A Travellerspoint blog

Into the south island

sunny 25 °C

We took an early morning ferry to Picton, across the Cook Straights and through the peaceful beauty of the Marlborough Sounds.
As we sat admiring the views on fine sunny day, a guy sitting next to us noticed our cycling attire and got chatting. Turns out he used to be a professional cyclist and was in a team with Lance Armstrong. As we pulled in to Picton, he noted down his contact details and invited us to stay with him in Christchurch - the cycling fraternity is certainly a tightly knit community.

After a quick bite to eat at the local bakery we cycled along the Queen Charlotte Drive with stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds; deep blue waters nestled in amongst lush green hills and tiny coves dotted with sailing boats.
We camped at Havelock, a squalid little place but notorious for its huge green lipped muscles.
We feasted on them in gluttinous quantities, first for dinner than again the following evening after an undulating cycling into Nelson; the sunshine captial of NZ. The town lived up to its name and we enjoyed sunshine and blue skies every day for the next 10 days as we made our way around the northern section of the south island.

Abel Tasman national park is NZ's most visited park but the photos of perfect sandy beaches and the opportunity to try some sea kayaking lured us in and we decided to hire a kayak for 3 days. After being briefed on safety issues off we set in our sea kayak, loaded with food and provisions. As we have experienced a number of times, "busy" in NZ has a totally different meaning. The place was deserted by UK standards and as we travelled from one gob smackingly beautiful beack to another, along turqouise waters, we often found we had an entire beack to ourselves.
The campsites we stayed at were amongst some of the finest I have ever seen. One was only accessible by canoe, had a gorgeous sandy beach, was backed by a tropical lagoon and surrounded by lush vegetation.
We settled down for the evening with sore upper bodies from all the paddling (our training wasn't geared for this) and whipped up some veggies and rice for dinner. On the final day we visited a seal colony and then paddled out to an island where we discoved another picture postcard beach all to ourselves. We had run on low on food provisions but luckily the rocks around the beach were loaded with muscles so we helped ourselves to natures bounty, steamed them up with a bit of garlic and stock, and tucked into another delicious seafood feast.

After 3 days on the water it felt good to be back on the bikes. We made our way over the the west coast, known for its abundance of rain, sandflies, as well as beautiful coastline and mountains.

Posted by roblewis 19:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged tasman abel Comments (0)

warm showers in Wellington

sunny 25 °C

We have been quite impatient and eager to arrive in Wellington for a few reasons - firstly and maybe most importantly because it marks the first significant milestone in terms of cycling; we had "completed" the north island (well about 1,500 km of it!) Although it is only a fraction of our total distance to travel it feels good to be able to finally be able to measure our progress on a map in centimetres rather than milimetres. So another reason to look forward to Wellington was an excuse to celebrate this small achievement! We have been incredibly abstemious on our trip so far except for the odd bottle of wine in a vineyard - but we haven't had an evening out since we started the trip in Auckland. This is less down to will power and more a combination of total exhaustion from a full days travelling and the lack things to do in and around campsites after 9pm - so far a bottle of wine and travel scrabble in the claustrophobic confines of the tent has been the extent of our 'big nights'. So we have decided to ditch our trangia camping cooker for a few nights and have a slap up meal and a night out.

Most of the campsites in cities in NZ are right on the outskirts and Wellington is no exception. We decided after our couchsurfing experience in Napier to try a similar scheme called 'warm showers' which is the same idea but specifically for cyclists so we were able to stay in the city. We got in touch with our marvellous host Gary - self professed mad cyclist (proved true by his tales of cycling through Israel during curfew with armed escorts) and cycling mad. We were initially due to stay with him for 1-2 nights but ended up staying for 4 to explore everythng that Wellington has to offer as well as enjoying those small things that have become luxuries like butter on toast, milk in tea, proper towels rather than flannels and of course staying in a proper bed rather than our little tent!

We absolutely loved Wellington and had to eat our words about the blandess of NZ cities as it was far from true here. Wellington had a distinctly different feel to the other cities we have stayed in. It feels like a real city as it has a transport system (bliss to have 4 days off the bikes) as we could actually walk or take trolley buses everywhere. Having found out that there are more coffee shops in Wellington per hectare than New York City Rob made it his mission to sample as many of them as possible. Every stop is under the guise of being 'in caloric deficit' - his new favourite phrase! We ate great food having found the farmers market by the port selling fresh squid straight off the boat and enjoyed some NZ fringe theatre as we thought it would probably be our last theatre trip for a while as it is unlikely we will be theatre-going in China.
As this would be our only 'night out' for a while -probably till Queenstown - we needed to select carefully. We spent a while researching restaurants - Rob in his usually style was meticulously trawling online reviews and write ups. Once we had narrowed it down to the 2 most popular restaurants in Wellington we thought we'd try to book a table - thinking it would be unlikely with 2 hours to spare on a saturday night. Amazingly both had spare tables - this threw Rob into a quandry ('surely if they are worth their salt they would be booked up for the next couple of months!') I guess we are still in London mode - Gary gently explained that there aren't really queues, waiting lists or anything like that in Wellington and if you want to go to a restaurant you can go to the one you want to rather than going to the one with a spare table.
So after a proper rest in wonderful Wellington we were ready for the next stage of the trip on the South Island. Our chats with Gary confirmed that after much umming, ahhing and deliberating that we would head down the west coast rather than the east. We had asked quite a few cyclists which was would be best. the general response was 'well on the west it generally rains more, it is hillier and there are loads of sandflies to contend with'.... - right so we should definitely go east then? 'Oh no - you have to go west - far more spectacular!' So West it is!

Posted by mrs lewis 19:01 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Woofing in Hastings then down to Welly!

sunny 22 °C

Our first Woofing placement was on a medium scale organic farm near the centre of Hastings, a small town which resembles some kind of American clone with seemingly endless miles of fast food restaurants, car dealerships and supermarkets. Thankfully the farm we stayed on, Epicurean, had a bit more character and produced an incredible selection of delicious organic salads and vegetables. We turned up and were warmly greeted by Clyde, the owner of the farm and a fountain of knowledge on the ins and outs of organic growing. He showed us to our lodgings; a dank, dusty and very dirty caravan which looked like it hadn't been inhabited for years (i later discovered this to be untrue when mentioning the state of the caravan to another Woofer, 19 year old Toby, who said he had been living in it up until a couple of days previously). We shared our communal living spaces with 8 German gap year students who were also Woofers, so the conversation as you can imagine was pretty riveting.
Whilst we were there we undertook a number of different tasks including planting seedlings and seeds, weeding, harvesting rosemary and sorrel, and packing and weighing produce in preparation for either the supermarkets or veg box delivery. Mariana and i also did a mammoth clean of the kitchen and bathrooms as the whole place was in a pretty disgusting state.
We left after 6 days certainly wiser about the processes at work in an organic farm but also feeling slightly like we had just done a placement on a German youth camp.

Our next placement was a 30km cycle south to a farm called Kahikea where we were introduced to the world of permaculture through Jo and Aaron, keen advocates and practitioners of this way of farming. Whilst there are many different definitions of permaculture it essentially integrates a number of different elements of sustainability including organics, working with natures processes rather than trying to exploit it, and also the use of renewable energy and passive building design.
Again our lodgings were in a caravan but thankfully this time it was much cleaner. Our task for the first three and a half days certainly tested our strength and fitness levels. It consisted of trimming the long grass around each of the 60 or so trees in the orchard, then shovelling a load of horse manure into a wheelbarrow and transporting it to each tree, spreading the manure around the tree and finally covering that in straw (which we also had to wheelbarrow down in scorching 28 degree heat). This was apparently in preparation for the planting of herbs around the trees which aid growth and prevent weeds through natural processes. We completed the task with both a sense of relief and gratification that comes from the end of a hard job well done.
After a really enjoyable and informative time we headed off on the bikes again on a three day ride to Wellington; the capital of New Zealand. This was supposedly the "ugly" part of NZ but the rolling hills we cycled by staying off the state highway proved very nice indeed.
On our first day we started late because we were waiting for our solar charger to turn up - we had been promised a 5 day delivery but 12 days later it was still nowhere to be seen so we decided enough was enough and we would try and get it rerouted to Wellington.
After a long day heading towards Dannevirke we still had 20km to go when the heavens opened on the outskirts of a small town in the arse end of nowhere. Suddenly a car came up from behind and started furiously honking their horn at us. As i turned round ready to tell the driver where to go, a lady got out of her car and asked if we were heading to Dannevirke and if we had anywhere to stay. "Yes we were and no we didn't" we responded. The lady then said the rain was going to get heavier and we should come and stay in the campsite she managed for free; nothing like a good bit of NZ hospitality!

We arrived in Masterton after 3 days of cycling under blue sunny skies. For the last 40km, the only road into Wellington to was the very busy State Highway 2 which also required going over a 500m pass with no hard shoulder. After recent news of 5 cyclists killed in 5 days we decided to do the sensible thing and take the train...

Posted by roblewis 18:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hastings woofing Comments (1)

Gisborne to Napier

semi-overcast 16 °C

Despite an 80 km ride to Gisborne which was the biggest city with more than a small parade of shops since leaving Auckland we were keen to leave pretty much as soon as we'd arrived. Our campsite seemed pleasant enough, or so we thought, as it ended up being the venue of the first theft of the trip - very annoyingly among the stolen items was our solar charger without which all of our electronic gizmos including our GPS can't be charged!

So we left early in the morning under a thundercloud (literally and metaphorically!) heading to Wairoa via Tiniroto road (much better than going on the state highway 2 if anyone is planning cycling this way) This route had virtually no traffic on it but a couple of good climbs - first up to 450 metres, down to about 200 metres and a slow steady climb back to 400 metres and then all down hill pretty much from our lunchstop onwards.

After a night in Wairoa we decided that we were going to 'cheat' for the next leg, heeding the advice of the cyclists we had met on the road. The stretch between Wairoa and Napier is very steep and winds up and down through the hills with very little to no hard shoulder. Logging trucks are plentiful and a particular menace for cyclists so another day off the bike as we hitched a lift by bus.

Napier is definitely our favourite NZ city so far with much more character than the fairly bland americanised cities we have been through so far that are all seemingly designed round cars on one long road where you still need to drive to get anywhere even within the city. Napier is much more contained with more of a buzz to it. There was an earthquake that flattened the city in the 30s - and when it was rebuilt it was designed as an art deco treasure house! While we were in Napier we decided to try out couchsurfing www.couchsurfing.org which is a brilliant way to get to see a city by staying with a local who is prepared to put you up for free on their couch (or in our case a blow up mattress.
Despite Napier's charm we were keen to move on as following the raging success of our first Woofing experience on Anaura bay we almost immediately decided to sign up to another one between Napier and Hastings. Hastings was only about 30 kms away from Napier so another easy day on the bike for us! We had just entered wine country our trip to the eco farm we were staying at took a bit longer than expected with a number of wine tastings stops on the way before rolling into Epicurian - the eco farm where we would be staying for the next week or so.

Posted by mrs lewis 19:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Woofing at Anaura Bay

semi-overcast 18 °C

Still no reprieve from the foul weather when we woke up in Ruatoria although at least we didn't have to scurry around putting the tent down in the lashing rain. It was a relatively easy cycling day; about 70 km with one main climb to Te Puia Springs and then pretty much down hill with a few easy climbs the rest of the way save for the steepest climb of the trip right at the end to get to Anaura Bay, 10km off the main road which was so steep that we later discovered it was technically an 'illegal road' because the gradient was too steep - even for cars. It definitely proved too much for us and for the first time in the trip we were forced to push... Physically everything had started to give way after setting what was perhaps in retrospect too punishing a pace for the first two weeks of the trip. With about an hour to go Rob's achilles gave way and could only cycle pushing with his left leg as his right ankle was in agony... About 20 minutes later his left knee started to register its protest. We hobbled our way over the final hurdle to get to Anaura Bay - our first Woofing destination and a perfectly timed stop and break from cycling where we would stay for the next week.

The beach at  Anaura Bay

The beach at Anaura Bay

We signed up to do some Woofing (Working On Organic Farms - not related to seedy carpark activity) before we left the UK to learn a bit more about organic agriculture. We were really keen to Woof on the east cape both to learn about farming but also to experience living with a Maori family. When we arrived it was clear that 'farming' with this particular family was quite loosely defined.... Louia and Scrubbs had been taking in Woofers for almost 20 years in the palatial home with 5 acres of land originally built by missionaries.



The house and grounds were so large that they really needed ongoing maintenance and that was where we were drafted in - doing anything from chopping wood for the fire, harvesting fruit (just for personal consumption) from the orchard, weeding, mowing etc. Our hosts - Louia and Scrubbs - were far from a 'traditional family' with progressive and alternative views on just about anything. They - and their house - were important pillars in the tiny community of 30 families in the bay with Louia in particular organising loads of community activities to keep the kids active and entertained from surfing to air guitar parties. Louia is Maori and Scrubbs a white kiwi. They also have 2 precocious daughters in their early teens who were worldly wise beyond their years - probably from having travellers from all corners of the earth passing through for as long as they could remember.

So - not quite the farming experience - not the 'traditionally family' experience that we had expected- but we absolutely loved it. There were two other woofers staying at Anaura as well: Dan from Norway and Yuseki from Japan. They had both been there for over a month and we could very quickly see why. Each day we did a few hours work outside in the sunshine punctuated with a bit of surfing (we are both trying to learn and it seemed like the ideal opportunity with free boards and wetsuits) and then fantastic food from the bay in the evening. Rob felt compelled to impart his fresh pasta recipe to the east cape so managed to sneak cooking into his work timetable.

Rob's first time surfing

Rob's first time surfing

pasta making at Anaura Bay

pasta making at Anaura Bay

We also filled our time fishing for tua tua (a bit like clams), sea snail, urchins and paua (sea slug) before hauling our catch back to the kitchen to see it on the table within a few hours. There was something calming and enchanting about Anaura Bay and the week we spent there, having originally only planned to stay for 3-4 days.

Neither of us have ever met a family or experienced a lifestyle quite like it and it also felt - three weeks in that we were 'travelling' rather than just on holiday... But the bikes were beckoning so feeling very well rested, and exceptionally well fed and watered we headed off on the bikes aiming to get down to Gisborne in a day (about 80 km) - marking the end of the east cape section of the trip.

Posted by mrs lewis 22:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

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