A Travellerspoint blog

Yangshuo to Tanluo

overcast 7 °C

Our cycling days in china so far go something like this:

1. Wake up feeling very cold and stay in bed for 20 minutes before getting up and putting on all our clothes.
2. Go to breakfast and eat some steamed buns, dough sticks, warm soy milk, tea, sometimes a boiled egg (cooked in tea)
3. Go back to the hotel, get changed and get cycling (wearing most of our clothes ontop of our lycra - thid is not a modesty thing)
4. Cycle till lunch occasionally glancing up at the sky to see if there is any chance of the sun making an appearance (never)
5. Eat lunch at a random shack of a restuarant in some dead end dirty, dusty town. Communicate that we want some of the noodles in chicken soup but without all the bits of pigs head in them. A crowd of about 20 people have usually crowded around us to watch us eat in what seems to be their most entertaining event of the day.
6. Cycle through some pretty karst scenery on dirty dusty roads till about 5 when we will arrive in another dusty town. Find the best looking hotel (usually the one with the most obscene amount of marble in the lobby) and check in. Rooms in such an establishment as this will usually cost 8-10 pounds. Drink some tea. shower. find a decentish looking restuarant and eat a LOT of food. This is great not only because we are usually famished but because the Chinese sure can cook. The street food is particulary good. Definitely my favourite part of the day.
7. Wander round the dirty dusty town remarking how dirty and dusty it is before returning to the hotel.
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Anyway, back to matters of business...

We arrived in Yangshuo after 7 days on the bike. The cold weather was beginning to take its toll on seemingly everything; my gear cables were frayed rendering me down to 6 usable ones (it was too cold to attempt fixing this anywhere we stayed), our GPS refused to work, and i was coming down with a nasty cold. We checked into a hotel and pondered our next move. we needed to get somewhere warmer and fast. After a day of eating some western food and drinking ginger tea in some of the many touristy places in Yangshuo, and chatting to the first westerners we have met in China, we decided to change our route which was originally going to be heading west towards Yunnan province. South was the only option to get some warmer weather so after bagging ourselves a couple of massages, we jumped on a bus to Nanning, 400km south. We seemed to have bagged the last 2 tickets on the bus and were unable to sit together so mariana sat up front whilst i was on the back row. Mariana had a particularly pleasant journey with the lady next to her using the adjascent bin as a spitting receptacle for her and a toilet for her 3 children - it was a rather smelly affair to say the least.

Nanning was another big Chinese city with skyscrapers galore. the scale at which the chinese are building these cities has to be seen to be believed. It's almost as if they are mobilising for war with every able resource (human and natural) being thrown into all manner of building projects. This brings me onto some sweeping generalisations about things that the chinese love - well there are over a billion of them!!!

1. Building. you name it they will build it. Favourites include massive skyscraper, damns and roads.
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2. spitting. everywhere in anything.
3. Shouting at each other for no apparent reason.
4. Smoking (our waiters were once smoking whilst they served us our food)
5. Playing computer games - imagine walking into an internet cafe with 200 people all playing computer games
6. honking their horns. this is incessent and get pretty tedious. it doesn't matter what vehicle they are approaching the chinaman will always hoot at least 5 times using what appear to be the subwoofers of vehicle horns. This seems to me to be the equivalent of walking down the street shouting "Me, me, me, me, me!!!!!"
7. Mass extraction of all available resources, primarily in order to facilitate number 1 (building). This includes destruction of large sections of the country. As there are no apparent regulations on activities of any kind to protect local people of the environment, this is pretty relentless and very depressing.
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8. Chopping up bits of pig on the side of the road. This is happening every 20 metres along an average high street. I guess its more interesting than having a Boots, next to a WH Smith, next to a KFC.
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Anyway, back to the travelling... Nanning is an ok place but has an awesome food market where we ate dinner twice. All manner of animals and vegetables are displayed including crocdile, toad and numerous live birds such as sparrows.
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Another thing of note about Nanning was the sheer number of people. We spent a lot of time wandering round feeling like we were leaving a football match. The Nanningians love their electric bikes with thousands of them everwhere. These have totally taken over from bicycles which are now seen as something you only use if you can't afford an electric one which is a bit sad.
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The plan was now to continue south towards Vietnam in search of warmer weather so after obtaining our visas we headed south east along a very bumpy road - road quality is very variable in China with some being fantastic and others resembling a WW1 battelfield. We spent a couple of hours in an old town called Yangmei which was pleasant enough but not a patch on Hangyao as very little had been done in the way of preservation. We then cycled another 20km through miles and miles of really depresing bannana plantations before reaching the shittest town yet. I dont know the name of this place but it doesn't really matter, it had no redeeming features. Whatsmore, the weather was still really cold (7 degress in the day and 3 degrees at night). This conversation seemed to sum up the situation:

Rob (looking up at the grey sky trying to feel his toes): Well, it could be worse. Its cold and grey but it could be raining.
Mariana: It could be even worse than that. It could be freezing and raining.

... and i thought we were supposed to be on holiday. Evasive action needed to be taken before we were consumed by an all pervading misery.

Posted by roblewis 04:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Wo ting bu dong

Our first week cycling in China

overcast 8 °C

One of the many things we discovered we were not prepared for in China was the cold. Arriving in Zhaoqing it was noticeably cooler than Hong Kong; about 10 degrees and the rough route we had plotted was heading north where it was only going to get colder. On the upside our panniers are much lighter as in order to stay warm we are wearing about 70% of our clothes at any one time. Our planned route was along state highway 321 heading towards Yangshuo and Guilin in the Karst Mountains. Yangshuo is a fairly well established tourist destination in South China. We estimated that it would take us about a week to get there but we had little to no idea about any of the places on the way, what they are like, whether there is anywhere for us to stay in any of the little villages and the condition of the road that connects them.

To save us over-ruminating about this we set off our of Zhaoqing early the next morning. There is a 'cycle lane' in the city supposedly designated for bicycles but we found that it was more hazardous to cycle in it than on the main road. Motorbikes, which seem to have usurped bicycles as the most popular form of transport, race against the traffic as well as with it competing for space with tuk tuks, the occasional car that manages to squeeze into the cycle lane and the minority of bicycle users. It was pretty daunting picking our way out of a city with over 4 million people (the same population as the whole of New Zealand) on a busy dual carriage way. The traffic showed no sign of lessening after about 10 km on this road and we were both silently thinking to ourselves 'what are we doing!'

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As we set off on 'the china leg' of this trip we wondered how long we would be cycling for before encountering other cycle tourers on the road. By the time we left New Zealand we were meeting at least one a day, sometimes more, but here in China we are miles of the tourist trail and cycling in winter... We reckoned at least a week. Amazingly we were completely off - we met five chinese cyclists within the first hour. They spoke no English and we speak even less Chinese but somehow with vigorous gesticulating at maps they communicated that there was a much better route going on the backroads getting off the 321 at Lubin. They would ride with us to the turn off to make sure we didn't miss it.

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Once we were off the main road we spent the next 2 days weaving our way through small rural villages and towns. While soaking in the changing scenery our main preoccupations were: not getting lost, staying warm and of course food. We decided to go (mainly) vegetarian through China. Going through villages we saw fifty odd chickens, sparrows and pigeons all stuffed in cages on market stalls suggesting that animal welfare is perhaps not China's top concern. Just as every english village has a pub and a postoffice every chinese village that we went through has a bloke hacking up pork on a tree stump. Many of the villages don't have fridges so rather than risk cycling with a dodgy stomach from unrefrigerated meat we decided it would be easier to abstain altogether. As long as we can communicate that we are vegetarian we should be fine. We looked it up in our phrasebook: 'Chisu de' - vegetarian. Not as simple as it might seem. The running order of our meal time rigmarole to communicate this goes along these lines:

We walk into a street restaurant asking if we can have zaofan (breakfast) / wufan (lunch) / wanfan (dinner). A bit rhetorical as we always wander in somewhere where food is bubbling away so the answer is always yes. But anyway so far so good.
Then we come out with 'Chisu de'
This is greeted with complete blankness.
We repeat 'chisu de' and point at all the vegetables we can see
Response in very fast animated chinese
Us: 'Ting bu dong' (I don't understand) and continue pointing at vegetables
Them: 'Ting bu dong' (they don't understand either)
Out comes the phrasebook and we point at the word 'Chisu de'
'Ahhh Chisu de!!'
Sounds identical to the way we were saying it but obviously it isn't. Suddenly it is all completely clear and they set about preparing a vegetarian meal.

Happily we are rewarded for all the exersion in ordering . Our meals so far, particularly street food, have been amazing. Our typical breakfast consists of youtiao (doughsticks) dipped in fresh hot soya milk or in baimizhou (rice porridge). Occasionally we have tea eggs which are poached in tea and star anise and all polished off with our favourite - dousha bao - steamed sweet buns filled with beanpaste. We also take a stash of these with us for cycling sustenance as we are yet to find chocolate to snack on. This is all washed down with lu cha (green tea). Lunch and dinner generally alternate between rice and noodles with vegetables and tofu. We have been eating like kings and in the little countryside villages they come to a grand sum of about 3 yuan (30p) for both of us up to about 20 yuan (2 pounds). In bigger towns with 'proper' restaurants this can go up to 70 yuan.

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Our first couple of days cycling we took it pretty easy. Although the minor roads are generally very good there are sections where the road is worn down creating big concrete chasms and stretches of dirt gravel. After our lunch stop on our first day the condition of the road really deteriorated and we had a very bumpy ride. After a 75 km day we arrived in a small village called Mucon. Other than a few stalls selling pork and a small hotel there was very little there. The next day we did a 85 km day through a nature reserve. There were some rolling hills but so far we have found that even for longer climbs the gradients are quite gentle - perfect for long distance cycling. That evening we reached an even smaller village than the day before about 20 km south of Xindu. It was just off the edge of our Zhaoqing map as we were crossing the border from Guangdong province into Guangxi so we don't actually know the name of it. It took us a little while to find a hotel - eventually we found somewhere that was apparently a guesthouse ith a room above a restaurant (if you could call it that). I have fairly low accomodation standards and even my mine it was grim.... and freezing. That night we were huddled under the least clean duvet I have even seen let alone touched. We wore all our clothes, hat and gloves included, as a protective layer from the filth as much as from the cold.

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After 2 nights with no heating and the temperature plummeting we were looking forward to our next night in Hezhou with great anticipation. Hezhou is hardly a throbbing metropolis - and isn't big or significant enough to be deemed worthy of a mention in the Lonely Planet - but it is developed enough to have restaurants and shops with frontages and doors rather than openings in the wall and most importantly for us there were hotels with heating. Bliss.

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The following day we had planned a shortish ride (about 50km) to Huangyao. This was a slight diversion off the road to Yangshuo but worth it to stay in this peaceful beautifully preserved 900 year old village with architecture from the Song dynasty. The houses were made of stone with solid wooden doorways and tiled rooftops. They lined a network of narrow stone cobbled streets which you could get completely lost in. After dark the steets were deserted and it felt as though we had the village to ourselves. Getting to Huangyao took a little longer than expected as we had our first significant map reading malfunction that morning. We were using our new Guangxi map that we picked up in Xindu. The only one we could get was a plastic laminated wall map that we have had to fold about 10 times to fit it in the handlebar bag. The map is also only in Chinese. This means that we play a kind of matching game at every road junction between the names on the roadsigns and the names on the maps. It is pretty difficult as we don't know if the roadsign is for the next village or a town 100km away and to further complicate matters they are often not exact matches any way as apparently the roadsigns use simplified characters. Anyway in the morning on the way to Huangyao we headed 10km down a deadend road and only realised when the road ran out. We tried to ask for directions from helpful locals who are happy to try and help us but the communication gulf between us is challenging. Most locals, upon realising we don't understand what they are saying, try and write it down - in chinese. No prizes for guessing whether this helped or not!

mariana's pictures 159

mariana's pictures 159

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Despite the 20km extension we had a lovely day of cycling and started to see the outline of the Karst mountains that would become clearer as we headed towards Yangshuo. We stayed in a beautiful guesthouse owned by a lady that we nicknamed 'little rain' as these were the only english words she could say. Her few words were prophetic however. We left Huangyao in drizzle with two days left until we would reach Yangshuo. That day we cycled 120 km to Pingle - our longest cycling day yet. We staggered cold and tired into a hotel at about 6pm looking like tramps and rustling as we moved as our latest technique to try and keep the cold out is wrapping plastic bags round our feet and over our shoes. Although we look a state this does seem to work. We didn't think much of Pingle - quite nondescript, dirty and noisy and also the site of our first fleecing in China. We had gone out for dinner and found a little restaurant - nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that they had heating. As usual we ordered vegetarian and Rob made a trip into the kitchen to point at the ingredients (lotus root, chinese brocoli and tofu). The lotus and the tofu turned up - and mysteriously so did some crab. The brocoli was nowhere to be seen. By now it was about 9pm at night and knackered from the cycle without the vocabulary to communicate this so we decided to eat what we had been given. When the bill arrived we almost choked. They had charged us 150 yuan which is over double price of the most expensive meal we have eaten so far in China. We kicked up a fuss - finding the word 'rip off' in our phrasebook and told them we would pay no more than 100 yuan. Chaos ensured with lots of shouting in chinese. They brought in a friend of theirs who spoke a couple of words of english who insisted we had to pay. About 10 minutes later the police entered the fray. We finally reached some sort of compromise by agreeing a figure in the middle.

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Glad to see the back of Pingle we set off early the next morning in the cold mist riding against a dreamy backdrop of the Karst Mountains for the final 30 km before reaching Yangshuo.

Posted by mrs lewis 01:58 Archived in China Comments (0)

Hong Kong on two wheels

semi-overcast 13 °C

We arrived in Hong Kong dazed and sleep deprived. Our efforts to budget meant opting for cheaper flights - synonymous with anti-social departure times and unfathomably long stop overs (20 hours couped up in Brunei airport). Happily our bikes survived the journey better than we did. After refuelling with a hearty breakfast in Cafe Ritazza (it did feel a bit weird that a high street coffee chain ubiquitous on the streets of London was our first meal in Asia) we set about assembling our bikes as discreetly as you can inside a bustling airport! The knotty issue of what to do with our bike bags upon reaching Hong Kong had been resolved efficiently by mum and dad (to the rescue again!) having arranged that one of their obliging contacts in Kuala Lumpur would store them at his house until we arrive in Malaysia in April. It seemed luck was on our side when we discovered that there was a post office branch inside Hong Kong airport so within an hour of arriving they had been dispatched along with all the camping equipment that we won't be using again until Europe (there are no campsites in China that we know of and as accomodation is so cheap it didn't seem worth it to lug all the extra gear around). Feeling lighter and exhilarated by the prospect of our asian cycling adventure we bounded off. What was it going to be like cycling in Hong Kong? We got an inkling that it was going to be a greater challenge than we anticipated before we had even left the airport. We asked what transport we could use to get us and our bikes out (cycling is not a desirable option as it is motorway most of the way). The train operator flatly told us there was no way that we could take our bikes on the train - 'go by bus'. Not according to the bus operator 'go by train'. Hmmm. We explained our quandry to the diminuative and impossibly polite rep at airport information and asked how other cyclists got out the airport. She simply replied 'People don't cycle in Hong Kong'. We later found out that wasn't strictly true but more on Hong Kong by bike later.

Rob was particularly adamant that we would not be leaving the airport by bike in response to noises from me along the lines of 'well it isn't rush hour so maybe it won't be too bad...' We also had to get to the passport office before the end of the day (Friday) to apply for our chinese visas otherwise we would be waiting till Monday. In the end we dismantled the bikes (momentarily cursing our efficiency at sending off the bike bags). Rob held the frames and I held the wheels and panniers. Hiding behind a pillar we waiting until the doors were about to close and rushed on through separate doors past the officious station guards and we were away.

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Arriving on Hong Kong Island was an assault on the senses. This felt particularly acute coming from New Zealand where open space is in abundance. In Hong Kong space is so limited and at full capacity so the city is developing upwards. We cycled out of the station with 50 floor glittering skyrises looming over us sharing three lane dual carriage ways with motorists, trams and buses breathing in lungfulls of smog until we found a pedestrianised walk way (technically not for cyclists) along the sea front - Hong Kong's very own southbank - that got us safely to Sheung Wan. As we experienced in New Zealand there is no better way to get to know the different faces of a city that through the eyes of locals. We spent our 4 days in Hong Kong staying with Rob's friend Ed and his girlfriend Maddy, benefitting from their insights as well as their hospitality, we found Hong Kong to be a truly intriguing city. We explored bustling markets (leaving the bikes behind and enjoying the brilliant public transport of trams and the metro that had been lacking in New Zealand). Graham Street Market in Sheung Wan and Reclamation Street Market on Kowloon are amazing wet markets where most produce is kept live - from fish and chicken to delicacies like turtle and eel. These markets are nestled among shops showcasing equally unusual wares like pickled snakes and dried seahorses. Just a couple of tram stops away from these networks of pedestrian streets is causeway bay - a seething mass of people in consumer's paradise. We wandered through streets where we were dwarfed by shopping malls in skyscrapers where virtually every shop sold i-pods or mobile phones. We spent a couple of hours trying to work our way through this maze of shops clutching our 'to buy' list of everything we needed to restock on before getting to mainland China. Top of our list was a good map. Luckily we were in Hong Kong for 4 days as it took this long to find one. Finding a bookshop was hard enough and was generally met with either blankness or a questioning 'magazine?' After extensive searching we found a few of maps at a bookshop called Dymmocks that we hope are usable - most of the maps are only in Chinese but we bought 2 that were in English and Chinese that cover all of China so include only the main roads (which we do not plan on cycling on) and one in English and Chinese with a bit more detail of Zhaoqing - our first stop. Fingers crossed.

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It goes without saying that we were chomping at the bit to experience the culinary offerings of Hong Kong and for 4 days we ate like kings. We sampled as much Dim Sum as we could possibly eat which was incredibly cheap - particularly in Kowloon where we found a fabulous little restaurant on Kimberley Road with delectable turnip cake. But Hong Kong also caters for an international range from Belgian to Japanese - catering more for the western palate and wallet as dim sum is only about four pounds a head whereas the western restaurants and bars fillled with tourists and expats charge London prices.

Our actual experiences of cycling in Hong Kong were fairly limited but it is safe to say that it is not the most bicycle friendly place. We were not surprised that we didn't see any cyclists on Hong Kong Island. Roads are fiendishly steep and although there is a fantastic infrastructure to keep pedestrians separated from traffic these systems do not work for bikes (escalators and long long stairways!) In Kowloon, which is much flatter, we did see some locals using bikes - mainly as a means of transporting goods to and from markets carrying everything but the kitchen sink making our panniers look positively paltry! Our 30 day visa for China was ready on Tuesday (we weren't able to get a 90 day one - apparently it is in the lap of the gods whether you get one when you ask so we will have to extend when we are out there) Rather than cycling out of Hong Kong we planned to take a ferry to Zhaoqing which is 3 hours away and out of the traffic to start our trip. The boat leaves once a day (8.30am) and we made it by the skin of our teeth - almost thwarted by the local ferry service between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which wouldn't let us take our bikes on board - we made it eventually - furiously pedalling to wan chai where you CAN take bikes onboard (inexplicable as it is the same company and same boat!)

THe ferry pulled out of Hong Kong as the sun rose over the skyscrapers. We hadn't planned a route, only a 'rough' direction. The accuracy and value of our maps is questionable and our supplies for the cycling ahead limited to 2 mars bars (apparently there is no chocolate in China??) and raisins. Feeling a little anxious about this lack of preparation we spent most of the ferry ride attempting to learn mandarin from the free podcasts that Rob downloaded off the internet via our 'chinese teacher' Serge. By the end of the ferry journey we could say hello, our names and the phrase that will definitely have very frequent use: 'Wo ting bu dong' - I don't understand.

Posted by mrs lewis 00:31 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Back in Auckland

sunny

We arrived back in Auckland and spent a lovely few days with Tony, another cycling tourer and great bloke, who we had met round the East Cape. Apart from catching up with our blogging which was now woefully behind, we also took a day trip to Waheike Island where we visited some great vineyards and beaches. Unfortunately this beautiful island has essentially become another suburb of Auckland and is incredibly crowded and choked with traffic. The first vineyard, Stoneyridge, that we visited was so popular that they were charging up to $10 just for a taster- I'm sure that the glowing reviews from the Guardian that were framed on the toilet walls had a contributory role in this! We ended up visiting a lesser known vineyard called Goldwater where tastings were free as long as you bought a bottle at the end of it. Fine by us!
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We also decided to take a few kite surfing lessons, Mariana's present to me for my 30th birthday. These were great fun although there is still some way to go before we're pulling triple salcos with half pikes.

Feeling well rested after several days of kiwi hospitality we headed off for a few days of Woofing at a place called Earthsong Eco-neighbourhood; a co-housing community in the western suburbs of Auckland. Co-housing is where a group of people come together to buy a plot of land and build houses together. Whilst having privacy and independence there is also a strong sense of community with shared gardens for growing food and common spaces for communal meals and children to play. We were really keen to find out more about this Unfortunately and ironically for someone who claims to be seeking a lifestyle built on principles of sharing and community, our host, Ines, was possibly the least hospitable and welcoming person we have stayed with in New Zealand. We arrived at midday as planned, just as Ines proclaimed she was heading to the beach to go walking with her friends and we could come along if we wanted. We dumped our bags and headed along for the ride. Upon reaching the beach it was apparent how remote it was and when we said we had no food or water with us Ines was unmoved and we were left thirst and hungry until 6 when she returned from her walk. the hospitality didn't improve when we were told to plan for cooking our own meals but could if we wanted wait until her family had finished eating to see if there were any leftovers... no thanks! We did meet some fantastic people though including Connie, a beekeeper who showed us her hive, and Sara and Kayan who also took us on a beach trip, although this time a much more enjoyable experience.

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Our final day was spent preparing for the long trip to Hong Kong, where we were ably assisted by Zoe, a friend of Mariana's, who chauffeured us around town to collect the things we needed as well as to the airport at 11pm. We had forgotten what a rigmarole airports are having spent so long on a bike where we are free from the bother of booking tickets, checking in, queuing, jostling for seats which are part and parcel of all other forms of transport. This is made all the more acute when you actually have to travel with a bike as luggage. Bikes and planes are definitely incompatible! As our flight was incredibly cheap our luggage allowance was extremely limited and to make sure that you don't try and get round it by loading up your hand luggage they weigh that too. Although we are travelling pretty light, the bikes on their own take up 17kg of our 20kg allowance. With only 7kg for hand luggage and a hefty excess of 35 pounds per kilo that we are overweight we had to find another way of getting through - by loading up the only thing getting on the plane that the airline didn't weigh - us. So we wore 70% of our clothes, stuffed all the heaviest items like our peddles in our pockets,wore our locks as belts and pedal wrenches as a splint. We held our breath. After a long pause the woman at the check in counter said that although our check in luggage was overweight our hand luggage was slightly under... So she would waive the penalty excess as long as we shifted some of the weight from the check in luggage to hand luggage. Maybe we are missing something but surely it is all going on the same plane??

Running parallel to the luggage pantomime there was a side drama running as we were told that we couldn't get on the plane as we didn't have a copy of our onward flight on us (somehow this got resolved but still not quite sure how) we boarded the plane.

Reflecting on our time in NZ, our memory bank is flooded with fantastic experiences of beautiful landscapes, wonderful cycling and great weather. In the last few days of our trip we have been repeatedly asked what the 'highlight' or 'best bit' of New Zealand has been for us. Although the 'must-see' places such as Abel Tasman, the west coast and Milford Sound have been breathtaking, it was the people we met along the way who had infectious enthusiasm for showing us their country, sharing their favourite places with us and taking us in, often as complete strangers, with unstinting generosity. It is these experiences that will linger on in the mind over and above the checklist of "unmissable experiences" that populate New Zealand guidebooks.

Posted by roblewis 16:02 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

It's not about the bike

sunny 27 °C

Five weeks before reaching Christchurch we were sitting lycra-clad on the ferry from Wellington to Picton soaking in the glorious views of Marlborough Sound. An America couple were sitting next to us on the bench. They introduced themselves as John and DD and started enthusiastically inquiring about our cycle touring in New Zealand. It turned out that John used to be a professional cyclist for 20 years and former team mate to Lance Armstrong, now living in Christchurch. Along with some invaluable recommendations for our trip round the South Island he also handed us his contact details on a scrap of paper inviting us to stay if and when our cycling took us to Christchurch. Clutching that scrap of paper upon our arrival in the city we did indeed get in touch. We were taken in an treated to five star hospitality with fantastic food, wine, company and of course cycling.

John and DD pulled out all the stops to show us a great time in Christchurch. Of all the cities we have visited in New Zealand, Christchurch is definitely the most cycle friendly with approx 6% of the population using bikes as a form of transport. John and DD introduced us to some great off road city cycling on cycle paths that weaved through parks and along rivers through a city with a distinctly English feel.

Another earthquake had hit Christchurch late on Christmas Day, just two days before we arrived. The impact was not as destructive as the big one in September but as the city was still struggling to recover from the first quake the timing was really bad for shops and small businesses relying on boxing day sales. Most roads in the city centre had cordoned off sections around damaged buildings with some roads closed off altogether. John,who now works as a transport planner told us that a number of beautiful historic buildings are going to be pulled down as the restoration costs are too high. They will be replaced with car parks to conform to parking regulations that didn't exist when the buildings were constructed. Paving paradise to put up a parking lot - to quote Joni Mitchell.

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Having soaked in the sights of Christchurch including an excellent exhibition at the art gallery by an Australian born sculptor Ron Mueck, John suggested a quick spin on the bikes. Rob and I took this quite literally, forgetting that we were in the company of an ex pro cyclist. We quickly realised that we were going to be put through our paces when John and DD were out the saddle of their tandem on the first hill leaving me and Rob struggling in their wake. We HAD thought that we were pretty fit but we are more used to slow and steady than speedy... Compared to them our cycling was laboured and sluggish. The steepness of the climbs paid off with spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding bays then dropping down through the Canterbury plains. When Rob and I started to flag after about fifty km we successfully staged a wine tasting detour to break up the ride.

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With 2010 and our stay in Christchurch rapidly drawing to a close we started to formulate a plan to get ourselves back up to Auckland as cheaply as possible. Predictably the trains weren't running at all until mid January, a disappointment consistent with most of our experienes of public transport in New Zealand. So we opted for a campervan relocation. This is a great scheme where you get a few days (five in our case) to relocate campervans from the south island back up north completely free,they even pay for the ferry. So we on New Years Eve we swapped our two wheels for four (bikes firmly strapped in) and headed on a whistle stop tour off the bits we missed by bike. We had a long awaited seafood stop in Kaikoura as we had not yet tasted any of the crayfish that New Zealand is renowned for.

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One of the other activities that being off the bikes afforded us was a hike which we are usually too exhausted to do after a day of cycling. The most popular one day hike in New Zealand is the Tongoriro Alpine crossing which spans the length of Mount Tongoriro (17 km) and passes through volcanic lakes walking over layers of ancient lava flows (not good for cycle shoes!) We didn't quite manage the crossing as we discovered the only way back was by catching a prohibitively overpriced bus. So in our efforts to leave New Zealand on budget (or as close as possible) we walked half way to the emerald lakes and back.

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Our last stop before reaching Auckland was New Plymouth to catch up with my old friend Anna and her husband Phill. A couple of days enjoying the waves of the west coast and more foraged feasts from the sea (we had a fantastic meal of paua which you can only catch at low tide by getting in the sea and looking under rocks) before arriving in Auckland - our final stop.

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Posted by mrs lewis 15:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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