Making all the right decisions 16-18/04/06
We have a choice when we leave Invercargill; we can take SH1 direct to Balclutha, a fairly flat and boring route on a quick road, or we can take the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins, a much more interesting (and hilly) route. SH1 is the sensible choice as it will get us to Christchurch more quickly and we have a flight deadline.
The first problem with the Southern Scenic Route is finding it! We cycle past the turning before looking back and seeing the route sign which has been thoughtfully placed on the southern approach, but not the northern one. Once on it we quickly leave Invercargill behind and ride through farmland on easy roads as far as Fortrose. At this point we can choose the inland route to Papatowai on a sealed road or we can take the coastal option on a part sealed road.
Hmm, the unsealed parts aren't too bad, mainly fairly smooth except for the gravel traps on every corner, we reach the turn off to Slope Point (the southernmost point in New Zealand) but as it is very hilly, has a lot of loose gravel and we have
to find accommodation before it gets dark we decide to give it a miss. We didn't quite get to the top of the North Island so it's only right that we don't quite get to the bottom of the South Island either.
Another small world moment - we get a room at Dolphin Lodge in Curio Bay, where we meet a couple who live in Oamaru; they used to live in England, in a place called Irchester which is 2 miles from where I grew up and one of their sons was in the year below me at secondary school. This is beginning to get a bit freaky!
The next day we ride the short distance to the fossilised forest and spend way too long taking photos and exploring the rock pools before heading towards Owaka. We stop for sustenance at the Niagara Falls Cafe which is mildy impressive, before viewing the falls which aren't. In their defence they were named in a moment of irony. Shortly afterwards we get into the hills and slow considerably, although we don't have to push too much - we must be getting fitter!
Our ride takes us through forest and we
are accompanied by the sounds of Bellbirds for most of the day, it's a bit like assorted mobile phones going off at random.
We get to Papatowai shortly after 4pm, but decide not to ride on to Owaka as that would include Table Hill and we don't want to be riding in the dark. A local guy advises us to try a backpackers called Top of the Hill, we quiz him about it's location, but he assures us that it is not in fact at the top of a hill, so we head off, down a little, then along a bit and onto the driveway for the hostel and.... up, a lot, for about a kilometre. When we get there they are full, so we head back to town and we have to push the bikes back down most of the driveway because it is so steep and rutted - Bah! Hopefully our informant will be reincarnated as a slug in a salt factory!
We find space at the campsite, 14 dollars for the two of us, very cheap. It's a decent site, but the night is cold, I end up wearing socks, trousers, long sleeved shirt and a
fleece, plus two sleeping bag liners in my sleeping bag and I'm still chilly.
In the morning the tent is drenched inside from condensation and outside from dew, we dry it as best we can and set off to face Table Hill. It is one of those "up and along and up and along" hills, but once we've cleared it we make good time to Balclutha. We decide to carry on to Milton as the backpackers there is run by a Swiss guy who has cycled round the world.
Toni (yes honestly, Swiss Toni) is a really nice guy, but also a total loony. There are certain rules at the hostel, one of which is that nobody is allowed to do the washing up except Toni - no problem there then. We can take any veg we want from the garden and tea and coffee are free, there's also a fine selection of herbs and spices.
We watch Cry of the Snow Leopard this evening about the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Toni has travelled in that area and I believe he might be a Buddhist, so it's a subject dear to his heart.
Dunedin, from the Gaelic for
We are rich, beyond our wildest dreams; we now own 310800 Lao Kip (that's 48 NZ dollars to save you all having to find currency converters). We going to be in Laos later in the year and the other couple at the hostel have Kip which they can't change outside Laos.
Before we take our leave of the Happy Inn we try riding one of Toni's bikes, it has been adapted so the steering is reversed ( steer left and go right and vice versa) I manage about one turn of the pedals, Vern gets further, but ends up in the veg patch. Toni rides round and round in circles on it.
SH1 is flat to Mosgiel, it's also busy, has very little shoulder and we have a head wind. We take a side road as soon as we can, it doesn't cure the head wind, but we do at least get some respite from the traffic. After lunch at Mosgiel we reach Three Mile Hill, about 100 metres later we get off and push - that's got to be a record! It takes almost a hour to get to the top, where we re-mount and
roll into Dunedin; the ride down is scary, narrow road, no shoulder, quite a bit of traffic and lots of pot holes and sunken drain covers. The brake blocks take a battering and get rather vocal by the end.
we are booked into Hogwartz Hostel (terrible name, but the place is good), our route is easy to follow, down Stuart Street and turn right into London Street which we miss because we are going to fast, or Cargill Street which we miss because we are going too fast or York Place which we made - just! We push up York Place, then roll down to the hostel, where the owner is delighted that there will be a Vernon staying for a couple of days.
We are just up the hill from Speight's Brewery and have gravity assist to their taphouse where we check the quality of Speight's Chocolate Ale. The walk back to the hostel isn't quite of Himalayan proportions, but it definitely adds new meaning to the phrase "pub crawl".
We spend the morning of the 20th walking around the town, in a vain attempt to find a flat bit. Dunedin has the world's steepest street (Baldwin Street,
38.1 degrees) and a lot of other roads which are in close competition for that title.
In the afternoon we join a wildlife tour; at Taiaroa Head we see Royal Albatrosses, they are huuuuuuge. Later, at Otago Penninsula we see fur seals, sealions and yellow-eyed penguins. The seals are very active, especially when a sealion gets into their colony, the sealions bicker a lot and vomit and the penguins are cute!
On the 21st we are heading to Oamaru, we have decided to take the bus, we had enough fun getting into Dunedin and we don't fancy riding over Mount Cargill and Killmog Hill on the way out. Once on the way we're glad we made that decision as the bus struggles up the hills.
The end of the road 22-30/04/06
We ride to Timaru on SH1, it's pretty much flat as far as Makikihi, then we get a few little hills just to throw us off our pace before reaching Timaru. We settle into the backpackers with a cup of tea each, then Vern has a shower and just as I'm thinking I ought to do the same somebody unlocks the other door to the shower room,
looks surprised to see us in the adjoining bedroom, then turns to the two people behind him and says "No sorry, this room isn't en-suite." He'd have looked a lot more surprised if I'd been a bit quicker into the shower!
The next day we head to Ashburton, we stop for a coffee at a shopping mall on the outskirts of Timaru, the cafe has a children's play area outside with climbing frames and a sand pit; a group of two women, two men, two young boys and one young girl arrive and the kids make a bee-line for the play area. As we are leaving the two women also leave the cafe along with the young girl, who is looking back at the play area in a hopeful way. One woman says to her "You're coming with us to look around the shops, you're big enough to go shopping now"!!!!
Good grief let the kid play, there's plenty of time for her to be bored out of her wits shopping when she's an adult!
We make good time to Ashburton, with only the bridge over the Rangitata River (no shoulder, no path, concrete railings and about 500
metres long) to cause us worry, we check into a motel chosen because the owners have a friendly Schnauzer dog, but this one doesn't lick Vern's toes (sensible dog).
We use the 24th to get this blog a bit more up to date, we have been suffering considerable blog-lag since we got to NZ and are very pleased to be less than a month out of date.
25th April - ANZAC Day, the weather is terrible so we stay put again, the forecast is for more of the same, we decide to get the bus into Christchurch, we have a lot to do before we fly and sitting out the weather in Ashburton isn't helping.
So on the 26th we are waiting for another bus, when it arrives the driver gives the bikes a funny look and asks "Are they coming too?" "Hopefully" we say, "they are booked". It always astounds me that we make a point of booking the bikes but nobody seems to tell the drivers. The bags go in the back, the bikes in the front and we go on the top (deck that is). It is a gorgeous day, sunshine and no wind -
grrr. On the way we go over the longest road bridge in NZ, 2km long with no shoulder or path, we're kind of glad we're not cycling it and when the heavens open we decide that the bus was the best idea.
Air New Zealand have changed their rules regarding bike transport, they can now go in a strong plastic bag, so we spend a fruitless couple of days trying to find a bag for my bike. In the bike shops we are advised to try the furniture shops as a mattress bag would be big enough; trouble is mattresses are sold in their bags, so we'd have to hang around in a shop until somebody bought a mattress, then follow them home and get the bag off them. We have visions of being the first people convicted of mattress stalking.
Thankfully we are put in touch with a mattress wholesaler and they sell us a double mattress bag for 2 dollars (about 70p).
This might all sound a bit too much hassle, but as far as we are aware we have a baggage limit of 20kg each, the bikes alone weight 16kg and if we have to put
them in boxes they will pretty much take our entire luggage allowance. excess charges are 10 dollars per kilo and we're each carrying about 25kg of other baggage.
We spend the evening of the 28th trying to cut our baggage down, each abandoning clothing and sorting out what maps and books can be sent home. We manage to loose about 2kg each.
On the 29th we head out to Mount Pleasant to meet Ester, Ian and Darren (we met Ester's sister Trish in the Bay of Islands and she suggested we might drop in on her rellies when we got to Christchurch). Darren is nine months old and eyes us with suspicion for ooh, at least a minute before he decides that here are two more people to entertain him. We spend the afternoon chatting and admiring the incredible view from Ester and Ian's place before Ester gives us a lift back into the city via Summit Road where, even in the rain, the views are amazing.
We have to spend the evening cleaning the bikes and trying to shed even more baggage weight. Even wearing most of our clothes and with our pockets stuffed full we think we're
still looking at excess baggage charges of about 200 dollars each - YIKES!
30th, flight day. We are finally heading to a country neither of us has been to before.
We check the bags in, holding the bikes on the scales whilst trying to take as much of their weight as possible, we're still way over the limit. Incredibly we get everything checked in without any excess charges and make our way through the metal detectors where neither of us sets anything off, that has got to be a first!
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