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 cafĂ© 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.


dad said...

It's nice to see some pictures of Christine at last, but when you were being given presents by her, did you remember that 21/3 was someone sle's chosen birthday too? I think the bronze statue of the girl reading, and the words flowing off the page, is the most unusual statue i have ever seen, and that includes some inusual ones to be seen in Prague.

aoiffe said...

Of course he remembered - I wouldn't have let him forget. And I too had a pressie of a new wash/bits and bobs bag, along with a lovely dinner out with lovely people, rounded off for us with white chocolate cheescake and tiramisu ice cream sundae.

Mostly I am intrigued by the way your grammatical errors are on the increase, with a delightful image contained in the phrase 'with no livestock looking across to the mountains' - is it that the local animals lack a sense of awe and wonder?

dad said...

Yes, I spotted that grammatical error too, but I was too polite to mention it!!

Caff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caff said...

I had a perfect thirtieth birthday on that stunning mountain overlooking the azure blue Wakitipu lake and the Remarkables. How remarkable that you chose to have your "birthday" there too.

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