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. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Day 55: Invercargill to Bluff and back

April 29th 2014
Distance cycled: 60 km
Total distance to date: 3251 km

I did it! I am done! I have cycled the length of the country. Oh my!! I can't believe it!

Oh yes I can. Because I have been here for 2 months, cycling nearly every day, through weather both good and not-so-good. Because my legs are stronger than pit bulls. Because I am ready to be done. 

Or am I? Australia, I'm looking at you... 

Anyway, today was a pretty unremarkable day, except for having completed the length of the country. Gabi and I got up rather late at around 9, ate our respective breakfasts (dinner is usually a communal affair with us but we keep breakfast separate for whatever reason), and dawdled a little bit with telephone calls and the like. Finally we set off on our day trip to Bluff, which meant we left most of our gear at the hostel. It was nice to have a lighter load!

A rainbow followed us most of the way out of town. 

The rain hounded us all the way to Bluff, but you could still see the city from about 10km away. 

Finally we reached New Zealand's oldest township. 

Gabi and I took the obligatory photos next to the sign at Stirling Point, battling groups of German school kids for prime photo-op territory. 

Then it was time for coffee and some food. Bluff is famous for its oysters, so I had an oyster pie. 

The ride back to Invercargill was much sunnier, rain-free and thusly much more pleasant than the ride down. Plus, we had a tailwind! 

To celebrate, we went back to Invercargill and bought way too much food at the grocery store. We even bought a beer to share. We also stopped in at the info center where I met a lady from Seattle! She lives on Beacon Hill, of all places. I told her she simply must check out the Beaconettes when she gets home.

Now that I'm done, I think I may do just a bit more cycling. I have some time in any case - a whole week before I fly out. Or I could do a few of the Great Walks... The world is my oyster (pie). 

Day 54: Curio Bay to Invercargill

April 28th 2014
Distance cycled: 87 km
Total distance to date: 3191 km

To our surprise, we awoke this morning to dry weather. Before leaving Curio Bay we had to take a look at the petrified forest. I wasn't terribly impressed and didn't see any penguins, although a fellow tourist insisted he could see some in the bushes. 

We followed a terrible gravel road to Slope Point, which meant a 6km detour one-way plus a 20-minute walk. Slope Point is the southernmost point of New Zealand's South Island. The only redeeming feature of a detour where you have to retrace your steps is the option of leaving your packs behind and picking them up on the way back. However, this did not occur to us until we were more than halfway there. So we kept our packs on and slogged up the hill. 

The wind is so brutal here coming up off the ocean that they are permanently shaped facing inland. 

At Slope Point, we met a group of Malaysians, who had passed us on the way and continued to pass us all day. 

The rest of the day was plagued by wind and rain. We took our coffee break at Fortrose at a cafe run by a grumpy old man who didn't seem to like us drying our rain gear near his fireplace. We'd have been the only ones there, except for the fact that we got in right after the Malaysians who we'd met at Slope Point. They'd ordered a bunch of food so we just ordered coffee and a pastry so as to get our orders faster. We watched the weather outside turn from drizzle to sun multiple times as we sat and drank our coffee. 

Finally we set off again in the erratic weather. 

My guidebook had no info about the 47km between Fortrose and Invercargill, presumably because there wasn't anything there. And that turned out to be true.  Even the campground, which according to Gabi's map should have been 20km outside of town at Mokotea, did not exist. There was a convenience store there but nothing else. We had no choice but to continue pedaling in the growing darkness towards the city. We dug out our red taillights and soldiered on. 

Luckily the traffic on this road was sparse. But still, cycling in the dusk wasn't fun, especially with the rain. 

We found the backpackers and checked in. It was full of young Germans who had been working in NZ and were busy deciphering tax code so they could file their tax returns. The backpackers was called Southern Comfort and, true to its name, was quite homey. Showering was the first thought on our minds after a day of windy rainy coldness.

After a hot shower, we hung our wet stuff out to dry and set out to go grocery shopping. We were sidetracked by Domino's Pizza. So dinner ended up being pizza from Domino's, which only cost $5. We thought this was a steal until we got back to the hostel and ate it and realized we could easily eat another between the two of us. By then it was too late to go shopping, so we just ate everything else we could find in our bags. Turned out to be an avocado, a carrot, some bread, some naan, peanut butter, leftover broccoli with rice, and Cadbury chocolate. Not a bad haul for two ravenous cyclists. 

Day 53: Owaka to Curio Bay

April 27th 2014
Distance cycled: 70 km
Total distance to date: 3104 km

Woke up this morning to a cold hostel, which made getting out from under the electric blanket quite the hard task. The heater only worked in the living room, apparently; thus the electric blankets on the beds, I suppose. We said goodbye to Dutch couple and headed out. We stopped by the kitschy-wonderful Teapot Land for a photo before leaving Owaka. 

A quick and nice ride to the Purakaunui Falls was next, followed by a good gravel road through quiet farmland back to the main road. The Purakaunui Falls are the most photographed thing in the Catlins, apparently!

We stopped in at a place called the Lost Gypsy. It was a green bus turned into an interactive gallery. I remembered that the retired British couple and their grandkids had told me about this place and recommended that I visit it. What a wonderful place! Chock full of whimsical handmade creations and funny pointless stuff. Kinda like Archie McPhees but all the stuff was made by Blair, the owner and creator, who was on site to play guitar and tease customers. 

They had coffee too, but we decided just to donate a few coins into Blair's money sorter made of cut-up tin cans and continue on along the beautiful coast. 

Another 11km took us to the Whistling Frog cafe for expensive yet delicious coffee and a bowl of fries with a wonderful aioli. The Dutch couple from the backpackers the night before was there, which was a surprise since vehicles can move so much faster than bikes. But there is much to see and do in this region of the country. Bret McKenzie once ate at this cafe too, as evidenced by this photo hanging on the wall there:

No idea who the other people in the photo are. 

A beautiful ride through native forest, mostly downhill after a 200-meter climb, took us away from the Whistling Frog. The last 12km into Curio Bay were mostly easy too, and pretty along a lake. 

At camp we saw the Dutch couple again. They weren't staying though. They were planning on going to Invercargill that night.  

We set up camp in a day shelter right in the nick of time, just before the rain set in. The kitchen was a tiny concrete box where 6 other campers were trying to cook so we cooked at the shelter after boiling the water in the kitchen kettle.

This was our view from the shelter:

The waves could be heard from our campsite. Although it was a little loud for my taste, making it difficult to sleep, we were at least dry under the shelter.