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Biking Around NZ - February Diary

1st Feb 2011 - Dunedin to Moeraki

moeraki bouldersFrom Dunedin to Moeraki (Holiday Park) - a distance of about 80kms or 50 miles.We left Dunedin along North Road - which seems to be some sort of cycle route north. It goes past the Guinness Book of Records steepest hill - a side road that peaks at a bit steeper than 1 in 3 (Baldwin Street). We both cycled up a little bit of it but no way should you try it out with panniers unless crazed so after photos we pushed our bikes down the hill (no white hot brakes..) and carried on up North Road. It is a biggish hill and novice cyclists might feel that cycling was a bit tough. It goes up a fair few hundred feet until you get some excellent views of the Otago Peninsula (we could even see a turret or two of Larnach Castle - but I think the UK's National Trust is our preferred castle experience supplier and then they come with a lot of history and a lot cheaper given the exchange rate of $2 to the pound and a $27 entry price).The route then rejoined, briefly, highway 1 but we soon got off on another winding hilly route past Warrington - where we had lunch in the pretty churchyard of St. Barnabas' Church (excellent stained glass with a curious history - made in Bavaria but rejected from their original destination because of the war then eventually sold to Barnabas'). The winding hilly road took us to Seacliff and eventually, yes you've guessed, back to highway 1. We then ploughed along until the turning for Goodwood where we headed off on tarmac and then, for a few miles, on the gravel Bushey Hill Road. More great views over countryside that looked a little like South Shrops - big rolling hills, woods and wide valleys.Then after battling a headwindand highway 1 for another 10 or so miles we rolled up at Moeraki (no shop but I'd bought food in Waikouaiti just before Goodwood) and pitched carefully - seeing that the wind was strong and patchy rain had started.The picture is of the moeraki boulders which were just along from the campsite and which we saw tomorrow.

2nd Feb 2011 - Boulders and Buildings

oameru odditiesFrom Moeraki to Oamaru and then a half day spent cycling around Oamaru - about 40kms. We wanted to see the old buildings in Oamaru so we planned to stop cycling in the early pm so we could have as look around. The tent survived a howling gale from the NW which kept us awake a fair bit of the night. Moeraki campsite is sheltered so we were fortunate. The temperature was warm while the wind remained in the NW. No rain though. The strength of the wind was alarming - particularly for our planned route along highway 1 where the wind would be an awkward cross-head wind. But by the time we set off the wind had veered to the SE and the temperature dropped several degrees. The wind was now pushing us along towards Oamaru though with cross wind gusts that made cycling along highway 1 a little worrying (the gusts pushed us in towards the traffic). Fortunately there was a good shoulder most of the way. We stopped at the Moeraki boulders to take look at the odd round rocks that are strewn on the beach there. We also ate a wonderful, if expensive, pie there - spinach, feta and dried tomato. Best pie we've had in NZ. Breakfast had been missed earlier because there is no shop in Moeraki.After Hampden we turned off for the quiet coast road through Kakanui. Lovely sea views along a coast of low cliffs and with a sea flattened by the earlier NW wind. Then through to Oamaru. We visited the old docks area including the bakery and the secondhand bookshop. I saw the short video at the info site about Oamaru's history. We cycled along Thames Street impressed by the classical style of the buildings and the sheer width of the street. Threre's obviously some liking for 'steam punk' engineering here - a rocket enabled old steam train being placed in the middle of the street. Steam punk seems to be taking old steam and other previous generations of technology and adding some very modern things like computer bits or missiles. Striking but I guess none of us would put it on the wall. Perhaps the middle of the street, as here, is as good as anywhere. Its warlike imagery contrasts nicely with the war memorial behind.We visited the Criterion Hotel to try a couple of draught Emerson's beers - Bookbinder (decent session ale) and London Porter (pleasantly burnt and relatively bitter dark beer - our favourite). We chatted to the locals - one was hoping to visit Yorkshire to look at his grandparents birthplace near Bradford. He had a rather quaint idea of Bradford. Hmmm. He will, if diligent, discover some wonderful pubs though. Another man noted the strange wind pattern today (NW going to SE) saying that NW winds were more an autumn thing.Then to the campsite and the New World supermarket. With a relatively long evening I managed to finish Boswell's account of his journey to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson. It's an excellent book since it combines a great sense of their friendship with the wit and wisdom of Johnson. The character of Boswell is evidently very different from the sober Johnson. Johnson is also an older man - but that does not stop him from galloping along the beach on Coll or exploring caves on Mull. An example to us all.We chatted to a Canadian couple who were on a year's travelling around various bits of the world. They are heading south while we are going north - winding our way via Twizel towards Christchurch. They have a web site http://pierre-paule-en-voyage.blogspot.com

3rd Feb 2011 - Oamaru to Otematata

steve in the stocks at duntroonFrom Oamaru to Otematata, about 95kms or 60 miles. Our route went via the main street in Oamaru - Thames St. We called in on the art gallery and although we agreed with the sentiment that the Pacific should be nuclear free and like Greenpeace, most of the art didn't seem to require the ability to draw or produce beauty so we backed away, a touch sadder.Then we pushed off along highway 1 until we turned for the road up the Waitaki Valley. Excellent speedy cycling. We ate outside the impressively english anglican church in Duntroon. The church looks like a bit of Surrey or Kent. Then, after photographing ourselves in the stocks, we pushed along to Kurow where I shopped for tonight's meal. Then on around the back of Lake Aviemore in steady rain, viewing three dams eventually. The last one was impressively huge - then down to our campsite and village at Otematata.The hills have got steadily bigger as we've gone inland. We aren't that far from Mt Cook really so this is to be expected.Guy had an old puncture re-open while we cycled around the back of Lake Aviemore and it was pretty difficult mending a puncture in the rain. Our pre-glued patches don't seem to fix permanently in the damp. Or maybe there's other reasons but none-the-less the patches are not fixing very well. And there don't seem to be any bike shops around here.

4th Feb 2011 - Getting to Twizel

the bridge over the river ohau just before reaching twizel from the south

From Otematata Camp Site through to Lakeside Holiday Park just outside Twizel - with various detours including a visit to the huge dam near Otemata and a trip to shop into Twizel. About 70kms or 44 miles. This took ages because Guy's patched inner tube kept re-opening. I think it re-opened about six times though we gave up re-doing it and simply tried to reinflate it and do some more miles.The visit to the visitor centre at the huge 500MW (max generating capacity) dam was interesting - apparently they are upgrading to Thyristors for the AC to DC rectification (?) after managing for 45 years with the technology of the 60s.The centre had lots of hands on kiddies things that I enjoyed playing with - making water shoot through tubes and turn wheels. The man running the centre was from Hull and told us about his migration on somekind of scheme in 1965. This seems a scheme that might be useful for the overcrowded UK today. It worked for him. He still had a notable Hull accent - not much kiwi. Oddly enough he didn't come to Otematata initially tho' his pal of those days did. He only started work here after working for a power company on North Island.The power has traditionally sent via DC cable to North Island. This is changing apparently. This dam, though the biggest earth dam in the southern hemisphere is now second biggest dam on South Island (less than a concrete one at a lake in Fjiordland) and obviously China is building dams that will make it look like a toy.Then we went back to Otematata where we met Mike outside the 'On the Spot Shop' he is just starting a four month tour of NZ and had done the unpleasant slog out of Christchurch. He'd found it pretty unpleasant. But he's now got much nicer routes ahead of him. His blog is at nzbike11.blogspot.comroadside near omerama Then we headed up to Omarama, but with a couple of tube problems before we got there so we were running pretty late. I took the roadside photo to the left when waiting for Guy to fix his latest puncture. Then we headed up to Twizel, catchng a glimpse of a huge mountain as we arrived (Mt Cook is our best guess) where we shopped - once again delayed by more tube problems on Guy's bike. We had fish and chips with a rather good beer from Hokitika called....Then, after a very quick dip in a chalky lagoon of the lake (cool but delicious in the current hot weather - it's been a hot and baking day).While I type this there's a silly discussion about whether the Kiwi is too wimpish (small flightless timid bird). A man with a pigtail and muscles thought so and wanted something more powerful and intelligent. Hmmmm. I think the kiwi is an excellent symbol - it's great for an eco-friendly non-nuclear small nation. We can leave bombast and doomsday weapons to the US and China and hope that the world doesn't end too soon, tho' the good old wikileaks has revealed that China and the USA have been at a higher level of military antagonism than we knew. Julian Assange for the nobel peace prize!

5th Feb 2011 - Cycling Past Mount Cook

Guy Cycling Along Lake Pukaki with Mt Cook in the distance

From Twizel (pron. Twyzel) - Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park (4kms south of Twizel) to Fairlie Top 10 Holiday Park - about 105kms or c. 66 miles. First of all we went to Twizel to try to get spare inner tubes since Guy's repeated (x6) problem getting his tube mended. We were in luck and that and the large chocolate muffin set us up for a good, if a little late, start. We hurtled along to Lake Pukaki, marvelling at the views of distant mountains that were opening up. At Lake Pukaki I took a lot of photos of Mt Cook - wreathed in whispy cloud but mostly very viewable - and also a lovely lump of greenstone, a sort of NZ amber, that they had there in the visitors' centre. Then on to the turning for the Mt Cook Salmon Farm where we turned off onto a minor road that, after following the lake for a while (and where the picture above was taken - note Mt Cook which is the obvious big peak to Guy's left), follows the route of the remarkable canal that joins Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo. After a climb up to the level of the canal we made decent time to where the canal road was shut and we had to rejoin the main highway. The views from the canal are tremendous and the canal itself is a remarkable piece of engineering - huge earth banks the size of a substantial hill.Lake Tekapo Town is pretty but is very much a tourist town. We ate some food, looked quickly at the old church on the lakeshore which was crammed with people taking photos and buying postcards so not much contemplative silence there. So we pressed on, mostly downhill, apart from the minor hill that gets the overimpressive name of Burk's Pass, towards Fairlie. We made very good time, and got to Fairlie about 7pm-ish. Fairlie had a display telling us about a sheep rustling Mackenzie from years back whose fame led to this whole area being known as the Mackenzie Country.The Top 10 in Fairlie is a pleasant campsite ($35 for the two of us) but has an outstanding feature - free wifi! This would be too trivial to mention in the UK but here it is a rare thing and to be treasured - in particular by downloading even more books onto my kindle (for free from the wonderful www.gutenberg.org). Currently I'm reading the old whale tale mentioned in connection with Bluff - The Cruise of the Cachalot. The video just below is one of the last clips of video I did - this time while cycling along the busy road from Twizel (ah, how do you pronounce that without it sounding silly?) to Mount Cook. That great big snowy mountain is Mount Cook, if you were wondering...

6th Feb 2011 - Hot Weather, High Winds

view of the orari river from the bridge on the road between geraldine and arundel

From Fairlie Top 10 Holiday Park to Tinwald Domain Holiday Park, another day a bit over 100kms - 103kms or 64 miles. Today was a day to get us within a day's ride of Christchurch, so it wasn't expected to be particularly scenic. The day started by riding down to Geraldine, a lovely lady, sorry I mean town, with an open air swimming pool that I could not resist. The weather today is hot with a strong NW wind (seems that direction is always a scorcher). The pool (only open during the summer hols period) even has the sensible policy of keeping a substantial area for lane swimmers. Excellent - cycling is great for the legs but my chest and arms have got weedier! So a fair bit of front crawl tho' super gentle on the legs since we've got many more miles to go.From Geraldine to Arundel was tricky because of the strong headwind, tho' there's a stunning river view of the Orari River with mountains beyond, from the bridge just after Arundel. The section down to Hinds that turns off (signposted Hinds and Ashburton) just after the bridge was great today because we now had a tailwind and did the 21kms to Hinds in a half an hour. A pretty good speed on a heavy touring bike - 40 kph.Then across highway 1 and down to the Boundary Road that parallels the highway but is, almost (one bridge is gravel at the start), all tarmac. Good speed, now with a strong but weakening side wind, to Tinwald and the Super Value supermarket was still open even at 8pm. Outside a lady came up to us and vey helpfully told us the two options for camping. We chose the nearest. At the current time, 11pm, loud radio music is still pouring out of the next tent so we will either have to do a bit of discussion or crack open the earplugs....(Later...) The music stopped a bit after 11pm so we only had the increasing breeze to prevent us from sleeping.

7th Feb 2011 - High Winds and Rain (so we do the laundry)

matsons black beerAbout 40kms, or 25 miles, in an afternoon of cycling from Tinwald Domain Holiday Park to Rakaia Holiday Park. Overnight the rain and strong winds kept us awake. At the moment the rain is tumbling down very heavily. The bloke in the kitchen says, in a phrase I've heard so many times and with what lack of evidence, 'we need the rain'. Well it has rained a bit most days recently tho' this is the first good soaking for a week or so.(Later....) We hung around waiting for the rain to stop and at 1pm set off to see what it was like - creep a bit nearer to Christchurch. The air is pretty cold, drizzle and the occasional flurry of rain drops makes me feel that the heavy rain could well return.At Rateia we decided that we would do best, given that it's close to 4pm, to book into the local Kiwi Camper site and do our washing, etc, rather than plough on in the drizzle and get to Christchurch in semi-gloom or darkness. I think we're both suffering from a poor night's sleep. An additional bonus of an early finish is the opportunity to do some washing - I looked at my best shorts, being warn today, and I can see that a mix of sun lotion and sweat has rather smeared them. Basically, we're looking more tramp-like than usual.At the campsite a lady, doing laundry too, said she always felt sorry for cyclists - such a tough job. Of course, it would indeed be much too tough for someone who never cycles to start doing 50 mile rides with baggage. But for a regular cyclist it is pretty easy really unless the road or weather is bad, or you try to go too far too fast. My legs have toughened up so that I can pretty much pootle along for hours on end with mostly a pleasant sense of exertion and fresh air. It is important to take your time - no knees will cope with churning too high a gear over several weeks. So we spin our legs, like Lance Armstrong, and take the hills gently. Obviously if the wind or the gradient is with us we hurtle along at, why, speeds as high as 30mph! We are, of course, regularly overtaken by locals out on lightweight bikes for a quick spin. But most are not doing big distances.Of course, most people are, to varying extents, overweight but cycling decent miles does mean that you can eat cream cakes and beer and still lose weight. If that isn't enough to get people on their bikes I can't imagine a more compelling motive.Tomorrow we will, finally, reach Christchurch.... The picture is from Tinwald, the previous evening, drinking a very acceptable beer called Matson's Black. Brewed in Christchurch - we'll go within a few streets of the brewery tomorrow (but I don't think they do tours).

8th Feb 2011 - Christchurch At Last

christchurch cathedralAbout 70kms, or 44 miles, from Rakaia Family Holiday Park to Riccarton Holiday Park, Christchurch.We left relatively promptly at 10.30am and headed across the 'longest bridge in NZ' amidst the traffic on Highway 1. The bridge is narrow and has no shoulder or pedestrian walkway. Heavy trucks thunder across it pretty much most of the 24hrs. So we hurried across. There is not much beauty about the bridge being a long series of short concrete spans. There is the usual pleasant river view from the bridge - the River Rakia occupies, as usual with rivers in NZ, a small part of a wide flood plain. Evidently in a really rainy period it would occupy most of it.Then, turning first tarmac road right after the bridge, we headed down the Springs Road at a fair speed eventually reaching Lincoln, and Lincoln University. The Uni offers courses on 'Sheep Technology' which we assume must be a BAaaa course (or maybe a Sheep Dip-loma). Ho ho.Then we soon reached the city suburbs and traffic grew heavier - it was school home time and masses of the littl' darlins were getting into their mum's massive offroader to do the short run down the road home. Didn't see any school bikers.We camped at Riccarton because it looked flowery (lots of roses) and quiet, and the price ($3for two campers) was very modest. So far it's been OK.We h3aded into town and saw people punting on the Avon - delightful - and went in Christchurch Cathedral where we stayed for choral evensong. Magnificent singing by the choir.Then a visit to the brew pub The Twisted Hop where we marvelled at the fruitiest pale ale we've ever tasted and the decent Twisted Ankle bitter. We'll be returning tomorrow I think. Odd and impressive sculpture outside the pub. A bit like the oddities in Oamaru.Then via the New World Supermarket to the campsite to eat what's become the favourite meal of this bike tour - fried tofu in gingery sauce with a heap of salad.The campsite has the unfortunate policy of closing the kitchen at 10.30pm so this is being typed up from the tent - now shaking worryingly as a breeze starts to blow...

9th Feb 2011 - Flowers, Microbrews and Trams

christchurch tramAbout 16kms, or 10 miles, of cycling around Christchurch sightseeing. Christchurch city centre shows a few signs of the earthquake that happened a month or so ago - especially just out of the historic core where there are some empty rows of shops and the occasional building with a danger notice stuck on it.We started off with a visit to a bookshop on Riccarton Road (I had a puncture and mended it in the grounds of an earthquake damaged house while the nearby bookshop provided some interest and Guy found a book) - the route fom Amber Holiday Park into Christchurch. Then into the town centre where we had a quick look at the city centre before joining the Botanic Gardens tour.The tour was fun - both informative and enjoyable. The lady who led the tour really knew the garden and showed us many highlights of the garden - especially the trees. Trees in NZ, Oz and South America are genetically connected through sharing a common ancestor in the supercontinent (Gondwanaland?) that preceded the separate existence of NZ, Oz, South America, etc.We saw oak trees that don't shed their leaves in winter, discovered that the NZ beech isn't a beech in the sense of the European beech forests but is so named due to occupying the equivalent ecological niche as the European beech, and saw some wonderful old trees - Redwoods, cedars, an english oak, a young kauri tree (growing well south of its usual range up north of Auckland, one even with branches low down on the trunk which is not usual when in the dense confines of a forest) or two. And we were warned that the a NZ rose may identical to those in the northern hemisphere but have a different common name. There's a decent tearoom there too.Then we hurried off to see bookshops only to discover that my tube repair had not worked and so we walked to Manchester Street which is a good place for books. And, more importantly, spare bike bits. So the bike tube problems were solved.Then to The Twisted Hop, where once again we were impressed by beers brewed on site. The Pale Ale is the best - very fruity and hoppy. The pizzas are OK too.Then we headed off via the New World Supermarket to the campsite. We're heading to Greymouth on the scenic Tranz Alp Railway tomorrow with the idea of travelling back to Picton via the quieter roads of the Reefton, etc, area rather than dodging highway 1 on the east coast. Highway 1 passing through your district is surely a bit of a blight - heavy trucks, commuter traffic, and a lot of noise.

10th Feb 2011 - Trains, Plains and Bikes

passing trains at arthurs pass From Christchurch to Greymouth on the Tranz Scenic Railway over Arthur's Pass, then a quick 80kms (50 miles) cycling up the valley to Reefton where we are at the Reefton Domain Motor Camp ($10 each to camp). The train left Christchurch at 8.15am, so we got going at a pretty early hour - the train station is a bit out of the centre (did the privatisation of the railways lead to a sell off of city centre station sites?) and we allowed extra time to find it.The journey was pretty impressive - across the flat plain to get out of Christcgurch but then a rapid entry into a series of tunnels and viaducts that wound us up into the hills. There were ony fairly brief stops but hanging around on the outside observation car was exhilarating - looking down at the river far below when crossing the viaducts. Some people just video-ed for long periods of time - do they really ever watch them? Do they bore their poor relatives with them? Seems to capture a shredded remnant of the experience... The high mountains around Arthur's Pass were probably the scenic highpoint - after which we were plunged into the 8km tunnel. Took, of course, many years to build.At Greymouth by1pm. We shopped and headed out on the road to Blackball. Before we arrived there we saw the scene of NZ's worst mining disaster at a place called Brunner - in 1896 a gas explosion killed 65 people. The scene is very tranquil now - tho' we are not so far from the Pike River Mine where 29 people died back in November last year (2010) - which is about 30 miles up and a bit inland from Greymouth. And at the time of writing no bodies have been recovered and the mine there is still unsafe to enter. So Brunner is a sobering place to visit.Next we took a 4km detour (there and back) to visit Blackball - once a mining town and central to the development of mining unions in NZ. It is now most noted for the historic buildings F why they are over a hundred years old... The Formerly Blackball Hilton is a nice looking old building - and changed its name because of a clash with a more litigious hotel chain.We were a bit behind schedule by now so we sped along the road to Ikamatua (nice looking holiday park but we had more miles to go), then along the speedy valley road to Reefton where the only real climb was just a few kms before Reefton itself. This is all a valley ride, going slightly uphill but we had a modest tailwind so we mostly flew along.Reefton's domain motor camp is excellent value at $10 per person (lovely big kitchen). And the town is full of old (for NZ) buildings. There's a decent couple of food shops and also a bakers (with wonderful apple shortbread slices, we discovered tomorrow).

11th Feb 2011 - The Lewis Pass

going down the Lewis Pass towards Springs JunctionFrom Reefton to Marble Hill DOC campsite - with a quick visit to the Lewis Pass summit, a distance in total of about 84kms, or 53 miles. The idea was to see the top of the Lewis Pass and so have visited all the three main passes into the West Coast area. We read of camping at the Mariua Hot Springs and that seemed a good way to finish since they are on the hill down from the Lewis Pass.The road through to Springs Junction is basically a slow ascent to 696m (Rahu Saddle) followed by a small downhill to Springs Junction (at 45kms). The road is through pretty beech woods with pleasant views of distant mountains. We took ages to leave Reefton because we started eating cakes from the bakery (excellent) and then found the old welsh railway engine (a Fairlie and rare) that sits, a relic from when the town had a passenger railway.
view from the lewis pass (st james trail start)After Springs Junction we headed up the Lewis Pass (21kms further), discovering on our way up that the Mariua Hot Springs are a very posh japanese bathing establishment that doesn't do camping. Three fat hairy bikers (every adjective there is accurate) were checking in. It did not seem a place for relatively skint (and skinny) cyclists so we pushed on to the top of the pass (no info sign, no height marker - but I'm pretty sure it is about 902m), cycled back down and camped, instead, at the DOC camp near to Springs Junction. The campsite is heavy with little black sandflies that bite very irritatingly, so I finished my kindle free Gutenberg book (The Cruise of the Cachalot) lying safely in the tent. Dates and muesli bars for dinner. We'll have to find breakfast back at the cafe in Springs Junction.The first picture above is of Guy heading back down the Lewis Pass towards Springs Junction. The other is a chunk of dry rocky hilliness viewed from close to the summit of the Lewis Pass.

12th Feb 2011 - Murchison Again...

sooty fungus on a silver beech A day spent cycling from Marble Hill DOC campsite about 3kms outside of Springs Junction, through to Murchison - 85kms or 53 miles. Most of today was spent on the scenic but surprisingly busy Highway 65. We started early since we needed to get breakfast and hanging around at the DOC campsite was not advisable given the hordes of black flies waiting to suck our blood (as said before, it is part of the female black fly's way of having little black flies - the males don't bite). An omelette and a small lake of tea at the cafe at Springs Junction helped us on our way, and the garage shop provided muesli bars for lunch. Then off along the 65 and uphill until the Shenandoah Saddle (col) at 502m. A little before the saddle we had lunch though the lunch was brief because of the sheer numbers of white tailed bumble bees. They were alarmingly fascinated with us. Then mostly downhill to the junction with the main road along the Buller Gorge. Then a brief 11kms to Murchison. The Mariua River Falls, about 10kms or so before the 65 reaches the Buller Gorge road are impressive and the scenic highlight of the day.Today was sunny and warm but the NW wind was a headwind for us most of the day until we reached the Buller Gorge road and the wind was behind us for the last 11kms.We rolled into Murchison a bit before 5pm, shopped at the 4square, browsed the secondhand books in the local secondhand store, then went to the Kiwi Camper Holiday Park - where we were a bit over a month ago. We will have done a figure of eight route on the South Island by the time we finish.The picture is of sooty fungus on a silver beech (not birch) - scale insects produce a sweet goo that the fungus, as well as wasps (sadly) and bees (happily) feed on. You've probably seen NZ organic beech originated honey in Sainsbury's or M and S...

13th Feb 2011 - Lake Rotoiti for a Swim

lake rotoitiA day cycling from Murchison to Kerr Bay Campsite near to St. Arnaud - about 63 kms or 40 miles. I booked tonight's DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite using the web on my phone - very useful because there isn't much in the way of camping at St. Arnaud apart from these space limited sites. Then we headed first of all to the 4square and the bakery. The bakery provided some of the over-rich muffins that are pretty popular in NZ - we ate a blueberry and cheesecake muffin each and then felt like we needed to cycle to deal with the sugar rush. But first we called in on the i-site and booked the ferry from Picton to Wellington, since the plane is getting alarmingly close at only one week away - and still some miles to do.Then along the busy highway 6 that goes from Nelson to Greymouth and which we did some month and a half ago heading the ther way. It was a bit too busy today - between Murchison and the turning onto the 65 for St. Arnaud it is twisty and there is mostly no shoulder. But there are trucks and a fair few dairy lorries, cattle lorries, etc, notably of the pull-along variety (a cab and truck pulling another truckload). Generally they are loathe to slow down.After the turning onto highway 65 things got much better. The road continues along the Buller Valley gently uphill. The road goes straight as an arrow for some kms at a time. It was tricky stopping for lunch because bees and blackflies are enthusiastic about people in this area. We moved on after about 20 mins.St. Arnaud is a small tourist town with one pricey shop (e.g. muesli cost $8.90 - in UK terms, £4.45 for a relatively standard 750g of muesli), a chippy and some accommodation. The shop had also failed to tune its radio in properly and I asked why they didn't tune it in or switch it off since having fairly loud white noise played at you was painful. This was not a popular question - people are used to living in a soup of irritating noise so they hardly care (planes, cars, background music, etc) if it is just white noise.We chatted to Lee who turned up outside the shop and waited for his cycling pal who was slower up the hills (I'm slower than Guy but that's because my bike is heavier ;-) ). They are doing a tour of NZ in five weeks - doing the main sights. It seemed a very brave notion. After almost three months we could still do with much more time to feel we'd really seen pretty much all of NZ (we've missed out all the areas with no roads - massive areas of fjiordland, the huge area of the Tasman National Park, etc, etc - plus all those remote places we don't have time to reach...).Lee was sporting the 'I bike therefore I transAm' so we knew he'd done the transamerica crossing. He did it last year as part of the Adventure Cycling Association group. We love route 76 across the USA so we were rapidly deep into comparing memories of the route, the towns the route goes through.Finally to the campsite where we cooked in the very basic kitchen, while being stung (Guy) by a wasp and snacked on by blackflies (both). I went for a swim in Lake Rotoiti - right by the campsite. There's a wonderful jetty for throwing yourself off into clear cold water (on the photo you can see where a previous 'jumper' had left ripples - I guess they cleared any eels out of the way ready for my jump). We had a short walk later and a lady pointed out the large eels that lurk around the jetty. Glad they didn't bite... I had seen other people swimming so I guessed it was pretty safe.The walk showed us how the conservation dept are trying to kill the wasps so that other creatures can feed on the sticky goo produced by the beech trees scale insects. Around here this food source is being monopolised, more or less, by the wasps (an introduced species). The black fungus that grows on the scale insect deposits is remarkable - at first sight the tree looks burnt (we've seen this phenomenon repeatedly while amongst the South Island beech forests) but it actually has a funny pustular sticky-ish black growths on its bark.

14th Feb 2011 - St Arnaud to Blenheim

wairau valleyA day cycling from St. Arnaud to Blenheim, about 104km or 65 miles. We left the DOC campsite on Kerr Bay at about 10.30am and went to the visitors' centre where we noted that the sooty fungus that we've seen on beech trees only spreads from the top of the South Island down to about Greymouth sort of latitude. The scale insects apparently don't cope too well with older beech trees or real cold (this all reminds me of scale insects on bay plants - similar issues). We asked if there are any shops in the next 60kms or so and the visitors' centre staff reckoned not. We then loaded up with food at the rather expensive food shop (the only one - the only food shop in NZ where my bill exceeded $60 - that is our individual budget for each day) and headed off. The first few miles up to where the road to Nelson turns off were gently uphill. Then from that point for about an hour and a half the road was slightly downhill and we had a tailwind - so we knocked of a good 50-ish kms at a rapid speed. Then the wind, so fickle in NZ, turned about and we had the next 40kms or so with a notable headwind. Met two american (North Carolina) bikers in The Tavern (and very very basic shop) in Wairua Valley. They were enjoying Matsons Ales (good choice) and heading west. Eventually the wind dropped and we rolled into Blenheim in relative calm. The last 20 - 30 kms were through huge vineyards because this is the biggest wine producing area in NZ.The Wairau River accompanied us pretty much all the way - though mostly at some distance from the road.In Blenheim we headed for the New World Supermarket and then to the Top 10 Camping, very unfortunately situated near to Highway 1 and the railway line. Sleeping was not so easy - I awoke a couple of times to hear goods trains rattling through the darkness nearby. As in the USA, the trains have a nice musical note when they are crossing roads, plus the noise of bell like crossing signals. Almost worth being woken up for.In the campsite kitchen an englishman was bemoaning the poor rate of exchange (the UK, government is trying to devalue the pound to keep house prices, the bedrock of our economy, high - housing assets being the backing to a debt economy). He then said that he should have bought a NZ house because they had gone up in value hugely against the pound. When will the Brits stop obsessing about maintaining the high price of houses and worry, instead, about a good society and decent shelter for everyone? Then the pound might be worth something...

15th Feb 2011 - Finding a Brewery in Blenheim

wairau valley vineyardA day spent around Blenheim, originally with some idea of a wine tour but which, due to a surprising feeling of lethargy, was commuted to a visit to a microbrewery, a swim, a short walk to Pollard Park because it has the same name as an area in Bradford and we were curious and more excellent food from the local New World Supermarket.Today was hot and sunny, with a significant south wind, tho' not enough to worry us for the tent's sake. The swimming pool here at Top 10 is pretty tiny and just heated by the sun, which I guess keeps the masses out. We played at armchair swimming races (a sort of backwards backstroke) - Guy's voluminous bathing shorts meant that he never had a chance of winning.
pollard park in blenheim, new zealandPollard Park, Blenheim, NZ, is delightful and has a centenary rose garden that's pretty good. Tennis courts and herbaceous borders, plus a stream with small lakes, create a lovely atmosphere. Space, which NZ has and England does not have, certainly allows the kiwis (or a huge proportion of them) access to a lovely lifestyle. Is it surfing, tennis or biking in the mountains today? Or just sipping local wine or eating local olives in the sun? They haven't yet quite got the comfy pubs that the UK has been perfecting (in spite of excessive tax on beer, fruit machines, canned music and cheap canned beer) for centuries but they are working on it.We visited the Renaissance Brewery and tasted their ales - we liked their dark 'elemental' ale in particular - pretty similar, I thought, to Titanic Stout (which is, hooray, for sale in the local New World Supermarket along with a superb range of British and Belgian beers - Orval, Westmalle, Moinette, McChouffe and many more. We award the best beer in a supermarket prize to New World Supermarket in Blenheim. Only a Booths or a Waitrose around West Yorks would beat them.We also did some washing so that we have some clean cothes for the flight back to the UK. Being stuck next to us for a long haul flight might otherwise be cruel.

16th Feb 2011 - Blenheim to Havelock to Picton

view from saddle just after havelock From Blenheim Top 10 to Picton Top 10 via Havelock and Linkwater - a ride of about 72kms or 45 miles. We slept better during our second night at Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park. I only woke up once when some melodious goods train went through in the early hours.The bike ride was slightly delayed by a search for the 'Bakerij' which is a european style bakery in Blenheim. I walked past it a couple of times without seeing it so the cherry and almond tarts and so forth (key nutrients for a day's cycling) were delayed.Then out to Renwick, then up along highway 6 to Havelock - a fast road since there's no real hill between Renwick and Havelock, just a pleasant valley ride. We were overtaken, and chatted to, by a local racer out on his training run and clothed in lycra with 'James' plastered over. It is a lovely route for a training run. Into Havelock for the second time. More green lipped mussel pies were eaten for lunch. And we read the Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering (Jet Propulsion) commemorative seating and info area. Then out on the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive which takes you initially over a wonderful small col or saddle - the view was different from a month and a bit ago because the tide was out revealing huge sands and mud flats. Then up and down along to Picton.We pitched at the Top 10 and had fish (Blue Cod again) and chips with Matson's Black Beer, a lovely combination.The picture is of the Queen Charlotte Sound, seen from the outlook at the top of the hill just after Havelock. There's a lovely short walk from the road to a brilliant view - both to the north (the pic) and to the south over Havelock.

17th Feb 2011 - A Picton Walk

view from snouts pointA day spent around Picton, walking rather than cycling. On our way out of the campsite we met Kevin and Debs - last seen getting off the Christchurch to Greymouth Train with their bikes (they had cycled up to Arthur's Pass and then got the train down). Nice to swap accounts of our travels - they had been up around Motueka via Punakaiki (pancake rocks - where we spent New Year). They had fund the traffic around Nelson unfriendly - as had we back in early Jan. But they are hopeful of OK cycling conditions (if you time it right with the traffic flows) going south on highway 1 to Kaikoura - which they had previously found OK when heading north.We hung around in a secondhand shop for a while, until it became very clear that we weren't going to buy anything. Then, after a brief shop, we headed off on the Harbour View and Snout Point Track. It's a pleasant undulating walk with fine views out over the Marlborough Sounds. Every hour or so a ferry throbbed past heading in or out of Picton Harbour. The best view is the Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) View but the Snout Point view does feel more remote - a taste of what the multi-day tramp along the Queen Charlotte Walkway must be like. There was a memorial, pretty much like a gravestone, to two Japanese divers who died while diving off Snouts Point.Then we went back to Picton, hearing various shouts from the many kayaks and boats on the water. Kiwis certainly know how to enjoy themselves out on the water. A flotilla of small boats was having a race (off Snouts Point were a challenging Force 4-5 was blowing), another set were being taught luffing and tacking in sheltered waters near Picton.The walk to Snouts Point took about 4 hours or so, there and back.Then back to the tent for an evening of wine, veggie food and discussing bike routes in Oz and Europe jobs, tents, beer and other important matters.Corporate culture, we agreed, is fundamentally the same UK and OZ, being unable, of course, to see beyond very conventional management pap - so, e.g., every manager mistakes MS Windows as the appropriate choice for their web stuff (after all, it's what they see on their notebook), against cost, security, flexibility, reliability and honest to goodness not being evil. And we all noticed that staff are bought in rather than risk training their employees, who are deskilled as a matter of policy and culture. Oh, we solved the problems of the world and were only frustrated by the fact that no-one was listening....

18th Feb 2011 - Picton to Wellington Ferry

nosing out into the straits from queen charlotte soundToday we got the 2pm Bluebridge Ferry over to Wellington, after having another morning in Picton exploring the limited but fun secondhand bookshops and eating pastries from Picton's dutch themed 'bakerij'. The bakery did a decent veggie pie - roast veg in a creamy sauce. After weeks of wandering into shops to see rows of meat only pies this is no small thing.I visited the Picton Museum during the morning - lots of pictures of old Picton, of ferries, of families. The exhibit that most caught my eye was a Dursley Pederson Cantilever Bicycle made by a dane in Britain and brought over to Picton by a town notable. Mr Pederson himself was shown riding the bike he designed, beard splayed out by the breeze. He finished his days back in Denmark, after living in the UK for a while. There are fans of the bike still - have a look at this dursley pederson website.The ferry crossing was lower key than our journey just before Christmas going the other way - this time there was no Pacific music group, But the weather was much better and the views of Queen Charlotte's Sound were excellent - including sailing past Snouts Point which we walked to yesterday. The picture is of another ferry, spotted just as we were nudging out into the Cook Straits from the very end of the Queen Charlotte Sounds.On landing in Wellington we pootled over to the Youth Hostel and settled in. We ate some pasta that has been carried a couple of hundred miles on the back of my bike.The Youth Hostel in Wellington is pretty good - lots of facilities and a pleasant place to stay. The bunks in our very cheap room were made of metal and creaked and rattled with every movement it wasn't a great night's sleep. Plus, being a place where international youth come to dance and drink the night away, there were a few middle of the night arrivals.We had been recommended Cooper's Extra Stout by Kevin in Picton and indeed in terms of taste per penny it is great - a decent stout for only $6 for a 75cl bottle. Better than Guinness for sure.

19th Feb 2011 - Wellington Yet Again (this time with trams)

wellington trams passingA day spent visiting museums, galleries and other sights in and around Wellington. Guy was, in spite of a very so-so night's sleep, keen to do a lot so he managed to get to the museum Te Papa before it was open. I was slower off the starting block and met him at Te Papa at 10am just as the door's were opening. We had a quick look to see if there was anything new since our last visit. Didn't seem like too much had changed so headed off to the portrait gallery where we were impresed with the set of portraits with biographies - mostly paint but some photos. Janet Frame was one - a famous kiwi novelist that I shall read now that, amongst others, I've heard of her. The visit was concise because we wanted to get to the Museum of Wellington - not too far away - an the library. The library was just a matter of enjoying looking at books - the complete set, very nearly, of Patrick O'Brian and enough newspapers to get you up to speed with both NZ, the UK and the world. I was engrossed by the corporate battle going on for dear old Northern Foods, based in Leeds I think. Another British company heading for international ownership. I looked up a few kiwi authors too. I guess I should read The Bone People and something by Aitken.The Wellington Museum was high tech and told a good story of ferries (there were other ferries than merely the ones across Cook Straits - the one down to Christchurch seemed the most remarkable), sea faring, migration and the growth of a trading city. They tried to illustrate this by finding a significant thing in each year for a hundred year period. I never realised how long pubs closing at 6pm went - right up until the 1960s (such a law causihg a massive and rapid after work consumption to get the beer drunk before the 6pm deadline - I guess you could take bottles home).Then the Cable Car up to the botanic garden - a lovely old Wellington tradition of a trip up the cable car to get the view, and a cup of tea, from the top. Then an amble downhill through the plants of the Botanic Garden. This habit, of only getting the cable car up the hill, meant that they ended up charging more for going up than coming down. The Cable Car Museum has two old cars, both lovely ornate specimens, one built in Wellington. The current system is less ornate but more health and safety conscious - Austrian I think. This museum had a suprisingly well stocked shop - amongst other things I got sticker for my bike. Oh, and they also sold very cute furry blue penguins...Then a final amble through the Botanic Gardens including the excellent Lady Norwood Rose Garden (too late for the teahouse) and via the scented garden and some herbaceous borders. A secondhand bookshop was still open - by now about 7pm - Arty Bees I think was the name, Excellent collection of books. Guy bought a book but his panniers have never been as full as mine.Then via a final shop at the New World Supermarket to the Youth Hostel. With the help of ear plugs we both slept better than the previous night.

20th Feb 2011 - Flying Back to Blighty (takes a very long time)

north west coast of south island, from a jet heading for MelbourneToday was a matter of getting on that plane... We got up early and set off at about 10am having chucked out lots of stuff to lighten our bags and get everything in. Our flight wasn't until 3pm but we needed to get bike boxes from the Qantas office at the airport and then do the tedious business of making the bikes fit in them (lowering saddle, removing or lowering handle bars, removing one wheel 'cos the boxes are not that long, taking the pedals off, adding just enough additional stuff to the pannier to keep the weight under 23kg (the current Qantas limit for the hold - but not enforced down to the gram since my box weight slightly over at 23.5kg I think) but not leave you with too much to take into the cabin as hand baggage. And avoiding any tools, penknives, spokes, oil cans, etc, in the hand luggage since that would likely come under the anti-terrorist (anti-tourist?) legislation. So this packing mullarky takes a while.We made it onto the plane, and I'm typing this from a height of 34000 feet over Urumqi, and at a ground speed of 472mph. Going to NZ is great fun but the international flights are somewhat length - about a full 24hr day spent in the air plus a couple of stops (Melbourne and Hong Kong in our case) adding up to about 34 hrs to get home, if everything is on time. Gulp. Plenty of time to type up your diary and dream of further travels....[Later...] The flight was fine - with the usual excitement of taking and landing in cloud and swirling around cityscapes at a few hundred feet (we saw Hong Kong skyscrapers whirling below us).As we finished our ride around NZ we realised, as you always do, that there is far more to any country than you can do in a few months. Evidently the NZ autumn was arriving as we finished our bike ride, but we'd recommend not taking any less than 3 months to do a NZ bike ride.And as usual after any bike trip, you can't help contrasting the glories of the open road with the steady 9 to 5. We considered further trips, when we've saved up a bit. Oz is an obvious place for a bike ride, but what about South America (over the Andes)? the USA surely (let's do the transAm again!), but Europe north to south? Oh....

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