We begin the New Zealand (and final) leg of our trip well rested after a fantastic month in Australia. Highlights included Melbourne (simply a wonderful city), sunset at Uluru, sunrise on Fraser Island, swimming with the fishes on the Great Barrier Reef and watching the spectacular NYE fireworks in Sydney. I won't go into any further detail about 'Oz', since we treated it as a 'break' from our cycle trip, but there are around 250 photos in the gallery if you want to share some of the wonderful sights that we were fortunate enough to experience.
It was a short flight from Sydney to Christchurch, where we enjoyed spending several days with our friend Biffy (with whom we had stayed way back in March, in Basel, Switzerland). The city itself is still recovering from the devastating earthquakes of 2011 and the central area is an eerily quiet place to wander around: the cathedral awaits demolition and surrounding office blocks and hotels all vacant. That said, the botanic gardens, parks and museum were interesting places to while away a day.
By the time we finally set off from Christchurch on our bikes, the sun was shining and we had big smiles on our faces. It was fantastic to be back on the road again and we were relishing all that New Zealand would have to offer. It didn't take long before the realising that New Zealand has a climate that brings with it a degree of unpredictability! Shortly after lunch, the sky had turned an ominous shade of grey. Waterproofs were donned, the 'heavens opened' and we plodded on with increasingly squishy shoes! When we finally found a suitable rest area to make camp for our first night (near the Rakaia Gorge) we jumped off the bikes and sheltered under a large pine tree, waiting for the rain to abate. I think it was an hour and a half later when it had eased enough for us to erect the tent and chuck our belongings and ourselves into the dry, cramped space. We read, dozed and ate left over pasta bake for dinner!
It took a while for the tent to dry out the following morning, and it was past 10am before we had loaded up the bikes and were on our way once again. The clouds gradually dispersed and we were treated to a gloriously sunny day. Mid morning, we met a young family who were just beginning their own year-long cycle tour on a tandem bike with two toddlers being pulled behind in a trailer! Their trip was going to include: New Zealand, Europe, Canada and USA. We've met many people who have been quick to use their young children as a 'valid' reason for not venturing out on adventures themselves, so it was refreshing to meet a family who weren't going to let irregular sleep and feeding times and endless nappy changes get in their way!
The remainder of the day passed blissfully: epic landscapes of rolling hills, statuesque mountains, vast plains, multicoloured wildflowers, turquoise lakes and thousands upon thousands of sheep meant that the cycling was never a chore. We had no trouble finding another rest area to camp for the night, a few kilometres outside of Geraldine, where we washed, cooked dinner and enjoyed another peaceful night in the wilderness!
We had been warned that New Zealand would be expensive (relative to many of the other countries that we'd visited), but have so far had no problems staying within budget. Wild camping has been very easy to come by and as we prefer to prepare our own meals, costs are kept low. Hotel accommodation on the other hand is very expensive and many of the 'touristy' activities are pretty pricey too but, fortunately neither of those feature regularly on our agenda.
As I write this section, I am lazing a graceful pine tree, with the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki to my right, shimmering in the sunlight. Mt. Cook is sitting proudly at the northern end of the lake. Covered in snow, it is the highest mountain in Australaisa standing 3,750m above sea level. Whenever I look up at it, I can't quite comprehend that when clambering over the highest peaks on the Tibetan plateau, we were cycling over 1km above the peak of this mountain!
We have allowed ourselves almost 3 months to enjoy cycling around New Zealand and for this reason, our days are less 'intense' than in previous countries. Daily targets are lower (we are trying to keep to around 80km per day) and, as the sun doesn't set until way after 9pm, we have plenty of daylight to get from 'A' to 'B'! There is always time to simply stop and enjoy the surroundings!
As I mentioned above, the scenery is simply stunning! Ash and I have (jokingly) commented that we needn't have bothered going to Central Asia or Tibetan China as the landscapes here are equally impressive...and there's less risk of catching some exotic illness! Wild flowers don't just line the road, they extend into the landscape in vast swathes of blues, mauves, purples, whites and yellows. Lupins, foxgloves, clover, yarrow and mullein provide the vibrant colours, whilst tussocks of grasses in greens, browns and ochres compliment the scene...drawing the eye out to a snow-capped mountain range, lake or forest. Every minute of every day so far has been epic, we've even been able to pick the leaves of wild oregano to flavour our evening meals!
As fantastic as the first week in New Zealand has been, there has been one factor that has been at best irritating and at worst has made me want to tear my hair out with frustrated rage! The cause of this annoyance...sand flies! They are complete sadistic, blood-thirsty, ravenous bastards! The further south we've headed, the problem has got worse. From late afternoon the little silent assassins make it their sole mission to bite and suck blood! Unlike Mosquitos, which seem to concentrate on lower limbs, sand flies will bite anywhere: face, hands, arms, scalp. Their bites really itch and they commonly draw blood too! It has been a major drawback to camping and even though we apply insect repellant liberally, they still manage to find that one bit of exposed flesh that got missed! They are pretty intelligent little buggers too...loitering around the entrance to the tent so that when we get into it, they simply fly in and join us. Apparently not even New Zealand is perfect!
We are currently resting in a DOC campsite 10km from Queenstown on lake Wakitapa. The Department of Conservation has a wonderful network of campsites across the country which offer basic facilities for those of us wanting to stay in more rural locations (prices range from FREE to $7 per person). The facilities are often very basic (toilets are a luxury), but will nearly always be sited next to a lake or river. More than anywhere, Ash and I are enjoying being self sufficient (to a degree). We generate our own power using solar power, filter river water for drinking, fill a bucket of water from the lake and let it heat naturally in the sunshine for a warm-water wash, cook our own food and do our laundry in rivers or lakes. Whilst it's still a very 'sanitised' form of self sufficiency (supermarkets and public toilets certainly make life easier!) it's a world away from the life full of conveniences that we left behind...and will probably quickly return to...in the UK. For now though, it's absolute bliss. We appreciate small things massively and have returned to a childhood mentality where simple things like spending an evening skipping stones on a glassy lake feels like the most magical thing in the world!
From here, our journey will continue south towards Te Anau and Milford Sound before doubling back and heading to the west coast.
Love and hugs. X