Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Day 707 - Auckland

I guess you could say that we had a leisurely start the day we departed Rotorua. The first thing we did, even before a cooked breakfast, was to head for the motel’s spa pools. There are two enclosed pools, we decided to go for the cooler one, but when we opened the door the room was completely steamed up. I got as far as putting a foot in it but it was way too hot, we retreated to the “warmer” pool. We later saw the updated temperature of the cool pool, it had reached 49 degrees. By 11:30 we were heading out of town and before long we were riding along State Highway 5 and climbing. It was never steep, but it did drag on somewhat and confirmed what we had read in the museum that Rotorua is actually located in a crater. After a short stop for another bite to eat we were descending fast, almost back to sea level. We turned on to back roads where Christine continued to show her skills in finding anything that might possibly be edible. When I stopped to fill up on water she showed me some lovely looking things that looked a bit like strawberries, though certainly didn’t taste as good. Christine asked the lady in the service station what it was, but despite her asking others what it was she had no idea, though advised us not to eat it. I would have advised that anyway having eaten one of them. We moved on to even quieter roads, though that meant they were also a bit more hilly. At a junction we saw some lads selling feijoas so I stopped and bought some having enquired to what they were and what you had to do to them. We later tried them and they were a very strange fruit though really nice, very zingy. Christine had seen them before and had assumed they were vegetables though a quick chat with the lads and we knew that all we had to do was cut them in half and scoop out the inside. Once again we were in farmland, we would need to ask permission to camp. Just at the time we found a sheltered spot we saw a farmer going into the field opposite, so we followed him in and asked if it was his field “No its not, but you can camp in this field if you like. If you need a shower you can pop over to the house if you like” he replied. “If we can camp here that will be great, and thanks for the shower offer but we only had one this morning, we don’t really need one for another week or so!” The only problem with his field was that it lacked the shelter that we had spotted in the field opposite, but never mind, we had a nice view of the mountains and it was pretty still anyway. A little later the farmer came back for a chat, “We have only just chopped down the trees as they were causing a real problem. It’s really windy here and they kept falling over and damaging the fence.” We settled down for the night. The wind normally drops at night but tonight it couldn’t, there wasn’t really any wind to talk about. So the opposite happened, the wind picked up around midnight and there we were camped in the middle of a field with no shelter at all, the tent was taking a real hammering, it was really difficult to sleep, I lay there trying to decide if I should pack the tent away to avoid any damage to it, some of the bigger gusts were really strong. We stayed put, though when then tent was down I at last felt more relaxed, though I had to take it down very carefully and whilst still pegged down with two pegs to stop it blowing away. It was by far the strongest wind the tent had been exposed to on this trip, but it had come through without any problems at all, I was really pleased with that.
About 30k ahead of us was the little town of Te Aroha, if the worst came to the worst we would stop there and take shelter from the weather. The wind was stronger than I had thought, a side wind that was once again doing it’s best to knock us off the bikes, hardly enjoyable. Amazingly though, within a few kilometres it seemed to have dropped right down, still there, but now much more manageable. It wasn’t long before we were heading out the other side of Te Aroha and on to even smaller roads. It was easy going too, mountains to our right and as we were heading west at times we even occasionally had a bit of a tail wind. The following day was forecast for plenty of rain, so we decide to cover as much ground as possible and not cycle so far tomorrow. We made it back to the coast, a bay, the Firth of Thames, and on towards the little village of Miranda, though we were once again in farmland and by now it was getting dark. We had pushed the limits a little too far, we were really struggling to find anywhere to camp. We wanted shelter from the wind and there were very few trees around, then just as it was almost dark we turned down a track towards a farm and found a gate open into a field and tucked ourselves in by the tree line to get at least a little shelter
The alarm went off but I just switched it off and went back to sleep, time to catch up a little on the sleep I missed the previous night. As Christine took out the tent pegs she yelled out and moved away quickly holding her arm. I assumed she had been bitten by some animal, but she had got an electric shock off the fence wires and what’s more it wasn’t even an electric style fence, just an ordinary looking one. As I loaded my bike which was leaning against it, I also got one, though it wasn’t as bad as the shocks I had the previous day whilst crossing a fence to an apple tree. The electric fences here are far stronger than the fences at home, when you get a shock you know about it. Christine yells and runs off looking as though she has been bitten where as I just leap back whilst shouting out a totally uncontrollable “AH FUCK!!” It turned out to be a great little spot to camp, the wind on the tent was unnoticeable during the night but as soon as we started cycling we realised just how well sheltered we had been. We didn’t have far to go, about 3km I think it was. We retraced our way to the thermal spa at Miranda, apparently the largest open spa pool in the southern hemisphere…..whoopee! The plan was to chill out there until the rain had passed over, then once again get as much distance covered as possible and ride into Auckland the next day. The chilling out bit was easy, I am good at that. We kept swapping between the warm pool and the small sauna pool which was a bit too hot really. We decided to have lunch there before we left and went of one of the covered picnic tables, a good move as it was only now starting to rain. By the time we were ready to leave it was raining hard, typical. We hung around as long as possible, then put on full rain gear and set off just as it stopped raining. I supposed we should have been grateful for that but we were now way too hot so it wasn’t long before we had to stop and peel off again. We had stopped at a garage where Christine found some Tamarilla for sale, a strange little fruit that is known as a tree tomato. We bought a load having been given a sample one, though I wasn’t exactly keen on them. We were once again heading into a strong wind but at least we were cycling on a lovely coast road that was almost deserted of all other traffic. Time for another short “Yuk” story. The cyclists reading this will know of the horrible habit we have of clearing out our noses by putting a forefinger against one nostril to block it whilst giving a sharp blow to clear out the other. On this occasion I got it all totally wrong. The wind was blowing as I ejected a large globule from my left nostril. The result was that it didn’t reach the verge as normal, in fact it didn’t go very far at all and I ended up with a large deposit of snot in my left eye! Yuk! I quickly stopped, cycling with snot in one eye is not my idea of fun, but just a few seconds later Christine pulled up alongside me and said “Ooh, great, have you spotted an apple tree?” That girl always has food on her mind. We stopped to pick up some water at a picnic area with loos, a huge grassed area right beside the sea. It was early, but as it was such a nice little spot and even had a little sheltered spot we thought it was too good an opportunity to miss for our last nights camping in New Zealand, we had only just covered 25km! Christine is funny, she found the spot to camp and came back full of enthusiasm, then when we start to set up camp she gets all worried “Are we too close to the road? Will people come into the picnic area and see us? Will people come out from Auckland and start a party?” I am the total opposite, I am often sceptical about the site, but once I have decided to stop there I am always happy. The early stop paid off, just as we had finished cooking and eating it started to rain heavily. I didn’t really mind, we had got away without getting wet on a day that had been forecast to rain all day.

The dawn was reasonably clear, there was even a little blue sky and no wind. The forecast for today was much better than yesterday’s had been. We set off on a very mild morning, still on deserted roads right by the coast. Eventually the road turned inland and started to climb, just at the same time that it started to drizzle. It wasn’t long before we were putting on jackets and what was to follow was what I had expected for yesterday, by far the wettest day we have had in a long long time. Before long we were totally soaked and descents were becoming very tricky. We stopped for a short break in Clevedon under the shelter outside a shop. A woman kindly offered us a camping spot on her lawn and then recommended the long but flatter route in Auckland. We declined that too opting for the quieter, shorter, hillier route into the city, and by heck it was hilly. Soon we were heading up the steepest hill we have cycled up in New Zealand, the rain was still coming down, visibility was very poor and it was just pure misery, steep descents had to be taken very carefully. Christine hates the rain even more than I do. So long as I am warm I find it bearable, but she quickly gets cold and miserable, though in fairness she never complained either. Only the previous day I had spotted a little hole in my map case, today I was now the proud owner of a very soggy map. Once in the suburbs of Auckland it was pretty horrible cycling, busy, fast roads with cars that really didn’t want to share them with cyclists. Bits of Auckland are almost islands so consequently there are only 3 roads in from the south and the one we were on was almost like a motorway, though when it went over a long bridge the shoulder disappeared, traffic constantly honked aggressively at us despite the fact that we had every right to be there, they just weren’t happy at having to negotiate an “unusual” obstacle, it really wasn’t nice I can assure you. We had to stay on that road for a few kilometres until thankfully we crossed the motorway which took most of the traffic leaving us with the quiet old road, the Great South Road. Thankfully it had stopped raining. We did a supermarket run where Christine changed into dry clothes which immediately lifted her spirits, though she found it very strange that I was happy to continue in wet clothes. We bought a kilo of kiwi fruit for just 89c (about 35p), what a bargain. Before long we were in the city centre and booking into the Formule 1 Hotel. There are a few of these in Europe but it is the first I have stayed in. They are normally very basic, but this one was incredibly cheap and came with en-suite and kitchen area, stereo radio, television and a tiny balcony, which gives us great views from our 18th floor room. It rather has the feel of living in a caravan, it’s very cramped, but the square inch of space is used very efficiently.
And so to Auckland. Not the most exciting of cities, but we have a few things to sort out before our departure from New Zealand. Most important for me was getting my visa for USA, I had a visa interview booked for 08:30 just a five minute walk from our hotel. It is not a great introduction to America, you are made to feel a criminal as you are questioned by an arrogant official, “Why didn’t you apply in the UK? Why don’t you have an address of where you are staying? Do you have family at home? How are you going to fund your stay? Why don’t you have a job? Did you cycle through Pakistan? Did you cycle through Iran?” etc, etc. “Ok, your passport will be posted to you in the next few days” I was told. “How long will it take? I have a flight on Friday” I told him, but he just replied with “Your passport will be posted to you in the next few days”…..welcome to America!

Well that was Monday, amazingly enough I was able to pick up my passport from the Post Restante on Tuesday afternoon. Come evening we took advantage of an “All you can eat buffet” at a posh hotel, it was half price as long as your are out by 18:30, a real bargain for just 6 pounds. The choice of food was enormous (as was the pile on my plate), the seafood and desserts delicious, so much of it and very good quality. There was even a soft scoop ice-cream machine. See, I am easily pleased. After dinner I took Christine along to the bell ringing practice at the 8-bell tower just around the corner from where we are staying. They were your typical bunch of ringers including a fair share of “characters”, one was even wearing a t-shirt that I instantly recognised as across the artwork was written “Afraid of the dark Lagerboy”. It was a shirt from the Wychwood brewery in Witney, just 7 miles from where I live. Christine leant across to me and whispered “Get me away from this terrible woman. Half the time I don’t know what she is on about but she is huge and keeps telling me about getting large bras sent out to her in Singapore”. With that in mind I declined the offer to join them for a drink afterwards, I think Christine had just about had enough.

Well, I had not intended to visit New Zealand on this trip, not until all the Aussies had put the idea into my head. I saw many things that I hadn’t seen on my last trip here 9 years ago. I saw much more of the beautiful south island which is more spectacular and remote than the north island, but lacks specific sights and the Maori culture and volcanic activity that is also present on the north island. There are only 4 million people here, but once again it feels much busier than that. The quiet roads are few and far between. The people haven’t been as outgoing and welcoming as I had expected. In that department the Australians beat them hand down. But I have really enjoyed my time hear, as has Christine, and I am very pleased that I made the effort to come here, but it is time to move on. I would highly recommend New Zealand to anybody, yet at the same time I am not sorry to be leaving, who knows, one day I might be back again.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Day 699 - Rotorua

We departed Wellington on the bank holiday Monday after Easter, heading up the west coast to Wanganui….oh joy! Three days of main roads, busy, busy roads, nothing to see apart from a few hills away to our right, it wasn’t exactly fun. Added to that we left heading into a strong headwind, we didn’t even get very far on the first day, making it more challenging to find a place to camp. We passed Queen Elizabeth Park, a National Park of some sort or other. I expected it to be small but Christine thought the road might head all the way down to the coast, so we went in. We found a nice little spot tucked away in the trees, so long as nobody spotted us before 6pm when the park closed we would be alright. We were right, nobody did spot us, only the Park Rangers early the following morning who didn’t even seem to realise we were heading past them and out of the park just after it had opened. There was little to amuse us, we had plenty of time for me to educate Christine in all the facts about Norwich City Football Club and the dire position they find themselves in at the moment. I had talked about Norwich City before in the past, “We are playing Sheffield Wednesday next” I had informed her recently “Oh” she said “what was the score?”, “I don’t know yet do I” I told her but she just replied “Well you have been on the internet, didn’t you see the result?”. “No I didn’t. Despite the internet being a mighty useful tool, at the moment it still can only give the results after the match has been played”. “But you have played them, you told me they played on Wednesday”. Ah! I could now see the problem, a little problem of a slight misunderstanding, a hazard of cycling with a German, but she tries hard, bless her, she now can tell me that we lost to Birmingham Wednesday, but we managed to beat Watfield. So three days of not very exciting cycling, not a good introduction to the north island having had such good scenery on the south island. I only managed to take one photo in those 3 days (photo). It rather reminded us of the first days heading south from Christchurch, though without the interest of cycling in a new and different country. We passed through the town of Bulls where everything was a play on word, for example items were marked as “affordabull”, the social club was “sociabull”, but we also managed to find a bakery that didn’t sell any bread, which was laughabull! The weather was noticeably better than on the south island. When we camped it was much warmer in the evenings and everything left outside during the night was dry in the morning, gone was the overnight dampness. We were back to cycling in sort sleeves and it was even a bit too hot when we sat in the sun to have lunch, though we did pass a couple of cyclists heading the other way covered from head to foot in warm weather gear, perhaps they had just arrived from Australia! On the night we camped just beyond Wanganui there were really strange noises just outside the tent from some sort of animal. I went outside to see what it was but didn’t even see anything scurrying off.

At last we pulled off the main road of to a tiny little road that ran along side a river though it involved far more climbing than we had expected, but most of it was single track road and hardly any traffic. We were now back into good scenery and enjoying it. We stopped for a break just where the road was cut into the side of a hill and about 5m above us in the bank were a mass of mussel shells. There were also other shells lower down that we could reach, they just crumbled in our hands, it was impossible to tell just how long they had been there. Today we seemed to be on a bit of a world tour with the first place of note that we passed through being Athens, it was much smaller than I remembered! For a change we also had a few sights to see down this little back road as we pulled off into the tiny village of Korinti where there was a Marae, the traditional Maori meeting places complete with lovely carvings, though sadly the buildings were all shut. Christine’s skills at locating any tree that has fruit continues to be first class. As I wandered around I had no idea where she had gone until she came back we her hands full of apples. The next stop was a little restored mill that you could go in, nobody was there and it was free to enter, just a little note on the door asking you to shut it when you left. We then passed through London, it wasn’t even marked on my map. Heading out of “suburbia” our slow progress became even slower as the road turned to gravel, in fact it was gravel all the way through to Jerusalem, where we visited the church with a lovely Maori carved wooden alter with a face in the centre that look almost real. Heading out of Jerusalem the road got even worse, the gravel became large, thick and loose, added to that we were once again climbing. Progress was oh so slow, it required 100% concentration just to remain upright and point the bike in vaguely the right direction. We both almost fell at times, it was so tricky, especially on the bends were the steep cambers drew you into the inside of the bend. We finally made it to Pipiriki. There was nothing there, but what a lovely place name. I spotted a camper van coming the other way so I asked him for road information “Have you come from the direction of National Park?“ I asked, National Park being the name of a small town, I knew he had, it was the other route into Pipiriki, “Is the road gravel?“ I asked the elderly man”, “No” he replied, “Really! Is it sealed the rest of the way then?“. “Yes” he told me. Christine wanted to retrace a few hundred metres after we had filled up on water but I made a misjudgement thinking that possibilities lay ahead, they didn’t. We started a long climb, we left the village fields behind, they were replaced by steep sided rain forest and after just 1km we were back on gravel though I knew it wouldn’t last, the old guy had told me there was none. We continued to climb on gravel for about another 4km, it was getting late and cold, things were looking bad when all of a sudden there was an open rough grassy patch, we had finally found home for the night, the only problem was that we were to be camping just 10m away from about 50 bee hives, though when I checked I saw very few bees. We were only about 20m away from the road too, Christine wasn’t overly happy about that “Don’t worry, nothing has passed us for ages, it’s almost dark, if 6 vehicles pass us by the time we leave tomorrow morning I will be amazed”. That should do the trick, that will calm her down I though, but within 5 minutes 7 vehicles had passed!

It was a cold damp night, we were away reasonably early, the road continued climbing, the road continued to be gravel. We knew we had a lot of climbing to do, it was going to be another slow day. It took us about an hour to cover the first 7km, all up hill on gravel, but we had at least resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be gravel all the way through to Raetihi, then all of a sudden we turned a bend and could hardly believe what we saw in front of us….tarmac. The whole time we had been on a single track road, the last 30k had been on gravel but now it was sealed and what is more it had two wide lanes and no traffic. I suspect it was wide to that point to cater for the logging trucks that we kept seeing signs for, not that we saw any evidence of them. After a bit more climbing we turned another bend to be presented with an amazing vista complete with a snow capped volcano, wonderful stuff. The rolling road took us to Raetihi where we changed our plans again. We had long ago decided we would never make it to Turangi, so had planned to reach National Park, but with the improved road we decided to aim for half way between where there were apparently some log cabins we could stay in. We were back on a quiet main road, still climbing gently, a long straight ahead of us with just odd vehicles passing us when a police car pulled up alongside “It’s probably not advisable to cycle side by side here aye” he said “Don’t worry I am keeping an eye on the traffic” I told him and off he went. We stopped for lunch at a little roadside shelter next to an old farm, the shelter was made from odd bits of railroad kit. Before long we were joined by the owner, quite a character. He was retired though looked very young to me, he told us of his house in Australia, a yacht at Auckland, his small fleet of 6 or 7 Series 1 Land Rovers, and the yacht just behind us. This yacht had a bit of history, it had apparently been around the world twice and had been used to bring in 2 Frenchman to Auckland who were involved in sabotaging the Rainbow Warrior. The road through to National Park was pretty easy going, we reached there by about 15:20. According to my map it was another 21km to where we were aiming for. The road continued to head slightly upwards topping out at 910m with a couple of nice Volcanoes to look at, one of which was disappearing under a blanket if cloud. There was a spare mountain too, Tongariro, and the main reason we would be stopping for a day, a day off the bikes and on foot up the mountain. It was very popular walking country, confirmed by every other vehicle being shuttle buses for the walkers. Christine was ready to finish, she had had enough, for her it just seemed to drag on, not helped by my new map as it turned out to be 25k and not 21. The only other section of the map we had used was also way out, another map not to be trusted.

So the following morning we too were waiting at 7am for one of those shuttle buses to take us to the start of the walk, the Tongariro Crossing, a walk across the Tongariro National Park. I had wanted to at least do a little walking here in New Zealand and it is supposed to be the best one day walk and one of the best one day walks in the world. I had also been inspired by Jackie to do this one. You may have seen Jacs comments on this blog, she was here last year but was not able to do the walk due to bad weather. If my crap memory serves me correctly she waited about 3 days and still the weather didn’t improve. So little me thought that if a keen walker thought it worth waiting 3 days to try and do the walk then it must be a good one. We were alarmed by the arrival of a big bus, and what is more it was full, we were even more alarmed by being told to get on the bus behind, also full, standing room only. This really set the theme for the day. We were one of the first to set off, but we walked nice and leisurely so before long we were being overtaken, people came past in a never ending flow. Every now and then we stopped to let everybody past so we could walk and talk in peace, though in reality it was just a constant flow, rather like the mass of people that head up Ben Nevis. To make matters worse the path had been cleared all of the way and in places there were sections of board walks. We reached the Devils Staircase, and that is exactly what it was, a staircase, lots and lots of steps. I have to say though that the scenery was spectacular with a lovely clear view of the active volcanoes (photo). We went off on one of the quieter side tracks for lunch with a fantastic 360 degree view, half of which was above the clouds. The toughest part of the walk came next, heading down a scree slope to the emerald lakes at the bottom. We had taken eggs for lunch, had they gone off or was I just farting? We soon realised it was the sulphur emissions for the surface of the mountain, poo….what a smell! After the first steep bit heading down was much gentler though less spectacular as we dipped into the cloud, then out the other side. There was still a constant flow of people. We took about 6 ½ hours to complete the 19km walk with about 1000m of ascent and at no time had there ever been a gap in the flow of people that would have been long enough to have a discreet pee. As we arrived at the car park our bus was just starting to move, we got on and before we could sit down we were off, perfect timing. So Jacs, a fantastic walk, but if you are not one for hoards of people then you shouldn’t be too sorry to have missed it, it took the edge off it for us. And another thing, why do people seem to want photos of themselves jumping in the air. A Frenchman asked me to take a photo of him as he leapt across in front of me, he set the camera up as he wanted and I took the shots, “You jumped too high” I told him, but when he looked at the results his torso was missing, I had only caught his legs “Oh no, that’s great” he told me….it takes all sorts!

We were away reasonably early the following morning but not before we had consumed an enormous bowl of porridge. We had cooked in the kitchen using their pans, it was deceptively much bigger than my camp pots, so we rather over did it, but don’t worry, none went to waste I can assure you. We were thanking our lucky stars that we had completed the walk the previous day, it was now very overcast. Now, I can cycle day in day out without my legs ever hurting me, but after just one days walking they are feeling very fragile, especially the calves, I had to go uphill very gently, no getting out of the saddle, oh no. We descended down to Turangi were did had a quick supermarket stop. Once outside again Christine was piling a load of sweets onto my bar bag, she had just bought a 1kg of mixed sweets, “That’s enough, that’s enough! I can‘t eat all those” I told her, but then felt a bit silly when she said “It’s ok they are for both of us”. It took me just a couple of minutes to load the food into my panniers, then when I looked around I couldn’t believe my eyes, “Where have all the sweets gone, you have even eaten the one I had bitten in half!”, all I got back was “Well, it’s not my fault if you don’t eat fast enough”. The white chocolate problem seems to be mainly cured having nominated myself as the “chocolate monitor”. Now there are only the odd problems when I leave it around by mistake and come back to find a screwed up wrapper. We rode alongside Lake Taupo and stopped off at a little plain looking church with a small Marae outside, but inside we were in for a surprise, it was an absolute delight, beautifully decorated in Maori style with wall panels and patterned painting. Outside was the graveyard, it was another surprise and really interesting. Lying on top of the grave were articles from the persons life, everyday items such as watches, hats and unopened bottles of beer. There was even a child’s grave covered in toys. We made good progress, I guess we had a bit of a tailwind. We passed through Taupo where there were no end of motels, it felt like a holiday resort, probably for slightly older clientele. Christine is a bit of a worrier at times. She was amazed at all the motels but became really concerned when I told her there would be even more in Rotorua, “How on earth are we going to find a place to stay?” she asked, “Well they surely wont all be full” I told her. I knew that is not what she meant, but she is the first person I have travelled with that worries that there is too much of a selection and we wont be able to decide. We carried on towards Broadlands on the back road, though it was still pretty busy. We made our way of down a side road only to find houses and little farms, but as time was running out we ended up camping without permission on a bit of farmland that seemed to be a holding area for cattle prior to being loaded onto trucks.

The following morning it rained. We had been aiming for an early start, but delayed it as long as possible. As soon as the rain stopped we packed up and were on the move by 08:30, but this morning the legs were hurting even more from our little one day hike! We didn’t get far before it started raining again. The first stop was after about an hour at Butcher’s Pool, a natural hot spring. There was nobody about so we decided to have a skinny dip. We had only been there about 15 minutes when a mini bus turned up, from Taupo school….great! Thankfully only five adults piled out and were soon in the pool, but we didn’t want to stay there too long, there was no other option but to bare my fat arse to the world. It was still raining when we set off again, though we were still well warmed through from the thermal pool, it gave me a wonderful warm feeling as I cycled along for about an hour. It felt really strange to be cycling along in cold rain yet feel so warm, wonderful. The next stop was the thermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapo, probably the most popular thermal reserve in the area. It started to rain even harder as we arrived, but it did have the opposite effect to what we had experienced on the walk a couple of days ago, the place was deserted. We wandered around past sulphur caves, hot pools of all sort of colours, large green lakes and the highlight of the Champagne Pool (photo). The Devil’s Pool right as the end was an unbelievable shade of green, it looked more like paint. Just after we set off we called it at some mud pools, these were just great to watch as the stuff glooped and bubbled away squirting mud all around. Back on the main road we still had the rain, though now we had logging lorries that came way too close for comfort through a section of road works. The last 10k into Rotorua were down a nice gradual descent, a great finish to the day. As we headed into town every building was a motel, so we waited until we were close to the centre, then we pulled off down a side street. From there we split up and checked out the places in pairs. Having checked about 10 we made our decision, though as soon as we were in Christine was very uncomfortable with the noise level despite us being on a side street, though she never complained and lived with it very well. My first job to do on arrival was check out the Norwich result, we lost 3-2 away to Ipswich, so with just 2 games to go we are still in the bottom 3 and staring at relegation. Christine’s first job was to head out to the supermarket and buy the food for dinner, she cooked up wonderful 3 course dinner, even better than the first class food she prepares on the camp stove.

Rotorua is a reasonable place to wander around. Today has been fantastic weather despite it forecast to rain. We visited the old spa baths that in their day would have been at the luxury end of the market, though looking around the place and at the old photos they looked more like torture rooms.

I have just discovered that the last few uploads of photos from Australia didn’t complete the process properly and haven’t been on display, so if you are at a loss, there are about another 130 photos there covering Melbourne to Adelaide heading along the Great Ocean Road.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Day 689 - Wellington (North Island)

First of all, Happy Easter to you all. Secondly, I have good news for you, I think this is going to be a fairly short entry, you will only need half a cup of coffee!

The main reason for being in Hanmer Springs was for the thermal pools. I went there with Christine in the evening after she had spent some time there during the afternoon on her own. They also had a water slide there with nobody using it. I decided to have a go, I had never been down one before, but Christine said she would wait in the water just in case I needed any assistance. I have to admit it was good fun, apart from being dumped in the water at the end of it. In fact it was so good that I had another run down. We then went into the thermal pools starting off at one that was at 33 degrees, then changing to others that were a degree or two warmer until we went into the hottest at 41 degrees. All very nice and relaxing, until a coach load of kids arrived!

It seemed to be raining all night whilst we were in Hanmer Springs, it was still raining pretty hard in the morning, the weather had really closed in and there was no sign of the mountains. We had a long leisurely breakfast deciding whether to go or stay another day. The temperature had dropped dramatically too, if we went and got wet we would also get very cold. Before we had made a decision the clouds cleared revealing the mountains behind, but now they were covered in a layer of snow. Eventually we decided to make a move, though we didn’t get away until gone 11am. The route was pretty easy going, the road winding its way through the valleys, I think we even had a slight tail wind. As we rode along the weather just seemed to get better and better, we had made the right decision. Having passed through Rotherham, which incidentally is slightly smaller than the one at home, I think I remember seeing a couple of houses, we reached the village of Waiau. We stopped for a short break, I could hardly believe that we had already covered 47k, we had been flying along. From there we took the back road towards Kaikoura which went past the ski resort of Mt Lyford and that only meant one thing, it was going uphill, complete with a full load of water for the night. As the afternoon wore on the weather started to deteriorate, it even started to drizzle. We passed some lovely looking sheltered pine trees and Christine suggested camping in amongst them for the night, though I persuaded her to carry on a little longer. Typically, the further we went the less chance there seemed to be of anywhere to camp until we eventually found a track heading steeply downhill to a gate. Just inside the gate was a lovely place to camp but just in view of the road, not that there was going to any traffic overnight. The track then went through a stream and into the woods. I really didn’t fancy getting across the stream, but Christine wanted to be out of view of the road. With a parting shot of “Watch this experienced around New Zealand cyclist cross this stream” she set off. Just a few seconds later the experienced around New Zealand cyclist was shouting out “Oh S-H-I-T!!!” as the bike sank into the mud the other side, stopping her dead and resulting in a foot completely underwater, not the most desirable of things when it is cold and already getting colder. “…..and don’t say a fucking word” she added. As if I would, it was more than my life was worth! Having checked out the camping possibilities on the other side she convinced me it was worth it, so I changed into flip-flops and paddled across, though I to sank in the mud losing a flip-flop in the process, though after a bit of squishing around in the mud I managed to retrieve it. There was a short climb up a track, though it turned out to be a really sticky clay surface, most of which stuck to the tyres stopping the wheels from turning. Christine apologised for taking us across the river, though I had agreed pretty easily to it, so it wasn’t really her fault. Thankfully by the time we had set up camp it had stopped raining and we were able to cook outside, though with the dropping temperature we were soon getting pretty cold.

It rained pretty well all night, though having got the ground sheet sorted out it remained nice and dry inside, though still somewhat cold. When I looked outside the tent I could hardly believe my eyes, we had camped well below the snowline, but the snowline had come down to meet us. It was still snowing and settling quickly. The last couple of days had started with bad weather, so thinking there might be some pattern to the weather we decided to delay the start as long as possible, thankfully it was to pay off. Over breakfast Christine told me “You have to promise one thing, that you go a little slower down the hills in these conditions”, bless her. By 10am it was beginning to clear up, most of the snow had already thawed. The worst part of the day lay just ahead of us, getting back to the road. Having retraced our way back down the track made even tackier by the night’s rain, I was once again standing in flip-flops in the stream and passing the bikes and gear across. Once the worst of the mud was cleared off the bikes, it was just a case of hauling the bikes back up the steep hill to rejoin the road. We eventually started cycling at around 11:30, the weather seemed to be getting worse again as we made our way slowly down the roller coaster of a road. At times the road dipped sharply into valleys then climbed sharply back out again. As we started to drop towards another river crossing Christine was just behind me, by the time I had climbed out the other side she was nowhere to be seen, even though I could see a long way back. I assumed she had stopped for a snack, after all, if she is awake she is generally hungry. I waited and eventually she came into view and within a few of minutes she arrived saying “Either you are deaf or you are a complete arsehole” she said “Oh, that’s a tough one, being as I don’t know what you are talking about, it could go either way” I replied. It turned out that she had a coming together with the road whilst making a sharp turn, thankfully at slow speed, so no damage done. Interestingly, when she fails to turn up I assume she has stopped to tuck in to a little more food, though when I don’t turn up she assumes I have had an accident. Just before we reached Kaikoura we rejoined the main road. That came as a bit of a shock, the first real main road that we have been on since just after Dunedin. Kaikoura was as splendid as I remembered it from my last visit, the view across the sea to the snow covered range of mountains is something very special (photo). Finding somewhere to camp was once again challenging, though this time as we were in farmland, though we eventually found an unused field tucked away down a little gravel road. As day turned to night the sky cleared, giving a lovely cold, crisp evening with a wonderful full moon,. Due to the cold and a late finish we ended up cooking in the tent.

The following day started as the previous one had ended, clear skies giving a crisp morning with not a cloud in the sky. We were 3 km away from the sea yet we could still here the waves. I could understand why when we saw them, they were big and in abundance. Ahead of us lay the busy but fantastically beautiful road up the east coast to Blenheim (photo). To start with the road hugged the coastline, the snow covered mountains as a backdrop and the lovely smell of the sea. We stopped at Opau Point where Christine could hardly believe her eyes “You will have to pinch me” she said as she was seeing seals in the wild for the very first time. The colony here is literally right beside the main road. The road remained fantastic for the rest of the day but changed from mountains to rolling hills then changing dramatically again in the Marlborough Wine Region. Here the road headed inland and at Seddon we decided that we needed to find a place to camp for the night. Finding a place wasn’t easy, though a woman in a vehicle with a trailer asked us if we needed a lift to Blenheim where there would be a campsite. We thanked her but declined the offer. We took a little road away from the main road and eventually had to call in at a farm to ask permission to camp. At the first place we tried the doors were all open but there didn’t seem to be anybody there, though thankfully at the second one we tried they were happy for us to camp in a sheep paddock, a lovely little campsite overlooking the vineyards and the mountains, the only downside being the sheep poo everywhere. As we prepared dinner the woman from the house came over and brought us a bottle of white wine and 2 glasses. They work in the wine industry and gave us a bottle of wine that they produced themselves, it was delicious and went down very well, a really nice gesture. It was another lovely crystal clear night, though this time much warmer.

We made an earlier start in the morning, though not before we had taken back the glasses and given them our prized large bar of chocolate, about the only thing that we could give to them but an ideal gift as it was Easter. The run to Blenheim was easy going once we had crossed the Weld Pass. In town Christine was once again obsessed about going into the info office “I want to check the times of the ferries” she said “What for?” I asked “Once we get to Picton we get on the next ferry, what do we need the times for?” She had done the right thing though, apparently tickets bought at info offices were $20 cheaper than buying them at the terminal. From Blenheim to Picton was easy going, or should have been if we had not been into a head wind that had been building up. Still, we made it with a good half an hour to spare. After a nice calm crossing we went in search of a motel, though we cycled around for ages before we could even found one. Finding a place to stay in the middle of the Easter weekend was going to be challenge, though the second place had room, though more expensive than elsewhere we had been in New Zealand. We took it, we could search a heck of a lot longer and find nothing. Once unpacked Christine volunteered to go to the supermarket and do the shopping, then when she came back she cooked up a wonderful 3 course dinner, and what’s more she even enjoyed doing it. I am spoilt rotten!

And so to Easter Sunday, a day of no Easter eggs, they were too expensive! It’s been a gloriously warm day just wandering around the city, the snow of a few days back seems far off now. Most of the time has been spent around the harbour front and the Te Papa Museum, a museum of all things New Zealand (photo). We went along to have a look at the St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s remarkably modern, Art Deco in style and it rather reminded me of Guildford Cathedral. From there is was just a short walk to another church, Old St Paul’s and a bigger contrast would be almost impossible to achieve. This one was wooden, much smaller and a really delightful and cosy church, it had a real charm about it. I then went back to the cathedral and joined the ringers for ringing prior to the evening service. They have a massive ringing chamber complete with a lift to it, and a bunch of very good ringers to ring them, though tonight I was their weakest link. We rang for an hour, never ringing the same thing twice, all good ringing on fantastic bells. The only thing wrong was that if I had joined them this morning I would also have been able to ring at Old St Paul’s. If I had know it was such a beautiful little church I would have made a bit more effort….never mind.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Day 684 - Hanmer Springs

We had a late start from Wanaka. Having stayed in really nice accommodation for a change, we decided to have a leisurely breakfast and one last check of our emails before departing. We had only covered about 3km before we passed Puzzling World and decided to go in. As tourist attractions go it is a bit different, just a bit of fun, it doesn’t try to be classic New Zealand. There was a maze there, it said it normally takes 45-60 minutes to get around it. Yeah right! It wasn’t that big for goodness sake. Within minutes I was really impressed, it was much harder than it looked. It even had walkways over the top that had to be used, surely you would be able to work it all out from there, but not at all. In the end it took us 30 minutes to complete, but then it took another 15 minutes to find the way out. There were also a series of rooms that played around with perspective, they too were very clever (Photo). We probably didn’t leave Wanaka until around 2pm, by that time a good strong wind had blown up, it was doing it’s best to make us stay in Wanaka. The road had far more hills than expected, then it ran along the shores of Lake Hawea, which on the clear day that we had looked just stunning. We had plenty of time to look at it, the wind had reduced us to a crawling pace. We met a couple of Aussie cyclists, I think they were finding it even tougher. They had ridden to Wanaka the previous day in constant rain, they weren’t having a good time of it. We carried on a little further, then found a glorious little spot by the lake, sheltered a little from the wind by a few trees. The only problem was that we were just a few metres from the main road, though during the night we didn’t hear a single vehicle pass.
Maybe we hadn’t heard the traffic as the wind never ceased the whole night. Come morning we set off into the same strong wind of the previous day. We were soon leaving Lake Hawea and crossing the saddle to Lake Wanaka. As we rode along the shore we stopped and talked to a couple of cyclists heading the other way, they too were from Berlin. I would think it is a good time to visit Berlin, the place must be empty, they are all cycling around NZ! The scenery was still fantastic and passing by very slowly. We passed the end of the lake, the wind just seemed to get stronger and stronger, it was looking as though we weren’t going to get very far. On entering Mount Aspiring National Park the scenery changed, we were heading through pine forests. Amazingly while we were in them it was silent, the wind seemed to drop off completely, it was so much easier going, though every now and then we crossed open valleys and as soon as we were in those the wind suddenly put in an unwanted return. We were climbing up to the Haast Pass, the lowest crossing to the West Coast at just 563m. As we neared the pass we were joined by cyclist from Nelson at the north of the south island, Martin rode the last few metres with me, then we stopped for a chat. A few minutes later Maria arrived on foot, I never spoke to her as Martin went over to meet her, I had a feeling she wasn‘t best pleased with him and his choice of routes. Once over the pass everything changed dramatically, the wind dropped completely, it clouded over heavily and the change in vegetation was dramatic. We had instantly left behind the rugged mountains and were now cycling through rainforest and waterfalls, and what is more we were heading downhill. By the end of the day we had made reasonable progress. We found a spot to camp by a river, but the whole area was damp and to make matters worse we were surrounded by hundreds of sand flies, the equivalent to Scotland’s midges, they were terrible, any bit of flesh that was left exposed and not moving was prime target and constantly bitten, the first priority was to cover up completely. The clouds were getting lower, before long we could hardly even see the mountain across the river. Then it began to drizzle, it was time for an early night.
It rained on and off all night. Come morning there was water inside the tent. I hadn’t set it up properly, part of the ground sheet had been exposed and channelled all the water straight into the tent….oops! Thankfully by the time we were off the rain had ceased, though I trudged through the long grass in flip-flops to save my shoes and socks becoming soaked before we had even started the cycling, this was to become standard practice for the next few days. Water was everywhere, the waterfalls were in full flow, the clouds were still hanging around in the valleys (photo), it was all very dramatic. We were now well into the West Coast region, otherwise known as the Wet Coast, though thankfully we seemed to have left he wind behind. The riding was easy going, flat yet picturesque. We arrived in Haast and called in at the little store for snacks. Christine has an excellent eye for a bargain, so it is the bargains that we generally buy, though today’s bargain was ice-cream! The cold and wet outside was not going to deter her. Don’t get me wrong, I love ice-cream, but I always prefer it when I am hot, right now I wanted something to warm me up, ice-cream wasn’t going to do that, no matter how nice it was. The road continued flat for most of the morning, the suddenly a number of short steep hills were in front of us, where on earth had they suddenly come from? We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint, the sand flies were still with us, we were already settled into the routine of covering up as soon as we stopped, they were just unbearable otherwise. The vista opened up as we passed Lake Moeraki, then closed back into thick rainforest as soon as we were past. We rode along chatting happily, we talked about food, we talked about God, when suddenly I saw a connection. Earlier I had been awarded half a packet of biscuits from the communal food that Christine was carrying, usually I am rationed to one (ok, that is a slight exaggeration, but it sounds much better that way, normally I am allowed two or three) “Did God tell you to give me more biscuits then?” I asked, “No, God told me you are an arsehole!” came the reply. I am not sure that I entirely believe that, though there may be an element of truth! From lunchtime onwards the weather was deteriorating, then suddenly just as we were looking for a place to camp it suddenly cleared, the sun shone and it was the warmest part of the day. Things got even better when we found a great little spot to camp, basked in sunshine, enough for us to dry out anything that had got wet the previous night, we could hardly believe our luck, we are once again being looked after very well.
By the following morning we expected the worst, it surely had to rain, but once again the weather was glorious, the only wet period of the day was tramping once again through long wet grass back to the road. It is always cold to start the day. Once back at the road I dry my feet before putting on my shoes, then on go the gloves and we head off, even in the bright sunshine it takes me quite a while to warm up. Today we had a sight to see, Fox Glacier, so we aimed to get there in good time, we only had one short stop. The glacier is 4km off the road up a gravel track that climbs gently. Right from the start the valley was steep, you could instantly feel the temperature drop a few degrees. As we approached the glacier the gravel road was being repaired, work was still ongoing from a flood in November that had washed away the last 500m of the road, not to mention much of the path the lead from the car park to the glacier face. There was now a new route in place, but it really showed the power of nature. There were also markers in place to show where the glacier had been in years gone by. It was impressive but remarkably dirty, it’s about time they gave it a good clean. We made our way back to the quaint little village of Fox Glacier, stocked up on supplies for our daily evening ritual of a three course dinner before heading off on the roller coaster road to Franz Josef Glacier. Typically the longest steepest hills of the day were saved for carrying around 10 litres of water. We stopped between the roller coasters, right beside another river, once again in long grass. With about 45 minutes before dusk the temperature drops dramatically, the air becomes very damp and it’s normally a signal to pack things way for the night, or quickly get my final fix of coffee for the day.
The mornings are always cold and damp, but the cold impact is lessened by the fantastic porridge that Christine cooks up. She hated the stuff to start with, but now she loves it and gets a bit twitchy if we are running low. You could try this at home, it’s so easy and tastes great. Boil some water, when it’s almost boiling throw in some sultanas and some cinnamon, then in go the oats which get boiled for one minute. Take it off the heat, add a load of brown sugar and mixed it in, then put more brown sugar on the top so that it caramelises, then pour far too much cream on than is good for you…wow, it’s just fantastic. Oh, whilst you are doing that you can also get your coffee fix! Franz Josef Glacier was also 4km off down a gravel track, then a walk to the glacier itself (photo. Try zooming in on the glacier and find the people walking on it. It will put the size of the thing into perspective). As we started to walk down its river valley we could see people way in the distance looking like little dots, once again natures size was truly impressive. The village itself was another little tourist trap, plenty of accommodation, cafes, bars, shops selling glacier flights, glacier walks etc, a real hive of activity. We were soon heading out, back on the flat roads in glorious sunshine. We passed over Kaka Creek when Christine said “No German would ever drink from there”, “Why not?” I asked, “It’s what a little child would call poo” I was told. This was meant to be, at last I had found it, Shit Creek! I have bad news for you though, I will shatter your illusions, it really would make no difference if you were stuck up Shit Creek without a paddle, there was so little water in there that you would be stuck there even if you did have a paddle. We passed through Whataroa where I recognised a couple of bikes outside a hotel, they belonged to Martin and Maria, the cyclists we had met at Haast Pass, then just a few seconds later we saw them walking down the road, they had reached the end of their short trip, they were even still talking to each other.
Early the following morning we stopped briefly at Harihari, I did a bit of washing for Christine whilst she did the shopping. As I rode along to meet her I passed an Indian guy walking along the road “You have a beautiful day my friend” he called out. I was already having a good day, but that little comment lifted my spirits, it’s so easy to do yet we very rarely do it. Christine seemed to be on a mission, her cycling pace had picked up considerably. Normally when I stopped to take a photo she would carry on and I would quickly catch her, but today as soon as I stopped she seemed to pick up the pace even more, may be she was trying to get away from me though she assured me she wasn’t. This created further unexpected problem, if you leave her alone even for just a few minutes she starts thinking, and that usually means bad news. Women should never be left alone to think for themselves, it makes life so much tougher for us men (ok, ok, calm down, that’s only a cheap little quip!). If I was lucky it would mean she had thought up something else for her to try cooking, but most of the time it meant she thought things through that we had discussed the previous evening meaning there would be further discussions. Of late the philosophical discussions have been really interesting, mainly topics extracted from reading the book “The Shack”. Topics such as ‘what is sin?’, ‘What is a lie’ and ‘is there ever a time when it is acceptable to lie?’ Think about them, they are quite interesting, especially ‘what is a sin’. There you go, I am offloading something on to you, I don’t see why I should be the only one that is paying the price for Christine riding alone and thinking! By evening we reach Hokitika, the first town since Wanaka. We split our duties again, Christine did the food shopping and I went in search of water for the night. When I arrived back she asked if I had filled her water bottles “Oh, I didn’t realise that you wanted them filled”. Of course I had, what a silly question, but she took me seriously. We both seem to struggle with the humour of each others home land, for example, take the following: ‘If the Alps were closer to Berlin they would be much higher’, now apparently the Germans think this is hilarious, I don’t think this is even mildly amusing, but then what would a boring old fart know about humour anyway. That evening we found a nice little spot to camp, tuck in amongst a load of gorse bushes, which at least meant we could depart the following morning without getting wet feet.
The following morning was back to a main road bash to Greymouth. At Kumara Junction we met the road coming in from Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass which meant I was on the first bit of road that I had been on when I was last here in New Zealand around 9 years ago. We came to a long narrow single tracked bridge, which also doubled up as the railway bridge, I instantly recognised it, in fact it had been in mind for a few days and I was trying to remember where I had been when I crossed it, now I was put out of my agony. We stopped off in Greymouth long enough to have lunch and for Christine to get her fix from the latest weather forecast from the information centre. As we heading out we were blessed with a tailwind, it was a delight bowling along with ease, the sun in front of us and the wind behind. That evening we found Christine’s favourite camp spot, tucked down beside a bank below a little road on beautiful flat grass, the sun still shining, pure bliss.
The following day’s target was to get over the Lewis Pass, that meant about 91k and climbing up to 912m. We carried on along the main road to Reefton, a lovely little old mining town that would have not looked out of place in Australia, lots of wooden buildings, all very quaint. We passed the Bearded Mining Company and doubled back to have a look. It’s a sort of little museum where men with big long beards sit around reading papers and talking to each other as well as any passing tourists that drop in. They had a small hut full of old memorabilia, and stove burning away which were hard to walk way from. Stuck up in the window was an old advert for a ‘Steady Woman’, it required a woman ‘….of strict morals, healthy, and good humoured, but above corruption, and a thorough good cook’. Christine was getting all excited and said it was exactly her and that she should apply, but as I tried to calm her down one of our bearded miners chipped in, “There is a ball and chain just inside the door if you need it”. Christine did her weather check at the info centre whilst I checked the local detailed map and found we had a saddle to cross over before the pass itself, that just meant extra climbing. As we left town we were obviously on the quieter road, twisting and turning through a narrow steep sided valley. A police vehicle passed us and minutes later we passed it, the policeman outside, stood there in uniform from the waist down and wearing a Lord of the Rings T-shirt. I almost fell asleep looking at it, and no Aoiffe, I haven’t read the books, though I did manage to get as far as reading “Lord of the…..” before I fell asleep! We reached the final climb to the pass, filled up with water, then decided to camp at the first available spot. As soon as we started climbing we both knew there would be nowhere to camp heading up, the sides were way too steep, we were going to have to get over the pass after all, it was going to be a late night. By the time we reached the top Christine was soaked in sweat and miserable, but a change into dry clothes ready for the descent did her a world of good. After only a few kilometres of descent we pulled into a little free campsite, the first campsite I have used in New Zealand, but if offered flat grass to camp on, something we would be unlikely to find in the next few kilometres. We had made it all the way along the Wet Coast in glorious weather, the following day the Wet Coast would be wet again, I knew that thanks to Christine and her desire of constant weather forecasts. Having arrived late we decided to stick to just a two course dinner, chicken rogan josh followed by apple crumble. Christine finds a apple tree as hard to pass without stopping as she does a town information centre. But we were now back over the pass and on the east side of the south island, the change was once again instant, we once again had the wind for company, but sat around in the dark eating dinner was no longer a problem, it seemed so much warmer and drier.
The following morning the tent and surrounding area was completely dry, it was almost a pleasure packing up. We had a lot of descending to do, but little climbs were mixed in, though with a good tailwind we made very good progress, the first 30km slipped by so easily, the scenery constantly changing, it was a delight. The last 40km to Hanmer Springs were somewhat lumpy, the road climbing and dropping 50-60m at a time, though never too steeply, always comfortable. We now had open vistas, bare mountains, wide stony riverbeds and sweeping valleys. The last 10km were down a no through road, we had expected it to be quiet, but it turned out to be the busiest of the day, though thankfully most of the traffic was leaving. The Springs are a weekend retreat for people from Christchurch and this weekend there had been a mountain biking event, every other car leaving had bikes on the back. The little village centre was heaving, though we were staying slightly away from the centre. When we went back in the evening it had thankfully quietened down, actually it was almost dead, all the cars had gone, the shops and restaurants were all shut, there were just a few stragglers like us left roaming the street.
Today has been a day of leisure, Christine has been to the spa pools and in just a few minutes she will be heading back there, though this time it seems that I have to go too. I might get my knees wet, though she assures me that it is not deep enough for me to drown in.
Just to be fair and balanced, the following is an extract from Christine’s blog of her time spent with me. It is only fair and balanced that I reveal it to you, it doesn’t mean to say that it is true
or that I agree with it:
The joys and sorrows of having a cycling partner
John and me are cycling together for almost 2 months now and we get along surprisingly well despite the fact that he is a male and you can't leave him alone for 5 minutes and he will do something stupid like getting a puncture on his bike. But I have to admit that having a cycling partner makes things a lot easier:-
You save a lot of money (despite the fact that he keeps telling me that I cost him a fortune): You can buy food in bulk (did I mention our 3 course dinners?) and you can share accommodation costs (we had the poshest room ever the last two nights and between two people and the exchange rate it was still incredibly cheap).
You can cook 3 course dinners. This is especially true if your cycling partner carries a petrol stove, 2 pots and 1 pan and you yourself only have to carry 1 titanium pot and a tiny little stove. The best is that this way you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy and still have 3 course dinners.
You can cook anything you like and your cycling partner still eats it. John has the advantage of eating everything you set in front of him including chicken liver, parsnip and beetroot. He even volunteered to eat Sauerkraut!- You are plenty warm at night especially due to the fact that he carries a 2 person 4 season tent that weighs about 1 ton while you carry an ultralight tarptent. If you smuggle yourself into his tent at night you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy, but keep yourself warm and dry at the same time in his tent. Very useful!
You have someone to repair your bike in exchange for sewing repairs. Unfortunately, my bike never had a single problem since we are cycling together while his 40 kg of ultraheavy crap is constantly falling apart and needs to be repaired by me.
You have someone you can nick food off - especially white chocolate John is extremely anal about. I am constantly being accused of eating too much of it which is all his fault because he is just not fast enough to eat it before me.
You have someone you can blame it on if you get lost. The fact that John is not able to read any of his various maps without his glasses is extremely helpful there. But beware: Never give any new map to a male cycling partner - he will study it for hours whereas he never reads his guidebooks and therefore would miss all the museums and sights if you did not tell him.
You have someone you can ditch doing the dishes on in exchange for cooking. He of course thinks that you are doing a big sacrifice for him by cooking for the two of you whereas you just love cooking and would never let get any screaming amateur like him near you food anyway. And I hate doing dishes!
You can always moan at something when you have a cycling partner and get bored. Men usually do something stupid every 5 minutes so you don't have to look far to find something! In the worst case you can just misunderstand his so called British humour that no German would ever understand anyway. And I will never understand why he does not find feminist jokes funny!
PS: Despite what I have written so far I am really having a very good time with him and might eventually even develop a sense humour!