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More to tell on the New Zealand Adventures

March 11, 2014

I hear it’s all too common for people who’re travelling to never write their last blog post covering the end of their trip. I guess it’s because blogging is a way of sharing your travels with those at home, so when you’re already home you have less need to write because you can just talk about it. Well this is me carrying on and even though it’s been a few years now I’m picking up my pen because there’s still lots to tell. Other exciting news is that another adventure has begun with a lovely crazybikeman and his crazybikeson. There’s lots to tell there too so I will share what fun has ensued recently also.

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So, back to the New Zealand adventure: after some consideration and a dwindling bank balance I opted to return to my two wheeled journey. The van had not proved to be very economical in petrol and I was sick of the smell of the engine which was right under my seat! I enjoyed cycling in the hills of Christchurch and Wanaka whilst waiting for some new kit to arrive from England to make this kind of travel possible with my choice of bicycle. The full suspension bicycle was not capable of taking a rack for bags on the back so I ordered a trailer which could be fitted to the rear axle instead.

A few days after the kit arrived I was chilling about the house with some friends in Wanaka and felt the earth move. It was enough to send the light fixings on a good swing from their long cable and a greater rumble than I had experienced so far on my travels in New Zealand. For most New Zealanders it’s nothing to worry about and a very regular occurrence. I was shocked to discover when I headed out into town to the internet cafe that we were feeling the effects of one of the more destructive aftershocks of the Christchurch (Chch) earthquake that had happened the September before. Crazy! Around 250 miles away as the crow flies we felt the shifting of a relatively small crack in the plates. A quick call to some buddies in Chch to discover they were fine was a great relief but from the news reports it was clear that this was not the case for everyone. It had happened around lunchtime and there were a lot of people out and about and many still in office buildings. Later I discovered that another friend had to run from her building and didn’t stop until she got home and found solace with a neighbour. The after effects of this earthquake and aftershocks are continuing as Chch is rebuilt with yet ongoing rumblings.

Plans to fetch belongings from Chch were delayed for a while at this point and time was enjoyed travelling with a friend and her campervan further south in Wanaka, Queenstown and Dunedin. The latter we discovered had amazing beached and we went in search of various kinds of penguins that found their resting places on some of them.

Click here for Dunedin photos!

That’s it for now but more will follow.

 

On Travelling – How my Journey Began

March 14, 2012

There are many reasons why people take to the roads and travel: a sense of adventure, wanting to see the world and experience different cultures. There are other more personal motives such as a relationship break up requiring a change of scenery or a need to find purpose-inspiring a voyage of discovery.

Some, in starting out on their journey, end up on a long-lasting sometimes never-ending nomadic journey finding solace in constant stimulation from new places, a different methods of travel and meeting new people. It is great to have a break sometimes but if the break is extended it can result in constant avoidance. What’s wrong with constant avoidance? Well, if you’re not addressing something that is causing you trouble, you are not living life in all its fullness and why not deal with it if it means you (and invariably people around you) will have a better life as a result?

So, what were my motives for travelling? Partly it was because I had wanted to for several years and partly because I needed to just have some good fun to get myself out of a grumpy rut and learn not to take life too seriously! The latter had been fuelled by a fear that if I didn’t do good or valuable things then I was not valuable as a person.

Another motivation I discovered whilst going about my boring office job; I was pondering upon my desires and the actual state of my life and realised I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had come to be where I was now because I hadn’t been brave enough to do anything more. That is when the journey really started; change could now come about because of the realisation of a disparity in my life. The final motive and challenge I set myself was to learn to trust people more. Both of these motives had a root of fear, one of failure, the other of harm or rejection. On the surface, I was a crazy girl who wanted to leave the country with her bicycle and wouldn’t let the fact that nobody would come with her stop this, but underneath, it was not that simple or easy to do.

I hope to tell you more stories of how I did with the three motivations and therefore challenges I set myself: to find value in myself, to learn to trust and to overcome fear of failure.

New Zealand by Campervan

March 10, 2012

New Zealand in the summer is truly spectacular, the sun glistens off the blue waters of glacially-formed lakes, the coastline dazzles with its array of multi-coloured sand as well as offering great locations to fish, dive and spot wildlife of winged and flippered varieties. However you choose to travel in this land, there is always something unique or dramatic to look at whether it is the dramatic, perpetually snow-topped mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, the tussock-lands found in Southland or the hot, dry vineyard areas of the Otago region (South Island).

The stunning scenery makes this an attractive land for tourists. Countless campervans appear and dot lake shorelines, their occupants relaxing in folding chairs or laid out on blankets. Many campervans are rentals; white and verging on being too big for the narrow roads, especially the treacherous mountain or gorge-hugging roads. Other vans are smaller and self-owned, often converted from old work vans. These are mainly driven by younger folk on working holidays who prefer to buy and sell rather than spend a lot of money on van hire.

Out on the roads, campervan drivers tend to travel roughly 15 mph below the national speed limit, taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride. With the roads rarely being more than one lane each direction you can often spot a line of cars held up behind a campervan waiting for the next chance to pass. Helpfully and sensibly, many of the roads have passing places, where the road will widen for a while to allow the faster vehicles to pass but sometimes the tailing car drivers get impatient and attempt to pass before these. However here in New Zealand there are very few long straight roads. The roads meander round the path of least resistance – through the valleys created by the rolling, crumpled, volcanically and seismically formed hills. This leads to many close-calls and inevitably, some collisions. In view of this, a fair amount of money goes into road safety signs warning people to drive according to the road and weather conditions and not necessarily to the speed limit. The quietest time on the roads is after 6pm, when the locals have all got home from work and the campervan drivers have found one of many motor camps to park up in for the night.

I observed these things on my last trip to New Zealand when I briefly owned a campervan before reverting to my favourite form of transport, my bicycle! I joined the fleet of slightly battered and dubiously maintained second-hand vans on the road. Second-hand vans rarely come with maintenance history and have no doubt been driven around by folk who are hoping to do the bare minimum and get away with driving it for the duration of their visit and then sell it on to some unsuspecting traveller who will continue the process. Who really knows when the oil was last changed or whether the air filter is the original and has collected copious amounts of dust from the unsealed roads?

Foolishly I bought my van in haste because I had people to meet and didn’t have time to search around or get it checked for mechanical soundness. That was my first mistake and I soon came into trouble. After just five days of ownership, one of the rear wheels nearly dropped off, I stopped to discover this just in time after some disconcerting noises. Five days after this the van began to stall when idling or when I’d just started it but I managed to keep it going, though only just, through the rural areas until I was able to return to civilisation and help. After only running on 3 cylinders for a good few days it needed some tender-loving care! New spark-plugs and points made for a much smoother and stall-free ride!

My advice for someone wishing to buy a van to tour with is to do your research on places you can get the van checked. Also, do take the time to shop around, not only for the right van at the right price but also for insurance because some of the second-hand campervan dealerships will attempt to rip you off. They offer you all the services you need but at a vastly inflated rate to that which you pay at the New Zealand Post office around the corner for no more hassle! The best tip for value is to arrive in autumn and sell just before summer if you can. Happy touring!

25th-26th Mar 2011 – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

June 16, 2011

The Rainbow Road crosses private land over the Molesworth and Rainbow Stations (large cattle farms) between Hanmer Springs, Canterbury and St Arnaud, South Marlborough, NZ. The route is impassible by vehicle except by high-clearance 4 wheel drive, motorcycle and more importantly bicycle! The area was first used as an overland route by the Maori and later by sheep graziers moving sheep between Canterbury and Marlborough. Later a road was built through the area for pylon access.

This route was recommended to me by some Scottish tourers I met in New Zealand in 2009. I didn’t have time to do the route then as it’s only open for a limited time because it traverses high passes and becomes too treacherous in Winter. This season it was open from Boxing Day to Easter Day and I had the good fortune to travel it over two gloriously sunny days. I also had the luxury of company and a support vehicle!

I will say no more and let the pictures speak for themselves:

Road to Lake Tennyson

Pretty views along the Rainbow Road

Just over the first of many summits!

Enjoying the lovely Lake Tennyson in the evening light

The morning view from the tent door!

Wairau River looking towards Sedgemere Lake

Climbing up from the previous bridge

Following the Wairau Valley northwards

Viper's Bugloss along the gorgeside

 

Upper Wairau Gorge

 

The lunchtime view

 

Looking towards Connors Creek Hut

 

Looking southwards from whence I came

 

Scree hills

 

Another gorgeous Molesworth Station view

 

31 Mar 2011 – The Mammoth Challenge that was the Murderous Maungatapu Track

April 8, 2011

It has always been a habit of mine to try to avoid main roads. In the UK, there are often several route options for a given destination, allowing you to choose a more meandering journey for the sake of the good views rather than a boring but faster road. In New Zealand, there are far fewer roads as result of fewer towns and some considerably large mountain ranges that roads have to go around. This in addition to the nation having less than a twelfth of the UK population in a similar sized land mass. Therefore the most common option usually set before the touring cyclist is the main highway, commonly a single lane affair and frequented by a significant number of double-length trucks hurtling along it with little room to spare. Where you have another option, it is likely to be over a mountain pass with multiple summits and unpaved making the going even harder due to increased rolling resistance. I had taken this harder “short cut” option on a previous touring effort and had quickly learned that although the main roads may not be quite so interesting and had large, high speed potential enemies along it, they are much quicker and easier overall. I guess it depends if you are in a hurry or not!

The vehicle of choice

Planning my ride out of Nelson, at the top of the south island, I spotted an alternative four-wheel drive track on the map. It looked to cut off a chunk of road distance between there and Pelorus Bridge. The road distance along Highway 6 is 53km; the ride via Maungatapu Saddle is supposedly 35km. What the map did not show was the elevation nor the condition of the track. The 4WD track I had ridden through the Molesworth and Rainbow Stations from Hanmer Springs to St Arnaud had been a well maintained unpaved double track, the worst parts being bone-rattling corrugations for some kilometres and rocky river fords at intervals that didn’t cause an experienced mountain biker much trouble. I hoped that the Maungatapu route would be the same. I consulted my two cycling guidebooks and started encountering such statements as “very steep” and “may be unrideable in places” as well as “watch out for ruts” in addition to a scary looking elevation chart showing a 600m climb in 5km. The second guidebook said “for the brave” and “lightly loaded bicycles only”. I heeded these words and decided to take State Highway 6.

My resolve did not last for long. A friend I had been riding with in Nelson convinced me that the route was mostly rideable and he thought I would be able to make it up the hills. He gave me a rundown of what to expect, encouraging me that only one short section would be too steep to ride. Easily swayed by thoughts of a traffic-free frolic through the mountains, I changed my mind. I was to tackle the Maungatapu track. This track is famous for the rare and shocking crime of five murders over two days in June, 1866 when the Burgess gang, hardened criminals from England via Australia, determined to lie in wait for gold prospectors on their way from the Wakamarina goldfield to Nelson. After netting little from their first victim, they hid behind a large rock and attacked a group of four prospectors travelling with their packhorse. The murderers were found and brought to justice after their frivolous spending in Nelson aroused suspicions. This gruesome history also did not serve to deter me!

Click on link below to see routemap:


After riding out of Nelson along the Maitai Valley road, I followed the first sign I saw for the Maungatapu track which took me up the valleyside on an unpaved road. After one pause for a sandwich in the shade to satisfy my growling stomach I reached a summit and the official start of the track. At first, I was disappointed and annoyed to see the “Closed” sign on the gate. I had already ridden 10km out of the way of the only other route as well as up some altitude and turning around to take the road route now would mean I have added another 20km on to the 100+km ride to Anakiwa not to mention the climb.
The caretaker of the Maitai water reserve and key-holder for the gate was mowing the grass on a tractor and turned off the engine to talk to me.

“Going to Pelorus?”
“Yes”
“It’s very rough over the other side”
“Really, I was informed that it was worse this side?”
“No, no, there are ruts this big” (indicating around 4 ft/1.2m with his hands).

I stood, pondered and continued to look at the gate. I think he gathered my reluctance to change my plan so he got off his tractor, offered the encouragement “You look pretty strong” and offered to open the gate so I would not have to haul my bike and load over it. If he had warned me I would be pushing my 45+kg load up a steep, rough track, at times so rocky it barely offered enough grip for my footwear for over 3 hours, I might have been persuaded to turn around despite the added distance.

The first climb so steep the road drops away behind me

The first part of the track was downhill which I tackled with caution, as my trailer with heavy load was untested off-road thus far. Then came a small river ford and the steepest of the hills to be tackled, for which I had to dismount. At only 100 metres long I overcame it; not with ease, for it took a lot of effort to push, pull and fight the bike and trailer up, but still with enthusiasm as I naively hoped that I would be able to ride the rest of the way. From this point, the track meandered and climbed with a lesser gradient. The way was paved with small rocks rather than the desired small stones, which disrupted momentum, especially of the trailer. Soon the hill became steeper again with many switchbacks built to traverse the mountainside up to the saddle. I rode the bicycle as much as I could but the gradient and the weight of the trailer behind me wanting to drag me back down meant that I was off it more often than on. I remained chirpy for the first couple of hours of this slog, setting myself to the challenge and amused myself by singing jolly songs. The sun was shining into the valley beside me but I was in the shadow of trees and I was enjoying the traffic-free pleasantness. However, rests to refuel and rejuvenate became more frequent and the view of yet another section of hill after turning a switchback corner soon brought despondency. I was exerting more effort than usual with every step and a lot of upper body tension was required to keep the train of bicycle and trailer both upright and in forward motion. I laughed as I thought of my friend’s comments as I had headed off – to let him know when I get to Pelorus Bridge and he would tell me my average speed. I can tell you that sometimes my speed was in the negative as my load would slip back despite the bicycle brakes being on, the studs on my shoes digging into the mud and my arms and legs all straining!

The loss of the final shred of humour within me happened shortly after I was enjoying a brief moment back on the bicycle. My trailer dropped onto its side stopping the bicycle in its tracks. One of the bolts securing the trailer onto the specially adapted wheel axle had dropped off somewhere along the track, most likely due to the constant vibrations from the roughness of the track. I retraced my steps down to the previous switchback but could not see a small shiny metal bolt amongst the damp stones glistening in the sun. Nightmarish thoughts ran through my head at startling speed. “I’m in the middle of nowhere, the road is closed to other traffic so I can’t hitch a ride out of this, I might have to leave my belongings stranded here with no way of coming back to fetch them.” I cast these aside, tried to think about what I could do, and inspected the latch mechanism. The bolt had dropped out of a pivoting hook which closed around the axle. I only needed something to keep this in place and the trailer would be secure enough to continue. I racked my brain for what spares I had with me. I suddenly remembered the paperclip I had picked up off the desk this morning, the one that I had stuffed in the pocket of my backpack despite wondering why I was still carrying it (I know it’s only a paperclip but I didn’t want to carry anything unnecessary). I now retrieved it, thankful for holding on to it, and refashioned it to hold the hook closed. It worked! From this point onwards, I kept an eye on my handiwork and on the remaining bolt for the hook on the other side of the wheel. I only had 1 paperclip, no more mishaps required thank you very much!

Another hour of trekking, pulling, sweating and annoyance, I finally reached the Maungatapu Saddle and simultaneously ran out of easily eatable sugar as I piled a heap more cream cheese and jam in between my last slice of bread (the rest of my supplies required cranking up the stove). There was a pretty view from the top, but not any better than I had gained from climbing to Windy Point from Nelson two days previously and without pulling the trailer behind me! I still decided that it was at least partly worth it and set about down the hill.

Summit View: Looking over Mt Richmond Forest towards Ruby Bay

I now encountered the aforementioned 4ft/1.20m ruts. Thankfully, I could avoid most of them and the one I had to get over was narrow enough to allow me to roll the bike and trailer over after dismounting. I was so busy making sure I avoided all of the large holes that I did not see Murderer’s Rock, 4.3km from the summit.
The trailer performed brilliantly on the rough downhill parts despite its load and missing bolt. Downhill, the weight was not such an encumbrance and although I was not able to go top-speed, I still was able to enjoy the ride. There were a few small valleys and river fords where I was not too happy about the hill on the upside but they were all rideable. As I continued to descend onto smoother track with vast views of forested wilderness, I reflected upon the stupendous climb. I consoled myself with the thought that though I would not recommend doing route carrying any kind of load other than self and bicycle, I was proud of myself. I had had to work at the very limits of my physical ability but not given up; I had overcome what could have been a nightmarish mechanical situation that could have left me or my gear stranded on the semi-wild Bryant mountain range. The weather had treated me well, the whole thing could have been much worse and I had had an epic adventure in the process!

Total climb: 1447m Total descent: 1413m Total distance: 39.3km

13th Mar 2011 – Wildlife Spotting, Beach Discovering and Proper Prior Preparation

March 13, 2011

Sandfly Bay - Good for spotting Yellow-eyed penguins in the evening

I hadn’t been sure about spending a long period of time in the Dunedin area because I’d passed through the area on a road-trip two years ago and hadn’t been particularly inspired. Now, having spent nearly three weeks there I have done a complete U-turn. The sun shining for almost the entire duration of the stay certainly helped shed a different light on the scenery!

After Dagmar was out of hospital we found a lovely place to couchsurf out on the Otago Peninsula. This strip of land is a short drive out of Dunedin and is well known for its wildlife. We managed to see albatross and yellow eyed penguins and I enjoyed cycling along the summit road with its gorgeous views of sand dunes and turquoise sea water. After spending some lovely days with these great views and friendly hosts we moved further towards the city but still close to the coast. Each day we found a new beach to do a short walk to help Dagmar get strong again. Soon she felt strong enough to go further afield and so we drove north to see the amazingly round Moeraki Boulders and the blue eyed penguins at Oamaru. A little inland from there is an area that is well known for its fossils and curious limestone rock formations. One of the places is called Earthquakes because the original settlers thought that the striking limestone ridges had been formed by seismic action, but later analysis concluded that they had been formed as a result of landslides. Not quite so dramatic, but it’s an interesting name nonetheless!

Blackhead Beach - good for surfers and sunsets

Dagmar and I returned to Wanaka after her two-week check up at the hospital where they checked that the pins and rods are in the correct place to allow her broken vertebrae to heal. We are staying in an interesting house built of pine, with cathedral-style roof spaces, which makes for a characterful interior but the wood creaks loudly when the sun goes down in the evening and comes up in the morning as it shrinks and expands! The house is just a short walk to the lake which is lovely and clear and when the wind is low it is gorgeous to swim in. It is a little on the cold side though, being as the water does come from the glaciers of the nearby Mt Aspiring National Park, so mid-afternoon is the best time to enjoy the water when the sun has warmed the surface up a little!

I was here when I heard the shocking news of Christchurch’s second major aftershock since the original September 4th earthquake. Unfortunately, this one was much more devastating, causing large loss of life because it struck at lunchtime and shook the central business district badly. Many people became trapped in collapsed buildings and it was not possible to rescue them all. This has families displaced, people grieving, unemployed, traumatised and uncertain of what to do about their future. Thankfully all of the people I know were safe, though some sustained injuries while fleeing from buildings. I was particularly shocked because I’d felt the quake over 250 miles away and not heard until later that what I’d felt was the effect of the larger quake from further away. Also, we nearly went to Christchurch for the duration of Dagmar’s rehabilitation because I knew so many people there but thankfully we decided on Wanaka. Instead, one of my friends from Christchurch came to visit us here for a bit to get away from the ongoing aftershocks and noise of sirens and tanks as the clean up is under way.

Elation at reaching the summit of McPhies Ridge in the Lindis region

I’ve used time here to get some ideas of places I want to visit along my cycle north, get the equipment that I need and make the sure the bicycle is working as well as work on my fitness. The next blogs will return to adventures on two-wheels, though now it is officially three including my one-wheeled trailer!

For more photos click here:New Zealand Penguins, posing and playing

5th Feb 2011 – Revisiting the Magnificent Mountains and Lovely Lakes of New Zealand

February 5, 2011

Lake Wanaka with moody clouds hiding Mt Aspiring

Some of the first things I noticed this time in my first few hours in New Zealand were the sounds of the birds, the smell of the trees and the abundance of brightly coloured flowers in the gardens of Christchurch’s suburbs. Before this moment I hadn’t understood quite why Christchurch was called “Garden City” although I spent at least three months here in the summer last year. I guess this is because previously I had a very English perspective, and this time I have just spent an extended period in Canada. In my brief time in England in June of this year I’d particularly noticed the gardens there.

The first days here were spent catching up with friends made on my last visit as well as sourcing and buying a campervan. I had just three days in which to get one before my folks turned up for a long awaited and meticulously planned three week trip around the south island. Before long I also remembered how fierce the sun is here when I missed a couple of patches with the suncream on my arms when at the beach. Since then my freckles have appeared in full force and I’m managing to turn a darker shade of white.

Homestead Bay, West Wanaka


The weather for the first couple of weeks was almost entirely pouring rain apart from the odd half a day here or there of sun. Not just a little rain. The result of the La Nina weather system here in New Zealand is a dry spring and a wet summer. The weather just turned cold and wet when we turned up to make up for the hot spring! Bad timing I suppose, but what can you do about the weather? I rather enjoyed being forced to relax and spent many an afternoon reading in the warmth of my folks’ rented camper. We did still try to do some of the many walks planned but sometimes got cold and discouraged and some of the views of glaciers and mountains were non-existent because of low cloud. I had no waterproof hat on my cycling specific coat and my Mother’s umbrella decided not to stay up and looked like a giant bat floating and flapping above her as she walked. At times I was cameraman’s assistant holding it above her as she took pictures of waterfalls and the moss covered trees and undergrowth in the rainforests of Fiordland.

Colquhouns Beach, Minaret Burn Track, West Wanaka

Christmas was spent cruising Milford Sound with its dramatic U-shaped valleys, wrongly named being as it’s actually a fjord because it’s formed from glacial action not river action. They tried to made up for it by calling the whole area Fiordland but managed get this wrong also because they used an “i” instead of a “j” in fjord! I enjoyed having a shower under a 150m waterfall and the views were spectacular.

After Christmas it finally stopped raining and the sun shone gloriously down upon us as we enjoyed driving, stopping, and taking pictures without the need for an umbrella, over a winding mountain pass that I had ridden on my cycle tour across the island in 2009 (for write up click here) The pass took us to some of my favourite parts of New Zealand because the glacial lakes are vividly blue and there are gorgeous vistas of the still snow-topped Southern Alps. On New Year’s Eve we were at Lake Tekapo with our vans parked right by the lake front beach. I made friends with some Brazilians and Canadians with whom I saw the New Year in on the beach. We celebrated with a glass of champagne and were treated to a firework display from some of the Kiwi camp residents. The last days of my folks’ visit were mostly sunny and we got to hike at the pretty Rakaia Gorge and then drove some spectacular roads on the crater rim of an old volcano that is now Akaroa Harbour.

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound


Since the new year I sold my van as it was drinking too much of my budget in fuel and bought myself a bicycle trailer to hit the roads under my own steam which would mean I just have to feed myself with extra fuel instead. A win-win situation where I will get to see beautiful things and experience them more wholly without the whine and rattle of the underpowered van spoiling things and the smell of petrol masking the pollen of the lovely roadside flora. I’m yet to set off northwards because I wanted to return to Wanaka where I missed the more hardcore mountain biking trails because I was still waiting for the leg to be fully recovered before attempting them. I also wanted to catch up with a fellow traveller and cyclist that I met here in 2009 whose travel plans brought her back at the same time as me. We agreed to meet in Wanaka and the trails were so good, I decided to stay for a couple of weeks with her but unfortunately she had a bad accident and broke her back. She’s now worth a lot more money in the amount of titanium they used to put her back together but she’s doing great and still wants to see some more of New Zealand. So I am sticking with her for the first six weeks of her rehab and my trip north will likely start around mid-March now. For now we are chilling and exploring in Dunedin before a hospital appointment mid-Feb and then will return to Wanaka because the scenery is so gorgeous, lots of lovely lakes to walk by and still more trails for me to explore.

Mountain Biking on the Crater Rim in Christchurch

Some of my favourite pictures are shown on this blog but you can check out more pictures by clicking on the links below

New Zealand Revisited Dec 2010 – 1
New Zealand Revisited Dec 2010 – 2
New Zealand Revisited Dec 2010 – 3
New Zealand Scenery and Mountain Biking