Well. What a leg it has been – from my hilliest day to my flattest day, my most effective cycling day to my worst. It has been eight days without a stop and I was definitely feeling it by the end. My new friend Neil said he wouldn’t sponsor me without seeing some real human suffering and I definitely feel like I have had that but, to compensate, the generosity of folk has been in abundance.
I do have to say that one thing that has been upsetting me for the duration of this ride is the amount of roadside litter. I’m cycling and I still carry away any litter from food I’ve eaten on the road. You managed to find space for the packaging when it was full – how difficult can it be to take the empty stuff home and put it in the bin?
Day 28 – Milford Sound to Te Anau Downs – 54.2miles (but Garmin did lose a bit)
It looked like it was going to be another warm day in Fiordland and I tried to get myself going at a reasonably good time. I knew that it wasn’t a particularly long day in terms of distance but it was going to be a lot of climbing… that I hadn’t really thought about when getting that fantastic flight!
There’s no real warm up either, you just start climbing though I suppose the gradient wasn’t too harsh to begin with.
I can tell you I was very pleased to see a crowd of people pulled in to a small car park on the side and followed suit, taking in my first of many rests and getting to see a kea – it didn’t seem frightened of the tourists snapping photos and I think they can be quite feisty birds. Soon it was time for this bird to take flight again and off I trundled.
I’m very far behind in my writing and the agony of the climb seems to have lost some of its immediacy on my mind. I have even tentatively agreed to do battle with 12 of the Surrey Hills on my return. It was, however, horrendous. I do remember knowing that at the time. And I just couldn’t get enough food inside me. I wanted to stop and eat something every five minutes… or maybe I just wanted to stop.
With the zig zag to the tunnel just in sight, I had a perch on a rock for a good twenty minutes or so. I saw Neil through the vegetation, not far down the valley and decided to wait for him. I have no idea how he had the strength of character to complete the return journey up the hill having already descended through the valley the previous day – he was also cycling a further 15 miles BUT he did have less luggage and is also of the leg shaving persuasion, so considerably more professional than me. I let him forge on ahead before setting off myself. I really dislike the idea that I could be holding people up and as such haven’t actually ridden with any of the lovely touring cyclists I have met.
By this stage, I had done a smidge of pushing but I was determined to do the zig zag without stopping. It’s just like Box Hill, I thought, and that’s easy. (Actually I couldn’t remember the name of Box Hill and spend a good percentage of the ride trying out monosyllabic words with ‘Hill’ after them. It wasn’t until I got WiFi in Te Anau that I finally was relieved of this mental torture).
I did complete the hill, I did and at the top, there was a little cycle touring van parked and its occupants were standing on the hillside cheering me on, clapping, offering me water, cereal bars and congratulations. They had seen me earlier on my trip and were keen to say hello having recognised my silly white legs. It was lovely and I am hoping that they will send their pictures through to me at some point. I’ve been photographed quite a bit actually – I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.
So. The climb was nearly finished then… or not. The next part of the climb involved 1.2km of unlit tunnel, a steep gradient and an uneven road surface.
Before my eyes had adjusted to the loss of light, I felt completely blind and I was pedalling for dear life into the abyss! All manner of feeble noises were emitted as I wobbled along – it must have sounded hilarious to the guys in charge of the works who were safe in the glorious daylight. And, as the deafening rumble of cars began to engulf me, I squealed once again and decided that I wanted to flatten myself up against the wall of the tunnel, which I duly did, clutching onto Peggy like a shield and making sure my little rear light was clearly visible whilst my feet were getting soaked in the river gutter.
The next time, with the cars coming towards me, I felt a little more prepared. The thunderous roar of the metal monsters was still incredibly intimidating but I had a bit more of an idea of what I was going to encounter – cars passing with plenty of space. It would all be fine. And it was.
Then I tried to remount my steed and, a bit wobbly, fell off, made some more pathetic noises and finally got on my way again. There were two more passages of cars and, as I followed on from the last set, something in the light quality changed – the real world! I was heading into the real world!
Coming out, I pulled immediately into the gravel car park to the left of the tunnel’s gaping mouth and stuck my inhaler into mine. I gulped at my Ventolin and very quickly restored myself enough to enjoy the descent.
It was quite funny, knowing that the traffic would come in waves meant that I could let go on some of the sweeping bends and let the blood begin circulating more regularly around my body. AND, just as I was really starting to enjoy myself, I began climbing again. I had been expecting it but it didn’t make it much easier. A few more stops, including one which began mostly to take in a vista but ended up being quite a long chat with a Peruvian cyclist, Nicolas and his Australian friend. It felt good to know that a lot of cyclists had avoided this road because of the tunnel. I’m definitely glad to have done it – a real achievement – but I certainly won’t be going back in a rush!
Many people say that the Milford Road is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand and I certainly did enjoy the vast meadows and the tree lined stretches with the mountains behind. It was a shame the wind disturbed the reflections at Mirror Lakes but I had a nice stop here for some plastic cheese sandwiches and a chat with some folks from around Dumfries.
Here I also noticed that Garmin had broken down, which frustrated me more than it should have. I wasn’t likely to get lost with only one passable road but I was upset that I might lose all the data from the climb and I am trying to keep a record of all my activities. I recorded the rest of the day on my phone but I think there’s a small miss. Clearly not the end of the world (and I also now know that the precious data was safe – phew).
I actually felt quite good, pedalling along this beautiful highway, listening to Andrew Marr again and counting down to Te Anau Downs using the historic mile markers. Unfortunately, it looked like someone else’s journey had been less enjoyable as I noticed police, ambulance and fire services heading in the opposite direction. I do hope that it was nothing too serious.
I was staying at Te Anau Downs. Had my geographical knowledge kicked in a little earlier – thinking about the South Downs and the North Downs in England… I should have known what was in store for me. One more hill to climb. It wasn’t actually too fierce and my history lesson had come to the meeting of Margaret Sanger and Katherine McCormick and a hilarious story of the latter smuggling contraceptive diaphragms into the US.
Within only a few moments, I was at the Fiordland National Park Lodge, meeting the owner Wayne. Clearly I wasn’t looking as euphoric as I was feeling having accomplished such a day’s riding and he took great pity on me. He was a true representative of the amazing people I have met and really helped me out – even arranging for a meeting with the Fiordland Advocate! I was going to get to be in the paper!
**Ohhhh noooooooo** stupid fight with computer and I have lost all photos from Milford Sound to Bluff. I am very sad. Cry. Cry. Cry. 😥
Day 29 – Te Anau Downs to Manapouri – 32.5 miles
I spent quick 17 miles into Te Anau, thinking that I probably could have done this the night before but being glad that I hadn’t as I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet Wayne or to finish catching up on last weeks’ blog! It is quite funny the way in which things have a habit of working out for the best – or do we just make the best of the situations in which we find ourselves?
Here I met Brendan, one of the journalists for the Fiordland Advocate who was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to meet with me and find out about my journey so far. I spent the next few days thinking of things I wish I had said or asked – I felt that I had underplayed some of the more challenging aspects of my time in New Zealand, made it all sound too easy but I enjoyed finding out a little about the paper and the kind of stories Brendan usually covered. I was really happy with the article and you can read a copy *here* – I’m on page 18.
I then decided that I would go to the library to upload my blog and try to plot the next few days’ activity. I was quite quickly moved to the back of the library to a special wifi room they have had to have built due to the overwhelming demand. Being a bit of a wifi addict, I really have noticed how few outlets offer an unlimited wifi service, even with a purchase.
Checking my messages, I found that Neil was still in town and I met him for some lunch before heading on my way, which was lovely. I also bumped into my Peruvian friend and we had an incredibly brief cycle together on the road towards Manapouri, chatting about the route to Mavora Lakes which I had rejected in favour of flying! I wonder whether he took it in the end. He said that there were not really any rules for cyclists in Peru… I think I did make the right choice by taking on New Zealand and not South America!
Seeing the lake, I was a bit sad that I hadn’t spent a bit more time by its shores but I still enjoyed cycling past and taking in the scenery on the second half of my short day. It had been good to get some social interaction under my belt as well but I was definitely ready to go and shut myself away from the rest of the world again! Before that could happen though, I enjoyed belting some songs out along the open road. ‘For Good’ from Wicked was a particular favourite, most famed in my mind for the 12am-3am renditions with Adele before we went to Portugal a few years ago (I still can’t quite hold my harmony line) and ‘Life That’s Good’ from the Nashville soundtrack – I don’t really identify with the religious sentiment but the family feel good awesomeness of it definitely holds true – I really do have a life that’s good.
Just before turning towards my hostel (backpackers), I saw a sign saying that I had reached the end of State Highway 94 – I’m not sure if this is the first road which I have ridden from beginning to end, but it is the first time I have noticed a sign telling me I had done so – pretty cool!
Freestone Backpackers is an unusual backpackers retreat, set back from the main road up a steep, gravelly track which was unsuitable for riding. I got very hot and uncomfortable pushing Peggy to the top but it was definitely worth it. The main dorm room accommodation was in what must have been the original house on the site. It was incredibly homely and, on that night, was only shared with one other. It was great value – I hope I paid the right amount as no one asked me for any money and I just left it on the windowsill – and incredibly comfortable. I enjoyed cooking up my venison sausages and then crawling into my deliciously comfortable bed. I did feel a bit bad that I had no spare interaction for the Swedish lady who was also staying that night – she clearly wanted to chat but I was all chatted out.
Day 30 – Manapouri to Colac Bay – 70.7 miles
The day started out reasonably strong. I didn’t want to leave my bed but I never do and I felt like I was getting into a good rhythm then… all of a sudden… that tell-tale twang. One of my spokes had gone. It would obviously decide to give up twenty minutes in to a 70 mile day. Wonderful.
BUT. Some time before leaving, Tim introduced me to Bellville Rendezvous, an animated film with the grandma as the heroine and the grandson as a cycling enthusiast. Part of her role as his coach was to true the wheels which she does by spinning the wheel atop a model of the Eiffel Tower and checking for any ‘bends’ in the path. It’s an excellent film and you should all watch it. Then, for Christmas, I got a spoke tool and a lesson in removing, replacing, tightening and loosening spokes with the one caveat, “unfortunately if it’s on the cassette side, you’re going to have to take it to the bike shop anyway.”
Guess which spoke went…
I probably should have left the wheel as it was and carried on but instead, I decided to remove the spoke and have a tinker around. A lovely Dutch couple (The Goossens, THANK YOU – who I also think may have slipped $20 into one of my bags for Emilie’s Charities) stopped to offer some help when I was just putting my tyre back on and they offered to take my rear panniers ahead with them to just over half way, to reduce some of the pressure on the wheel.
However, I’d made a hash up of whatever I had done because the wheel was all over the place and, when I reconnected the brakes would not move at all. I’d called the nearest bike shop and they didn’t have a mechanic in that day. So I was just in the process of messaging Tim for advice and looking at Google for some helpful picture based instructions when Andrew (I thought he was called Ian Drew until he gave me his business card) stopped – a builder and a keen cyclist – he was able to refresh my truing skills with a roadside demonstration and he got me up and running again.
After two and a half hours broken down, I was back on my wheels again with 67 miles still to travel but the advice from Andrew that there was a tailwind the whole way and it would get stronger further down the road.
Boy did I fly. There was one big hill which I managed reasonably well, though I had to stop at the top to reapply the zinc to my English Rose face haha! It was a scorcher of a day. Then there were whole sections of road where I was nailing out over 18mph consistently – just perfectly gentle downhill gradients and a consistent push from my fickle friend, the wind.
The rest of the ride was brilliant, giggling at the Clifden Suspension Bridge, stopping at Tuatapere for pie, ice cream and to collect my bags – maybe I should have had more sausages, apparently this is New Zealand’s sausage capital!! I saw the sea again for the first time and stopped at McCracken’s Rest where I chatted to a lovely Scottish gentleman and a couple of cyclists travelling in the opposite direction and then I looked around and realised that the mountains were gone. : ( Bye bye snow-capped beauties!
At Colac Bay, I met Sue, an American cyclist who was great to chat with and clearly knew her stuff. She had a cassette tool and offered to help but I was just so tired and starving, I thought I would leave it to the professionals in Invercagill.
The Tavern at Colac Bay is fantastic and better value by far than the majority of places I have eaten. I had a huge burger followed by an even bigger ice cream sundae. I really felt I deserved it! Carole was particularly lovely and definitely encouraged me to buy the ice cream, which is good news in my books.
After grubbing up. I decided to take a stroll down to the bay – it was stunning but my feet were immediately attacked by sandflies. GRRRRR. The bites are still burning up in the night.
2 panoramic shots saved from the disappearance…
Day 31 – Colac Bay to Bluff – 50.6 miles
A flat, boring and miserable day in terms of the weather. It was difficult to remain motivated and there was little to look at but contrastingly, it was also an exciting day – reaching the end of State Highway 1 and (not quite accurately) the southern end of New Zealand (it’s actually at Slope Point but this is the generally accepted southern point on cycle routes etc). I also flew past 1500 miles and found myself over 3/8 into my journey.
I got Peggy fixed by Marcel at Cycle Surgery Invercargill but he did point out that my chain was pretty much stretched to the end of its life and that the cassette wasn’t really at its best… might also be wise to get a new rear wheel as there’s a bit of a lump… I paid for the basics (so cheap compared to London) and pedalled out into the rain and headwind.
Oh! I also met Markus Stitz who came in to check his tyre pressure – He writes Adventures on Two Wheels and is travelling around the world on A SINGLE SPEED bike. It’s good to meet people who are crazier than you.
I stayed in a strange but lovely backpackers in Bluff run by the lovely Lex. Here I met Matt and Bev who have offered me a place to stay up in the Bay of Islands (which seems forever away). I hope you’re feeling better soon, Matt!
Day 32 – Bluff to Curio Bay – 59.3 miles
After being mocked so much because of my white legs in my picture at Bluff, I decided to let my legs see the sun for a bit. Unfortunately there was no sun. Only wind. A 16 mile headwind – crosswind out of Bluff which had me fearing death by being blown into the path of a lorry taking cargo from the port. Actually, the lorry drivers were amazing – perhaps because they were used to cyclists or perhaps because they knew the dangers of the wind but almost every single one of them went right over onto the other side of the road to pass me. THANK YOU BLUFF TRUCKS.
The wind was horrendous but it did soon turn into a tailwind which was maintained for a good portion of the day. It was still very scary whenever a corner was turned or a large vehicle passed in the opposite direction but it was helpful.
The Catlins began and the hills started creeping back into my life. There were some lovely views but I do suspect that the main draw of the Catlins is best seen with a car to take you down all the side roads.
I met father and son cyclists who had been fighting the headwind all morning. They were travelling light on a boys weekend away as the son was heading out to Sydney to begin a physics PhD looking at quantum computing – I was really interested as Andrew Marr (again – I’m sorry, the book is nearly finished) had just been telling me about the initial discovery of resistors and I’d like to know more about what the next step would be, moving away from this technology. However, there was little time to chat – they had dinner reservations and I had a gravel road to tackle.
I hate gravel. I fell off. Again. I didn’t go to Slope Point because it was 12km round trip and I was flagging. I turned down the road and then saw one of those gust warning signs and turned around again. It wasn’t long after that and I was elbow, bum and face down in the gravel. JOY.
It only hurt for about five minutes though and I didn’t have far to go – only 3 miles.
I loved the flax bushes at Curio Bay and was helped to find an excellently sheltered spot to pitch my tent by some passers-by – an American guy who was going to do some cycling and a former colleague of his who was working at the hostel in Milford Sound. Thanks – I needed that good night’s sleep!
I loved Curio Bay, the spooky trees and then the fossilised trees at the beach. It was a really beautiful area and I wish I had had more time so that I could have stayed and watched for the sea lion and the dolphins and the yellow eyed penguins…
Before I crumpled into bed in my sleeping bag, I had my dinner… a pot noodle (different brand), a huge bag of salt and vinegar crisps and some chocolate. I had bought tuna as well weirdly in some mango style sauce (what was I thinking?!) which I then had for breakfast. This is the high life!! Haha. Such a great sleep though.
Day 33 – Curio Bay to Papatowai – 28.1 miles
Maybe because I’d not given my body the correct nutrients and maybe because my sleep was so lovely, I had a morning where I felt my body was in the game, but my head was in my bed.
I stopped lots. I was trying to find a copy of the Advocate (to no avail) and eventually, I calculated that I could take a half day and still meet my miles quota for the week. My new target was Papatowai (originally it had been Kaka point).
One of my stops was at the Niagara Falls café and I went to take a picture of the hilarious bump in the stream which had taken on this mighty name.
Back to the hills – I think Florence Hill was the biggest challenge of the day and I stopped at the top and had my photo taken by a lovely holiday maker called Peter. I was very excited to message my boss (Florence) to tell her how much hard work she had been that day.
And then I was in Papatowai with the intention of stopping and spending a full afternoon catching up on my blog. I was told I could get WiFi at the Lost Gypsy, so this is where I went but I ended up having far too much fun to write my blog! I absolutely loved the automaton creations – especially the ones made out of bicycle bits and had fun powering my own cctv footage!
I got chatting with Blair, the owner and his family and friends who were staying for the weekend and was invited for a BBQ at the house later on. SAUSAGES. Amazing. Such lovely people! Blair and Tony both volunteer for the fire services in their areas and I enjoyed chatting and seeing footage of the seal and her pup who are living down near Nugget Point. More big thank yous!
All of a sudden, I just felt very tired and had to take myself off to bed at the little DOC campsite.
Day 34 – Papatowai to Milton – 50.9 miles
For some reason I was awesome at cycling today. Or I felt awesome at cycling. I think it was the sausages. And maybe just a little irrational grumpiness that I wanted to work out. Possibly my chat with Emily about her getting into racing had spurred me on… who knows but I was adamant I would get up the hills and I loved it. Hooray!
It was baking hot and I had drunk a lot of my water, so I pulled into the 4 Square at Owaka and had a pie and some pineapple and a sunbathe.
Pretty soon I found myself in Balclutha and messaged the lovely Si and Ria to let them know where I was. I had another bask and bite to eat and then pootled on my way. The road was a little lumpier than I had expected but it was grand – I even overtook some lady who didn’t even have any bags, going uphill and then I got the Queen of the Mountain (and I had to sit behind her for a while too because of traffic)! Hooray! (I think there was only one other person maybe – oh no, 3 other people hahaha!)
I had a wonderful time in Milton. Si and Ria were fantastic and I got to speak to my cousin, Roz who has been helping me out with accommodation, which was fun! They have such a cute dog called Molly, who was a massive hit with me and they fed me like I was royalty. Thank you so much!
Day 35 – Milton to MacAndrew Bay – 43.7 miles
Bye bye bed. Slow, rubbish, boring, cold. Stop, start, stop, start. Hot chocolate? Pie? Sweeties? Energy gel? HILL. Cry. Push. Cycle. LLAMA! Inhaler. Downhill. Breathe. View! Stunning coast. Evil death car. Cry. BRIGHTON! Ice cream. Hill. Ignore sat nav. View! Scary downhill. Causeway. Beautiful. Headwind. Broom Wagon. Hello beautiful bed.
If you cannot tell from the above, I was absolutely abysmal at cycling today. Abysmal. I had nothing, the whole time, nothing. How on earth I managed to drag myself off the flat highway and over a huge hill, I have no idea. Nothing seemed to improve my energy levels, nothing at all. I even had flashes of blurred vision at one point.
Thank goodness for the O’Neills – they had been my goal for the last few days. The family I had met at the hostel at Punakaiki who had invited me to stay. Now, they live up a huge, huge hill but it wasn’t a hill that was on my way and I would have pitched on the flat and saved it for the next day if it had been on my route but, as it was, I had to call in the broom wagon and be collected from the bottom of the hill. Bed was absolute bliss.
I did very little. I stayed in bed, not sleeping but resting and chatting with my pops and my gma – very nice. I wrote the blog, I popped into Dunedin for some supplies and to pick up the girls from school.
It’s Shrove Tuesday and we had delicious pancakes, I loved all the historical chats with Hugh who is extremely knowledgeable and I just thought that the girls were an incredible credit to their parents. I’m a little bit in awe of the family, who are also hosting a lovely Japanese student. Maybe one day, I could be this awesome. The final final treat of the day was a demonstration of some aerial silks work and a short lesson (which I failed miserably – I have a lot of lower body weight and no upper body strength).
I have absolutely loved my time here and feel that I have been completely spoiled AGAIN! I’m very blessed.
I did like Dunedin in a lot of ways – it even had some interesting buildings for me to look at. There was still something missing though. I love New Zealand. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s very me – great countryside, fresh air and the most incredible people but I couldn’t see myself living here. I don’t feel that affinity somehow. I love the UK too much. It has its faults but love can be a bit blind like that. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I get back!