Australasia | New Zealand – New Zealand extended remix

Australasia | New Zealand – New Zealand extended remix

As I have not been able to post any entries for the past few weeks due to early closing hours, internet stations that won’t accept jetflashes or discs, or bad connections due to the storms, I’ve created an abridged and extended remix version of this entry for those in a hurry or those who want the nitty gritty details. This is the extended remix or day by day in New Zealand, so take your time or come back and read it in bits and pieces. If you like, you can send me a message using this website if there’s something you want to know more about, or just to comment. Some of the images will be available for voting.

Elements

Feeling the sun’s heat or the cool of the rain on your skin, the wind in your face, and the cold in your bones are just some of the aspects of nature that impact us everyday. Sometimes when we travel, we feel them more.

Relishing the joy of laughter when cracking a joke with friends or newly made acquaintances, dealing with the frustrations of mislaid plans, miscommunications, or differences in cultural norms, enduring mutual miseries, reveling in moments of delight and unexpected pleasant surprises, are elements of life that we also share almost everyday. Sometimes when we travel, we remember them more.

Here in New Zealand, the elements are having their day, and their night.

Generally speaking, the weather here in this apparently unusual February, is rainy and cold. Last year at this time, they had 224 mm of rain listed as the year-to-date total in Greymouth on the south island. This year – before today’s torrential downpour of 120 mm, 452 mm had been recorded. But, we have it easy here on the south island. In the north, sewage mains have been backed up by the flooding and damage is now reported at 100 million dollars. That is one big stinky mess!

For Lannie, Aaron, and myself cycling up the coast, the weather, environmental disasters, and mass tourism have had some impact. I left Christchurch by bus intending to go to Queenstown and do a flight to Milford Sound before joining Lannie and Aaron in Haast to begin our ride. Milford is supposedly one of the most pristine fjords in New Zealand’s “Fjordland” and I had hoped to do a cruise or kayak up the sound. Unfortunately, someone purposely put a hose in a diesel holding tank spilling over 13,000 gallons of fuel into the sound. Not being able to cruise the sound because of the cleanup required is such a small disappointment compared to the horror that I feel knowing someone has done something like that. The scenery on the way to Queenstown is nice – a lot like British Columbia, and after finding out about the environmental disaster, decided to get off the bus and get on my bike to enjoy what was truly a nice day for riding, or as the weather forecasts here in New Zealand will tell you, was a “Mostly Fine” day.

At Tarras where I got down from the bus, the “Great New Zealand Bike Tour” organized by Ride Victoria of Melbourne, was having a rest stop. Hundreds and hundreds of cyclists were resting and getting re-hydrated. Later on in our ride, we would discover that 1000 cyclists riding around the country on a tour with “shockingly bad food” and poor advance warning for the towns and villages they were to descend upon, would wipe out the steak and cheese pies, the soup, and half of the rest of the supplies in any town we were unfortunate enough to be behind them. I reckon they were akin to a forest industry clear-cutting through the land. Anyway – I got my bike together and headed off in a different direction for Lake Wanaka to surprise my friends with an early rendezvous. A short 45 km ride through typical Kiwi headwinds, including the 15 km detour due to a bridge repair through sheep farms, deer farms, elk farms, sheep farms, cattle farms, ostrich farms, sheep farms, more sheep farms and the smell of the country, I arrived in Wanaka. We had a couple of cans of Speight’s beer -“the beer of the South!” – before I headed off to grab a motel room for the next couple of nights.

The next day, we met to have some home cooked breakfast down at the motor camp. We had hot toast, nicely cooked eggs and bacon – a change from cold toast, uncooked bacon, and well cooked, or almost burnt, eggs (not all breakfast is served that way – but a surprising 4 out of 5 are). Ah – just part of understanding Kiwi culture.

Lannie and her beau had bus tickets to Haast for the next day, but there weren’t any more available, so other than spending $250 to rent a car for the day and be able to leave it in Haast, it became apparent that the way to get there was to ride. I was actually happy at the way it turned out. It would give me a nice challenging 150 km ride over the Haast Pass to the west coast and coming to New Zealand for me was really about riding the bike and being with friends.

I would also like to spend some time viewing the geothermal activity, learn about the Maori culture, see some of the unique wildlife here, and if I’m lucky meet up with kwannets from the worldsurface site. New Zealand really is an awful lot like BC, but is really struggling to deal with the level of tourism it is experiencing – and at least this year – the weather is cold and wet. If you are planning on traveling here, you should know that tourism has grown to the point that it is difficult to find accommodation if you have not booked at least a month in advance. That makes it difficult for the F.I.T. (Free Independent Traveler) as the NZ tourism commission calls people like me – but not impossible. Tourism is also expected to grow more and more with the Lord of the Rings trilogy being so successful. Air New Zealand has painted their airplanes to look like Lord of the Rings, and you will not have to look far to find everything Lord of the Rings from coffee cups to t-shirts to placemats to puzzles to tours featuring Lord of the Rings filming locations. You can take the backpacker busses and stay in dormitory accommodation only booking a few days ahead at a time, or rent an RV camper and usually find a spot at the side of the road if the motor camps are full, or if you like to rough it, there are toilet and water equipped, but no shower Department of Conservation campsites that are extremely cheap at $5/night here and there throughout the country. These campsites seem to be pretty readily available.

So 150 km is not exactly an easy ride, especially in the Kiwi headwind which seems to blow North South East and West simultaneously. It was a “mostly fine” day and that made the climb up the hills and over the pass a little bit easier. IN fact – that day – there was no rain!    Actual riding time was about 7 hours, but I had some mechanical problems that were my own damn fault early on in the day and it took me some time to work out the bugs. Part of the day, I rode with some Dutch cyclists (Nyomeecha and Hans) who have been going around the island for the past month. We will be bumping into each other a lot over the next week. The scenery at Haast Gate just on the other side of the pass has an incredibly beautiful blue river crashing down the mountainside carrying glacial silt, which causes the water to have an amazing hue. I would have to say that for me, that was a highlight in a day full of the freedom of cycling. It was a day when I mused on the differences between cycling and doing the bus and truck or rental transport tour. Differences such as being able to hear the waterfalls on the sides of the road, or feeling the freshness in the air, or being able to stop on a bridge and take a picture or just relax for a moment enjoying the views. Other differences such as being able to smell and closely inspect the roadkill of countless possums, rabbits, hedgehogs and birds, or being overwhelmed by the stench of a transport carrying 350 something slightly stressed sheep as it whooshes by with a lingering cloud that you can taste are not some of the better differences, but they are part of the greater experience. Anyway – it was just barely still daylight on arrival in Haast and Aaron had cooked up a healthy serving of pasta. Thank you Aaron! That’s just one of the elements of friendship that means more after a long hard day of riding.

The next morning, the three of us headed out together for Lake Paringa and a night of camping. On the way, we stopped at Ship Creek Beach, were devoured by the notoriously voracious sand flies, had a nice picnic lunch and saw dolphins leaping in the surf. Lannie spotted them first, and had we not delayed and delayed ourselves, we would never have seen them. 50 kms later, and after a restful dinner by the lake, we bedded down for the night anticipating the next day’s rain. As sure as the wind in New Zealand, it arrived early and made the take down that much more speedy. We coasted down the road for a hearty breakfast at the fully booked out motel, before doing what we could to rainproof ourselves for the ride to Franz Joseph.

After about an hour on the road, the rain eased off, giving us a rather pleasant seventy something kilometer ride to Franz Joseph Glacier. I wasn’t sure Aaron would make it over the hills up to the glacier. He even had made a sign – “Franz Joseph – will Pay!” He didn’t need it and we’re proud of him for busting his ass and making it up those mountains.

Franz Joseph is one of those touristy towns that is all about doing Glacier experiences. It comes after a series of 400 m hills, so we were thirsty and after showering down, went down to the Landing restaurant for some cold ones, along with hearty Spanish Paella and Lamb Shanks done to perfection. In the morning, I would take the first helicopter ride of my life and go hiking high up on the glacier.

Heli Hiking Franz Joseph

I woke up to find some breakfast at the Kea Caf? on Franz Joseph’s main street, and at just after noon, checked in for my heli-hike with Franz Joseph Glacier Guides. There’s a waiver to sign, and after being outfitted with crampons and boots, we had a brief orientation on helicopter boarding procedures. In groups of 5 and 6, we boarded the choppers and headed for the glacier. Our pilots swept up over the front of the glacier and over the top before bringing us down to the landing pad that is chopped out by the guides each day just after dawn. The ice is constantly moving, so every time the guides go up, it’s a slightly different world.

Franz Joseph was an advancing glacier from approximately 1985 to 1997, but it is once again retreating. The ice surface is not the national geographic photo of crystal clear white and blue, although there are many places where that can be seen. Instead, it’s a mix of brown and white, with a little blue, green, and black in places. The rock, the sand, and the ice combine to make a world that is evolving every day.

Sierra, who is originally from California and has now been in New Zealand for six years, was our guide. She went over the crampon lace-up and how to use our ice axes without impaling ourselves. We were split into two groups: the easy and slow paced snapshot crowd, and a group who claimed to be unafraid of heights and narrow ledges. The latter group was where I found myself on the advice of Sierra and her husband who is also a guide. I had met them in the bar the previous night and they advised me that the challenging group was not very advanced – just a little more confident.

Off we went to explore the glacier, Sierra chopping out steps for us to walk in and testing the ice for stability as we went. Much of the rest of the group was on an American adventure holiday, except for a young woman from Japan who had a little trouble with some of the steps due to her small stature. We climbed up and around, keeping an eye on the dropping cloud level. If the cloud dropped too low, we would be walking out for about 9 hours or so down a lot of ice and rock. We came across a few ice holes full of water, but not very deep. There were a few places where the ice was completely unstable and we detoured around or went back again. Sierra found a couple of caves for us to crawl through and we did hop across a few crevices – none that presented much danger. After a few hours and the cloud closing in, we called in the choppers to take us out, just as the rain was beginning to beat down.

I enjoyed the trip, but it wasn’t the awe-inspiring experience I thought it might be. Maybe it was because I was squeezed in the back of the chopper and the rain was beating down impeding the visibility, or maybe because the glacier climbing was just a lot slower and less challenging than I thought it would be. Maybe I had expectations that couldn’t be safely met in the context of the massive operation that is Franz Joseph Glacier Guides. It was a new experience, the glacier was beautiful, meeting Sierra, Tony, and the rest of the guides was a lot of fun, so all of that, I will take with me.

By the way, if you’re wondering how I’m managing to get snapshots with any sunshine in them, it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I must be grabbing the camera for those brief moments in the sun before safely hiding it away in the Ziploc for the rest of the day.

Another breakfast at the Kea Caf? in Franz Joseph and we were off on our bikes at around 9:30 a.m. We would have a few hills today, but nothing like the ones further down the coast and on the way to Franz Joseph. Our real obstacle today was the huge Great New Zealand Bike Ride that had finally caught up with us. We would be cycling with them today and staying the night in Hari Hari, which means “friends between two rivers”. Several had passed us while we ate breakfast, having done the big hills between Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. Luckily, we had accommodation booked in Hari Hari, so we set off hoping for a good day’s ride. Aaron still had a couple of broken spokes, but the wheel seemed to be doing okay. Our search for a bike shop that could fix the problem was futile. Hans from the Netherlands, also had the same problem and was managing to cope. We met them again over breakfast. Sometimes when you are traveling, you meet some of the same people again and again. Hans and Nyomeecha are always nice to see – a good couple full of good humour – at least when we see them. Anyway – off we went.

Just out of Franz Joseph, we came across Lake Mapourika, spectacular in it’s serenity. We paused more than once as we rode around it. Onward we traveled in some pretty decent weather to Whataroa where we really came upon the big ride in progress. The little general store had some homemade pies and soup that the cyclists ahead had not managed to completely devour. However – the big find of the day was the big ride’s mechanic from Melbourne who agreed to fix Aaron’s wheel. He completely redid the axel and changed the spokes that were causing problems. Lannie and I made busy by videotaping the various cyclists there for a rest stop. Families, couples, friends, and a unicyclist all said hello and we had some tea from the local school having a fundraiser. We even bought a couple of lottery tickets for the cooks at the store. Where we enjoyed such a great lunch. Hopefully they’ll win the hamper of groceries or load of firewood that we certainly won’t be interested in coming back to get. The cyclists were having a good day of riding with little rain and moderate temperatures.

About 2:30 in the afternoon, we were ready to get going and tackle Mount Hercules. It was really a small hill for us by this time, and afterwards, mostly flat riding with little wind all the way to Hari Hari.

Hari Hari is a small town where almost all 350 people living in the area are related. We had our own little house that used to be a bus drivers’ stopover at the Tomasi Motel. It was so sweet, we checked to see if it was available the next night. It was, but we would think about whether to stay a night or keep going.

Dinner was down the street at the main motel in town. The staff was being run ragged, as the cyclists who couldn’t put up with the ‘shockingly bad food’ on the tour, were chowing down and cheering the Kiwi cricket match against South Africa being shown on the big screen. We played pool with Kelly and Angel, mostly a hooking and blocking game all around, before heading back to the house for some late night relaxation.

The next morning we stared out at the downpour hoping it would stop and delayed our departure. Eventually, we decided to just go for it and head for Hokitika up the coast, even with no accommodation booked and the cyclists also staying over in the same town. The rain eased up for awhile, but resumed its deluge just before a small town with two hotels, fireplaces blazing in each, named Ross. We warmed up some and miraculously managed to book accommodation at the very lovely Riverview Cabins just outside of Hokitika. Some of the cyclists from the big ride spent a couple of hours in the pub at Ross and we wondered if they would actually get going again. We also heard that their campsite had been submerged and they would be bussing them back to Ross to spend the night. The pub-crawl group evidently was not part of that group as they did eventually head out and we caught up to them at the next pub. We ‘were’ planning on just a coffee stop, but they talked us into joining them for a beer saying “Look! We can ride in the rain and complain, or just stop and have a beer here and there and just go what the hell!”. The last part of that day’s ride actually hurt me a bit. My renewed motto is “don’t drink and ride”! It just doesn’t work for me – at least not in the rain.

Our host at Riverview Cabins, Gaynor, was really lovely. We arrived and she put our shoes over the fire to dry, while we showered and cleaned up to go out on the town. Down by the river, the rain was falling while the sun cut an amber glow across the water. A rope hung from a branch on a towering pine tree, reaching up along the bank among some huge bright orange toadstool mushrooms. A few geese flew by and wandered back up to the nine-acre site with sheep, steers, chickens and a few other animals wandering around. Gayna drove us into town and we spent the rest of the evening eating, drinking, and dancing with the great bike ride people. For a change, I let them do all the table dancing and taking various pieces of clothing off. One fellow wearing a shirt that said “I f***ed a goat” even did a little body surfing, so you know they weren’t exactly a tame crowd.

The next morning, we checked out and ran into some more bad restaurant service at the local Millie’s Caf?. Thankfully, Aaron and Lannie realized how bad it was before ordering and managed to find a really nice caf? down the street called the Hoki Tukka Caf?. I joined them for coffee before we rode north for Greymouth. The road continued along the coast, but wasn’t especially spectacular, and we ended up at the Top Ten Holiday Camp about five o’clock. After spending about a half hour in the spa, we went downtown for dinner. The Bonzai Pizza Restaurant was sold out of everything due to the cyclists ahead of us, so we were able to have a great large pizza, before going home to the cabins.

Aaron had broken another couple of spokes, so he had to get those fixed as the first order of business, and then arrange a rental car from Westport. It turned out that there was one car only available in Westport and he had to get it that day or it would be gone, so he was off on the bus at two. We would see him later that evening.

New Zealand in general is at its absolute maximum capacity for tourism. Every room, cabin, motel, and hotel room is booked, every car, and transport is frequently unavailable. It is only going to get worse, and some people I have spoken to in the tourism industry feel that the only way to handle it is to limit the number of visitors to the nation. Some operators are trying to increase capacity, so we will see what happens in the future. Lord of the Rings is being credited/blamed for the explosion in tourism, and I almost didn’t come here because of a sense that it was having substantial impact. I’m glad I have come here, but wish I came here before this time of difficulty for the industry.

Lannie and I rode on that afternoon and we truly had one of the most spectacular rides so far. Waves crashing endlessly, massive amounts of sea foam on the shore blowing right across the highway, and ending with a stop at the Punakaiki pancake rocks.

Punakaiki Pancakes and Blowholes

The Punakaiki Pancakes and Blowholes have been a highlight of my travels through New Zealand. It’s one of those places that, even with the surprises that made me go hmmm (like arriving at the hostel to discover over 30 people camping on the lawn which inevitably caused a shortage of hot water), I completely enjoyed the place amidst sideways rain and 120 km gale force winds.

The pancake rocks are layered limestone formations created by shells, sand, and earth settling in layers over millions of years. The blowholes are created by surges in the tide, especially during high seas. The water works its way into and through the rocks making strange mystical throaty whistling and puffing sounds as it perennially erodes the rock creating bigger and bigger blowholes. Eventually the rock erodes completely and the sea reclaims the land.

Smell the surf, hear the sound of the waves, or feel the drenching spray on your skin.

Tranz Scenic Overlander and Climbing Volcanoes in Tongariro National Park

Early in the morning of February 25th, I got up in Wellington, and I honestly had no idea what I was going to do. I wanted to get north, but there were no rental cars available due to the arts festival and the fact that New Zealand is pushing the limits for its tourism capacity, so I thought I’ll try the train and if I get on great – if not, I’ll just ride. Amazingly, I got a ticket, my bike and trailer were loaded, and I was off on the Tranz Scenic Overlander headed for Tongariro National Park. This was my third day in a row with things somehow working out. Hopefully, it keeps up.

The Tranz Scenic is an older style railway company that services much of New Zealand. They offer two types of cars – backpacker and scenic. I took the backpacker car and it was just fine. Midway along our journey north, Billy Connelly, who is apparently a famous comedian who appeared on Head of the Class in America, joined us by riding a huge trike motorcycle onto a flatbed attached to our train. He was followed by a film crew, and for a while we were shadowed by a helicopter.

About 2:45 in the afternoon, we arrived at National Park Station, and I rode down the road to find some accommodation. The National Park Backpackers Hostel boasts a hot tub, indoor climbing wall, and internet service. Internet service is severely limited, so there has been a delay and you will note that a number of entries will all show up at once. The hot tub, like many I have found, are rank and smelly – not something I would actually get in and have a soak. Other than those minor complaints, the place is relatively busy and the family who run it do the best they can. It’s next door to a pub that serves hamburgers that actually contain beef burgers, and other food that is pretty good.

At 7:45 the next morning, I took the bus for the national park to walk the “greatest one-day walk” in all of New Zealand – the Tongariro Crossing. It’s a 17 km one way walk that goes up to an elevation of approximately 1900 m crossing through much of the terrain used for filming the Lord of the Rings Battle Scenes. Mount Ngauruhoe stood in for the Modor location, with some digital enhancement. I’d flown over the area on my way from Aukland to Christchurch and because of its spectacular beauty, vowed to try and find a way to get here. The Volcanoes steam, but have not erupted since 1995 and 1997. They expect that they will erupt again sometime in the next two years.

The park entrance is crowded with busses dropping of what seems like hundreds of people for various different walks – but take my word for it – many of the walks are not “just a walk in the park”. The Tongariro crossing has at least three very steep climbs of over 150 m, although there were a good number of seniors who made the walk in a time of around 9 hours, walking sticks in hand. We were blessed with a beautiful day, which consists of little wind at higher elevations, and some sunny weather, but not overly hot. It was the first decent weather in two weeks at the park, and it seems the weather was about to turn again the next day. At first, it seems that the whole walk is like a bunch of ants snaking along a path, but the harder the terrain, the more the train of walkers spread out.

I wired myself for part of the walk with some Enigma on the CD player, and along with the scenery, felt like I was traveling for the first time on this Wojo in the World journey. It’s the sensation that hits me when I embrace the natural world, appreciate its beauty, and get out there in it. I feel like putting my hands up in the air, spinning around and singing “hey ya-a hey, oh ya-a, hey-eh ya-a oh, hey ya-a, hey ya-a oh, hey-ey ya-a oh, hey ya-a oh ya oh-o hey-eh ya, oh!” Then closing my eyes and opening them again to see if it’s all real. I do. And it is.

After about an hour or so, I come to a place called Soda Springs where the path continues on, or one can climb to Mount Ngauruhoe’s summit. We only live once, whether it’s in a moment or a place, so of course, I’m going to go for it. The climb is up some slippery volcanic scree, mixed in with some rocky ridges. The calls of “Rock!” and “Hey Frodo!” can be heard as you ascend the sleeping giant. The higher you go, the colder and windier it gets, but when you finally each the summit, you can be warmed by the steam coming out of the vents next to icicles formed on the rock. There is some snow in the crater, and the walk around the ridge gives you panoramic views of the entire park and valley. Emerald and blue lakes, the red crater, and Mount Tongariro are all below me. The summit is 2287 metres up, or almost 1300 metres from our starting point, but all sorts of people (younger and older) make the climb in summer. Going up ca take as long as 2.5 hours, but going down is another story. You can take the slow way, or you can do what I was advised by the locals to do, and ski the volcanic scree, which makes the descent much quicker and a lot of fun, even though it wreaks havoc on your footwear. There are several more climbs and passes by volcanic vents and craters along the Tonagiriro Crossing before the long descent to 800 metres above sea level and the pick-up point for the buses.

After a nice cool beer and a replenishing dinner, I head for my room to prepare for the next day’s ride.

It’s a cool morning on the 27th of February, and I’m not sure how far I will get on my bike. I’d like to go as far as the town of Lake Taupo, about 110 kilometers to the northeast. The wind is not too strong, and I am blessed with a big downhill just before Turinga on the south end of Lake Taupo, so I do make it just before suppertime. There are two conventions, three wedding, a kidz Triathlon, and a women’s cycling race in town, so I will camp through the night and hopefully the rain will not be too brutal. It does wake me up at times, and when I wake to hear it relentlessly pounding on my tent, I contemplate just lying in the tent all day, reading or sleeping. But I am in the Taupo Geothermal Valley and there is much I want to see.

Just after a swim and morning soak in the thermal pool, I am off to Rotarua, the heart of geothermal activity. Along the way, I stop at a Maori village and carving workshop, check out the Geothermal Power Plant, the Huka Falls, and walk through a geothermal valley. While reading the newspaper at lunch, I read that the remnants of Cyclone Ivy is on its way, and it is forecast to meet with another storm that evening. Great! I’m cycling 90 kms into a cyclone.

Four hours of cycling later, I am still 20 kms from my destination and it is almost 6:30, leaving me only one and a half hours of cloudy rainy daylight. The wind has become increasingly strong and rain has been coming at me sideways for over two hours. It’s going in my ears, my eyes, and if I open my mouth, it feels like little pebbles pounding on my tongue. At the bottom of a hill, I pause to rest before the ascent. In a moment, a truck pulling a camper truck pulls up, and he says, ”Hey mate. I’ve cycled New Zealand before, and this is only going to get worse. Where are you going?”

“Rotarua”.

“Would you like a ride? You can throw your bike in the camper.”

“It’s pretty wet.”

“That’s all right. The cleaners are going to do the camper tomorrow.”

“Well…sure. Thanks a lot! I don’t think I’m going to make it before dark and with this headwind, I’m not doing too well.”

Cody locks my bike and trailer in the camper, and we drive down the road to Rotarua. His company rents campers and boats, and this camper was used by a family who lost their home in the floods. He drops me at the info centre, and I make my way to my motel. They’ve stopped renting tent sites as they are all now underwater. Thankfully, I have a self-contained unit booked, and after getting out of my gortex, head for the supermarket for some supplies.

Category : Australasia | New Zealand , Uncategorized