Saturday, 29 October 2016

On the Road - Through the North Island

These blogs are considerably delayed, but hopefully I can start getting them out at a better rate. Anyway,  after the Coromandel, I made my way south and right down the middle of the North Island.  The centre piece of the first part of my trip was the Tongariro National Park (I will devote a separate post for this), but on the way, I passed through many places of interest.

My first major destination after the Coromandel was Rotorua.

I stopped for a pie near Tauranga - after cycling through more endlessly steep hills. I bumped into a nice young man at a petrol station who gave me the good news that Rotorua was pretty flat and that I didn't have too many hills to climb. He seemed genuine, and I'm sure he was, but he was dead wrong, and which psychologically didn't do me much good.

View over Rotorua lake

Yes, Rotorua, once you are there, is quite flat, but it took an awful lot of climbing to get there, passing through one gorge in particular that was fairly hair-raising going into and exhausting coming out of.

A tough 110Km leg to Rotorua.

Rotorua itself is a stinky but interesting place. So much volcanic activity sends out a fair amount of sulphurous gas into the air from various locations all over the city. I met a Korean chap who thought it good for health, although I don't see how that could be.

There was a very obvious Korean presence across the city. I met a number of Koreans and there were many korean shops and restaurants, and even souvenir shops with Korean writing and no Chinese. This made me think that Rotorua was well marketed in Korea, perhaps for the health benefits of breathing sulpurous gas? Who knows, but it wouldn't be out of character for Koreans to be obsessed with dubious claims of the supposed health benefits of something rather odd.

Steaming small lake in Rotorua

I moved on to Taupo, which was quite cloudy, unfortunately. On the way I hit several geothermal areas and was tempted to pay for one in particular, but had seen enough bubbling, steaming stuff in Rotorua, not to mention that the weather was not especially nice.

Huka falls was a worthwhile side trip. Although not particularly high, Huka falls is astoundingly powerful and the water incredibly blue.

On then to Turangi, again in bad weather, a theme that was to last a few days. In the pouring rain, and with a literal mountain to climb, I decided to cheat (I earned this in Australia, where no alternative methods of transport were used at all) and hop on a minibus up to Whakapapa village (the base for the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a NZ great walk), about a 50km very uphill journey in the pouring rain I was glad to miss out on.

More about this in the next post, but I was certainly glad of my lack of planning with all the rain about. On the bus with me were two German girls who had booked a guided Northern Crossing walk (the famous one day walk), and only had the time for that one day. The weather had to be good, but it was chucking it down with rain. If they went at all, they would've seen nothing and been pretty wet and miserable. I, on the other hand, had the flexibility to wait for a weather window.

While I was waiting for the weather to clear, I did manage to get on to a smaller hike to a waterfall, and as chance would have it, my timing was perfect to see a couple of people kayak down it.  The falls themselves featured in The Lord of the Rings as the background to Gollum eating a fish.

After I had finished my walk in Tongariro, I quickly whizzed down the mountain to National Park Village. I intended to do a hike there the next day but the weather wasn't great. What I didn't know was that the weather was going to get even worse, unexpectedly so as it wasn't forecast to (the weather in New Zealand appears somewhat tricky to forecast correctly).

After just 30km I was soaked and very cold, a deep cold that I couldn't shake the whole day and that left me feeling decidedly unwell.

After eating no food for 12 hours and being woken by air-raid sirens, which I thought were signaling a volcanic eruption (I was later to learn that they are actually to call volunteer firemen), I set off the next day to Whanganui via the scenic Whanganui river road.

Although more down than up, the road still climbed over 1000 metres during the day,  a massive task for a man with no fuel in the tank. The road itself was beautiful though, which provided enough distraction to get me through.

Once in Whanganui, I was relieved that I could eat normally again and that my bad stomach was only to last a day.

After that, it was a fairly uninteresting journey to Wellington. I stopped in a small town for lunch called "Bulls", which the people obviously enjoyed making puns out of.

Concentrated punnery in one big sign.

I finally reached Wellington, a few days ahead of schedule. Fortunately, I was able to jump on an earlier boat to the South Island. Instead of arriving on the 28th, I could now arrive 2 days earlier.

I still had the best part of a day and a half to explore Wellington, which was a very pleasant city. I went for a run, first along the bay, and then hooked up with the southern walkway, which took me over the hills and to the suburbs on the opposite coast.

It was a good 17km in all, a length of run I hadn't done in a while, so I was pretty tired. Just in case you are wondering, cycling a lot doesn't help you run at all, in fact just the reverse (my legs wondered what the hell they were doing).

Wellington has a network of nice trails up into the forested hills throughout the city and suburbs. From the high points I could see all around, including the international cricket ground and a very small airport, nestled in the neck between two parts of the city, with the sea at the start and finish of the runway.

I will see Wellington again on the way back to Auckland for my flight home, but it was time to say farewell to the north island for the moment. It was time for the much anticipated South, and it certainly hasn't disappointed so far.

The postcard picture of Wellington and it's famous old ratchety cable car.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The North Island Part 1 - the Coromandel and the Unexpected

Apologies for the lack of blogs so far on this trip, but because of some battery problems with my phone, it was out of action for a couple of weeks. This meant I was unable to get into my blogger account, as Google was suspicious of my location. I had similar trouble with my email also.

So, to the trip then and I have a few blogs to catch up on because a lot more happens on the average day than in Australia. New Zealand has definitely been an adventure so far. Things really couldn't be any more different from Australia, in a number of ways.

Obviously the climate and the ascending and descending nature of the roads was always going to be a contrast, but many more unforseen circumstances have cropped up on this trip. I've had to roll with a few punches so far and also just accept that the weather is simply going to win sometimes and not fight the elements too hard.

Mini disasters have definitely plagued me in New Zealand. In Australia, I don't think anything went wrong at all, everything just went perfectly to plan. New Zealand, a slightly different story. Nothing really major, but annoying little inconveniences:

- I forgot my cycling shoes and had to buy a new pair on arrival.

- I broke one of my cycle locks, when the key snapped in the lock on the first day. This meant I had to saw through the cable with my camp knife to avoid my bike being permanently locked to a fence (just as well I have a good quality knife). While sawing through the lock, I was simultaneously stung on the back of the neck by a wasp.

Hunua Falls, a little before the Coromandel and my first stop and where I had to saw off my cycle lock, with some suspicious eyes looking at me.

- Perhaps as an after-effect from the physical stress of the Darwin to Melbourne dash, I developed the biggest mouth ulcer on the inside of my mouth.

I could feel a dull ache deep inside my cheek when I was in Melbourne and after a day or so in New Zealand a big blister developed inside my mouth about the size of my little finger nail. This became extraordinarily painful after a few days and lasted for about a week.

The pain was so intense it was making my whole mouth hurt and giving me headaches, which really made me consider going to the doctor, just in case it was infected. Fortunately, it (very slowly) started improving, although it did make me pretty miserable for a while.

- Just as I was starting to be able to eat again, an unforecast heavy bout of rain in cold weather chilled me to the bone, which I couldn't shake all day, despite finishing early and sitting in front of a log fire with several layers on. This then made feel sick and I ate nothing from 10am until about 2pm the next day. After managing to hold down some Tom Yum soup in Whanganui, though, I was back to normal.

- As previously mentioned, after a couple of days, the battery on my phone decided to pack-in. I had to order one online and then have it sent to Wellington for pick up. This meant I couldn't contact anyone and also that Yahoo and Google were suspicious of my location and locked me out of my e-mail and Google accounts when I tried to access them on library and hostel computers. Other than Facebook, I had no means of communication.

- In Wellington, I was locked in my hostel room for several hours because of a broken door. Luckily they managed to forcibly open the door before my boat over to the South Island the next morning, though not before I lost a few hours of precious beauty sleep.

Anyway, I came through it all and there were some spectacular places to visit, which, lucky enough, I managed to get some good weather for, despite quite a bit of dodgy weather being present. I started with the Coromandel peninsula.

Some stunning coastal scenery cycling through the Coromandel and beautiful weather. 

In my original plans, I hadn't intended on going to the Coromandel, but I extended my trip by about 20 days to make things less of a rush, so I felt like I could fit it in.

I'm ready glad I did make time for the Coromandel. I was rewarded with wonderful weather and beautiful coastal scenery. 

In my experience, scenic beauty does tend to come at a physical cost, if you are getting there under your own volition. The roads in the Coromandel were the steepest I have ever cycled. The mountains were small, but the roads wound up and down them in a very unforgiving manner. 

For once, I was defeated, I had to get off and push in a couple of sections, and even that was very hard. Pushing over 40 kilos up a steep incline is never going to be easy.

I met a Swedish girl going through the same pain as me, in fact she had made almost identical journeys up until that point. She had completed the same ride in Australia, Darwin to Melbourne, via a different route, starting a month before me and was now in New Zealand cycling from the tip of the North Island to Queenstown in the South.

I bumped into her again at Cathedral Cove a day later also, but she is the only other cycle tourer I have met so far, which surprises me a little.  Maybe it is still a bit too cold for most people. 

Cathedral Cove

On top of the scenic beauty of the Coromandel, it was interesting to have my first experience of volcanic activity in New Zealand, and it was rather unique. 

In Hahei, there is a part of the beach where underground water is heated by a now extinct lava tube. It still has the ability to heat the underground water to over 100°C, which then heats the sand and the water near the surface above to about 60°C. 

When you walk over the sand in certain areas, it feels like underfloor heating, and if you dig a hole, you can have a nice hot bath on the beach. A unique experience, for sure.

Well, I finally published this first blog, and there will be more to come.  I am currently in the South Island and just beginning to spend more time in certain places and do less cycling.  There is an awful lot more distraction here in New Zealand though and why it has been so difficult to get these blogs out.  I should be able to churn a few more fairly soon.