Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Fond Farewell After An Unscheduled Ending

After leaving Motueka, I gave myself a couple of days to get back to Picton and the ferry back to the North Island.  It was only about 50Km on the first day, as I wanted to stop in Nelson overnight as there was nowhere to stay after that and the full 160Km or so seemed a bit excessive for one day, especially with plenty of hills in between.

Nelson was quite a big town, and although it seemed a nice place to live, I wasn't sure about the people.  They seemed a little rough around the edges, and I also had a startling experience in the public library as I was uploading some pictures from my camera.

Sitting next to me was an extremely obnoxious teenage boy with a girl who seemed okay, yet was loving every minute of this boys foul-mouthed ranting.  In a library, the boy continually made stupid noises, talked openly about having sex, and taking drugs, and in fact admitted freely to being high at that very moment.  No one appeared willing to talk to him and tell him to quieten-down or get out, so I gave him a bit of a telling-off.  It briefly shut him up, but then he quickly forgot about it.  I did wonder if I had pushed a little harder whether the kid would have confronted me, so off his head he seemed to be, so I just promptly finished what I was doing and walked out.

Now this might sound like I am being a bit of a miserable old curmudgeon here, but I saw quite a lot of poorly mannered youths in New Zealand, even in the small towns. There seemed to bit an annoying habit in the young of walking around like gangsters and playing hip-hop music at full volume on their phones for all to hear.  Headphones didn't seem to be a thing at all.

Anyway, the next day I had a tough 110Km or so to go to Picton, passing Marlborough Sounds along the way for some more scenic beauty.

It was a surprisingly difficult day, and the warmest of the trip.  Bizarrely, the previous warmest day of the trip was more than 2 months beforehand while I was cycling through the Coromandel in the North Island.  I was told New Zealand had an unseasonably warm spell when I first arrived, and then had been unseasonably rainy and cold after that.  So even though the months were leading into summer, it just got colder and colder, aided by the fact I was heading South for most of this time.  In fact, the fjordlands hadn't seen snow for a month before I got there, but just as I arrived it got a fresh covering, which actually gave the mountains a renewed splendor.

The cycling profile on Google looked a little hilly, but the road to Picton proved to be some of the most exhausting ups and downs of the trip, and by the end, the constant intervals were taking a physical and mental toll on me, pushing me very hard in warm temperatures under New Zealand's notoriously strong sunshine.

By the end of the trip, I had actually put on about 3Kg.  Probably a bit down to fat, as I ate lots of chocolate, but also I think my legs were significantly bigger and stronger by the end.

It was a lovely day with views to match, however, and although tiring, the roads were glorious to cycle once again.  I was really spoiled by the roads in New Zealand, they are not only scenic, but a cyclists dream.

Going up the West coast, I had passed a few fellow cycle tourers, but we didn't stop to say hello.  Sometimes opportunities arise to have a chat, but at other times one is whizzing down a big hill while the other is climbing, so it just doesn't work out.  Fortunately, on encountering a Canadian lady cyclist at the top of the hill, we both took the time to pause for breath and have a chat before we descended in opposite directions.

She was on her way to her final destination in Queenstown, having started in Auckland, like me.  I have to admit to being surprised that women made up quite a lot of the truly independent travelers that I saw in New Zealand, not only cyclists, but walkers and hitch-hikers as well.

I arrived at Picton too late for the final ferry of the day, which was disappointing as the weather wasn't set so fair the following day, so I'd have another rainy trip across the Cook Strait like I did in the other direction.

Back in Picton and the last picture of the tour :(

I arrived back in Wellington to the same hostel I stayed in previously and a discount for being locked in my room by a broken lock when I was there over a month previously. The weather forecast for the next few days was shocking; wind and rain, so I resigned myself to staying put for a couple of days.

The plan was to head towards Taranaki for some hiking and then back up towards Auckland, taking in a few more sights along the way, but plans were to change massively.

After leaving New Zealand, it was my intention to return home to England for a few months and then to go back to Australia and apply to join my wife's permanent visa. However, due to a misunderstanding of the terms of our current visa (it is a long, complicated, and boring story), she ran a huge risk of having her visa cancelled if I didn't return, and seeing as I had already been away for over 2 months, this could happen any day.  This was explained to me on the phone in the hostel and I had no choice but to cut my trip short by about two weeks and get the soonest flight I could back to Melbourne.

Luckily, I was able to arrange a flight for the day after the next day.  This gave me time to find a box for the bike, dismantle it and pack, and still get back quite swiftly.  It was a bit stressful and I was a little worried my visa might have been cancelled, not enabling me to enter Australia, but everything worked out.

As things turned-out, the gods appeared to be on my side.  On the day I left, there was an almost biblical amount of rain, and the day after I left there was a major earthquake that struck the South Island and also damaged buildings in Wellington.  In the days after that there was extreme flooding in the part of the North Island I would undoubtedly be cycling through.  Although I was sort of gutted that I hadn't experienced what an earthquake was like, I think really I was very lucky.  If I had been travelling through the South Island at the time of the earthquake, I would have run into significant hazards and obstacles, as the quake caused landslips that ruined many of the roads I had cycled on.

So, my New Zealand adventure had come to an end, sooner than planned, but it was still an epic journey of a country that I can now call my favourite to have ever traveled. If it is not on your bucket list of places to go before you die, I strongly encourage you to add it; a stunningly beautiful, pristine, unspoilt country, that would be a joy to travel any which way, but to cycle it was truly unforgettable.

Here's the map summary of the trip:

My route down the South Island was slightly different to the above because Google is re-routing around the earthquake-damaged Eastern highway I cycled down between Picton and Christchurch.  It was extensively damaged and I assume is still blocked to this day.

As you can see, I covered quite a bit of New Zealand, but there was plenty I didn't see, so I reckon that is a good excuse for a return fairly soon.  I do like to explore new countries and cultures, but New Zealand is one of the few places I'd be happy to get a second helping of.

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