Sunday 5 January 2020 – Melbourne to Christchurch
We had to tear ourselves away from Melbourne, which is testament to the fantastic time we had there. We said goodbye to Cara and Kilter (the scottie) earlier in the day and Yael then kindly drove us to the airport where we said our final goodbyes.
We were miles too early, which meant that check-in wasn’t open for a few hours, so we ensconced ourselves in a cafe to wait. When the check-in finally opened it was utter chaos as it was all self check-in and every computer was playing up, but eventually we got bags and bikes checked in. The hard part done…or so we thought! We got all the way through to security and were then stopped when our carry-on luggage was examined because we had our bike locks in them. We’ve had these in our carry-on luggage travelling through both Istanbul and Singapore airports and had no trouble, so we’re not too sure why we were stopped this time. However, stopped we were and they weren’t letting us through, so we had to go all the way back to check-in. Nightmare! The computers were still on the blink, but the kind attendant who had dealt with us earlier added our carry-on bags to our existing baggage allocation at no additional cost – and we were done. Back to start the security process again but as we had no bags this time we had no problems. And we were off…sort of….!
The flight into Melbourne was delayed because of a headwind, but this meant it was super speedy on the way to Christchurch because of the tailwind, so despite a departure delay of an hour, we arrived at our scheduled time. New Zealand customs are notorious for stopping anyone with dirty outdoors equipment so in preparation we’d spent a whole day scrubbing our tent, bikes and other gear. Saying that it was still a nervous wait when they took our tent to be scanned – but all was well and the customs lady even commented on how clean it was! The lesson here is to scrub everything, declare what you have (be honest) and be nice to the customs staff! The rest of the journey from the airport to our WarmShowers hosts Jen and Rhys’ was uneventful – and we even managed to get a SIM card and local currency at the airport on our way out. Bonus!
Jen and Rhys had agreed to host us for two nights, even with our very late arrival on the first night. We arrived at their house at about 2am (our time zone moved forwards another 2 hours from Melbourne) and as promised they’d left a light on in their ‘sleep out’ – a lovely room attached to their garage, so that we knew where to go. How amazing is that from people we had never met before?! We unloaded our stuff and were in bed within minutes…it had been a very long day!
Monday 6 January 2020 – Christchurch – 10km
Jen and Rhys (both doctors) had gone to work by the time we surfaced, but had left instructions to make ourselves at home. Initially we decided to do very little, so stocking up at the supermarket around the corner and an afternoon snooze was about as far as we got. After our snooze we thought that it would be a shame not to a least see the centre of Christchurch, so we jumped on naked bikes and cycled into town.
Christchurch was decimated by an earthquake in 2011 and there are still a few derelict buildings in the centre of the city as a reminder of that. It’s amazing that it is taking so long for this cathedral to be rebuilt…
…but we found out that this is because much controversy surrounding the rebuild. It is owned by the Anglican Church and after the earthquake they decided to demolish it and build a completely new church. Demolition started but was stopped by the Great Christchurch Building Trust who wanted to see the original cathedral restored to its former glory. A stale mate situation followed and the government eventually got involved as the building was becoming derelict and was affecting the overall redevelopment of central Christchurch. In 2017 it was agreed between all parties to have it completely reinstated and work began in mid 2019. It is expected to take 10 years to complete!
The others part of the city that have been rebuilt in the city are really nice, a lot of which sits along the Avon River, giving it a pleasant feel and we sat in the sunshine over a coffee for a while just watching the world go by.
We had a fantastic evening with Jen and Rhys. They cooked a great dinner (rice and vegetables with ‘crack sauce’ – I suggest you don’t Google that one unless you want the police around!) and we all chatted pretty non-stop about all our different adventures. They’re both pretty sporty and Rhys is in training for a kayaking/running/cycling race. They’ve also done some touring in Europe and are planning a much bigger tour from Istanbul through the ‘Stans’ (the Central Asian countries) in the middle of this year. Rhys gave us loads of tips on where to go during our time in New Zealand and specifically whilst on South Island as he’s from the Canterbury region. Ever the doctor, he told us that the sun is really strong here, possibly due to lack of pollution, and even if it’s overcast we should always use high SPF suncream. We both suffered burned lips in Australia so bought zinc sunblock while in Melbourne, which we will make sure to use. The only ‘problem’ is it’s coloured, so if you see photos of us with blue lips it doesn’t necessarily mean we are cold!
We also had our first lesson in Kiwi English from them, which we will put into a dictionary much like we included in our Australian round-up.
Tuesday 7 January 2020 – Christchurch to Ashburton – 107km
A photo opp before Jen and Rhys went to work ….
….and then we set out in day 1 of our New Zealand adventure. This is the first time in our travels that Martina is on navigation duty. Yesterday we had a quick trial run when we went into the centre of town, but today was the real deal. She now has control of the GPS and I’m relegated to the back of the pack (of two!). It took me a good few weeks to get the hang of the GPS at the start, but I’m sure Martina will be much quicker!
We found some reasonably easy bike paths to the main road south out of Christchurch. We then ignored everything that Rhys had told us about this road and joined the rest of the traffic heading south. As Rhys had said it was pretty busy and quite uninspiring, but we’re on a mission! Trent and Dina, our friends that waved us off in London at the start of our journey 21 months ago, are in Dunedin (370km south), so we agreed to meet up. And to make it before they leave there we need to get to Dunedin by Friday, which means taking the most direct route….unfortunately that’s down the main road.
At a few points during the day we tried to get off the main route onto smaller parallel roads, but every time we did that, it turned into a gravel road quite quickly and slowed us down. The gravel’s not a problem – it’s just that it was slowing us down. We made reasonable headway and even though it was on flat terrain it was a fairly tough ride. We had to contend with a strong head/side wind all day and the traffic was relentless. We’ve heard quite a few reports from other cyclists that the Kiwi drivers aren’t very nice to cyclists, so it was with a bit of trepidation that we had set off this morning. To a certain extent the reports were right and there were definitely a few vehicles, mainly trucks, that got just a bit too close to us even when there was clearly no need.
After two weeks off we’re obviously a bit out of cycling practice so we were a bit late to destination – a campsite just outside of Ashburton. And we were both quite knackered by the end of it. So, it was dinner and an early night!
We did find out from one of the other campers that we had cycled over New Zealand’s longest bridge when we crossed the Rakaia River. For once there was a patient truck driver that drove behind us for the full crossing, so we gave him a big thumbs up when he overtook at the end.
Wednesday 8 January 2020 – Ashburton to St Andrews – 96km
I said that yesterday was an uninspiring ride along the main road, but in hindsight I don’t think I did it justice. If it hadn’t been for the traffic, it was quite pleasant. Today was the same and particularly there were lots of green fields and plenty of livestock for us to look at. To our right we could see some fantastic hills, which gave us a sneak preview into what we can expect in the next few weeks. We also both felt like we could have been in either Ireland or England….especially as the road was a similar width and the cars and trucks were more “normal“ size, compared to the huge vehicles that were the norm in Australia.
We went through Temuka, which looked like a very pleasant place and had lunch by the beach in Timaru, where I may even have have had forty-winks in the sun! Our destination for the day was a great little community campsite near the main road. The manager was quite character and the facilities, though old (think stepping back to the 70s), were spotless…
The site was right next to a railway line and when we were setting our tent up we heard a train go past. At midnight, when it was all quiet, the next train came through and we awoke to its roar and the ground shaking under us. Having been startled out of our sleep it was actually quite frightening and it took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on, by which time my heart was doing about 150bpm! Needless to say it took me a while to get back to sleep!
I did have one driver-related incident on the route today when a guy rolled down his window and said that we should be using the pavement ‘or we’d cause an accident’. I refrained from telling him that he shouldn’t roll down his window to shout at a cyclist as he was obviously distracted and ‘was likely to cause an accident’! We’ve also noticed lots of glass at the side of the road, so we’re expecting a few punctures, but other than that, New Zealand appears to be quite clean.
Already we are seeing differences from Australia and this one in particular hit us today, although it’s obviously an issue here too or they wouldn’t have the sign….
Thursday 9 January 2020 – St Andrews to Hampden – 103km
It was cold enough to see our breath when we got up this morning, which is the first time that’s happened for a long time. Apparently whilst Australia is having its hottest year ever, New Zealand’s summer is resembling one we might get back in the U.K. Even the locals are saying that the weather this year is crap!
Though it was a lovely clear day when we set out, the headwind was back so the cycling was pretty tough and by the time the headwind was dying down a bit we were into hills. The hills to our right were much clearer than yesterday, so we got a good look at them and started to feel excited that we’ll be going that way soon.
The cycling remained tricky with the traffic, but it was definitely quieter, especially in the morning – it would appear that the New Zealander’s are relatively late risers. We passed the 45th parallel – the point at which we were equidistant from the equator and the South Pole…
When we got to Omarau it was time for our lunch. We did a bit of research and found that the ‘thing to see’ in Omarau was Harbour Street, which is the longest, unbroken and intact Victorian street in New Zealand…
Although it’s pleasant enough we think that they have made a tourist attraction out of not very much!
There was a short, but very steep hill to get out of Omarau, which definitely got our hearts pumping and from then on it was undulating all the way to Hampden where we stayed at a campsite right on the coast.
Once we’d had a shower and dinner we decided to walk along the beach to look at the Moeraki Rocks, which we’d originally planned to see on Friday on the way to Dunedin. These are large and rather bizarre boulders that are clustered on the beach. I don’t know if I understood exactly how they were formed, but they ended up in the low cliffs on this beach. The sea then erodes the crumbly rock from around them and they fall out onto the beach where they sink into the sand. Basically it looks like a giant has dropped a big bag of marbles on the beach…
We hadn’t expected very much, but actually they are pretty special and we’re glad we made the effort to go and see them.
Friday 10 January 2020 Hampden to Dunedin – 89km
There was a short, but very very steep hill for us to climb to get from the campsite up to the main road, after which our day proceeded much the same as the previous ones. Initially the road stayed quite close to the coast and we had some lovely views of the sea and beaches…
We stopped for second breakfast and then got underway again. All was going well as the scenery got hillier and more spectacular, which was lovely. When we got to the point where it was 20km to go to Dunedin there was a sign indicating no bikes along the main road and then another sign pointing to a ‘sealed’ road route for cyclists, as opposed to a gravel one. So, off we went but within 50m the tarmac road had become gravel, so we stopped to contemplate the map over lunch. We obviously weren’t allowed along the main road but the thought of being on a gravel road for the next 20km through hills didn’t appeal – especially as we’d could see the first monster hill ahead from where we were standing. But that’s the route we took and after sweating up the first hill the tarmac miraculously returned, and we were on a steady climb up over Mt Cargill. Having initially cussed the person who decided to push cyclists off the main road onto a stupid gravel route, I then had to take it all back as it was amazing. We wound slowly upwards along the side of the hill through forests, with glimpses of great views into the valleys. At one point we could see the main road way below us, so we’d obviously climbed pretty high.
We then turned a corner and we could see the bay where Dunedin sits, the Otago peninsula the other side of the bay and the sea in the distance – just magical! We then had a very pleasant 13km descent into Dunedin with this view the whole time. Some of the best cycling we have done for a while…
On our way into Dunedin we stopped at the steepest street in the world (there is some debate as to whether this is true as the title is also claimed by a street in Wales) …and no we didn’t cycle it as it’s a 35 degree climb! Some Japanese tourists who were taking photos were suddenly more interested in Martina so she had to pose with them for 5 minutes!
We found our digs, settled in and then went to meet our friends Dina and Trent. Way back on day one of our journey these two saw is off in London and Trent even had to give Martina a push up the first hill! Trent is in Dunedin for a conference and it seemed too good an opportunity not to meet up with them. We had a lovely evening and were introduced to one of Trent’s colleagues, David, his wife Erin and their daughter Eloise. Without us knowing David paid for our dinner, which was very generous and a great end to a top day!
Saturday 11 – Sunday 12 January 20 – Dunedin
We met Dina and Trent for brunch, after which we took a bus to Ross Creek Reservoir for a forest walk…
We’d only expected to walk around the reservoir and take the bus back into town, but it was actually easier to follow the Leith River walk into town, which took in parts of the botanical gardens and the grounds of the university (Dunedin is a big university town). All very pleasant and rounded off with a beer on the edge of town, followed by a curry later in the evening.
We said our goodbyes on Sunday morning and then headed to the Otago museum where we found two fantastic exhibits. The first was on the many different Pacific cultures and the second was specifically to do with Maori culture. Both were really great and very informative in showing how the Pacific cultures are very individual, but at the same time all interconnected. There are so many islands out there and it did get a little confusing as it’s really complicated!
We learned that Maoris are believed to have arrived on New Zealand about 3,500 years ago from some of the Pacific islands. All was not calm though as the three tribes, two on the North Island and one on the South Island, initially fought each other but are now one peaceful, combined tribe. It was great to get an initial insight into their culture and one of our plans whenever we visit the North Island is to go to a hungi, a traditional Maori evening. We have also learned that there is a much bigger Maori presence on the North Island than the South Island.
Later in the day we had a wander around the centre of DuneIn – a city steeped in Scottish connections. The name DunedIn is derived from the Gaelic word for Edinburgh, and Thomas Burns, nephew to famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, was among the early settlers. A gold rush in the 1860s meant that it was also New Zealand’s most prosperous city at one time. So a very interesting and pleasant place to visit!
A recent observation…
When our way into Dunedin when we stopped for our second breakfast we sat next to a Maori family in the cafe who were also having breakfast. If we compare this to the First People in Australia we never encountered them in any of the ‘white’ establishments that we went to.