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.

No comments:

Post a Comment