Saturday, January 24, 2009

1/23/2009 - Central Park Doesn't Have a Flying Fox

Even in a comfortable bed, I can't sleep in past 7:30AM. Kayra is up about the time I am, and teaches me the proper way of eating Weet-Bix (basically, they are compressed thin corn flakes cut into 2x4inch cakes. You cut up fruit (apples and kiwis) and put two Weet-Bix cakes on top of that, then add milk. Really good).

Kayra is fantastic. She is Kylie's sister-in-law. She and her husband are living here while they get settled in New Zealand - she is an art therapy counselor and also does massage therapy. Kevin (her husband) is finishing up a job in the US but will be back soon. They are planning on staying in Masterton for awhile.

Kayra takes me for a nice tour of the city, mostly of the very large park system they have here.

IMGP1403.JPGKayra by Queen Elizabeth Park.

Once again highlighting the lack of liability suits here in New Zealand, they have a "flying fox" - basically, a zipline running about 100 feet - that all the kids play on. Talk about cool! There was a small line of kids waiting for it, so I will return to get pictures. No one was injured while I was there.

The park has the nicest wooden playground that I have ever seen, modeled after a castle/fort motif. There is a miniature train that you can ride for a dollar (it is about the height of my knee). The track runs around the park. A two-year old, apparently, was hit by the train a couple of weeks ago, but is doing OK now. Intermixed are lawns and forest, and eventually a bird sanctuary. Dirt tracks run at the edges of the park and connect it to other parts (such as the lake, wetlands, and river).

I think this is New Zealand Disneyland.

IMGP1405.JPGOne of the suspension bridges across the river, definitely needed given the 6-7 inch raging torrent below.

IMGP1406.JPGLooking over the lake to the nearby mountains. Ducks and swans jockey for position around anyone that appears like they might have food.

IMGP1407.JPGOne of the birds at the bird sanctuary. He says, "Hello, darling" and cannot hide the New Zealand accent.

Finish out the walk after about two hours and I head to the clinic to talk to David, then grab lunch and meet with the pharmacy - I now have a book that lists all of the nationalized medications - should be some truly exciting late-night reading.

Grab a quick nap, then return later around 3:30 for a staff meeting. Meet with even more people and am endeavoring to remember everyone's names, but, again, it will take a bit. Toward the end of the meeting, two guys come in and we help them bring up band equipment. Everyone hangs around for live music, wine, beer, and some really good snacks - this turns into quite the little party. Tons of fun.

IMGP1408.JPGThis is a staff meeting, if it isn't obvious at first sight. The band is playing with David Nixon (head of the clinic) accompanying on the keyboard. It turned into karaoke at some point. You will all be relieved to know that I did not sing.

We end up going to another house by the end of the night, and don't leave until midnight. Not expected, but what a great way to meet everyone!

We crash back at the apartment at that point. No major plans for tomorrow, but I think I will explore the town some more. And get the blog updated, as I am falling down on my duties there.

1/22/2009 - The Bike Community in New Zealand is Small

Bit of a continuance from last night - literally as I was sending the blog entry for yesterday (sitting outside the office to get the fresh, fat internet waves), who should walk around the corner but Kris and Erik, the tandem bicyclists I had hit it off with in Auckland (and have a web site at They, too are staying here at the campground. They have just finished biking around the peninsula (I cheated and biked directly across). They, like me, have enjoyed Gisborne, and are staying another day at this campground, living it up in one of the cabins (a very cheap alternative to a hotel where you rent out a small room with just a bed, but still use the communal bathrooms, kitchen, etc).

It doesn't take long to suggest picking up some wine. It's dark by this point, but the three of us end up walking about a mile to the New World grocery store and I pick up a true Gisborne wine. Back to the beach and settle in at one of the tables to enjoy the good company, crashing waves, and occasional sounds of revving exhaust notes from the large number of modified cars in this country.

IMGP1393.JPGThis is before the wine, but just couldn't resist the strap-on fishing pole - a fine and, I'm sure, manly addition to any angler's equipment.

IMGP1394.JPGFrom left to right: Kris, Erik, and myself. We are wine connoisseurs - I chose a Gisborne chardonney that reflects its woody tones of blackberry and tobacco against the contemporary background taste of the plastic wine glasses to result in an effervescent mingling of flavors reminiscent of a '66 Chateau Pormangiea. We clear our palates with an '09 Cadbury Crunchie bar.

Sadly, none of us have the tolerance we once did, and one bottle is quite enough. Around 11PM, we head back to the campground under the scattering of bright stars.

I really have to show off their bike, though. Truly a miracle of modern engineering, it is a custom job to combine Erik's 6'10" frame and Kris's 5'0" frame into one compact torpedo of a bike that has taken them already through South America (and completely invalidated my whining about going up a 2,400 foot gorge - they have had several days in a row in Chile where they put out 6,000 vertical feet).

IMGP1395.JPGThis bike does not have an official name, but I think "The Torpedo" would be good. I am officially suggesting this. Gertrude would also be good.

Off to bed after good-byes - I expect to see them again on the south island, quite looking forward to it.

Off to bed, and up again at 6AM. I pack up and make it to the bus station around 7:30. The trick here is to make my bike look as small as possible as the busses here really don't carry bikes. I pop the front wheel off, remove the seat, bungie it all together, and add some cardboard over the greasy areas. A really nice guy from the bus office offers me tape, and the cardboard is collected from a gold mine of boxes in the dumpster. Classy!

Another bicyclist is trying to get on the same bus. Her name is Kat - she is a Brit who has about a month to spend in New Zealand for vacation and is planning further travels to Australia. She has already biked across the United States. She has a grand total of two panniers of gear, and that's it. Admittedly, she does not tent camp (does the hostel thing), but still. . .

I also realize that she had met Kris and Erik. They had mentioned that they had met another bicyclist who was going 90-100 miles per day. Bravo, Kat.

Alas, did not get a picture of her or her amazingly compact bike setup.

The busdriver took a look at the trailer and bike when he finally pulled up, and I could feel him actively resist rolling his eyes. However, he kindly called ahead to the other busses that I would transfer to and found the they should have room, so allowed them on. As we started packing, he gave a little start and said, "Hey, were you biking up Wiaweka Gorge yesterday?" When I said that I had, he said, "I passed you while you were going up the hill!" He immediately warmed up and the more official, stern look faded away. The gorge must be some sort of unknown rite-of-passage. The bike and trailer fit just fine underneath, and all was well.

Despite worries about making connections, the bus ride was uneventful. Am glad that I wasn't biking the route to Napier - quite steep and hilly. Instead of gasping for oxygen and depressing pedals, though, I got to doze.

After two bus transfers and a brief stop for lunch, started to pull into Masterton.

IMGP1397.JPGFrom the bus. Glad to see that the mountains are close by as I will be in Masterton for 6 months once I am done bicycling.

Masterton is a small town by US standards, but a mid- to larger size town by NZ standards (around 15,000 people). It is mostly a farming and ranching community, most evidenced by the sheep grazing on the golf course. Unfortunately, couldn't get my camera out in time, but it was amazing.

Bus dropped me off downtown, and it took about 15 minutes to get everything back in order and bike-able. Biked over the downtown until I found the clinic where I am going to be working, and stopped in.

It was a great welcome, everyone friendly and inviting. I am still in "name shock" (will take some time to get them all down) but met David Nixon (will be one of my new partners and is the head of the clinic) who was as kind and exciting as he was on the phone and e-mail. The clinic itself is quite a large building, and they have just renovated the second story - by the time I start work there March 16, that should be all done. It is friendly, open, and comfortable. I like it all immediately. There is a pharmacy built into the clinic, as well, which is nice.

After time with David and meeting the rest of the crew, I end up meeting up with Kayra, Tracey (a friend of Kayra and Kylie's whom I have only known via Facebook up to now), and Riley (Tracey's 5-year old son). Kylie and Kipp (my old friends from Missouri) are still on vacation, but I will get to stay in the apartment with Kayra.

After storing my bike in the clinic, we end up back at the apartment.

It is, in a word, amazing. It takes up the entire top floor of one of the downtown buildings, and has an elevator to the front door. It has 12-foot ceilings and is extremely open, with 4 bedrooms and a very large living room and kitchen. It even has an old walk-in safe (as it was converted from some government usage in the past).

We end up on the roof, drinking wine and enjoying the sunset.

IMGP1401.JPGKayra, Tracey, and me. This building is one of the tallest in the town, and the view is spectacular. . .

IMGP1402.JPGAs evidenced here. The mountains are only about 20km away.

Rack out in a real bed around 11PM. The bed feels amazing after my air mattress (that has sprung a small leak and flattens out considerably after a night's rest). I am out within 2 minutes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1/21/2009 - Gorged Out

According to every piece of information I can find, the next 2-3 hours of biking should be some of my toughest on the trip. I love to have a goal, and my goal is the top of the gorge some 10 miles away. Up at 6AM, push off at 6:50 after a full breakfast of muesli, a banana, and a liter of milk. No music, just The Gorge and me.

IMGP1375.JPG Not much shoulder on these roads. Figure wearing reflective gear may be beneficial with regards to my appearing as an involuntary logging truck hood ornament. This was taken just before heading out.

The first 5 miles were a steady but easy climb. Scenery was quite nice.

IMGP1376.JPGSun just getting to this part of the gorge - has a bit of a Braveheart look, I think.

Maybe the lady at the i-site was right, I though. If I camped at halfway, I just have to climb to 1200 feet and I am done. Easy!

One thing about gorges. At some point, if you are going up one, you have to climb out of it. With 5 miles to go, it got steep.

The good thing is that it was not as steep as Piha (my real example of "steep"), just much longer.

IMGP1378.JPGGetting higher, but the close-appearing hilltops really lie to you as every corner shows you higher hilltops.

IMGP1379.JPGLooking back toward one of the hills approaching the top. It has been given a nice shave by the sheep.

At last, after two or three turns that all LOOKED like the top was in sight, I came around to the pass at 2,366 feet from sea level (Opotiki was at sea level). Came up 1800 feet in about one and a half hours.

IMGP1380.JPGSweet. I am alternately sweating from the exertion and shivering from the gusts up here - it's kind of chilly this morning. "They get SNOW up there sometimes!" the overenthusiastic i-site lady had informed me excitedly.

I am actually a little impressed that our family did this same ride (though from Opotiki through the entire gorge) back in 1985. It was pretty darn rough.

3909 Changing tire in Waioeka GorgeThe Waioeka Gorge in 1985 - the guy in the apparent stormtrooper helmet is my dad changing a tire. Knee-high socks were apparently ALL the rage back then - oh, baby!

The view down the other side was fantastic.

IMGP1382.JPGAt last, gravity comes to bat for me. Looking down from the top.

Easily zipped down the road. The new brakes really help in that regard. Roads are a little damp, but not slick.

I also am looking for a house as I go, the abode of Karl and Bronwyn who owned a sheep ranch and took us in back in '85 for two days (as it had been getting dark and there was no place to camp). Alas, I can't find it.

3920 Karl Bronwyn and kidsHave you seen these people? Karl, Bronwyn, and the kids in 1985. For some reason, I don't have their last name, which makes it a little harder when checking out the white pages. They let us stay in the sheep shearer's shack and we innoculated a flock of sheep with something, but mostly got to herd sheep, which is quite a powerful feeling when you're seven years old.

Stop for coffee in a small cafe another 6 or 7 miles on. Ask the lady at the counter if she knew Karl and Bronwyn. Sure enough, she did. They have since moved to Opotiki and their last name is Ellmers. I love small towns. Will look them up later when I am working. They really were kind to us.

On I went, up one more steep climb of about 400 feet. The next 30 minutes, though, were pure biking zen. All shallow downhill for about 10 miles, with almost no need to pedal or touch the brakes. Came down from 1800ft to 500ft elevation before any hill climbs. I would drive back up and bike down that section again.

IMGP1384.JPGNo, THIS looks more like Braveheart.

Grabbed lunch around 1:30PM, just 17 miles from Gisborne.

IMGP1386.JPGWine country along with a picture-inducing red barn.

Unfortunately, these last miles were marked with a fierce headwind, so I fought to keep 10mph on these flats. At this point, I was right at sea level. At last, around 3PM, pulled into Gisborne - a very tidy and picturesque little town. Found the youth hostel where we would have stayed back in '85, but they have moved it to another house and didn't have camping, so I found a nice campground right on the beach.

IMGP1388.JPGA real event in Gisborne, worthy of about 20 people taking pictures - Moving a house by trailer.

It has been a 65 mile day today and about 2400 feet of climb (and descent). I am celebrating by sitting on the beach with the computer doing my best impression of a well-known beer commercial without the actual beer. May have to remedy that situation.

Have set up a bus to Masterton for tomorrow, an all-day affair. Looking forward to seeing where I am going to spend at least 6 months of my time, as well as seeing Kylie and Kipp Vannaman and meeting David and the staff at the clinic. Should be fun!!

IMGP1389.JPGMy office.

IMGP1391.JPGThe neighbors.

1/20/2009 - Ups and Downs, but Mostly Ups

I have to say that things went remarkably smoothly with the rear wheel. For a bargain price of NZ$21, my wheel was straightened with a new spoke in place and the bike was ready as promised at 9:00AM. I had already packed up camp, so after a quick ride back to the campground I was hitched up and ready to roll. Once again, gravity was not my friend as I found that the way from Whakatane to Opotiki was blocked by a steep gorge, so my morning was kicked off with a 400ft climb, helped by the thumbs-up of some friendly older Kiwis who were walking down (and gave me very amused expressions). The road I picked followed the coast and was shorter than the highway, at the expense of more up-and-down. It was worth it, though.

IMGP1362.JPGLooking upriver from the beach. Great day for cycling - scattered clouds meant no direct sunbeams of death, so less melanoma and less water needed.

IMGP1364.JPGLooking south out from the beach toward the peninsula. Note that there was not a single person on this beach.

IMGP1365.JPGI have a weakness for tree tunnels, for some reason. Perfect spot for a Scooby Doo mystery on a moonlit night, though.

Finished out the 25 miles to Opotiki fairly quickly, and stopped by the i-site there (information). Found some good news and some bad news. Good news is that there is a DOC campsite about 30 miles toward Wiaweka Gorge, giving me a total of 55 miles for the day. The bad news?

Well, let's sum it up with the understanding that things change in almost 25 years. When we did this trip then, we took the train from Gisborne to Wellington so that we could see as much of the south island as we wanted to given time constraints. As it turns out, a bridge has since given way, therefore there has been no passenger train service from Gisborne for about 15 years. It would be another 200km to Napier before I could consider catching a train.

Ah, well, will have to try a bus, if they are willing to take the bike and trailer.

Head out again after discussing cycling with a very enthusiastic guy (who was also kind enough to watch my bike while I made a trip to the little boy's room). He loved the Gorge and said it would be no problem. Well worth the trip.

That's good, because most of the other people I talked to about it first gave me an incredulous look and then said, "You're going to BIKE that?"

Off I go, a man on a mission. The flats soon give way to deep clefts into the rock as I hit the gorge itself (for those of you wondering what a "gorge" is, basically it's the canyon worn down by a river).

IMGP1366.JPGI think the brush has overgrown on the other part of the sign, which reads: "Welcome to Bicycle Hell." Or maybe I made that up later.

IMGP1367.JPGLooking up the gorge. Still overcast, which was great for this.

Actually, this part of the gorge was not inclined significantly, though it was long. Finished at the DOC campsite around 6:00PM at an altitude of 590ft. This, I was told by the I-Site lady, was "halfway up". Little did I know that this would mark her forever in my mind as a consummate liar.

Set up camp, talked to some other bicyclists, made a dinner of (What else?) PB&J, and was passed out by 8:30.

IMGP1370.JPGMy little camp. A little cooler here, but really the long sleeves were to keep the bugs off.

IMGP1372.JPGThe river ran just through camp. This was the old bridge, probably what I rode across in '85.

Monday, January 19, 2009

1/19/2009 - Downhills and Tailwinds

Weather report was right two days in a row. It's a perfect day for me - broken clouds and sun peering through the cracks. Camp is put up and I am on the road by 9:00AM. I even get a tailwind today.

The first twenty-five miles are up and down to a max elevation of 1200 feet above sea level. Suddenly, not only do I have a tailwind, but I have a downhill, too.

IMGP1351.JPG The wind was gusting and even the gulls were staying down. They gave me a series of baleful glares when I got too close.

IMGP1352.JPGLakes just before starting the downward hill toward Whakatane.

IMGP1353.JPG"The Rig" at 600ft elevation with pine trees.

IMGP1354.JPGAnd the landscape changes again at 100ft elevation.

The last 15 miles are mostly flat, and I roll into Whakatane around 2:30PM. Not bad, except that I kept hearing a funny sound while rolling for the last few miles. I check my rear wheel, and, sure enough, broken spoke. Not only that, but the wheel itself is bent, rubbing the left brake shoe with every revolution. Well, damn.

Set up camp, and the camp hostess kindly showed me where two bike shops are located. A quick ride in and, luckily, the Avanti shop was open. They will have it fixed by 9AM tomorrow. Excellent.

Wander through town and through some of the parks.

IMGP1355.JPGDowntown Whakatane. It is much more charming than this picture turned out to be.

IMGP1356.JPGMomentary cloud cover - 15 minutes later, all blue sky.

IMGP1361.JPGSee? Also, this park had a miniature train (that was not active, just the track was out.)

Showered, dinnered, and working on the blog at this point as light is fading. By the way, interesting little point about Whakatane - you always feel a little dirty saying it as it is pronounced "fuk-a-tani".

Picture 8I've made it this far. Going to be a long couple of days.

1/18/2009 - Torrents

Well, at least the weather forecast is accurate within 24 hours. Woke this AM to buckets of rain and a bit of wind. As the cost to stay was only NZ$13, not a bad day to just relax and take care of some stuff I've been needing to do online.

By noon, most of the rain has passed over. More sun than rain. I bike into town (about 2 miles) and wander a bit, grabbed some Thai food (I have discovered a love for Thai curry). The banana split I eat afterwards is not exactly the best choice after curry, sort of like drinking milk and then brushing your teeth. Oh, well.

Ended up spending hours on the internet setting up my upcoming Tasmania trip (plane, ferry, Australian visa, etc).

I am pretty wiped, and don't take any pictures (bad me) until I make it to the Pak n Save grocery store.

IMGP1349.JPGSeriously? Your only pictorial memory of Rotorua via this blog will be lamb and mint chips. I promise that the city is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand - look back at the last time I went through Rotorua for more.

Back to the campground, kick back, and crash. Easy day. Off to Whakatane tomorrow, just over 50 miles.