Cycling New Zealand Part 1: Sun doesn’t always shine

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Cycling New Zealand Part 1: Sun doesn’t always shine

Country: New Zealand

From Christchurch to Oamaru

Lesson learned: Water may be free in New Zealand, but not always easy to obtain

Laughed about: A village with three habitants

Most wonderful miracle: Hanne, Ramon and Isla

Greatest challenge: Headwinds, trailers and cold drizzle

Days on the bike: 4 ½

Kilometers cycled: 281.28

Average Kilometers per day: 64.73

Total Kilometers cycled till Oamaru: 17,106

Cycling New Zealand from Christchurch to Oamaru

The last nights at Casa Euston felt just like the first nights: we slept on out foam mats and hardly had any food left in the fridge. We spent the last few days fixing the bikes to perfection and buying plenty of dry foods. When the last piece of furniture was gone, we made three stacks of things: stuff we’ll take with us, stuff we want to keep but can’t bring and stuff that is still good but that we’ll give away to friends or charity.

Empty room in Christchurch

Looks just like on day one

On the day of departure, our friend Steve decided to accompany us out of town. We have had the pleasure of an escort in Turkey with Çihad and in Thailand with Ome and we were very happy.

It was noon when we finally left. Even though we got up so early. But it wouldn’t be an Annika and Roberto travel if everything had worked out by plan.

Casa Euston, our home sweet home for a year.

Casa Euston (in Euston Street), our home sweet home for a year. Alan made us a beautiful new key and told us that we were welcome at any time. 

The wind blew right from behind us and it was a beautiful and sunny day. At that city’s last traffic light, we hugged Steve goodbye and left Christchurch for good. We were sad for a little moment, but the excitement and the wind blew us straight out of town and into new adventures.

Lunch break on the stopping area of a bridge. Fortunately there was hardly any traffic

Lunch break on the stopping area of a bridge. Fortunately there was hardly any traffic

The cycling wasn’t hard at all and we rode surprisingly quickly. Soon the houses disappeared and for a moment we cycled through an industrial area, then there was nothing but farms and fields. The cows stared at us and the sheep bleated. I bleated back even louder. Life was good.

The West Coast Highway was busy and full with trucks, but soon we took a left turn and the traffic dropped to about one car per kilometer. At a help-yourself-street stand, we were granted the wish to mix our own bag with eggs, tomatoes, peaches and apples. Usually they only sell bags of 12 items.

Roberto taking a picture with his tripod

This is another reason why we move so slowly.

Later that afternoon we reached the village of Hororate, where we inspected the public picnic place. This would have made an excellent camping spot, but we didn’t want to waste the good wind, weather and daylight, so we continued. Few kilometers later we reached a road block, but the workers allowed us to cross, as long as we hurried up. And so we did. But cycling got harder and harder. My first intention was to check my tires and brakes. All functioning.

Vegetable and fruit stand on the side of the street

Here we got some fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs fresh from the farm.

There was no headwind either. So why did it just get so hard to cycle? I looked over to Roberto and saw him struggle and look down to his tires as well. We were covered in sweat when we got out of the road block, but yet we had to hurry on, because the sun wasn’t going to shine all evening.

At the T-junction we confirmed our theory: all this time we had been cycling slightly uphill towards the mountains, but there were no visible hills anywhere, so it looked flat. We took a right, because in the map there was a village after only one kilometer.

One out of three buildings in Windwhistle

One out of three buildings in Windwhistle. The yard turned into our camping ground for the night.

When we reached Windwhistle, we realized that there were barely three buildings in town: a school, a gas station (closed) and a private house. We knocked the house’s door and Michelle and Mike allowed us to pith the tent in their garden. Mike worked in the road block and Michelle was an artist. Their son attended the school in another village. Windwhistle’s school and gas station were run by people from neighboring villages.

Cycling the Rakia Gorge

View into the Rakia Gorge

By the following morning we rolled down into the Rakaia gorge. The river’s water was bright blue and the flow fast. Mike had already warned us about the climb after the gorge: “Most cyclists I see push their bikes up”. I made it with six stops and in the easiest gear. Pushing all that weight is even harder than biking it.

Rakia Gorge

Hills are fair. Whatever you ride up, you’ll ride down again. Wind however, doesn’t push you forward for three days after you’ve had headwinds for three days.

From here on it was mostly flat with some slight downhills. To our left and right there were fields, fences and every now and then a house with a colorful letterbox and a driveway that seemed endless. In Staveley we stopped for water. In a local shop there were several jugs filled with delicious tap water. We politely asked permission to fill some of our bottles in the bathroom, but were denied less politely.

Beautiful Rakia river shines so blue

Beautiful Rakia river shines so blue

If we bought something we could get water. Well, the shop was highly overpriced and we honestly thought that quite unfair. Water is free of charge in New Zealand. And these were not times of a drought. The owner told us that we wouldn’t believe how many people came every day just asking for water. So what? And if he gave them all their water, he would not lose one cent. Not once had this happened to us during the entire travel from Germany till here. In fact, in Iran for example, where water was in fact precious in some area, many drivers stopped their car just to make sure we – some complete strangers – had still got water enough.

Even faster cyclists sometimes offered us of their precious water, and we started to do the same with hikers, runners and other cyclists.

Merino Sheep

There are more sheep than people in New Zealand. This one provides us with Merino Wool!

In Germany and Austria, when we could not find any public restaurant or bar, we even asked in private houses twice and in a home for the elderly once. And we were always granted tap water. The grass outside was moist and green, the flowers freshly watered and I am sure that this guy has made quite some extra money by making people buy things they never wanted or needed. But not on our watch! We decided not to support this rip off and biked on till the next village where there was a free public water fountain. This evening we passed a field with several campervans and motorhomes on it.

Another view down into the Rakia Gorge

Another view down into the Rakia Gorge

Just out of curiosity we came closer and by the moment we had entered, the clouds opened up and we found ourselves right inside a heavy rain. We could we pitched our little tent as fast as we could, when the van door next to us opened and two heads looked out. “Come on in here, it’s warm and dry!” We made sure all our belongings were inside the apsis before we followed Sophie and Warren from England into their cozy rental van. They decided to let go of their jobs so they could travel. And here they were.

The world's biggest Jersey can be found in Geraldine

The world’s biggest Jersey can be found in Geraldine

The wind direction hadn’t changed too much since the day we left, but our direction had. We had cycled a semicircle in order to avoid the busiest part of Highway 1. No now we had the cold wind blowing the heavy rain right into our faces. There was nothing much we could do, other than cycle on and get warm. When we reached Geraldine, the rain stopped, but the wind went on. Geraldine is one of these little but quite touristy towns. There were some cafés and a bakery and a shop that had produced the world’s biggest jersey. The South Island had many of these towns. Geraldine in particular reminded me somewhat of the Australian town Bruthen. Situated on a crossroad between some scenic highways and so small that in summertime there were arguably more tourists strolling the streets, than locals. We were drenched and had seen Geraldine on a previous visit, so we just stopped briefly.

The world's biggest jersey in Geraldine

And this is it.

The wind increased and I had to hold the handlebar tight every time a truck flashed past. Eventually we had to take a right turn back onto the busy Highway 1, but the worst traffic was around Christchurch, particularly on the long bridges without shoulder. The difficulty was not the amount of traffic, but the drivers’ behavior. Some drivers pulled trailers but failed to realize, that the width of the trailer was much bigger than the width of their little car. So if they gave us a meter or so of space, their trailer would still nearly knock us out of the saddles. It was particularly bad in left curves. Surprisingly it made no difference if the trailer was full of bicycles.

Mount Hutt Skiing Area sign

On the way to Charleston we passed the exit to a big skiing area. Looks a bit flat for skiing, but the New Zealand landscape changes quickly

The truck drivers were well aware of the size, speed and behavior of their trailers. But they are so wide, that when there is much traffic they can’t really make much space and they come far too fast to slow down on our speed. I ended up startled and several times saw the bushes or the grass as my only escape. On the bright side: no annoying honks or yells.

In Timaru we met with Ramon, his Finnish wife Hanne and their four months old daughter Isla. Back in 2012 they had cycled through Asia from Turkey to Thailand and even though they had been a few months ahead of us, we had many friends in common. Hanne and Ramon had prepared a feast like none other. Two friends and their toddler came to help with the eating and it was so delicious that I still sat there chewing when the others were already preparing the desserts.

Trout Fishing

Roberto’s first attempt of trout fishing

We had such a good time with Ramon and Hanne that we decided for a rest day and joined them to Lake Tekapo, where Ramon showed us the basics to trout fishing. It was a beautiful sunny day and as so often we couldn’t quite get ready and took a second day off. But the weather turned into a cold, grey and windy day. Hanne started the heat pump (little babies are a great excuse for a cuddly warm home) and baked apples with cinnamon and raisins. Soon the entire house smelled like Christmas. It was March.

Hanne, Isla and Ramon

Hanne, Isla and Ramon

So there we sat, watching the wind in the branches of the trees outside, sipping hot tea and chatting about good times in Central Asia. Suddenly I felt so wintery that I never ever wanted to leave this oasis of warmth and coziness. Nevertheless we got back on the bikes by the following day. The weather had not improved over night and even though we spent all morning chatting, playing with Isla and eating, it was still drizzly, windy and cold when we left around noon. The wind had increased and turned into a straight headwind. In a snail’s pace I fought for every single meter. My legs felt like wobbly jelly.

Sweet little Isla

Sweet little Isla

The grey clouds made the landscape look just as grey, the sheep quit responding my bleating and some of the drivers really did not care the least little bit for us. I wanted to yell at all of them, including the sheep. But I didn’t, because I needed all my strength to pedal forward. What a stupid idea to start a bike travel in fall. We should have just spent another winter in Christchurch and left in late spring. What had we been thinking?

View down from the Tekapo Observation Point.

View down from the Tekapo Observation Point. They say that the Lake Tekapo is the second best star gazing area in the world. We pretty much enjoyed the daylight view as well.

My mood got darker and darker. I ate all my frustrations and converted them into muscle power. Makes quite a good energy resource. And very badly needed. Stupid wind. One pedal rotation. Stupid rain. Another rotation. Stupid boring landscape, stupid sheep that didn’t answer my bleating, stupid cold and stupid traffic.

Annika was grumpy

Grumpikka didn’t want to move one step further.

Just before sunset we reached Glenavy, the village just before the big bridge over the Waitaki River. We have had our share of bridges for today. The problem is that there is little shoulder on New Zealand roads, but on bridges there usually isn’t any at all. But there still is plenty of traffic. So our only option was usually to stop, wait until there was no more traffic and then to sprint over the bridge as fast as the legs could spin, hoping that the coming cars would recognize our effort and stay behind us until the bridge was over. I would not have my legs suffer an even longer bridge today. No way. I was done for today.

Rafa and Lena

Visitors at the Glenavy Motor Camp!

The Glenavy Waitaki River Motor Camp came along just at the right time. I had my concerns, usually motor camps are quite expensive places, but this one was an exception. Anne, the owner, showed us around her perfectly clean and comfortable park. There were hot showers, a kitchen with door and stove, toaster and water boiler and it was nice and green. Anne sends us over to the smaller toilet block, because this was a quiet area with hardly any wind. That woman really knows what we needed.

Later that evening, our Mexican friend Rafa and his friend Lena came to visit us. We had met Rafa back in Melbourne, he was friends with Andrea, but now moved to New Zealand for a Working Holiday. His friend Lena was from Germany and his workmate. So we ate, sipped beer and tea and chatted until visitor’s time was over at 10pm.

45 Degrees South! This is the middle point between the Equator and the South Pole!

Passed through the middle point between the Equator and the South Pole!

The following day started just as windy as the last one. Somehow my memory of this whole bike travel thing had been far rosier than this. We managed to cross the bridge safely but I had to stop and sort out my legs. It was a hard fight: me versus wind, rain and cold. Somehow Roberto didn’t mind all too much. But we often get that, if one of us suffers the other one automatically seems to get into a supporting and positive position. But Roberto knew that the only safe solution in this situation was, to completely leave me in peace and just listen to my whiney wails. And that’s precisely what he did all day. Poor Roberto. In Oamaru my little winter crisis reached its climax. The only thing that helped any better that whining is chocolate. But we were so cold and wet that I figured, a hot soup and some sweet-sour pork would work even better.

45 Degrees South

And just minutes later the rain was back. New Zealand climate is crazy

So there he sat, listening to my complaints, tapping my knee, holding my hand, trying to be supportive. “Wait until we get onto the A2O! Things will get much better, I am sure about that!” The Alps to Ocean bike trail, also known as A2O, was going to be one of the highlight of our travel. It started in Mount Cook and went all the way down to Oamaru. But we had planned to cycle it the other way round. “Just look at these pictures!”, he held the brochure right under my nose. I was not quite 100% convinced yet, but I did get back on my bike. A2O here we come.


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