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.


Maria said...

LOL John - we can relate to your welcome to America - just wait until you land and have to go through Immigration Clearance!
Loved your YUK description - and I am sure that we told you that Aussies were the friendliest people!
Mind you, everyone in the UK has been fantastically friendly too!
Keep on cycling.

aoiffe said...

I can't agree with Maria - I must be more squeamish, and would rather hear your poo stories than this snot one.
Naomi and Toby are back from Australia and having experienced some of the vastness have a new admiration for your feat of cycling through the outback.

Caff said...

So you are now in America I hope you get a warm welcome once away from icy Immigration. I look forward to hearing more exploits from a new part of the world.
I was surprised to hear Aussies won hands down on the warmth and friendliness aspect it was the NZer's that won 20 years ago!
It's good to hear the Aussies have now made it back to the top.
As for snot vs poo - I don't mind either I'm a simple person who is easily amused!!! :-)

dad said...

One thing that puzzles me and nobody else apparantly. Is Christine going with you to USA? You didn't mention her in your comments re your application for a visa. We (Cathy and me) are catching up with you in the photo stakes now that Spring has arrived and we have some colour in the scenery.

Basher Barlow said...

One thing that puzzles me and nobody else apparantly. Is Christine going with you to USA? (your dad)....One thing that puzzles me was a posting where you aint be arguing... NORWICH ARE DOWN SON!