Tuesday 22 November 2011

Murchison, New Zealand - Rain interrupted play

Rarely a day goes by that I’m not engulfed at some point by torrential rain and have to scurry for cover under a bus shelter, gas station forecourt or chocolate wrapper. Then the rain will suddenly stop and the sun will come out and all sogginess will be forgotten.

At St Arnaud in Nelson Lakes National Park a bitterly cold southerly wind from Antarctica turned the rain to snow on the mountains and summer reverted to winter. And while my days are interrupted by rain, my nights have been interrupted by other nuisances. In Picton I was kept awake by a German woman snoring in the next tent like a walrus with blocked sinuses and in Marlborough Sounds everybody had to listen to the couple in the blue tent having sex! Then in Nelson somebody decided it was a good idea to put the campground right at the end of the airport runway.

Of course I should be grateful I made it to the South Island at all after a fantastically rough ferry crossing of the Cook Straight. Time after time the ship climbed up huge waves and then plunged down the other side in an explosion of white foam. Regular readers of this blog will know that I spent 19 days at sea crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a cargo ship and now consider myself to be a bit of a salty old sea dog ... or perhaps just an old dog. Either way, I don’t seem to get seasick and while other passengers were vomiting into sick bags, I enjoyed not having to queue at the cafeteria for my cup of tea and gluten-free cookie.

As you can see this blog comes from Murchison, a pleasant farming settlement with surrounding green pastures tucked away in the mountains. I’m glad it’s a nice wee place as I’m presently trapped here by torrential rain and flooding that closed local roads and almost floated my tent away. Fingers-crossed, the sun will be out soon and play can resume.


Tuesday 15 November 2011

Nelson, New Zealand - Six degrees

It’s often said that everybody in the world is connected to each other by only six degrees of separation. Like me, you may be sceptical but here’s a funny wee story my friend John sent me recently.

John was reading the online blog of a screenwriter. There was a link on the blog to a book writer, so he followed the link. On that page there was a link to someone the book writer met at the Book Festival, so he followed that link too. That took him to the webpage of my neighbour and she has a link on her page to “the bicycle diaries”.

Not even six degrees!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Wellington, New Zealand - Wellingtons

Here’s a little facet to life on New Zealand’s North Island that I find quite endearing. When I pull into a corner shop or tearoom in the countryside there is always a stack of Wellington boots outside. Rather than go in with muddy and manure-splattered boots on, farmers slip out of them at the door and wander around the shop in their socks! Mind you, some of the socks are just as unpleasant!

I’ve not seen any Wellingtons outside the shops in Wellington, a far more upmarket kind of place. Wellington must be one of the world’s more picturesque capital cities, stacked on the hills above the waters of Wellington Harbour. It’s a likeable city with attractive old buildings in pleasant juxtapositions to the new. It’s a city that makes the most of its waterfront – working container ship terminals and ferry ports sit comfortably beside marinas, green space and sculptures, and little bits of sea that have been captured by boardwalks and bridges to create arty, watery parks.

It wasn’t an easy ride getting to Wellington as south of Napier I ran into some bad weather. I might have guessed I was in for a rough time. The signs were all there. Like the sign that said “Welcome to Woodville – Wind Farm Capital of New Zealand”. The type of wind that bends trees forced me to stay put for a day in Dannevirke, a pleasant town with some attractive old buildings that was originally founded by Scandinavian settlers. When I’d exhausted all other free entertainment options, I had to resort to flicking through a pile of old “New Zealand Women’s Weekly” magazines in the campground kitchen. I least I caught up on world events (wasn’t Kate’s dress lovely); enjoyed fascinating stories such as “Swallowing a Spoon Saved My Life”; and pondered the weightier issues of the day including “can you become addicted to lip balm?”

Let’s hope the weather improves - I’m catching a ferry across the notoriously rough Cook Straight to New Zealand’s South Island.

Photos on Flickr.


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.