And So To The South Island

28&29/1/16. After a morning mooching around Wellington we made our way to the ferry terminal to cross the Cook Strait to the South Island – by going west!

With Christine not being the best of travellers (difficult to believe huh?) she dosed herself up on seasick pills and put on sea bands in anticipation of a rough passage given the reputation of the strait for being windy. These precautionary measures were very wise as, although the waves did not not look large, the ship did go up and down a fair bit! So much so that she even ended up laying on the floor between rows of seats with her eyes tightly shut (something she has found to be effective previously). As a result she was fine, if a little sleepy, when we moved into the shelter of Queen Charlotte Sound on the other side.

The trip up the sound to Picton was spectacular. We could certainly see the attractions of spending time travelling round this area although it is probably better by boat or, perhaps, car than bike.

Arriving in Picton we made our way to the home of our Warmshowers hosts, Val and Don, who made us extremely welcome with a glass or two of wine and a lovely meal, a substantial proportion of which was grown in their garden (a subject close to our hearts, of course). We had a great time swapping tales of cycling holidays over the years and them giving us tips and advice for our trip over to the west coast. Heartfelt thanks to both of them!

In the morning we faced a trip along SH1 with some trepidation but we wre also hopeful that we were heading south between ferry landings and so avoiding the worst of the ?,traffic.Our pessimism was unfounded thankfully as the traffic was generally light, albeit not hanging around, and (even better) after the initial climb out of Picton wonderfully flat along the valley between steep sided hills. We positively raced along (in our own terms) and completed the 30 km to Blenheim in time to check into the campsite and sort ourselves out before lunch.

We are in the middle of the Marlborough region which is apparently the source of 75% of the country’s wine and we saw many vineyards on the way into town. The view of the town from SH1 is not very inspiring but if you move even a street away from the highway it is much more appealing.

We are heading out into the middle of nowhere for the next few days as we head over towards Greymouth on the west coast so we are likely to be “off grid”. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from us – this is a civilised and safe country!

A Capital Place

26&27/1/16. With the train scheduled to leave at 6.15 a.m. and having to pack up camp, we obviously needed to be up early. Christine set the alarm for 4.15. As a result we were at the station a full 45 minutes before departure time! We did not miss the train.

The railway followed Highway 1 for much of the route into Wellington and, although initially it did not look too horrendous, the nearer to the city we went the worse it became. It was definitely the right decision to take the train. And we also enjoyed some pretty stupendous views of the coast, having been advised to sit on the right hand side of the train.

We made our way to the youth hostel, there bring no campsites in the middle of the city, and checked in. Not surprisingly the room was not available at 9.00 a.m so we left the bikes and the rest of the luggage in locked areas/rooms in the hostel before going for a spot of breakfast – only 5 hours after we got up!

With Christine suffering from the lack of sleep (she needs at least 8 hours at the best of times and more like 10 or 11 hours when physically active to avoid migraines and associated general crankiness) we decided to split up until the room was free at 2 o’clock. This meant that Christine could find somewhere to sit quietly and Stephen could join the free walking tour offered by the YHA.

One of the pearls of wisdom from the guide was that Wellington is the most southerly capital in the world. It is on a similar latitude to that of Rome!

When we met up again it was only briefly to move the luggage into the room and Christine into bed so she could get a couple of hours’ serious shuteye. Stephen went for another walk, this time up Mount Victoria, and enjoyed the 360° view of the city and its environs. The photo is testament to his lack of photographic skills!

These two separations, split by maybe 15 minutes together, meant that we had upwards of 6 hours apart – the most time we have spent out of each other’s company since we left the UK!

Today (Wednesday) we woke to rain, the first since the downpour on the way into Whanganui, more than a week ago. This only encouraged a leisurely approach to the day (it doesn’t take much!) so we had a late breakfast before hitting Te Papa (the NZ national museum) which is very impressive (especially as most parts are free!) and within spitting distance of the hostel. It was then back to our favourite cafe (where we had breakfasted both days) for a light lunch followed by a siesta (for Christine) and online catch up (for Stephen) before heading out for a wander along the harbour, a light dinner and an early night.

It’s a hard life!

Not.

Passing Time in Palmy

23-25/1/16. We have stopped in Palmerston North, one of the larger cities in NZ, for a few days – partly because Christine was due a “pill day” but mainly because we have decided to catch the train into Wellington. This was based on all the advice we were receiving that the last stretch into the capital was boring, hilly and dangerous (because it would be mainly on a very busy part of SH1). The reason for the delay is that there are very few trains between the two cities – once a day, at 6.15 a.m.(!) Monday to Friday (but not this Monday because it’s a public holiday), or three times a week at 4.10 p.m. when the Auckland-Wellington “express” goes through – so only 8 trains per week!

Palmerston North is not on most tourists’ agenda because (to be perfectly frank) there isn’t much to see here! John Cleese is alleged to have said “If you ever want to kill yourself but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick”. The city took some exception to this and apparently named the local rubbish dump after him!!

However, we like the place – or, at the very least, can see the attraction as a place to live.  It has a gentle pace of life with a large shopping area. The streets are wide giving a really spacious feel and plenty of room for cycle lanes on many of them.  Also it is pan flat which tempts a lot of people out on their bikes. Other things that we have done/enjoyed here:-

  1. Christine went to church where the service was held in the church hall because of concerns about how earthquake proof the church itself was.
  2. The lady (Leonie) she sat next to very kindly invited us to lunch and we had an extremely pleasant time talking about her cycle trips with her late husband and where we were headed.
  3. Right next to the campsite is an enormous park where there were 5 cricket matches taking place on Saturday.
  4. In the park there was a game of “football” played by people wearing huge plastic bubbles (photo to br uploaded). It was hilarious to watch as they bumped into each other and fell over. Stephen had difficulty restraining Christine from joining in. Or was it the other way round?
  5. There is a beautiful rose garden with trial beds – similar to the RHS at Wisley but bigger!
  6. There is a lovely walk along the Manawatu river right by the campsite on the edge of the city.
  7. There is a lagoon which is an oxbow lake formed by the river with some VERY NICE houses looking over it.
  8. In the centre of the city there is a very pleasant square 7 hectares in size which is very nice for walking across and sitting in but is a bit of a pain for navigating around, even by foot.
  9. The big attraction of the city is the Rugby Museum which we did not visit because of the $20 entry fee being cheapskate accountants on a budget. The guide book says it is good.

A few words on our trip to Palmy.  After our “cattle rustling” on Friday evening we got a very good night’s sleep before setting off on the relatively short (30 km) trip. The first 10km were along the quite busy and narrow road that we had used the previous evening but we soon descended towards Feilding (that is the correct spelling – honest!) which claims to be NZ’s prettiest town. We only went around the edge so we cannot confirm the validity of this claim.  We then took a couple of quiet roads that ran parallel to the railway line and busier roads through Bunnythorpe and past the airport into Palmerston itself.

We Become Cowherds

22/1/16. If we ever have to go back to work (heaven forbid) then we have found ourselves a new profession. Forget this boring accountancy malarkey where you just add up numbers all day (not true but makes a good story!). We will become cowherds!

“Why?” I hear you ask. While sat in our room (we treated ourselves to a very nice B&B in Halcombe (near Feilding which is, in turn, near Palmerston North)) Christine saw two cows run across the lawn. They belonged to our hosts and had escaped. The four of us spent 15 minutes encouraging them to go back to their field rather than munch on the plants in the garden or escape onto the road. It was all rather good fun and was a bit different from pushing the pedals!

With Stephen’s bike now back in working order, we were back on the road again. Having cleaned the guano off the tent (the tree above seemed to be the local bird toilet!), we set off along a cycle track beside the river for a short stretch before joining SH3 heading south east. The highway was as busy as SH1 had been a week or so ago when we went from Taupo to Turangi, which is to say it was not completely insane but enough to be thoroughly unpleasant. We had 20 km on this road for most of which there was a reasonable shoulder in which we could cower as the trucks raced past.

There were a few hills on the way but nothing like as bad as we had encountered elsewhere and the cycling was made easier by a strong tailwind. We had been told that the countryside between Whanganui and Wellington was boring and uninspiring but we found it quite pleasant – perhaps not as spectacular as across the Tongariro national park or down the river road, but still interesting and good to look at.

Eventually we reached our turn off in the village of Turakina which was publicising its forthcoming Highland Games by flying many saltires. There was an antique shop with a sign for coffee so we stopped at a cafe as Stephen needed a fix of caffeine and Christine needed cake as she was still feeling a little under the weather after a sniffly cough and cold over the last two days. We were feeding her “little and often” to avoid her getting a common affliction of cyclists where they run out of energy – a condition known variously as “the hunger knock”, “meeting the man with the hammer” or “bonking” (seriously!)

The road we turned onto wasn’t as quiet as we had hoped but was much better than the highway. Much of it was beside the railway line and we saw quite a few freight trains but no passenger ones. It led through Marton, a sizeable place, where we rejoined SH1 briefly (not as busy as 3 thankfully) before heading off on the Halcombe road and our date with the cows!