Tuesday, December 23, 2008

12/22/2008 - Mooooooooo.

Picture 1So, in this map of the North Island of New Zealand, the green line is what I have traveled so far. 277 miles of biking by the mapping program. This sounds good until you realize that this is just an eighth of my total planned distance, and it has taken me 10 days to do it (including 2 rest days). Cox, thanks for the idea of putting up a map - Good on ya!

So much for the rain forecast for today.

I stepped out my door today to a cloudless blue sky, a perfect day for Cape Reinga. As noted yesterday, I had decided on a rest day today, but needed to do SOMETHING, and so hired on to the Cape Reinga bus tour. A leisurely breakfast led into waiting at the front of the hostel for the bus (the Harrison Cape Runner) to show up.

Hills became meaningless, but the loss of that particular stress came at a cost: freedom. It felt very odd to be told exactly where we were going and for how much time. As a matter of fact, our first stop was the "Kauri forest center" which was basically an expensive tourist trap, where we waited 30-40 minutes to let the amazing richness of the region sink in in the form of various wood-related pens, cheap necklaces, and lots of bowls.

Things did pick up from there, though. The bus headed right onto the beach, which would act as our personal highway for the next 40 or so miles.

IMGP0874.JPGI was told that we were going to stop for a picture, so by God, I took a picture.

Our driver was actually great, very knowledgeable, and loved fly fishing. We got along well and he easily kept up a one-way conversation while the bus was moving describing everything from history to bird species to random facts.

IMGP0875.JPGThere's a hole in this rock, which makes it snapworthy.

After awhile, we turned inland and followed a freshwater creek upstream to a large area of sand dunes. At that point, another stop was made to do a bit of dune surfing. The pictures really explain it all - sled down sand.

IMGP0878.JPGReal men do sand sledding on pink sleds. Sized for little girls.

Apparently, people DO get injured doing this, according to our driver, and a helicopter had to land yesterday to get someone out. This was not mentioned in the brochure. I like New Zealand.

IMGP0879.JPGTook a bit of a hike just over the dune. Ocean to the far left.

IMGP0881.JPGMy sweet whip. And my homies at picture right.

Off once again after having experienced nature's toothpaste (sand may have entered most orifices, but it does leave your mouth with that dentist-cleaned gritty feeling). Made it further up the coast and dropped into a little bay for lunch.

IMGP0883.JPGIsn't this where everyone eats lunch?

Lunch is not bad - scones and random snacks. Better than my usual fare.

Finally, we head toward Cape Reinga. The Cape is the northernmost place you can go in New Zealand by the road system. It is where two seas meet. It is the place where the Maori believe their souls travel to when they die. It is solemn and dignified, and you know this because it appears on many trinkets which will no doubt give to you eternal peace if you just buy them.

Actually, the last time I was in New Zealand (in 2003), I took a picture here that is one of my favorites from that trip:

IMG_1966New Zealand circa 2003. Before construction.

It now looks like this:

IMGP0886.JPGNote the cattle drive of people.

There is also a new pathway, and they are paving the road out to Cape Reinga. Talking to our hosts later, a lot of people are upset at the modernization of some of these more out-of-the-way places, and I don't blame them. Not pictured are the new bathrooms and roadway.

I am glad, by the way, that I did not try to bike this. For almost 20km, the road here is still gravel, but the kind of larger, pointy gravel that does a number on tires.

Headed back and took a few stops for photo ops to assure that the picture gods for those particular areas were appeased.

IMGP0896.JPGThis guy was kayaking with two fishing poles. All it would take would be one shark to grab that lure to reenact "The Old Man and the Sea".

Finally were returned, safe and happy, to the hostel. A quick trip to the Pak'n'Sav discovered shrimp on major sale, so I gourmeted up a pasta/pasta sauce/shrimp concoction that was mostly shrimp. Talked to a few other people here at the hostel - a group of Canadiens that also did a bus tour today (and made homemade pizza in the real-life pizza oven here) and a Scottish woman (Kat, a biomedical statistician, very cool). All very nice and it surprised me to figure out that it was already 9:30 when I glanced at my watch.

IMGP0898.JPGJust before sunset over Kaitaia. Looks like some sort of Christian band CD label.

Planning on either a really long day tomorrow or two more enjoyable short days to Kerikeri to catch up with my British friends, Sara and Nick Hampson. Got to get some sleep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

12/21/2008 - A Gorge - Fun Surprise for All!

The deep beat of heavy rainfall woke me this morning. In my mind, that acted like a "snooze". I had set up this camp in the rain, surely a bit of time will allow Mother Nature to rethink her mood this morning.

Sure enough, Mother Nature finally finished her coffee and felt better. The rain let up, and some cracks were seen in the clouds. My signal to get up.

Breakfast was a limited affair - the last of my Muesli, one piece of bread (heel), and a Clif bar. And a liter of milk. Need that protein.

I don't need much anyway, I thought. Just 42 miles today, and no one has mentioned any big hills. As a matter of fact, the hostess here specifically passed on that there were NO big hills on my route today. Nice, easy pedal. No problems. Probably be there in 4 hours.

The above paragraph is an example of "foreshadowing" for those of you interested in the mechanics of writing.

First thing this AM was the ferry taken a mile and a half across the bay. Already down to just over 40 miles!

IMGP0859.JPGA NZ$2 ferry ride. The ferry guy was a lot of fun, and noted that his son had ridden 6,000 miles across northern Canada and into Alaska. I feel like a little girl.

Rolled off the ferry and into some small ups-and-downs along the coast. Quite nice. A few bigger hills, no big deal, and a nice approach into the bigger highway 1. An interesting thing happened at one point. Typically, cattle will either a.) ignore me or b.) watch me without any comprehension and chew their cud. Today, as I was passing a large herd of cattle, they were "moo"ing and I, of course, "moo"ed back. Suddenly they went into a frenzy of mooing, and followed me - the whole herd - as far as the pasture would allow. I felt like I should have stopped and given a sermon or something.

IMGP0860.JPGNew Zealand's answer to Alcatraz?

IMGP0861.JPGApproach to a small forest. It feels weird to be on this side of the road.

By the time I hit highway 1, I started on a Clif bar (given the smaller breakfast). Legs were somewhat sore today after increasing the mileage and were voracious for energy.

Before long, I noted a trend - my speed was slower, and the grade was uphill. Hmmm. I was following a river up toward its source. Interesting. A sign came up explaining that I was coming into the scenic Mangamuka Gorge. That word tickled the back of my brain for a bit. "What's a 'gorge' again?" it thought. "Natural formation from a river, or what we do every Thanksgiving? Verb or noun?" and so on.

IMGP0862.JPGNote that the angle of the road is increasing. This was on the approach to the gorge. The Imperial March would be a good song to start here.

Ate the last of my food for lunch (including a squirt of the kind of nasty "coffee, milk, and sugar" syrup for instant energy) and kept on it.

"Huh," I thought. "That big, forested, clifflike wall is getting closer. It almost looks like a river carved it. I wonder how the road engineers are going to make a nice, easy, mostly flat road through this?"

IMGP0863.JPGThink fast - Costa Rica or New Zealand?

And up I went. Multiple switchbacks requiring some standing on the pedals, several water stops, and a couple of thumbs up from passers-by finally resulted in that best of feelings, topping out over the pass.

IMGP0864.JPGA meter is, like, at least 15 feet.

I met a very nice couple up here, the Joneses. We started talking a bit, and, as it turns out, they have lived for some time in both China and Cambodia. They note that China has already changed significantly, but that the people there are very friendly, and they had no problems with the government. They feel it would be a good place to bike. They also said not to take the set-up tours. People after my own heart.

In true New Zealand fashion, Richard gave me his card and asked for me to give him a call if I was going through Cambridge (New Zealand) as I would have a place to stay. Very kind and interesting people (they were actually taking a friend from Beijing around New Zealand). He took the above photo for me. Will have to consider China in future travel plans.

Maybe it's that I am now used to my bike, or maybe the hill itself was just less steep, but the ride down was very enjoyable and kept angling down even after the steeps right into Kaitara, my destination.

IMGP0865.JPGLooking back at the gorge from the other side, about halfway down.

IMGP0866.JPGFantastic clover field coming into town. More four leaf clovers than a box of Lucky Charms.

I was planning a rest day for my legs to catch up, and felt that it would make sense to couple that with a bus trip to Cape Reinga. I had figured out that it would take 3-4 days to go all the way up and back, and feel that it wasn't worth it - it's rather barren and boring, according to several people, until you get really far north. I stopped by an information kiosk and set up lodging at the local hostel (NZ $55 per night for my own room and piece of mind) and a full day bus tour to the Cape (NZ$45, with lunch and sand surfing provided). On my way to the hostel, a guy stopped me and said he had passed me as I went over the gorge. His words: "Good on ya!" Truly motivational.

IMGP0868.JPGSomehow felt appropriate given the length of time between bicycling New Zealand the first time and this time.

Settled into the hostel. Ellen and Clea host this particular one, and it is very clean, smells good, and is in good repair. Total difference from the fleabag hotel I stayed in. Room is spartan with a single, comfortable bed and a couple of chairs. Bike and trailer get locked in a separate room. Not bad. I shower, unload, and walk to the grocery store for food (you have to pay 10 cents per bag if you want plastic bags there!!)

IMGP0869.JPGThe sign says "Home Kills Processed". Apparently, this is a mob town. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Settle down for a bit of relaxation. A foot-long sub, part of a bag of chips, diet coke, bag of chewy candies, part of a chocolate bar, and an apple all go down posthaste. Like I said, calorie deficient. I watch "Kung Fu Panda" on the computer (Great movie, if you haven't seen it). Doing laundry. AMAZING sunset.

IMGP0873.JPGSky on fire.

Getting picked up at 9AM, so will go to bed soon. No wireless internet, will try to find a place to post this tomorrow if possible - sorry to all I promised Skype to!

Just a quick note

Haven't been able to find wireless internet much, so I just uploaded the last 3 day's worth of posts below - have fun! And thanks so much for actually reading these. It gives me a lot more motivation to keep up with this knowing people actually read them! 40 miles today, may rain. Fun!