New Zealand - February 22 - April 28, 2006
Thursday, 16 March 2006
We had come to New Zealand five years ago for our honeymoon undertaking a 3 week bike tour and then two weeks of tramping and sea kayaking, all on the south island. When we left we promised ourselves that we'd come back and make NZ our first international trip after we retired. At that time we did not foresee earlier opportunities that would bring us back during the country's warmer months. Oh how pleasant it is to be in error!
We were warmly greeted at the airport by John, a friend and work colleague of Aaron's cousin Mike. We spent three days with John, Eva, and their near 3 year old daughter Sophia. During this time we put our bike together, researched our rough itinerary for our two months in NZ, and made contacts with several people on the Warm Showers list that we are likely to stay with during our time here. Prior to leaving Auckland we were taken out to coffee by Martin, our first NZ Warm Showers contact who we initially wrote to last April. Our conversations with him about the excellent mountain biking in the region already have us thinking about a return visit to have him show us some of the trails. How fortunate we continue to be that one connection leads to another, and the people we meet go out of their way to help and support us.
We took a ferry across the bay and then a train south out of Auckland to avoid cycling through the city. Our first week's travels brought us around the Coromandel Peninsula. The scenery became more beautiful with each day, and the cycling terrain more challenging. Gone are the long flat stretches along the beaches in Australia. With the difficulties of the hills come some of the most exhilarating descents we've had. Most are wonderfully curvy that give us a sense of teaming like no other as we lean to and fro. It was on a straight descent on the peninsula that we achieved our highest speed to date on this tour: 82.5kph/51mph. We normally don't let the bike go like that when we are loaded with all our touring gear unless the conditions support it, and on that descent they were perfect!
There is a tremendous amount of geothermal activity present in NZ and our first take was to go to Hot Water Beach. The two-hour window on either side of low tide allows one to dig into the sand at the shoreline where 60c/140f water comes up from the depths. People bring shovels and create their own pools to sit in mixing the hot water with that from the cooler ocean.
A beautiful but challenging day brought us from Whangamata (in Maori language “wh” is pronounced “f” in most dialects) to Welcome Bay, a suburb of Tauranga. We stayed with our Warm Showers contacts Philip and Helen and their 3 children. They'd done some extensive bike touring “BK” (before kids) and had been to some of the same places we've travelled to so it made for fun conversations. They took us on a drive at dusk to see some of Tauranga's Harbour, the local high point Mount Maunganui, and beautiful white sand beaches.
The following day to Rotorua felt even more difficult despite shorter distances due to the extensive climbing required. On the outskirts of town we learned that the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships were being held here over the following two days. That was a welcome surprise. At the backpackers lodge, we stayed in a small old funky caravan for the next 3 nights. That seemed particularly apt as this backpackers is called “The Funky Green Voyager”. A perfect low-key place for us with no TV and pleasant music in the background. Backpacker lodges are often great to stay at because of the worldly people you meet and the amenities they have for self catering, but too often the TV is blaring or rap music (an oxymoronic term if there ever was one) is playing.
The next morning we met Arnie, an exceptionally well-travelled and interesting man. His son, Kashi, has been NZ's XC mountain bike champion over nearly the past decade and has competed in the last two Olympics. We spent the afternoon watching the Elite XC race and Kashi won the Ociania Championship by coming in second behind a Canadian. We were able to watch the event from several different vantage points. The same course will be used in August for the World Mountain Bike Championships.
Our last day in the Rotorua area we rode out to Wai-O-Tapu, meaning Sacred Waters, which is located in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, the most volcanically active zone in NZ. The brilliant colours of the boiling mud pools, lakes, sulphur coated craters, and mineral terraces were stunning to see; similar yet different to many of the geothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. A dip in a hot springs pool following our time in Wai-O-Tapu topped off the day and seemed to make the return 30k ride back to Rotorua easier.
From Rotorua we spent the next week cycling along the East Cape. This eastern-most part of NZ is the closest to the International Dateline. Sections of the road, particularly from Opotiki to Whangaparaoa, with its black sand beaches, beautiful bays, pounding surf, and rocky headlands were nearly as magnificent as what we saw on The Great Ocean Road in Australia. If the scenery didn't quite match the GOR, the road for cycling exceeded it as it climbed up behind headwalls and then back down to the shoreline via windy fast descents.
Our arrival in Gisborne had us at the southeastern terminus of the East Cape route and the route's largest city. It was here that Captain James Cook landed on 9 October 1769 with his crew of 96 on the HMS Endeavour. Two days earlier it was “Young Nick” who was the first to spot land. There are two very well done statues of these men adjacent to the campground we stayed at near the beach and very close to the actual landing point. Cook was the first European to land on New Zealand and he claimed the land for the British Crown. Cook made two more trips to NZ, and his circumnavigation of the island, journals, and charts provided detailed information to the outside world.
In 1642 Able Tazman, a Dutch explorer sailed north along NZ's west coast and named the land Niuew Zeeland after Zeeland, a Netherlands's province. However, his “able ness” was thwarted as he was attacKed by Maori tribesmen while anchoring near Golden Bay and he never set foot on the land.
The Maori people are the original Polynesian settlers migrating from the pacific islands around the 10 th century, settling primarily on NZ's north island, yet they now make up only about 15% of the country's population. Their numbers were decimated by the 1830's after the introduction of firearms and diseases by European settlement. It has been in more recent times that treaties have been signed and the NZ government has passed legislation targeted toward supporting Maori history, culture, and language.
Our day from Gisborne to Morere included the first rain we've had since the start of our NZ tour. This cooler day rained moderate to light non-stop throughout the ride. Two things were in our favour: the day was shorter in distance and had more climbing than descending so that helped generate positive body heat. Best of all, the day ended at the Morere Hot Springs where we soaked our bodies back to a state of internal warmth. At the backpackers lodge that evening we read a quote from a photo journal about the East Cape region. A Maori man said “We're as poor as poor can be, but we live like kings”. This was a reference to the financial hardships living in this unpopulated region with high unemployment, but also living in a beautiful setting that is very nature oriented.
Our longest (122k/76m) and most strenuous day yet brought us to Napier, the largest city since Tauranga along the east coast of the north island. The larger region is Hawke's Bay, one of the premier grape growing and wine making centers of NZ. A severe earthquake in 1931 killed 256 people and felled most major buildings in Napier and adjacent Hastings. The rebuilding following the quake incorporated Art Deco architecture with wonderful examples of the genre noted throughout the central business district and in the older suburbs. We stayed 3 nights in Napier with Brian and Andrea, yet another fantastic couple on the Warm Showers list with whom we felt a strong connection immediately. They have travelled fairly extensively by bike in both western and eastern countries and the photographic displays in their home are marvellous to look at. Yet again, we couldn't have been received more warmly.
As we continue to travel south, the days are notably getting shorter and fall is not only in the air but in the leaves as well. Daylight savings time ends on Sunday. No doubt our next update will have tales about some of the weather changes and challenges that we are bound to experience.
Sunday, 2 April 2006
It took us two days to go from Napier to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The final 2 hours of the first day cycling toward Dannevirke we fought some of the most difficult headwinds we’ve had on our trip so far. The next day we were treated to phenomenal tailwinds for the entire 115k/71m into Masterton resulting in our highest single day average speed to date. We’ll take 2 hours of headwinds in exchange for a full day of tailwinds any time it’s offered!! From Masterton we took the train into Wellington having us gain a day on our itinerary but, more importantly, helping us avoid the increased congestion as we approach the city.
During our off day in Wellington we walked extensively in the city center and spent several hours in the Te Papa museum which has magnificent displays of New Zealand geography, Maori history and culture, and native flora and fauna. We were quite impressed with Wellington as a city (population 200,000+) and wished we’d had more time for further exploration and a tour of parliament, but we had previously committed to taking the ferry the next morning to the south island. Wellington feels like a small San Francisco with its beautiful harbour, Victorian buildings, and exceptionally steep hills.
When we boarded our tandem on to the ferry we did so on the “rail deck”. It was the first time in all of our ferry travels that we’d seen one carry rail cargo in addition to the typical cars, campers, and semi-trucks. It was interesting to watch them on and off load the rail cars. The 3 hours trip across Cook Straight and into the Marlborough Sounds via the Tory Channel was very picturesque. As we walked off the ferry we saw 2 loaded bikes ready to board. When we looked up at their owners we were shocked to see Norm, a long time friend from Colorado Springs, who was bike touring with his sister Dawn. It is certainly a strange feeling to be halfway across the world and bump into someone you know from your home town. For the next 45 minutes we exchanged stories and relevant information about our respective trips to date: theirs on the south island heading north, and ours on the north island heading south.
It was a very full day in Picton organizing and preparing everything we needed to do for our projected 7 night 8 day sea kayak and tramping (backpacking) trip in the Queen Charlotte Sounds. The following day it was noon before we took our first paddle strokes after we had packed our double kayak and received the orientation briefings. It wasn’t long before we’d left the calm waters of Picton Harbour and moved into the wider opening of Queen Charlotte Sound where winds created mild sea swells. With our travel time being late summer with a fall feel in the weather, and well past the height of tourist season, we ended up having every night’s campsite to ourselves. Our kayak travels brought us into beautiful coves and bays and face to face with fur seals laying on the rocks as well as swimming beside us. Our second and third nights were spent on Blumine Island. It felt like a wonderfully unique opportunity to be the only humans on this island for 2 days. Our second day there it was so windy and the swells in the sound were so large that we abandoned any thoughts of kayaking to other adjacent islands. Instead we hiked a couple of trails that brought us to Blumine Island’s high point.
Our itinerary had us getting to Ship Cove on the 4th day where our kayak would be picked up and we would start our tramp of the Queen Charlotte track. Fortunately the winds had moderated slightly, and with this the sea swells had lessened a bit in size. This was a good thing as once we left our somewhat protected bay to cross over the sound toward Ship Cove we found the swells to be plenty large, in fact the largest we’d ever kayaked in. We were also fortunate to have the current and winds at our backs making for an exceptionally fast trip and exciting times riding the frequent meter high waves. There would have been no way we’d have made it if we’d had to go against the winds and currents. It was very comforting that our double kayak felt so stable.
Ship Cove is beautiful and well protected, no doubt two of the several reasons why Captain Cook chose to land here five times during his three voyages to New Zealand. It is from here that the Queen Charlotte tramp begins. We’d initially anticipated spending 4 ½ days on the track but, after the first half day start we chose to push our pace and finish in 3 more days. Our first full day we thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent views of Resolution Bay and some of the islands that we were unable to reach by kayak. That night it rained constantly. We awoke not only to ongoing rain, but a very low cloud ceiling of less than 200 meters and an exceptionally muddy trail. The day’s 22k/14m route was to incorporate steep climbing to 450+ meters and later in the day steep descents. Given that the cloud ceiling and ongoing rain would prevent us from seeing anything from the ridge, and that the trail conditions were not compatible with our wearing sandals (we aren’t carry hiking boots on bike tour), we decided to cut the tramp short and take the 11:00 water taxi back to Picton. We never regretted our decision even though we very much wanted to complete the entire track.
The weather cleared (in Picton at least, but possibly not at higher elevations), so the next day we were back on bike tour after having essentially been off the bike for nine days. It was an easy day from Picton to Renwick where we spent a day and a half touring several of the vineyards in this area that has become so famous for their superior Sauvignon Blanc. At the backpackers our second night we talked with Matt, who is also from Colorado Springs. We have not met many Americans during our now three months in Australia and New Zealand yet within a week plus we bumped into two from our home town. We’ll look forward to connecting with Matt when we return home.
From Renwick we had two days of wonderful bike touring passing beautiful vineyards, cattle and sheep stations, and a variety of farming crops. As we rode to Rosedale, about 40k/25m from Nelson to stay with Christine and Jimu (yes, more fantastic Warm Showers contacts), a clicking sound from our rear wheel became more pervasive. It was hard to diagnose however because of its inconsistency, but we suspected it had something to do with the drum brake. This was the first mechanical issue that we couldn’t diagnose and deal with since shortly after leaving Sydney over 2 months ago. As our continued good fortune would have it, Christine and Jimu have a large van with no seats. The next morning we loaded ourselves and the tandem into the van for a trip to Nelson and a good bike shop. It turned out the drum brake did need tightening and the rear wheel re-dishing to sit correctly. What a coup to be in a position to have this taken care of given our frequent remote areas of cycling. Our time with Christine and Jimu was great. Christine did a cross country bike tour of the U.S. in 1999, and Jimu has traveled extensively in the states as well. We had more detailed conversations about America than at anytime since we left; now nearing ten months ago. It is always interesting to get perspectives of the U.S. from foreigners who have traveled there.
As we put the finishing touches on this update it is raining heavily outside, yet we are in the comfy confines of Christine and Jimu’s home. Jimu is a master wood craftsman and his work is noted throughout the house including one of the most beautiful rocking chairs we’ve ever seen. It may just be time to rock the day away with a newspaper or book in hand…something that has been a rare commodity since this journey began.
Thursday, April 27, 2006:
On the afternoon of December 31, 2000 we arrived in Marahau, the gateway village to Able Tasman National Park. This is New Zealand’s smallest national park but unequivocally deserves this status. Despite the long summer day we were limited to a one hour walk at the start of the Able Tasman Coastal Track. The next morning we started the new millennium by doing a one day sea kayak trip in the park following the coastline to the north. These two experiences whet our appetite, and we promised ourselves that when we returned to New Zealand we would more fully explore this magnificent area.
We set ourselves up to undertake the 51k/32m coastal track in four days followed by five days of sea kayaking. The coastal track is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, so named because of the quality of the scenery resulting in excellent track construction and maintenance. During our four day tramp the weather could not have been more ideal. With the sun shining, the viewpoints overlooking the azure clear waters of Tasman Bay were breathtaking. Each new cove or change in the track’s direction gave us a different view or perspective on the park’s landscape.
After completing the track we replenished our food supplies in Motueka before setting off on the waters we had seen from above the previous days. Depending on the weather, sea kayaking can be exceptionally peaceful and easy going to requiring extreme effort. We experienced both extremes and parts all along that continuum. We needed to alter our itinerary because of high winds resulting in significant swells on our second day out. We never made it as far north as we had hoped, but we were able to explore some lagoons that are only navigable by kayak within the two hour window both before and after high tide. That paddling time was some of the nicest we’ve experienced.
Once back on the bike we had one more Warm Showers stay on this northern part of the south island with Marian and Ross. They also have a Co-Motion tandem that they purchased in the U.S. just prior to doing a tour of Oregon a few years back. Needless to say we had plenty to talk about during our time with them.
The next two days brought us through Nelson and Havelock, and then to Picton via the Queen Charlotte Tourist Drive. We’d ridden this five years ago and felt that the Havelock to Picton section was one of the “10 Best Cycling Roads” we’d ever done. Our travels over the past ten months have added numerous roads to that list from every country we’ve cycled in. Still, we eagerly anticipated riding this road again, and it did not disappoint. The winding road takes you well above the pristine waters of Mahuia Sound and then back down to sea level. A flat section along pretty farmlands precedes a final climb about ten kilometers before reaching Picton, culminating in beautiful views of the town and harbour. Then the ride concludes with a marvelous descent into town. For a touring cyclist it doesn’t get much better than this.
The following day we boarded the ferry back to Wellington and the north island. We still had ten days left before our targeted arrival in Auckland. Our expectations for the remaining days were relatively low. We’d just finished nearly four weeks of cycling, sea kayaking, and tramping that had been a prime focus of our time here in New Zealand from the moment we committed to this fourteen month journey. These low expectations were shattered as our remaining time was filled with magnificent scenery and opportunities to stay with several more contacts.
In Palmerston North we were welcomed by John and DD. John, a retired professional racer, helped us with some repairs and our bike ran perfectly for our remaining days following his Midas touch. John and DD also have a Co-Motion tandem. It would be hard to believe that there are more than ten in this country and we’ve stayed with owners of two!
A couple of days later we rode east of Mt. Taranaki, a Mt. Fuji like cone rising to 2518 meters. We were exceptionally fortunate to have blue skies and unobstructed views of the mountain during the early part of the day as it is so frequently obscured by clouds. The locals say that if the mountain is clear it is going to rain, and if it is clouded over then it is raining. We spent that evening with Nelle, an ex-pat who has lived in new Plymouth for the last 22 years. The next morning she cycled with us out of town via the coastal walkway that is regarded as the golden jewel of this city. From there it was two days of beautiful and challenging cycling with solid climbs, fun descents, and picturesque rock formations and rolling farm country to Te Kuiti. We stayed with Phil and Angel who are the parents/in-laws of John and Eva, our Auckland hosts. We were treated like family with the exception of not being allowed to wash the dinner dishes!
From Te Kuiti we went to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We haven’t hit many “typical tourist” spots, but this was worthwhile. There are numerous caves in this area carved over eons by the Waitomo River. Most of the caves are underneath privately held property and, by NZ law, are the property of the landowners. The highlight of our tour was a boat ride underneath the glowworms. They illuminated the ceiling of the cave from which they hung and their glow reflected off the water below, then we gradually emerged from the cave into a lush tropical-like setting. The glowworms are maggots that in the larval stage have a mouth but no anus. Their glow is a result of their digested food stuck in its body with no outlet and is used to attract insects for more food. Presumably there is a much higher attraction and thus tourist dollars resulting from going to “Glowworm Caves” than to “Illuminated Maggot-fecal Caves”!
In Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth largest city, we were hosted by Lisa and Verne. We intended on staying only one night, but we awoke the next morning to heavy rains. We decided that taking advantage of Verne’s massage expertise was a much nicer alternative than cycling in a downpour. The following morning, our last day of cycling in this country, the sky was clear. Lisa led us out the cycle way along the Waikato River that runs the length of the city. The infrastructure of this path is equally as impressive as the coastal walkway in New Plymouth.
Back in Auckland we were reunited with Eva, John, and their now three year old daughter Sophia. Our two days with them allowed us ample time to break down and pack our bike, organize ourselves for our upcoming five days in Fiji, and do some final shopping.
It feels strange for us to think that the international part of our bicycle tour is now complete as we won’t be putting the bike together for our brief time in Fiji. We rode 2904k/1800m in New Zealand according to the new cycling computer we attached to our bike at the start of our time here. This gives us a total of 12,9987k/8059m since our first pedal strokes in Ireland back in June.
We know that our hardest cycling days are ahead of us both physically and emotionally. Because of our need to finish our 14 month journey prior to the end of July, we will have to increase our average daily distances once we start our bike tour across the northern tier of the United States. Emotionally it would be very easy for us to cycle from Seattle straight to our home in Colorado Springs. While we’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of our lives, we also enjoy our home and have missed family and friends. It will be a challenge to keep the bike heading east, but at this point our desire to complete a cross country tour will hopefully provide the ongoing motivation needed to continue on for three more months.