We’re on the ferry, crossing the Cook Strait. The loudspeaker comes on.
“Attention passengers, we’re preparing to dock. You may now proceed to the lower vehicle dick. Dick hands will alert you when it’s time to start your engines.”
Colleen and I both start cracking up. I know it’s 12-year-old humor, but I love it when people say deck here.
And we’re finally in the South Island! I’m real excited, this is the part with all the mountains. We roll off the ferry, and head around north around the coast from Picton on some hilly, traffic-free gravel, camp, go through Blenheim and onto the Acheron Road into Molesworth Station. It’s ferociously windy, full of sandflies, and very pretty. So excellent.
But first, a North Island wrap up.
After we walked the Tongariro Crossing, we headed south on the Old Coach Road, which is similar to the Timber Trail- very family friendly (or super sanitized, depending on how you want to look at it). Then we found a nice long stretch of gravel into Hunterville.
I purchased a BIG SIZE Baltika, Colleen tasted it. We both agreed that it’s the second worst beer in the world, but it was also BIG SIZE (first worst is Baltika Strong, not offered in BIG SIZE).
Then a long road ride into Palmerston North, and a really nice night with some people who are on Warmshowers. To Wellington the next morning in driving rain, with the worst headwind we’ve had so far- averaging seven miles an hour on flat pavement.
I screamed at the wind, like I usually do in those situations. As usual, it had no effect.
In Levin, we decided to try to catch a bus the last 40 miles into Wellington. The ticket lady told me bikes should be fine. The bus came.
“Going to Wellington? With those things?” said the driver, looking disgustedly at our bikes. “Nope. I don’t have the room.” He pointed at a mostly full luggage compartment. “Go back inside, get a refund or get them to put you on another bus.”
I went back inside, there was a different lady at the ticket desk. She called headquarters about our issue.
“So I’ve talked with them, they say that I you can book another ticket, but these are invalid.” She slid my ticket back across the table at me.
“Would I have to pay for another ticket?”
“Well yes, these are invalid.”
“But the driver refused to take us- that’s not my fault. He told me that’d you’d switch us to another bus.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“So I just need to keep buying new tickets until a driver decides he can take us?”
“Well…would you like me to call them again?” Jesus. Yes. I stood around next to the desk for a half hour, waiting for her to figure something out, no way that I was leaving without a new ticket or a refund. Finally, the original lady came back, straightened it out, and got us on another bus.
The second bus came.
“Going to Wellington? With those things?” said the driver, looking disgustedly at our bikes. “Nope. I don’t have the room.” He pointed at a mostly empty luggage compartment.
“Oh yes you do, they’ll fit,” Colleen and I said, talking over each other. We started jamming our bikes inside before he could argue.
“Oh yeah yeah mate, well hurry up. And it’s 20 dollars for those. Do you have 20 dollars on you?” He asked like he was really hoping that we wouldn’t. Colleen gave him the money, he frowned, then chucked our front wheels in and started to shut the compartment on me before I had Colleen’s bike inside. “It’s fine. Leave it. Hurry up mate.”
“Dammit, I know your schedule’s important but give me a second,” I said. He grunted, and gave me another 10 seconds before he started to shut the door on me again.
People in New Zealand are mostly super helpful, but apparently transit workers are universally grumpy bastards.
But it did save us almost a full day of nasty riding in heavy traffic. And gave our North Island ride some nice symmetry- we bailed about 40 miles short of both ends.
In Wellington, Colleen realized that getting an Airbnb room was cheaper than staying in a hostel (and free of drunk teenagers). We stayed with a couple guys who had a place perched on the side of the hill above town, huge windows that overlooked the bay and the city, and they were nice enough to invite us to dinner and share lots of wine. All we had to do in return was answer questions about our new president. It was a great evening.
Big Thumb. I saw a Chinese guy wearing a shirt that said in big block letters “COLLUSION. Life real. Tough start more.” They must like words as much as we like characters.
Wellington is Colleen’s favorite city. It is a nice little place- clean, quiet, full of good cafes. It’s also known for it’s terrible weather, which blows across the Cook Straight right up from Antarctica. On two of the days we were there, the wind almost knocked me down and slammed the door of a bagel store shut on my foot.
On the windy day, we went to the national museum, and walked through a history of New Zealand, which as I understand it, can be summarized in five sentences (as long as they’re run-on sentences with lots of asides that leave some important things out, but those are usually the kind I write). Unless I don’t. Anyway:
There were funny birds here. The Maori came from the mythical land of Haiwaiki (not to be confused with Hawaii) in real impressive big catamarans, killed lots of the funny birds, and cleared a lot of forest. Europeans came later (also in boats), killed the remaining funny birds, cleared the remaining forest, and now New Zealand has 13 percent more grass than the world average. Sheep are abundant, but today cows are also important. Bungee jumping, jet boats, helicopter tours, the end.
We spent another couple days in the city with another great Warshowers host (that site is the best), then got on the ferry in the rain.
While we were in the North Island, I spent lots of time looking at maps, but the best route I could figure out was about 80 percent pavement, lots of it with no shoulder and pretty heavy traffic. There were a couple good sections of dirt, but they weren’t frequent.
Every time we met another cyclist, they were real quick to start complaining about the riding (it would be really extra bad on a heavy road bike, at least we could ride into the ditch without crashing when a logging truck came by). One guy, who was a round-the-world type with China, India, Japan, the US, and Europe under his belt, even decided to bag his New Zealand ride and go somewhere else.
The best things we did on the North Island were eat mince pies, hang out in Rotorua (rafting, riding the Redwoods, observing the antics of the whitewater boat people), and walk the Tongariro Crossing.
So I’m glad we saw the North Island, it’s the business end of the country with most of the place’s history and people. But I’m also glad that we’re through it and on the South Island now.
Mostly, it really made me appreciate all the open space and public land we enjoy in the US.
Headed into Molesworth Station which is the biggest sheep and cattle range in the country. The headwind is intense, another one of those pinned down to seven miles an hour days. I get out of the saddle to keep myself moving across flat ground. But that’s the way it goes- the super cool, worthwhile mountain places aren’t usually pleasant. It is awesome up here- it looks like we’re way up at high elevation, but we’re only 3000 feet.
Sheep bleat loudly, I get off my bike and unhook the latch on a gate, a hawk flaps into the wind, can’t go forward. Colleen’s a little bit back- on real hard rides like this, it’s easier for both of us to just go our own pace then regroup at lunch.
We have some pepperoni at the station, and climb over Ward Pass to Isolated Flat, where the wind seems to double.
A bee is forced up my shorts, stings me twice, son of a bitch, I jump off my bike pull my shorts down and start slapping my ass. Colleen stares.
After we cross Isolated Saddle, 40 miles into the day, we finally turn out of the wind. Thank god. 22 more miles of easy, beautiful cruising down to the campsite at Acheron Accommodation House.
We roll over to the picnic table (it’s always a good day when you have a picnic table). But as soon as I start to unpack, the sandflies start swarming. Before I have all the bags off my bike, there’s a massive buzzing cloud of the black flies all over. I run around cursing, flailing my arms, and slapping while I throw up the tent, then dive inside.
Colleen is unfazed. “Sorry, I had to remove myself from the situation,” I say, clouds of bugs pitter pattering into the tent, sounds like it’s raining.
“Yeah, you were freaking the fuck out,” she says derisively, then lights the stove to boil rice. I’m glad she’s here. I would have just gone to bed without dinner.
Later, I perfect the technique of purging the tent of flies- use a pack of naan, and smear along the roof of the tent, massacring 30 to 40 bugs in a single swipe.
The next morning, the sandflies are just as bad. We pack up in a hurry with the usual arm waving and face slapping and get out of there. As soon as we’re away from the river, they seem to drop off.
Super steep descent into town, which overheats and locks up one of the pistons on my four-piston Hope E4s. I spend the rest of the day looking around town for DOT fluid, fiddling with the brake and trying to get it unstuck and working again. I think I have it fixed now- but I also wonder why the hell I took such a complicated brake on a five-month tour. Colleen’s mechanical BB7s and cheap Avid levers have been flawless for almost two years.
The large tube of grease was not used in the fixing of these brakes. Just so nobody thinks I’m a complete hack. Also, this improvised work stand would not be very good for shifting adjustments.
Today we’re taking the day off, repacking hubs and doing some other maintenance. Three months in, it’s about time.
Also, big mountains. Still real excited to be on this island. I might buy one of those dorky bug net head covering things though.