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Published: February 25th 2010
Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud
Steady rain one day meant I decided against cycling and holed up. There was a good coffee shop up the road and the next morning the rain had eased.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY "These kiwis seem a friendly lot, until they get behind the wheel of a car."
Ken, a Welsh cyclist met on the road near Murchison. He'd been cycling in NZ for eight days.
Current Location: Hokitika.
Distance Travelled: 3,775 kilometres.
Maximum Speed: 64.8 kilometres, somewhere in the Wairarapa cycling downhill and with a tail wind.
Longest Daily Ride: 162.1 kilometres from St Arnaud to Westport through the Buller Gorge.
Average Speed on Longest Day:20.3 kilometres per hour.
Average Speed Overall: 15.7 kilometres per hour.
Coping Just Fine, Thank You
I am constantly amazed at how much I am enjoying my own company. Don’t get me wrong - I miss home and certain people, especially my wife and my daughter. But gone are the sometimes intense feelings of loneliness I felt at times in the North island. Perhaps it's the simple fact that now I'm on the "tourist trail" I'm meeting lots of interesting people. But it's more than that - I'm feeling increasingly comfortable on my own. Take this evening as an example. I decided to treat myself; so instead of cooking over my little gas
Lake Rotoiti, St Arnaud
As well as the ducks, i discovered there was a rat. During the night, it crept into my strapped-up pannier and gnawed its way into a packet of freeze dried mince. I heard sounds during the night and investigated, but clearly not enough to chase the culprit away.
stove or in a campground kiitchen, I went into a place called “Stumpers” bar and café in Hokitika. I ate my way through the entire menu, along with a beer, a glass of red wine and a flat white to finish. And for company, all I had was a 35-year-old South Island guide book I'd bought for $12 in a second-hand bookshop. And I was perfectly happy.
Looking In From The Outside
I’ve often suspected I’m more comfortable on the edges of society looking in (people watching is a favourite pursuit), and this trip seems to be confirming it. Maybe it’s all those years in journalism where we report events rather than participate. Whatever it is, it seems to be suiting me well enough at the moment.
Friends Along The Way
That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed the company of some wonderful people in the past few days, as I’ve ridden from St Arnaud, in Nelson Lakes National Park, to Hokitika, here on the West Coast. Among them has been Keith, gold prospector, self proclaimed mayor of Goldsborough and professional clown (see pictures and separate story).
Then there was
Keith - "Mayor", miner and clown.
Keith turned up late one night at a DOC campsite at Goldsborough, scene of a once thriving gold town not far from Hokitika. I was tucked up with a book, when he called to me through the tent,"hello neighbour" and began explaining how he'd stopped to assist a family having trouble with their car. "New Zealand would be a cold place if we didn't help one another," he said. Keith's been visiting Goldsborough for decades - doing his own prospecting - and says that in the past people have jokingly referred to him as the "mayor". But he explained that in real life he is a professional clown and works with disadvantaged children in Hanover, in Germany. He met his German wife-to-be at Goldsborough when she was visiting New Zealand nearly four years ago. They've since married, and he'd come back to NZ to attend to some business and family matters, before returning. But he couldn't resist trying his hand at a little prospecting.
Lloyd and Janet from Nelson, who entertained me for two nights in Westport. Janet had family ties to.the old coal mining township of Denniston - long abandoned - and one day last week they made a pilgrimage to see what was left. But Denniston’s buildings have pretty much disappeared and they returned disappointed. I’ve also met a lovely Canadian cyclist, Louise, and a Scottish mountain guide who works in Europe but is spending his summer here, tramping above the bush line on tracks that barely exist.
Then There Are The Others
But there have also been the occasional people I would rather not have met. "Living on the road my friend was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron and your breath's as hard as kerosene" Townes Van Zandt - Poncho and Lefty
Two of them I call Poncho and Lefty. As I cycled into the crowded campground at Westport, I saw a small space suitable for my tent. But being good mannered, I parked the bike and went around behind a neighboring tent to say hello and check they wouldn’t mind me camping quite so
Keith With Gold Sluice.
Keith learned how to prospect as a young man, from a friend 30 years his senior. He's been looking for gold ever since and admits he's found enough to keep him interested, but not enough to make him rich. On this occasion, he'd arrived from another old gold mining town, Lyell, on the upper Buller Gorge. The sandflies had driven him out and so he was back to his favourite hunting ground at Goldsborough. He explained how his homemade gold sluice worked, and panned enough material to reveal a few flecks of gold. When I left him, he was headed for the river to begin his day's work in earnest.
close. Too late, I realized my mistake. The man hammering tent pegs looked like he’d stepped out of an old fashioned spaghetti western. He wore a leather cowboy hat tipped forward, he had a lean, mean face that several days growth couldn’t hide, and I guessed it had been some time since he’d stood under a shower. He was pleasant enough, and even handed me the rock he was using to bash in his tent pegs saying, “the ground’s hard, you’ll need this”. But all the same, I recognized trouble.
Poncho, The Head Honcho
Then his mate arrived. Poncho was a man of considerable girth - though most of it was hidden by what looked like an old horse blanket with a hole cut in the middle for his head. Hence Poncho. He glared at me but said nothing. I put my tent up and ignored them. But ignoring them became difficult later, when I made my second mistake. I decided to eat my takeaway sweet-and-sour pork in the camp's outdoor dining area, and sat down before I realised Poncho was in full flight to a Swedish couple.
It's Just A Matter Of
On a Saturday afternoon I cycled 14 kilometres looking for the heart of Westport. Eventually I found it, at the bowling club.
Poncho was explaining that Barack Obama wouldn’t get a second term as U.S. President because someone was going to assassinate him. I groaned inwardly. How often have we all heard this and what evidence did Poncho have other than history itself? Presidents make targets. Unfortunately, we all know this.
And What About John Key(s)?
Next he suggested it would be a good idea if someone bumped off our own Prime Minister, who he constantly referred to as John Keys, adding an “s“ on the end. By this stage, the Swedish couple were looking confused - something was being lost in translation here but they maintained their composure and at one stage appeared to be endorsing Poncho’s suggested fate for the PM.
Bring Back Helen
Next up came the revelation that New Zealand should, “bring back Helen. She was the best PM we’ve ever had.”
Leftie knew his place as a subordinate but even he couldn’t keep quiet now.
“That’s what we need,” he said. “A real man to run the country.”
Oh dear, how many times have we all heard the gender
Mickey And His Tour Bus
I lashed out $10 for a tour of the Stockton Mine, operated by Solid Energy - a state owned enterprise. The vehicle was an ex-Army Unimog. According to Mickey, the company owner and guide, the Unimog is high on maintenance but will go anywhere. Mickey's company "Outwest Tours" is contracted to Solid Energy. The $10 charge goes to the local rescue helicopter. Obviously Solid Energy figures there is enough public relations value in the tours to cover the cost of them.
jokes about Helen Clark? But Poncho was still in form.
“That Norman Kirk fella was alright. He died in office.” And then as I tried to concentrate on my sweet-and-sour, he looked directly at me and said, “and then there was that other guy, who died a while back?”
The upward inflexion at the end made it clear this was a question, and it was directed at me. I left it hanging in the air for as long as possible, but in the end he got the better of me.
“David Lange,” I mumbled, scrapping up the last of my food.
Poncho revealed he would "love' to go into politics and we received a diatribe about bringing up children. "If I was in politics, I'd make it law that parents had to teach kids to respect them. Then we wouldn't have all this teenage rebellion."
I didn't dare ask how parents could be made to "teach kids to respect them."
Only One Way To Go
I stood up and fled. When I passed by after cleaning my teeth, Lefty and the Swedish couple were nowhere to be seen but Poncho had
turned his attention to a young woman. I couldn’t see, but I sensed her eyes were glazed and she was willing her boyfriend to come to her rescue.
No wonder I enjoy my own company sometimes.
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