Oops… A couple of confessions or articles missed from the last instalment.
Firstly, I forgot to say about my significant increase in falls in comparison to my rides pre New Zealand. Well. You may remember me saying about being able to unclip as Bree and her husband were proffering ‘Side Challenger Mix’ out of their open window. This was intended to lead nicely into my realisation of my own stupidity. As I began to explain to the travellers the details of my problems, all became clear… ‘it just seems that if I clip in one side, it’s impossible to unclip!’ I began… ahhh. That would be because you bought two sided pedals, dear, but only turned the tension down on one half. Ooops. My old boss, Janet, referred to situations such as these as, ‘talking to Grandma’ – no sooner do you voice the details than you work out the solution. Obviously, I turned down the tension on the remaining halves and have had fewer problems – if my bike is tumbling, I am able to clip out and leave it to its own devices.
Secondly, I completely forgot my milestone! By the time I reached Waitarere Beach, I had covered over 500 miles, over 800km!
Also. I apologise profusely for typos, incorrectly placed punctuation and glaringly obvious repetition of words. I’m under time pressure and also the laptop casually moves the cursor to random places within my writing on occasion and I miss mistakes. It infuriates me when I do cast an eye over previous blogs. I’m sure you’ll forgive me!
I’m going to try and embed a Strava widget on my blog but if you want to follow me, I think you can use this link.
Day 13 – Waitarere Beach to Johnsonville – 63 miles
So. I don’t like to be negative and the owners of the Sail On Inn were very nice but suffice it to say that I felt like cooking for myself on my second night in the tent would be the better option. That and the fact that I had started to dream of a cooked breakfast in the morning and I decided to buy a packet of sausages before racing the sunset back to the campsite.
For some reason, I decided that cooking on the Trangia would be the best idea, despite the fact that there is a full kitchen as part of the campsite – very common in New Zealand apparently. I have, in fact, considered dumping it a number of times but I worry about having to pitch up somewhere unknown and not being able to heat my emergency supplies – especially in the wilder South Island. It took a long time to cook but did a fantastic job. I ate a couple of the sausages, put the other three in a bag, moved the pots away from the tent to cool down and got into a sleeping bag. I heard a rustle and thought nothing of it, rolling over and getting stuck into one of my books – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (I’m such a child).
Waking up, I smiled to myself and grabbed a roll from my supplies bag (have you worked it out yet?) and could I find my delicious sausages I had been dreaming about? Could I heck as like. Some dirty scoundrel of an animal had pinched them. Gobbled them all up! Having been a Goldilocks all my life, I now knew how it felt to be one of the Bears. Where was my breakfast?! All that remained was a betoothed sandwich bag, a good 5 metres away from my tent. Plastic cheese sandwich and cereal bars it was then. As well as being obsessed with L&P popping candy chocolate, I now have a firm favourite in the breakfast bar department – the TANDEM bar. Not only do they taste delicious (though I am sure they lack in nutritional value) but they also make me think of the summer fun to be had on Thierry the Troublesome Tandem on which I am supposedly taking the second seat all the way to Trier. I do hope he learns to retain his rear wheel for more than 10 metres before then.
Despite all this, I seemed to manage to make reasonably good time leaving the campsite and trudged off towards Highway 1 again, following the only 5 mile road which I had ridden both into the campsite and twice on my rest day. It felt achingly slow in comparison with the burden free journey of the previous day but it felt exciting to be heading towards the capital. I got to the end of the road and decided to check my messages, which resulted in a few conversations too many and going from being ahead of schedule to slightly behind. Still, I was determined to enjoy the day and that meant taking it at a casual pace and stopping to enjoy a few treats along the way. This is what the months of saving has been for after all!
Joining Highway 1 again, I was delighted to see the surrounding countryside – the previous days had been so overcast that there was little to see but now I could see all the way to the hills inland and I was content that the journey would be different from that of the previous day.
As the road travels through Levin, it is named Oxford Street. It bears no resemblance to its London namesake I can assure you. The centre of the town seems to me a sprawl of single story commercial properties and run down takeaways – a bit like an American strip mall but without any real shops. I do have mild regrets about stopping here as it has been my least favourite of all the places I have visited so far. A shame, for sure, but a lesson in researching rest days a little more. I just felt I needed a break and that reaching an eighth of the total distance was cause for rest and celebration. In hindsight, I could have easily made it to Johnsonville and celebrated reaching the end of the North Island with lovely people and sleeping in a real bed. You live and learn!
My first pit stop of the day was around 15 miles in, where I pulled into a café in a former church building. I had a delicious date scone and a cold ginger beer – this is fast becoming my drink of choice alongside L & P.
Continuing along the highway, which runs parallel to a train track (though I saw no trains until Waikanae), there was little to tell – the lorries and cars were no worse than on any of the other highways and all seemed well. My hands were pretty much numb, but I am getting used to this by now – I think 10 miles is about the maximum before they start to get their pins and needles.
Now, Waikanae, I liked. I’m not sure it was about the place but it just seemed so much happier than Levin. I was going to grab some food from the supermarket but decided I had enough in my bag and sat on a bench in the shade where I chatted with a few passers-by. Notably, a couple where the wife had completed a similar trip when she had been 18 and a lovely lady who was a lecturer on study leave to complete her PHD. She had an interest in the British school system and we chatted for a while. As she left, she thrust $15 dollars into my hand. I said I would pay it into the charity account on her behalf but she said she wanted me to spend it on myself – that I needed to make sure I was looking after myself so that I could complete the ride for the charity. Hooray for the people of Waikanae.
I had seen a sign for a coastal track and was sad not to be following the signs which led that way but I was worried about its suitability in relation to my bike. It wasn’t long before I was alongside the coast however, and about to have a bit of a meltdown.
Out of nowhere, a sign appeared instructing to ‘cross here with caution’. Often there have been small diversions to avoid the longer, narrow bridges for which I have been grateful as cars do not like to slow down and will practically run you over in order to continue on their way. A funny episode had happened earlier where I was instructed to use an underpass which involved a lot of stairs. After covering myself in bicycle filth, I had returned to the road and crossed with caution to use the foot/pedal path.
This was slightly different however and crossing Highway 1 at this particular section of road was downright terrifying. It was nothing in comparison to what laid ahead…
The pedestrian path between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay just completely freaked me out. There was a headwind suffocating me with the overpowering smell of seaweed and salt water, the path was around 2 feet wide and featured a barricade of sorts on each side hemming you in between the death rocks of the ocean below and the death lorries steaming towards you. Consider then that this is also the first incline of any challenge of the day and you may begin to understand why I felt uneasy to say the least. Its only merit was that the scenery was incredible… I just couldn’t look at it unless I stopped for fear of a slight mis-steer leading to me crashing into the sea (of rocks or cars, I’m not sure which is worse). Hey – at least it made me forget about the sciatic style shooting pains I’d been experiencing for the previous ten miles.
Needless to say, at the top I was a bit shaky and my heart was pounding above and beyond the pace the hill would normally have induced. I was also very confused. The signage was unclear and I couldn’t work out where I was supposed to cycle next – did I re-join the road, continue on the pavement or was there an alternative route? I muddled on and hoped for the best.
I got seriously confused again after Plimmerton where the highway was seriously congested and did not look safe. I asked a couple for alternative directions and was given a highly detailed account of what to do. Somehow I did actually manage to take all they had said to heart and found my way – though I did double check with another cyclist. If anyone fancies taking this route – they should take Paremata Crescent, which turns into Papakowhai Road, passes Aotea Lagoon. Then a left, right onto John Burke Drive and right onto the Te Araroa Walkway, which leads you alongside SH1 and into Porirua.
Here, Idi Garmin was insistent that I join SH1 again (where it turns into a motorway and cyclists are forbidden) but fortunately google maps saved the day and highlighted a route to my final destination through the suburbs.
The elevation profile for the day had shown it ending with an incline over the last 7 or so miles and I had been dreading it all day. I even stopped to take an energy gel to get me through. Fortunately, it had just been exaggerated by the lack of elevation on the rest of the route and, though it did climb, it was a steady gradient and manageable even at the end of the long day.
I liked the feel of Johnsonville, especially from my approach which had been through leafy, shaded streets. It felt like there was some character there. It delights me to say that my hosts for the evening were also spectacular. Becca, the cousin of my friend Emily (who was 20:20:20 rider number 1), and her boyfriend Nick were just what I needed and we chatted companionably for the remainder of the evening (whilst I was fed steak and potatoes and incredible salad followed by cheesecake and ice cream).
Then I went to bed.
My life has changed. I never wanted to leave that bed. A double bed with multiple pillows! It was far too wonderful for words.
Ferry Day – Johnsonville to Picton
I can’t call this an active day as I cycled about 5 miles. Oops.
My ferry wasn’t until 2:45pm and I enjoyed a lazy start to the day. I hope I didn’t eat too much of Becca and Nick’s food for my breakfast!
Cycling to the ferry terminal was insane. I don’t recommend it. It was however, over very quickly and I did manage to turn off SH1 just before it turned into motorway again. Wahoo!
My pannier broke again and I spent ages with the replacement screw not wanting to hold. It’s a pretty insufferable beast. I think I managed to get it to work eventually. I am sure it will need replacing again multiple times before the end of this trip.
As I was about to board the ship, I met a lovely Swiss couple who had been cycling for a similar amount of time and a German guy who was bike-packing and had limited time. It was great to chat with people on similar adventures and I especially liked listening to their conversations in German – even more so when they realised that I had understood the majority of what they were discussing and chipped in with a couple of relevant remarks ‘auf Deutsch’. ‘Not many English people speak German’ was part of the response.
My next regret was that I had allowed myself to be conned into upgrading to Premium Plus for the ferry ride. It meant separating from my new friends and, because cyclists are loaded last, the best seats in the lounge had already been taken and the food had gone cold. The free wifi, which had been a selling point as I had hoped to get some planning done on board, was completely useless and I ended up feeling a little bit seasick… so I slept most of the way through the journey, popping out to take pictures every now and again. I did eat some food (lots of shortbread) and had some expensive fizzy drinks… I should have gone wild!
Landing in Picton, I rejoined my cycling buddies and part of me regretted not beginning the cycle towards Nelson that night. However, I absolutely loved staying at the Tombstone Backpackers accommodation.
Now, I have been camping for many years and I happen to think I am quite good at it. I even remember being on a camping holiday along the Mosel River in Germany with my parents where I had to take charge. We were borrowing an old tent of my Aunty Sarah’s which had a traditional frame, complete with three point knuckle joints (I have no idea if that’s what they’re called but I am running with it). My mum looked perplexed, my dad looked perplexed. The tent looked exactly like my wendy house and I had no idea what all the fuss was about. I laid the pieces out and under my 9(?) year old instruction, the tent was a homestead in no time.
BUT. I have not had to face tent pitching into ground as hard as concrete. I think the process took around an hour. The guy working at the hostel came to help and was scalded and sent away after he managed to almost snap one of my pegs by applying too much pressure. Sheer force is not always the way! Through a combination of pouring a little water onto the areas I wanted to put a peg and very gentle taps with a very large brick, I was able to construct something vaguely habitable for the evening. Thank goodness it was a sheltered spot!
I then spent hours um-ing and ah-ing about what to do the next day. The distance to Nelson – about 60 miles – is completely manageable but there are two rather large hills in quick succession. I spoke at length with a local and keen cyclist, Andy, who convinced me to break the journey into two. I was very reluctant but surely the local knows best. I decided that this would at least allow a trip to cable bay on the second day, which would add a few miles, take me to a really beautiful spot but not add to much in the way of climbing.
To end the day, I spent far too long in the hot tub. Incredible, incredible, incredible. But a bit foolish to stay in the hot water for quite so long!!
Day 14 – Picton to Pelorus Bridge 32.7 miles
Oh dear. I woke up this morning with a real headache and in a stinker of a mood. I’m not sure why but the ‘why am I even doing this’, ‘this is too hard’, ‘I want to go home’ feelings just appear out of the blue every now and again. I can’t quite put my finger on the triggers – perhaps a little to do with my lack of confidence regarding the forthcoming hills, the daunting experience in front of me, the access to wifi meaning I had had more contact with home over the past couple of days and maybe the jitters I had had around Wellington had their part to play. I spent the morning guzzling the inclusive breakfast and sending gloomy messages to my friends and family.
Needless to say, as soon as I was back on my bicycle, I felt great. The riding was not very challenging and the views were phenomenal. The short distance meant that I was happy to pull into the various viewing platforms to take in the incredible panoramas over the sounds.
I had thought that the ride would be quite isolated, with few places to stop for food or drinks but early on I spotted an ice-cream van and decided to try and find some of those pounds I had lost! I can confirm that cycling quite a lot, not really eating for three days and rejecting the food you do ingest is a sure fire way to meet your ideal weight target in record time. I can also confirm that it sucks and feels much better to feel like yourself and to enjoy incredible gold rush ice cream! NOM NOM NOM.
Here, my life was made complete. A friendly cyclist waved, passed and then changed his mind and came back for a chat. Chatting away happily, I found that he had seen some of my facebook posts and this was because he was none other than Jonathan Kennett! I am sure this means very little to you but the Kennett brothers in my mind ARE cycling in New Zealand. It was their Tour Aotearoa that inspired my journey, their book that was recommended above all others and I know that a lot of the improvements which have been made to cycling in New Zealand have been at the hands of one or more of the Kennetts. These are New Zealand cycling GODS. They even have a trio! (Though I believe it has suffered some serious injuries).
We chatted a while about our routes – he had been inspecting a few of the tracks around Nelson and was on his way back to the ferry. He gave me a leaflet and discussed the hills I was about to face. We talked Whangamoas and Takaka Hill. Basically, if I struggle epically with the Whangamoas, it’s best not to bother with Takaka, which is more than twice the height. I still think Jonathan would have convinced me to do Picton to Nelson in a day. Ha!
Anyway, he confirmed that I only had easy, beautiful riding from here to the end of my day and then had to leave me to catch his ferry. He had already ridden from Nelson that morning… I felt a little bit ashamed. However, I pedalled off and enjoyed my easy day.
I stopped at Havelock, which is the self proclaimed home of the green lipped mussel. So, I decided to stop and feast on green lipped mussels! It would have made my mother green lipped with envy! Muahahaha. Ohhhh how delicious they were. How I enjoyed them. Woohoo!
I then arrived at camp by about half 4, pitched my tent in record time in an awesome spot and settled down to write this blog. Pelorus Bridge is stunning and the DOC campsite is one of my favourites so far. The pitches are huge and well spaced out around the site. There are however a lot of flies and only one plug socket, which someone else has been using the entire time I have been writing this blog, leaving their phone unattended. I don’t have any signal anyway so I am sure that my laptop will have enough juice to recharge my phone overnight.
My body is starting to hurt quite a bit even after the hot tub. I don’t think I am getting saddle sores as such but I seem to be getting pain in my coccyx, my knees, my hands and my back after about 30 miles of riding. So far, so long as I remember to stretch, my muscles have been fine. It’s my stupid joints which make me feel old and decrepit! I had a quote given to me by Tim but I can’t remember from whom he had heard it, regarding marathons and ultra marathons – “at some point your body stops fighting and gets on with it” (or something to that effect – I was listening, I promise but my brain paraphrases). The point being, I hope that happens soon!
Day 15 – Pelorus Bridge to Nelson via Cable Bay – 46.2 miles
If I ever felt that I should have bought a GoPro before leaving, the past two days I have felt it all the more. The South Island really has been spectacular in its welcome. The weather has continued to be windy but not in that aggressive, blow you off the road kind of way that it had been throwing at me over the past week and the sun was peeking out at times.
I woke up still dreading the climbs of the day, really having to persuade myself to get everything packed and to get on my way. At least I didn’t have any reception, so I had fewer excuses to stay in bed than usual. On went The Old Curiosity Shop – it’s all starting to come to a head, very exciting – and round and round went my legs.
Before I knew it, I was descending the first of the Whangamoas. I think I must be getting fitter. I do still have my little breath-catch stops, more out of habit than necessity (because I am as lazy as I can get away with being) but always the descent seems to be a lot longer than the ascent! This is excellent news and I am very very happy about it. Even if my body does still hurt most of the time…
Half way up the second hill, Mil Nicholson, who is narrating my free audiobook, started getting interrupted by ping-ping-pings as my messages came through and I stopped to bounce off a few replies since it was still before lunch and people might be awake.
Then I set off again and realised that, actually, I had been practically at the top!
I think thanks must go again here to Dave Inglis. That horrendous day, climbing that monstrous hill into the solid wall of Scottish Highland headwind with the broken bottom bracket, being coached gently to the top with daft jokes, has prepared me for pretty much anything.
The road was incredibly beautiful with the side of my hill dropping away to nothing immediately to the side of me and the road snaking its way down into the valley, cut into a backdrop of lush green trees. Woooohooooo! The road safety measures put in place here helped me feel a lot safer as well. The cars actually seemed to slow down when they couldn’t see around the corners and the sections of wide verge allowed me to descend without the fear I had felt on Mount Messenger.
By the time I had reached the bottom, it was my turn-off for Cable Bay. I strongly recommend anyone cycling in the area takes this road. WOW. You follow the serene pebble river for a mile or two and then suddenly, the turquoise expanse of the bay opens up in front of you. It is truly breath-taking. The café down at the bay is certainly popular and for good reason. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch down there and hope I can continue enjoying this café culture for the remainder of my ride! I think I am finding that lost stone!
After dipping my feet into the sea again from the rocky shore, I set off for Nelson. I was a little concerned that the journey would take a while – I had descended all the way down to the cove on this road and that had been tough enough into the headwind. Conveniently, the wind had obviously dropped for my return where it would have been helping me back to the Highway. But, eh? What’s this? It was a descent all the way to SH6 too… how can this be?! My only explanation is that this must be one of those cunning roads which is an optical illusion – appearing to drop away when it is actually rising. Ha!
Rejoining the road, I was in Nelson in no time at all and it is glorious. Perfectly marked cycle lanes begin as soon as you approach, sometimes even away from the road itself, and flat roads sweeping alongside the ocean. Oh happy, happy day. I love Nelson.
So, even with my detour down to Cable bay, I made Nelson by half four. I got myself cleaned and changed and went to join my old housemate, Anna, and her friends in the centre to enjoy some of the produce for which the Marlborough region is world renowned! We then joined her family and friends for a home cooked feast overlooking the water. How happy I am to be surrounded with wonderful, conversation rich people in such a beautiful location.
Crazy to think that only one sleep ago I had been thinking I couldn’t do this. That I needed to go home. I think I need to take people’s advice with a pinch of salt and apply my own actual ability to their suggestions. It is so easy to look at me and think that I am not up to much – I’m hardly athletic in appearance and historically have been shockingly abysmal at sports. But the fact is that I’m tougher than I look and an awful lot more stubborn. I have no doubt that I could have done Picton to Nelson in a day BUT, now that I have checked my miles and know that somehow I am still easily on track, I’m so glad I took my time – it meant seeing Cable Bay, eating Greenlipped mussels and having enough energy to interact with people on my arrival.
Right. Back to my rest day!
I just loved seeing Anna so much and having a chance to chill out, placed on top of the fact that I have already come 1100km, I decided to chill out in Nelson for an extra day and I am over the moon about it. I have had the best time ever and am so grateful for having such brilliant hosts.
On Friday, whilst Anna was at work, I tried to have a lazy morning catching up on sleep but found that I was awake fairly early on. Instead I tried to catch up with my family and did manage a couple of calls but missed my lovely Grandma unfortunately. Maybe next time!
I cycled back into Nelson to meet Anna for lunch and we had some sushi on the banks of the river. It was then a very sociable afternoon. I sat in the RED Art Café for an hour or so, trying to get a few bits and pieces written down whilst devouring an incredible brownie. It’s such a beautiful spot, and I could have spent hours in there looking at the art and stunning gift items.
Afterwards, I met up with Andy, a cyclist who lives in the area but is originally British. It was great to chat and he treated me to a hot chocolate at the Bridge Street Collective. We met at the bottom of the cathedral steps which seem to be an excellent rendezvous point. Having heard about his epic tours, I am now desperate to take on the 4 Rivers challenge in South Korea. Anyone fancy joining me?
Next, I sauntered over to Free House Pub which I know would be my local drinking hole if this was my area. Such an incredible variety of ales and even a low alcohol cider which I selected given that I was cycling home quite soon! Perfect. Here I met Caroline, with whom I have been chatting since a few weeks into my blogging. She had taken a tour through much of Europe to raise funds for a wheelchair for her sister and it was so reassuring to hear that she had encountered some of the same low feelings throughout her tour – especially after long periods of camping.
I have to say I am feeling great now! I’ve never felt so popular and at home in a foreign city. Yey Nelson!
The real cherry on top of the weekend, though, was heading out to Rabbit Island for a BBQ and to cast a fishing net into the sea. We joined Brent and Pete, who were the experts and I felt like I was really being treated to insider information. The whole beach was so quiet and it was amazing to see Pete dragging the net into the sea. It looked like tough work, with Anna and Brent following to make sure the net was free from tangles and to set the second anchor. Regrettably I had thought it would be too cold to go in and didn’t bring the right stuff down to the waterside so I held back and took photos.
BUT. I made up for it in the morning, fully togged up as the Kiwis would say, we headed back down to bring the net in. I even got to free one of the fish we caught while Pete went to check the last few metres of the net. He was a big fella and it was such a rewarding experience to be in the water, taking in our catch. This time Robyn, Pete’s wife, said she would take some pictures – thanks for that!
We were treated to seeing the catch being filleted and cleaned and I learned how to flush out the ammonia smell by forcing water through the spinal cord of the fish – we had caught four large dog fish. After the initial wash down on the beach, we took them back to Pete and Robyn’s to prepare them further and it was impressive to see just how much meat came from each fish!
The Nelson market then called out to us and we wandered happily through the stalls, looking at the craft work and tasting some of the fresh delights! I’ve booked my accommodation for the next couple of nights and we are now headed out for a swim. Feeling a pretty lucky girl!