally to a good force 4. Then on past the turning (SH10) to the east coast, and on past the pleasant looking Hohoura Heads where there's evidently lots of fishing. Then on to Te Kao but before we get there two more spokes broke in my rear wheel. The buckle increased a fair bit I managed to replace the broken spoke that wasn't on the sprocket side of the wheel (I've no way of removing the sprocket). Te Kao had no campsite but it did have a decent basic shop. So we ate ice-cream and stocked up on pasta and sauce because it seems evident that everything will be closed when we arrive at Waitiki Landing. At Te Kao we also passed the Ratana Church - an unusual Maori church with, I think, a belief that the Maoris and the Japanese are lost tribes of Israel. Well, you can see how that would symbolically make sense, I'm sure. After another hour and a half's cycling we got to Waitiki Landing where we have paid $12 each to pitch tent. Unfortunately at about 9pm the electric failed and didn't come back on until after 11pm. So no tea.....There are mosquitos by the million in this area. We have no repellent - though my bicycle oil smeared legs seem to be left alone so I think there's a partial answer there (the showers went by the board when the electricity went off).The tent seems ok as a mosquito refuge - it's a great little tent so far with excellent bell end on each side which are ideal for the panniers. (a Saunders spacepacker plus). And nicely sized for two people, with a weight of 2.3kgs or so ideal for carriage by bike. It has just been relocated to the shade since we are staying here two nights and are about to go to Cape Reinga when the campsite's wobbly washing machine has done its best...

12th Dec 2010 - Cape Reinga At Last!

Guy and Steve at Cape Reinga and pointing to Cape Bluff
A day spent doing the washing, throwing out things and sorting, oh and a little biking when we popped over to Cape Reinga and marvelled. From Waitiki Landing to Cape Reinga is about 20kms of hilly road - each way. There'sa bit of a climb out of Waitiki Landing then you eventually reach a bit that seems mostly sand and then there's a fair old climb to Cape Reinga. There is less beef cattle (hooray for a pleasant change) and more forest and scrub than has been usual. Cape Reinga is a tremendous location, with sacred Maori sites, spectacular views and clashing seas (it is where the Pacific and the Tasman Sea meet). I took lots of photos and even a couple of video 360-ish panoramas. In the photo I've just uploaded Guy is pointing in the direction of the other end of NZ, Cape Bluff, and Steve is pointing out the Cape Bluff sign. In any situation S and G will, of course, do completely different things, though this time we didn't tumble over each other while doing so... The video gives more or less a 360 degree panorama.A german couple asked where we had cycled from today and we had to admit that we were unheroically a few kms down the road at a campsite. They said that they wanted to do NZ by bike but it was just too heavy to manage by the time they got everything on board so they campervanned for two months. It is certainly true that cycle touring is a process of stripping away inessentials such as sofas, complete kitchen sets, comfy beds, large libraries of books, large collections of clothes. And even now I'm wanting to chuck away stuff - too many clothes, guides, tools. It is a healthy response and is no doubt doing me a lot of spiritual good. We could be much lighter and our souls, miserable wretched things that they are, would be the better for it. But at least we aren't in a campervan.There are some familiar old constellations in the sky but the lovely thing is that they are upside down - most obviously orion has the big nebulae in the wrong place until you realise it is as if you are seeing it standing on your head in the UK.Back at the campsite we ran into Clive (see entry from a couple or so days ago) who was stocking up on food at the garage before camping out at the DOC campsite near the cape. And then we spent much of the evening chatting to Doug who has come to NZ and also Australia on a working visa to explore life in the antipodes, visit relatives and do many a mile by bike. We tried out the Waikato draught beer (from a bottle) which was light, slightly hoppy, and decidedly unexciting. I think it's a thirst quenching sort of beer and competing with lager.Slept surrounded by a thousand mosquitos just outside the inner tent.

13th Dec 2010 - Heading Down the Pacific Coast

wet day on the road near hihiAbout 80 miles, or more precisely (according to road signs) 123kms. The day started with a minute breakfast when we got a multipack packet, each, of muesli. Needless to say this isn't sufficient to keep a cyclist's wheels turning so we ate just about every slice of bread (Guy even ate the mouldy slices, and without any obvious ill effects) and drop of honey we had. Doug, who arrived at the campsite yesterday, set off to see Cape Reinga while we managed to swarm by about 10.30am. Then it was a fairly fast ride for us, with lunch eaten at Te Kao (delicious coffee) and Pukenui (excellent choice compared with the last few days). Then Hohoura (very seasonal - hoho!) then Awanui, then turned onto state highway 10 and cycled the final 40+ kms to Hihi Motor Camp. It accepts non-motorised in spite of the name, though the campsite office had shut by the time we arrived - 8pm. The picture is just before we got to the camp - turning off the main road we turned off the main road for the last few kms, went over a moderate sized hill and then down to a coast of low hills, crossing this river a little before we arrived at Hihi (Hi!).At the moment, from the camp kitchen (just eaten a very large salad - avocados are grown locally and are really cheap) I can hear the sound of the Pacific Ocean lapping on the sand. It is also drizzling so not quite the perfect idyllic scene but not bad. Today has been warm but with cloud and patchy drizzle. Scenery today - mostly undulating with some low-ish hills. Pretty on the whole but especially nice during the last few miled with views of low rocky headlands and the occasional reef and small breaking surf. Wind NNE so sometimes behind us, sometimes ahead and sometimes to the side...In the camp kitchen a cat came and curled up next to Guy...

14th Dec 2010 - A Hot and Humid Bike Ride From Hihi Down to Paihai

kaeo - from our lunch spotFrom Hihi Motor Camp to Paihia Youth Hostel - pretty much exactly 50 miles, and a shade under 80kms. A very hot and sweaty day. Not much sun but the northerly wind brought high humidity and very occasional drizzle. A ride where we occasionally glimpsed the sea but were rarely by it. We were basically on the State Highway 10 until the turning for Paihia. After the interesting town of Kaeo (interesting partly because we hadn't seen a food shop until then but also because of a museum packed with local history - this seems to have been the first area where missionaries set to preaching the gospel - methodists it would seem) there was a big climb and we went up and eventually down to the Kerikeri area, then on to Paihia. The last bit of road to Paihia was surprisingly bumpy and with some awkward cambers (45 degree shoulder to the road and a bumply surface). This place is very much the thrill seeking backpackers area - we could skydive, jet around on boats, fish, dive (including the last resting place of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior - sunk as a marine habitat after the French blew it up a while ago because they wanted to do nuclear tests without anyone getting in the way) kyak,and see various sites. I think we're going to go cycling. And in the dorm are two British lads, one from Denby Dale just near Huddersfield, onr was having a year out and planning college courses that avoid the upcoming hike in fees... how wise.

15th Dec 2010 - Don't They Have Flat Bits Round Here?

maori sculpture inside the meeting house at waitangiFrom Paihia to Whangarei, Mair Rd Top 10 Holiday Park, about 58 miles. A mostly quiet and very hilly day. Had a look around the Waitangi Treaty area. Steve walked round Flagstaff Hill and looked in the old British resident's house. Steve felt that the treaty was a good example of avoiding unnecessary war whilst Guy was more cynical and thought it looked like a stitch up. Of course the Brits were just, no doubt, the most recent of a long line of invaders. But a surprisingly chatty and trading sort perhaps...We then got the passenger ferry over to Russell ($7 one way for a person but including a bike). Russell a more upwardly mobile version of Paihia... The german couple who had chatted to us at Cape Reinga were on the waterfront at Russell and waved. She's heading off to swim with the dolphins. This seems such a curious thing (do the dolphins want to be swum with, are fish part of the bargain so it's cupboard love?) that I overwhelmed her with questions and I think she was probably relieved when the conversation turned to our mileage for today and we got worried - 12.30pm and no kms done. So we set off along the coast, not stopping for various art galleries, facial scrubs and scented candles. A hill out of Russell gave us a hint of things to come. The next 40 miles were just about all up and down with very little level ground. The biggest hill, about the size of Ilkley Moor from sea level, was after Oakura when the road turns inland towards familiar old State Highway 1. Pleasant views, a couple of dogs, one pair called back after reaching Guy another one just friendly and running alongside us. All in all rather like Kentucky, rightldown to the low wooded hills. Dog dazer at the ready. Along the coast, before we turned inland, there were some beautiful bays. The camera I was using then didn't have a panorama mode but I've stuck two pics together, above, to give a sense of the lovely quiet coast.down the coast towards Whangarei from Russell

Finally reached Whangarei where we shopped and found the Mair Street campsite. Pretty late now - about 8pm. A lady dressed as an elf greeted us, and offered us an enchanted campsite, in the spirit of Christmas. A big salad and a bottle of Mac's Great White - a decent version of wheat beer. And then fell asleep very quickly.

16th Dec 2010 - Early Christmas Presents for the Bikes

waipu cove on a rainy dayFrom Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park to Waipu Cove Cottages and Camping, a short and speedy 33 miles (50 kms approx). It was raining when we awoke and in spite of careful dawdling it was still raining when we left. Both of us needed some repairs to our bikes and Doug (at Waitiki Landing) had mentioned that Whangarei (oh, you pronounce the wh as an f, apparently) was a good place for bike shops. And apart from seeing a closed bike shop on last Saturday pm in Kaitia (it was open in the am only) we haven't seen a bike shop for several hundred miles. So Guy bought brake blocks and new pedals [they turned out to be cheap and nasty I'm afraid and were later abandoned] while Steve bought a lovely new wheel - really solid looking double walled and heaps of spokes, so the broken spoke problem (and the bent back wheel resulting) is fixed. About 50 quid for the wheel and another tenner for fittng it all up on my bike (this required tools I don't have to transfer the freewheel and would be very heavy to carry. It has all been done very neatly and at a great price so thanks Fat Dog Bikes of Whangarei! We adjourned to the pleasant and rose bedecked garden in the drizzle so Guy could fit his new parts. Strolling in Whangerei's library I noticed a complete set of Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin novels, a coffee shop, and too expensive for me wifi. Read the NZ Herald which said that NZ has the same debt problem, with some variations, as the UK. Just as in the UK it was feqared that cuts would solve the financial issues only at the expense of creating lots of long term unemployed.We had lunch at a cafe for once - Pura Vida (doesn't that mean something like Complete Emptiness? all sounds a bit buddhist) - which had some veggie options (all day veggie breakfast and omelettes for us). The lady, in a german accent, noticed that we were rarely there at the same time (looking after bags while the other got bike bits) and said 'But zere is only one person here at a time!'.We left Whangarei late on at 4.30pm with the traffic on State Highway 1 at a peak. And the rain came back heavy at times. Can you imagine cycling on the A1 in rain across undulating to flat country? Lots of logging trucks.None too good, but for the cyclist doing around NZ there's not much choice (NZ is very narrow 5 this point). Mostly had a decent hard shoulder fortunately. I guess in a few years this will be motorway and they'll have to find a different route for bikes, etc. Unless the oil runs out first. NZ is surely very oil dependent - we've seen miniscule levels of solar and no wind power, and the railways have been neglected.Finally got to the curiously named Waipu, shopped (ah, Harrington's beers, hooray) and got along to the campsite by about 7.20pm. By paddling through a stream you can get to a beach which looks huge and has, today, modest windblown tumbling waves with an onshore force 3 breeze. A good day for a big windsurf board and a large sail.Chatted to a german girl - doing 6 months in NZ and young enough to get a working visa so she's been working 12 hr days in a fruit packing factory. But now she's doing her travelling...

17th Dec 2010 - Rain, More Rain, and a Scrazed Knee

couldrey house in wenderholm regional parkFrom Waipu Cove Camping and Cottages to Wenderholm Park Campsite, a distance of about 50 miles (at the moment it is raining so hard that I'm reluctant in the extreme to leave the warmth of the inner tent). We noticed that the check out time was 11am, info that destroyed all sense of urgency so we didn't get going until 11.15am. We shopped at Mawhanui, and there were chatted to by a couple of store managers one of whom had done a big chunk of Europe (but not the UK) by bike with the lady that is now his wife. Sounded fun - back in 1994 and including Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia (as was).We tried to get speed up. It is an undulating route and we started to make good time. We also used a short cut (thanks to the Four Square store managers) that avoided repeating our previous visit to Wellsford. If you take the turn marked Auckland just by the rugby club (Wellsford RC) you will be sped along a tarmac road that eventually gets you to State Highway 1. SH1 is terrible really for bikes but it got us to the Honey Farm just south of Warksworth where I (Steve) got honey and nougat. I would have sneaked in for a coffee or tea but the cafeteria was closing... Then on to the turning for Orewa. The rain got heavier and road conditions were bad. I slipped off my bike at slow speed onto the hard shoulder because the hard shoulder was badly maintained with a ledge running half way across it hidden by a couple of inches of rain. The ledge caught my wheel and I slowly toppled. Fortunately I was not hurt apart from a scraze and a kindly lorry driver told Guy that 'the person behind you has fallen off'. Most Helpful. Frankly the SH1 is not adequate for bikes as said before. What's needed is a good bike route that parallels it but doesn't involve itself in the mess that is Highway 1. But there are only two non-gravel roads up NZ at this point. Anyway, No More State Highway 1 on north island, hooray.Fortunately we were soon turning off because it turns into a motorway. And spotting a historic house sign and a camping sign we turned off for the very basic campsite I'm now sitting in, grateful that the rain is down from a roar to a few patterings. The tent is doing sterling stuff! I popped out to pay the tent fee and noted the old (by NZ standards) house and a beach between two headlands that would, on a sunny day, be a great place for a swim - the beach between two headlands is about a mile from the tent and there are impressive mangroves, ducks and historic buildings about. The photo is of Couldrey House, taken the next day when we had a wander about - because the rain had stopped by then, otherwise I think we'd have been flooded out.

18th Dec 2010 - Another Rainy Day at the Pacific Coast

A very short day indeed - 9kms from Wenderholm .Regional Park Camping through to Orewa top 10 Park. We waited for the rain to stop at Wenderholm Regional Park and so we didn't get going until 11.30am. And that was after a quick look at the historic house, which seems to only be 160 years old and to be a highly composite thing with bits of various buildings put together. It looked quaintly colonial in the clapperboard style but it wasn't to open for another hour or so and we were desperate for breakfast having run out of food the night before plus we were both suffering from slight caffeine withdrawal syptoms. So we pushed on the 7kms to Orewa and a huge supermarket but by now the rain had returned. We hung aroud that area eating and shopping, being evangelised by Korean missionaries, looking tramp-like in our soaked unshaven state, gulping down yet more food as if we'd starved for a day or two....Then we headed off to find a campsite and immediately my wheel went flat - some sort of problem with the valve (well yes, a great gash at the base of the valve). I changed the inner tube but the rain came back and it was completed in lashing rain straight off the warm Pacific (where several kite surfers were having a great time in the moderate breezes). Finally reached Orewa Top 10 holiday park and set up camp, drinking gallons of tea, doing the washing and reading heaps of pages - I'm reading Katherine Mansfield short stories because she's a NZ authoress whose house we visited in Auckland and her works are available for free for my kindle on www.gutenberg.org. Pretty good so far... of course the style is familiar, a touch of Chekhov plus a hint (anachronistically) of Virginia Woolf.Amazing to watch the lobsters fixed on the TV while we read fascinating stuff. TV is soooo 20th Century. I guess after driving your 4WD along the state highway for many an hour you need a bit of equally mindless recreation...All those ads telling you that a flashy car costing several years of work is just what you need. Ho ho ho. Oh, and the most mindless pop videos in which the separation of real talent from commerce has achieved new levels.We also chatted for a while to Andreas, a german cyclist, who has just done 3 months around NZ and is heading back to Germany for Christmas. He has kept a diary/blog in german at andipossum.blog.de (excellent site from andii but video ads autostart so be prepared for some noise). He warned us, as others have, of the black flies of the southern island which have a ferocious bite (the scottish midge sort of thing), but very practically he left us his fly spray which he won't be needing back in Swabia (which area got Guy onto german, swiss, etc, dialects and their preservation).

19th Dec 2010 - Awkward Auckland Again

Another short day, from Orewa Top 10 Holiday Park to Auckland International Youth Hostel, via the Gulf Harbour ferry. Auckland is awkward in the sense you can't easily get around it by bike. Today we only did about 18kms or 11 miles. Not much it's true but it was raining as if it was time to build an ark. This was intended to be a day on the beach before we headed into Auckland and, having done a circuitous route from Wellington to Auckland to Cape Reinga to Auckland, we then are going to get a train back to Wellington so we can be on South Island for Christmas and set off on the second longer track of getting to Cape Bluff at the south of South Island. We were faced with heavy rain again and so we hung around at the campsite until 12 noon but at that point we felt that we needed to start cycling since the Gulf Harbour Ferry goes at 3.50pm and you need to allow time for punctures. So we cycled in heavy rain the 15kms (10 miles) to Gulf Harbour, picking up food as we went. The ferry got us into Auckland in about 40 minutes and saved us a repeat journey through the endless sprawl that is northern Auckland. Then, collecting food and drink (Schneider's wonderful Wheat Doppelbock called Aventinus) and noting the complete impossibility of finding either choral evenson or a carol service at 5pm on a Sunday evening, we headed for the youth hostel. Churches seem very behindhand on the web. It's easier to find a good pub than info about which church is doing what of an evening. We checked into the YHA International Hostel and then visited an excellent cheap Thai restaurant that we visited when we were in Auckland earlier - the Ruang Thong 2 - a cheapie Thai place where delicious flavours (we only ate vegetarian, mostly tofu, food) seem standard. We are now planning the South Island route and drinking tea.

20th Dec 2010 - A Slow Train To Wellington

view from the back of the auckland to wellington traNZ trainAbout 2 miles (3kms) on bikes since we spent the day on the overlander, the train that takes you from Auckland to Wellington, in preparation for the ferry tomorrow to the South Island. The idea is to get to the South Island, and find a suitable place to stay, before Christmas makes travelling difficult. We got up early and headed for the Britomart travel centre where we had our bikes placed in something that resembled one of those old BR luggage vans, and we then were assigned seats. The journey was most pleasant though impressively slow since it took 12 hrs 30 mins to do about 550-ish kms. We had lots of stops and the middle bit near Tongariro is very impressive even in drizzle. Towards the end of the journey a child threw a stone at the window opposite us which shattered externally (double glazing) and the train stopped shortly after to put it right. Ah, it is the first day of the school holidays and there are idle kids about with inadequate supervision. Finally we pushed on to Wellington a little delayed because their dualing some of the single track line that pops in and out of tunnels as you wind through the first suburbs of Wellington. The conductor did a commentary - mostly accidentally funny since his English was curiously wobbly and pronoucing V was impossible (it came out as W), and the beauty of hospitals and market gardening districts was extolled. We drank Moa Brewery's interpretation of a belgian tripel was excellent, and a decent organic stout from the brewery that we hope to visit in Nelson.The rain was still tumbling down when we reached Wellington so it was a good day for being on a train.

21st Dec 2010 - Ferries and Old Migrant Ships

Guy looking at old timbersAbout 3kms (two miles) since this was the day we went from Wellington to Picton on the ferry. We got up early so as to catch the 8.25am ferry (the Interislander), sneaking out of Wellington's YH dorm in stocking feet and carrying our possessions in a heap so as to leave everyone else sleeping soundly. It took a while to locate the terminal and the bike route onto the ferry. But eventually the bikes were stowed and the boat pulled out into the straits between the two islands. They were in a force 6 mood with patches of heavy rain so impressive. Indoors a group from the Cook Islands were entertaining us all - these islands are under the care, in some sense of NZ.Eventually the ferry entered the Queen Charlotte Sound, and the swell reduced and impressive green hills appeared on each side. After another hour or so we reached Picton in pouring rain. It was so heavy that we hesitated to find our campsite - instead I went off to visit the Maritime Museum and Guy read my kindle. Guy interrupted my browsing of the excellent exhibits by coming in to tell me that the rain had stopped and why didn't we pitch tent. So we went and pitched the tent before I returned to finish the museum visit along with Guy. The museum has one great exhibit - the Edwin Fox, the remaining hulk of a 19th century East Indiaman. Superb and with fascinating documents of cargoes, convicts and emigrants leaving the UK for new NZ life.The world is, indeed, a turmoil of moving people (a mass of asylum seekers are reported in the newspaper today as having drowned off Christmas Island) and we met at the campsite a Canadian who was originally French but who had cycled around NZ 22 years ago. He said he would not cycle now since the roads are too busy but that he does cycle in Canada. He said that 22 years ago the roads were far quieter and NZ was really a more enjoyable country for the cyclist. He and his wife cycled from Auckland down to Cape Bluff - well, he indicated that they had taken a winding route down through South Island supported by friends in a van so they never had to carry luggage.Other cyclists have rolled into the campsite pulling a tow along trailer and a nice yellow neat tent so we'll hopefully compare notes before we start actually doing some cycling tomorrow.Our tent continues to delight with its spaciousness, excellent bell ends for storage and lightness. So far the Saunders Space Packer Plus (Mk 2 I think) has been wonderful.We're planning on heading to Nelson and the Abel Tasman Park tomorrow.

22nd Dec 2010 - a Scenic Ride from Picton to Nelson

the coast before havelockFrom Picton Top 10 Holiday Park to Nelson (well, its beach suburb called Tananui 3kms south of the town), a total of about 71 miles or 110kms. We were relieved that the rain didn't return and had a pleasant evening drinking tea and a little beer. Today we chatted to a NZ couple heading north to near Whanganui (North Island so catching the ferry) for a family Christmas. They had a nice NZ designed tent similar in some ways to our Saunders but without Saunders idea of just using one pole to base the tent around and thus reducing the weight. The nice bright yellow is certainly more jaunty than our dark green. Green is useful if you end up free camping since it is less easy to spot the tent.We did eventually set off and headed out of town towards Havelock (I guess it is named after the general of that name from a long while ago), the green lipped mussel capital of the world (or was it the tight-lipped mussel capital...). It started with a great ride along Queen Charlotte Drive, which had stunning viees over hills and water. Then through Linkwater, past the scene in the picture (at full resolution you can see a little dot of a windsurfer zooming over the water in a decent force 4), then over a modest col with a little walk to Cullens Lookout - excellent views - and down to Havelock. We ate a green lipped mussel pie ($6) which was very tasty - cream and mussels in a pie and chatted to two cyclists, Mel and Charlie, from Newcastle doing a biking and working holiday. They had done North Island in 3 months and now were embarking like us on South Island. They had a trailer too which they are intending to sell since it is, apparently, quite heavy. Some cyclists love trailers and much prefer them to panniers - less strain on the rear wheel possibly, and easier to separate from the bike, plus big carrying capacity - a surf board and wetsuit would be viable just about (hmmm). But they do add weight that is particularly noticeable up hills and the more wheels the more chance of a puncture, the more maintenance and the more rolling resistance. They have a web site at http://melandcharliehindley.blogspot.com. They were heading towards a Dept of Conservation campsite - I think at Pelorus. We headed out a little while after them but overtook them because they'd had a puncture.We headed through Canvastown, Pelorus Bridge and Pia Valley (wow was the wind gusty there - the headwind brought us to a halt and nearly into the ditch), then over Pia Valley Summit (247m) then a nice downhill before another climb, a little bigger and very picturesque with rounded hills the size of Cader Idris dotted about covered in bush, and finally downhill to the coastal undulations. Then alonf the flat coastal plain into Nelson, where we shopped and thenheaded to the beachside campsite. This is, unfortunately right by the airport, so during the main part of the day you do get to see lots of small to medium sized planes. Pity we're not plane spotters.Today's festive beers included Spruce Beer as drunk on Captain Cook's expedition. Apart from the usual hops, yeast and malt there was Tea Tree (I think that's the same as Manuka) and Spruce - the pine tree. Tasted herby and very drinkable.The campsite kitchen is pretty good but unfortunately has a TV which is always either a. telling you shocker tabloid stories from around the world (mixed with a small dose of sentimental pap about cats being rescued from trees, etc) or b. puerile chat shows with people laughing at funny noises, putting on funny voices, with a touch of celeb flim flam as the icing on the unhealthy cake.This did not stop us staying up quite late drinking tea and reading (serious books - George Sand La Mare Au Diable in my case, Guy is ploughing through gaelic and audiobooks).

23rd Dec 2010 - a Short Trip to the Centre of New Zealand...

centre of nzAbout 8 kms or 5 miles spent cycling around the sights of Nelson.Since Christmas is upon us and shops are often shut and campsites full we're at Nelson (Tahanui Holiday Park) until Boxing Day doing various sites. We particularly like Nelson because it claims to be at the geographical centre of New Zealand and, ah what luck, that centre turns out to be at the top of a very nice hill just a brisk half an hour's walk from the city (there's a cathedral where we will go to Christmas services) centre. Is it credible that the centre should be so conveniently located, not in an offshore ocean trench in the gap between North and South Island, or a bit of fly swarming swamp? Cruel questions indeed. Anyway I visited the centre as a neat place between Cape Reinga and Cape Bluff (where we're headed). A picture of the official (?) centre of NZ is above - a sort of concrete geographical marker thingy.The cathedral is a bit odd looking from the point of view of a Brit because it does not look finished and has a tower that's a bit like a fire station practice tower. Inside is much better since there's superb colourful stained glass and a lot of polished wood.We also visited the Founders Brewery in Founders Park where we enjoyed a tray of samples and had a brief look behind the scenes. 5he brewery is organic and uses entirely organic hops, yeast and malt (barley and wheat). We liked the wheat beer (seasonal) and the famous (it's in the thousand top beers list in a big book we found in their bar) Fair Maiden Pale Ale. Pretty good. Founders Park also contains various old buildings in the colonial style that have been collected together - a church, station, printers, tea room (we arrived too late to sample the Devonshire Tea, sadly).We also did a bit of shopping - Guy's pedals (from Whangarei - not long ago) are already clicking, look cheap and nasty, and have been replaced by proper sealed bearings pedals that are up to a few thousand miles (well, so it claims on the packet and they do look a lot better).Back to the tent rather late, toan evening of books. I finished George Sands La Mare Au Diable, a simple touching and, unexpectedly, happy tale.

24th Dec 2010 - Fossils, Migration and Midnight Christmas Services

Nelson Stained Glass on Christmas NightAbout 10 miles - one shopping trip and one church trip both into Nelson. Today was pretty much a preparation day for Christmas. so we shopped (in New World supermarket), visited the local museum and made a brief visit to the beach. The day dawned sunny but rapidly became cloudy, and fairly windy (tho' don't appear to be many windsurfers - we never saw one) so you needed a jacket to feel warm. We shopped for christmas (all the shops are closed, thank goodness, on Christmas Day) and then visited the beach. All a bit windy and cool. I took the occasional photo of a plane flying low over the campsite (it's right by Nelson Airport). The campsite is not that wonderful since there are low flying planes and rather a lax attitude to flies ( a lot of campsites have fly killers in the kitchen - electronic or just paper - but not this one). It is, though, relaxed and friendly - though we've not seen any other cycletourers.The Nelson Museum is pretty good. Exhibits included ancient trilobites, ancient fossils, a pic of the local boy who found NZ's oldest fossil back in the 60s, and a very interesting display about the long history of migration from the UK to Nelson, including lots of first hand accounts of long voyages and the reality of months spent cramped in unhealthy damp conditions at sea. The mortality was not insignificant. On the other hand, a fair number of births on the journey took place. Plus there was the figurehead of a ship that was wrecked on Cape Farewell, a long shingle spit that juts miles out into the straits many miles north of here.We returned to the campsite and wrote postcards and then, much later, headed out to 11.30pm Christmas Eucharist at Nelson Cathedral. It was pretty much full and so we found seats in the north aisle. The service was pretty good, including some music by Corelli amongst others. The sermon by the bishop asked us to place ourselves in the nativity story - sheperds, wise men, etc. We were witneses and actors just as much as them.... There was a heavy emphasis on the broken-ness of our world. I would have liked just a bit more sheer joy and less reminding of 'our broken world' - what about the miracle of Christmas, and the birth in our hearts of Christ (Eckhart). But perhaps that is Christmas escapism....?The lit rose window looked very impressive from outside, a bit like a luminescent jelly fish, many coloured in a night ocean. I took a photo, which given the cheapness of my camera, turned out OK.

25th Dec 2010 - A Veggie on the Beach

tahuna beach santaZero miles, it's Christmas Day and we wanted to see whether you can really do Christmas on the beach. We basically had a Lazy Christmas Day sending emails, swimming in the sea, eating green lipped mussels (the local speciality) and doing a fair bit of reading. Tahuna Beach is a pretty good beach, though it looks unlikely to ever get good surf due to sandbanks and shallow waters. But we swam for a while in a mild sea - no clearer than Mablethorpe though. I'm aware that agricultural run off is a significant water quality problem in NZ, there being so many cattle. The picture is of a santa created on Tahuna Beach by a freak snow storm (ho ho).Having been lent the first vol of Steig Larssen's thrillers set in contemporary Sweden, I was unable to resist £2.50 ish for the ebook version from amazon for the second volume. They are racey, fast paced and mostly flim flam. They live amongst ikea furniture and are all very adult in their relationships - people say things that sound like they are out of a manual of emotional self-help. And there's a certain devotion to brand names - people don't buy chairs but a certain expensive brand of chair. Hackers use MacBooks. As if. In reality they are surely more likely to use a self-compiled linux distro of their very own. The whole hacking theme is technically weak. Seems a bit of an ikea self-assembly version of Sweden. A sharper editor would have cut down the book to about two thirds at most of the current length, but the pages turn.Guy has nicked my ebook reader (Larsson would have said kindle) in order to read Katherine Mansfield. Much better though she has a certain pessimism. There's a delightful amount of humour though.As the day progressed the percentage of drunk people has got higher and higher - writing this in the tent now someone was baffled by the lights inside our tent. On a campsite? Hmmm.We enjoyed some of the local 'Old Coach Road' red wine ourselves - though we have simply become sleepy and are heading to bed.

26th Dec 2010 - Over the Hills to Lake Rotoroa

view from hope saddleFrom Tahuna Beach Holiday Park to Rotoroa Lake Basic DOC campsite, about 100 kms so I guess that's roughly 65 miles. We had a late start since we'd spread our possessions out a fair bit and they all needed to be put back into panniers.Very busy coast road, then quieter as we turned inland. A headwind slowed us down but it varied a fair bit, sometimes dropping to zero. Went through Wakefield which has a few quaint old houses and shops - took a photo of the 1909 former post office and ate most of the lunch we got from Wakefield's 4 Square. Wakefield, we later discovered, has a micro brewery and if we'd looked carefully we should likely have seen Totara Brewing Company's Drover's Draught, described in the village new 'on The Brightside' as Wakefield's Own Beer. Nice modest climb after Wakefield, and later a much bigger climb over Hope Saddle - 2085 feet at the viewpoint just above the road. Took photos of highish mountains - 7-8 thousand feet at their highest. Then on to Kaiteri (?spelling) Junction where there was a basic campsite but no water so, after a moment of horror at the little black flies that swarmed around us, we hurried on. Finally turned off the main valley to get to this simple dept of conservation campsite, which has water, lots of midges, and lake views. Fortunately they have not got inside the tent (mostly - as I typed that a midge landed on this little Nokia N900 display!) and we have got midge repellent.No showers so a semi wash in Lake Rotoroa. The evening is cloudy and cool so not tempting for a swim, sadly. Our evening meal has consisted of half a liqorice stick and a lot of peanuts washed down with water. There hasn't been a food shop on our route since Wakefield - which is, I suppose, the best part of 40 miles ago. No petrol stations either - good for ices and cool drinks

27th Dec 2010 - Dirt Tracks to Murchison

braeburn track between lake rotoroa and mangles valleyA short day today, partly due to the very limited range of places to stay after Murchison heading towards Westport. So we just did about 22 miles, or 35 kms, cycling via the back roads (well, we walked a fair bit of the initial hill) - gravel - to Murchison. The black flies were waiting for us so no hanging around. We were also encouraged to get a move on by the drizzle and the menu we found for a local hostel and cafe - Gowan Hill I think.Since our food supplies were pretty much zero having failed to find a food shop during the afternoon yesterday, we were very much in need of a meal. The Gowan did us a pot of tea (with two refills, and nice strong tea too made with loose tea not bags) and a tasty vegetarian omelette each for about $15 which felt like good value. One of the people running the hostel was a Devonian, still with a recogisably SW England accent tho' he's been a kiwi for 40 years with only one visit back 20 years ago. I asked if he missed anything about the old country and he chose two food related items - well this was a breakfast conversation - clotted cream and crabs, both hard to find items in NZ. We saw Devonshire Teas advertised in Nelson's Founders Park so I guess in NZ a Devonshire Cream Tea does not, horrors, imply clotted cream. Some research in the field is evidently required. As to crabs, mussels seem the thing here, and both crabs and, ah joy, herrings are missing.On the Devon ex-pat's recommendation we took dirt tracks initially, called the Braeburn Track, going over a modest hill and down through various fords, then at Tutaki tarmac returned and we eventually, after a scenic ride, reached Highway 6. This was an enjoyable gravel road since we knew we only had a short-ish distance to cover - see it on google maps. Then to Murchison Kiwi Holiday Park after a quick look at the museum where the focus of attention is the story of the 1929 earthquake that was pretty big and centred just along the road. I think 19 people died. Given the news that Christchurch has just had another lesser earthquake (they've closed the city centre apparently) we're earth tremor alert now.Harrington's brewery once again provided a bottle of beer each to accompany our pasta - Belgian Tempest and Wobbly Boot. Both brilliant beers and no wonder the man back at Rotoroa didn't say he missed great british beers.

28th Dec 2010 - Floods and Landslips and Stuck in Murchison

wobbly boot from harrington'sStill at Murchison, indeed stuck at Murchison since last night's rain (it rained for about 18 hours or so from yesterday evening through to early this pm) was so heavy it cut the road to the west and so the town is chock a block with campervans, campers, cars (people who can't get through to hotels, etc. The River Buller isn't the only problem since there are a few landslips too along the road to Westport. So it's reckoned that there won't be any way of getting West until tomorrow at the earliest. Between my slight cold and the sound of heavy rain, I didn't sleep that much so in some ways dozing at the campsite and reading books, and doing the washing, is what I need. The road situation will be updated tomorrow. Murchison isn't a bad place to be stuck if you've got a camping space since altho' there is no bank it is possible to use a credit card at the 4 Square to get food [actually this proved false in the eventuality - you need a NZ issued card not a UK one] and there is a good supply of Harrington's Wobbly Boot and Belgian Tempest, two of NZ's best beers.The campground is very busy. Mostly RVs - basically a medium sized bus with all you need. There's one brand of RV I particularly like because it's got a Magritte-like name - Magritte did a picture of a pipe with the title, in French, of 'this is not a pipe' and similarly there's a range of enormous RVs which go by the brand backpacker. And, of course, that is exactly what they aren't. Associating the youthful romance of trudging the roads and tracks with a pack on your back (a rare sight these days but not extinct thank God) with a enormous gas guzzler which allows you to take everything including the kitchen sink is a beautiful, though perhaps a tad sad, bit of delicious nonsense.

29th Dec 2010 - Buller River to Westport

buller river in floodFrom Murchison to Westport, which is officially 96kms as you leave Murchison. I think that's pretty much 60 miles. The day dawned bright and sunny. We both slept so soundly that quite a few campervans had left before we even surfaced. I'm recovering from a cold and making up for a poor night's sleep when the rain was so loud (even for someone wearing ear plugs). Judging by the exodus from the campsite we reckoned that the roads were now open. So we had breakfast and packed. Being stuck in Murchison has allowed me to knock Steig Larsson's rather grim crime novel on the head and push on to Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy(free download from http://www.gutenberg.org as so much of my holiday reading). We checked with the info place in town that the road west was open and then headed out. The road follows the Buller River for the 60 miles to Westport. The scenery is of bush covered or pine covered hills with the river winding through. At some points the valley becomes a gorge and there's hardly space for the road. We saw the longest swingbridge in NZ as we hurtled down the valley. We shot past Lyell - once a thriving gold town but pretty much deserted now. Evidence of the effects of the recent rain was everywhere - in the turbid water rushing through the valley, in the rocks and debris heaped at the side of the road by a bulldozer, places where a slip had rushed through a hillside, leaving a trail of broken trees and mud.We had lunch around Inghanui Junction - visiting the museum which lays particular emphasis on the 1968 earthquake. More pictures of tumbled cars, bent roads and cracked houses. Just before Inghanui Jnt we saw a Swiss biker with an impressive trailer, waves were exhanged, and then we met two German bikers heading for Murchison with the goal of reaching Golden Bay (NW tip of NZ).Finally we took the road to Westport when we reached the coast road. We shopped and hauled up at the YHA affiliate hostel called Bazil's where we are camped, along with another tent, on their small lawn. It's a bit tight but it did make cooking Brocolli in Cider (a favourite recipe) more viable than at most campsites. We bumped into Anthony from Denby Dale that we last saw in Pahia. He's doing NZ by bus, evidently doing a fair few outdoor things as he goes. He mentioned the idea of doing a sponsored bike ride in memory of a relative who died of cancer, which has echoes of my bike ride last year in memory of Tim my brother.

30th Dec 2010 - Cape Foulwind

Cape FoulwindWe cycled about 20 miles today in various directions. We left the Youth Hostel campsite since the hostel is popular with night owl youth who came back, giggling and loud, at 1.30am and 3.30am. We moved to the Westport Holiday Park at the back of the town on Dommett St. This is both cheaper ($14 as opposed to $15) and better (quieter, more spacious) than the youth hostel - if you are camping.Cycled out to Cape Foulwind, the excellent name being from Captain Cook who got stuck here with storms and contrary winds. Today the very functional lighthouse (looks like a large mains pipe on end with a light stuck on it) was gazing out over blue seas buta large-ish swell. We walked along the coast path to see the seals at the point, NZ fur seals (their most northerly colony), coping with the swell with no problem.Later that day we noticed that the cliffs near the Cape are on the label of Pig and Whistle ale from Harrington's. Perhaps it's Pig and Whistle Point.Visited the West Coast Brewery and sampled five beers including Green Fern Lager (good but I'm not much of a lager drinker), Session Ale (ok), Draught (good, much like a good bitter), Lager (I don't know why people drink this sort of beer so I can't really award points) and Dark (good but lager style fermentation which reduces the sort of burnt chocolate flavours that I like). So a decent range but a bit too much focussed on lager for my taste buds.We chatted to the brewer who certainly impressed us - and he was in the midst of brewing a wheat beer but that won't be ready until after New Year. He's worked at Sharpe's and at a brewery in Maui. The brewery is a pleasant place to sit and chat about beer with other tipplers. A Surrey family were also sampling (well, OK, dad was sampling) and we compared notes on Surrey and Yorkshire beers (Hopback or Sam Smiths). It's a bit unfair because Yorkshire has several times the area and many times the breweries of Surrey.westport breakwater viewShopped and had dinner. Then we cycled out to the end of the Buller River, a pair of breakwaters made out of the quarried rock of Cape Foulwind. The end is a very elemental place with strong currents and ocean waves sliding into the fast flowing river and disappearing. The light at the end of the eastern breakwater is surrounded by plaques commemorating people, often Westport sailors, who have died at sea. A large memorial (with an old anchor) commemorates the local ship MV Kaitawa, overwhelmed at Pandora Bank near Cape Reinga on the 23rd May 1966, with 29 people listed as lost at sea - click on the link to see the plaque. For such a small town, the tragedy must have seemed an overwhelming loss back in 1966. Finally back to the campsite to drink Pig and Whistle Ale. We also have tried to work out where we go tomorrow - given that the day after is New Years Day and shops will be pretty much closed. We remain uncertain where to bike to... Punakaiki, Charleston or Greymouth?

31st Dec 2010 - Seeing the New Year in at Punakaiki

Flaxmill WorkersFrom Westport to Punakaiki Motor Camp ($31), the humble distance of about 40 miles, including all short digressions, deviations and sundry detours. The day started ok, but a big shop before we set off and a deviation to see the 'Coaltown Museum' (a bit overpriced at $12.50), and then a bolt snapping on one of the key fixings of my panniers (well spotted by Guy's keen eyes), all set us back as we shopped, mused and repaired. The museum explains Westport's role in the old West Coast coal industry. The key mine seems to have been Denniston, now bush covered ruins, with some wonderful inclined narrow gauge tracks down the hillsides at an angle of 1 in 1.3! Wow! I am surprised that it hasn't reopened as a rollercoaster for the tourists. Apparently there are too such inclines each descending over 800 feet and then crossing a bridge. Westport's railway then took the coal away. There's a small brewing exhibit - but nothing about the old Miner's Brewery (as West Coast Brewery was called until pretty recently) that I could see. Gold mining, earthquakes and some lovely model ships (and history of local shipping) finish off the displays.We cycled the 40 miles to Punakaiki fairly quickly since apart from one wonderful headland where the road climbs to a stunning view, the road is fast and there was no headwind.Punakaiki has pancake rocks (very layered rocks caused by sedimentation and then some unusual compression effects), a blow hole/chimney where the sea shot spray up in the air occasionally (it was high tide so it did its stuff), and wonderful limestone gorges and cliffs. Some surfers were out in the sea but the waves, though large-ish, were not very neat or regular. The shorebreak was pretty nasty and there was a no swimming notice. The sea shelves steeply and you'd be pretty much immediately out of your depth in a rough sea.Back at the campsite now to see in the New Year - we're about to see what the Punakaiki Tavern is like and we may see in 2011 there...Ah, now in the Punakaiki Tavern.... Wonderful atmosphere - happy slight inebriation. Even more wonderful photo of Flaxmill Workers at Paturau near Nelson (from the Nelson Provincial Museum) - anarchically posing under a skull and crossbones with one playing a whistle, one an accordeon, another taking aim at a bird, another having his hair cut, another reading a newspaper with the word 'Truth' written on it (hoho), another playing what looks like a mandolin, another pair boxing, another drinking beer and another doing something I can't work out - may be a game of cats's cradle with skeins of flax? It's an unusual photo partcularly since there's a sense of playfulness, even irony. These are people making a funny photo, including the viewer in a joke that we are unlikely, perhaps, fully to appreciate. Perhaps this is a more than usually honest photo, and these are people questioning the future perception of them, not just flies stuck in amber, overwhelmed (as old photos often suggest) by a Tsunami of time.

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