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craig_foster

New Zealand (Greymouth)(23)

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Yo lads and ladies,

 

Yeah so what's been happening since my last email? Cycling and lots of it.

My initial plans of taking it easy have pretty much taken a back seat now.

The meandering aspect of my plans have remained intact and I've now cycled

1600 miles in NZ but I'm only about 120 miles from Christchurch, my initial

starting point.

 

I left Dunedin on the 31st January and headed for the Catlins. After going

on about how great cycling in NZ is I experienced some of the worst weather

I've had since the start of my journey. Freezing conditions, fearsome

headwinds and constant rain. To make matters worse I also experienced my

first night of being unable to find anywhere to camp for the night. The

Catlins is supposed to be one of the scenic highlights of NZ but I couldn't

see further than 100 metres for two days so I have no idea if this is true

or not.

 

While tackling the Catlins I met a German cyclist called Jochen. It was

great having company for the two days as we pounded out each wet, miserable

mile. I was cycling with Jochen when I noticed my front tire was on it's

last legs. I didn't have a spare but figured I'd make it the 130 kms or so

to Invercargill. We got to Curio Bay and made camp for the night and I

arranged to meet Jochen in the morning as I figured it'd be better having

company for the last 100 kms to Invercargill with my tire looking so flaky.

We'd arranged to meet at the junction at a specific time but I got on the

bike in the morning and found I had a puncture. By the time I got the bike

sorted and cycled on to the arranged meeting place, Jochen had set off.

 

I set off for Invercargill on my own into the driving rain. All the time

worried about my now very dodgy looking tire. Part of the road from Curio

Bay to Invercargill is unsealed and 6 miles after setting off I had another

puncture. I fixed the puncture, carried on and managed 4 miles before I had

another puncture. I managed another 3 miles and then another puncture. The

tire was now truly history and fixing punctures was just an exercise in

futility. The tire had a penny sized hole and the tube was pushing through.

This combined with the unsealed road meant it was walking time and praying

I could get a lift. Being an unsealed road, traffic was a bit scarce and

to make matters worse, I was a bit restricted on the type of vehicle which

could pick me up. It was a pick up truck or nothing really. I pushed the

bike about 10 kms with no success on the lift front. Eventually I saw a

farmer working in his field and asked him if he'd give me a lift up to where

the road joined the main highway and then hopefully I'd have more chance of

a lift. We lifted a sick Bessie into his pick up and headed for the

Fortrose junction.

 

It was still 50 kms to Invercargill but I was hoping the increase in traffic

would increase my chances of a lift. I walked another 10 kms without any

joy. Pick up trucks would go past and just carry on going. Ironically I

eventually got a lift when I wasn't even trying for one. I was just sitting

on the side of the road having another fruitless bash at fixing the tire

when I couple stopped and asked if they could be of any assistance. They

had a nice big pick up with nothing in the back so once again a sick Bessie

was loaded into the back and off we set for Invercargill. They even dropped

me off right outside the bike shop and as an added bonus, the shop had the

make of tire I was looking for.

 

All this could have been avoided if I stuck to my New Year's resolution of

doing the small things. I'm great at doing big projects. Cycling Round the

World, yeah, no problem. Something small and insignificant like walking

into a shop and buying a new tire, I'll just keep avoiding until I'm

trudging through the rain in the middle of nowhere. This isn't the first

time I've done something like this and I've tried to analyse why. I came up

with two conclusions. The first is that I don't like doing mundane things.

The second is that I enjoy the excitement generated by the possibility that

something might go wrong. I knew that the tire would implode and then I'd

have to walk for miles and hope for a lift but I viewed this as some kind of

adventure.

 

After Invercargill I headed down to Bluff which for me is important as it's

the furthest away from home and the furthest south. There's a sign post

there with all the distances from the major cities in the world and London

is over 19,000 kms away. For me it's the end of my general heading of

south, my direction for over half a year. From there it's north until the

day I return home.

 

Another change after Bluff was in the weather. I had my first day off since

leaving Christchurch as the guy at a campsite heard what I was doing and

gave me a night free in one of the cabins. I spent the day enjoying some of

things I miss while traveling like steak and a bottle of red wine. I was

happy to have the day off as the weather was still atrocious with a howling

headwind. The next day the skies were clear and the wind had died down and

changed direction.

 

I headed along the southern scenic route in the direction of Te Anau. Just

south of Te Anau I met Lucy, a Scottish cyclist heading in the opposite

direction. She was looking for a place to camp for the night and after

sitting talking for an hour or so we figured we may as well camp together.

She liked to wild camp where possible but felt better doing to with someone

else so we headed down a side road and found a great spot next to a river.

If there's such a thing as status symbols and brands in the world of cycle

touring then Lucy had the best everything. Hilleberg tent, Koga-Miyata

World Traveler, Icebreaker merino wool cycling tops. She took the mickey

out of herself about it but secretly I think she loved having the best kit.

I shouldn't be too hard on her though as she introduced me to the great

tradition of bathing the Kiwi way as well as cooking me up a great feed.

She said she was heading down to the river for a bath before dinner and

asked me if I was coming. I said I didn't have a swimming costume and when

she replied neither did she it took me a few seconds to twig. Being

English, bathing naked in front of people I've only known for a few hours

makes me a bit uncomfortable but in keeping with my saying Yes to new things

policy I figured what the hell. I'm sold on the idea and since then my main

way of keeping clean has been bathing naked in the rivers and lakes of NZ.

Hopefully I've scared a few tourists so expect reported sightings of dirty,

naked Mexican fruit pickers to hit the local newspapers.

 

In the morning we went our separate ways with a general plan to maybe meet

up on the West Coast. I can't see it happening though. As a sense of

perspective, in terms of the miles I cover compared to most cycle tourists,

Lucy was just north of Christchurch on Christmas Day when I was half way up

the east coast of Oz, 500 miles north of Sydney.

 

That's one of the differences between NZ and Oz. In Oz, the cyclists you

meet are mostly long distance cyclists not cycle tourists. Here people

cycle maybe 30-40 miles a day and have every 4th day off the bike. In Oz,

everyone you meet is covering outrageous distances with no rest. If you're

cycling in Oz you're doing something serious. In a way it's left me feeling

a bit unfulfilled. Don't get me wrong, I love NZ. The scenery, the great

cycling roads, the climbs and the descents all make for a quality cycling

but sometimes it all feels a bit easy after Oz. I've started inventing

little challenges for myself. My current challenge is to complete all the

famous road passes in the South Island. I have two left to go being

Arthur's Pass and Lewis Pass. Arthur's is supposed to be the most fearsome

and I'm doing it from the most difficult side tomorrow evening. I'm looking

forward to it but it does feel a bit strange that I have to hunt these

challenges. Maybe it's because I'm meandering for the first time. Up until

NZ every stage was point-to-point. Meandering sometimes feels like I'm

padding out the miles. I'm not going across a continent, I'm kind of just

wandering around. It doesn't feel right that a round the world cyclist is

wandering around.

 

In a way, it's left me looking forward to the States where I can get back to

point-to-point cycling. I've decided on my route through North America now.

I bought a ticket from New York to Manchester for the 21st June so my

North American route is now set. I believe it's 4200 miles from LA to New

York and I've given myself about 80 days in which to do it. With time at

either end for preparation, this is an achievable target and I may even end

up finishing early. Based on my current pace I'm going to leave NZ with

around 12800 miles. You'll notice that with the 4200 miles across America

this means I'll be cycling 17000 miles rather than the original 16000. The

extra 1000 miles is obviously optional but cycling across America is an

achievement within itself that I'd like to complete.

 

Not sure if it's a coincidence but since I booked the flight I've started to

feel a bit homesick. I've been thinking a lot about the people and things I

care about back in England. Nothing serious but booking the flight has

raised a lot of very real questions with regards to what options I have when

I return. How do I balance my work ambitions with my desire to travel?

Traveling is great but at what point does it become the norm and stop being

an experience? It's change that keeps life interesting. Having goals and

dreams. There's still three big rides I want to do. I want to cycle the

full length of South America. I want to complete the full circle of Oz,

taking the route from Darwin to Perth and then across the Nullabor. I also

want see more of Asia. I reckon each could be completed within three

months. My options then become to do all three in one hit which would

essentially be another round the world or to work and do one of the tours

and then work again. If I actually have a choice then I'd prefer the second

option. Maybe find a job where I'd be allowed 3 months out every three

years or so. I guess it's all food for thought.

 

After leaving Lucy I headed for the town of Gore. I met Tony, a Kiwi bloke

traveling through to Christchurch from Bluff. Ironically meeting Kiwis is a

bit of a rarity in the South Island. Generally three types of people exist

in the South Island. Farmers who you never meet, kiwis who service the

tourists and tourists. You get that walking wallet feeling a lot. Meeting

normal kiwis just engaged in every day jobs is difficult. I met Tony wild

camping next to a river and after it started bucketing it down we did the

only thing two blokes can do and headed for the pub. It was great to spend

an evening talking to an obviously intelligent guy and getting an insight

into NZ. A lot of the time it's difficult to get past the tourist guff

that's handed out because it's just so prevalent. I think that's another

reason NZ doesn't really suit what I'm doing. I'm not a tourist and it

makes it difficult when the whole place is geared towards extracting your

tourist dollar when you're trying to get by on a tenner a day. In most

countries you have the option of getting out the tourist areas but South

Island is pretty much one big tourist area so it's unavoidable. The locals

see everyone as a tourist and the tourists see the the locals as there to

serve them. You meet people and they'll exclaim how friendly the kiwis are

and I wonder how many they've even met. Sure they're friendly in the

visitor centre but that's their job. How many real Kiwis are people even

meeting? I reckon I've met maybe four so far which is pretty poor

considering the miles I've covered and the places I've been.

 

I said bye to Tony in the morning and headed north to Queenstown. I had a

pretty bad day which wasn't helped by my hang over and the continuing rain.

First I found out some money I'd been hoping for wasn't going to materialise

which put a bit of a dent in my finances. Then my cassette lock ring came

loose as the guy back in Christchurch hadn't tightened it enough. I haven't

got the tools to tighten it so had to stop every 10 miles or so, unload the

bike, take the back wheel off and tighten it by hand until it loosened

again. This also put my hard gears out of action so I was spinning along at

6 miles an hour even on the flats. To end the day in style I also had a

puncture.

 

I eventually reached Queenstown after stopping off at a local bike shop to

sort the cassette lock ring out. Queenstown is just tourist central so my

plan was just to cycle on through and head to Glenorchy. Lonely Planet had

described the road as a killer for cyclists so it had to be done. It's a

tough ride but the old lady/devil ride out of Akaroa is still the toughest

day I've had in NZ. It's a great cycling road though. You skirt the lake

all the way with mountains all around. I also had my first encounter with

the dreaded sandfly on the way to Glenorchy. Each place seems to have some

form of winged insect which makes my life hell. I figured out another

reason that Kiwis are so active. If you keep moving then they don't bother

you. It's when you stand still that they get biting. Question then becomes

how do you do such life essential activities like cook. There's been a fair

few nights I just haven't bothered and just got in the tent with a pint of

milk and a 250g slab of chocolate. I could be the first man to be starved

to death by sandflies.

 

After returning from Glenorchy I got to tackle the highest sealed road in

NZ. There's a cycling book called Peddler's Paradise that the cycle

tourists all have and it lists this road as an alternative which is

blasphemy. It's a tough climb but anyone who loves riding a bike should

consider the highest unsealed road in NZ a must-do rather than an

alternative route. It's a great climb as well. Unlike most hills in NZ

it's more like the european alpine climbs which plenty of hair-pin bends so

you've got plenty of time to admire the views of Queenstown and the

surrounding mountains and lakes. Once at the top you're greeted by a sign

warning you it's a 40 km down hill. Seems odd to be warned about something

which feels so great. I pretty much free wheeled the 40 kms down to Wanaka.

 

After Wanaka I headed for Haast Pass which is another of the passes on my

must-do list. I climbed over the pass and set up camp for the night just on

the other side after finding the best camping spot of my journey so far.

Just down from a waterfall, next to the river with a piece of perfectly

sized flat grass away from the road. A bit of Kiwi style bathing was in

order but man is that water cold when it's coming off the mountains.

Luckily I was on my own this time. I'd done 5 days of serious climbing

including the highest sealed road in NZ, Haast Pass and the road to

Glenorchy and I reckon this, combined with the great spot meant I didn't

wake up till 10:30.

 

Haast Pass is the gateway to the West Coast. The ride down from the pass

winds through countryside of stupendous beauty. Every corner takes you

breath away as you go past another waterfall, another lake and all this time

you've got the peaks of the southern alps around you. After the town of

Haast you're in West Coast proper with mountains to your right and the

Tasman Sea to your left and all the time you're cycling through lush rain

forest. I've been really lucky with the weather on the West Coast. I

headed up to the two famous glaciers, Fox and Franz Joseph. Franz Joseph

gets 7 m of rain a year but I've had perfect weather every day. I checked

out Franz Joseph Glacier rather than Fox as it's a shorter walk so less time

worrying about the bike. All along the West Coast I've been finding camp

spots that money couldn't buy. I have no idea why people pay for a camp

site when you can just pitch a tent in some of the best looking spots in the

world for free.

 

After Franz Joseph it's been a fairly flattish ride up to my current

location, Greymouth. I met a Bob, a 60 year old Scottish cyclist in the

town of Whataroa. I seem to get on with the older travelers more and we sat

and had a good talk for a few hours. I told him my journey was to raise

money for Macmillan. He gave me his number back in Aberdeen to give him a

call when I return home. He said he owed the cancer charities some money

and I'm guessing he'd lost someone close to him but he obviously didn't want

to go into details so it was left unsaid but there.

 

Today I had a shortish day. I've done some big days of late with some tough

hills and tomorrow is supposed to be the toughest of them all. I'll head

East over Arthur's Pass and then come back on myself to do Lewis Pass.

After Lewis Pass my intention is to head north to Picton and catch the ferry

to the North Island. I'm still a bit undecided on my route as I haven't

heard great things about cycling in the North Island but I wanted to get to

Cape Reinga as it's the northern tip of the mainland of NZ. If I want to

head to Cape Reinga I'll need around 1500 miles on the North Island which

means I have to leave the South Island in the next two week or so.

 

Anyways catch you all later.

 

Lots of love as always,

 

Craig. XXX

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