A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Murchison and the west coast

sunny 25 °C

To get across to the famed west coast with its dramatic coast line we first needed to cross through Murchison and the Buller gorge. The scenery here is incredibly beautiful. we have been winding along the river through the gorge lined with wild forests with hidden waterfalls and lakes along the way. THese stunning water spots have led us to dip our toe into wild swimming, particularly as some of the places we are camping in are run by the department of conservation -usually in staggeringly beautiful spots but the are very basic and usually without showers but a plunge in icy lake or river water is a more than adequate alternative at the end of a hard days cycle !

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So we certainly have not been disappointed with the scenery - very rugged and remote. However, as on the east cape of the North Island, the villages with shops and supermarkets are quite spread out which means (most importantly) careful planning and stocking up on food. Having been caught short at the start of our trip we have now learnt our lesson and we carry much more energy food (chocolate) with us now. However, deciding how much food to carry for our meals is a greater challenge than we first thought... When we arrived in Murchison we eagerly stocked up on food and bought 'emergency supplies' - which was determined by food that was light enough to carry but that we would only eat if we were desperate - 2 minute super noodles fit the bill! We also happily packed our panniers full of rice, cous cous, oats (our new breakfast of choice) and pasta feeling smug at our preparedness. This smugness quickly dissolved the following day as the extra load in our panniers made us slow and sluggish with only an extra 5-6 kgs feeling double as heavy on the incline. . So behind the vacuous masks we wear in the supermarkets a complex decision-making process is at play, prioritising caloric value, weight and size of each item before it makes it into the shopping basket.

As we crossed from Murchison to the coast we finally started to feel noticeably stronger. At the start of the trip we were doing about 60-70 kms a day and psychologically we could not withstand the idea of doing more than 20 kms after lunch. On the day we left Murchison we wove through the spectacular scenery of the gorge and made it all 112 Km to Charlestown - initially it was going to be 108 km (at the end of a long day of cycling those extra 4 km really do count!) but we pulled into a really dodgy looking campsite ran by a very creepy middle aged man with a thick german accent. Admittedly it was very cheap - 10 NZ dollars (a fiver) but it definitely had a whiff of Wolf Creep about the place. Nervously I tried to make stilted conversation with him asking him where he was from.... 'From my mother's womb' he said with a crazy look in his eye. Hmmm.... Despite the fact that we were absolutely knackered and had already paid I was already getting visions of him creeping around the campsite at night with an axe - reinforced by the vision of cutting wood with a chainsaw when I went to ask for our money back with a half baked excuse of needing to meet up with other phantom cyclist further up the road. So we set off again - finally arriving at a more sedate looking campsite - this time it was us with a wild look in our eyes eyes from hunger and exhaustion but once we had scoffed the fastest thing we could eat ( a cold tortilla with a carpet of honey slathered on it) we felt fairly normal. We did feel quite pleased with our feat and promised ourselves that the following day would be an easy one as we waiting for the muscle pain to set in - but incredibly the next day we felt fine - better than fine as we had a good tail wind - and we whizzed down the coast past pancake rocks, stopping just 10 km before Greymouth enjoying the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand so far.

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check out our video of a trip along the west coast!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kob1crDnFiU

Posted by mrs lewis 00:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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.
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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.
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We camped at Havelock, a squalid little place but notorious for its huge green lipped muscles.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)

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