Steve Wesson and I met on the internet, through our respective blogs, and discovered we were doing the same (or similar) route through NZ. He set off a couple of weeks after me, set himself the challenge of doing the most direct route in the shortest time possible, and hoped to catch me in Bluff before I flew out.
Well to cut a long story short, Steve did have a few challenges on the way, didn’t manage to complete the whole distance, but still did cover a huge mileage in the time. For him it will forever be a bit of unfinished business. But it was good to meet up, share the ride back to Invercargill, and sit down over a leisurely lunch. And thank you Steve for the generous donation to The Children InSyria Appeal!
Now that I have a full keyboard, this could be a 10,000 word diatribe on why we need to do more for the situation in Syria…..but I rest my case.
I am, however, in the mood for a fulsome rant! After yesterday’s debacle of a mere 90km route (just a normal day at the office) in excessive heat and a crossing of Burke’s Pass 709 metres (2200 ft), I fully anticipated that Mother Nature would reward me with a cool breeze at my back for my climb to Mt Cook Village. Well I’m afraid Mother Nature has a thoroughly evil side to her personality.
The first 50km were a ‘breeze’. Fast pace, little effort and a quick time to get to a junction
for the turn-off to Mt Cook. I discovered at the Visitor Centre at the junction that there was no drinking water, and there wouldn’t be for another 35km. That is 85km (53 miles) across mid-alpine wilderness without being able to replenish the water bottles…..mmnnn
The moment I turned NW to follow the great valley up to Mt Cook, I immediately felt the impact of something in my face…….a 30-40kph
(20-30mph) wind that was going to stay with me for the duration. The climb to Mt Cook could be a very gentle (but long) rise to 700 metres. For 55km (35 miles) I was completely at the mercy of this head wind that was so strong that it brought me to a halt several times. When you even have to pedal hard to go downhill just to achieve 15kph, you know you are in trouble. And I knew I was in trouble. 55km would normally take me no more than 2 hours…….today it was over 4 hours. I screamed to the elements, but Mother Nature was not listening………I have decided from now on to be her stroppiest teenager, and throw tantrums at the mere suggestion of not getting my own way in the future.
So, rant out of the way, having reached Mt Cook Village, and having been enchanted by the vast open scenery on the way up the valley, I am now slowly falling back in love with New Zealand. I decided not to camp out tonight (because of extreme weather patterns) but everywhere seemed to be fully booked……all except an Alpine Club Hostel, a beautiful wooden-framed building with stunning views of the mighty Mt Cook. Instead of happy campers and motor-homers, tonight I will be surrounded by crampon shod,
ice axe-wielding rock climbers and mountaineers who do serious things up and down glaciers. I should fit in well.
While I have your attention, a little anecdotal story: in Wellington I decided to replace my seat-post bolt (after 20 years service it was showing worrying signs of wear) so I went into a Giant cycle shop, only to be greeted by a broad Staffordshire accent saying:”Wow, a genuine Raleigh Apex in NZ. You probably bought it about 20 years ago, made of steel and sporting the (then) revolutionary Girvin Flexstem……..”. I realised immediately I had someone on my side, someone who liked his bikes and had fond memories of well-built bikes of yesteryear. He simply stood there admiring it until…….I told him why I’d come into his shop.
Nice encounter though.
And still while I have your attention: I never realised so many Kiwis were so UK oriented. They know far more about the royal family than I do (which doesn’t say much) and they can quote names, places and events with an uncanny ease. When someone asked me if I followed “Corry”, my silence gave me away completely. What on earth is “Corry” I asked. “Coronation St, of course!”. I quickly realised that some Kiwis follow these soaps thinking they are a genuine reflection of the British way of life. I wonder what Mancunians think of that?
All going well (with Mother Nature’s consent, of course) the NW wind will continue blowing, and will blow me all the way back down the valley. I await with bated breath!
Please support the Children in Syria in their desperate plight: www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1
Hot, hot, hot…..how can it be this hot in February? 30+C…..hottest day of the ride do far. I was too complacent this morning, chatting to everyone as they passed at breakfast. I paid the price for a 10am start. My 90km ride to Lake Tekapo should have been relatively straightforward, but the heat kicked in early……and there were mountains to climb.
The roads seemed to broaden out….but that was the effect of less traffic.
I was soon stripping off layers….
Then I entered deeply onto Mackenzie country, only to discover that Mackenzie had not been a Governor General of NZ but had been a mere sheep rustler!
In Fairlie, taking a break from the appalling heat, my siesta was disturbed by the Mackenzie Marching Pipe Band, rehearsing for an upcoming competition in Timaru. The south part of S Island is a bit of Scotland in exile.
And as I finger-type this on my little phone, this is the view I have of Lake Tekapo.
With a favourable wind and cooler temperatures, tomorrow I will climb the 103km to the village of Mt Cook, which cowers beneath the 3750mt summit of the highest mountain in NZ. Wish me luck!
Or simply support the Children in Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1
And a note to Steve: where are you? We need to GPS each other!
120km across the flat lands of Mackenzie country brought me to the foothills of the Southern Alps, with the mighty Mt Cook in the background.
South Island has fewer than a million inhabitants, so the roads are delightfully quieter.
This means the distances between feeding stations are ever greater, but this slab of hummingbird cake put a few miles back into the legs!
This roadside fruit stall waylaid me….couldn!t resist the apricots from Otago.
And when I checked in at the Kiwi Holiday Park in Geraldine, Lindsay (the warden) kindly donated the cost of my pitch. Yet another example of Kiwi kindness.
Significant donation today: a lady called Stacey approached me in a service station and contributed $20.
I am touched by people’s trust and their spontaneity.
Please donate to the Children of Syria: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1
Footnote: Steve Wesson has begun the chase from Cape Reinga. We hope to shake hands and have a beer or three at Bluff……..but he needs to get on his bike and pound the tarmac. I’m about 1500km ahead of him. See you in Antarctica, Steve!
Follow his irreverent blog here. You will be amused! http://www.grumpyoldmenonbikes.blogspot.com
Two years on from the earthquake that all but detroyed the whole city, I wondered what I was about to discover. A depressed city that had lost its way? Or a community that was “digging” itself out of the depths and restoring its own former glory?
Through the eyes of one of its residents, I was to learn that some amazingly imaginitive solutions were being found for the problems. I met Jo Anne in Kaitaia, up in Northland, minutes after I had set off from the airstrip to find my first hostel. She, along with her friend Kim, were having time together with their respective special needs children. They both made the first Kiwi donations to the Children in Syria Appeal as I was standing in line for a Subway sandwich. Jo Anne said she lived in Christchurch, and offered accommodation when I got down there.
A tour of the city centre revealed a huge amount of devastation. Many buildings and tower blocks had been razed to the ground, and many others were awaiting a similar fate. But amidst all the destruction, imaginitive methods of regeneration were strongly in evidence. Ship containers can be seen everywhere, shoring up crumbling cliff sides as well as providing temporary accommodation for many businesses.
A whole shopping mall has been generated from ship containers, all artfully structured and painted, windows and facilities installed…..in fact you could be forgiven for thinking you were entering a concept precinct that had been designed by eminent architects.
The people of Christchurch are evidently still very proud of their city, the most English of all the cities in NZ, and one day the restoration itself will be a huge draw to visitors, like the art-decco style of the once destroyed Napier on North Island.
Now a little eavesdrop on conversations I’ve had with fellow cyclists. Whenever I meet a fellow cyclist on the road or at a campsite, I am inevitably met with the observation: “Heck, you are travelling light. How do you do it?”. I usually reply: “Oh it’s quite easy, I just leave a lot of stuff at home”. Not satisfied, some of them continue: “Well I’ve been doing this for years, trying to cut down on the weight I carry, but I could never get by on that small amount. How do you manage it?” “Oh simple
really, I just leave a lot of stuff at home………”. At a campsite, after one such conversation, the cyclist in question told me the next morning that he had thrown half the contents of one pannier in the bin……. Strangely, he didn’t seem saddened by the radical action. In fact there was a hint that a weight had been taken from his shoulders!
Funny thing is, others think I travel light, but when I’m climbing over mountains I am always convinced I could shed a few more grams.
My route tomorrow was to take me over Arthur’s Pass, a long labourious crossing of the Southern Alps, heading in a NW direction. With the forecast predicting that a front will be coming in from the NW and dumping a lot of rain on the west of the island, I have decided to head across Mackenzie country (flat and fen-like), then head into the mountains towards Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook (and hopefully stay in the dry a few more days).
Make a donation: www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1
A fair wind, a cool but sunny day, and a coastal road that hugged the rocky fringes of the Pacific, all heralded the prospect of making up the deficit of yesterday.
Bay after bay, azure blue merged into emerald green, as the road weaved its way round rugged headlands opening up new vistas at every turn.
If you look carefully at this scene, you will detect that the black forms are seals. Colonies of parents caring for their young pups. This went on for miles. No wonder the first British colonists along this coast were the sealers in the 19th century.
A still morning turned into a windy afternoon, but this time it was in my favour. From Ward, I passed through Kaikoura (the whale-watching capital of NZ) and on to Cheviot, where I found a pitch for my tent for $15. 160km (100m): more than my anticipated daily mileage, but wind-assisted this time.
Donations today: 2 Geology students on a field trip gave $5 each, and an English couple, touring NZ on a motorbike, pulled over on the shoulder and made a generous donation.
I estimate I’ve collected nearly $600 so far from spontaneous donations.
Donations to: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1
The way I felt at that moment, I simply had to agree with them. “How far is it to my destination? I ask them. No, don’t tell me it’s another 5km, please!”. Well it was. But what I discovered is this: Kiwis, as blunt as they are, secretly admire some types of stupidity. For some reason, these people thought my stupidty was worth supporting and donated $25 to the fund.
The generous couple who offered me a bed for the night (in a railway carriage in their back garden!), took me to a BBQ with some friends and donated an astonishing sum to the charity. Richard and Sally taught me much about selfless kindness, and I was educated a little about New Zealand dairy farming.
Yesterday, as I sped towards my campsite, a car pulled over to the side in front of me, and a lady got out and indicated that I should stop. The reward for stopping was $30 being thrust in my hand, with the straightforward comment “Good on you”. She climbed back in the car and left.
In the campsite that evening, I fell into conversation with a delightful couple, Barry and Joy who, when they discovered I had yet to shop for my evening meal, spontaneously invited me to join them. I spent the most enjoyable evening learning about their background with the Salvation Army.
The approach to Wellington was greeted with, not only the first rain of the journey, but a veritable downpour. I eventually arrived at the Head Office of Save the Children NZ, welcomed with open arms, introduced to all the staff, told a little about their work (especially in the Pacific Islands), and given a gift of 62% Whittaker’s chocolate (my favourite) to see me on my way.
But perhaps the key event of the whole journey to date has been my visit to Kimbolton NZ. It has ancient historical connections with my own Village of Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire, and I was keen to get there and meet some of the residents. Linda Cambell, Head of Kimbolton Primary School, arranged a small welcoming party, and we had coffee and cakes in the local cafe, Hansens, before a tour of the school and the rest of the village. I was delighted to be able to present a letter of greeting from our own Parish Council and a short history of the village. This could lead to further contacts between the two communities. There is certainly a sense of shared identity.
I have now completed the first leg of a three leg journey, totalled some 1400km, and now await the ferry crossing across Cook Strait to be met by the President of Save the Children NZ, and be whisked off in their boat to their holiday home, where I will spend my first night on South Island. Bluff, here we come!!
Donate to the children of Syria: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1