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.

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