Nelson, New Zealand – 01MAY08
It’s been a while, a great while, since my last notes. A lot of camping and pedalling is the offender here. 2.400 mostly mountaneous km since I left Christchurch 5 weeks ago (26MAR08), to be exact.
I left Christchurch full of excitement (and great BBQ food, thanks Nicola & Calvin!) and eager to get back on the road after a wonderful 4 weeks in Sydney. 3 days later I arrived at the Mt. Cook National Park and had the chance to see some of the most beautiful alpine scenery ever. Clear, sunny days with glacier views and glacier lakes below the Cloud Piercer, i.e Mount Cook, NZs highest mountain at 3.754m. Great stuff. The only disturbance was a nocturnal visit from a kea, the cheeky mountain parrot, that bit a few holes in my beloved tent. Bastard.
Back on the east coast, heading south, I reached Oamaru and Dunedin where I had a shower and a pint before I pushed on towards The Catlins (SE coastal corner of NZ’s South Island) which offered great and hilly cycling and a few penguins nestling in the bush.
33th 32nd birthday (06.04.1976) was without a doubt one of the least memorable ever (or the most memorable in ways that birthdays are not supposed to be remembered, your pick?!). The rain was pouring down when I woke up in my tent on a godforsaken piece of grass in the hamlet of Papatowai. The sky was grey and gloomy. The tent and my kevlar soul was all wet and cold from a near-zero degrees C night and I really didn’t feel like cycling that particular day. I soon hit unexpected and undulating gravel roads, and before I knew of it a terrible headwind hit me smack in the face and stayed like that for the rest of the day. That’s when the bad language started. It was a rather cruel present from the Lord above or wherever he resides. Pure stamina pushed me to Invercargill where I enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower and a dry bed for the night.
Leaving the south coast I ventured up north, towards the infamous Milford Sound, towards the warmer North Island, and – on a grander scale, being about as far away from home as possible – slowly towards my Danish home turf (a long horizon, I know!). On my way to Milford Sound I had a memorable 14 km downhill ride after the Homer Tunnel, from 950m to sea level, where the fully loaded Koga bike hit 74.8 km/h, me with the cheeks flapping in the wind. The Sound itself was just as impressive as the litterature tells you.
I arrived in Queenstown – the so-called Outdoor Adventure Capital of the World - after 500 km and 6 days’ cycling without a shower with a body odour not far from the one of a rotten wildebeast.
Being “a bit too old” was my own personal way of justifying not doing any of the trillions of (expensive) adventure based & adrenalin producing things in Queenstown. I kindly let all the European post-teenagers around do their bungy jumps and other rite-de-passages.
I then went to Wanaka over the Crown Ranges Pass which at 1076m is the highest tar-sealed road in all of New Zealand. Beatiful stuff. Then over the Haast Pass (the baby one) hitting the West Coast in Haast Township, through The Glacier Country (Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers) and a superb view of Mt. Cook reflecting in Lake Matheson (aka The View of Views, and rightly so!).
The South Island has offered lots of great cycling through impossibly green rain forests and lush fields (yup, incl. some of NZ’s some 44 million sheep!), sometimes quite steep alpine roads over ranges, saddles, and mountain passes (it’s all relative – and nothing compares to the 5000+ meter ones in Tibet!) and always with jagged mountain ranges looming in the distance.
There’s been a lot of wild camping during the last 5 weeks. The autumn temperatures here make this 24/7 outdoor life a pretty cold experience. Layers of ice crystals have been a frequent guest on my morning tent. Yet I keep loving this nomadic bicycle life, every day full of natural and social encounters, living cheap, eating from the pot and/or can, setting up camps in quite unpredictable places (the odd memorial city park being a personal favourite so far) after dark, and leaving no footprints in the early morning before the elderly start walking their dogs and themselves. My tent is King and I love the cosy and safe nylon haven of mine.
In general, it’s very pretty here in New Zealand. Yet I have this feeling that there’s something missing. It’s hard to elaborate on this, maybe it’s a local encounter, a chance of getting an anthropological glimpse of the Kiwi soul & spirit (I know it’s out there somewhere!). I’m the one to blame here, ‘cos as said I’ve been quite busy cycling lately, maybe too busy to let those random meetings come to me.
Nelson, the bigger town (51.000 souls) at the “Top of the South” has changed this feeling though. The last 4 days I’ve been staying and resting and feasting with the lovely Murray & Raywin + kids whom I met at a camp site near Christchurch 5 weeks ago. I sleep in their great camper van. It’s really been a great break for me here. Physically, my body needed this break, and mentally it’s just wonderful to feel like being part of a family, part of a social entity, again. A huge thanks to the Williamson’s! I will be heading for Wellington on the south tip of the North Island tomorrow (02MAY08). New Adventures in Hi-Fi await…
More than 750 days have passed since I left Denmark on the bike. I passed the 30.000 km mile stone the other day. The 3rd WT year is in full swing, and I still feel really fortunate doing just what I’m doing. I’m often overwhelmed with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that even when the going gets tough (when the wind is fierce, the climbs unfair, my friends and family too far away etc.) it’s all part of the game, a part of the big picture that is the WT Expedition. Being part of the realization of my own dream is a treasure that gives immense pleasure and meaning to life.
The mosaic anecdotes are over. I’m running out of breath. Thanks for the attention.
And thanks for the moral support from you all. It means more than anything to me.
PS. The other day I had the first puncture on my front tyre since I changed it in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in September 2006. Now that’s 21.500 km ago. Like my thoughts to all of you, the Marathon XR tyres from Schwalbe never let you down…