2019 New Zealand Bicycle Tour
This blog details the 2019 bicycle tour of Jeb Hunt and Andrew Branch from Auckland, New Zealand to Queenstown, New Zealand.
February 15, 2019 | Around the World in 42 Days
Tomorrow, February 16th, I fly west and set off on the first leg of a 6-week adventure which will take me completely around the world. The central part of this adventure includes biking 1,000 miles through the land of the Lord of the Rings from Auckland to Queenstown, New Zealand. This will be my fourth long-distance bike trip since 2013. I'm so excited and very thankful to be biking again with my buddy Andrew Branch. Andrew was a part of the 2017 bike trip from Norway to Finland.
We will start in Auckland, New Zealand on the north island and eventually make our way to Wellington where we will catch a ferry to the south island. We will then continue from Picton, New Zealand crossing the Southern Alps before completing our bike journey in Queenstown, New Zealand. While in New Zealand we also plan on hiking a few days and visiting some glaciers. I can't wait to get on the road and see the beauty of New Zealand.
After a few days in Queenstown, Drew will return home to San Francisco and I will take five days to slowly travel (via Singapore and Dubai) to Tanzania where I am meeting a team from the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC. I'll serve with them for 10-days in Tanzania before finally returning home at the end of March.
I'll be blogging here as often as possible and will also strive to post pictures daily on my Instagram account and on Facebook. Like my other travel blogs from the previous trips, I'll use these pages to share about what happens each day, tell some of the stories of the people we meet and the places we see, and will also share some reflections and general thoughts about whatever I might be thinking or feeling at that moment. These blogs primarily serve as a journal for me to remember the details of the trips. However, over the years I've surprisingly had people tell me they enjoy following along by reading the blog. So, if that is your kind of thing, I invite you to stay tuned to the pages for the next six weeks.
But first I need to make sure all my batteries are charged, finish packing a few items and get a good nights sleep.
February 20, 2019 | Last Minute Preparations
Well today is the last day for Andrew and I to finish any last minute preparations before we leave for New Zealand tomorrow. We’ve scheduled a shuttle to pick us and our two bike boxes up at 6:00am in the morning for our 8:30am flight. After writing this quick blog post I’m going to run a few errands before meeting Andrew for lunch. Tonight we will finish packing our bike boxes and seal them up so that they are ready for the long flight to NZ.
Though we are leaving tomorrow morning for New Zealand, we don’t arrive until Friday, February 22 at 10:00pm-ish. That includes a +21 hour time difference from San Francisco. Once arriving at the airport and clearing customs, we will need to put our bikes together and then bike a few miles to the hotel we booked for Friday night. I have no idea how’ll we will be feeling sleep-wise, but hopefully the adrenaline keeps us going for a little while.
Supposedly the airport in Auckland has a designated area for bicycle tourists, like ourselves, to assemble their bicycles. That’s a nice touch. At the start of my other international bike trips I’ve had to put the bike together either in the corner of baggage claim or outside in the parking lot.
The plan is to start biking south from Auckland on Saturday morning. Looking at the forecast for Auckland on Saturday and Sunday, it could be a windy and rainy start. But the weather is part of the journey. On a bicycle you are at the mercy of it. Andrew and I were able to push through some bad weather on the last trip and I hope we can do the same this time. Next Monday the forecast says gusts could be up to 40 mph. I sure hope those are tailwind gusts of 40mph. It is all subject to change though. It’s time to just start taking things one day at a time again. We will know what the weather is like when we get there and start biking. If it’s raining, we will get wet. If it’s windy, we will either go really fast or really slow.
I’ve enjoyed my 5 days in San Francisco. It’s been nice to decompress before the trip and mentally prepare for the journey. I’ve also got in a lot of walking over the past few days which I think will help physically prepare me more for the trip, as well.
During the free time I’ve had in San Francisco I did try to watch a few travel shows featuring New Zealand. The only thing like that on Netflix was called “Departures” which is a travel show about two 20-something guys who took a year off in 2007 and traveled the world. Two of the episodes feature New Zealand. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the show (the two main characters were a little too “bro” for me), but it was interesting to watch knowing that we’d see some of the same sights in just a few days. Who knows, maybe Andrew and I will make our own parody of the show while we are on the trip.
Well, I need to get some errands done now before I meet Andrew for lunch. My next blog update will be from New Zealand!
February 23, 2019 | Day One
In case I had forgot how physically challenging bicycle touring could be, I now remember. It’s funny how once you get through the physical challenge of a bicycle tour all your memories romanticize what it is actually like. Yesterday wasn’t actually that much harder than previous days I’ve had on other cycling tours, it’s just that your memories fool you and over time you remember it being easier than it actually was.
We arrived in Auckland at about 10:00pm their time. Auckland is 19 hours ahead of Central Time in the US. Our planes were all mostly on time with just about a 30 minute delay getting to Hawaii. That didn’t matter though because so many people on our plane from San Francisco were also connecting to the plane in Hawaii to New Zealand that they held the plane for us.The flight from San Francisco to Hawaii was about 5 hours with the flight from Hawaii to New Zealand about 9 hours. We flew Hawaiian Airlines, my first time, and it was a good experience. During the 9 hour plane ride from New Zealand and because of the extreme time difference, you basically skip a day. I had joked that I’d hate to be making that flight on my birthday, because you wouldn’t get to fully experience. Well the was the exact scenario for one person on the plane, as we heard other friends and passengers wishing that person a happy birthday.
Once we arrived in New Zealand we had to go through customs. Because we had bike boxes and camping stuff, they needed to check our boxes. They had to clean down my tent, because it had some seeds and other dirt from previous camping trips. They are careful to make sure that nothing foreign to New Zealand nature spoils the beauty of their land. I got a free tent cleaning out of it.
Just like I had read, there was a designated area outside of baggage claim to put the bikes together. We slowly (Drew a little faster than me) put our bikes together and placed all our stuff in our panniers, knowing we could fine tune everything in the morning. Mainly we just needed to make it the 3 - 4 miles to our motel for the night. The motel we had prebooked was basically the closest one we could find to the airport. Sure enough it was only a few miles away and the traffic wasn’t that bad at that time of night. We ended up arriving at the Oakwood Manor Motel about 1:00am.
I could only manage to sleep until about 7:00am. When I woke up I spent about an hour slowly and intentionally repacking my panniers in a manner that made more sense to me and made more space. We had initially thought about paying to eat at the motel continental breakfast but instead opted to find some place a few miles up the road. We found a place called “The Food Kitchen” and when we arrived it appeared to be filled with locals on this New Zealand Saturday morning. Looks like we found a winner. Drew got a Spanish omelette and I got blueberry pancakes. They were great. We sat outside at a table near our bikes. Near where we were sitting, a young driver backed in their diesel vehicle into the parking space right in front of us. The diesel smell was quite obvious, but we figured the driver wasn’t aware of us. As a group who had just finished eating walked out, they apologized for the driver and welcomed us to New Zealand. “Some of us can actually pull our car forward into the spaces of a car park in New Zealand” one of the group said. We got a laugh out of it.
After breakfast it was time to start heading our bike towards our next destination for the evening. We didn’t stop to get lunch supplies before leaving the outskirts of Auckland, which in retrospect we probably should have. We had just eaten and there were a high number of places to get food for the first hour or so of the morning. But by about lunch time or 1:00pm we were in the middle of countryside with no places to stop around. I had some emergency snacks, but we’d be happy to get another real meal sometime in the next hour or so. The first half of the ride was hard. It wasn’t the amount of climbs that was hard, it was the grade of the climbs. They were steep. They didn’t last long, but it took everything I had to lug my bike and body up them. That’s the part you tend to forget. The climbs are going to get harder, not easier, over the coming days and weeks, but hopefully my body should adjust to the new lifestyle as well. This isn’t unusual.
We did eventually go through the town of Mercer at about 3:00pm and there was a McDonalds. It did the job. From there we had about 12 miles to our campsite for the night. We chose a public campground in the town of Te Kauwhata within site of a beautiful lake. There are a lot of camper vans, a popular pastime in New Zealand, but only a few of us using tents in a huge open field. We walked to a nearby grocery store after setting up our tents and got some items for dinner. It’s supposed to rain in the morning for a few hours, so our plan is to pack up and leave after that. But first, hopefully a nice sleep, staying dry in my tent.
Day Two and Three
Sunday, February 24th
I bought the tent I’m using on this trip in 2013 before I biked across the USA. It’s a one person tent that I purchased at Dick’s Sporting Goods or whatever the sports and outdoors shop in Pensacola was at the time. It’s super small, with just enough space to sleep and not really enough room to sit up all the way. I didn’t spend very much on it and the tent has served me well the previous three trips. I’ve never rewaterproofed it (I feel like that is something serious hikers/campers do) and I’m always a little nervous when a big rain comes through while I’m in the tent. But thankfully the tent has never failed me yet.
A pretty intense rain did come through during the night, not for very long, but it did rain pretty good for 15 minutes or so and then some more drizzles off and on during the night. Thankfully it all happened while we were tucked in our tents so all our gear stayed dry. Knowing that it was going to rain, I even made sure to place all my panniers and contents in the tent as well, which made for an even more crowded one person tent.
We got moving relatively early after sun rise. We packed up our stuff and headed the short distance to town for some breakfast. It was Sunday morning and you could hear a church praise band practicing in the neighboring rugby club house across from the field where we camped. We had breakfast at The Bakehouse Cafe in town where I order “The Kiwi Breakfast” which was basically similar to the “All Star Breakfast” at Waffle House. It was tasty.
After breakfast we hit the road and thankfully the route was a bit easier. It was mostly flat and the wind was calm. These were welcomed conditions after the hilly first day. Pretty soon after leaving town we passed a golf course which was pretty busy for an early Sunday morning. For a little while I thought of the two contrasts that I had just seen of Sunday morning activities: Sunday morning church or golfing. It’s a reminder that some things are the same all around the world.
We crossed our first bridge that morning. It was a small, one lane bridge, that you had to wait to make sure it was clear of traffic coming the other way. I’ve always enjoyed cycling across bridges and it was the first of 2 or 3 bridges on that day. We cycled by some other interesting places on the outskirts of town including a pretty large power factory of some sort. When Drew asked me what I though the factory was from a distance, I jokingly made up something, while he guessed it produced power. He was right, of course.
On all three of my previous trips (USA, Ireland to Czech Republic, and Norway to Finland) I have found at least one license plate while on the trip. They have become special souvenirs which I have hanging on my wall in my bedroom at home. To my delight I found a New Zealand license plate on the second day! They are super simple plates with just black letters on a white plate. No other markings. This one was from a boat trailer. From past experience collecting license plates, trailers seem to lose plates more than anything else.
The route took us through the countryside in the afternoon which gradually added more hills to the afternoon ride. At one point we turned onto Speedy Road where I looked to Drew and said “I hope this road lives up to its name.” Thankfully it did. With rolling hills that were just the right size to give you enough speed to push you up the next hill after you go down the previous, it was a nice section of road. As if finding a license plate wasn’t the highlight of the day, I also found a $5 New Zealand bill on the side. My lucky day! I used it to buy some snacks later on in the day.
By mid-afternoon we had made it to the town of Hamilton. Hamilton was a larger town and Drew had seen that there was a place we could buy fuel for the camping stove so that we could make dinner when we camped. He found a sports and outdoors store in what appeared to be an outlet mall with many other stores. I waited outside with the bikes while Drew went inside and bought two fuel canisters. I got quite a few strange looks as I was sitting outside by the bikes, super dirty, next to a bike loaded with panniers and a license plate and extra food attached to the back with bungee cords. It has not taken long for me to look like a wild man on a bike.
On the way to the sports and outdoor store we took a bike trail next to the main road that was made of gravel and some hidden sections of softer sand that we were unaware of. Drew unfortunately hit one of these patches of sand while going decently fast down a hill and took a bit of a spill off his bike. He scrapped up his elbow and shoulder pretty good and it even tore a hole in his shirt. He is alright, but on top of the sunburn we both had already started to develop he said it did sting a bit. I’ve always carried a first aid kit in my panniers and I don’t think I’ve ever had to use it before. So the bright spot was that we had everything we needed to get it cleaned and patched up in no time. Drew is doing fine, but commented today that his wounds make him look like a zombie.
After getting fuel for the camping stove we found a spot in a nice clearing to have some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. It was left over supplies from the night before, but it has provided good snack and meals while on the road. It saves time and money also not having to stop at a restaurant every meal.
Supposedly “meat pies” are a thing in New Zealand. They had talked about them on the Netflix show I watched in San Francisco and I have also seen some advertisements for them. At one of our stops there was a coke ad that also had a meat pie featured. I have yet to try one, but I will before the trip is over.
After Hamilton we made it to the quaint town of Cambridge where we stopped for a brief break. From there we headed towards the rolling green hills and country side of Matamata which is home to the Hobbiton Movie Set of Lord of the Rings fame. By the time we got near Hobbiton it was to late for a tour so we continued past the set and found Brock’s Place, our camping home for the evening. It was a nice little spot to camp, even offering five minute $2 showers and a lovely view of the country side of Matamata. After five minute showers (the water turns very cold after that five minutes) Drew boiled some water and we cooked some Mountain Home pre-packaged camping meals. As an added bonus, the campers next to us in a camper van made an over abundance of mashed potatoes and asked us if we would like the leftovers. We gladly accepted.
It was a good day. Our total distance for the day was 67 miles, we were able to take a shower and have a hot meal. It was time again to retreat to my tiny tent for the night.
Monday, February 25th
Wow, it was a windy night. Many times throughout the night I awoke to my tent shaking in the wind. If I would have known that it was going to be that windy I would have taken a little extra time to make sure everything was staked perfectly and secure. But thankfully the tent held up fine again.
We had decided to wake up early and be at the Hobbiton Movie Set in time for the first tour by 8:30am. That plan worked perfectly, arriving about 8:25am and purchasing tickets right before the tour began. The movie set hosts about 3,000 visitors a day and being the first group allows you to see everything with no one in front of you. It was a really fun tour, that lasted about two hours. The tour even included a complimentary beer at The Green Dragon in the shire. I’m pretty sure that is the first time I’ve ever had a beer at about 10:00am on an empty stomach.
The set which was used in the Lord of the Rings movies was temporary, made of styrofoam and other temporary materials and was torn down after the three LOTR movies were made. However, when the Hobbit movies were made, they decided to rebuild Hobbiton on the same site and this time make it permanent. That is what the Hobbiton movie set is today. About 300 people are employed keeping the town for hobbits in pristine condition. Our guide David told many great behind the scenes stories of the movies and I look forward to watching the movies again when I return home. I encourage anyone who visits New Zealand to stop by the movie set. It was great.
After the tour and the beer, we had “second breakfast” at the cafe located at the Hobbiton Movie Set. It was actually our first breakfast, but in hobbit tradition it was called a “second breakfast” and was delicious. It included sausage, bacon, 2 eggs, potatoes, toast, and tomatoes.
It was after 11:00am at this point and time to get back on the road. We had initially intended to have another big day of riding, but knew that wasn’t going to happen when we decided to take the tour in the morning. We are always overly optimistic in our planning, but have an extra week built into the tour which allows us to adjust as needed. Good thing, because we only got in about 35 miles. Wind. Wind. Wind. It was windy. That wind that started last night had continued into the day. And the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees. It wasn’t always a headwind when we were riding. Sometimes it was a side wind. It was never a tail wind though. And the entire day was a gradual climb of about 1000 feet.
After the rains on the first night my bike had developed a bit of a squeak. I’m sure Drew found it incredibly annoying and I tuned it out by just imaging it was the noise of a cricket hanging out on my panniers. When we stopped in the town of Tirau just 13.5 slow miles from the Hobbiton Movie Set, thankfully we (when I say we, I mostly mean Drew) were able to fix the squeak. The next town after Tirau we stopped at a grocery store where Drew went and bought some meat and cheese for us to make sandwiches for lunch. We ate them outside the grocery by our bikes.
We had decided early in the day to stay in the town of Tokoroa that night. Drew, who can naturally bike faster than me in any conditions decided to bike ahead and we agreed to meet up in Tokoroa. There was only about 20 minutes of space in between us, but it was pleasant having the road all alone for a bit. We hadn’t exactly said where we were going to meet in town and we actually had to call to find out where each other was. After waiting for me about 20 minutes Drew was convinced I had died and was looking for me. I assured him I hadn’t died, but instead was just biking very slowly. We met up soon thereafter in town.
The winds continued the whole day. As I entered the town of Tokoroa some kind of newspaper or advertisement was blowing all through town. It was all the same. I guess it had been delivered to the neighborhoods, but it was so windy that it had been blown off the doorsteps. It made for a strange entry to the town, almost like a confetti parade for my triumphant entry into town. We have two days of big climbs ahead so we both agreed a motel was in order for tonight. We are staying at a nice place near the center of town, and it even offers free Netflix. We won’t have time to do any of that though. After arriving to town (which normally happens between 6pm or 7pm) there are a series of “chores” that must be done like setting up camp, etc. Even though we are staying in a motel tonight we still need to figure out what to do for dinner, make sure we are efficient in charging our electrical devices while we have the chance and now I’m staying up a little later than I want to to catch up on the blog. This motel also has guest laundry, so we threw our cycling clothes and a few extra in the laundry as well. Oh, and we got take away dinner from a delicious Turkish place offering kabobs and pizza. Drew got a pita. I got a pizza. We ate them back at the motel. I even have some pizza left over for breakfast.
Well we are hoping to be on the road by 7:30am tomorrow. It’s going to be another day of hills and climbs and we will need as much sunlight as possible to get as much done. So I’m going to post this and then go to bed.
(Sorry there are no pictures in the blog. It’s hard to add them while on the road. I’ll try to add some at the end of the trip. Until then look for photos on Instagram and Facebook.)
Day Four and Five
Tuesday, March 26th
Eating really takes up time in the morning, no matter how fast you try to make it. I feel like when I’m at home I can grab a quick something for breakfast and then be at work in no time. But even though we set a goal of being on our bikes by 7:30am, we’ve yet to meet that goal. We got closer today though. We were on our bikes by 8:15am. We ended up having instant oatmeal at the motel which actually didn’t take long. But every morning you also have to repack your panniers, fill up your water bottles, put on sunscreen. And when you camp you also have to take down your tent, roll up your sleeping bag, deflate your sleeping mat. I tend to call all these things “chores.” That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy doing them, it just means they are things I know I have to get done even sometimes when I’m really, really tired and would prefer to just go to sleep or sleep in. Blogging can sometimes seem like a chore too. I’m always so glad when I do it though, especially when the trip is over. I have reread my blogs from the previous trips multiple times as I try to remember the day to day of what happened in a certain place. So even though it’s been a long day and I’m tired, here I go, blogging again, but with the goal to be done and have it posted by 10:30pm.
We found a bike path pretty early on after we left the motel. It was nice and secluded and we followed it for a while, because it took us directly next to the route our map was showing us. However the bike path ended at some kind of textile factory in town. No worries, we were able to back track just a little bit and reconnect with where our route showed us going. However, right as we started to head up the secluded hilly road of our route a speeding factory security truck pulled out of no where and flagged us down. “You can’t use that road” said the man from the truck. “That’s a private road. We saw you near the factory and figured we’d come and stop you now so that you don’t have to turn around miles from now.” I guess we didn’t quite look convinced because he continued, “I know your GPS is probably telling you to go on it, but it’s a private road. It’s only for logging and work trucks. You are going to have to use the main road.”
The idea of chancing it and taking that road anyway once he left didn’t seem appealing because there was no way we wanted to turn around and backtrack if we got caught later. I’ve had very similar experiences before on almost all my trips. I guess google maps and cycling computers just make the best route using all the roads on a map, not taking into account if they are private or factory roads. On my first Europe bike trip, we even ended up biking through someone’s backyard. That’s part of the adventure, never quite knowing where you will end up.
Well, now that our new route had been decided for us we headed back to the main road, which wasn’t far way. This main route is Hwy 1. It is not the most ideal route to cycle on the north island, mainly because of the amount of traffic. For the most part there are pretty good shoulders, but at times you have to ride in the lane. Most of the riding we do over the next few days will be on Hwy 1 though, because it’s basically the only reasonable option heading south.
We had packed the left over pizza I ordered from the night before and finished it off during our first break outside a gas station. We looked in the gas station to see if there were any other desirable food options for a snack, but we were not that impressed. They did have some meat pies at that gas station, but I wasn’t convinced I wanted that to be my first. It looked like it might have been sitting there for days. So I decided to wait.
Drew had been warned by the nice lady at the hotel last night to make sure we had enough food and water for a certain section of the route today. There was about a 20 mile stretch with no services and we didn’t want to get caught without enough water, especially because the sun was shining bright and we were going through it quickly. We noticed a very tiny town right before the beginning of this stretch so we planned to get water there. However, once turning into this town, we quickly realized it was basically just some houses and no shops whatsoever. The eerie thing was that there wasn’t a person to be found anywhere. Sure, it was before noon on a weekday, but you’d expect to see some kind of movement somewhere. It looked so deserted. We did notice some water spigots on the outside of houses and so we decided that was our only option. We don’t normally make a habit out of doing this, but with no one in sight, we used the outside spigots to fill up our bottles and then got on our way.
After putting in about 45 miles we made it to the town of Taupo which is directly on Lake Taupo. It’s a beautiful town, with a definite outdoorsy feel to it. On the outside of town I noticed Ironman banners hanging on most of the lamp posts. As we got to the center of town the banners continued. “There must be an Ironman triathlon happening here soon,” I mentioned to Drew. Sure enough, Ironman New Zealand takes place this coming Saturday. Taupo has hosted this race since 1999. We were right. Taupo is definitely a sports-loving, outdoorsy town.
We didn’t get into Taupo until about 3:30pm and at this point we were starving. We chose a place called Cafe Baku to eat a late lunch and it was so good. I feel like I say that about everything we eat, mainly because of how hungry doing something like this makes you, but it was really, really good. I had a chicken sandwich with goat cheese and all the trimmings with French fries. I ate the entire thing. Drew ordered fish and chips but didn’t quite finish it all. At the end of the meal he went to his bike and retrieved the plastic bag that held the cold pizza this morning and used it to now hold the leftover fish fillet. “This will be a good snack later.”
You could tell the Ironman athletes were starting to arrive in town. We passed a few cyclists, fully dressed in triathlon clothing and aero cycling helmets when we headed out of town. Ironman athletes are really impressive. Touring cycling can be hard, but it’s nothing like the dedication it takes to prepare for an Ironman. Good look to all the athletes on Saturday.
We knew the first section of this next ride was going to be relatively flat, because it was on a road very near Lake Taupo. But we also knew that we had about 600ft climb left before we made it to our campsite at the end of the day.
The climb was hard, especially since we were tired from the miles we had put in earlier, but made it with some perseverance. Still on Hwy 1 as we got nearer our campsite the traffic started to pick up. At one point a pilot vehicle warning of an upcoming “wide load” sped by, followed by a few semis. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but a few seconds later, two semis carrying prebuilt new homes came speeding by. These homes took up nearly both lanes (two lane road, one lane going each direction) and there wasn’t much room for anything else. It wasn’t a great experience, but we were able to get off the road quick enough and let it pass. I was happy not to get hit by a house going 70 down the highway.
About 6:00pm we arrived at Motutere Bay Campgound which is situated directly on Lake Taupo. We were assigned campsite 90 which is right on the water. It was a beautiful spot. Drew went for a swim in the lake and I used my drone to take some video of the beauty of Lake Taupo. At the camp registration office we noticed they sold ice cream cones. “I’m totally just having ice cream for dinner” I told Drew. I was still mostly full from the massively huge lunch we had at nearly 4:00pm, and sure enough I had two scoops of ice cream at about 7:45pm. Only on a cycle tour. I also bought some milk. I absolutely love milk and for some reason ice cream makes me crave milk. Weird thing is that they sell milk in plastic bottles similar to the shape we use for laundry detergent bottles in the US. I guess a “milk jug” is a US thing. I had to double check I was buying milk and not Tide. I didn’t drink the whole New Zealand milk jug (I’m not even sure how many servings it was) but I figured it was going to be cold enough tonight to save it outside my tent and finish it in the morning.
Our biggest climb of the north island will be tomorrow. We will reach an elevation of about 3,500 feet, which makes for a climb of over 2,000 feet from our current elevation. And the climb is drawn out over about 20 miles. We don’t anticipate it being easy and I’ve been dreading it for a few days. But you got to put in the work to enjoy the benefits. But for now, let’s enjoy the view of the Lake Taupo sunset.
Wednesday, February 27th
We were on our bikes by 7:40am. We are getting closer to our 7:30am goal. Drew also said he didn’t sleep that well. We may have to adjust our plans, but we will see. The 2,000ft climb doesn’t start until after the town of Turangi, which is about 11 miles from where we camped. So we decided to bike to Turangi first time and fuel up with breakfast there before taking on the climb. After passing up the first place we stopped because they only served pastries, we found a nice cafe that served a more hearty breakfast. We both order poached eggs and bacon on a bagel. Good fuel for the day ahead.
The climb was long and hard. Like I said yesterday, it was about 20 miles of a slow, but constant uphill climb. It wasn’t unbearable though. It’s both physical and mental. Knowing that you will eventually reach the top makes such a difference. The app we are using for our route has a built in cycling computer on it as well. One of the functions tells you the elevation. Knowing that 3,550 was the summit of this particular climb, I kept it on the elevation setting the whole morning, and slowly counted up the gains as we cycled up. It is funny how much of a physiological difference that made for me. I started to look forward to the climbs instead of dreading them. I knew each short climb we were going to get 25, 50, or 100ft closer to the top.
During the climb there were no supplies or anything around. You were out in the middle of nowhere. The scenery during the climb was outstanding though. For most of the day a beautiful snow capped was in the distance. This country has such breathtaking beauty and we’ve only seen so little of it.
We did finally reach the top. It took us between 3 and 4 hours of constant grinding of the gears to get there, but we made it. And out of nowhere the wind starts. At first it was a tailwind, which combined with the gentle slow down made for such a reward. But then it changed to a headwind, pushing against us as we coasted down taking the wind out of our sails. Thankfully it’s not a constant wind. More of gusts here and there. But you never know when or where.
Weary and sore from our biggest climb yet, we finally made it to the town of Waiouru and finally had lunch at a Subway at 4:30pm. We contemplated staying in Waiouru for the night, but after some food and a look at the elevation profile to the next town, we decide we could make it to the town of Taihape about 20 miles down the road. And it was “down” the road. The wind had let up finally and I feel like I didn’t even have to pedal those twenty miles to get there. It was just what I needed at the end of the day.
The welcome sign to Taihape had a large overturned boot next to it. I thought it was weird to have a boot as a symbol for you town and I still haven’t figured out what it means. After getting a motel for the night, we walked the short distance into town and passed another welcome to Taihape sign, adorned with another large boot. It looks like a quirky little town, but it’s charming.
I’m not sure exactly what tomorrow holds. I’ve been focusing on getting though the big climb today that I haven’t really thought about it. But I know we only have a few more days until we reach the bottom of the north island and ferry to the south Island. We are making pretty good timing and are only about a half day behind where we thought we’d be at this time. But remember we have about five extra days built in. So far so good.
(Please disregard any typos or grammatical errors. Most of these I’m writing pretty late at night after all day on the bike and I’m tired. I’ll go back eventually when I’m home and fix the mistakes.)
Day Six and Seven (Eggs Benedict, Foxton Beach, and Wellington)
Thursday, February 28th
We left the Coachman Motel in Taihape by about 7:45am. So that we could have the quickest breakfast possible and try to make up some extra miles we chose McDonald’s for breakfast on the edge of town. I tried a “New York Benedict Bagel” which I’ve never seen in the US. I guess I was keeping with the theme of ordering eggs benedict whenever it is on the menu. I actually got two NY Benedict Bagels, but I saved half of one for the road.
The day was made up of some small climbs over short hills, but for the most part it was mostly downhill. We stopped and had a little snack at the top of the second climb. We had biked about 30 miles by noon when we stopped in Hunterville to restock some food supplies. In the town was a statue of a sheep. The really do have a lot of sheep in New Zealand.
While in Hunterville, Drew and I did try our first meat pie. We chose steak and cheese and it was actually rather tasty. Now I see what they are all about. While enjoying our steak and cheese meat pie a group of about 8 - 10 cyclists passed by and stopped at the neighboring cafe. They looked like they were part of an organized multi-day supported tour. They were carrying some stuff on their bikes, but not enough to be self-supported for more than a day at a time.
The ride out of Hunterville and in to the next town of Bull was fast. I led our two person bicycle train and tried to keep up the pace. Thankfully it wasn’t hard because of a slight downhill and no headwind. Similar to the statue of a sheep in Hunterville, the town of Bull had a statue of, you guessed it, a bull. And they liked to make puns using their town name. They reminded you that the town of Bull was “Irresisti-bull” on a sign near the entrance to down. The bull puns continued on signs all throughout the town. Seems like a fun place.
We stopped in a little monument park in Bull to make sandwiches using the supplies we had bought in Hunterville. We had bought some ham, more bread, and some brie. It made for a delicious sandwich (if you like brie, which both Drew and I do) and somehow eating brie while on a bicycle tour really seems to fancy the whole thing up. When referring to brie I often called it brie cheese. Drew said that was repetitive and that I really only needed to say brie. I guess he’s right.
After our stop in Bull the rest of the day was a steady, but long final stretch into the sleepy little beachside town of Foxton Beach. Our route took us in to Foxton Beach using a side road, which made the town appear to be even smaller than it is. It’s a really charming place that reminds me of Port St. Joe in Florida. I followed our cycling app directions to our Top 10 Campgound location, but instead of arriving at a campground we ended up in the middle of a neighborhood. Drew quickly googled the actual location of the campground and we were there a few minutes later.
Top 10 Campgrounds are nice. This one had a nice stretch of grass for us to put up our tents and a nice bathhouse for us to get a shower. There was a flood light that stayed on all night, but Drew was able to rig up a block for the flood light by draping his cycling clothes over his overturned bicycle next to his tent.
We combined many of the food items we had been carrying in our panniers together to make an interesting dinner. We split a Mountain Home Chicken and Mashed Potatoes (just add boiling water) meal, but added the brie, ham, and bread to make some form of a cordon blue sandwich. After dinner we treated ourselves to ice cream treats available in the camp office and then walked towards the beach as the sun was setting to see the coast and look out to the Tasman Sea.
The beach was unlike any other beach I’ve ever been. The sand was dark and cars were allowed to drive on the beach with permit. There were about
5 or 6 vehicles with beach loving New Zealanders having a good time as we walked out to the point. After taking some pictures and flying the drone for a bit we headed back before it got to dark for us to find our way back to the campsite.
Once returning to camp I went ahead and purchased ferry tickets from Wellington to Picton on the South Island for Saturday morning. After our 80 mile ride today we should make it Wellington tomorrow evening, completing our North Island ride. I’m not going to celebrate early though. You never know what could happen if any of the elements changed. There are just to many variables in cycle touring. That’s why it is so important to just take one day at a time and be flexible.
With all my chores now done for the evening, I played some Lord of the Rings music on my phone and drifted to sleep.
Friday, March 1st
We chose the closest cafe to our campsite to have breakfast in Foxton Beach. The closest cafe which opened at 8:00am was The Little White Rabbit Cafe and it is now my favorite place we have eaten on the trip so far. It’s hard to say what made it so cozy and charming, but it simply was. It was cold outside and the waitress welcomed us in as we warmed up with a flat white (coffee), French toast and eggs benedict. “Breakfast is a big deal in New Zealand?” I tried to form into a question to the waitress/owner. “Yes. I love breakfast food” she said. “I tried to make a restaurant that makes breakfast food only, all day, but my chef husband wouldn’t let me” she joked. “He refuses to poach eggs after noon.” “But yes, breakfast is a very popular meal here.”
As we were talking over our breakfast, Snow White rode by on a bicycle. Well, I don’t know if it was “the” Snow White, but a child dressed in a Snow White costume rode by, presumably on her way to school. Children are the same in every culture.
We really didn’t want to leave our table at The Little White Rabbit Cafe, but our ferry tickets had already been bought and we knew we had to be in Wellington by morning. We had no other choice then to start the 75 mile ride to Wellington. If you are ever in Foxton Beach, New Zealand visit The Little White Rabbit Cafe. You will not regret it.
Most of the ride to Wellington was on Hwy 1 which had even more traffic than previous days because of the proximity to the capital. We will not miss the traffic of the North Island. Supposedly the traffic is better on the South Island, mainly because there are less people. Thankfully 15 miles into the ride we did get to cut through the town of Levin using some back roads of rolling hills. Even though it didn’t last long compared to the 75 mile day, it was a nice break from the sound of passing cars. While on the back roads of Levin I passed a man working in his yard and waved. “Day for it” he said and I shook my head in agreement. Yes, it was a beautiful day for a bike ride, with the sun now warming the temperature and just a slight breeze. I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing right now.
We took a few breaks but eventually made it to the town of Waikanae for lunch. The convenient option was Subway for lunch so we stopped there. While we were eating, a father and son spent some time admiring our bikes. They never asked us any questions, but we got a kick out of watching them.
Another nice break from the traffic on Hwy 1 was a three mile ride through Queen Elizabeth park. It was quiet, with rolling hills, and nice scenery. I tried to take some drone video while we were biking but the drone wasn’t playing along. I think the drone had got to hot in my back pannier and needed to cool down. I guess that will have to wait until the South Island.
After the Queen Elizabeth park, the rest of the ride seemed to take forever. We only had about 15 or 20 miles left to reach our hotel in Wellington, but finding out route was proving tricky. I’m less familiar with city biking than Drew, so he took over directions at this point and I followed him. That smoothed things out a bit, but still our route was a combination of sidewalks, roads, and some bike paths. My least favorite section was when we had to bike on a sidewalk, directly next to oncoming traffic on Highway 1. The scenery on this section was beautiful because it was directly on the coast, but you couldn’t take the time to look at the scenery because you were busy making sure your bike stayed on the sidewalk and didn’t wander in to oncoming traffic. To make things worse, you now had to do all of that while biking up a hill. We made it, but it was probably my least favorite 3 mile section of the North Island.
From there the route got better, finding a generous bike path and eventually having one last few mile climb until we reached the center of Wellington. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and has a population of about 450,000 and it has quite a sprawling suburb region. At least it seems so by bike.
Drew got us a room at the Ibis Hotel in downtown Wellington, only about a mile from the ferry terminal that we will need to be at in the morning by 8:15am. We got a room on the sixth floor and had to take separate elevators as we barely squeezed our loaded bikes onto the lifts. We had decided earlier in the day to have a special meal in Wellington as a way to celebrate the completion of the North Island. I let Drew pick. The first place he chose was packed and had an hour and a half wait. It had execellent reviews on trip advisor, and apparently everyone knew that. And it was also a Friday night. We found another place that still had excellent reviews but was less crowded called Pravda. It was time to celebrate. We had a feast starting with bruschetta, a salad with pear and nut, fried chicken and mashed potatoes with a purple slaw, and then dessert. I could barely move by the time we were done. At some point during the trip we are going to count the number of calories we eat in a single day during the trip. We know it is a lot, but are not quite sure of the number of calories it is taking us to do something like this. Stay tuned for that.
The ride into Wellington was 75.4 miles today. All together the mileage we did on the North Isaland was 446.4 miles. Here is how the days break down:
Day One: 55 miles
Day Two: 67 miles
Day Three: 35.3 miles
Day Four: 65.7 miles
Day Five: 68.3 miles
Day Six: 79.7 miles
Day Seven: 75.4 miles
We know the North Island was the “easier” island when it comes to the amount of climbing. Drew is in charge of planning the South Island (I planned the North) so I’m curious what the next week or so holds. We will find out soon.
Day Eight and Nine (or South Island Day One and Two)
Saturday, March 2nd
We arrived at the ferry terminal about an hour earlier than we really needed. We weren’t quite sure how long the process of checking in would take and all check-ins were supposed to be done by 8:15am. We got there at 7:30am and were checked in by about 7:32am. The process didn’t take long at all. We waited outside on a bench under a sign which read “Passenger assembly area for passengers with Bicycles, Canoes, Dogs.” Bicycles, canoes, and dogs are an interesting combination.
When it was time to load the ferry there were 5 other people with bicycles and one person with a dog. No canoes. We made some small talk with some of the cyclists. There was a younger guy from the USA, and older gentleman, an Australian couple on mountain bikes, and a young Asian guy.
I’ve determined that there are a two types of touring cyclists:
- Cyclists who have a beginning point, ending point, a plan, and a goal to make that happen.
- Cyclists who wander from place to place with no particular ending point.
Every long cycling trip I’ve been on I am definitely the first type of touring cyclist. As a host for Warmshowers (hosting app for touring cyclist) I’ve met hundreds of both types. There is nothing wrong with either type. People just have different motivations. Some of the people with bikes waiting on the ferry appeared to be wanderers. The others appeared to be goal oriented.
When we had biked into Wellington yesterday, I noticed a sign that said “expect traffic this weekend, concert at Westpac Arena.” When I read that I had wondered what concert was happening. In our conversation with the younger guy from the USA we found that the rapper Eminem was playing at the Westpac Arena tonight. I was surprised it was someone I had heard of. We had a similar experience on our last trip when we arrived into a larger town with an arena, but I had no idea who the performer was.
The ferry from Wellington on the North Island to the town of Picton on the South Island takes about 3 hours. Drew and I had breakfast while on the ferry, both ordering (you guessed it) Eggs Benedict again. I also took the time to catch up on some blogging.
I was in charge of planning the North Island and Drew was in charge of the South Island. So as of today I am no longer the navigator, but instead I just follow the bike in front of me. Of course I’ll help when needed, just like Drew has. But it’ll be nice to change roles.
After the ferry landed in Picton we took a few minutes to change back into our cycling clothes and prepare for a short ride. Drew had purposefully planned a shorter day when we arrived on the South Island to give us a little break for recovery between the two islands. In the past seven days we had cycled a lot and we were looking forward to a little break.
The only cyclist we passed heading out of Picton was the older gentleman on the recumbent bike from the ferry. We wished him well and continued on our way. There was a short climb out of Picton and the rest of the 17 miles ride to Blenheim, the town where we would stay for the night, was pretty flat.
Instead of camping tonight Drew reserved us a hostel-style room with two sets of bunk beds for really cheap at a Top 10 campgound in Blenheim. This would be the third Top 10 campground we’ve stayed at. They provide a good service, with showers and restrooms, which makes the recovery after the ride so much better. We used the rest of the afternoon at the campground to do laundry, let our tents dry in the sun (they were still wet from dew in the morning from a few days ago), and relax. We had dinner a short walk from the campgound at Dodson Street Beer Garden.
Before walking to dinner I checked on the drone I had brought on the trip. When I had went to use it yesterday, it was giving me a warning which it had never done before which caused it not to be able to take off. I was sad to find out it still wasn’t working. After doing some research online, I realized it is not something that is easily fixed and needs to be sent in to be serviced. I was looking really forward to continuing to use the drone on the trip, but this puts a wrinkle in that. I’ve sent some emails to DJI (the drone maker) and told them the scenario I am in. I’m hoping to be able to get some kind of replacement in the next few days, but that seems like a long shot. I’m going to at least try though.
I tried to not let the news of the drone malfunctioning get me down, but admittedly I dwelled on it for a little while and probably didn’t provide the best dinner conversation with Drew. We were back at the campground after dinner and were in bed by 8:15pm, which is the earliest we have turned in the entire trip. I did take a short little walk into town once more just to stretch the legs before finally deciding to call it a night a few minutes later. It’s been a good rest day. Tomorrow we have a long steady climb. We will need to be rested.
Sunday, March 3rd
Because we went to bed so early the night before, we decided to set the alarm for 6:00am to get an early start on the day. When Drew’s alarm went off neither of us were ready to wake up even though we had already slept 10 hours. After resetting the alarm for 6:30am and snozzing again, we finally started moving at 7:00am.
As we were packing our pannier bags and preparing our bikes to leave, we noticed a kid standing in the hallway. Clearly the child of someone who was also staying at the campground, the kid just stood there and watched, but didn’t say anything. Eventually his older brother showed up to. I’m pretty sure the kids were about ages 5 and 7. Drew finished packing his stuff and headed outside. As I finished packing my stuff, the younger kid got talkative and started asking me a bunch of questions. I answered his questions, mostly about where we were from and what we were doing riding bikes. The younger kid introduced me to his older brother and they were both doing an excellent job of slowing my packing job down and blocking the door to get out. Eventually I told them my friend was waiting on me and that I needed to go.
“Sometimes my older brother can be a bit naughty. He steals scones when no one is watching” said the younger kid. For some reason he felt the need to tell me that as I was leaving. I couldn’t help but laugh.
We decided to wait and eat breakfast in the next town over from Blenheim. Blenheim and most of the ride we did yesterday and today is in the Marlborough region, which is known wine. Nearly the entire ride to the next town of Renwick was on a road which was lined with vineyards on both sides. As you biked passed the vineyards you could hear shots going off from a gun. Some of the vineyards also had signs out front that said shooting in progress. I’m not sure what they were shooting, but I hope it wasn’t at us.
Renwick was only about 6 miles away from Blenheim. As we entered town we passed another young kid on his bike delivering the paper. We soon realized that today was Sunday and that there weren’t many options for breakfast. Meaning, the only option was to piece together something from a limited grocery store. Drew found some hot cross buns (though the weren’t hot) and we made do with them for breakfast. I also had the thickest, most rich chocolate milk that I’ve ever had. It used a Belgian milk chocolate for the flavoring. It was good, but it was rich. We ate in a little park across the street from the grocery store. We also got supplies for lunch because we knew we had a long stretch with very limited amenities availalbe.
Every so often when a car passes with a dog in it, I think that the dog is driving. WIth the steering wheel on the opposite side than in the USA, it can throw you off. While eating breakfast in the park a dog drove by. He was seated just perfectly in the passengers seat from the angle I was watching. That gave me a good laugh.
The day was made up of a climb of a few thousand feet, which took place over about 60 miles. We thought it might be a super tiring day because it was all uphill, but because the grade was so small and spread out over 60 miles, it wasn’t that bad. We stopped for lunch in the shade near a sheep farm. As we sat down to enjoy our ham and cheese sandwiches, the sheep came to the fence to set what was happening. I turned around and enjoyed a lunch hanging out with the sheep.
During the next stretch after lunch we passed two touring cyclists with similar bicycles and panniers going the opposite way. We waved but didn’t stop to talk. The day had started out cold, but now it was pretty hot. We were both sweating pretty hard and it was making our sunburns and peeling from the previous days bubble up with the sweating underneath. Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter too. But when the sun goes down, it still gets cold at night.
I was relieved when out of nowhere a sign for Fresh Fruit Ice Cream appeared. We stopped at this temporary side of the road setup which had attracted a lengthly line of car passerbys who were driving this desolate stretch of road. Unfortunately hungry cyclists and car passerbys weren’t the only things that were attracted to the ice cream stop. We were soon swarmed by bumblebees. That weren’t hurtful, just annoying. I did have a few prick me, but it wasn’t a sting. More like a bite. They got so bad, that we had to eventually ditch the ice cream in the trash, get back on our bikes, and run away from them. We stopped a few minutes later to quickly put on sunscreen, but they were still swarming us. And these bumblebees are big and fat. Eventually we outran them, but the whole experience turned our little break into a tiring occasion.
After a few steeper climbs at the end of the day we arrive in the town of St. Arnaud. Camping in a New Zealand National Park on Lake Rotoiti in St. Arnaud was our plan, but when we arrived the sign said no vacancies. We did notice that there were camp hosts up ahead so we thought we’d at least double check with them that there wasn’t still room for two small tents.
“Of course we got space” the host said. “I guess we need to change the sign.” “Honey, do you know how to change the sign?” she says to her husband inside the camper. “We need to change the sign.”
We were thankful they had a space. And as we were walking to go get a shower, the husband was figuring out how to change the sign.
After sitting by the lake for a little bit and setting up our tents, we walked into town to get some pizza, beer, and brownies. The day had started a little rough, but turned out great. On the walk back the birds were the loudest I’ve heard them the entire trip. And the sounds they make are so different than in the US. I wish you could hear them. I wish I could put the sound into words. Maybe I’ll try to do that later.
Pancakes Rock at Pancake Rocks | Day Ten and Eleven (or South Island Day Three and Four)
Monday, March 4th
We decided to take a slower morning because Clinker Cafe, the cafe in town, didn’t open until 9:00am. That is much later than we’d ideally like to start, but it was looking like the best option for the towns and distances that were ahead. By the time we were done with breakfast and ready to start biking for the day it was 10:00am. We were hoping for an easier day with the elevation profile showing a slight down hill all day. Sometimes the elements can play havoc with that though. You never really know what the day will turn out like.
The day started with a lot of long, straight roads. One odd thing I noticed was a lot of cars going the opposite direction were old timey classic cars. Too many for it to just be a coincidence. I believe there must have been a classic car show or something like that happening in town soon.
During one of the long, straight roads we noticed what appeared to be two other touring cyclists ahead of us on the same road going the same direction. I thought we were gaining ground of them, but we never seemed to get any closer. The race to catch them (which really wasn’t a race because we didn’t actively speed up to catch them) did provide me something to think about for a while. Where they young or old? Were they from New Zealand or somewhere else in the world? Maybe they were from the US like us? It provided at least a good hour of creative thinking and it got my mind off of the idea of just pushing the pedals one more time.
After a little while we came to a T in the road where we were to take a left. Next to the road was a rest area with picnic tables and bathroom so we decided to stop there. As we turned in we noticed that the other cyclists had stopped there to. We rode over and parked our bikes next to them and spoke briefly. It was a young couple, most likely in their 20s who where biking together. They looked like they were from Europe and they weren’t going as far as we were today. Soon after we arrived they headed back on the road.
We stopped in the town of Murchison for lunch. We bought a few extra things from the grocery store in town, but for the most part we finished up nearly all the food we had bits and pieces of in our panniers. It felt satisfying to finally finish off a lot of the stuff such as the peanut butter, some bread, and things like that.
The ride out of Murchison was next to a beautiful river for most the way. I’m not sure what the name of the river was but it was a destination for all kinds of adventures. Multiple adventure companies had shops along the route offering rafting, kayaking, canoeing, jet boat rides, and more. But with such a late start and the need to bike over 75 miles for the day we had no time for that.
We had found a camp site about 20 miles before the place we had planned to stay. We considered staying there if we thought it would be too late to do the full 75 miles. Once we got to the closer campsite we decided we still had a few good hours before dark and, if we pushed it, we could make it. So we continued on hoping to make it to the town of Berlins.
Thankfully the next 20 miles was either flat or had rolling hills. There may have been one or two short climbs. Every once and a while during this section you would hear a rustling in the bushes as your were biking by. This happened a good 5 or 6 times. I finally figured out that goats were standing close to the road in the bushes and as we got near they would run up and hide.
We arrived in Berlins at about 7:00pm. We had initially hoped to arrive before 6:00pm so that we could enjoy some food from the restaurant that runs the simple campground we are staying at. However google said the restaurant closed at 6:00pm. We were pretty hungry so we decided to make some mountain home meals first at the picnic tables before we set up our tents. We couldn’t find an office or registration area yet either, so we needed to figure that out as well. After eating, Drew noticed someone who looked like they might be in charge and so I went and asked him. He wasn’t in charge but he mentioned that we could pay for the campsite in the restaurant which was open until 10! The restaurant was open until 10! We woulnd’t have made our mountain home meals if we would have known that. To late though, I guess we might have a second meal.
I ventured into the restaurant to pay for our campsite. The owner said he noticed we had biked in but hadn’t paid yet. I told him we thought the restaurant was closed, but later figured it out. He didn’t seem too annoyed, but he also wasn’t that talkative. After showers we decided to have a beer and spend some time inside the restaurant as a retreat from the gnats/flies that have really made themselves known in the past few hours. They make spending any time outside miserable, especially when you aren’t moving. They leave you alone when you are moving on the bike. We even both have bug spray, but it seems to have limited affect on them.
It was another great day. A total of 77.1 miles. We hear that rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. This will be our first rain day of the trip, not counting the slight rain we had on the very first day. Be gentle to us rain. Please be gentle.
Tuesday, March 5th
I woke up to the sound of what I thought was rain on my tent. But after closer inspection I noticed that is wasn’t rain. It was the sound of the gnats between my tent and rain fly. Hundreds of them. It was a scary sight, one I have seen before, but you just lay there wondering how long it’s going to take them to all start working together and some how drill a hole through your tent and attack. I know that isn’t going to happen, but you feel like it is. Also, at this point you realize that you need to do everything possible to fully get ready inside your tent. You only want to unzip the tent when you are ready to take the tent down and leave. That doesn’t sound hard, but let me remind you that my tent is small. Barely big enough to sleep in. Changing clothes, packing panniers, rolling up sleeping bags, etc. this takes some gymnastic-like coordination to get all this done without leaving the tent. But I got it done.
Drew’s tent was close enough that I was able to ask him if he was ready to go. When we were both ready, we unzipped the tents, packed them up quickly and then made our way to the restaurant in front of the campsite for breakfast. While we were eating, the restaurant had on some New Zealand morning television program. It was pretty entertaining to watch. The restaurant didn’t open until 8:30am so it was another later-then-we-wanted morning. We were on the road again by 9:30am.
Sure enough, it started to rain. It never really became a heavy rain, more of a heavy mist, but after a while we were both pretty wet. I didn’t bother to put on my rainjacket, mostly because I was already wet and it wouldn’t have helped much.
I’ve noticed a lot of hitchhikers in New Zealand. After it started raining we passed a young lady with a backpack, standing by the side of the road waiting for a ride. She was completely soaked. I thought to myself that things could be worse. At least we were making forward progress. Soon after passing the hitchhiker we passed a sign that said “No gas for 90km.” We knew that it was going to be a longer stretch without services, but we didn’t realize it was going to be that long. Hopefully they are just talking about gas and not all services. If so it could be a long, long day.
Thankfully the sign, like it read, was just referring to gas. There were other services during the rest of our journey. We passed a sign for Mitchell’s Gulley Historic Gold Mine right before we made it to the town of Charleston for lunch. Charleston is supposedly the site of underworld rafting, glow worm tours, and train rides. We stopped in town at the Underworld Cafe, which serves as the ticket office for these fun attractions, and had lunch. We debated participating in the underworld rafting (which is rafting through a cave and then downstream back to the cafe), but ultimately decided it would take up the rest of the afternoon. It was 12:30pm and we had only done 30 miles. That would make it only a 30 mile day and would really throw off the schedule. We have some fun activities planned in Queenstown. It will have to wait until then.
At the beginning of the day I mentioned to Drew that today was Fat Tuesday. “If we have the opportunity to eat pancakes today I am going to. It’s Shrove Tuesday!” Well, they actually had pancakes on the menu at the Underworld Cafe, but I chose the burger instead. However, 20 miles later we came across Pancake Rocks Cafe at Pancake Rocks. How appropriate! It was meant to be. We immediately stopped and ordered some berries and cream pancakes. We then decided to go tour the neighboring “pancake rocks” which are beautiful layered rocks and cliffs extending over the water.
The eating of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday made me feel connected to home. It was a special something that helped get me though the overcast weather and long miles.
“That’s the best tattoo I’ve ever seen” said an older lady as we were leaving the Pancake Rocks. “Thank you.” I said. “That’s really nice of you to say that.” I then went on to tell her what it meant. Now I went from being in a really good mood to a great mood.
We ran out of energy bars so we’ve had to buy more when we go to the grocery. We found a brand called Em’s Power Cookies and they are really good. My favorite flavor is chocolate oat explosion. I look forward to when I get hungry enough and we are in between meals so I can eat one.
The rest of the day seemed like a picture out of a story book. The clouds lowered and covered the hills. It was gray everywhere and misting again, but it was beautiful. The first part of the last section ride of the day was flat, but right before we got to where we were staying for the night we had a few good climbs. I was ready to be “home” for the night, so I did the climbs as quickly as possible, thankful that I still had strength in my legs.
We are staying in the town of Rapahoe tonight. It’s a really small town. Both Drew and I agreed to book the small room at the campgound since it was supposed to rain again and our tents are wet. We’ve been in the elements all day and getting dry is what we want to do. The campground has a very bohemian feel to it. I’ve never stayed at any place like it before. Supposedly a pub near the campground is open until 8:00pm so we went and checked it out even before getting a shower. Sure enough the kitchen was still open and they cooked us some warm food. I had an Hawaiian pizza. Drew had fish and chips.
How much food do we need to consume to do what we are doing? This is a list of what I had to eat today. It sounds crazy when listed out like this. I mentioned to Drew what we had eaten today and he admitted when it’s listed all together is sounds like a lot.
Eggs, Bacon and Toast
Hamburger and French Fries
Berries and Cream Pancakes
Two Em’s Bars
And that’s just what I ate. Drew had just as much.
Always Choose the Hot Breakfast Over the Continental Breakfast | Day Twelve and Thirteen (or South Island Day Five and Six)
Wednesday March 6th
Today was our earliest morning yet. We left our bohemian one-room cottage by 7:15am which is right about the time the sun rose. It was a misty, gloomy morning, which seemed appropriate given that it was Ash Wednesday. As the mud and grime of the puddles on the road begin to coat your bike and legs it’s pretty easy to remember that “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
It was also the first morning that I used the lights built into my helmet. With the early morning light, fog, and mist, visibility was poor and lights seemed like an added safety measure. This helmet I’m using was a wonderful gift from some of my close friends for my birthday last year and I really like it. It even has built in turn signal lights.
Even in the rain it only took us about 45 minutes to bike 8 miles and reach the next town of Greymouth. Drew had selected a place to eat breakfast called Robert Harris. It was a quick, warm breakfast and we were back on the road by a little after 8:30am.
Thankfully the straight and flat roads continued after breakfast. We both laughed and commented when we passed a sign advertising Hotel Harihari, the hotel we planned to stay at tonight.
The sign read:
One Hour Drive Ahead
If only it were that easy! It will take us all day to get there.
It does make a difference when we get on the road early. By 10:50am we were in the town of Hokatika and had done 31 miles with just 42 left for the day. We took a short snack break at 12:40pm in the town of Ross with just 27 miles left for the day. We know we are making good time when we’ve covered more than half the mileage for the day by around lunch time. Normally that has us arriving in the town we plan on staying between 5:00pm and 6:00pm. That gives us a little more time to relax before we eat dinner, do our nightly chores, and then go to bed.
Though the weather hadn’t been great the whole day, the rain had mostly held off. It had misted and sprinkled, off and on, but that’s pretty tolerable. However on our last section of the day it started to actually rain and conditions worsened.
Many of the bridges, especially on some of the smaller roads are one lane bridges. Signs leading up to the bridges indicate which direction has the right of way and which direction needs to yield. On the last stretch of the day, while it was raining, we came upon one of our longest one lane bridges of the trip so far. Our direction had to yield, so we waited until the cars coming towards us had passed and I began to lead Drew and I across the bridge as quickly as possible in an attempt to not hold up traffic. After I finished crossing the bridge I looked behind me to make sure Drew had safely crossed as well. As I glanced behind I thought I noticed another biker behind Drew. It was raining and visibility wasn’t great, but I was pretty sure that our train of two bikes had become a train of three.
For the next four or five miles I tried to keep the pace as fast as possible to make it to our destination. When we finally arrived in the town of Harihari we were completely soaked. Neither Drew or I had stopped to put on our rain jackets when it started raining. Even if we would have stopped that would have just meant another item of completely soaked clothing.
Soon after we arrived in Harihari we came upon Hotel Harihari, where we planned to stay for the night. Sure enough another touring cyclist was behind Drew and he was staying at the hotel tonight as well. And a few minutes behind us two more cyclists arrived. Clearly everyone had the same idea.
Both Drew and I are in agreement that any night when it is raining, we would prefer a dry room over a wet tent. So instead of camping we opted for a room at the Hotel Harihari. We both looked pretty rough after cycling in the rain and Drew mentioned that while checking in at the hotel, the receptionist thought we might be more interested in staying in the backpackers hostel. I think that was her polite way of saying you guys look bad.
They had a place for our bikes in a shed beside the hotel. We placed them in the shed near a boat and locked them together. “I hope no one plans on taking out the boat tonight” Drew said. It definitely wasn’t boating weather. It wasn’t biking weather either. However even in the mist and eventual rain we were able to bike 77 miles for the day and arrive to our hotel by 4:00pm. Thankfully the hotel had a bar that serves food attached to it so we didn’t even need to go outside to find our dinner.
After showers and a brief rest we made our way to the bar where we enjoyed dinner and drinks while we listened to the rain which was still coming down outside. Dinner conversation mainly centered around whether we should adjust the schedule of the next few days because of the weather. It was forecast to rain all day tomorrow. We had initially planned to take an off day sometime, but maybe it would make more sense to take the off day while it is raining. We weren’t quite sure what we were going to do, but we made plans to wake up early, assess the weather, and if at all possible continue biking.
Right before we were about to call it a night Drew mentioned that we should probably make a plan for breakfast. Maybe the hotel has one? Drew decided to go ask. Sure enough, the hotel has two options for breakfast. Both need to be reserved the night before. You can order a continental breakfast which is available whenever, or you can order a hot breakfast in the bar after 8:00am. In keeping with our desire to be on the road early we requested the continental breakfast and then called it a night.
Thursday, March 7th
The continental breakfast was not cheap, costing $12 per person. When we turned on the lights in the room where the receptionist said it would be, all we found was toast and cereal. This isn’t a complaint. However we had become accustomed to our large breakfast and we knew this morning was going to be different. We each had two bowls of cereal and some toast. That was $3 each bowl of cereal and $3 each slice of toast.
The good thing about the continental breakfast was the timing. We were able to be on the road by 8:00am. We had decided to bike, even if it was raining, but to our surprise it was not raining. There was even a few small patches of blue sky here and there. It was too early to celebrate though. We knew rain was in the forecast.
After leaving Harihari we continued on Highway 6, a road we have been on during most of the west coast of the South Island. During an early section of the day we were stopped at an area of the road/bridge that was under some sort of construction. The lady directing traffic signaled for us to stop, but then began waving. We assumed she was now waving us to continue on, but quickly found out that she was waving a work truck when she began yelling for us to stop. We apologized and explained our confusion with her hand gestures. “He is important” she explained about the work truck she motioned thought. “Not that you two aren’t important.” I was glad she added that clarification at the end. She mentioned that it could be as much as a 15 minute wait. Only one lane of traffic could go at a time and they must be lea by a pilot car.
She was a nice lady and we chatted during the 10 minutes we waited until it was our turn to go. When she found out that we were heading to Fox Glacier at the end of the day she mentioned “You know you have three mountains passes at the end of the day?” Yes, I was dreading them already. Her warning me about them just made them seem like an even bigger deal.
Even though we were the first in line while waiting for our turn I pulled off the road because I assumed she would want to let the cars go first so we wouldn’t slow things down. “You all can go first and I will give you a head start before I let the cars go.” I thought it was a really nice gesture. However when the cars caught up with us about half way though, I thought she could have given us a little more time. She had good intentions though.
The first half of the day was relatively flat or had gentle rolling hills. We made it to the town of Whataroa at about 10:00am and the sun had even come out a little more. Drew decided to put on sunscreen, but I was hoping that act wouldn’t jinx us. Putting on sunscreen when it was supposed to rain seems like a sure way to make it rain.
By a little after one we had made it to Franz Josef, the last town before the three mountain passes we had to bike over before reaching Fox Glacier, our destination for the day. Because of the hard climbs Drew had lessened our mileage for the day to a little over 50 miles and I was thankful for that. Now that we were in Franz Josef we only had 15 miles left for the day.
Part of my strategy to get through the three climbs we were about to face was to mentally make them out to be really, really bad. I figured that way the actual climb would be easier than I was expecting. Leading into the first climb was a bit of a downhill. Then the climbing began. I was thankful to not be doing this in the rain, but it still wasn’t easy. Our clothes were still mostly wet from the mist and now you could not tell what was mist and what was sweat. At the point where I was thinking I could not climb any more we reached the top of the first climb.
I used the partial descent after the first climb to prepare for the second. I elected to not take any breaks if possible. I descended at a natural speed, paying attention to my breathing and stretching out my legs while coasting. Within a very short time climb two was upon us. I actually found climb two to be the easiest. I wasn’t looking at the route app so I was never quite sure when I reach the top until we started descending. I followed the same method on the second descent, hoping to master all three.
The ascent of the third was the hardest. The grade at the very beginning of the third was intense. It took every bit of power in my legs to push my bike up this short first section without falling off my bike. My legs were burning after this first part, but thankfully I was able to slow the rest of the climb to allow them to recover. After that first section and recovery, the rest of the third climb was pretty similar to the first two. And like that the three climbs were over! The process still took a while, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be! My mental trick had worked.
I was hoping after summiting the three climbs that we would be able to coast into Fox Glacier. Sure enough, that is what happened. It was nice to be able to rest from the three climbs basically all the way to the registration desk of our Top 10 Campgound in Fox Glacier. It was 2:45pm and we had covered our 54.3 miles for the day. We reserved a dorm style room, similar to what we had booked at a previous Top 10 Campground and to our surprise/not surprise it began to rain at about 3:30pm. We haven’t seen it rain this hard on the trip yet. Our timing appeared to have worked perfectly. We would not have wanted to be climbing in this weather.
We took the extra hours we had in the afternoon to wash and dry our sweaty, wet clothes (which did not smell good) and looked forward to a big meal, since we had mostly had small meals, snacks all day. When our laundry was done and we were ready to eat, it was still raining. The closest place to eat was about a half mile walk so we put on our rain jackets and began to head there, but as we were leaving our room it began to rain more. We decided it wasn’t worth it and came back to our room, now trapped without food by the rain. We debated different options (taxi, delivery) but by about an hour later it had let up enough that we decided we could quickly walk there without getting overly wet.
The plan sort of worked. We were both pretty wet when we arrived, but we made a point to have a long dinner include appetizers, main course, dessert and coffee. By the time this was over we were mostly dry, just in time to get wet again on the walk back. Thankfully it had let up some.
The rain is supposed to be through tonight and we should have just cloudy skies tomorrow. Drew found a place called “The Breakfast Restaurant” for breakfast in the morning and it opens at 6:00am. I doubt we are there at 6:00am. I just set my alarm for 6:00am so we definitely will not be there at 6:00am.
I Wonder as I Wander | Day Fourteen (or South Island Day Seven)
Friday, March 8th
I actually woke up at 5:45am, fifteen minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I figured rather than trying to sleep those extra 15 minutes that I would get a head start on repacking my panniers and give us a better chance of getting on the road early. Drew woke up at 6:00am as planned and we set another record of being on our bikes by 6:30am. That meant it was still dark outside. That wasn’t a big deal because we were only going about a half mile down the road to have breakfast.
The Breakfast Restaurant was located inside the same hotel we ate dinner last night, but in a different room. Surprisingly it was pretty busy for that time of morning. It appeared a large tour group was eating breakfast and preparing to leave. Fox Glacier was one of the busier tourist small towns we’ve been to on the trip. The campground we stayed at last night was packed. The common room had a party atmosphere as we turned in for the night. Oh, and a kid had some crazy temper tantrum last night. I wasn’t sure what time it happened but it woke both Drew and I up. And it seemed to last for ever. I’m not sure what the kid wasn’t happy about, but he was not happy.
Instead of ordering the buffet breakfast (which in retrospect we maybe should have done so that we could have been on the road faster) we both ordered our balanced meal of protein, carbs, dairy, and fat to power our day (aka Eggs Benedict). After breakfast we were on the road by 7:45am. Not bad to be making forward progress before 8:00am with breakfast already taken care of.
The weather was looking better. At some point it quit raining last night and the clouds began to break as we biked out of the center of the town of Fox Glacier. On cue the sun and clouds worked together to give us a beautiful first view of the glacier high in the mountains as we were crossing the bridge leaving town. Once we made it to the other side of the bridge we parked our bikes, walked halfway back across the bridge and just looked for a little bit. It was the first time I’ve seen a glacier. Yesterday as we were biking in to town you could see the distinctly blue glacier water in one of the creeks we crossed. It’s a part of nature that I’m very unfamiliar with, but really appreciate the beauty of it.
After leaving Fox Glacier the first 25 miles of the day were pretty quick. It was mostly either flat or downhill. The air was crisp and I wore my heavier cycling jacket which I brought just in case I needed it. Before long the sun warmed things up and the jacket went back in the panniers.
After a few short stretch breaks, we stopped at a food truck/cart on Bruce Beach about 10:30am. The food truck was in an ideal location, right on Hwy 6 on a long stretch without any services, and directly by the beach. We each had a pulled pork sandwich because we weren’t sure how available food was going to be until we got to the town of Haast at the end of the day.
As I waited in line to order my pulled pork sandwich I overheard the conversation between the guy in front of me and the young lady working the food truck. “Did you hear there was an earthquake on the North Island last night?” she asked the man. “No.” he said. “I’m not sure how strong it was, but my whole family in Germany was texting me asking if I was ok. I had to remind them that I am on the South Island.” I didn’t hear anything else about the earthquake the rest of the day, so I’m assuming it wasn’t strong enough to cause major damage.
We ate our sandwiches on the rocks overlooking the beach and enjoyed a nice mid-morning break. With a third of the mileage done at 10:30am, we wanted to continue on, knowing that we had a climb at the end of the day, though the climb was smaller than yesterday’s climb.
The next twenty five miles went by pretty quickly, mainly because I was able to get lost in thought as I pushed my pedals and followed Drew. When doing something as repetitive as biking every day, all day, it helps to let your mind drift. A lot of the time I’m so busy looking around and that keeps me entertained, but that doesn’t necessarily make the time pass by quickly. However on this section my mind wandered and reflected.
The past six months have been an unexpected change for me. If you would have asked me a year ago what I’d be doing right now, I probably would have said I’d be doing the same thing I’ve been doing the past ten years, which is working at First UMC Pensacola. But starting in October of last year I could feel that change was coming and it became clear to me in December. The day I returned from Tanzania in October of last year, Hurricane Michael came ashore in Mexico Beach near where my brother Geoffrey and his family live in Port St. Joe. The storm completely destroyed their home and greatly impacted the majority of the buildings at his church. Geoffrey and his family lost so much, but still are helping others everyday who are suffering in their community. I knew I needed to help in any way possible to help Port St. Joe and the surrounding communities rebuild.
November 1st was my ten year work anniversary at First UMC Pensacola. I’ve always been a fan of milestones and anniversaries, and it was in early November that I first felt like some changes in my life might start to be happening. I felt like I had accomplished what needed to be done in my roles on staff at the church and it was time to pass on the responsibilities to someone with other gifts and talents to continue the work and continue ministry in new ways. I’m thankful for those ten years on staff, but I knew it was time for something new. I’d been praying for years that God would give me the will and understanding to exit gracefully when the time came. Over time I’ve seen others who didn’t exit gracefully and I had a desire to do it differently.
Ever since I was a little kid, I remembered playing around in my dad’s office. He has been a residential designer since I was three years old. I remember taking a pencil and shading in the walls of the houses on the drafting board, trying to help my dad out. I worked for my father’s company after I graduated high school while I was attending UWF. The reason I quit working for Tom Hunt Residential Designs was to join the staff at First UMC Pensacola full time in 2008. I had always hoped to continue the great work of my father’s company upon his retirement, but never really knew if everything would work out to make that happen. However, when I began talking with my parents about everything, it was confirmed that now was the time. My dad hopes to retire in the next few years and me transitioning back to Tom Hunt Residential Designs full time gives us a few years to prepare for the switch.
I’m super excited about the rest of 2019. I resigned from the staff at First UMC Pensacola at the end of January and went to work for my dad the next day. I was able to work three weeks before taking this trip, but things will feel differently once I return from six weeks away to begin this new career. It will feel much more permanent. And I’m excited to begin worshipping at First Church as an active member of the congregation. It was important to me to give two months of space between quitting the staff and attending. This trip provided that perfect buffer. I miss my family, my friends, and my church family and I look forward to seeing them at the end of the month.
These bike trips, which I tend to take every two years, help me refocus and bring things into perspective. Just like in photography, where focusing and perspective are crucial elements, if you lose these things, the picture turns our wrong. I appreciate that I have these opportunities to step completely out of my day to day routine and instead spend hours on a bike doing physically demanding work. It strips me to the core of who I am and gives me hours alone with my thoughts. I’m so glad that I found this method of release 6 years ago on my first bike trip. It’s changed my life and I think it’s made me a better person.
I wasn’t sure where the music was coming from. I don’t normally listen to music while cycling on these trips, and it didn’t sound like the podcast Drew was listening to. Then all of the sudden the music wizzed by. It was the radio of a motorcycle with the volume set to full blast. It snapped me out of my wondering thoughts and put me back on the bike.
Drew had joked earlier in the day that one of our only lunch option might be a salmon farm along the way. We were surprised to find that the salmon farm was more than just a farm and had a shop and cafe as well. We each got a snack and Drew bought a packet a smoked salmon for the road, which we devoured later like hungry bears, eating it with our bare hands.
We continued on and had made it to Lake Paringa about 12:30pm. During this trip I’ve noticed that New Zealand does a very good job of numbering every bridge and naming every creek. Each bridge you go over has a sign before it telling you the number of the bridge and the name of the body of water underneath it. While the bridge numbers are boring, the creek names can be about anything. Friends Creek #2, Rata Creek, Jacobs Creek, Friends Creek #3. You get the idea.
Another thing New Zealanders love (or vacationers to New Zealand love) are camper vans. Most of the camper vans are smaller than the motor homes which your see in the US, but you see these small, compact camper vans everywhere. We’ve probably been passed by hundreds, maybe thousands over the past two weeks. I’ve come to identify all the different rental companies too.
Spaceship Rental Vans just appear to be outfitted versions of a 90s dodge caravan. Jucy Vans (with their reminder to LIVE JUCY on the outside) seems like one of the more popular brands with their lime green color and classic style pinup girl painted on the outside. You have “The Pod” which is a black camper van with a green pea pod painted on the van. You also have freedom campers, Britz, Travellers Autobarn, Maui, and you classic VW camper van. Almost every vehicle that passes us is one of these vehicles.
Everyone has been really friendly to us during the trip. The drivers, though aggressive in their passing, respect your space and for the most part tend to run the car coming in the opposite direction off the road so that they pass the bikes with enough space. I’d prefer that over them passing close to us. We get a few friendly honks and waves each day from passing cars, and today a passenger in one camper van used their cell phone to video us as they passed. I waved.
We’ve passed a lot of other touring cyclists on the South Island. We saw very very few on the North Island. With less traffic and breathtaking scenery, the South Island seems to be the destination of choice. I’m glad we’ve done both though.
The route did require a little more work towards the end of the day today. We had two smaller passes, but they still took some effort to get over. Also a section of the last 5 miles was incredibly windy. That slowed us down to a near crawl. But after that we were soon rewarded with a “Welcome to Hasst” sign and a road sign which included the mileage to Queenstown. We’ve finally got close enough for it to be included on signs. If everything goes as planned we should arrive in Queenstown on Sunday night. We will then spend all next week relaxing, seeing the city, and having some fun until we both fly our separate ways a week from today.
After 76 miles we finally reached our campsite for the evening. Haast is a small town, but it also serves as a base for many outdoor adventure enthusiasts to explore the areas around. Haast is a UNESCO World Heritage Area and we are surrounded by beautiful scenery in every direction.
After setting up our tents and showering we decided to go to the grocery to get some supplies to cook breakfast in the morning. The campground we are staying at has a common cooking area and it makes sense for us to cook our own breakfast early so we can start our next two last biking day. It’s another 75 mile day tomorrow with our biggest climb yet. The biggest climb will be on our last day. Nothing like saving the best for last.
Who Put the Finish Line at the Top of the Hill? | Day Fifteen and Sixteen (or South Island Day Eight and Nine)
Saturday, March 9th
I woke up about 5:45am, way before the sun. We knew that cooking our own breakfast and cleaning up afterwards would probably add about an hour of extra chores this morning. We appeared to be the first ones up and I prepared of few of my things near my tent, but soon went into the common cooking space to start breakfast. A few minutes later we were joined by another camper who started making some coffee. “Where are you all headed today” he asked. When we told him we were headed to Hawea via Haast pass, he added “on push bikes? You all must be crazy! I’m headed that way too on a motorcycle. It’ll take me about an hour and a half.” “It’ll take us the entire day” we said. It’s not about how fast you get somewhere. It is the experience of getting there. Right?
Drew and I divided up the task of making breakfast. Drew made the sausage. I made scrambled eggs (three eggs each) with cheese and toast. Our motorbike friend made the coffee. By the time we were done eating and starting to clean up there was at least 4 or 5 other people making breakfast. Waking up super early helped us beat the rush. We were also able to finish the rest of our chores and get on the road by 7:30am. We knew it was going to be a long, hard day and we needed all the daylight possible.
The scenery as we left Haast became more and more dramatic with each pedal stroke. There was water to our right. Mountains on every side. High waterfalls in the cliffs above. The sound of water everywhere. Streams of water drops danced off the mossy cliffs, sparkling like crystals in the newly revealed sun. Singing along with natures sound were the birds. Each varied in their pitch and song. It was a beautiful symphony of natural song, only briefly interrupted by passing vehicles.
I also found the surroundings to be intimidating. For the most part all I knew about the day was that there was a steep climb at some point and the day was still going to be long. I go back and forth about wanting to know exactly what is about to happen, so that I can mentally prepare, and just trusting the process. I was trying my best to only focus on each pedal stroke, but I knew at some point everything was going to get extremely challenging.
We made it to Pleasant Flat Recreation Area at 11:00am. It’s appropriately named because it is flat area right before the climbing begins. We took a short stop to refill our water bottles, have a snack, and prepare for the climb. In the past few days whenever anyway asked where we were heading and we told them our route, they mentioned the climbs we were about to face today and tomorrow. That happed again at this rest stop.
The climb didn’t start well. As soon as the grade started to pick up, there was road construction. We’ve had to deal with road construction on other sections of the route multiple times in the past two weeks, but this section under construction was on a particularly steep section and the construction reduced traffic to one lane with a timed stop light to control which lane was going. These timed traffic lights are timed for cars, not bikes struggling to pedal their loaded bikes up about a crushing speed of maybe 4 mph. We made it about half way through the construction zone before the light changed and cars started heading towards us. As the cars neared they were respectful and stopped as we biked by them. However, it’s not easy keeping a straight line when going so slow up an incline. We eventually made it, but it was a stressful and tiring way to start a tough climb.
I found it to be one of the harder climbs I’ve ever done. In one particular section I did have to get off and walk my bike briefly. The grade was steep for too long for me to keep a straight line at such a slow speed, and I just couldn’t lug my bike up any faster. If I veered to the left there was a drop off plummeting down hundreds of feet. If I veered to the right there was passing traffic. Walking that section seemed like the safest option to me. Drew, with his steady, measured climb was able to thread the needle. I was impressed.
Soon after I got back on my bike the climb didn’t last that much longer. It was a shorter duration of climbing from what I was expecting, but it was a steeper grade. After we made it up the first section it leveled off for a while, which was nice. There was still one final section of climbing left before reaching the pass. At this higher elevation the wind had picked up, blowing tiny seed pods out of the surrounding trees. It was easy to imagine these seed pods as confetti raining down on two triumphant cyclists as they reached the top. I imagined myself raising my hands and celebrating, like I was crossing the finish line of the Tour de France. A few cars even gave a celebratory honk as we arrived at the top of Haast Pass.
We stopped at the top and had a short victory snack/lunch that we had packed. I had carried a chocolate milk that I had saved from breakfast and we had also brought the leftover sausage, bread, and cheese. We made a very crude looking sausage and cheese sandwich, but it tasted delicious.
At 2:30pm we made it to the small town of Makarora where we stopped at a small cafe and welcome center. We bought a few snacks, but we were still full from our celebratory lunch at the top of the pass. While eating our snacks a middle-aged New Zealander couple struck up a conversation with us. They were biking the same way, but on a tandem bike. They were going to continue a few more days after we were done. We wished them a good trip and got back on the road. They passed us on their tandem 20 or 30 minutes after we left.
For some reason this next section from the cafe in Makarora for the next few hours was the hardest few hours of the trip for me. I was tired from the climb but I knew we still had 30 or 40 more miles to go. I knew it was going to be at least 7:00pm when we finally made it and I had been up since 5:45am and biking most of the day. I was tired. I was getting hungry. I was irritable.
I tried to keep my mouth shut and cycle in peace and work through my negative thoughts. I know Drew could tell I was irritable and frustrated at our next break and he later said that he expected me to be mad at him for planning such a challenging and long day. I wasn’t mad at him, I just needed to find a second wind. After the break I realized that I had not been drinking as much water as I probably should have and greatly increased my water intake. That seemed to really help usher in the second wind and helped increase my mood.
The next section was constant short climbs next to two large lakes. We started on the shores of Lake Wanaka, but after crossing “the neck” moved to the shores of Lake Hawea. When we reached Lake Hawea I knew we had to be getting closer to our destination for the night because we were staying at Lake Hawea Holiday Campground. It would have been a lovely ride with beautiful surroundings, but instead of the road staying level next to the water, the short climbs seemed to increase with each new climb. “I don’t know how many more of these I have left in me today” I told Drew after a particularly grueling climb on the sure of Lake Hawea. He assured me that we were only 4 or 5 miles from the finish line for the day.
Sure enough we finally made it to the town of Hawea a little after 7:00pm. We had planned to split our last Mountain House meal tonight at the campgound, but I told Drew I didn’t that was going to cut it after a day like today. He agreed and we asked the young lady at the camp office if there was any place in town open for dinner after 8:00pm. “Oh yes” she said. “The hotel in town, which is about a mile walk from here, serves pizza and it’s great.” That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t care that we still had to walk almost a mile to get to it.
The pizza was really good. As we were ordering two drunk guys started a conversation with us about our bike ride. The conversation lasted for longer than I wanted it to, but thankfully they got distracted by something else and let us eat our pizza in peace. I was so tired I didn’t want to have to deal with the mental fatigue of putting up with them. I know they meant well. They were just a little too much for me at the moment.
After dinner we walked back to the campsite and got in our tents. It was long day and I was glad that it was over. I made sure to enjoy the scenery around me all throughout the day and I know that as the days go on I’ll remember the day more fondly. A total of 76.5 miles (actually a little bit more because Drew forgot to resume the route recording for a mile or two) and 5000+ feet of climbing throughout the day.
Sunday, March 10th
The main reason Drew made yesterday so challenging was so we could have a slightly less challenging final day. We were only a little over 50 miles from Queenstown but the way we had chosen to get there was on Crown Range Road. Crown Range Road crosses through the Crown Mountain Range. We could have stayed on Hwy 6 which we have been traveling on for a while, but that route goes around the mountain range and adds a lot of miles. We chose the short cut through the mountains. In comparison to yesterday we knew the climb was going to start slow and steady, but really amp up towards the end. The pass was at about 3,500 feet so we knew what to expect.
We’ve reserved an Air B & B in Queenstown from today until Friday when we both fly out. Drew will return home to San Francisco and I will start the next leg of my journey. I’ll continue blogging throughout the week and during the rest of my trip, but I’ll talk a lot less about biking. Our Air B & B isn’t available until 3:00pm today so we knew we didn’t want to get to Queenstown before then. So we decided to take a slow morning and sleep in a little. We woke up at 7:15am, hoping to see the sun rise over the mountains across the lake from the campground. The sun didn’t make it over the mountains until much later than we thought, so while we waited we packed up our stuff and prepared for our last biking day and ride into Queenstown.
This campground was one of the nicer campgrounds we’ve stayed at when it comes to location and scenery. Also the flies, which have been bad at some places, weren’t really bothering us here. That was a nice change. Both Drew and I have sunburn on top of bug bites on top of sunburn on top of bug bites. As we were packing up our stuff a dog darted from a neighboring campsite chasing after a rabbit. The dog ran so far I could no longer see him, but a while later he returned to the campsite without the rabbit. The dog looked like he had enjoyed the chase.
I slowly tied my cycling shoes and made sure the laces were tucked in just right. I double checked my panniers and made sure all the latches were secure and everything was in order. I made sure I had my the three essentials (camera, wallet and phone) which I check for 100 times a day. My tent was packed up and attached to the back of my bike. Everything was ready. It was now 8:30am and it was time to hit the road on our final day biking.
At 9:00am we were riding through the town of Alberttown. At 9:15am we had arrived at Double Black in Wanamaker, a place Drew had picked for breakfast. One more Eggs Benny while we were on the road. After breakfast, now with only 46 miles to go, we started our slow climb on Crown Range Road.
We were in Cardrona at 11:45am. Cardrona was a small, historic-looking town with a general store and an old hotel. We stopped at the general store and refilled our water bottles and got a quick drink. After Cardrona the climbing really stepped up, especially for the last 1000 feet. It stepped up even more the last few hundred feet. However, when we reached the top the view was amazing. In the distance, down the mountain next to the water, you could faintly see the city of Queenstown. It was a beautiful sight sixteen days in the making. We took the time to soak it in and enjoy the moment.
As hard as the climb was, we knew the descent, might be a little tricky as well. While the climb took over 10 miles, the descent was only a few miles long. It’s the kind of ride down that you really need to trust your brakes. Ever since my bike trip across the US in 2013 I’ve had a phobia of some extreme descents. While in Richmond, Virginia, on a steep descent in the middle of town, my brakes snapped and I rushed down a hill running through a red light and barely missing oncoming traffic. It was terrifying experience and ever since then I’ve never fully trusted my brakes, even though I’ve since had them replaced twice. They are working fine, and have been working fine the whole trip, but still a part of me still doesn’t trust them.
The descent down wasn’t as extreme as it looked on the elevation profile, but it was still pretty intense. I took it much slower than Drew who is used to the extreme hills of San Francisco. At one point the road became a series of switch backs where you could smell everyone’s brakes burning as they drove down. We finally made it to the bottom and continued our final push into Queenstown.
It was a bit of an obstacle course getting into town, similar to when we arrived in Wellington. A few roads, which we had planned to use, were under construction and we had to detour. We eventually found a great bike route but only after a series of ups and downs.
Drew knew the address of the place we were staying which is about two miles away from the city center of Queenstown. We entered the city on the shoreline of Franklin Arm which connects to Lake Wakatipu where Queenstown is located. However as we began to follow the directions to our Air B & B we continued to climb. “I didn’t take into account elevation when I booked our Air B & B” Drew said as we continued to climb. There is nothing like finishing at the top. Eventually we reached the end, but not before I was gasping for air. I hadn’t planned for quite that type of finish, but knowing that it was the finish, pulled me across the line. It was 4:00pm. We had done it. Auckland to Queenstown in 16 days. We had planned to take 16 days to get to Queenstown, but never fully expected to stay exactly on schedule. We did get one day behind on the North Island, but elected to not take a full rest day on the South Island which put us back on schedule. And our ride today put us over the thousand mile mark for the trip. The total distance was approximately 1012 miles. Here is the mileage for each day of the trip.
Day One: 55 miles
Day Two: 67 miles
Day Three: 35.3 miles
Day Four: 65.7 miles
Day Five: 68.3 miles
Day Six: 79.7 miles
Day Seven: 75.4 miles
Day Eight: 17 miles
Day Nine: 65.1 miles
Day Ten: 77.3 miles
Day Eleven: 68.6 miles
Day Twelve: 77 miles
Day Thirteen: 54.3 miles
Day Fourteen: 76 miles
Day Fifteen: 76.5 miles
Day Sixteen: 53.3 miles
TOTAL = 1011.5 miles
For much of the trip Drew had worn an Auburn Triathlon shirt while biking. Three or four days ago he mentioned that the alumni association at Auburn once told him that when you wear anything with Auburn on it, no matter where you are in the world someone will yell “War Eagle!” I jokingly yelled “War Eagle” when he told me that, because clearly no one else had said anything about the shirt since we’d been in New Zealand. As we were taking the panniers off our bikes and about to open the front door of the Air B & B, someone yells “War Eagle” from across the street. We couldn’t even tell who it was. The timing was phenomenal. It happened during the last few seconds that anyone would have seen him wear that shirt for the rest of the trip. I guess the Auburn alumni association was right after all.
After unpacking our stuff and taking showers, we slowly made plans for a celebratory dinner in town. Besides breakfast and an Em’s Power Cookie, both Drew and I were so focused on getting to Queenstown that we didn’t bother to eat lunch. We found a place called Muskets and Moonshine with great reviews on Trip Advisor. We were happy to find out that Uber was available in Queenstown, so we opted to ride for the first time on the trip instead of bike. Drew ordered the lamb and I ordered fish. We both finished with brownie and ice cream. It was great. We requested another Uber to bring us back to our accommodations. “How was your dinner” the driver asked. It was the same driver who had taken us to the restaurant. That has never happened to either of us before. “It was great” we said. As he dropped us off I thanked him for the ride. “Maybe we will see you tomorrow” I joked.
Drew and I plan on playing tourist for the next few days. We still have a few chores to figure out, like finding bike boxes, and stuff like that. But as of now tomorrow we are going to have some fun. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Queenstown Tourist Day 1
Monday, March 11
I had mixed emotions when I woke up knowing that I was in Queenstown and the bike part of the trip was over. On one hand I was glad to be able to sleep in and have a relaxing morning, but I was also sad that the adventure was drawing to a close. Now we are just like any other tourists. Seeing the sights. Standing in line. Checking off the boxes. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just very different from the style of sightseeing we have been doing for the past sixteen days.
We opted to walk the two miles in to town instead of getting an Uber. It’s a healthy walk with some hills, but it felt good to stretch the legs and work out some of the muscle aches. We ate breakfast at a place called No 5 Church Lane. I was so tempted to eat as much as I have the past sixteen days, but I couldn’t do that either. I ordered porridge with berries, which seemed like a reasonably healthy breakfast choice.
Queenstown is an absolutely beautiful town. It’s not a big town and it’s surrounded by water and mountains. Much of it still seems undeveloped or unable to be developed because of the terrain. The view from our Air B & B is incredible. It’s situated about 350 feet above the town and has huge wall-to-wall windows that look out towards the water and the mountains. The Queenstown airport is located close to the town and you can see planes land all day on the runway. It has to be a beautiful approach from the sky as you land amongst the water and the mountains. I hope it’s a clear day on Friday when we fly out. I’d love to see that view from the sky.
The first item on our tourist to-do list was the Skyline Gondola and Luge track. A very popular attraction in Queenstown, the Skyline Gondola is the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere, carrying passengers up 450 meters above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to the top of Bob’s Peak. While at the top you can also choose from a variety of activities, include a gravity-powered luge thrill ride. These custom luge cars allow you to control how fast or slow you go around corners, through tunnels, and over hills on a beginner and intermediate track. We rode the Gondola up and bought three rides on the luge track. Everyone has to begin on the beginner track to become familiar to the controls of the luge. Drew and I did the intermediate the other two times. It was a lot of fun and made me feel like a kid again.
Drew suggested we walk down on a hiking trail instead of taking the Gondola back down. It sounded like a good idea to me so we headed down the Tiki trail for a one mile hike down to the city center. The sign said it would take about an hour and we finished in about half that. We were moving at a pretty good pace and worked up quite a sweat. Hiking down is definitely easier than hiking up!
Last night when we were walking around downtown deciding where to eat, we noticed a long line outside of a place called Fergburger. I’d never heard of it but clearly it was the place everyone wanted to be at. That evening I looked it up and supposedly it is the best burger in New Zealand. People wait up to 45 minutes at all times during the day just to get one. I put it on the list of things we might want to do while in Queenstown.
We were hungry following the hike down from the Skyline and didn’t have much of an agenda for the rest of the day, so standing in line for a burger sounded like a plan. We found our spot at the back of the line and soon a Fergburger employee handed us a menu and explained the process to us. Offering a variety of custom burgers and meats, I decided I was going to order the Little Lamby, a burger with high country lamb, mint jelly, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish. Because of our spot in line it looked like our wait would only be about 15 minutes to order and then about 15 minutes to receive the burger.
It was well worth the wait. I don’t eat lamb often (maybe once or twice in my life) but the texture and flavor paired with the mint jelly and aioli and tomato relish was superb. Drew seemed to enjoy his burger just as much as I did. “Is it worth the wait” two young ladies asked us as we were eating our burgers on a short wall by the water a few blocks from Fergburger. “If you have thirty minutes and are hungry, I think so” I said.
Here is an article on CNN about Fergburger:
After lunch we needed to check into getting a bike box and shipping my bike home. The local shipping store suggested I have my bike boxed at Torpedo7, a local bike shop, and then Pack and Send could ship it internationally. Sure enough, Torpedo7 offered to pack my bike for $60 NZD which seemed very reasonable to me. Drew was also able to buy a box for $10. Drew will be checking his bike on his return flight. Because I am not going directly home, I need to ship my bike. I scheduled to have my bike packed on Wednesday. I will ride my bike from the Air B & B with the additional items I want to ship home, Torpedo7 will pack it, and then I will carry the bike box to Pack and Send a few blocks away. That’s the plan at least. Hopefully it will all work out. It will probably cost as much as $400 or $500 to ship the bike home, but that’s my only reasonable option. That’s how much it cost to ship my bike home from Prague in 2015 as well. It’s just the price you have to pay to have your own bike halfway around the world.
So that we don’t have to eat every meal out until Friday we decided to stop by the grocery store to pick up a few basics to make a few meals during the week. We got some eggs and toast for breakfast, along with some pasta and salad for dinner tonight. Then we started our two mile walk back to our home. Drew had to carry the bike box the entire way. I carried the groceries. Those activities took up the majority of the day. And with 4 miles of walking and a 1 mile hike we still got in some good exercise even with the bike trip being complete. We took it easy the rest of the evening and I caught up on the blog. We made dinner about 7:30pm and then enjoyed a quiet evening. Tomorrow we have more fun activities planned, possibly even including a helicopter ride to a glacier! The adventure continues.
When Your Drone Breaks, Find a Larger Aircraft
Tuesday, March 12th
Drew’s birthday is on Sunday and during the trip I’ve been racking my brain trying to figure out what to get him. Having a travel partner on trips like this makes such a difference and I’m super thankful that he has been a part of this trip and our previous bike trip to Norway and Sweden in 2017. I know I wouldn’t be doing these trips without Drew, because I’m unlikely to do them on my own. I’ve had a few opportunities to go alone but I chose not to. I enjoy the camaraderie. So, I owe Drew a lot.
A few days ago I had the idea to schedule one of the many helicopter flights available around Queenstown. It’s a bit of a splurge, something I knew we were unlikely to do for no reason, but I thought it was a great opportunity to do something memorable and a good way to say thank you and happy early birthday to Drew. I’ve never flown on a helicopter before and selfishly I wanted to do it as well. Therefore it made a lot of sense. To cross off a second check mark I scheduled the flight that took you to glaciers and included a glacier landing. There are a lot of companies offering these flights and after searching around thankfully found one that offered what we wanted and was in my price range.
We were both super excited. Drew has been on a helicopter ride once before, on a flight over the Grand Canyon. The company was scheduled to pick us up at 11:30am, but called about 11:00am to reschedule to 12:30pm due to weather near the glaciers. They couldn’t guarantee a landing on the glaciers today because of the weather and gave us the opportunity to back out. We decided to still go and just hoped for the best when we got there.
For breakfast Drew made poached eggs. Since they have become a staple of our routine breakfast, it seemed only fitting to make some ourselves. They turned out great and we ate them with toast and a banana on the side. I’m hoping to try my hand at making them sometime either tomorrow or Thursday.
The helicopter company picked us up in their van at our Air B & B a few minutes before 12:30pm and took us the short ride to the airport where the flight was set to take off. A couple, celebrating their honeymoon (possibly their anniversary), joined us on the trip, making it a crew of 5, including the pilot. Our pilot was a super chill guy, who clearly loved his job and probably enjoyed seeing others oohh and aahh over the experience every day.
Helicopters have a weight limit, so everyone had to include their weight as they signed in. There was a scale in the office to use and I was curious to see if I had lost any weight over the past sixteen days on the trip. Sure enough I’d lost about seven pounds. Depending on the trip I tend lose about five to ten pounds even though I’m eating sometimes four meals a day, huge portions, and desserts at almost every meal. It’s a wonderful diet.
The pilot asked if anyone wanted to sit in the front seat and when no one quickly raised their hand, I volunteered to. As the propellers began to spin faster and faster we lifted off the ground and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve flown in airplanes a lot, but this definitely had a different feel. It felt like the difference between riding in a car and on a motorcycle. It felt much more maneuverable. The flight took us north of Queenstown in to Mount Aspiring National Park to fly by the glaciers. Even though it was sunny with few clouds in Queenstown, it was cloudy near the glaciers. Because of the clouds we weren’t able to land directly on the glacier, but the pilot did land right across from the glacier on a patch on snow. He let us get out, take pictures, and walk around for about 10 or 15 minutes. It was much colder at this elevation on the snow and such a surreal experience to be dropped in the middle of nowhere with rugged nature all around. We also flew over a section of the valley that was used in a helicopter chase scene in the most recent Mission Impossible movie.
You can read about it here:
On the return ride I set in the back seat. Drew had a smile on his face and seemed to enjoy himself. (If you ever read this Drew, thanks for going on the bike trip with me, for being such a great friend, and happy early birthday buddy!)
The tour company drove us to the city center after we returned to the airport. We decided on Indian food for lunch and went to The Taj Queenstown a highly rated restaurant on trip advisor. I had the Awadhi Lamb Shank, which is a slow cooked lamb shank, brown onion-cashew-yoghurt curry, and Awadhi spices. It was the best Indian food I’ve ever had. No competition. Such a good decision. I almost want to go there again before we leave. So many other places to try though.
We walked around town for a little bit, browsing in a few shops and eventually stopped for a little ice cream and gelato at Patagonia, an ice cream shop right be the water. After ice cream we took a walk through the Queenstown Gardens. Our activity for the evening was to visit The Winery, which features 80 local New Zealand wines, available for tasting and purchase. They use an innovative card system which allows you to sample whichever wines you want. I picked up a brochure about The Winery on the ferry between the North and South Islands. We enjoyed some time there, sampling some expensive wines that were way over my budget. Admittedly I couldn’t taste the difference between the expensive stuff and the more moderately priced wine.
After The Winery we decided that it was time to head back “home” for the day. We grabbed a frozen pizza, hummus, and some crackers from the grocery store before leaving town and making our two mile walk back.
One of the highlights of the evening was catching and killing a bug mid-air. The bug had been annoying us, flying around inside the house. Not anymore. On the note it was time to wash my hands and go to bed.
Tomorrow morning I take my bike to Torpedo7 to be boxed up. I’m not sure how long that process will take so I’m going to stay in town until that is done. Drew is going to work on packing his bike at the house and will probably meet me later in the day once I’ve finished shipping my bike. It is forecast to rain some tomorrow, so that may impact our plans as well. It’ll be nice to have the bike taken care of and not have to worry about that part of the trip anymore.
Last Few Days in Queenstown
I rode my bike into Queenstown at about 9:00am. I attached one pannier full of items I wanted to ship home, as well. I left the other pannier with clothes and few other things at the Air B & B that I would need for the rest of the trip. Drew decided to walk and meet me in town, giving me some time to get the process of getting my bike packed.
When I dropped off my bike at Torpedo7, the bike shop recommended to pack my bike, they said it should be ready after lunch. From there I would take it to Pack and Send to ship to the US. After dropping off my bike I found a souvenir shop, picked up a few postcards and stamps, and then went to Starbucks to write postcards and wait on Drew. I only had time to finish a few postcards before Drew made it to town. He naturally walks very fast.
From Starbucks (where I ordered a coffee because I felt obligated to buy something while using their table to write) we made our way to breakfast at a place of Drew’s choosing. After breakfast we roamed around the main downtown area doing a little more souvenir shopping. For the most part every souvenir we buy (very few indeed) has to be small and light. We could buy something bigger now that the bike portion is over, but we still don’t have much space since we use our bike panniers as luggage.
It was beginning to sprinkle slightly, so after walking around for a bit we chose a picnic table under a large tree outside the historic Anglican church in town to make our home base. I took some time to finish the postcards and then we set out on the adventure of finding a way to mail them. Queenstown is a small enough town that you could find what you are looking for without looking on a map. Instead of researching where to mail international postcards, we just roamed until we found a post box labeled international mail. We discovered there are two different post boxes - blue for domestic mail and red for international mail. It felt good to get those in the mail, knowing that they will probably arrive in the states around the time I get home in a few week. Honestly, I’m not sure how long mail takes to travel from New Zealand to the states. I guess I’ll find out.
We were near Torpedo7 before lunch so I checked on the status of the bike packing. They were working on it and would be done when we stopped by after lunch. While deciding what to eat for lunch, I mentioned Mexican food. A few days earlier we had been talking about how many Mexican restaurants were available in the states, understandably because of our proximity to Mexico. Until Queenstown, we hadn’t seen any Mexican restaurants. There were a few to choose from in Queenstown and we decided on Taco Medic a small taco-truck-like place. We each ordered two tacos that were delicious. The place was run by a guy originally from Philly who called everyone brother or babe. It was a good choice for lunch.
After lunch we headed back to Torpedo7 and picked up my bike, which was now all packed. “I believe we were able to fit most everything in your box” the guys said as he was handing me the bike box. The way he said it made me believe he meant that the were able to put everything in the box, but in my mind I was wondering if I should ask him to clarify “most everything.” I did not. I guess I’ll find out when I open the box back in Florida.
I’m thankful that Drew was there to help me carry the box the 3 or 4 blocks to Pack and Send. Of course, even after I looked up exactly where Pack and Send was, I missed it by a block and had to turn around. Only when carrying a heavy box do you do that. It cost almost double what I was thinking it would cost to mail the bicycle home. The bike box they packed it in was slightly over the cheaper size and therefore they had to increase the rates. I told them it could go the slowest route possible to save money, but air mail was the only option. I didn’t really have any better options, so I paid it anyway. I knew it was going to be expensive. Just not that expensive. I won’t even say how much it was. It would pain me too much.
After dealing with Pack and Send we walked the two miles back to where we were staying to relax for the rest of the afternoon. We decided to use up some of the bread, cheese, and eggs we still had in the kitchen and Drew made egg sandwiches for dinner. After dinner we elected to walk back into town later that evening for drinks and dessert at a place called Eichardt’s. While we were at the house we met another couple staying at the house. The whole time we have been at this Air B & B I’ve been trying to figure out how many rooms are available to rent out and how many people are staying there. The number and people always constantly seems to be changing. The couple we met this afternoon were the most talkative, and we chatted for a while about our travels through New Zealand. The next morning the guy accidentally used our bread instead of their bread in the kitchen and felt so bad about it. He and his wife apologized three times. We told them every. time that it wasn’t a big deal. “What’s ours is yours” I said.
I also tried poaching my first egg the next morning. It turned out pretty good, but I would need a lot more practice to get to the quality of the eggs Benedict we have been having all around New Zealand.
Today Drew needed to take care of preparing his bike. He is checking his as baggage on his flight (a much cheaper option than shipping) but he still needed to get it boxed up. He got a box from Torpedo7 a few days ago, but forgot about getting some bubble wrap. He walked back into town after breakfast to get some bubble wrap, but I stayed at the house. I needed to work on a class I will be teaching at Wesley College in Mwanza, Tanzania next week on the fundamental elements of photography composition. Basically I’m going to teach some simple techniques to take better photos. I knew it would take me about half a day to make sure I was prepared and I spent the morning doing that.
Drew brought back a chicken salad sandwich for the two of us for lunch and Drew spent the afternoon packing up his bike. I got an email from Pack and Send informing me that they had found three lithium ion batteries in my bike box and that they couldn’t be shipped. They were batteries for my drone and so I told them I’d come pick them up before they closed at 5:30pm. I’m glad they found them, because they would have destroyed them (they aren’t cheap) if they found them later.
A few days ago we had decided to make reservations at a place called Blue Kanu for our last meal in New Zealand before heading our separate ways the next day. I’m so glad we did. It was the best meal we’ve had the entire trip. We chose the tapas menu and here is a list of what we ordered:
- Korean fried chicken ssamjang walnuts, BK sauce, chojang
- XO dumplings, unagi sauce, apple & ginger jam
- Som tam style green papaya salad, cherry tomatoes, green beans, tamarind dressing
- Kung Pao duck wonton nachos, whipped goats cheese, avocado, pineapple salsa
- Fried Hokey Pokey ice cream, milk chocolate brownie, banana brulée, monkey butter
It was such a wonderful treat of a meal and a beautiful way to tie a bow on our wonderful trip to New Zealand. We requested an Uber and made our way back to the house.
Yesterday morning I had checked on the availability of an Uber at 5:00am in the morning. I knew I would need a way to the airport on early Friday and wanted to make sure that I could get there at at the right time. No Uber’s were running that early! I am so glad that I checked the day before.
I made a backup plan and scheduled an Airport Shuttle taxi, the same thing Drew had scheduled because he needed to get his bike box there. When you have a big bicycle box to transport, getting to the airport becomes slightly trickier.
When scheduling the Airport Shuttle they ask what time your flight leaves and then schedule to pick you up at least 2 hours before. My flight was scheduled to leave at 6:40am, so they scheduled to pick me up at 4:10am! I had selected an early flight because I wanted to give myself almost 24 hours in Singapore before continuing on to Dubai, where I will spend longer.
The only probably with this plan was that after being picked up at 4:10am, the taxi driver informed me that the airport doesn’t even open until 5:00am! He was a nice guy and asked if I wanted to wait outside the airport or if I’d prefer to be dropped off at a gas station or McDonalds a short walk away. I told him McDonalds seemed like a good idea.
Once at McDonald’s I decided instead to walk to the BP to get something to drink and then start slowing making the 20 minute walk back to the airport. I got to the airport at 4:45am and waited the next 15 minutes outside. I wasn’t the only person there at this point, there were about 20 others there to at this point. Queenstown has a very small airport. Our 6:40am flight was the first one scheduled for the day. Even once the airport was open we then had to wait another 15 minutes before the computers would boot up. It all worked out though. I was sitting at the gate waiting to board with well over an hour to wait.
My first flight was from Queenstown to Auckland which took less than 2 hours! Yes, it took me 16 days to get from Auckland to Queenstown but I made the return trip in less than two hours! The next flight from Auckland to Singapore was a little over 10 hours! What do you do for 10 hours, you ask? That is just enough time to watch all three Lord of the Rings movies, which were available on the in flight entertainment. It made the flight go by very quickly and it was such a fitting way to end the New Zealand portion of the trip. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated the friendship of Frodo and Sam. It brought special significance this time watching it after experiencing my own adventure/journey across New Zealand with Drew. We’ve spent almost every hour of the past month together and I know we will both be thankful for some alone time over the next few days. But I’m very thankful for the time I got to spend with my friend.
I was saddened to hear about the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand when I got off the plane in Singapore. I spoke to Drew once he arrived in San Francisco and he said that it was happening right as he was boarding his plane in Queenstown. So sad to hear of such hate, suffering, and pain happening in a place of such peace, beauty, and tranquility. My thoughts and prayers go out to those suffering and in pain, and to everyone in New Zealand as they cope with such terrible violence.
I arrived in Singapore about 4:00pm, though my body felt like it was time to go to bed. I’m staying at the Crowne Plaza hotel right outside Terminal 3 at the Changi Airport in Singapore. This hotel has been voted one of the nicest hotel airports in the world, along with Singapore Airport being voted one of the nicest airports. It was a wonderful room on the top (tenth) floor, with views of the runway and planes taking off. However, just as the reviews said, the hotel was built so well you can’t even hear the planes take off. Customs and immigrations went really quick and I made my way to my room with a short walk across the terminal. I took a quick shower but then decided it would be best to visit downtown Singapore this afternoon and evening so that I could have a restful morning at the hotel and airport tomorrow.
The taxi ride into town took at 20 minutes. I decided to visit the Singapore Flyer, the giant Ferris wheel in Singapore first. It provided 30 minutes of breathtaking views of the city and I had timed it to catch the sunset while there. I walked around downtown a little bit, looking in a few shops, but then made my way back to the hotel by 9:00pm. I knew I woulnd’t get much time in downtown Singapore, but at least I did get to be there. Tomorrow morning I’m going to explore the airport. I hear there is a free movie theater, gardens, and so much more. My flight leaves at 3:00pm tomorrow afternoon for Dubai. I will have more time in Dubai, three days and two nights. I’m looking forward to it.
I chose to divide this section of the trip up for three reasons.
Reason 1: I’m not in a hurry. Drew left for San Francisco and I’m not meeting the group in Tanzania until March 19th. With three weeks in New Zealand and five days in Queenstown, it didn’t make a lot of sense to spend more time there. So I figured out what route planes would take from New Zealand to Tanzania and determined my stops based on that.
Reason 2: By dividing time between Singapore and Dubai, it allowed me to sleep well each night and deal with most of the jet lag before Tanzania. So far the plan has worked.
Reason 3: I get to visit two additional countries. That brings my country count to 33. Just in case you are interested here are the countries I’ve visited so far during my life time.
- United States
- The Bahamas
- Great Britain
- The Netherlands
- Vatican City
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- United Arab Emirates
I slept well in the Crowne Plaza at Changi Airport in Singapore. It was a really nice hotel, with an incredible view (from the bathroom) and zero noise. After eating a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel, I decided to visit the hotel fitness center. My cardio strength seems remarkably improved after the 16 days of strenuous biking and I don’t want to lose that. I initially set out to just run a few miles on the treadmill, but was super pleased when I ended up running 5 miles, which seemed a lot easier than I expected to be. Biking across a country makes a difference!
The only bad thing about deciding to run 5 miles a few hours before catching a flight was that I now had super sweaty clothes to pack in my bag. I placed them in a ziplock bag, but I knew I needed to get them washed before Tanzania. At least I need to wash them in the sink sometime. I wasn’t looking forward to opening that ziplock bag again anytime soon.
After the run I took a shower, got ready for the day, packed my bags, and checked out of the hotel a little before noon. I made the short walk to Terminal 3 and spent some time visiting the many shops in the terminal. I even visited a butterfly garden. It really is a beautiful, spacious airport, and I only saw a tiny, tiny portion of it. They are opening a huge new part of it next month too. Sad it wasn’t open yet.
The flight from Singapore to Dubai was a little over 7 hours. This was my first time on Singapore Airlines. I have always heard great things about them. Sure enough, it was a pleasurable experience. Their seats allow passengers much more space, even in the lowest economy. Whereas US airline carriers would have normally placed 10 rows (3 - 4 - 3) across on this size airplane, Singapore only placed 9 (3 - 3 - 3). Thanks for that Singapore airlines! It made the 7 hour trip great. I watched a few movies and tv shows and we were in Dubai.
Customs was super quick and before long I was at the taxi stand ready to ride into town. To my delight and surprise, the first taxi available was a Tesla Model X with falcon wing doors. I’ve seen a Model X, driven a Model S, and own a Model 3, but I had never been inside a Model X. It was a treat. I was slightly surprised when I arrived at the hotel and the taxi didn’t take a credit card. However, I had withdrawn some cash at the airport before finding a taxi. Glad I did.
I’m staying at the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai. It’s a bit of a splurge and super nice. It’s rated 5 starts. It’s made up of two towers, each over 70 stories housing thousands of guests. Once I made it to my room, I unpacked and enjoyed a peaceful rest of the evening before going to bed early. I have time for plenty of sightseeing tomorrow.
I started the day with another buffet breakfast. I’m really trying not to overeat on this portion of the trip, but it’s proving hard with these breakfast options. This buffet breakfast was made up of 7 different gourmet breakfast stations serving different styles of breakfast food from around the world. I first started with the standard American breakfast but then branched out to try some Asian and Indian breakfast specialties on the second go. Everything was delicious.
I had planned to walk to the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall after breakfast which is only a few miles. I thought it would be a good way to be outside and see the surroundings up close. However, when I started to walk there, I realized Dubai isn’t a very walkable city. It’s a city that still looks very much under construction in many parts. It’s amazing what they are doing here, but I do hope in the future it is more walkable. I grabbed a quick taxi from the hotel and the concierge let me know that there was a free shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall running every thirty minutes. I made note of that and planned to take that back to the hotel.
I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon touring the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, and the surrounding area. The process of visiting the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, can take a few hours. There were lines to get on the elevator and come back down. I bought tickets to the observation deck on the 124th and 125th floors. I spent at least an hour on the observation deck. It was pretty amazing.
The weather wasn’t great today. Overcast and windy, with a chance of rain, which is pretty uncommon. Tomorrow is supposed to be about 10 degrees cooler and much prettier. But it didn’t make to much of a difference because I spent a lot of the day inside buildings.
At 1:00pm I went outside to watch the Dubai Fountains perform an intricate production choreographed to music. It was super cool, but a little shorter than I expected. I think the longer sets are at night, where they can add lights to the water too.
After roaming around the area for a few more hours, I made my way back to the hotel around 4:00pm and made a reservation for dinner at one of the 19 restaurants in the Marriott Marquis. I chose the Italian restaurant based on the menu. It was delicious and was surprised to find out that it too was all you can eat. I had opted to skip lunch because of the big breakfast, and I’m glad I did. I tried to eat enough to justify the cost, but it’s not easy. I had three small portions of different handmade pastas, a small piece of beef tenderloin in mushroom sauce, a variety of antipasti, and some bread.
After dinner I went back to the room and enjoyed the rest of the evening in the hotel. Even though I had more time in Dubai, it still seemed short. I wasn’t interested in visiting so much that I was worn out, so I’m taking everything at a very relaxed pace and just seeing the main sights. I still have over 10 days left in Tanzania.
I ordered the laundry service for my smelly workout clothes before I left for the day and they were delivered, immaculately clean and folded at about 9:00pm. After they were delivered I decided to call it a night. Tomorrow I fly the final leg to Tanzania. It’s a 5 hour flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam with a short layover in Zanzibar. I’ll arrive about 6:00pm and have booked a room across the street from the airport. The team from the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the UMC arrives about 2:00am the next morning and they will be super tired after traveling for more than 24 hours. Once they land I will make contact and meet them before we all fly to Mwanza at around 6:00am. I’m looking forward to seeing many familiar faces, including my two housemates Jacob and Kyle Hall who are bringing me some extra clothes and items for the last portion of the this trip.
It’s been an incredible first week in Tanzania. I was afraid I might be tired from the rest of my travels by the time Tanzania arrived, but that is not the case. Quite the opposite, I feel like the nature of getting to be a part of the partnership with the Tanzanian people and to see friends again has reenergized me.
This is my third time to Tanzania in the past year. If you asked me a year and a half ago, I probably could not have even told you where Tanzania was on a map. But now I am making friends with the students at Wesley College in Mwanza and with the leaders of the area churches. I’m starting to understand the meaning of partnership.
Arriving to Tanzania on March 18th, was smooth and uneventful. My flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam via Zanzibar was about 6 hours. My assigned seat was next to two honeymooners from Algeria on their way to Zanzibar. However, when the plane wasn’t full, I asked the flight attendant if I could move to an open seat to give them more space. The groom seemed very thankful.
The entire flight I read a biography on Elon Musk which I purchased in Dubai. It made the flight go quickly. When we stopped in Zanzibar I was surprised that nearly everyone got off the plane. I inquired if I was supposed to get off the plane, but I wasn’t. There were only about 20 of us who were continuing to Dar es Salaam. The flight from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam was only about 30 minutes. By the time we took off it was basically time to land.
Customs and immigration went very quickly in Dar. I still have an active visa for Tanzanian because of my last visit in October. The visa is good for a year. This allowed me to skip the long line and process of applying for the visa. From there I made it to the arrivals area. I withdrew some Tanzanian shillings and then proceeded to find a taxi for the short ride to my hotel near the airport. A young man asked me where I needed a ride to and I told him the FQ hotel, less than a mile from the hotel. He knew where it was and said he would be happy to take me. During the short ride he asked me if I needed a ride back to the airport in the morning. I must have mentioned that I was flying to Mwanza in the morning. I admitted that I did need a ride, but that it would be very, very early, around 3:30am. “No problem” he said. “I will be there to pick you up.” Well, that was a lot easier than I was expecting it to be.
It was about 7:00pm when I arrived at the hotel. The rest of the team from the US was arriving at the airport about 2:30am. I planned on meeting them about 3:30am, which would give them time to go through customs, etc. I decided to skip dinner and got to bed by 8:00am, so that I could still get about seven hours of sleep.
When I walked down to reception at about 3:25am the receptionist was sound asleep behind the desk. An additional helper was asleep on the couch. I didn’t want to wake them, so I stood in the lobby, looking out the window for a few minutes. At about 3:35am I decided I should probably make a little more noise to see if they stirred. Once I set my key on the counter and whispered “good morning” she awoke. I told her that I was checking out and expecting a taxi to the airport soon. As I walked outside to the courtyard, lights flashed in a car parked near the entrance. Sure enough, my ride from last night had arrived. I made sure to tip him extra, thanking him for waking up so early and taking care of me.
I arrived at the airport a few minutes later. The team had landed, but the process to get through customs was going slowly. At about 4:45am we finally met. As of this point the solo part of my adventure is over. Now I am part of an eight person team. It will be nice to not have to worry about logistics after traveling and arranging my trip up to this point.
Everyone was understandably very tired from their near two days of non-stop travel. I tried not to rub in the point that I was both showered and rested. Everyone seemed in good spirits and we caught the flight from Dar to Mwanza at 6:00am.
Once arriving in Mwanza, we went dropped our stuff off at the hotel and then went for breakfast. Eric and Liz Soard, missionaries serving in Mwanza, had planned a very relaxed day since they knew everyone would be tired. The day included a tour of Wesley College, lunch at a really nice restaurant on Lake Victoria and an early evening.
This trip is unique from the previous two trips to Tanzania. Instead of everyone doing the same project, each one of us have a specific area or person we are helping with. I have loved this so much. It has allowed for more one on one time and as a result you can really begin to see relationships and a partnership forming. It’s an amazing thing to watch.
Kyle is working with Tony at Wesley College. Tony is in charge of all the IT for the college and Kyle is becoming familiar with their systems at the college and helping where he is needed.
Jacob is working with Gilbert, the worship leader at Wesley College and City Centre Church at Wesley College. Each night Jacob has been helping with choir practice. It has been so much fun to be a part of that. Kyle, John Russell, and I have joined the choir this week, attending choir practice each night from 7:00pm - 8:30pm as well. As of Thursday, Jacob has taught them three new songs, one which they plan to do in worship on Sunday. Gilbert works the choir hard, having them practice every night during the week from 7:00pm - 8:30pm and on Saturday as well!
I am working with Ester at Wesley College. She is in charge of the social media and communications for the school. On Thursday I also taught a day long class on the basic elements of photography composition. Once learning these basics we practiced taking better photos and discussed how to use them on social media. In the afternoon we also talked about videography, interviews, and interview techniques. Ester interviewed some of the students at Wesley College in the late afternoon. She did an incredible job and it was such an amazing thing to be a part of.
I’m excited about what the weekend and next week. It’s great to be back in Tanzania.