Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Napier, New Zealand - Star wars

You’d think these days that one western country is pretty much like the next but I’m finding it’s quite different cycling in New Zealand compared to the States.

After the airiness and space of the plains and mountains of North America, New Zealand feels quite cramped and crowded and the roads very busy. In the States I’d often cycle out of one town in the morning and not hit another until it was time to pitch the tent in the evening. In New Zealand the towns and scenery delights come in quick succession and they’re lovely little towns, not yet blighted by big shopping malls. There is always a lively main street with all sorts of different shops such as bakers, butchers, delis, greengrocers, bicycle shops and surf clubs. There’s not such a huge range of groceries in New Zealand but they’re certainly cheaper which is good for the hungry cyclist (. . . me!) and the budget traveller (. . . also me!). And Tigger and I can now claim low food miles as we scoff our Kiwi fruits!

The temperature right now in New Zealand is just right – pleasantly warm during the day and cool enough at night that you have to wrap up or, as one New Zealander said, “put long-sleeved pants on”. I like chilly nights as where’s the joy in camping if you can’t snuggle up in your sleeping bag!

These last few cold, clear nights the stars have been spectacular but they’re not the only thing glowing after dark. At my camp spot at Katikati I found they had a rival in the “star wars” as the riverbank sparkled with the little lights of thousands of glow-worms! But the best thing about camping in New Zealand compared to the States, is that you don’t have to worry about anything big, hairy and omnivorous coming out of the woods at night!

As I pedal my way down the North Island, there seems no end to the natural wonders on offer. I cycled up onto the volcanic plateau at Rotorua which sits on the caldera of a recently extinct volcano and is now a hotspot for geothermal activity. There are fumaroles and hot springs sending steam and smelly sulphur up into the air and bubbling, boiling mud pools which I find I can happily watch for ages. Then there’s a fabulous dawn chorus to wake up to each morning with a few familiar songs from blackbirds and sparrows (that somehow made their way here on a one-way ticket) and some exotic notes such as those from the Tui bird. It’s a handsome bird that’s black with two white pom-poms dangling from its neck. But the best thing is its song – it sounds just like R2-D2 from Star Wars!

I’ve now left the central volcanic plateau of the North Island and cycled over the crazy, steep roads of the Maungaharuru Range to return to the east coast at the beautiful art deco city of Napier where Lyn (Zelda’s mum) and Bill are putting me up and showing me around. A few days of hard pedalling from here should take me to the world’s most southerly capital city – Wellington!

Photos on Flickr and map below.

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