Monday, 3 December 2018

Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau - Queenstown - End of Tour!

So the home stretch of the tour and the New Zealand weather saved the worst for last, but seeing as I was so ahead of schedule, it wasn't much of a problem.  I did have a fair amount of sitting and waiting in Te Anau though, which funnily enough, is exactly what I had to do here 2 years ago.

I've spent more time in Te Anau than any other place in New Zealand and this is mainly because it rains a hell of a lot there.  2 years ago, I waited for 2 days to find a weather window to cycle into Milford Sound.  Then after I came back, I had to wait 3 more days for a weather window to do some kayaking in Doubtful Sound.  This time around I managed to have no time waiting to cycle into Milford Sound, but then because of work and 5 consecutive days of rain, I had 5 days to sit it out.

Rare clear skies over Lake Te Anau
Last time I was in Te Anau, though, I was there a month earlier in October and this made booking into a hostel pretty easy.  This time, however, I was in Te Anau in mid-November, and what a difference that made.  It was about twice as busy, which meant no chance of finding an affordable bed inside, so that meant I had to rough it in a campsite in the tent.

The tent has held-up remarkably well considering I have stayed in it most days over the last 8 months or so, and it kept me warm, dry, and comfortable in the relentless rain showers.  On my first night in Queenstown, sadly, one of my poles snapped.  I did a bit of a repair job and it managed to still stand, although it was a bit of a slanty shanty.

The first port of call was Milford Sound.  Now, I had cycled in and out of Milford Sound before, so I was exploring ways I could get in there without expending so much effort.  The reason I was going again (not that you need another reason for wanting to go to this beautiful place twice) was to scuba dive there, as it seemed a pretty awesome place for a dive and to keep my skills updated.

In the end, of course, I ended-up just cycling in.  The other options were to catch a shuttle bus, which was too expensive, or to hitchhike.  The second option might seem a good idea, as Milford Sound is a dead end; there is only one road in and out.  However, when I thought about it, I felt a bit guilty and I didn't want to be a fifth wheel on someone's trip of a lifetime into the Sound.

Luckily, I managed to find a naughty wild camping spot not far from the Sound after the long cycle in and up to the Homer tunnel.  Although I was chuffed to not have to pay for camping, I did have to spend the night with thousands of sandflies, possibly the only downside of going to Milford Sound.  I had to be up early for the dive, which was scheduled to depart at 8am.

I got up super-early and wanted to head to the Sound for a spot of breakfast with a view undisturbed by tourists.  I was joined by two curious kea, who as usual, were very interested in my bike.

I don't look cool, I know.  But wait til you see the one of me underwater.
Getting prepared for the dive was quite something.  The water was a chilly 11 degrees Celsius; I can't dry suit dive, so I had to wear a very thick wetsuit, with a hood, socks, boots, and two vests underneath.  Getting into wetsuits isn't easy at the best of times, let alone when they are so thick.  They did keep me nice and warm throughout the day though, which was the important thing.

The boat was much smaller than I had imagined, and I was joined by only 4 other divers, so the trip was very personal, which made it seem extra-special.  The diving itself was really interesting.  Not only was it different to the usual warm-water, coral reef dives, but because of the uniqueness of the environment and the protected nature of the waters, it made for a some very special and unusual marine life.

That little fish was quite interested in me and spent a couple of minutes staring into my eyes.

Because of the high rock walls of the mountains in Milford Sound, it creates a much darker environment underwater than normal in relatively shallow conditions.  This means Milford Sound is one of the best places in the world to see deep water species of fish and coral at more shallow depths accessible to divers.  Black coral dominates the underwater landscape of Milford Sound, which reminded me very much of Christmas, as the coral is actually white when it is alive, but goes black when it dies.

Animal species spotted on the day included; octopus, loads of huge crayfish (protected in these waters, so they grew to mammoth proportions), 1 metre-long dog sharks, and a plethora of weird and interesting fish, one of which checked me out closely on the first dive down.

Right in the middle of the picture, two little fiordland penguins at the top of the rocks checking out what is going on.
The action wasn't only underwater; on the boat we were lucky enough to spot a family of fiordland penguins watching us from the shore.  Having missed the penguins of Curio Bay, I was delighted to finally get a look at some, even if it was from some distance.  There were plenty of seals hanging around on the rocks also.

The wetsuits did their job, but things were still pretty cold once out of the water on the boat, so between dives we were sent out on a mini expedition to one of the Sound's many waterfalls.  This first required a short swim to shore in our extremely buoyant wetsuits, so buoyant that it was hard to do any swimming stroke except for a doggy paddle.  Then all it took was a short walk through the bush to get to the waterfall.  There was one German chap on the trip with us who had a very expensive-looking underwater casing for his camera so he took some shots of the group under the waterfall.  To be honest though, the guy was a little strange, so even though he promised to email the picture on, I won't hold my breath.

Having cycled all the way in, I was sure someone would be able to give me a lift out.  It is much harder to cycle out of Milford Sound because the gradient is much steeper, and with the previous experience of this 2 years ago, I saw no reason to do it again.  Unfortunately, though, no one could do it, so I had to suffer the steep 2-hour climb out.

The climb was brutal, but I had a big stroke of luck at the top.  Homer tunnel is patrolled by people during the day to make sure no one gets into trouble because of the conditions, and the steepness of the road can sometimes cause car engines to over-heat.  On the way out of the Sound, riding through Homer tunnel isn't really an option, as it would just take too long and you hold-up all the traffic.  For this reason, the staff offer cyclists a lift through using the bike rack on the back of their vehicle.

Homer tunnel control centre.
Luckily for me, I had hit the tunnel at the perfect time, just as they were going home for the day, so after I was given a lift through the tunnel, I was offered a lift further down the road also.  Knowing full-well that the next day's weather forecast was terrible, the offer of a lift all the way back to Te Anau was too good to resist.  It wouldn't have been a particularly hard cycle, but it would have been a miserably wet one the next day.

Back to Te Anau then, and I had some work to do for a couple of days.  The weather was diabolical for the next few days, but I had plenty of time to get to Queenstown, so although I was eager to get going, it wasn't a disaster.

With a bit of time on my hands, I managed to arrange a game of squash with a local player, ranked in the top 3 in the country at over 45 years old.  Up until the point of writing, I have not lost a match either on my tour of Australia or here in New Zealand, this is despite having hardly played for weeks on end at times.  I came closest to losing on this occasion, though.  I had played a supposedly higher level player in Dunedin, but he was a young guy who was very fit and just ran around and I just controlled the game no problem.  Shane (my opponent in Te Anau) was a different kettle of fish, an older, cannier, player with lots of holds and good racket work, which really tested my rusty movement and I fell 2 games to love down in no time.

I have come to learn that I am quite a disagreeable person; I really enjoy confrontation, especially in argument, and I am quite competitive.  I used to think this was born out of insecurity, I thought I should be above getting upset over losing, that it wasn't logical somehow or other things were more important, so I should have some perspective.  I have since learned that this is probably just a natural aspect of my personality; even when I was quite shy and quiet when I was younger, I never had a problem telling people when I thought they were wrong, and I fiercely came out of my shell in a sporting context.

With this in mind then, I was pretty motivated to keep my 100% record and wasn't treating this as a nice little friendly match with a local.  I kept things friendly off court, obviously, but played a few mind games with him by telling him that no one had beaten me yet, and there was no pressure on him.  I'm sure it made no difference, but it helped my psychology as I fought the urge to have a head explosion at moving around the court like Bambi on ice and just calmed-down with a steely determination to win.  I ended-up clawing it back and winning a hard fought match 3-2, 100% record still in tact, for now at least.

I was as stiff as a board the next day and could hardly move, so I guess it was sort of lucky it rained all day, forcing me to do nothing.  Squash must be one of the worst sports for muscle stiffness if you haven't played for a while; hips, lower back, and butt in particular were very sore, in a good way though, like you know you've worked hard.

I tried to sneak-in workouts where I could the following couple of days, running on the many trails in the area and doing some bodyweight exercises.

Finally the weather cleared and it was time for the final stretch of the trip, just 120Km into Queenstown via the very scenic route.  It was quite an adventurous and spectacular finish to another amazing bicycle tour of New Zealand.

Instead of taking the main road into Queenstown, I took the back roads, which first lead to the Mavora Lakes and then passed through pristine valleys with high mountains to Walter Peak on the opposite side of the lake to Queenstown.

It was a great ride and I took things nice and easy doing only 60K or so on both days, camping at Mavora Lake overnight, which was a stunning place to camp, although again inhabited by thousands of sandflies.

The first of two ford crossings.

At the Mavora Lakes I was joined by 3 other cycle tourers; a couple from Belgium and a girl from the UK, but who was living in Queenstown and had not long started her tour from Bluff to Cape Reinga.  Everyone was very nice and we enjoyed a nice chat in the evening and in the morning over some coffee.

The second ford crossing.
The Belgian couple were very friendly, and had cycled from Belgium to Turkey, then took a plane to Australia and cycled from Sydney to Melbourne.  They actually cycled the Barry Way, which I had done previously and was some of my favourite riding in Australia, so they quite enjoyed their short tour of Australia before coming to New Zealand.

I set off early the next day expecting to be caught-up by the English girl, who was traveling much lighter than me, and sure enough, after an hour or so we met at the first stream crossing.  After that we decided to cycle together for the rest of the way.  I just about managed to keep up, although I did bomb past her going downhill as the weight of my bike creates quite a lot of momentum.

Ronnie looking on to the Von Valley.
It was ironic that the only day of the whole tour that I rode with someone was the last.  It was great as Ronnie was good company and it was nice to get some pictures of me on the bike.  Once we got into Walter Peak, she crossed to Queenstown on the ferry and I went to a free campsite close to shore, which was absolutely stunning.  The two best campsites on tour were on the last two days.

Although the tour had officially ended, I now have plenty of time left in New Zealand.  After a few days in Queenstown, I will be joined by my wife, Eunji, for two weeks in the car and I will be revisiting some places and making sure I get to other parts I didn't reach this time around, especially the West coast of the South Island.

With a few days wait in Queenstown, I used the time to do some weight training, some sprints, hiking, and some trail running to wake up the legs that had adapted mainly to cycling for the past few months.  I was also keen to explore some of the back roads and trails of Queenstown and Arrowtown while I had some time.

Amazingly, over the last 8 months of touring on the bike, I have managed to do things almost exactly on budget.  My aim financially was to be able to fund the everyday expenses (food, accommodation, bike repairs and new parts, etc) of the tour by earning approximately $200 a week teaching English online.  At the end of the tours of Australia and New Zealand, I find myself about $50 to the good in this regard.  I accepted that expensive trips like scuba diving, whale watching, and other adventures would have to be funded out of my savings.  In Australia, I spent far more on these things, but in New Zealand it was only really 2 scuba dives at opposite ends of the country.  I will probably also do something with Eunji when she gets here too.

So that's me probably done with New Zealand on a touring bike.  I feel like I have explored this beautiful country extremely well now, although I can see myself at some time in the future coming back to do some shorter trips cycling the trails.  This trip was even better than the first and has definitely reinforced my affinity for this beautiful country.

The most amazing free campsite of the trip was on the last day.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Dunedin to Te Anau

Nugget Point
I had arrived in Dunedin, the hilly city, and boy did it live up to it's reputation.  Dunedin is actually home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, at a 35% gradient, and although I was not tempted to challenge myself by cycling up it (I wouldn't have got very far), I did manage to find plenty of other roads to test myself on.

Absolutely broken by the cycle into Dunedin, I settled into a hostel and just did nothing for the rest of the day, but managed to arrange a warmshowers host for the following two days.  Typically, their house was right on top of a steep hill.

The famous old railway station in Dunedin.
Kel and Sharon were marvelous hosts; they did seem to know exactly what I needed and what would make me feel comfortable.  They were both welcoming and sociable without being suffocating and it is fair to say that I really enjoyed my time with them.  I think they were rather used to meeting and hosting new people.  I especially appreciated being invited to Kel's parent's house for a big family dinner.  Such a family atmosphere is a rare thing for a solo bicycle tourist, and it was nice to get a glimpse into New Zealand family life.

My naked bike on Kel and Sharon's balcony.
Well-rested and well-fed, I planned to spend a couple of days in a campsite on the Otago Peninsula to do a bit of work and do a bit of exploring.  It took me about 2 hours to get there from the centre of Dunedin.

I wasn't sure what I thought about the Otago Peninsula.  It was very scenic, but was a little money-grubbing also.  Any possible attraction was monetised to an extortionate degree, which is a little unusual for New Zealand in my experience.  It reminded me of a famous bit of narration in the film Goodfellas; "Wanna go see the penguins, sea lions or albatrosses? F@#k you, pay me.", "Wanna look at the castle? "F@#k you, pay me."  "Wanna ride to the other side of the peninsula?  F@#k you, pay me."  Of course they weren't his exact words, but you get the idea.  On each occasion, the sums of money being asked were not insignificant either.

Sometimes I do think I am a cycling contradiction when it comes to the philosophy of money.  On the one hand, I have always been staunchly anti-work; and I don't mean that I think people shouldn't work hard, of course, cycle touring itself is hard work.  What I mean by this is sacrificing your soul in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  I have always worked for money as little as possible, but I don't think anyone could ever accuse me of being lazy, that's just not my style.  Some people obviously enjoy their careers/jobs, but for many it is a meaningless grind.

There were lots of these nice little fishing huts dotted along the shoreline.
So with this in mind then, you might think I was vehemently opposed to capitalism, but you'd be wrong.  It, in its purest free-market form, is without doubt best best solution out there, but the problem is that government has meddled with it so much that it has forced most people to be dependent on soul-sapping jobs and very little choice in their lives.  If you want to have a family, you are going to be forced to sacrifice your soul for a all too significant portion of your life (obviously there are exceptions) and this is now true for men and women, whereas as in the past most families only needed one bread-winner.

I won't go into details, after all this is not an economics blog.  Cycle touring, for me, is a way of escaping this reality somewhat.  I can survive on working 10 hours a week, and I will be looking at discovering ways to do even less, so that I have the freedom to explore life's possibilities and learn as much as I can in my short time on earth.

The view of Dunedin from the Otago Peninsula.
It seems to me that building a conventional life, i.e. buying a house, raising a family, etc, is becoming more and more difficult, and not just difficult, stressful.  I have always disliked children, and perhaps when I return to England many of my friends (who now have them) might be inclined to think that I have flippantly brushed-off the thought of having kids and that I haven't thought about the possible negative effects on my life - especially later on - and the joy and meaning they bring.  I mean, what will I do in my old-age?

On the contrary, I think about this stuff a lot, and I take very seriously the idea of raising a family, especially as I watch a fair amount of stuff from Jordan Peterson, who is a strong advocate for having children.  Problem is though, I am not encouraged by what I see around me.  Men, in particular seemed doomed to wage slavery in order to provide for their family (this problem is compounded in Far East Asia where they even have to provide for their parents as well, perhaps a major reason for the low birth rates there), while at the same time being completely unappreciated by wider society - and in my experience, their wives and girlfriends - for their efforts.  The lack of freedom government laws and regulations allow - not to mention popular culture and it's restrictions - you in regards to raising children is also worrying, especially in my country of birth.

I had the pleasure of staying with a couple earlier in this trip that home-schooled their children.  In my country this is not only illegal, but if you take your kids out of school in term-time for a trip somewhere, you are prosecuted.  No way am I going to put up with that.  On principle, I would never have a child in a country with such pathetic and damaging laws, especially with a stultifying atmosphere in schools with a pinch of questionable moral (and sometimes overtly political) teaching, which I think shouldn't be a part of the classroom.

So the combination of not liking kids, the inevitable stress that comes with it (not of the raising of children itself, I might add, but the expense and the amount of work that entails), and the fact I probably wouldn't see them anyway and having to leave them in the hands of people with questionable motives, turns me off.  Parenting has always been difficult, just imagine raising kids a few hundred years ago when you had to slave-away for them only to watch them die or be killed in war.  The world is never perfect, but I think liking them and seeing them sometimes is probably a good idea.  My hats-off to people who take on the challenge.

I digress, but yeah, I am a freedom-loving kinda guy, perhaps more so than anyone else I know.  This is why I am drawn to self-sufficient traveling, being in nature, and particularly mountains, as mountains ooze freedom out of every crevice.

So with this split between a world-wandering, anti-money, childless hippie and a free market, low-regulation, self-reliant (not a fan of welfare), conservative-minded free-speech absolutist, I feel like I can dip a toe into both the right and the left of politics and have a fairly balanced view of the world, which it doesn't seem is reigning supreme in world affairs right now.  I can't help but notice that it is all going a bit crazy.

But back to the trip.  Ever since I had made it to Cromwell, the weather conditions had become more unreliable, with high winds, rain, and cold regularly putting in an appearance between some short spells of good weather.  During my stay on the Otago Peninsula, all 4 seasons were certainly evident and this made for an awkward stay.

I like campsites for working; they are cheap and there is usually somewhere you can hide away to do some online teaching.  However, the wind was raging and the rain came down heavily at times, so this meant working outside or in the tent was off the table.  The campsite was also quite busy, so I had to rush from place to place to find some privacy, making for a stressful weekend of work.  I hadn't experienced this at any other time in New Zealand, which on the whole has been very stress-free when it comes to work.

Looking ahead at the weather, it appeared that I had a weather window of 3 days before the heavens would open big time on me.  This combined with the remote area I was going encouraged me to try and make the 315Km or so I needed to get to the next major settlement, Invercargill, in the 3 day period.

I knew this would be difficult, but at just over 100Km a day, I thought I had it well-covered.  I wasn't, however, banking on the harshness of the roads or the weather conditions.

I left the Otago Peninsula with the intention of getting-up high so I could get the perspective over the top of the peninsula.  Trouble was that this was a 400+m climb up an extraordinarily steep road.  It was well-worth it as the views were spectacular, but it did some early damage to my legs and energy reserves.  What followed were a series of 100-200m climbs through to the outskirts of Dunedin to eventually hit a flat coastal road and a serious headwind.  This was going to be one of those days.

Each climb was brutal in severity, causing me to get off and push the bike on various occasions.  I can now say with certainty that Dunedin is the steepest area I have ever cycled; I have never had to jump off my bike and push with such frequency.

After the headwinds on the flat coastal road, I had another 400+m climb, again of ridiculous gradient to join the main road towards an area of New Zealand known as The Catlins.  My joy at making it over yet another nasty ascent was short-lived as the headwind was even stronger on the flat 40Km to a town called Balclutha, where I would spend the night.  At only 103Km, it wasn't the furthest I had ever cycled by a long-shot, but it will be remembered as one of the hardest days in the saddle ever.

Florence Bay in the Catlins.
This was then followed by two more ridiculous days cycling. The next day I strived to make it to Curio Bay, another very hilly 127Km away with a view to getting up early to see the penguins, but I had no luck and didn't see any, although there was a nice coastal view.  The next day I only had about 80Km to do, but I was incredibly tired from the previous two days and I had a strong headwind to contend with.  I considered stopping early because the wind was killing me, but then saw the weather for the following day was just a deluge of heavy rain, so I had no real choice but to get to Invercargill and duck inside a hostel for the day and head for cover.  I remember sitting in a little cafe in a state of despair looking at the weather and knowing I had not choice but to flog an already tired body for several hours into the wind.  I guess it is my equivalent of waking up on Monday morning and realising I have a week of mind-numbing and stressful work ahead of me.

After a whole day of doing nothing except having a haircut and a shave (the first of both in New Zealand), I felt great (and guilty) the next morning so did a 10K run and went to a local gym to do some weight training (also for the first time since being in New Zealand).  Then in the afternoon I cycled 40Km to Riverton.  The following morning I then did 14K of trail running.

I think all of this combined with the previous few days of hard cycling blew me out quite a bit.  All of a sudden I was waking up tired, which is something I rarely do, even though I was sleeping absolutely fine.

I was actually very fortunate to be offered a night's stay on a dairy farm in a very swanky little separate building by the chap who was in charge of the local squash club, who I had contacted looking for a game.  This was very handy as it was a perfect place to sit down and work for the day.

My room at the dairy farm.
Rarely do I feel lazy when compared to others, Andy and his wife really worked hard.  Up at 3.30am and working most of the day.  They only stopped for lunch and dinner and to watch the All Blacks narrowly scrape by England in the rugby.

I left the dairy farm the next morning a little later than usual as I only had about 70Km to do to get to a free campsite, so you'd think I'd be feeling pretty good after a sound night's sleep.  I wasn't at all though; despite having a slight tailwind for most of the day, I just felt exhausted.  All the past week's efforts had caught up with me.

Gemstone beach, so named because it washes-up an array of smooth coloured stones for some reason.
I got to the very picturesque camping area at about 4pm and then settled-down in the tent and listened to a podcast at about 5pm and very quickly fell asleep, even with the sun shinning bright outside.  I then woke up at 7pm, brushed my teeth and then went straight back to sleep, finally waking-up at 5.30pm the next morning, basically a whopping 12 hours sleep.  I clearly needed a rest.

A great campsite all to myself right next to the Clifden suspension bridge.
I felt much better the following morning and had quite a comfortable day's ride into Te Anau with clear skies above.  I had spent some time in Te Anau a couple of years before waiting for weather to clear for two major trips, one into Milford Sound and the other to Doubtful Sound in a kayak.  This time I had only one trip planned, a dive to the depths of Milford Sound.  It was to be a predictably beautiful and eventful couple of days.

A nice spot for lunch in Manapouri, about 20Km south of Te Anau.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Christchurch (Sheffield) to Dunedin

I was pretty tired from 4 days of pretty intense cycling and hiking, so settled-down in a campsite to work and relax for a few days.  It was a really nice campsite and the owners provided bicycle tourers with a nice big, fluffy towel - as they reasoned we wouldn't be carrying one, and they'd be right - which was a nice touch.

Ever since the start of my tour a couple of months ago, I have been aware of another bicycle tourer named Anthony Marra, who started at roughly the same time.  If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you'll know that on every tour I do there is someone that upstages me, that crazy person who is on just another level.  Just when I think I am doing something pretty adventurous, there is always someone who tops me, and then some.

During a 10K run in Fairlie with the backdrop of the Southern Alps.
On my first tour in Australia there was a guy pushing a 150Kg homemade cart from Cape York to Cape Leuwin (diagonally across Australia from the most north-east point to the most south-west).  On my second big tour of Australia I met a man who had cycled the full circuit of Australia 4 times in his seventies! 4 times!  I still can't believe it.  This time in New Zealand, this American chap named Anthony was cycling all round New Zealand, like me but also carrying his surfboard and skis on a trailer.  He'd find a mountain, bushwhack up it and then ski down, and also surf occasionally.  And I thought I was good carrying a couple of squash rackets and doing some scuba dives.

So I had been following his progress, mainly on Instagram.  He had gone ahead of me through the North Island, especially at the start, but because he stopped for days to climb a few mountains and ski down them in the South, I caught-up with him and had a feeling we might bump into each other.  We did so at Fairlie Holiday Park.

He was an interesting guy and was on some sort of adventure scholarship for the trip.  He asked me if I was a mormon because of my name, apparently there are a lot of mormons with the name, "Chris Smith", I just replied saying that I think there are a lot of Chris Smiths period, but not many mormons from outside the US.  I assumed he was one, not least because every mormon I have ever met has been super-nice, and also somewhat without wit and sarcasm, as a few of my little quips seemed to miss the mark, but he was extremely polite.  Anyway, it was good to finally meet him, and boy has he done some crazy stuff on this trip.

From Fairlie, I had planned to meet up with my friend Peter from England, who I had met while teaching in South Korea some years ago.  We had also caught-up in Wales last year when I was on a short tour while visiting home.

Pete hiking towards the observatory in Tekapo.
If you look at my "About" page, you'll see that Peter was one of my main inspirations for doing bicycle touring in the first place.  He had ridden from Korea to England over 9 months with a friend of his.  I think he was only 22, perhaps 23 at the time, slightly fresh-faced and I suppose came across as fairly shy, although I don't think he is.  I like Peter, similar to me, he has a bit of a baby face and almost seems too nice, but in actual fact is as hardy as they come and is not afraid to bite back if he needs to.  I used to run with him a couple of times a week and the boy can certainly take some physical punishment, so I always feel pretty comfortable that he'll handle any potentially long and arduous hikes I have planned with ease.

It worked-out that meeting in Tekapo as he was heading north and I was heading south was the best idea.  Tekapo is a beautiful place, but it is a little short on walks and slightly over-run with tourists, but I ended-up formulating a good plan to take us to a nice cheap camping area, whilst at the same time getting us away from the hubbub of the main tourist centre of the town.

Firstly though, I had to get my bike fixed.  I had been running on the bottom set of gears for about 300-400Km after a snapped cable to my front deraileur and it needed fixing.  I didn't have the part, so I called around in Fairlie and I was put in touch with a lady running a bicycle hire business in Tekapo.  She very kindly arranged to get the cable needed for me and offered to fit it for me.

This lady was an absolute star.  Turns-out she had only just started the business and had only very recently taken a bicycle maintenance course, so was glad of the practice of fixing my bike.  When I offered to pay, she actually said not to worry about it, but I insisted to at least pay for the part and gave her an extra $15 on top of that.  She seemed almost guilty to take my money, so made me a cup of tea and a sandwich with a piece of banana bread and a cereal bar.  She also let us leave our stuff in her garage while we went off for our hike and overnight camp, as Pete met me at her place.  She was an absolute saint.

Pete was a good model.
I planned to hike up to the observatory in Tekapo and then head-out another 12Km or so to Lake Alexandrina, a nearby lake recommended by a lady I met in a shop for being tourist-free and very scenic.  It was a good walk out there and back via a different route, and was good to catch-up with Pete on his travels again.  Maybe next time we'll meet up in Australia, as apparently he'll be over there next year.

After saying farewell to Pete, I made my way to Lake Pukaki, Omarama for an overnight free camp, then to Cromwell via the Lindis Pass, bypassing Mount Cook this time (I had been there before on my last trip here) with a view to going there by car with Eunji when she comes over.

It was a beautiful cycle and I managed to squeeze it all in perfectly before forecasted bad weather came in.  On my previous trip I didn't get much of a view of Mount Cook at Lake Pukaki or it's famed blue waters because of low cloud, this time, however, it was really pretty.  I also never climbed the Lindis Pass because I got a lift with my friend Alex overnight, so it was good to experience riding on that particular beautiful section of road as well.

As I made it to the top of the Lindis Pass, there were a number of people looking on in admiration and taking pictures of me.  It was quite a climb, but pretty steady and not too difficult, and I had a lot harder sections of road already cycled and also to come.

I made it to Cromwell in good time with a fairly strong tailwind.  I had flown through New Zealand since Gisborne, way up in the North Island because of such good weather, but now I faced about a week of less than perfect weather going into Dunedin.

The scene from the top of a good little trail run in Cromwell.
I had to stop in Cromwell for a few days, and then Alexandra - only 30Km away - for a couple more.  I took the opportunity to play some squash, which I hadn't even thought of doing for the last month and a half, so busy I was taking advantage of the good weather.  I got a couple of good games in with reasonable standard players in Cromwell and Alexandra, which I sorely needed, but was incredibly stiff after the first one.  Cycling doesn't really prepare you very well for the demands of a hard game of squash.

I eventually got myself onto the Otago Central Rail Trail, a scenic gravel trail through the mountains, and it was certainly very picturesque, even in slightly cloudy weather on the first day and windy, rainy conditions on the second.  I met almost no other cyclists on it, except for at one bridge when, a bit like London buses, several showed-up all at once.

One of the tunnels on the Otago Central Rail Trail.
The second day on the trail was a real trial.  The wind was strong and in my face and it rained steadily, which not only made me wet, but made the trail difficult to cycle on.  I then had a really heavy downpour about 500 metres from the town of Middlemarch at the end of the trail.  I was desperate to get undercover, but couldn't find anywhere.  Eventually a nice chap let me sit inside his shop for a bit and I contemplated my next move.

By this time, heavy showers were rolling in regularly and the wind was gusty and quite fierce.  I thought I'd cycle to the next "town" and see how I felt, as it looked like it had a campsite and was only 7Km away.  As it turned-out, there wasn't a campsite and the weather was terrible.  Wild camping seemed impossible in the strong wind and rain.

I didn't really know what to do, and to add to my frustration there was a youth camp complex right in the village with no one running it.  There were beds, a kitchen, and comfortable sofas that I could see through the window, but I couldn't access it.

My home for the night.  It was perfect; dry, sheltered from the wind, and free!
After a bit more head-scratching I luckily stumbled across an old, abandoned railway station.  Very small, but open, just big enough for me to lay inside and completely sheltered from the wind and rain, and of course, totally free.  I was very happy to spend the night there and was wonderfully protected from the terrible weather outside.

I woke in the morning to a temperature of minus 2 degrees Celsius.  Despite all the cloud and rain during the day, it was a very clear night, causing the low temperatures.  It was pretty uncomfortable to get everything ready and get started, but I soon warmed-up as I got stuck into some of the toughest cycling of the trip, up and down some crazily steep hills on the way into Dunedin.

Again, the pictures never quite show just how steep the roads are.
This part of New Zealand really reminds me of Scotland, the landscape is kind of wild, barren and hilly, and the weather has been wet and cold so far.  Perhaps it sounds like I don't like this, and part of me doesn't, but I also quite enjoy the harshness of Scotland and this part of New Zealand.

The similarities don't just lie in the landscape.  There is a history of Scottish immigration to New Zealand, and especially in the South Island regions of Otago and the Southland.  Dunedin, for example, actually comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.  Other Scottish names in the region include, Invercargill, Balclutha, and Oban.

Back to the cycling, and just when I thought I come through the worst of the hills, I had one last slog up, "Three mile hill", into Dunedin, of about 450m.  Not the highest climb, but certainly the hardest climb of the trip outside of the last few kilometres up to Arthurs Pass.  It was just consistently steep, with no respite the entire way.

Coming into Dunedin it was clear that this is not a great place for fully-loaded bicycle tourers.  Not that it isn't a pretty city, because the landscape and the architecture are really nice, but the hills are crazy.  I have been to some hilly places, but this place really takes the biscuit.  I settled-down into a hostel and just rested for the afternoon and evening and much of the next day, although to get to my warmshowers host I had to get myself up one almighty steep, long hill again.  In fact, everywhere I went I had to do this; up and down, and I have to admit, it was a little bit stressful, even for someone who enjoys a bit of physical hardship, like me.

I had a few plans for things to do in Dunedin, but more on that in the next blog and my journey into the far South and the Catlins, the next leg of the trip.