Friday, 27 March 2009

Day 674 - Wanaka

We left Queenstown on the slow boat, actually it was the only boat. It also made for a late start, the ferry didn’t depart until midday, but we left in perfect weather. The ride along Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak was a delight, clear blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, the scenery was spectacular. The ferry is really just a tourist cruise boat, a lovely old steamboat, you could even go into the engine room to have a look around. The late start was well timed really, I wasn’t feeling completely well, so half a day off the bike was just what I needed. Once off the boat we did what we tend to do best, stopped and had lunch. Whilst there, another cyclist arrived heading for Queenstown, he was German and from the next suburb of Berlin that Christine is from. The next 90 odd kilometres turned out to be some of the best so far in New Zealand, spectacular, remote, and with the dirt road to ourselves as it came to an end at Walter Peak with only the passenger ferry connection to Queenstown. After just 10km I wanted to stop for the night, the views across the lake were mesmerising (photo), we were looking down on the area where much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed, not that I am into such rubbish, though I did sleep well through the first one. Christine was accommodating as usual, “If you want to stop we can” she told me, but I really wanted to push on at least a little further, I was sure more good scenery would lie ahead of us. We left the lake behind, but I was right, the scenery remained good the whole time, just fantastic. We came to a river crossing, but by the time I arrived Christine was already on the far side, so I just followed her tyre tracks to where she had crossed though this lead me to the deepest spot with the largest rocks. I didn’t make it across, I had to put my foot down which resulted in a very wet foot and being as I was wearing shoes and socks I wasn’t best pleased. Sandals are so much better, it really doesn’t matter if you get wet feet, they dry out so quickly. Once across I then discovered that Christine had taken a much better route through than I had done, she had just disguised her passage through very well. We met another German cyclist heading the other way followed by a couple of Americans, there were more bikes than motorised vehicles. We stopped to camp the night in a valley just before a long climb. I hoped I would be feeling a little better by morning making the climbing a little easier. During dinner we started a discussion though before long it turned into an argument. I can’t remember what it was about, I turned to Christine and said “Do you realise it is a Monday….God is tuned in. At least he won’t be disappointed!”, she laughed, it even defused the situation a little. But we both agreed it was great to be camping again and what is more the food was better, we felt so much more comfortable than being in town. Neither of us had really warmed to Queenstown, other than tourism there is little there, too many flash packers getting their fix from an instant adrenalin rush. Incidentally we later read that Queenstown is second only in the world to Mumbai for the drop in price of its hotels in the recent global recession. I guess this is because people come here to spend money on the activities and if you are not going to partake in any of them there is little point in going there in the first place, few pass through as we have done. Later in the evening we had another argument, this was the most fierce we have had so far, in fact I rather assumed that it would result in us going our separate ways the following morning. I said to Christine “God is rubbing His hands together in glee, He is getting an omnibus edition this evening”. Really, it had been a very interesting topic, the different concepts of relationship, but ironically what had really fuelled the argument was my crap memory. Apparently I had forgotten what I had said during a conversation on the ferry earlier, though I denied ever saying it, it was something I simply didn’t believe in, how could I possibly have said it? I can only assume I had said it in jest, never expecting it to be taken seriously. Amazingly enough we managed to resolve our differences, there is never a dull moment.

It was a cold night, it was only 2 degrees when we go up, though by the time we left it had shot up to 4 degrees. We had only gone a few hundred metres before we saw the first cyclists of the day, they were from Rotorua on the north island. Christine asked them about all the hot springs, something she loves dearly. Then it was into the climb, a steep one that thankfully only went on for a little over 3km, the prize at the top being a great view that was bathed in sunshine, we had been climbing in the shadow of the mountain, we needed the climb to warm us up. Once on the plateau at around 700m the area was just perfect, it had a lovely feeling of complete wilderness, the track making its way through the wide valley towards the mountains at the end, we rode along wondering how on earth it would find its way out. Every now and then the track would plummet to a river, crossing over a small bridge, then climb sharply out again. We arrived at another crossing without a bridge and despite stopping and looking for the easiest route through I still managed to get wet feet. The track had a good surface, we also had a tail wind for a change, we raced along, it was pure joy. Eventually we returned to farming land, we passed through herds of cows, “We could stop and milk one so that we have milk for breakfast” Christine suggested, “Have you considered that it might not be that interested, it might want to run off” I replied, “That’s what you are here for, to hold on to the thing whilst I milk it”. Hmm….she is a city girl, she’s not from the country! We met another cyclist as we were having lunch, he and the group he was with were from Wanaka, we had now met two people today who lived in places we would pass through and there had not been a single invitation to stop over with them, that would never have happened in Australia. Maybe there are just too many cyclists here, they don’t have the novelty value. By the end of the day we were back on tarmac, had passed through a little town and were soon looking for somewhere to camp on flat farmland. We turned down a gravel track and entered a field through a gate and tucked ourselves in at the end sheltered from the elements by a thin strip of trees though we still had a nice view of the mountains. We set up camp and the dining room. Christine has changed so much since we first met. I remember that first night together when all she had was packets of dried food, all she was concerned about was keeping the weight down, she wasn’t into the cooking side of things. Now however she just loves it. Due to the fact that we may not have seen a store we left Queenstown with 3 days supply of food and this evening she went through a long menu for me to chose from, I could hardly believe my ears. Once we had decided what we were to have she sets about the tasks of cooking with such joy, she really doesn’t want me to doing anything towards the dinner, she probably thinks that if I touch anything I will cock it up, I guess I can see her point of view. My only job in that department is to produced an endless supply of hot drinks, though Christine will only have one tea where as I get through 3 or 4 coffees. This works so well for both of us, Christine loves the cooking and we both love the food, the best food I have had in ages. The only problem is that the supplies we carry regularly are getting bigger and bigger, we now seem to have acquired enough herbs and spices to warrant a spice rack, we regularly carry the likes of cream and now Christine wants to increase our utensils starting with a grater, so what happened to the “ultra light” person I met a couple of months ago? She also takes a liking to everything I buy. Over a period of a few days her opinion will completely change. Take the cheap crappy plum jam I bought in Queenstown for example: “What did you buy that rubbish for? If you don’t finish it before we leave you will have to throw it away, it’s a waste of money”, “Pass me the plum jam”, “I quite like this plum jam after all”, “We are running out of plum jam, we will have to get some more”. After dinner we sat and looked at a really pleasant sunset when Christine turned around and pointed out that it was even better through the trees the other way. We walked across the road armed with coffee and cameras and watched the changing colours of the fantastic sunset (photo), pure bliss! During the evening we selected a little extract from the Peace Pilgrim book that had caused us so many problems before, it made for a really good discussion. It was all about our own life mission, something I had not thought about before. Christine had, she thought hers was to be open minded and to make others open minded. Well, she has certainly had an impact on me, she certainly makes me see things from a different angle that is for sure. We discussed what mine might be, she even gave me “homework” for the following day, to come up with three qualities that I am good at that could be used on my mission in life that could be of benefit to others. We also discussed the effect possessions have on our lives, how the more possessions you have the more they tie down your lives and make us inflexible. This trip has really brought home that fact to me.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight! Shepherd’s here seem to like bad weather as after a few days of fantastic weather the morning was looking pretty bad, heavily overcast. Early on we passed an apple tree, Christine has the ability to spot fruit tree at half a kilometre, I have the ability to crash into them and still not realise they are laden in fruit. Once my front panniers could take not a single apple more we set off again, the drizzle starting to fall on us. During the day I could often hear Christine curse, we were passing more apple trees when she had been convinced we had passed the only one we would see. We stopped to eat outside a village hall then Christine went inside to refill her water bottles, but apparently they were far from welcoming, it all seemed too much effort for them. We were now heading north and back towards the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, suddenly we were heading into a brisk headwind. It was depressing, a long, long straight that seemed to take forever to cycle along, it slowed us down considerably. We stopped for lunch before riding along the shores of the lake and amazingly by the time we set off the wind had dropped, the road twisted along the banks of the lake with high mountains on either side and suddenly life was really good again. We were approaching the “Devil’s Staircase”, we have those in Britain, it’s always bad news for a cyclist, it means a bloody steep hill with switch backs, though not apparently in New Zealand, it just meant it went up a little bit and the road wasn’t quite straight, though it still looked dramatic alongside the lake. We camped in another field with great views of the lake and mountains. We crossed the field passing two sheep, then tucked ourselves out of sight behind a group of trees. Over dinner I had to hand in my “homework”. I find it very difficult to look at myself and see the good points, but I came up with being diplomatic, being positive and being a calming influence, though some might just say I am laid back. (Having a good memory is not one of my finer points, I just had to ask Christine what I had said I was good at). After a long discussion Christine gave me her view, that I was good at talking to people and having empathy with them. It began to drizzle again, a signal for an early night.

As we retraced our steps across the field in the morning the two sheep were in exactly the same place as when we had seen them the previous evening. After a short climb to start the day it was downhill all the way to Frankton, where we turned right having decided not to turn left and return to nearby Queenstown, our original plan. We had already ridden this short section of road on our way into Queenstown and this gave Christine another chance to display her skills with fruit trees, remembering exactly where she had passed some grapes hanging down at the road side. They were a little small but delicious. Before the long and steep climb to cross the Crown Range we stopped for a brief snack, to me that meant a biscuit, but Christine takes any food very seriously and out came crumpets and a jar of Nutella amongst other things. I was the perfect gentleman and put a very thick layer onto one of the crumpets and passed it to her, “What’s that?” she asked, “It’s for you” I replied, “Where’s the Nutella?” was all she could say, a thick layer to me is a light covering to her. Before we set off she said “I am taking this packet of sweets, don’t expect there to be any left”, “Whenever there is a packet opened by you I never expect to see the thing again” I replied. I reached for the biscuits “What are you doing?” she asked, “You have already had one” she added. “That’s my exact point, you open a packet, I have one and you have the rest, now do you understand why I am so possessive about my poxy white chocolate?” And so we were into the climb, starting with a steep series of switchbacks. Christine had been dreading the climb, but I don’t know why, she went up without any problems. There was then a gentle climb for 5 km before another steep section that took us to the top of the pass, where there was a plaque stating that at 1074m it was the highest sealed road in the country, something that really surprised me, I had assumed we were in for much bigger climbs along the west coast. From there the sign indicated it was downhill for the final 40km to Wanaka. The first few kilometres were steep, I whizzed through the bends heading down into a steep sided gully, though I was only going so fast because my brakes are just about knackered. I stopped to take a photo, but it was like trying to stop an oil tanker, I needed about 500m. We passed through Cardrona, well known for its historical hotel. As we continued Christine yelled out “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!”, it sounded urgent, very urgent, it couldn’t possible be an apple tree, I guessed she must have spotted a plum tree, I was right! It was the first plum tree we have found, we picked a bagful and continued to Wanaka, Christine delighted that she had picked apples, plums and grapes all in a single day.

The forecast was for a very wet day, it was right. We stayed put in Wanaka which gave me a chance to replace all of my brake blocks, it will be quite a novelty stopping where I actually want to!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Day 668 - Queenstown

We had a leisurely start from Dunedin, in fact it was so leisurely that we even had lunch before we left the place. The sun was shining, it was so much warmer than the previous day, but the cycling was once again uninspiring, the main road was busy and some of it we weren’t even allowed to cycle on, though I guess on reflection that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Still, it was only a few kilometres to Mosgiel, then we moved on to quieter roads at long last, though it was still hardly spectacular. We came to the little village of Outram and decided to push on to the next village before we stopped for the night, though we never made it there, we started heading upwards and it was upwards for the rest of the day. I stopped and looked back at the valley we had left behind, it was quite bizarre to look at, there were no end of pine trees all planted in rows as windbreaks, and from a distance it looked like a whole series of fences on a horse race track. We found a great campsite really easily, a large field with no livestock looking across to the mountains. We tucked ourselves into the corner and enjoyed the crystal clear night and a great display of the stars.
Now for a short aside. The following little gem is from Christine's blog, it's an interesting foresight into bellringing for the perspective of somebody who has never seen it before:
"One of the reasons for that is one of John's hobbies: Bell ringing. No German would have ever heard of it and indeed it is a very British thing. You have to picture the following: Early on a Sunday morning some very distinguished looking older and younger gentlemen (some wearing socks up to their knees combined with shorts that are held up by a belt shortly under their chin) congregate in a bell tower to do the Sunday mass ringing. They stand around in a circle each holding on to a bell rope looking very solemn. One shouts a command and then the ringing starts. The ringing follows a certain pattern (the aforementioned command) and sometimes they fuck it up."

We left reasonably early the following morning and despite the sounds of cows in the vicinity, we saw none at all in the field that we had been in. It was another wonderfully clear morning, cloud was hanging around in the valleys, even around midday the cloud was still there, creating a lovely feeling to the landscape. The road rolled along nicely, not too steep, but enough to make progress a little slow, though through this landscape it was pure pleasure, the busy, flat roads seemed a million miles away, this was more like the New Zealand I was expecting to see. We were heading towards Middlemarch, the closer we got the more the landscape was littered with rock outcrops, I would dearly loved to have camped amongst them, but it was way too early. Arrival at Middlemarch was in really hot sunshine, almost too hot where we eat lunch in a sheltered little spot. This was also the start point for a complete change to our usual cycling, here we started on the Otago Central Rail Trail, an old railway line that linked the gold mining towns of Otago to Dunedin, the track has long since gone and it has now been changed into a cycle way, probably one of the most popular in the country. The whole route had been converted to gravel with lots of little shelters and spots giving information. We set on a straight flat section in the middle of the valley. Before long we were stopping at the memorial for the Hyde rail disaster in 1943. The train had entered a cutting at 120kph when the speed limit was just 60, the engine derailed causing the following carriages to pile up into one another, 21 people died, 6 of them strangely enough were named John. We had been picking plenty of apples prior to Dunedin, but since then we hadn’t seen a single one, though along the rail track there were lots of them, some pear trees too, all seeded from cores that had been thrown out of the passing trains by passengers. The trail is surprisingly popular, especially as we were on it mid week and off season too. The route only passed through tiny little villages, but tourism is now thriving in them, accommodation is filled to capacity, bikes are in evidence outside the hotels of parked on trailers of mini buses. It was only 5pm, people were sat relaxing and having drinks as we passed through Hyde. From here we had the trail to ourselves and it wasn’t long before we were heading high up through a lovely steep sided valley, a fast flowing river running along the bottom, it was just beautiful and what’s more there was nice flat grass there, it was too good an opportunity to miss so we decided to camp there the night. The only problem was that this was clearly land that was grazed by sheep, sheep poo was everywhere. I put on the first brew of the evening there were even a couple of bits of sheep poo in the water that was on the stove, how on earth did they get there? I flipped them out with a spoon before Christine would notice, I am sure it would only enhance the flavour of her fruit teas anyway! As it was getting dark I noticed a sultana on the ground sheet I was sitting on and not wanting to waste any calories I just popped it in my mouth then thought “Hang on, was that a sultana or a bit of sheep poo”, thankfully it wasn’t the latter. During the evening we started to read a book together, Christine wanted to read it, whilst I would correct her pronunciation or tell her the meaning of words she had not heard of before, though in that area I once again proved to be “u-sless“. The book was just a short book that she had read before, Steps Towards Inner Peace by Peace Pilgrim, a book about the “Harmonious Principles for Human Living”. It’s an interesting book, one for discussion and self reflection. We had only got through a few pages and we were starting to discuss the beliefs that we live our lives by, we questioned each others beliefs and motives, but they were very different from each others. The discussion turned towards an argument, I was tired, too tired to reason properly, too stubborn to back down on anything. We argued long into the evening, it wasn’t a nice argument, neither of us would accept anything the other would say, we had to agree to disagree. By morning Christine had said that she didn’t want to read the book together any more, she said “We are reading a book about peace and all we can do is argue, it is driving us apart”. She wanted to throw the book away, I insisted that we at least give it another go, perhaps when we are less tired. We had recently had a long discussion on trust, so she wasn’t best pleased when I took the book to carry, “Can I trust you not to throw the book away then?” I asked “Yes, of course you can” she replied. So with that I gave it back to her, though as yet we haven’t started reading it again yet, I will let you know when we do.

By the time we left the following morning it as already evident that it wasn’t going to be such a nice day, it was well overcast. We started the day with a tunnel, only a short one so I didn’t bother to put my lights on, but despite being able to see light at the end of the tunnel, it was remarkably difficult to maintain balance, I should learn from my mistakes, I rarely do, I am pretty sure that has happened before. The drizzle set in, it was getting cold, time to put on shoes and warm weather clothes again. We stopped at a shelter, but we couldn’t get in as others had the same idea, but that was a blessing, it was to warm up from then on, we would only have had to stop again to remove the extra layers. We reached Ranfurly, the main village that we would pass through that day, time to visit the supermarket. I then realised that my rear tyre was well down on pressure, so whilst Christine did the shopping I found shelter in the old station and did a quick replacement. As I tried to unscrew the valve to release the remaining pressure the valve came off in my hand that has never happened to me before but at least it saved the time in searching for the cause of the puncture. Christine returned with a bagful of food, all at amazing value, she seems to do much better when I am not around, despite me constantly telling her that I am spending far more since we have been travelling together. As we sat and ate lunch at the station I suddenly realised that not a single cyclist had passed in the direction that we were going in, about 15-20 had gone the other way. Most people were on “Cycle Surgery” bikes, hired from the main bike shop in Dunedin, they must be doing a roaring trade there. Before we left Ranfurly we called in at the display of vintage tractors, Christine’s instant comment was “Well I wouldn’t call these vintage tractors, it’s typical of the Australians an New Zealanders to make an attraction out of nothing”, I agreed, it wasn’t long before we were heading back out. Despite there being so many cyclists coming towards us, they passed in waves. There were certain villages that were the accommodation centres and as people left at roughly the same time each morning they would pass us in groups. We met plenty as we climbed to the highest point of the trail at 618m, Christine getting fed up with comments from everybody “Nearly there now” or “Not far to the summit”. By about 15:30 we would see nobody else, so when we later came to a viaduct with great views, just before entering another tunnel and a steep gorge, we decided to stop for the night with another classic camping spot. As we set up camp the sun came out for the first time of the day, we could hardly believe how hot it was. It was a Wednesday, time for God to tune in to his favourite soap opera, we hadn’t been delivering Him the goods recently, but we would make up for it tonight. As we prepared dinner we started to talk about plans for staying in Queenstown and what we would do there, we weren’t seeing eye to eye, we started to argue, this time more heated than normal, in fact we started to shout at each other and what’s more we clearly weren’t getting anywhere. It was time to back off, just let each other cool down a little, so I left Christine to continue with the cooking and I started on writing my diary. I felt much calmer, but the body language coming from Christine indicated to me that she certainly wasn’t feeling the same way, but at least we weren’t shouting at one another. Then in a rather emotional yet restrain voice Christine said “If you want something to eat tonight you will have to pass me the water”, so I passed her the water but didn’t say anything, I just continued with writing the diary. “If you are not too over worked could you pass me more water” she said a few seconds later, though this time a bit more aggressively. Now I consider myself pretty diplomatic in such occasions, it’s all about choosing the right words carefully, then delivering them at the right time, in the right tone of voice, so with expert precision I replied with “Pass me more water…..PLEASE”. Clearly this time I had misjudged it a little, she was furious, she got up, stormed around the other side of me and got the water herself whilst I continued writing, then when she sat down again there was more shouting, dinner was mighty close to being thrown away, it probably would have been if food wasn‘t so important to Christine too. By now I was much calmer, more rational and before long we were discussing things again in a civil manner, and what’s more we quickly came to a satisfactory decision together. To Christine’s credit she apologised saying that this time it was her being silly, normally it is me, or at least she thinks it is. On this occasion the whole problem had centred on something that is a great problem for, that of noise. She hates noise of any description, especially when she is trying to sleep, so when it comes to stopping in a town or city, finding a quiet location is her top priority. Camping things are much easier, though we could never use a camp site, something I don’t want to do anyway, but we also have to be far away from any road, and that is not always possible, especially in places such as New Zealand where there are so many mountains. Some things bring an amazingly fast mood swing in Christine, though it has to be said that she can also swing from a bad mood to a good one very quickly, will apologise quickly if she feels she has wronged and bears no grudges, I admire her for that. We were getting on again, even to the extent that Christine cooked up an apple crumble. Camping here is of the luxurious variety! The night was rounded off with a marvellous sunset (photo), did that mean God had enjoyed the latest episode of his soap opera?

The following days start was once again through a couple of tunnels as the rail trail passed through Poolburn Gorge. On the map it looked as though all the good scenery was over with, but it remained really nice all the way through to the end. Once again we passed riders heading the other way in waves, most I would say rarely ride a bike, some looked as though they had never ridden a bike before, a bike coming towards them was a major obstacle that required ever ounce of concentration, it was etched all over their faces, some couldn’t even stop themselves straying into our path, still, they were trying, taking on the challenge. The mornings weather was dramatic, there was a mixture of cloud and clear blue sky, but with one really imposing black cloud (photo) that looked as though it was waiting for us to pass under. We did, though strangely enough it seemed to be a delivery for somebody else. We had a couple of days without any serious wind, so much better than the southerlies we had been battling against as we made our way to Dunedin, but today saw the wind picking up again, this time it was coming from the west…we were heading west! The reason everybody else cycled it in the other directions is to catch the prevailing winds, I could see why, they had got it right that’s for sure. We went off route and did a shop and had a break in Alexandra before completing the last 8km of the 150km cycle track, though the ending in Clyde was particularly uninspiring. To make matters worse we could see that the road we would soon be cycling on was climbing up the hillside. It seemed very strange to be amongst traffic again, we had only been on the trail for 48 hours, but it was so nice not to ever have to be concerned about traffic. After the climb we dropped down in the now strong headwind to Lake Dunstan and fabulous scenery again, steep mountains on both sides with just a narrow lake and the road on the valley floor. It was slow going though in that wind, we weren’t sure if we would make it to Cromwell, the next point that we would be able to pick up water. But make it we did, we collected water and continued through the wider, populated valley. Ahead we could see trees, this was our hope for camping for the night, but when we arrived it was all orchards surrounded by tall trees acting as wind breaks. We cycled through them, camping looked hopeless, we needed the trees for shelter from the wind but it was all private land. We stopped at somebody’s front garden, good flat lawn with fruit trees and a small track leading away. We walked up the steep hill to the house, a big Swiss style house. We both thought it was going to be a waste of time but when we asked we were surprised to hear “Of course you can”. We got talking, mainly in German, the guy was a dentist who had practiced in Germany for 8 years, he seemed really delighted to be able to speak in German for while. As we left to set up camp he called out “Enjoy your stay”. It was a perfect little spot with the best apples and pears so far, picked up from the ground of the trees in our host’s garden.

We made an early start to maximise our time in Queenstown, though the wind was once again doing it’s best to limit out time there. The ride was once again of the spectacular variety, through a steep gorge with fast flowing river. It may have been hard work, but when you are surrounded by such mountains, it doesn’t seem as nearly so bad. We stopped at Kawarau Bridge, the first site to start commercial bungy jumping. We stopped long enough to see a couple have a thrill, though I was surprised to see that the thrill was all over in about 15 seconds, it was a dramatic setting for it though. We were only a few kilometres from Queenstown when I had a puncture on the front tyre, Christine had been ahead of me, I could see her, but there was no she could hear me or I could catch her, I had to stop. She returned about 15 minutes later, she looked very distressed bless her. She didn’t know what had happened to me, all she knew was that I had been there at the start of a long fast descent and then she didn’t know where I was. I tend to go pretty quick down the hills, I don’t use the brakes unless I have to, going downhill is when I make a little time for going so slow up them, but she thought the worst had happened, she thought I must have had an accident, she keeps telling me I have a death wish. The puncture turned out to be bad news, the seam on the inside of the tyre was splitting and the rough edges of it had caused the puncture. I taped it up, I thought it would last a few more thousand kilometres, but when I pumped it back up I also saw a small damaged area on the outside, so perhaps going so fast down hill wouldn’t be such a good idea right now! I had rather hoped that the front tyre would last the whole trip, though to be honest it is getting a little thin. The back is well worn too, I expected to have to change that very soon, not the front one. Thankfully, since Bangkok I have been carrying two spare tyres, so the plan now is to change both tyres and keep the worn rear tyre as a spare until I can find another Schwalbe Marathon XR tyre, though they are rarely stocked in any cycle shop. For information the front tyre has been on since the start of the trip so has covered over 42,000 kilometres, the rear tyre has been on since Phnom Penn in Cambodia and covered 20,000 kilometres, that’s much better going than I would have expected from them. On my road bikes at home I expect about 6,000 and 3,000 kilometres from front and rear respectively, though they are very different tyres. And so we eventually arrived in Queenstown in the rain. We searched around for somewhere quiet to stay, that normally means well away from the centre and involved a trip to the Information Office, something that I wouldn’t ever even think of if I was on my own, it also involved a climb up another very steep hill. Queenstown is nothing special as a town, though it’s setting is just fantastic, surrounded by mountains and on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, it is just glorious. It is the activities that draws in the crowds though, this place in Instant Gratification City, choose your thrill from bungy-jumping, caving, rafting, sledging, jet boating, skiing, sky diving, paragliding to name but a few. None of them really fall into my list of things to do, but don’t forget I am just a boring old fart. Interestingly during the evening I was reading a little booklet about all the activities to do here in Queenstown, complete with prices. They all stated a duration such "Duration 1 hour", but in the case of bungy-jumping it stated "Allow 1 hr". I suspect that if they had written "Duration 15 seconds" alongside the price tag of $165, they might not have had so many takers. If you calculate at an hourly rate it comes to a whopping $39,600 an hour!

And so to Saturday 21st of March, my birthday, and was a beautiful clear morning it dawned too. Ok, technically it is not my birthday at all, but some time ago Christine and I had talked about what we had done on out last birthday and it turned out that we had both been entirely alone and we had both had really bad and tough days, we hadn’t celebrated at all. So we had decided we would celebrate them together and I had chosen March 21st. Actually it was great, I had been looking forward to it as though it had been my real birthday, Christine was getting so much pleasure from planning things too. There was only one thing I really wanted to do whilst we were in Queenstown and that was to head up the mountain to the lookout. Christine, despite being a very keen walker didn’t want to do it as she said she had seen so many fantastic views in the States on her various walk that she was really interested in the hike, though as it was my birthday she joined me without any complaint. We declined not to take the cable car up and walked up the track instead, one of the few, other than the odd mountain biker, though even they cadged lifts off vans heading upwards. In Instant Gratification City the thought of having to put any effort into your instant thrill is clearly a no no! We hadn’t carried any water up, though I assured Christine there would be a café there, “Surely not” she said, though I pointed out that in a town that has mastered the technique of emptying a wallet before you can even say “HOW MUCH?”, they would surely not miss out on the opportunity to make a few more bucks, besides, after a few minutes in a cable car people would need to sit down and have something to eat. Once at the top the views were great, but needless to say there were still more ways of getting your thrill, but the view were spectacular (photo). The rest of the day was pretty leisurely and no birthday would be complete without the odd pressie or two, and they had been well thought out as well. I was given a box of elastic bands, apparently I am a bit paranoid about them, they get put around everything, and when I lose one everything has to stop until it is found, or least so I am told. I was also given a new wash bag come general bits and bobs bag, my old was falling apart and since Christine has done a few stitching repairs already she really couldn’t face doing any more. But best of all was a lovely little jade cross to wear on the chain I have around my neck. Actually I have been looking for months for one that I like and I have never found anything suitable, though I have to admit I would never thought of jade. Come evening we ate out, I chose a nice cosy little place. We ordered a dish each and decided to eat half of each, then swap over. I ordered the moussaka, but when it arrived neither of us could believe just how tiny it was “That’s pathetic” said Christine as I went in search of a magnifying glass. Once we had finished we were asked if everything had been ok, Christine replied “It was very nice, but to be honest we are both still hungry, and at that price we had expected much more”. A few minutes later we were given another one on the house, though even with two I would still say it was a small portion. So the day had been just perfect, glorious sunshine the whole time, I couldn’t have asked for anything better, a vast improvement on my actual birthday. I recommend having a birthday when it suites you, or at least celebrating it when it suites you. Go on, give it a try.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Day 622 - Dunedin

Before we departed Christchurch we visited the main art gallery, it seems we have art in common too. We split up and later Christine took me into the room that contained her favourite painting, I was able to select which one it was with out being told. Interestingly enough she was able to do the same to me when I took her into the room with my favourite painting. We also both agreed that some of the modern art was a pile of poo! If you are not an art buff you might find that last technical description a little difficult to understand.

We departed Christchurch in far less sunshine than we had the pleasure of whilst we were looking around the place, it could even be described as nippy. Actually it was a bit of a boring ride. We were on the main road heading south to Dunedin, it was farmland with little else to look at other than flock after flock of sheep, but don’t worry, I haven’t been here long enough to start fancying them yet. It was flat, or so flat, and busy, very busy. The traffic never really subsided the whole day. There were lots of pine trees, but they weren’t in forests, not even woods, they were all in lines to form a windbreak. Many of them were so well kept and pruned with crisp edges that Christine chipped in “They wouldn’t look out of place in an English garden”. We crossed bridges over rivers including the longest bridge in New Zealand at about 2km, but the amazing thing was that there was water flowing underneath, fast slowing water, in Australia they had just been bridges over dry river beds. We spent far too long sat down a lunch, as we chatted away time was once again slipping by unnoticed. With so much farmland it was going to prove challenging to find a spot to camp when we needed one. We filled up on food and water and started looking, the temperature was dropping. We found nothing suitable though along a gravel road the verges were beautifully maintained outside the farms, it might prove the only thing available, so as we saw a farmer entering a field we asked if we could camp outside of his farm “You could, but I can tell you a much better place. If you head towards those bales over there and take Paper Lane there will be nothing along that track. It is forecast to snow tomorrow mind”. So that is what we did, it was a bit exposed and more than a tad bumpy to lie on, but we settled in as the temperature was dropping further. We were soon to discover distinct advantages over camping in Australia, there are no flies and so far no ants, though sadly there are no fruit cakes either!

The morning was a clear one, no sign of that snow, but we could clearly see mountains in front of us, they hadn’t even been visible yesterday. I had bought some porridge the previous day, that went down oh so well on a cool morning, though Christine didn‘t like it, but it did give her something else to moan about for days on end. With the mountains to our right the riding was a little more interesting, though still no evidence of the road getting any quieter. We stopped at a supermarket to buy some lunch for the road and I had pointed out that any visit to a supermarket was taking far to long, “Ok, it will be quicker if I go around on my own, I can do it easily in 15 minutes” said Christine. “15 minutes! That’s an age, I will time you”, “Ok” she replied, “I will try and be back in `12 minutes”. I set the stopwatch, she was back in 3 minutes 26 seconds armed with lots of goodies including two 250g bars of chocolate…spot on. To save a little time we decided to have no longer than a one hour lunch break. It went so quick, I dread to think how long yesterday’s had been. The temperature had picked up nicely and during the morning we enjoyed the benefit of a slight tailwind, but once we set off again the wind was changing directions, what’s more it was picking up strength rapidly. We entered the large city of Timaru, time for the daily supermarket ritual, this one took a little longer, though it‘s obvious that food is much cheaper in NZ, especially the chocolate. When we came out we were amazed, it had completely clouded over, the temperature had plummeted, the wind was even stronger and to make matter worse it looked like rain. We set off into the biting wind, we were soon stopping for Christine to put an extra layer on. After a few hours in the wind we were tiring rapidly, once again things didn’t look good for camping, but another excursion down a side road brought us to a little used field with some bee hives in, there were also some very large pine trees, so we took refuge underneath them, it was lovely and sheltered, just a draught reaching us, but still the sound of the strong wind through the branches, we even had a shed for the bikes beside us. The dinner ritual hasn’t subsided, in fact they just seem to get better and better.

It was still very windy the following morning, cold too. We had a distinct lack of enthusiasm, I expect we would have stayed put if we had only had enough food to see us through the day. But it was worth moving a little just to see if we still had a nasty headwind. We were soon back at the main road and it was all too obvious that we still had that headwind, oh joy! Right from that start it was a slog. I stopped at a little village and waited for Christine, I got talking to a couple of Maoris’ that had stopped by at a little store. They assured me that this was unusual weather for this time of year, but that it was raining further south, but before they left that kindly gave us a bag of fruit, all eaten in the evening as a fruit salad with creamed rice. We decided to push on and just see what happened, it was cold. I was getting very cold, so we decided that I should press on and wait at the next village. By the time I got there I was uncomfortably cold, the wind was still strong and it was time for an extra layer of clothes. I went for the whole hog, out came shoes and socks, the first time I have worn shoes for over a year, leggings, thick jacket, a second shirt and even gloves. Once going again it felt so strange to have my feet enclosed, but at least I was beginning to feel a little warmer. I haven’t mentioned arguments or discussions lately have I? Actually Christine insists they are not arguments, it is just me being silly. I decided to bring up the topic of our chocolate eating habits, I guessed I would be touch on a delicate subject, I was right. Now, we always buy a bar each, big bars, 250g bars. Mine is always white chocolate, I am not that bothered about that milk chocolate stuff and what’s more, I love the white chocolate, I really savour it, generally eating it in the evening, never during the day. Christine tends to eat hers during the day. So what happens? Well, Christine will start on hers during the day, she chews it and it is gone before you can say “Cadburys”. She does offer me some, but I only take a little due to the reasons mentioned earlier. Come evening I open my beloved white chocolate, break a couple of pieces off and start to really savour it, but then I reach down for a third little square only to find an empty wrapper rusting in the wind. We “discussed” the situation “That’s complete rubbish” she said “Exactly, that is all I am left with” I replied. “I never eat your chocolate, I don’t even like white sodding chocolate” she told me. Well that only added insult to injury, she was eating all of my divine white chocolate and she then says she doesn’t even like it! I tried to get her to agree that we would buy our own chocolate and only eat our own chocolate, though she didn’t like the idea of that, I guess she thought she wouldn’t be able to eat mine then. Actually she did point out that up to that point she had bought all the chocolate for me anyway, hmm, a good point. Nothing really got resolved or agreed, I am just going to have to learn to eat it quicker. It started to rain, rain hard, as if the cold headwind wasn’t enough. We took shelter under the steps of a welding workshop, it rained even harder. I went inside “Is is alright if we go in that barn over there to shelter?”, “Yeah, you can help yourself, but if you go upstairs there are tables and chairs and you can help yourself to coffee if you like”. That went down oh so well. Once the rain eased we were back into the wind. I explained to Christine how she would find it much easier if she sheltered from the wind behind me, though she would have to keep close, hopefully this would make us a little faster. She stuck with me for a while, then I looked around to find she had dropped off, I would slow down, wait for her return, then pick up the speed again. The same thing kept happening, when she was behind me I went no faster than 13.5kph, normally only 12.5, when I had to wait for her I seemed to be cycling for an age at about 8kph, I found it very frustrating, I could get no rhythm and it was slow going and cold too, to be honest it was all a waste of time. I decided to do a little experiment, so having monitored the speeds for a few kilometres I let her go in front and see what happened, I actually expected her to go a little faster. I was shocked by what happened, the pace immediately picked up to a minimum of 15.5kph, it wasn’t even temporary, it went of for kilometres, and what ’s more she was singing and sounding totally happy. “Great” I thought, I get to shelter behind her from the wind AND we get to go faster. We weren’t going to make it to Oamaru by nightfall so we called in at a little store that stocked all but nothing, then crossed another wide river and went in search of somewhere to camp for the night. It didn’t take too long, down another gravel track, then across a stream into a small pine wood. There we had company from a little bird with a long tail, it was so tame/brave sitting on a branch just feet from us. I guess it was waiting to check the ground we had disturbed. During the evening I rationed Christine to a maximum of half of my white chocolate bar, though she still makes me feel guilty as my half last so much longer than hers. Why should I feel guilty anyway, she doesn’t even like the stuff!

We woke to the sound of wind, still, it wasn’t that bad, there was no decision to make though, we were just continuing and hopefully by afternoon it would have eased up. The first kilometres in Oamaru were on the flat with not as much wind as we expected, really easy. We were there by early morning, too early to be calling into a bar for a swift pint Jackie, especially as I didn’t read your note until we arrived in Dunedin, but thanks anyway. The daily ritual of the supermarket trip completed we were once again on our way, at last leaving the main road and heading down to the coastline, and very beautiful it was too, big surf to our left and snow covered rugged mountains to our right. We took a route that a local had directed us along, the road is closed to traffic as it is falling into the sea, so we battled against the wind in peace. The wind was picking up, it was giving us a real pounding, we needed lunch and there was no shelter anywhere. I stopped at the top of a hill and waited beside an open and empty garage for Christine to arrive. She had exactly the same idea as me, let’s head into the garage for a bit of shelter. We thought we had better ask at the house first, they didn’t mind at all, they even offered us tea and two minutes later they had persuaded us to go inside. We had a wonderful time there, they were dairy farmers so we learnt a little about farming here in New Zealand. Apparently they milk the cows for about 11 years, “What happens to them after that? Do they go for dog meat?” I asked, “No, they go to Mac Donalds” came the reply. An hour and a half flew by before we left, but before we went they gave us 3 enormous pork chops from the pigs that they keep there too. The wind was even worse when we left, it was howling a gale “If it’s too bad for you, you had better come back here for the night” they called out as we struggled down the driveway. Progress was now VERY slow, the wind so strong that at times I dare not even move my hand to change gear, I needed my hands firmly grasping the handlebar just to try and keep a straight line and to assist in giving me enough power just to keep the bike moving. We discussed what we should do, but as we tried to cycle beside each other we had to shout at the top of our voices to be heard. Big gusts would hit us that kept forcing us to stop, but we were heading for the main road so we decided to get there and hope there would be a little more shelter. There was a little more shelter, for about the first 2 kilometres, then we had a crosswind, that was even worse, we were now stopping even more often as the wind tried to force us off the road. Lorries came past, that was even worse, it was now down right dangerous. It was still very early, but we decided to throw the towel in, progress was so slow anyway, and it was just too dangerous. We were passing a bit of forest, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so we went off down a side road and called in at another house for some water. We were once again invited in “The house belongs to my sister, I am sure she would love you to stay the night, she will be back soon if you want to wait”. We didn’t want to be a burden on somebody we hadn’t even met, so after a chat and fully loaded with water and having turned down some massive wild mushrooms as we already had some for the evening meal we found a gate into the forest and went in deep enough to have really good shelter from the wind. Christine utilised the spare time by doing a bit more sewing for me, everything seems to be falling apart at the moment, she is doing a marvellous job. So a tough day ended, but at least it was much warmer, I had the sandals back on and the gloves were packed away again, but not so deep this time.

After a quiet night from the wind it was once again blowing by the time we left, we were about 90 kilometres from Dunedin and we really wanted to get there by the evening. After about 10k we reach Moeraki, home of a wonderful beach and a group of very unusual boulders on the beach, they are completely spherical and nobody really knows why. As we walked the 300m along the beach from the car park we were immediately surprised at just how few there were and how small they were too, “They are as bad in New Zealand as they are in Australia at talking up their sights” Christine complained. To be honest, when we actually got there we both thought they were pretty impressive. The road hugged the coastline, the scenery south of Oamaru had been a great improvement, though now the hills and mountains we only green the high mountains are out of sight, but this was more like the New Zealand we had expected to see. The problem with being by the sea was that the wind was hitting us full on, though not the gale we had experienced the previous day, we were once again reduced to a crawl, but at least there was something good to look at the whole time, that improved things no end. We lunched at Palmerston where despite an early start we had still only covered a measly 33km. We made the decision there that we weren’t going to make it to Dunedin, it was just too slow going. That took the pressure off a little, we could now just settle down and really enjoy the headwind in all its glory. We passed a couple of cyclists heading the other way, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. After a climb and descent we arrived at Waitati, filled up with water from the fire station, and started to look for a place to camp. The only spot we could find was a spot very close to the road on private land, though not used for anything. I hauled myself up a long steep gravel drive to try and gain permission, but there was nobody there. Christine had really had enough, she hates the slightest noise, so the fact that she was keen to camp right next to a gravel road was fare indication that she had done enough for one day. She revived quickly once we had set up camp and consumed the wonderful pork chops and stewed the apples we had picked from the trees during the day. With a bit of cream on top and cooked with sultanas they were just perfect.
We were now only about 25km from Dunedin, surely we would at last get there today, having spent two nights out longer than expected. Thursday’s bell ringing practice had long gone, but at least we would still be around on Sunday. But with only a few kilometres to go the wind had dropped completely, it was dead still as we climbed the long hill on the back road which gave marvellous views across the bay and of Port Chalmers, then later a glorious view before the long descent into Dunedin itself. Back on the flat we stopped of at Baldwin Street, claimed to be the steepest street in the world with a section in the middle of 1:2.83. The road was full of tourists, I rather fancied a go at cycling up it, not loaded of course, but with the thought of either making it or falling off in the process of trying, I decided not to have a go with so many people around. I find it a little unnerving when the front wheel lifts of the ground going up a 1:4, so I am sure I would feel as though I would go over backwards on this one. Just a little further along we turned off to go to a B&B, up another long, alarmingly steep hill. After the first shower in 5 days and a blast of real coffee we made our way into the centre. It’s a pleasant little city with strong Scottish connections, it sure felt cold enough! After a tour of the bike shops we called in at St Paul’s Cathedral….oh dear! Most of the church is oldish, but they ran out of money before it was completed, so they built a temporary altar area on it. Around 1970, they decided that they really ought to do something about it, so architects entered a competition and submitted their designs. Well what a disaster, the modern concrete structure smacks you in the face as soon as you walk in, it’s just terrible. We had an evening meal back at the B&B. Joyce, our landlady invited some of her friends around, they were lecturers at the university, one of them teaching Maori, so it was fascinating to learn a little of the language and the culture. Unlike the Aboriginals in Australia, the Maoris’ only have one language, and here you see signs in both Maori and English. We also discovered that tourists here are called "loopies". It originate from the fact that they do a loop of the South Island, but it now means that I am travelling with a loopy German loopy!

This morning we were up early, then cycled into the city centre on a crisp clear morning to ring at the most southerly set of church bells in the world. We were there bang on time, in fact we were the only once there, we were still the only ones there 15 minutes later, things weren’t looking good at all. It was soon confirmed that the ringing had been cancelled this morning as a few of the locals were away. It is safe to say that I wasn’t entirely pleased. We spent the rest of the day looking around town. We had lunch at a food court starting with Sushi, then I sent Christine off for some Chinese food, as much as you can fit on you plate for $9.50. I sent her as I would feel bad about putting too much on so wouldn’t make the most of it, I was proud of her, the plate was stacked high, it didn’t bother her at all, she thinks I am a wimp! We also checked out the museums and an art gallery. It’s now Sunday, it’s over a week since we had a decent argument, or at least a week since I was “being silly” about something, that is if you excluded the discussion on chocolate. Incidentally, that reminds me, we bought another couple of 250g bars of chocolate, this time Christine chose white chocolate. What’s that all about, I am really not happy about that, I think it’s a ploy to confuse me so that she can eat more of mine. I wouldn’t let her buy it until she admitted that she actually likes it….she did. The same problem is starting to happen with porridge, she doesn’t like it, tells me not to buy anymore, then by the end of the packet she tells me “We will have something different tomorrow, then we can go back to porridge again”. Women!

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Day 655 - Christchurch (New Zealand)

My last day in Australia was spent cruising around Adelaide. It has a lovely layout, a grid sectioned Central Business District surrounded by a green belt, rather like a moat. To the north of this grid lies another 3 smaller grids, also separated by moats. On a map it looks just great, though in reality it has a different feel to it, though it maintains its green city charm. Most of the points of interest lie along the northern road of the CBD and it was here that I took in the South Australia Art Gallery. It wasn’t a bad gallery, but I was just tired. I sat down to rest my weary legs and fell asleep for half an hour. I was vaguely aware of a curator that kept passing me, probably trying to decide what to do with this dozing tramp that he had suddenly acquired. I cooked for Sophie, Tobi and Bernie on the last night, a good sociable evening around the table trying to organise a party for Bernie’s family and friends the following week. I was convinced I would see everybody the following morning, a big mistake, I was only able to say goodbye and thank you in person to Tobi. The previous night Sophie’s unsociable cat Nikki seemed to have taken a shine to me, she came over and slept on the bed next to me for the whole night, how sweet! I assumed she would do the same on the last night. She came over, puked on the floor beside me and walked off, her way of saying “If you think I am that easy to win over, think again”.

So I departed for the airport having said only one third of my farewells, it felt strange creeping out trying not to wake anybody up. The route to the airport was so easy, things could only get worse, they did…rapidly. Flying and checking in is hardly exciting, in fact when you cycle everywhere they are just a real nuisance. Little did I realise I was heading for the worst check-in experience I have ever had. Having sorted all my stuff out and still having 3 bags to check in rather than the one allowed, I made my way to the desk. “Oh, that bike needs to go into a box, you can get them over there for $22” I was told. I rather expected them to say that, but it was going to be a bit of a problem as I only had $20 as Christine’s had only cost $15, so I used my usual tactics of “Well I have never had to use a bike box on any flight, ever”. That’s true, but I backed it up with another fact that they didn’t seem to realise, “and besides, there is nothing on your website that states I need to pack it in a box”. After a few minutes checking they came back and said “Ok, you can send it without a box, but it goes at your own risk”. “So if I have a box, does that mean that you cover the costs if there is any damage?” I asked, “No, you still take all the risk yourself” they told me, “In which case I will take the risk which is $22 cheaper thank you”. Good, it should be easy now, but next came “You baggage looks way over the limit”. They weighed it, it came to 38kg with the bike. I was told “You are 15kg over, the limit is 23kg”. Again, I could tell them something they didn’t know “According to your website there is another 10kg free if you take a bike”, so after more discussion and another wait I was told that I was only 5kg over weight and they wouldn’t charge me the $40 required for that, they also ignored the fact that I had too many bags, things were going well. “Do you have an onward ticket from New Zealand?”, “Yes, here it is”. Christine had told me she had got through without being asked about that at any time, but I was thankful I had sorted out an onward ticket to Fiji. A couple of minutes passed and they came back to me “It’s only one way”, “Yeah, I know, that’s because I am not returning to New Zealand”, “But you need an onward ticket from Nadi to your homes destination”, “But I am not going home, I am heading for America”, “Then you need one for the USA, as well as a visa, it states that clearly on the website and it is your responsibility to have the correct documentation”. “It states I need the correct documentation for my next destination, I have that, no visa is required for Fiji”, “But you also need one for the destination after that as they require an onward ticket in Fiji too”, “Then your website is unclear, it just states the next destination”. “Well, you can’t get on this flight with the ticket you have, you will have to buy another back to the UK as well”, “That’s ridiculous, I am not going there” I argued, but the conversation started to go around in circles. I had been the first at the check-in desk, queues came and went but I wasn’t getting anywhere. “When you are travelling around the world you need to be one step ahead of you next destination” I was told, “I am, I have all the documentation for Fiji, it seems you want me to be 3 steps ahead”. I still wasn’t getting anywhere, they told me “You should do what everybody else does and have a connecting ticket with all your flights on, it is much easier”, “But I don’t like to travel like that, I have no idea what will happen on the road ahead and what diversions I may take, I don’t want to be tied down to fixed flights and dates”. It was no use, I knew it wouldn’t be and they eventually told me “You can buy a fully refundable ticket to the UK for about $1000”. “I will take one back to Australia, the cheapest you get give me”, “You can’t do that, you don’t have a visa”, “Yes I do” and they eventually came up with a ticket for $546. I told them I wanted a total refund on the Fiji ticket as their website was misleading, the refused. They called the ticket office and explained my circumstances, I talked to them, told them I wanted the cheapest flight available and wanted a refund on the Fiji ticket, I still wasn’t getting anywhere, the conversation was going around in circles again. “Hold the line a minute” I was told. When they came back I was amazed, they said “Due to the circumstances you can have a normal economy ticket that you can fully refund whenever you like, it will cost $188, we will also fully refund the ticket to Fiji”, I guess they had checked the website on that one too and decided it was misleading. That seemed like a good deal to me. But this situation is totally crazy. Whilst in NZ I can get a full refund less $20 at any time, I then have no ticket and I am free to travel as I please, just what I wanted anyway, but people travelling without an onward ticket is also exactly what immigration don’t want, what a farce! I passed through immigration, the guy was so friendly, it was just what I needed. The immigration check in NZ were fine too, they weren’t interested in an onward ticket at all, they were interested in my tent though, I had to wait about 20 minutes whilst they went through it, they didn’t even repair the broken zip on it! I then had to check everything back in for the flight to Christchurch and take a walk in the fresh air to the domestic terminal. The flight was a short one, I sat next to Rachael who had been on a business trip to Auckland and was returning home, she was very friendly, good to talk to, it was just what I needed. Arriving at Christchurch was dead easy, Christine had even cycled out to meet me and show me the way back, it couldn’t have been easier. She had bought me a pressie too, White Chocolate Spread, wow! What a great invention.

Saturday morning was so warm, far warmer than at anytime in Adelaide. I have been to Christchurch before, about 9 years ago and unusually for me I remembered it all. We did a tour of the cycle shops to get some new cycle shorts for Christine, the hole in the back is becoming more indecent by the day. We had lunch in a veggie Indian restaurant where the staff was so friendly. Iris from Austria was working there, dressed in a sari and spent an age talking to us, we both got the impression she didn’t want to leave. Eating out is so much cheaper here that in Australia, we made the most of it by eating in a Japanese restaurant in the evening, but the day took a rapid downward turn. We had another one of our little discussions, I was pressing Christine too hard for an answer that she didn’t want to give. I was met with a barrage of aggression, the second time in about 10 minutes. I didn’t need this and what I did next I am not proud of, but sometimes you just do things in the heat of the moment, I just walked out and left her, she had to pick up the bill for the both of us. I walked back to the hostel, I was already feeling bad about what I had done, especially as in the last couple of days in Adelaide Christine had said that she didn’t think I would go to Christchurch, I would come up with an excuse not to go there. She wasn’t going to trust me no matter how I told her that I had no intention of going anywhere else, clearly my actions were not only bad, they were badly timed also. I was surprised when she returned to the hostel about 15 minutes later, I apologised straight away, I really was sorry for my actions, but once you have taken your actions you can’t roll back time. I received an emotional lecture, I knew I would get it and I suppose I deserved it. She was surprised I was at the hostel, she had assumed I would have already left, all a bit unlikely, she knows how long it takes me to get all my junk packed in the mornings.

I went ringing at the Cathedral this morning, I rang there on my last visit here, I had forgotten how good the bells are, Christine joined me, it is now easier for her to understand what I had been wobbling on about. We paid a visit to one of the museums where there was a penny farthing to have a go on, it was fixed on rollers, but at least we got a chance to feel what it would be like. After an “all you can eat” buffet back to the veggie restaurant we checked out the art gallery, the building was far more impressive than the contents. Later back at the hostel Christine proved her weight in gold, she did a couple of repairs on my tent, even replacing the broken zipper. She did it so well that I can’t even tell the difference. Oh, I should point out at some stage that she refers to my blog as the book of lies, though I shouldn’t be surprised, we still can’t agree on anything.

Tomorrow morning we have decided to head off south along the east coast to Dunedin, mainly due to the fact that there is such good weather on the east coast at the moment, it’s far worse on the west coast. Also if it all goes well we arrive bang on time for bell ringing as it will be practice night there.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Day 651 - Adelaide (South Australia)

Heading out of Geelong couldn’t have been any easier, helped somewhat by the fact that Ben had taken us out along the exact route the previous day to see some of the surfing beaches. Having reached Torquay the Great Ocean Road (GOR) started, a road I had wanted to cycle along for a long time, something I was really looking forward to, though it was still another 17km to Angelsea before the sea came into view. Here the GOR started in earnest, with a gently rolling road with just a few dunes between us and the sea. It was a hot day and to makes matters worse there was no shade, so with that in mind it made no difference if we had lunch down on the beach, so that’s what we did, a fantastic beach and hardly anybody else on it. As we were about to set off again another cyclist shot past, with clear views down the coast as it wound around headlands she remained in view most of the time. We waved to each other again as we passed her in Lorne, then as we stopped to collect water for the night we were caught up again and this time we could have a quick chat. She was Helen from Alice Springs, making the most of a bit of cycling after a business trip to Melbourne. Departing Lorne the road was once again around headlands, the road cut into the hills and hardly good for camping. It looked as though it would be tough finding a place to stop for the night, so we took a little track leading down a small valley away from the coast at the first opportunity. We soon passed a sign saying ‘Private’ but it didn’t look as though anybody had been along it for a very long time. Dinners by now were starting to get serious, 3 course most evenings, becoming a little more adventurous each night. It’s also during this time that we have our most interesting discussions, normally a lively debate as we still can’t agree on anything.

The next day was the best of the GOR, classic stuff, the hugging the coastline, dug out of the hillside most of the time with great views and untouched beaches around each and every headland. Sadly it didn’t last long enough, by lunchtime we were in Apollo Bay where we once again bumped into Helen, this time she was heading the other way. We were both looking for supermarket as food is never far away in a cyclists mind. We stopped for lunch in town under the shade of a tree, another healthy debate started, but they are interesting, we challenge each other asking searching questions, some being difficult to answer and normally followed by deeper questions. The problem is that times slips past so quickly, I think we could both sit for hours through such discussions, the cycling gets in the way at times. Once back on the bikes we waved farewell to the coast for the rest of the day as the road made it’s way inland through forests and lengthy climbs. A long descent brought us into a lovely wide valley, dead flat with a nice tailwind. We needed water for the night so we stopped at the a village that had no more than half a dozen houses and a little café. “Help yourself to water” we were told when we asked at the café, “We ran out of water a couple of days ago so the tank has been filled from the stream. I’ve filtered it a couple of times but I can’t really say if it will be safe to drink”. We had little choice, we filled up. As we were heading into another climb Christine wanted to stop and purify some of the water, she was getting thirsty, but as we were due to find a spot to camp for the night we decided to call it a day, made our way down another track and camped near the end of the track. The ground was a bit rough and sloping, something that Christine didn’t really appreciate, it reduced her valuable sleep time, something I would hear about a number of times over the next day.

We continued with the climb the following morning, the road was quiet so we were able to ride side by side for a extended periods, this meant we had more time for discussions. We discussed relationships and I had a hypothetical question fired my way. My reply didn’t go down well at all, though due to a long descent followed by another lengthy climb it was actually quite a while until I found out just how badly it had been taken. I guessed I was a few minutes ahead, so spotting an apple tree I stopped to pick a few for Christine, rode on a little and chose a place to stop for a bite to eat. Christine arrived, she was very unhappy……oh shit! When Christine is unhappy it normally means that I am in for a rough time, this occasion was no different. To make matters worse Helen turned up full of smiles just 30 seconds after Christine. I offered Helen an apple, though due to misunderstanding this just made matters worse as Christine thought I had picked them for Helen, it’s so much simpler cycling on your own I can tell you. I talked to Helen, Christine didn’t say a word, I felt very uncomfortable. Another long lunchtime discussion was under way once Helen had moved on which once again emphasised just how different we are and how different we view everything in this little world of ours. I assumed my answer to the earlier question would have been similar to Christine’s view, wrong again! Christine couldn’t possibly see how we could go on cycling together, our differences were too great, she would see how things were when we reached Portland, another couple of days away. We eventually left in a little more in harmony. Later that day we actually found something that we seemed to agree on, that’s pretty amazing, so it’s worth putting it in writing. Christine asked “If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?” After due thought we both amazingly had the same answers. My first wish was for happiness, it had been Christine’s second wish, then my second wish was for health, that had been Christine’s first wish. Neither of us could think of anything for a third wish. My view was that with happiness health would probably be improved anyway, but in Christine’s view health came first as it is something that we have little control over. Back on he GOR were some of the highlights that were all worth stopping off at for a quick look, the most well known being the 12 Apostles, towers of rock left abandoned in the sea by coastal erosion. It was quiet at the first stop, pretty much as expected, but I was amazed when we reached the 12 Apostles, the place was heaving, there was a massive car park, lots of tour buses and even an underpass to get across the road, it all rather reminded me of Stonehenge back home and to make matter worse I didn’t even think it was impressive enough for all the hype. The road was now pretty flat, running close to the coast which was just sheer cliff face with little tracks leading to big car parks at each of the view points. We arrived at Port Campbell where we met fellow cyclists. Helen was sat at a café with a cyclist from Sydney and called us across in delight when she saw us, then at the supermarket we met Sabina, a German cyclist who had recognised me from Tasmania, Christine wanted to know if there were any cyclists that didn’t seem to know me. They were all staying the night at Port Campbell, we were too tight to pay the campsite fees so carried on along the GOR and pulled off down a track and camped near a cliff top, no proper sea view, but the lovely peaceful sound of the waves all night.

The following morning saw us heading off to the last few sights along the GOR, we were early so there were far less people about. At the first stop somebody asked if we were the cyclists that were cycling 2 abreast, we were, so we then had a lecture about how we would end up being killed. Having pointed out that at no point had there been vehicles in both directions at the same time and that there had always been good visibility we were then told that they were not allowed to touch the solid white lines in the middle of the road. This might explain why at times vehicles come way too close when there is nothing else around, but in my view a little common sense goes along way. Afterwards Christine said she thought that I had been a bit aggressive, something that made me feel guilty for quite a while afterwards, but I guess it was 5 months worth of frustration over generally bad driving standards that was off loaded on to the first person that gave me the benefit of their views. Today’s features along the coast were some of the best in my opinion, including London Bridge, a very large arch that had been joined to the land until 1990 when the connecting strip had collapsed into the sea leaving a number of people stranded on the remaining arch. Peterborough saw the end of the GOR and return to flat straight roads. So what did I make of the Great Ocean Road. Well, if had been the road along the Great Ocean I think it would have pretty good, but I think it is intended to be the Great Road along the ocean, in which case I say well Whoopee-Doo! Sure it was nice, in places pretty spectacular, but in reality the stretch of classic scenery was only for about 60km in length. Now take that in context of the size of Australia, more than 3500km across, oodles of kilometres worth of coast line and hundreds of glorious sandy beaches, mostly deserted, and the 60km of GOR doesn’t really add up to very much does it? Everything in Australia seems to hyped up, everywhere is the ’Something of Something’, such as the ’Capital of the Snowy Mountains’, ’The Birthplace of Champions’, ’The Crossroads in the Middle of Nowhere That Nobody Cares About’ etc, etc, so what is really the only classic bit of coastal road in this vast land becomes ’The Great Ocean Road’. I have travelled along similar roads coming through Indonesia, spectacular roads that didn’t even have a name and hardly got a mention in any guide books, they were just roads that went through fantastic scenery going from A to B, the main artery across an island and not a camper van or cyclist in sight. As we entered Warrnambool I stopped and waited for Christine to catch up, I could see her in the distance with another cyclist, it was Sabina again, though we soon parted company as we once again went in search of a supermarket. Christine bought a large packet of crisps and asked if I liked them, I was soon tucking in. “Oh, you do like them don’t you?” she said as the packet was rapidly disappearing. As we sat and ate she once again wobbled on about her feminist streak. This time it was brought on by watching people holding hands as they passed, the man always had his arm in front of the women’s arm, a form of leading, the same way was evident in parents hold the hands of their children. I never saw any being held the other way around, it’s true, take a look sometime. We were back in flat farmland, the road was busier and I was generally cycling in front of Christine. The previous night I had lent her my Ipod, I was surprised to find that she liked Abba, the downside of which was her whistling Chika-bloody-tita relentlessly all day long, still, at least when she is whistle she can‘t be arguing! In farmland a spot to camp would be challenging, so having looked at the map we made our way to Tower Hill, a conservation area. We climbed slowly to the top and were really surprised to see what was in front of us, an enormous volcanic crater, the road running around the rim, with trees in the bottom. We spotted a vehicle making slow progress through the trees, so if they could get there then so could we. It was easy enough to find a way in, though we were once again surprised as the narrow little road had a one way system. Once in the crater we easily found a quiet little spot with only kangaroos for company.

Whilst we have been together we have been eating pretty well, most nights now seem to be 3 course meals, and they are getting more adventurous by the day, in fact it‘s becoming a bit of a problem as I am now covering less distance and eating more, I am putting on weight. We even have a pretty big breakfast, plenty enough to keep us going for the morning, but after 17km we entered the pretty little town of Port Fairy, Christine’s first port of call was the supermarket where she then sat on the bench outside and consumed an even bigger second breakfast, where does she put it all? We had an easy days riding, racing along with a tail wind, we fairly flew into Portland and after another supermarket stop were on our way again, heading out on a much quieter road through forest. So Christine had made it with me past Portland, perhaps things weren’t so bad after all, though we still manage to argue about every subject available. Christine insists we are not arguing, we are just having healthy discussions, but at times we can’t even agree on what we are actually arguing about. In fairness most of the time they are really interesting arguments, but there are still enough heated and emotional debates to make life more than a little interesting. I have noticed a pattern in the latter category, they seem to be every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and every other Saturday, all Christine’s fault of course, I am just an innocent bystander as she takes on a bit of target practice. I still maintain it all stems from our very different lifestyles and views that have been shaped from that, though surprisingly there is one subject that we have very similar view on, and that is God. We both agree that our meeting and cycling together was meant to be, that we were brought together to hear each others views. We are both at opposite ends of the spectrum and I think God is letting us hear each others views in an attempt to move us towards a more balanced middle ground. I think God must be laughing his socks off, though we can’t agree on that bit as Christine says “that is making God human and besides, if he was human he would be a woman”. She is also of the opinion that we were brought together to give him a little soap opera for entertainment every other day. No sign of Sabina today, but I guess we will see her again heading towards Adelaide. The day is finished of with fish for dinner, huge pieces of Barramundi that were going for half price in the supermarket. I woke up during the night to hearing the wind picking up, it was whipping up so quickly, though for some reason there was no movement at all from the tent, it then dawned on me that it was a passing car, we were camped close to the road.

The day got off to a good start, a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon, life on the road is pretty good, though a good breakfast means the starts are slipping back, getting later and later. We were heading in the same direction as the previous day, the direction for most of the way to Adelaide, so I expected it to be easy the whole time, a big mistake. Right from the start it was tough going straight into a head wind, it would only get tougher as the day wore on. Chikatita was banned for the day so Christine spent her time thinking up different things that we could cook up. She really enjoys cooking at home and is really up a bit of experimenting, a far cry from what she seemed to be like when I first met her, travelling ultra light and living off packets of dried food, she now even loves my stove and says she will get one for her cycling trips. By the time we reached Nelson the weather was getting even worse, the wind was stronger and rain was moving in. We bought a little food at the very expensive and poorly stocked local store then carried on a few kilometres crossing into South Australia where there was a bin for disposal of food for quarantine restrictions. I took a look in the bin to see if there was anything useful for dinner though none of it looked that appetising. We were soon to be moving away from the forest, we needed the shelter from the wind so opted for an early stop, that just meant more discussion time. Oddly enough Christine often seem to speak with a slight Irish accent that I really like. The accent seem to be stronger in the evening for some reason. She also pronounces some word slightly differently, for example ’useless’ is pronounced ’u-sless’ though unfortunately it I normally directed at me, probably 10-15 times a day! I can't complain really as I am constantly telling her she is loopy, a word she refused t believe existed until I got confirmation for her from somebody else.

I am not really surely how this wind lark works around here, once again we had a tailwind the following morning and were breezing along to Mount Gambia. There we took a look at another volcanic crater, this one filled with an amazingly blue water. To be honest without Christine I would not have seen it, she tends to read the guide book far more than I can be bothered to. Next stop was the daily ritual of the supermarket, something that is taking longer and longer as we search for more interesting ideas. Stocked up for the night we raced along to Millicent filled up on water and continued to another conservation area to camp for the night. These places are ideal for us, back home they would be full of people walking dogs, but here they are remote, not a soul around, ideal spots for tucking ourselves out of the way. Tonight’s dinner hit a new peak, strips of lamb in a Rogan Josh sauce followed by pineapple pieces cooked in condensed milk until the whole lot caramelises, delicious.

Now we were right back on the coast, the wind was being kind to us, we passed easily alongside lagoons, deep in discussion/arguments that made time slip by unnoticed. Christine was hiding something that she didn’t want to say, I pushed and pushed for what she had to say, but she refused. I stopped and said I wouldn’t go on until she told me what it was, she knew I meant it so she told me, though as soon as she started talking I realised what it was she was about to say and regretted it. It involved some decision making on our route, so not wanting to go that way as far as the discussion was concerned I made the decision by myself. I got a bollocking for that but then by telling her why I made the decision just brought up the subject again, I was to lose no matter which way I turned. We arrived in Robe and had lunch on the pleasant sea front before trying to sort out some travel arrangements for our imminent departure from Australia. Logistically it was getting all a bit tricky, such a pain compared with the easy life on the bike. By the time we were leaving Robe nothing much had been achieved, we rode side by side chatting then Christine told me “Just tell me what you want to do and I will fix it all up for you over the internet, I really like doing that for other people and I am really good at it, it used to be part of one of my jobs”. At that precise moment there was a little call of “Arghhh”, suddenly I was alone, Christine had taken a left turn too soon, hmmm, that was hardly going to give me any confidence in her travel planning. We were heading towards Kingston and a wine region, again, hardly good camping area, so as we passed through an area of forest we made the most of it. I think we had a vegetable dinner that night, but to make it a bit more interesting the contents of 2 peppermint tea bags were added, it worked really well.

Christine woke up to a bad start to the day feeling rough, another bout of the trots. We had to stock up early as we passed trough Kingston as we had a 145km stretch ahead of us with no facilities. Once again we had lunch at the sea front. A guy from a caravan came over for a chat, a Dutch guy who had been living in Oz for 40 odd years, he blended in well, he was a typical Australian doom merchant, “Whatever you do never camp in the outback, as soon as you leave the road there are no end of snakes”, “That’s no problem” I replied “I have passed through the outback, camped in the wild and not seen a single snake”. Soon after Kingston we met a German cyclist heading the other way, Detlef, the first guy on a bike we have seen in ages, it seems to be all women on bikes here. He was a bit of character, covered from head to foot to keep out of the sun, he even wore full gloves and a fly net over his face. His bike was equipped with an electric motor, but he knew his bikes and took delight in looking over ours and giving us all the technical details and how to service them. He was so proud when he told us “I have 4 bicycles and this is the 2nd worst”, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I have 6. Once on the move again we decided that God was up to his tricks again, Detlef would soon meet Sabina, they were a perfect match, God clearly has a sense of humour! Over the next few kilometres the temperature rose dramatically and to be honest we weren’t carrying enough water. We had assumed we would see the odd farm building but there was nothing, we had 4 litres between us to last the night, not enough to be comfortable. We spotted a wind powered water pump and went to investigate, a good move as water was spilling out, enough for us to collect a few more litres. Christine was feeling rough, we stopped for a break in the shade, she had lost her appetite, blimey, things must be bad. Without the food intake she hardly had the energy to carry on, but having forced down a little she carried on until we were able to camp in a National Park, where she just flaked out whilst I set up camp, then watched me eat my dinner, followed by hers. We had covered 80km today, but the difference in temperature was amazing. Everybody had warned me about just how hot it would be in Adelaide, we were now beginning to experience that extreme heat, for the first time in weeks I slept without a sleeping bag.

Christine continued to struggle to eat, but she is strong, she continued without complaint, she didn’t have much choice mind, there was nothing out here, there was no advantage in staying put. We stopped at a roadhouse in Salt Creek. To get there we had cycled 2 abreast on flat straight roads with little traffic, yet we still had a reasonable amount of aggressive horn blowing. Interestingly there was a thin shoulder which Christine cycled on whilst I cycled just to the right of the white line, a cycling line I would normally take if I was riding alone anyway, yet when I am alone nobody bothers me. Christine was still unable to eat but was getting as many calories as possible by drinking as much bitter lemon as she could. A lorry driver pulled up at the roadhouse “Watch out for the lorries” he said, “most of the drivers are half asleep”. The scenery was now very different, to our left were long lagoons separated from the sea by dunes, though the smell wasn’t great, a sort of stagnant sea water smell. After Meningie we were heading inland, back into farmland. We found some land that was for sale, passed through the gates and cycled towards the trees in the distance. It wasn’t going to be great but it would have to do, but the further we went the better it got, we had a fantastic little spot by a dry lagoon, the only thing bothering us were the ants, though we have discovered that if you hang your food in a bag from the handle bars of the bikes the ants never find it. I had to eat two dinners again, oh dear!
By morning Christine was feeling even more distressed about her stomach problems, she had been up a couple of times through the night and was talking about seeing a doctor. She had constantly refused to take any Immodium that I offered her, she travels ultra light so only carries one! To her view it doesn’t cure the problem, but I at last got through to her that she should take a couple. Still, it never stopped her determination to keep cycling, we whizzed along with tail wind to Wellington and got the little ferry across the small river. After the 50km stretch to Strathalbyn we once again found ourselves at a supermarket, Christine was feeling much better, was getting her appetite back and chose some more fish going at half price for dinner. Here we changed our plans for the route into Adelaide and took locals advice on the route to Meadows where we were assured we could get some water for the night. They told us that it was hilly, they were right too, they came as a bit of a shock after a few days on the flat. The road twisted and turned through the hills, the gradient varying, quite steep at times. Thankfully the road was downwards after Meadows but with steep hillsides and small houses dotted along the way we had to go a fair way before we at last came to a forest area. We had to lift the bikes over a style then up a steep track to get away from the road, but the camping spot was pretty good, just the sound of a light breeze making the pine tree creak. Christine was eating, almost back to normal “Thank you for making me take those pills” she said, “I can’t believe how much difference they have made, my stomach feels so much better”. “Ah, but will you take them again if the need arises?” I asked…..there was silence.

We were left with about 40km to go to arrive in Adelaide on a Sunday, the road twisted through the hills, Sunday cyclists were out in force and we met a couple of Dutch guys setting out on their trip to ride to Cairns. The final descent from the hills south of Adelaide gave us some great views over a very green looking city. Once again I am not doing a city real justice, most of our time has been spent sorting out flights on a very poor internet connection. Christine left in heavy rain yesterday for Melbourne to pick up the gear she had left there, where as I wanted to stay in Adelaide a little longer, catch up on a few jobs and at least try to see a little of the city, so I am now sort of couch surfing with Sophie, Tobi and Bernie about 6km from the city centre. It still rains on and off, I am told it is the first rain they have had here in weeks.

So the Australian adventure part of this trip has come to an end. So what are my thoughts on Australia? Well to be totally honest I think most of the ’sights’ are very over rated and huge differences separate them. I know I haven’t done the place justice, I know, I know. I haven’t even been to see Ayers Rock or more importantly the Great Barrier Reef, but what I have seen has been over rated in my opinion. Christine would read the book and say “Its says here it’s a pretty little historic town”, “Naa” I would reply “It’s just another crappy boring town”, she began to agree with me before too long. Hang on a minute, we do agree on something!! But having said all that I love the overall package of the place, there has been so much diversity in the landscape, the outback was tough but a wonderful experience that I will never forget. To cap it all though the people from start to finish have been just fantastic. Hospitality has been first class the whole time with people meeting me for just 5 minutes then inviting me back to stay with them, it has been a real highlight of my time here. I have had so many leads to meet people for all sorts of sources, some I have taken up, some haven’t been possible, but they have all been so rewarding. It’s a vast land, and I have at times forgotten just how remote it can be, stretches of 100km with nothing don’t seem remote any more, but they are, and that is so totally different to anywhere in Europe. Culturally it is a bit lacking, but the politics and recent history are still very interesting. I shall be sorry to leave the place, but I have to move on.