Friday 23 December 2011

Broad Bay, New Zealand - Happy Christmas

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for following in 2011 ... keep watching in 2012!

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Friday 16 December 2011

Oamaru, New Zealand - Alps to ocean

Since cycling away from home 17 months ago, I’ve really enjoyed writing “the bicycle diaries” and many of you have said you’ve enjoyed reading them. And so I strive to make my writing as professional as possible. Now any professional writer would tell you that every good story needs some romance and on this point I am pleased not to disappoint! So as the journey continued from Mount Cook it was not as “I” but as “we”.

Our journey from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean started on a rock where Bart and I sat for maybe an hour on our descent from a high trek in the mountains. Before us the view stretched up the Hooker Valley to its black, rock-covered glacier and grey-blue glacial lake below the spectacular slopes of Mount Cook. On a hot afternoon, we soaked up the views and the joy of each other’s company. Both cycle touring around New Zealand, we'd met by chance in Twizel as we were about to pedal up into Mount Cook National Park. After three wonderful days there we got back onto our bikes and our little convoy headed east, pedalling along a route known as “Alps to Ocean”. The first night we threw our tents up at a gorgeous little spot in woods by a small lake. An elderly couple pulled up beside us in their old campervan and we enjoyed the romantic scene as they set out their table and chairs by the lake and happily spent hours sitting quietly together in golden evening sunshine, feeding the ducks while their old, fat, half-blind dog was curled up at their feet. In another three days of pedalling we had left the high mountains, passed across the dry lands of the Waitaki Valley, cycled through limestone gorges and weird rock formations to eventually pop out on the coast at the beautiful town of Oamaru. We strolled hand-in-hand through its historic Victorian quarter where restored warehouses with wooden floors and high vaults now house cafes, delis and artsy-fartsy little shops. Bicycles from a bygone era with flowers in their baskets were propped casually against the walls and old-fashioned shop signs hung above, adding charm to the narrow lanes. In a bitterly cold southerly wind we hugged each other for warmth as we sat on the shore watching surfers riding the waves while Bart explained the finer points of the sport to me and how to tell a goofy from a regular surfer!

Alas, no amount of creative writing can the change the fact that on another grey, cold morning a bus whisked Bart north to Christchurch to catch his flight home. And so we had to say goodbye … at least for now.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Twizel, New Zealand - The three Burkes

“You need an engine” said the morbidly obese motorhome driver when I cycled into the campground at Fairlie. “You need some exercise” I said. No, I didn’t as I’m much too polite. I did point out that I have an engine and gripped my rippling leg muscles to demonstrate. This was met with a vacant look – yet another person who can’t grasp the concept of travel without the internal combustion engine. Burke number one!

Burke number two was a much more agreeable encounter. I cycled out of the plains and up into the high country known here as “MacKenzie Country” after a Scottish sheep rustler called James McKenzie. He first recognised the potential for the area to support sheep farming so stole a few to get his enterprise going! The gateway into MacKenzie Country is Burke’s Pass and the day I cycled over Burke’s Pass will go down as one of the most memorable of this whole adventure. A steep climb took me up into the high tussock grasslands, a beautiful bronze in the morning light, and as I cycled along the quiet road I passed through an avenue of lupins of every shade from white to peach, pink and purple. I turned a corner and in the distance were the snow-capped, glacier-gripped peaks of the Southern Alps. I turned another corner and found myself cycling along the shores of the spectacular Lake Tekapo. Fed by glacier melt, the water is a pretty eggshell blue in one light and a startling aquamarine in a different light.

I wanted to get much closer to the mountains and so a cycle up a very long dead-end took me to the stunning scenery of Mount Cook National Park. Above me were mountains of 3000 metres and more, the highest of course being Mount Cook itself at 3754 metres. It was on the slopes of Mount Cook that Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his successful ascent of Everest and a beautiful bronze sculpture of the climber gazes for eternity up to the mountain. I pitched my tent in a little campground at the foot of Mount Sefton where blue-tinted glaciers formed static cascades over the rocks and the slopes regularly rumbled with avalanches. A walk from the campground took me up the Hooker Valley for a closer look at the Hooker Glacier with Mount Cook above on a day without a cloud in the sky. Then I made a stiff climb up the lower snow-covered slopes of Mount Ollivier with Bart, another cyclist that I’d met up with in Twizel. The views across the sea of snow-covered peaks were spectacular as we soaked up the sun and the high mountain atmosphere.

After three idyllic days in the park it was time to continue south and to Burke number three … that’s my friend, John Burke. Next stop from here, in about ten days, will be his house in Broad Bay near Dunedin … just in time for my second Christmas on the road!

More photos on Flickr.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Geraldine, New Zealand - Extreme ironing

New Zealand is a land rucked up into mountains and cut into grooves by tectonics and glaciers. Like my limited wardrobe on the road which is scrunched up and squashed into one small pannier, it needs a jolly good iron.

I cycled over one of the bigger rucks when I eventually left Murchison in drizzle and for the first but not the last time of this ride, cycled over the mountains that form the backbone of New Zealand’s South Island, the Southern Alps. The “ruck” was the 864m Lewis Pass. The cycle over the pass was surprisingly easy but I didn’t count on the gale force winds on the other side that forced me to walk for 10 miles on a long, empty stretch of road. Even when I was walking the wind was forcing me and the bike into the verge. I was not a happy chappy that day.

But sunshine and smiles returned as I found the only bit of the South Island that has been ironed and with a favourable tail wind, flew south across the Canterbury Plains. The plains, formed by moraine gravel deposits from glaciers during the last ice ages, stretch from the east coast south of Christchurch to the sudden uprising of the Southern Alps, big lumps of mountains covered with grey scree and streaks of late snow. I cycled south on the quiet back roads that meander through small farming communities and the patchwork quilt of their surrounding fields. I loved the little villages along here which, unlike back home, have managed to maintain their network of quaint country stores with neatly stacked shelves and polished wooden floors. Many of them now double as cafes to service the more modern market. In this slice of heaven it was too easy to forget that just 30 miles away was the city of Christchurch whose historic centre is still closed to the public after February’s devastating earthquake. Where I might have expected to find holidaymakers in the campgrounds, instead I found people displaced from the earthquake zone and waiting to go home … if they still have a home.

There’s no more easy cycling now as the plains end and the road climbs up into the high country, so I’m taking a rest day in the town of Geraldine which is as sweet as it sounds. I’ve got some chores to do as well … none of which is ironing!

More photos on Flickr.