Friday, May 23, 2014

Final week in New Zealand

Invercargill to Winton
April 30th 2014
Distance cycled: 30 km
Total distance to date: 3281 km

So... Goal reached, trip over, 9 days left in New Zealand. I wasn't sure what to do with my remaining days on the South Island. So I kept cycling. Good decision, as the days now are cold but bright and mostly free to rain. Very glad to have nice weather again!

I didn't leave Invercargill until after 3. Oops! Then again, I completed my goal, so I think I earned the break. I took the morning off to pack, say goodbye to Gabi, have coffee at a really nice coffee bar in town called Crave, and have another pizza at Domino's for lunch. I also went to the info site and met another cyclist/couch surfer/WWOOFer named Bry. She was from the UK and bit crazy and I liked her a lot.  

Winton was a nice little town and had more amenities than I was expecting, including a great bakery. There was no campsite in Winton, though, even though several locals assured me there was. There was a motel, but no campsite. It was almost dark when I arrived, so I had no choice but to stay the night somewhere in or near town. Luckily I found a little stand-alone cabin thing that was on an empty lot. To my surprise, it was unlocked, so I went in. I found that it had curtains over the window and door, carpet, and even locked from the inside. Score!! I quickly pulled my bike in and set up camp for the night. Even though it was very cold, I had privacy and security. It was just big enough for me and my bike. Perfect!

Winton to Lumsden
May 1st 2014
Distance cycled: 60 km
Total distance to date: 3341 km

I'd planned to make an early start of it in case anyone came by the next morning. But I quickly figured out that no one cared if I was there or not. So I took my time getting out of bed - it was cold! So cold that condensation had formed on the window and door. 

I went to the bakery for breakfast, as cooking in my little home was out of the question. I suppose I could have moved operations to the picnic area near the town center. But the bakery was the far easier option.

My guide book had a backroads route planned for me so that I didn't have to take the main highway into Lumsden. I suppose it was a good alternative - all paved roads and not much traffic. But there wasn't really anything along the way to entertain me. Not that I'm complaining!

Just a few km outside of Lumsden, the Around the Mountains trail picked up. I didn't see any signs but my guidebook was descriptive enough to help me navigate. I arrived in Lumsden at 3:30 and contemplated my options. After last night's lack of campsite, I wanted to know for sure that Athol (the next town) would have a holiday park before I went there. No one could tell me for sure. I called a number I had in my book, a 800 hotline number for the trail. A guy named Chris answered and while he didn't know anything about Athol, he did say that the trail wasn't yet completed, which explained the lack of signage.

I went to an American 50s-style diner and had a coffee to mull it over. Finally I decided I would stay in Lumsden for the night at the holiday park I had seen just off the trail. That way, I could relax and use the library wifi to Skype with friends and just generally chill out a bit.

The holiday park was deserted. I didn't see a manager the entire time I was there. I was the only person there when I arrived. The place was a little run down, too, which added to the creepiness factor. But the hot water worked and there was a full kitchen, so I figured I'd be alright. Later a Swiss couple showed up, and much much later a German couple. They were all quite young but very friendly. I spoke German with both couples, since it seemed to be easier for them. They never met each other, though, since the Swiss couple turned in long before the German couple turned up, and the Germans slept in late the next morning.

The Swiss gal had trained to be a hairdresser and had spent some time in Oxford to work on her language skills. Her boyfriend was a roofer by trade and didn't speak much English, so she had done most of the talking. Once I told them I lived in Germany, we switched to German so the boyfriend could chime in and I got to listen to their incredibly cute Swiss accents. I really, really like talking to Swiss people in high German because it's not quite their native tongue, either, so they tend to speak more slowly, and I don't feel self-conscious about making linguistic errors.

The Germans were in NZ on working holiday visas. They were from Berlin, of all places. Upon arrival they immediately lit a fire and invited me to come have some wine. I declined the wine but did sit with them at the fire for a while. Since they were from Berlin, their German was much easier for me to understand but they also spoke faster. However, they were patient with me when it came to the language. I guess they've come to appreciate this kind of patience when others have shown it to them with English. They regaled me with stories from their work as fruit pickers, which I found fascinating. That's the kind of work I may have ended up doing, had I worked here. 

The night was really, really cold, but the Swiss lent me a spare sleeping bag and the Germans gave me a plastic bottle from which to make a hot water bottle. So I survived the night and was surprisingly warm. 

Lumsden to Kingston 
May 2nd 2014
Distance cycled: 60 km
Total distance to date: 3401 km

I was the first to wake up today. The Swiss couple soon followed suit and came to the kitchen to sit and have breakfast with me. Soon they were gone. An hour later, I was packed and on my way, too. The German couple was still sleeping when I left at 10:30. I never did see the camp manager. 

The scenery today was amazingly gorgeous as I rode along, picking out the different bits of trail that were rideable and riding on the highway the rest of the time. It's the bridges that aren't yet finished, which is why the trail is not officially open yet. The locals did a fine job of telling me which bits I could ride. The first such person was a lady at the Five Rivers Cafe, only 15km out of Lumsden and the site of my first coffee break. (I need Gabi back to regain my discipline - with her, it was only 1 coffee break a day and never before 2pm.) The lady was also a cyclist and had lots of tips for me, including the advice to not cycle the stretch from Kingston to Queenstown, as it would be too dangerous, because of the poor driving habits of Chinese tourists - according to her. 

The next local with good advice was Heather, the owner of The Vege Shack. I adored her and immediately bought produce and smoked salmon and peanut butter from her. She in turn allowed me to hang my rain fly on her fence for drying, let me eat my lunch outside on her picnic table in the sun, made me free coffee and asked me all sorts of questions about my trip. She also recommended a coffee place in Garston, the next town on my journey.

From just outside of Athol I was able to pick up the trail again and ride it most of the way into Garston. I had a coffee at the place Heather recommended. It was a retro trailer with an American theme. A good-natured policeman was the only other customer; I later saw him issuing a ticket on the side of the road. Since it was the day before the opening weekend of duck season, I got a free duck-shaped cookie painted perfectly to look like a mallard. 

I continued the last 23km into Kingston. The guy who sold me my coffee in Garston said the was completed after Fairlight Station, not far down the highway. He was right. 

Finally I swang into Kingston just before sunset. The place seemed deserted but it was beautiful.

I realized I was just on the other end of town from the highway, which is why I saw no one. As I headed towards the highway, the holiday park and a pub came into sight. The holiday park was pricey - $20 for a tent site. But the cabins were triple the price, so even though I knew it'd be cold, I stuck with the tent. Turns out it wasn't that cold. 

In the TV room I met a woman named June who is 85, a widow and sharp as a tack. We chatted a bit and she offered me a ride to Queenstown for the next day. I decided it was a good idea, and agreed to it. Then I left her to watch her soap opera (Coronation Street) and I went down to the pub to use the internet. 

The pub had excellent wifi. So it wasn't a bad place to be. I got a beer and sat there a while using the wifi. Then I went back to the camp kitchen and made myself a ridiculously large dinner. I took a hot water bottle to bed again, which wasn't strictly necessary like it was in Lumsden but was still nice.

Kingston to Alexandra  
May 2nd 2014
Distance cycled: 30 km
Total distance to date: 3431 km

June and I set off around 9:30 with my bike in the back of her campervan. It was a beautiful day as we headed for Queenstown.

Once we got there, we parked outside of town by the lake and June made us some coffee. The town was full of people. I had to have a Fergburger so I went into town on my bike and got one. 

Twelve NZ dollars. Worth every penny.

Originally I was going to jump ship and ride from here, but we were having a grand old time so I stayed on and we drove to Arrowtown. 

Standard protocol was that I would get out and explore a bit while June stayed in and read her book. I had already been to Queenstown in February so I didn't need to linger there, but Arrowtown was new to me. It was a little mining town that had a history of Chinese miners that had lived in tiny huts near the river, which are still there. 

Then we continued on towards Cromwell, stopping at the AJ Hackett bungee site. I got out there and watched a pudgy middle-aged Indian guy in business casual attire try to jump but ultimately chickening out. 

Finally, we drove to Cromwell, where June and I said goodbye, thanked each other for the company, and parted ways. Now I only had about 30km to bike to get to Alexandra. I headed to the iSite for some information about the roads and for a leaflet about the rail trail. 

As I left the iSite with that which I'd come for, I ran into another touring cyclist. Turns out I knew him already! His name is Alex and we had met in the Catlins going opposite directions. Like many of the tourists I've met in New Zealand, he is German. It was nice to see him again. We rode as far as the highway together, where we had to split again. 

The ride to Clyde was 22km of tolerable highway. Clyde is the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail, which I will cover in a separate post. 


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