Saturday, March 23, 2013

Homeless Hobos

We didn’t get off to a great start in New Zealand as when we entered their biosecurity system they deemed our tents not fit for entry.  Those annoying mosquitoes that attacked us in Sydney came back to haunt and screw us over since our tents had some dead mosquitoes in them.  We therefore had two choices: have them confiscated and destroyed and then get new tents or wait up to 2 weeks and pay up to $200NZD for them to be fumigated.  Even though we really liked our Big Agnes Seedhouse tents we didn’t have 2 weeks to spare nor did we think forking over $200NZD was the wise option.  As such, we were left homeless at the Christchurch airport. 

After purchasing new homes in Christchurch we left the next day and headed south along the Canterbury Plains.  Unlike most of New Zealand this region is flat so we liked that but it was rather dull with constant farmland and grey skies.    

But that dullness would quickly wear off in the following days as we had more challenges presented to us.  New Zealand had been experiencing a drought for the previous 6 to 8 weeks prior to our arrival.  As cyclists we prefer to be warm and dry rather than cold and wet so we were hoping that trend would continue.  Unfortunately it didn’t and we got hammered for continuous days on end.  Just completely drenched.  It wasn’t fun to cycle in and definitely not fun camping in.

So far I would say when the sun is out and stays out, it is nice to cycle but when the weather is poor it is a struggle.  Frustrations mount especially when it is raining and we have to climb steep hills.  There have been some steep hills and there will be plenty more ahead.  So it has been tough going thus far. 
      
We are currently in Queenstown and took today off so I could go on a tour of the Milford Sound.  One of the last things Trevor would want to do is join a group tour so he stayed back and took it easy in Queenstown.  Since he really hates the cold he went out shopping for some warmer clothing.  I think our sister would be impressed and proud of his purchase as he picked up a Kathmandu soft shelled jacket for $50NZD reduced from $320NZD!  So hoping that will ensure he won’t get cold again.  Given he hates being cold and wet so much I am amazed that he has lived in Vancouver all his life. 

I like to think when people usually see us with our bicycles looking the way we do with ripped clothing, afros and in dire need of a shower, they can conclude we have been on the road for some time.  On a day like today when we weren’t around our bicycles it wasn’t quite apparent to passersby that we are world touring cyclists and not hobos.  Two examples of this occurred today the first being Trevor sat in a park and was approached by a photography student who was taking pictures of random people for his photo essay.  The student said Trevor was an interesting character.  I think ‘interesting character’ was code for street corner bum.  The second example occurred when Trevor and I sat on a bench barefoot along this promenade in the evening and discussed routes through the rest of New Zealand while I ate a mix of oats, brown sugar and table spread.  Quite good!  Anyway, a group of Asian tourists stopped and offered their leftovers in a doggy bag from the restaurant they just ate at.  We gratefully accepted their leftover fries and onion rings and gobbled them up.  I wanted to slip in that it would provide us the energy to cycle onward so they knew we weren’t looking for handouts.  From these two examples we have learned today when we are with the bikes we are respected adventurers to some but without them, homeless hobos.  

Our first night in New Zealand, sleeping in the arrivals area at the Christchurch airport.  Not so bad.  It is ranked 4th best in the South Pacific region to sleep in according to sleepinginairports.net.  Great website, check it out if you are strapped for accommodation.  

The central business district of Christchurch still looks quite devastated from the massive earthquake they had just over 2 years ago.  They have cordoned off a good chunk of the downtown area but have put up a temporary small shopping mall called Re:START made out of shipping containers.  It was unique, different and colourful so I liked it.

Our new tents set up on the first day.  We didn’t have many good options so we ended up getting the Eureka! Spitfire tents that set us each back $150NZD.  Ouch.  Definitely miss my old tent as that was so much easier to set up and manage.  I was confident it would have taken me the rest of the way too.  This new one is not free standing meaning you must always stake in.  That can pose a problem as there have been times and most likely will be more where the ground is not made for staking.  Have no fear though as Trevor, the wise one who thinks outside the box came up with a solution.  Basically we can just put weights such as our panniers at each end and it then effectively becomes a free standing tent.  I tried it last night and it worked fine. 


Trevor testing out a possible new bike?  I don’t think so.  This was in Oamaru, a town I liked as it had some interesting places to go to and old streets to walk down. 


Trevor’s really bad day.  He ran over something on the road that resulted in a loud screeching pop.  Not sure if it was glass but we have both noticed many beer bottles on the side of the road.  Anyway, sure enough his tire had a puncture but not just any puncture, a deep slash.  As a result his rather new Schwalbe Marathon tire he picked up not too long ago in Perth for $85AUD is done.  Shame too because it still looks new.  He was very frustrated and angry at the time for obvious reasons, but even more so because we were getting soaked by the rain.  Trevor isn’t a happy camper so far in New Zealand. 


The Otago Peninsula in some gloomy weather.  Could hardly see it. 


I had another vision that resulted in failure.  I had a plan to cycle up the World’s Most Steepest Street being Baldwin Street in Dunedin.  When we got there after getting a good drenching I decided that probably wasn’t the best of ideas.  The street is STEEP.  Going up and down it on the bicycle would be dangerous in my view.  At its steepest section if you walk 2.86 meters horizontally you go up 1 vertical meter.  That is steep.  So instead of cycle up it, we walked up and down it. 


Trevor cycling up one of many hills.  This was in the Catlins, a nice scenic part in the southeast corner of the South Island. 


At Slope Point also known as the southernmost point of the South Island.  Pretty neat but it sure was a drag getting here.  We had to cycle up and down steep gravel hills.  Gravel road is not fun.  Plus the weather changed constantly.  Sun and blue sky then grey clouds, rain and cold the next. 


Hasn’t happened a whole lot thus far but like I said before when the sun is out, good times. 


Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world.

We had some time to kill yesterday in Queenstown while we waited for sunset so I prepared some pasta while Trevor sat back and calmed his nerves.  We were basically waiting until it got a bit darker to set up camp at our predetermined stealth camp spot just outside of town.  It isn’t really that easy camping here in New Zealand.  Well if you wish to pay $30+ for a site at a holiday park maybe so but we aren’t keen to do so.  They do have sites where you pay $6 but those are few and far between.  Shame we can’t always just set up shop off the road like we could easily do in Australia.  They have many signs up stating ‘No Camping’ in many rest areas and if caught you are fined on the spot.  So we have to be extra careful. 


This camp spot of ours was in a forest just off the road.  It was pretty good but we were disturbed just before midnight by some possums.  This one possum pictured got on our bikes and we were both worried it would do some damage to them so I chucked some tree cones around it trying to get it to scram.  It eventually moved.  I learned today that these possums are actually a nuisance to New Zealand as they eat trees.  So there is a saying that goes on: kill a possum, save a tree. 


The kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.



The Milford Sound.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate so the views weren’t the ones I had seen on the postcards.  Ah well.  It does rain a whole lot in the Fiordland National Park though, apparently 200 days of the year with 6-7 meters of rainfall.  Saw some nice waterfalls though!             

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Down Under Done

Quite pleased to write we have completed the Aussie leg!  I may have been annoyed with the wind, hills and irritating flies a lot of the time but on the whole it was good times in Australia.  By far the best country to camp in I think as it was always fairly easy and the spots we found were good. 

We continued along the Princes Highway from Melbourne before detouring north along the Monaro Highway towards Kosciuszko National Park.  Very pleased we did this as Mount Kosciuszko has always been on my hit list for mountains to tag.  Depending on who you ask, it is deemed one of the 7 summits although if you ask me, I wouldn’t say so.  I side with the list that has Puncak Jaya in New Guinea which covers Oceania.  Anyway, as expected, lots of uphill getting there but it wasn’t so bad.  Although some of the gradients we had to climb were reminiscent of the hills in Laos.

From there we continued to the nation’s capital Canberra and then onward to Sydney via the Southern Highlands.  Some random facts I learned while cycling through the Southern Highlands include: Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban have a home in Sutton Forest and the movie Babe was filmed in Robertson. 

The weather wasn’t always great as we got rained on a number of times and Trevor complained about being cold at times.  Typical Trevor.  I welcomed a bit of coldness after the constant heat throughout Australia.  Trevor also fretted a lot about the wet weather we will most likely see in New Zealand.  We spoke with a number of Aussies who said the weather will likely be wet and not in our favour.  Oh joy.         

We arrived in Sydney about 6 days ago and have explored the city on the bikes.  Trevor is not a fan.  I like it. 

Trevor’s rating of the Australian states we cycled through discounting Australian Capital Territory goes as follows from best to worst: Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales.  He really didn’t like New South Wales with the hills and weather.  His capital cities ratings go as follows: Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney.  And his top 3 highlights in Australia were crossing the Nullarbor, seeing koalas and climbing up Mount Kosciuszko. 

My ratings of the Australian states were Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia.  My capital cities from best to worst: Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra.  I like big cities and have always wanted to see Sydney so unlike Trevor it gets my top spot.  Finally my top 3 highlights were seeing koalas, climbing Mount Kosciuszko and seeing the Opera House in Sydney. 

We are currently waiting at the airport in Sydney and will fly off to Christchurch tomorrow morning.  Bring on the unpredictable, wet weather in New Zealand!  


Trying to stay dry in Victoria with the wet weather.  We got drenched on a few occasions this being one of them.  Going off topic here I must say another good thing about Australia is their free BBQ’s.  We didn’t use them all the time but they did come in handy every now and then. 


The people of Australia are very generous.  For example, we had an offer from a stranger for us to stay on their farm and camp.  In this one particular town called Cann River many people stopped and chatted with us while we rested up.  One lady gave us $10!  Her daughter cycled from Cairns to Sydney a while back and she said many people were very nice to her daughter en route so she is returning the favour and helping us out.  Very kind of her indeed.


Going up Mount Kosciuszko we saw many kangaroos and wallabies.  At this one place we camped at they weren’t very fearful of humans as they usually are when they see us coming.  These roos got quite close. 


Me at the highest point in Australia where you can ride your bicycle.  Most of the way up the mountain was on paved road.  The last 8km from Charlotte’s Pass was on gravel road.  From Rawson’s Pass there was still 128m to climb so we scrambled up the rest.   

Mount Kosciuszko conquered!  Super windy but nice views.  

Spent a day in Canberra.  I checked out Parliament and a few other sights.  Not so big on Canberra as it is just another government city with lots of monuments and statues.  Gets dull rather quickly. 


The War Memorial in Canberra.  I did enjoy their war museum as it had lots of interesting photos from the wars Australians fought in back in the day. 


Fitzroy Falls.  The first of three waterfalls we checked out in the Southern Highlands.  Trevor was reluctant to do so but since we had more than enough time to get to Sydney we went out of our way to see them all.  They were okay but I think I was more impressed with some of the lookouts we saw with stellar views of the countryside. 


Getting to Belmore Falls we were met with a flooded path.  Trevor enjoyed this crossing more so than seeing the waterfall.  Actually he wasn’t even bothered to see the waterfall when we got there.  He had a peak at the Fitzroy Falls and that was enough for him.

The Sea Cliff Bridge along the coast heading for Sydney.  Some fine road engineering work.  Trevor though applauds China for the most impressive roadwork he has seen thus far.  Back on our first day in China when we were hit by a snow storm we cycled along a pretty impressive bridge that kept rising and had a tunnel.  Shame we couldn’t really see it very well in the snow. 


At Bondi Beach!  Trevor of course took a dip as did I.  Getting here we discovered that Sydney is quite hilly.  And the hills go straight up only to go straight down.

The end of the Aussie leg!  Finally I see the Sydney Opera House.  Quite impressive.  

After crossing the Harbour Bridge Trevor goes into one of his many rants about Sydney.  He did not like the flow of the city in that things are jumbled.  He also did not like the constant red lights and mental mosquitoes that attacked us every night at our camp spot near the airport.   

The Anzac Bridge from the Fish Market.  I was kind of disappointed with their fish market as I expected a lot of hustle and bustle much like I found it in Tokyo and London.  Maybe I was there on the wrong day or there at the wrong time but it wasn’t anything great in my view.  Although I guess all that hustle and bustle I was looking for happens early morning behind the scenes in which one has to pay to get on a tour to see.


Sydney Harbour.  A sight to see.
Someone is having a bad hair day.  I had a shower at the airport this morning and I have noticed every time I shower my hair becomes puffy and fro’s up big time.  Not sure why it does this.  Trevor’s hair doesn’t do that.  I refuse to cut it as I want to let it keep growing until this trip is over and continue to look like a bum.   


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