Roxburgh gorge and Clutha Gold Trail March 14-21 2020

Day One – Auckland to Clyde

The world is facing apocalypse or Armageddon whichever you prefer as we are in the grips of a corona virus COVID19 pandemic. But that didn’t stop us setting out on Saturday morning on our next cycling adventure.

We were booked on another flight to Queenstown but Air NZ unilaterally changed our flight to midday which gave us time to make that always agonising decision as to what to pack for a week of cycling. Some hiccups with Zoomy but we made it to the airport in good time for a flight on a spectacular Autumn day with snow-capped mountain views and to meet the Mckessars and Pearsons and Bike It Now, our expedition provider at Queenstown airport. An hour and a half later we were fitted with our bikes and had a bike and trail briefing from BIN before repairing to The Lord Clyde our restored hotel accommodation in Clyde. We were last here 2 years ago at the end of our second foray on the Otago Rail Trail and remember is as a cute little colonial town kept alive it appears by the Rail Trail business. Paulina’s was our dinner venue – the boys tried pseudo steak and lamb but were unimpressed. It’s not easy to be a vegetarian.

A couple of games of Yahtzee later and we were pleased to hit the sack.

Day Two – Clyde to Lake Roxburgh Lodge – The Roxburgh Gorge Trial (or as Greg suggested Trail and Tribulation!)

A beautiful home cooked breakfast set us up for our first acquaintance with our bikes, opting to take the Rail Trail path to Alexandra rather than the more tortuous but probably more picturesque path which we chose at the end of the rail trail 2 years ago. We passed the spot where we embarked on our very first Rail Trail cycling experience 15 years ago. What a way we have come since then – taking up cycling in all its forms enthusiastically. We had no idea that this first adventure would be so formative!

The landscape is so stark and grey and this was certainly our experience the whole of the first day after we had the requisite coffee at Alexandra as we headed along the path to our rendezvous with a jet boat at Doctor’s point following the wide Clutha River through the very steep Roxburgh Gorge.

The cycle path was very exciting in places – a well formed track with spectacular views of the steep sided gorge with its overhanging rock formations but with some surprises along the way – steep drops, hairpin bends – they are called switchbacks in this context and sudden inclines and the more timid of us walked our bikes around the most challenging of these. Personally, I think the Timber Trail which we rode last Easter freaked me out so much that my head frequently gets in the way now and makes me lose my nerve. I need to tell myself to trust the strength in my legs and the ability of the bike to manage both the ups and downs. It is the combination of those and the tight curves which throws me – thankfully not literally. The signs which read ‘steep narrow path’ could just as easily have read ‘Marion get off your bike and walk’ as that was the effect they had! There were no white crosses to mark where an overconfident mountain biker went over the edge and met a sticky end. We did think that there should have been more barriers just in case!

Our jet boat was waiting for us at the appointed time and togged up in puffer coats and life jackets we were entertained by a local chap with stories of the early history of the activities and living situations of the gold miners during the gold rush in the 1800s. Relics of their primitive schist constructed dwellings were in evidence and after disappointingly only one doughnut, we and our bikes were delivered to a spot on the side of the river, Shingle Creek where we ate our purchased in Clyde lunch on tiny flat area next to a tramping hut. Riding conditions were perfect but cold but we discarded layer after layer as the day progressed, arriving at Lake Roxburgh Lodge mid-afternoon. Showers and Earl Grey Tea are never so welcome as after a day on the bike!

To give this account some more context, travel restrictions whereby all people arriving from overseas except the Pacific Islands will have to go into self-isolation from midnight tonight, was announced yesterday, as a result of the Covid19 pandemic. We are far away from this threat at this moment! But we worry about Pete’s job and I suppose mine may change somewhat.

More context – we are wondering if Greg’s book launch will have to be postponed. Over 100 people are expected to attend.

Day Three – Lake Roxburgh Lodge to Miller’s Flat – the Clutha Gold Trail

Today’s cycling was very different from yesterday’s. The path was still alongside the mighty Clutha but on the other side after we crossed at the dam. The elevations were gentler, the vegetation lush – bush and forest, and progress faster! We have seen few others on the trail in either direction. Two couples are doing it at the same time and just the odd lone cyclist the other way. Where is everybody? This is such a perfect time of the year to tick this one off the To Do list. Roxburgh where we had coffee and bought lunch was a typical NZ town – very little traffic, and no people! I remember many years ago consuming the perfect toasted sandwich here. However, the enormous melting moment was also memorable.

After nibbling our sammies at a spot by the river, and encountering a dusting of rain, which a classic rainbow had foreshadowed, we arrived at Quince Cottage B and B, a couple of cabins on farmland seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in early afternoon, had the usual cuppateas, showers and at least for me a nana nap. I think the concentration required to keep the bike upright must be quite taxing – certainly not physically but mentally. The gourmet three course dinner cooked by the owners a couple of ex school teacher women and its accompanying wine selection was spectacular.

More context – Air New Zealand is retrenching, cutting its international flights by 85%. The ramifications of this pandemic are astonishing.

Day Four – Miller’s Flat back to Queenstown

We woke up to a 1 degree morning, and put on every layer we had and as expected the breakfast was also excellent. Today the trail continued alongside the river (Matau-Au) which continues to impress but also through farmland and bush, the terrain more even and predictable. We pass ed some historic sites – lonely graves and a disused swing bridge. We expected to have lunch and / or coffee at a place called Beaumont but we searched for it but alas could not find out – Beaumont apparently = an abandoned school and the Beaumont pub which we eventually found just as it opened – a very typical county pub steeped in history with abundant old photos. We were pleased to order our toasted sandwiches just before an invasion by about 30 Swiss motorcyclists on a tour of NZ starting in Auckland. With new pandemic precautions they no doubt will have to self-isolate when they get back to Switzerland as is being required by everyone arriving in NZ as of yesterday morning Some naughty arrivees who have no plans to self-isolate are being deported. Wow!

I dreaded the afternoon ride because of its reputed difficulty and in the end once I accepted that my modus operandi is to alight from the bike and walk around tight corners and up steep bits – as it happened only a couple of times this afternoon, we were pleased to reach the top and ride through a tunnel and it was all downhill from there! Not all this trail has been on an old railway lines but because of the gradient I love those bits the most! Predictably the day had become considerably warmer.

We were picked up by Bike It Now at a cafe in Lawrence – 119km from where we embarked on this trail and taken back to Clyde. I really enjoyed the road trip, having a different panoramic perspective of Central Otago from the ride on the trail. After unloading the bikes and repacking we were transported back to Queenstown and the very average Lofts accommodation. We drew lost as to who got the best room. An after an Indian meal at Bolliwood we were happy to turn into pumpkins.

Day Five – Queenstown

This was a scheduled non cycling day. We made contact with our Queenstown bike provider, had coffee and the split doing our own thing for the rest of the day. Martyn flew to Auckland and back for a work crisis meeting, Greg and I shopped, went for a walk around the lake NZ’s town centre and then the others played a game of Frisbee Golf !!!!! Not my thing but they appeared to enjoy it. I was delighted to find at Michael Hill jewellers replacements of my favourite sleeper earrings – have to been looking for ages. I purchased the original pair in Port Moresby 37 years ago when visiting the Lloyds. We felt like Italian so found a restaurant near the wharf and had delicious pasta, pizza etc and tiramisu to due for then Helen and I bought some small items to honour Amira’s 65 birthday tomorrow.

Day Six – Arrowtown and back to Queenstown via the wineries trail 20km

It was a scramble to get out the door to pick up our bikes and be transported by Around the Basin van to Arrowtown. Had the requisite coffee and muffins and did a recce of the town, much as we remembered it – quaint and touristy before embarking on the Wineries trail.

This is a beautiful part of the country – rugged craggy slopes giving way to steep wooded and grassed slopes towards the valley floor with its tall poplars, not yet losing their leaves although the air is cold before the sun comes out. The trail meandered beside the Kawarau River and passed though deep gorges including AJ Hackett’s original bungee jump bridge into the river way below.

As with the previous trails, most of the dirt track was undulating but with sudden dips and curves which I got off and walked. My confidence hasn’t increased much but I am relaxed about the need to avoid stress and falling off! I have confidence in my strength but not in my ability to manoeuvre the mountain bike around tight curves up and down.

We reached Gibbston Valley winery at about lunchtime and had cheese themed lunch before setting off for the remainder of the day’s riding. While we were lunching a severe gusty wind came up fortunately behind us but giving us the odd fright but blew us towards our destination Cargo Brewery where we spent a very relaxing time playing pétanque (not me) tasting beer (not me), drinking EGT (me) and catching up with the latest corona virus news.

Gatherings of more than 100 are now banned (it was 500 yesterday) and NZ is closing its borders from midnight tonight to everybody except NZ residents. Drastic!

Were driven back to town where Greg and I had a relaxing evening eating leftovers and I had a beautiful bath to soothe my aches and pains (actually I don’t have any) and a quiet evening while the others ate Japanese.

We were booked to see The Book of Mormon, Black Lover and St Matthew’s Passion but they have all been cancelled….and Rachel’s 40th birthday Period party truncated.

Day Seven – Jack’s Point to Queenstown

After a later start, and on a spectacular Central Otago blue sky day, the ATB van dropped us off at Jack’s Point golf course and we embarked on the ride back to Queenstown. Initially there was a decent climb on the road and then the trail reverted to what we experienced both yesterday and on the Roxburgh Trail – a well formed path but lots of sudden ups and downs and in addition today sheer drops on the left-hand side down to the lake with no protection. I was terrified most of the time and walked most of it, much to my disappointment t. I have truly lost my nerve! But we were warned so no surprises really. And the views were spectacular – blue lake cloudless sky and not a care in the world while Rome burns!

When we reached the bottom close to the lake, the trail became more civilised and for me more enjoyable as we headed towards Frankton a where we had a well-deserved lunch at the Boatshed Cafe. My fried eggs, avocado, bacon and crispy potatoes was spectacular and I don’t expect to want to eat for days….. Yeah right.

On reaching Queenstown still along the side of the lake we weaved our way through the somewhat pandemic depleted throngs on the shore, decided that we weren’t’ quite exhausted enough and continued further around the lake past our hotel and out towards Glenorchy until we determined we had had enough and rode back to town deposited the bikes and returned to our hotel for tea and Amira’s 60th birthday chocolate cake. What was that I said about never eating again?
Thai food was the chosen option tonight so we went to a Trip advisor recommended @Thai. I ate minimally – an entree only while the others wolfed down large quantities of food.

Day Eight – The Twin Rivers Trail

The weather forecast looked grim and there was some discussion about how much cycling to do as we awaited the expected foul weather. But even while packing up and checking out of The Lofts, there was still no rain. So after what appeared to be endless debate about where to leave the luggage, where we could change out of wet and muddy clothes, have showers etc we loaded ourselves and bikes into the A the B van and were dropped off at the junction of the Two Rivers Track and the track we did earlier. Greg and I warmed up before tackling the first hill but the others took off and we never saw them again until coffee at the Boatshed Cafe close to Queenstown. The trail was beautiful with several major hills rising above the Kawarau river and then the track descended again to the Shotover River before following the lake again back to Queenstown and still no rain! We caught a taxi to the airport and after changing out of our sweaty clothes spent the remainder of our time till our departure time in the Koru Lounge.

It was great to be back home after the turmoil of the escalation of the impact of the coronavirus COVID19 pandemic on NZ and the world

Tasman Great Taste Trail January – February 2019

 

 

 

 

Tasman Great Taste Trail January-February 2019

Day One

It felt so nice to get away for another adventure, this time combining a cycling trip with exploration of a part of the the country we have not visited for some year.

The plane trip on a smallish Mt Cook Airlines plane to Nelson was uneventful and we set off from Nelson airport with our bomb of a rental car, a gutless grey Barina – not the cheapest but the second cheapest of the options available finding a cafe on the outskirts of Nelson for a late lunch. It was hot but not muggy like Auckland.

It was ‘rush hour’ with minor traffic queues as we passed though suburban Nelson before hitting the road to St Arnaud.

We intended taking the main route, State Highway 63, but turned off the main route taking a road which ended up being more interesting and probably more direct, through forest, rising quite markedly as we ventured into the hills of the St Arnaud range. St Arnaud is a small town, mainly of holiday homes but also people servicing the tourists, on Lake Rotoiti.

We encountered light rain, the first precipitation we have experienced for some weeks, as Auckland, and indeed the rest of NZ has been in the grip of a ‘heat wave’ with temperatures of 30 degrees. Meanwhile the temperature in Toronto reached -17 today!

But by the time we arrived it was too damp and misty to explore and we had a pizza dinner at the one place with any semblance of sophistication for we Aucklanders – Lake Rotoiti Lodge before getting quite wet walking back to the ‘log cabin’ motel.

Day Two

Saturday was a lovely sunny day, slightly nippy in the shade a times, and we explored various tracks on foot around the beautiful typical South Island glacial lake, surrounded by wooded hillsides dropping steeply into the lake, as well as driving up Mt Robert for spectacular views around the mountain ranges. The clear demarcation between the trees and the bare scree and higher rocky slopes was impressive. There was plenty of water craft activity to observe around the shores of the lake – not many swimmers though, and tourists of many nationalities to watch. As we walked along a track from the Mt Robert carpark, Greg who has been having lots of trouble with pain in his left hip, discovered that walking with sticks was hugely beneficial, (as was drugging himself up on pain relief) and his walking range greatly increased. And I appreciated the support of a stick too! We will never scoff at Nordic walking sticks again!

Dinner at Rotoiti Lodge was OK but the quality suffered from the establishment not having much competition we think.

Day Three – Sunday

We began today’s drive by having another recce of the lake before heading off towards Takaka. The traffic initially was sparse except for camper vans and an enormous number of high powered motorbikes taking advantage of the largely straight fast roads at the beginning following the Buller River before climbing up to the Hope Saddle where there were spectacular 360 views of the surrounding hill country.
We stopped at the junction of a road back to Nelson for coffee, ginger crunch and cheese scones, a very strategic stopping point for the motorcyclists also, and headed along Motueka Valley road past orchards, growing hops, peaches etc, much of the land needing irrigation, into Motueka, a not particularly prepossessing place but the large real fruit ice cream on offer was welcome. On the outskirts of the town we picked up Mark a 51 year old British chap from Oxfordshire, interested in counselling and alternative life style and on a quest to find a wife with whom to have children which he could bring up in idyllic NZ. A typical talkative and opinionated Pom! We navigated the Takaka Hill and discovered it deserved its mean reputation for windiness, length and steepness, and the road works slowed the trip down. We will need to be mindful of this when we retort ace our steps on the way to starting our cycling trip early on Tuesday morning.

The motel on the main road was basic and we walked the entire length of the town dominated by hippy types shops and outlet for the many artisans who are doing their thing in the surrounding areas. Dinner at the Brigand (sp?) was Auckland standard superb – steak for me and lamb for him followed by shared cheescake/lemon tart.

Day Four Monday and Nelson Anniversary Day

We headed out in the car, destination Collingwood and beyond as far as the land end of Farewell Spit. National Radio warned of showers in Golden Bay which meant that the wooded hillsides were shrouded in clouds, and some light rain fell as we followed the coast, though most of the time we couldn’t actually see the water, passing towns which were mere dots on the map. Collingwood itself and the area around reminded us a lot of Northland with scrubby farmland which gave way to swampy costal land as we headed to the end of the sealed road – Puponga. Lunch at the Court House Cafe on Collingwood was welcome and there was nothing more to see so we headed back to Takaka.

This afternoon, we took the road along the coast in the other direction, which was quite different from this morning’s vista, taking Abel Tasman Drive through farmland and then winding past, and at time through and under huge limestone cliffs before discovering huge expanses of sandy but very tidal beaches which sweep around the coast as far as the eye can see and likely giving Golden Bay its name. Plenty of white caps today. Dotted around the cost were typical NZ beach settlements, Pohara, Liga Bay, Tata Beach, a mixture of nice beach houses, camping ground and baches, probably where the rich and famous from Nelson spend their summer. We turned around at the end of the road,  Wainui.  There was not much today which was particularly photogenic.

Tuesday 5th February Takaka to Wakefield


We allowed heaps of time to get to Nelson airport to return the rental car and meet the McKessars and Trail (now Kiwi) Journeys before heading into the depot to meet the Pearsons and our bikes. Initially the rail trail took us through suburban Nelson and then out close to the coast before going inland. Lunch was at a nice country cafe.

The day was extremely hot, slightly uphill all the way with an evil head wind which was effortless for the four on electric bikes but demanding for us.

It was after lunch as were riding through gardens and orchards and visiting a Rutherford Memorial at Brightwater that we first heard firstly the alarm sounding summoning the volunteer firemen, heard the sirens as the appliances headed off and sore white smoke in he hills in the distance. What transpired thereafter dominated our next 24 hours or so and the white smoke turned brown and the area the fire covered extended before our eyes fanned by the strong wind and the dry vegetation providing ample fuel. We had noted the water restrictions in Nelson region. It looked ominous as we headed towards Wakefield and closer to the seat of the fire which continued to grow. We were pleased to arrive at our accommodation, the Wakefield Hotel, a typical tired country pub, the decor having seen better days. The fire made the TV news and we felt almost famous! Pub dinner was basic as expected but we could hear the sound of helicopters and on our after dinner walk around the town we came across people in hi viz vests, and Civil Defence HQ which was set up in the Methodist church ready with food, earnest volunteers and a registration system for the arrival of evacuees from the affected area, some of whom had started to arrive. The dark grey billowing clouds and as it got dark, the red glow were spectacular and we began to smell smoke. There was never any suggestion that we would need to be evacuated but we did wonder how the plans for tomorrow’s riding through the closed roads would be affected.

Wednesday 6 February Waitangi Day Wakefield to Kaiteriteri Beach.

The night was horribly hot and for the first time since our night in Butwal in the Terai, Nepal, I had a cold shower to cool down, but we woke to rain and an obvious drop in temperature as we watched the TV news with Waitangi Day shenanigans at the Treaty grounds and the second item on the news, the Nelson fires. Several houses had been destroyed and a state of emergency declared. The air had become pungent with smoke but there was optimism that the precipitation and the change in wind direction would help control the fire.

We were transported in the van so we could cycle through the 1350 metre Spooners Tunnel. It was long, cold and slightly downhill but thoroughly delightful and we considered (not seriously riding back up so we could do it again. George the ex school teacher van driver picked us up at the other end and we enjoyed coffee and donuts at Wakefield cafe famous for its kiwi inspired home cooking.

Then because the road we were supposed to take was closed, we were taken a more circuitous route to Woodstock where we hit the road on our bikes for a leisurely ride past vege gardens and orchards following the Motueka River to Riwaka stopping on the way to eat a generous packed lunch. We drove in this same direction the other day but on the much busier main highway on the other side of the river. We were pleased with the Earl Grey tea as Mrs Smith’s establishment before tackling the last on the sometimes challenging bike path to Kaiterteri. My head got in the way at times meaning I got off my bike and walked the uphill and curvy bits. 50 kms today. We got a mileage discount because of the changed route 55 km instead of 70. Oh dear how sad never mind!.

Kaiteriteri

This is a rapidly developing holiday town centred around the motor camp and we were accommodated at Torlesse Motel. We ate at the pub which we reached with some difficulty via the beach as the rumoured bridge across the estuary had been removed. The pub was presumably busy and noisy because it is Waitangi Day. Food was as you’d expect, pretty average but we are JAFAs after all. The walk ‘home’ was along the cliff path.

We had contemplated an expedition tomorrow but there were plenty of white caps from the strong winds so we deferred making a decision. The next day was somewhat improved but the others went walking while I nursed a migraine, grateful we had not organised an expensive trip in the Abel Tasman national park to Awaroa (of the Bach Violin Concertos fame). Enjoyed the restful day which included a throw together lunch and a spa. Dinner was at Kai which had not been recommended to us, but the food was excellent.

The bike path we are supposed to be taking tomorrow is closed because of the fire risk so we were offered a lift in the van picking up our luggage which the staunch among us declined, riding on the road instead.

Kaiteriteri to Mapua

The cycle path took us along the rather bleak and windswept coast a repository of lots of drift wood, via Riwaka, to the end of Motueka where we discovered Toad Hall and excellent cafe in a modified church and actually a beer/wine establishment. We’re becoming connoisseurs of the local eateries and are grateful that they are spaced satisfactorily to meet our mid morning and lunch cravings.

The bike path thereafter took us inland over farmland and orchards up and over a couple of hills on unsealed roads which would have afforded us spectacular views if the atmosphere had not been hazy from the smoke of the fires which are still making headline news and which are by no means under control. We could see as we looked around the sweeping coastline to Nelson that a new plume of smoke has appeared, apparently a small fire has broken out in Nelson city. And we have also heard that Wakefield where we spent our first night on the trail has been evacuated as the fire approaches. Wow!

Lunch was at Jesters, lovely ambience but average food and we arrived at Mapua, another seaside town mid afternoon. The accommodation was luxurious overlooking the estuary and Greg and I had earned the right to the best of the three options. Boy do we appreciate our cups a tea and showers. Dinner was at Te reincarnation of a famous restaurant on the wharf which we had visited many years ago on our mystery weekend but which was destroyed by a cyclone a year ago. Unexpectedly met beef carpaccio and the peach and plum crumble was it die for.

Mapua to Nelson City

We were supposed to traverse Rabbit Island but because this was closed because of the fire risk we were picked up by the omnipresent George and delivered on he the other side of the island, but we enjoyed getting on our bikes, stopping  after about 4 km at a roadside container coffee stop, the ‘last stop for ages!’ Met a British Spain based retired couple who we passed scarily biking on the main road saddle bagging around NZ – very intrepid.

The coastal path took us into Nelson city where we lunched at the Riverside Cafe before exploring the river path and the cathedral before returning the bikes and being dropped off at the airport where we had bird baths in the ablutions and caught our plane home. Another cycle trail knocked off. The fires are still burning and Wakefield residents still not allowed back to their homes – NZ’s worst fire for years.

 

 

 

Otago Rail Trail February 2018

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Tuesday 6 February

Hokitika to Dunedin

After dinner at a Korean restaurant and walking home in windy, slightly miserable conditions we had a quiet night for an expected early start in the morning.

On cue Ric picked us up and deposited us at the Hokitika Airport in good time for our 9.10 flight but nothing seemed to be happening and the expected opening time of the airport ready to receive an incoming flight and then dispatching us, came and went and sure enough at 8.20 an employee showed up to say the because it is Waitangi Day, there were no flights!!!!! Clutching the ticket with all the details Greg phoned Air New Zealand and was informed ….eventually that the flight had indeed been cancelled and that I had been notified by email and text of a new time….5.35 pm, in September. I had received neither! The Air New Zealand person booked us on the new flight that evening. So there we were slightly cold with the prospect of spending an unscheduled day in Hokitika on a public holiday! So, problem solving ensued and we took a taxi to downtown Hokitika hoping that we would find something open, and somewhere where we could spend the day warm and comfortable. Fortunately we found a backpackers and were permitted to occupy their lounge, plug in our devices and use their wi-fi all without accepting any payment. Greg read and wrote poetry while I did what I do best and that is shopping. Found a wonderful shop full of gear for cold weather and purchased black merino bottom and top base layers and a $15.00 pair of jeggings so to match my new Nepali shirt. I took Greg back later and he purchased a short sleeved base merino. It was Waitangi Day and down near the old courthouse I enjoyed listening to a group of rangitahi performing Maori songs. In between these expeditions we were happy patrons of the Clocktower cafe downstairs from the backpackers for morning and afternoon tea and lunch. Caught a taxi to the airport and this time the place was humming and all was well with catching our 5.35 30 minute flight to Christchurch and then our flight to Dunedin arriving after 8.30 but then enduring a tortuous shuttle trip via Brighton and St Kilda to the very basic but adequate Leviathan Hotel in central Dunedin over the road from the railway station. Said a brief hello to the Pearsons and Mckessars already established in their rooms before turning in tired and relieved to be there are last, at about 10.30.

I had a horrid night disturbed by loud snoring through the paper-thin walls and swapped beds with Greg and put in earplugs to try and get away from it. I’m glad I didn’t in anger rouse the person responsible for the racket who was presumably one of a group of bikies whom we observed at breakfast.

Wednesday 7 February

Dunedin to Hyde

After what seemed like a very short night night we met the others in the dining room for a continental breakfast before packing up and heading over the road to catch the Taieri Express to Pukerangi. The scenery was initially fairly pedestrian crossing the Taieri plains across farmland and then through forest following the very brown river (its usual colour) through the Taieri Gorge, over viaducts, the deep gorges and the rocky schist cliffs becoming spectacular as we headed towards Pukerangi. The old carriages were constructed of yellow wood and the curve of the tracks at times was such that you could clearly see the front of the train from the last carriage. There was a minor stuff up initially as they had only written tickets for 3 people instead of 6 and initially we were scattered through car C.

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The shuttle was waiting for us at Pukerangi and we were taken to Trail Journeys headquarters to be issued and fitted with our bikes and change into cycling gear before riding to the Kissing Gate cafe for lunch and for me the first experience of the Southland delicacy, the cheese roll and copious amounts of tea!

Then we started out on the trail, enjoying our fat-tyred bikes and the short 28 km flat ride through farmland interspersed with green grazed crops dominated by the yellow Rock and Pillar Range hills, to Hyde. There is a sameness almost monotonous aspect of the Otago Rail Trail which is quite different from the West Coast Wilderness Trail we have just finished, but we did enjoy the pace of this ride set by the Pearsons who are not experienced cyclists and the McKessars on their e bikes. And we appreciated the cushioning provided by the fat tyres and the soft seat covers. The weather was warm, with a light tail wind – perfect cycling conditions but we needed to watch our hydration levels and sun exposure. We stopped regularly to get our ‘passports’ stamped and for the inevitable photos before reaching Hyde mid afternoon to the usual welcome cups of tea and showers at the old schoolhouse, our accommodation for the night and dinner venue. It was a fabulous set menu of roast veges, beans, ratatouille, roast lamb and chicken followed by pavlova or chocolate brownie and we enjoyed the chit chat over dinner with two other couples, one from Kerikeri and the other from Sydney who are cycling in the other and more usual direction.

Thursday 8 February

imageHyde to Wedderburn

We woke up to a cool….make it cold, morning. The sky was bright blue and cloudless, the one sound being the baa of sheep grazing nearby. Wonderful! After a continental breakfast we set out, trying to remember something….anything of the last time we made this trip 13 years ago in the other direction and in somewhat unpleasant rain and wind. We did remember the climb up to the newly renovated tavern, wet and tired and probably fed up, This time the day initially was cold, the skyline crisp but as the day progressed we shed our layers and applied sun screen repeatedly instead and fluffy Central Otago clouds gathered but thankfully we had no rain and a slight tail wind or no wind all the way. The vista was similar all day – vast brown and sometimes green cropped paddocks and hills immediately around us with stands of green poplar and pine trees with blue mountains in the distance, the gravel track dusty. We continued to meet other intrepids coming the other way and had coffee at Waipiata, lunch at Ranfurly, arriving mid afternoon at Wedderburn Cottages.

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The trail though fairly easy is not really for the faint hearted. At regular intervals en route some creative person has created metal/wire sculptures of the planets so we played ‘spot the planet’!

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Dinner was at the Wedderburn Tavern somewhat clichéd with ruddy farmers, utes and sheepdogs parked outside, drinking beer on stools at the bar with as they confirmed after my enquiry, their womenfolk at home ‘where they belong’, one hosting garden club, a reason to prolong the drinking session. Pleasant pub grub with an inspection of the converted shearing shed ‘conference centre’ on the way back to the cottages.

image.jpegFriday 9 February

Wedderburn to Ophir

image.jpegIt was warmer this morning with more wispy high cloud, as we left the cottages after breakfasting in our cottage and we anticipated the most challenging climb on the trail, but in the event we hardly noticed it and were somewhat surprised when we came to the sign indicating the highest point and informing us that it was all down hill from here….yeah right! Have heard that before.

image.jpegInitially we passed through rolling farmland which was mainly sheep territory and observed a farmer harvesting hay into huge marshmallows! Then we started to descend which at speed was a blast, coming to the most spectacular part of the whole trail with a series of tunnels and viaducts surrounded by high schist cliffs and rocks.

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It was useful to have lights on the bikes as we passed though the tunnels. There was a light head wind which was barely noticeable, had coffee at the Oturehua Gilmore’s store, with a combination of general items on sale and collections of old stuff, books, household appliances etc. Passed poet Bryan Turner’s house, possibly this town’s only claim to fame. We stopped at Hayes Engineering historic site for Amira’s and Mike to view its Victoriana. By the time we arrived at Lauder’s Stationside cafe we were well and truly ready for the lovely food and cups of tea on offer. The last 7 km to Omakau where we stayed last time was a doodle but we had to wait 1 1/2 hours for our luggage to arrive at our accommodation at Black’s Hotel, Ophir, which has recorded both the highest and lowest (less than -6) temperatures in NZ. I remember last time descriptions of hoar frosts! The wee village of Ophir is tiny with not much more than the pub, swimming pool and former PO. Omakau is much the same. The hotel rooms have themes and ours was Reverends sporting angel wings and religious icons. Dinner at the hotel was pleasant but except my chocolate dessert was not spectacular.

 

image.jpegSaturday 10 February

Ophir to Clyde

This was our last day on the trail and was downhill all the way. I certainly remember going the other way last time up the long grinding climb through fields – it was excellent going down this time. We passed lots of people going the other way, some families out with children on their own bikes, or being towed in little buggies being a Saturday, others like us ‘doing the trail’, some smiling and friendly, others not so!

We passed patches of green beside bleached grass, scattered green trees, barren craggy hills on one side with jagged promontories and smoother ones on the other, bridges over rivers surrounded by willows.

image.jpegWe returned to the scene of the row of bottom which we remember from our last visit to Chatto Crek tavern for coffee, the bottoms no longer there but we recreate the scene! The pale yellow sandstone cliffs were impressive, as we approached Alexandra town where we lunched very pleasantly under the trees at the Courthouse Cafe with temperatures at a guess approaching the late 20s. Alexandra, set beside grey towering rock faces,is a lovely town – with all amenities and several very interesting bridges over the wide Clutha river. One was the ‘Shaky Bridge which we investigated after lunch. Like Ophir, Alexandra boasts extremes of temperatures.

For the last 10 kms we opted to take the river trail, up and down through bush beside the nephrite green Clutha River, quite a different type of track from the rest of the trail and quite challenging at times with its bends and curves,railless bridges and short steep sections.

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We arrived at the end of the trail and navigated the Clyde bridge and the steep hill up to the town of Clyde, and beautifully set out and new looking tourist focused town. Our accommodation was Dunstan House a tastefully and authentically  restored two storeyed stone villa(?) with wooden varnished ceilings and joinery, antique furniture and fittings, original fireplaces. Our bathroom had a claw footed bath and a pull chain toilet with wooden seat. All our accommodation has featured crisp white linen. Very flash!

image.jpegWe returned our bikes which we were very impressed with, had a very welcome ice cream in the warmth of the afternoon then Martyn, Amira and I walked to a lookout high above the town and overlooking the Clyde dam with a view of the lake above.  Dinner was at Paulina’s restaurant for a delicious meal where we shared our mains, then had port on the upstairs verandah of Dunstan House, Breakfast did not disappoint in fact it was the best of our trip – freshly stewed fruit, croissants and even pumpkin seeds with the muesli and yoghurt.  The rest of the day was relaxing in the lounge, dawdling around the town and the obligatory coffee as we awaited our 12 noon shuttle pickup.  This was an adventure in itself.  It was very wet with low cloud hanging around the windy road through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown and our driver was none other than Warren Lees the famous beige brigade cricket wicket keeper, in the same cohort as Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner et al. He had some interesting tales to tell!

Queenstown airport was abuzz and we said farewell to our Rail Trail buddies as we made our way back to Auckland. Our flight was later than the others and we missed 10 calls over the inter come (or so Air New Zealand says) to put us on the same flight and the others to avoid our late departure delaying planes from Wellington where we were stopping over. This was a shame as we had to kill time at Queenstown airport. We were pleased to arrive home on a very rainy Auckland night in our Zoomy taxi arriving home about 8.30 pm.  We are both anticipating work tomorrow, but that is reality and we had an excellent Otago Rail Trail with excellent weather compared with the rest of the country which was being assailed by heavy rain.

West Coast Wilderness Trail February 2018

 

 

imageWednesday 31 January

Auckland to Hokitika

Flight from Auckland to Christchurch was midday so we had time to get ourselves packed, for me to go and get urine and blood tests before hailing a Zoomy to the airport. Still delighted that Zoomy costs half as much as an 800 800 ready now taxi.

Journey was uneventful apart from sitting in 1A and 1B and having a one on one safety briefing from the very gay flight attendant. First off the plane – great! The temperature in Chch was in the early 30s and we spent a couple of hours with Wiki at her new Radius facility. She was having a lucid and less anxious day and it was a delight to see her sense of humour, memory and interest in people still intact, but is she in the right place as most of the other residents are severely unwell with dementia? Wiki’s situation is under constant review. We had a snack at the local Fendalton Mall.

Glenda picked us up and we had a simple Middle eastern meal with Warren, Rhonda and children and Daniel and his girlfriend Emily. Good to catch up and we were happy to be dropped off at Addington Court Motel which was hot and noisy. Warren called in for a catchup on his way to school to get himself ready for the start of the school year tomorrow. We heard muttering so – from John via Glenda that all may not be well with our Tranzalpine trip tomorrow as the union are closing the Otira tunnel citing h&s issues. The motel proprietor dropped us off at the station and so it transpired – the train would take us as far as Arthur’s Pass and then bus us to Greymouth.

The train seemed full mainly with internationals and we ate our preordered snacks as we travelled over the Canterbury Plains towards the Southern Alps. We noted some raindrops on the windows but by the time we arrived at A P late morning the rain was absolutely bucketing down complicated by strong winds and it became a logistical challenge to get us and our luggage from the train to the waiting buses and we got drenched in the process. But the Cyclone Fehi was creating havoc all over the country and Westland which does rain well did not disappoint. There was a moment of doubt as to whether the buses could take us to Greymouth because of the flooding and king tides there but we were met as planned by our provider Ric Keene at the station. Although we had missed out on part of the train trip we did not feel we had missed out on anything as the spontaneous waterfalls, bridges, tortuous roads, and low cloud shrouding the hills were spectacular and we wouldn’t have seen them inside the Otira Tunnel! We felt for the internationals whose travel plans would have been severely disrupted because of road closures and cancelled connections.

Ric a chap with lots of stories of his interesting life detoured around the Greymouth road closures and drove us the half hour or so to Hokitika where he fitted us with our bikes, and we checked in to our Shining Star cottage. The flooding, lack of electricity and fallen trees were evidence of nature’s destruction and it continued to rain heavily on an off but mainly on, so when it came to covering the distance between our cabin and Hokitika for dinner we debated – walk/catch a taxi/walk/catch a taxi and chose the former arriving in a waterlogged town centre somewhat wet as we caught a couple of heavy showers en route. We retreated into and Indian restaurant, one of the very few eateries which was open and were grateful for the lamb korma and chick pea curry and of course mango lassies. We had over the course of the day kept into contact with the McLeans who were travelling from Nelson to join us, but they faced some delays because of fallen power lines and with Jan’s dad Norrie joined us for Indian before we all drove back to Shining Star for afters and a nice warm bed – the temperatures had fallen considerably from what we had experienced in Auckland and Chch. Power was back on and we learned of destruction, floods, sewage overflows etc all around the country. Geoff Braadvedt phoned and let me know that my lab results mean I am going to need a parathyroidectomy because of elevated calcium which is not all that good for ones health. Bugger! And what’s more, the tooth that is being prepared for crowning after a root canal filling last year is disintegrating – 3 large pieces have detached themselves so far. Plan B now maybe?image

Feb 2 Friday

Hokitika-Ross-Hokitika

It rained all night and we decided to have a quiet morning waiting for the expected improvement in the weather before setting out. Ric collected us, we got cash to pay him out of the ATM had a cup of coffee from Ric’s wife’s cafe before heading off to Ross, about half an hour away and meeting the others for a pub lunch – whitebait fritters for the piscophiles and a mince pie for me all the time listening to Ric’s yarns. The typical vernadahed wooden pub was full of character and while we readied ourselves for the journey, we met an American couple from New Hampshire on a fold up tandem with independent pedals who travel all round the world to miss the extreme winter cold in the US each year.

The 28 km leg of the trail was beautiful starting flat and straight along the coast, across bush and farmland before turning into the xxxxtramline an amazing track through a bush canopy, encountering two large ancient trees, one rimu and the other a eucalypt blocking the track. We managed to scramble through the rimu and ‘feed’ our bikes through, and clamber over the other, but there was plenty of evidence of yesterday’s major weather event with the track strewn with vegetation, but thankfully the well-formed track was not muddy. The board walks, some quite long tested our balance and nerve. The temperature was perfect with a slight tail wind and the sky cloudy, a major transformation from yesterday. The last leg of the ride crossed a wide braided river and took us through Hokitika, a typical slightly depressed looking NZ country town. Westland Milk, not owned by Fonterra is the major employer in the region. A lovely half day of cycling.

 

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February 4 Saturday

Hokitika to Cowboy Paradise near Milltown

It was a lovely day – and dry, setting out at 9’ish with our luggage loaded in the McLean’s newly acquired leather or electronic everything black Lexus which Norrie drove to Cowboy Paradise. The route was essentially up initially on the road heading towards the mountains and then off-road following a very narrow trail with a watercourse alongside so keeping ones speed up, balance and nerve was essential. No promised or hung out for coffee stop as the reportedly at Hurunui Jack’s was resolutely closed. Lake Kaniere en route was beautiful with a boat and water skier in action. We left the beautiful bush path, heading towards a verdant valley floor on an exhilarating downhill at breakneck speed on the stony path and finally and laboriously (for me struggling with disordered biochemistry but a ‘gentle’ incline for others) zigzagging up a switchback path eventually arriving at Cowboy Paradise greatly relieved to have arrived as I had truly had had enough, for a welcome lunch and cups of tea. We had been advised that Cowboy Paradise was a dump but had been reassured by Ric that the proprietor had recently upped his game by building some what turned out to be beautiful accommodation units, en suites and everything. A nice relaxing afternoon chatting to ‘neighbouring’ cyclists most of whom were doing the trail from north to south which is usual and some with electric bikes. Cycling is a great way to make contact with people especially when you are thrown together in the wopwops. After a smorgasbord meal we were very happy to turn in.

imageimageFebruary 5 Sunday

Cowboy Paradise to Kumara

The weather forecast looked dire with showers turning to rain, and when it wasn’t actually raining when we got up, we decided to set out as early as we could to see if we could avoid some of the anticipated wettings! The first few kms were more uphill zigzags through bush necessitating me at least getting off at the tight uphill curves but probably more tolerable than yesterday’s being at the beginning of the ride, and in a more attractive setting. There was plenty of flowing water today – peaceful still streams and small lakes – some captured for hydroelectric purposes, and couple of nicely built new looking suspension bridges, one crossing a very deep gorge. After the beauty of the native bush the track took us through some more scrubby vegetation and at the very right time, we encountered a ‘bus shelter’ where we took refuge from a very heavy downpour. This was a good test of our wet weather gear and I’m pleased with my Ground Effect waterproof jacket, Greg less so with his orange cycling jacket. Thereafter there was very little moisture and we arrived at the Theatre Royal Hotel beautifully renovated in keeping, pretty much unscathed to welcome cups of tea and pizza and soup lunch. Our accommodation was shared with the McLeans in McAnneny Cottage, a wee renovated colonial cottage over the road from the hotel where we showered, had more cupofteas and counted down to dinner. The local store was delightful as we bought the last Vogels muesli, the last banana and last Press. Not many items in a small range but a friendlyish pommy shopkeeper. These small towns will likely benefit greatly from the business of the Wilderness riders and we are mindful of helping the local economies when we are paying for our accommodation, food, coffee and as of this afternoon the purchase of a Made In Nepal shirt from a wee ethnic shop – Masala!

Dinner at the Theatre Royal restaurant produced nothing of note and we watched a little of the crappiest TV I have ever seen and can’t believe that anybody actually watches Home Rules, let alone tat TV3 actually pays money for it. Then it was TV1 and the series Liar about a woman who says she was raped but her alleged rapist a high-profile surgeon tells a very different consent story but again I can’t believe the number and intrusion of the ads all nauseating and loud. Again I realise why we seldom with if ever watch live TV. our room was get on the street and with windows open for temperature regulation we were disturbed by the thunderous roar of trucks all through the night. It may be that this was Highway 73, the main route from Christchurch to Greymouth.

imageMonday 5 February

Kumara to Greymouth

This was our last day on the trail and a wonderful essentially downhill ride initially through bush, then beech and rimu forest, along a suspension bridge over a deep gorge, out alongside the main road and the Taramakau River, and across the river where a new road bridge is being built to replace the current road/rail bridge which has a newly built cycle path.

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We made a 4 km detour to Shanty Town, a tourist mecca with prices to match @$33 per head and we opted to take photos and not enter the volunteer created colonial town. We saw several parties look at the price and leave. The cafe was unfortunately inside the town. We were fortunate to be waiting under the Shantytown verandah during a very heavy shower. We rode parallel to coast and the main road. Very turbulent waves were crashing on to the long dangerous looking beach We entered Greymouth through the port with its fishing fleet and old salts having a yarn near their boats and as the sign testified we finally finished the West Coast Wilderness trail – all 150km of it. We met up with Ric, had coffee and a welcome bite to eat before farewelling Jan, Stewart and Norrie who are driving home via Punakaiki, Picton. Ric brought us back to Shining Star on the outskirts of Hokitika and we farewelled our excellent bikes. Greg’s hip is playing up intermittently so walking anywhere is limited – not that I am complaining!

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It was a great trip – well maintained mountain bike paths and bridges, beautiful scenery, at times spectacular views. Everywhere there was evidence of the ferocity of the recent storm – fallen trees of every size and shape and the whine of chainsaws, but we were surprisingly little affected and at times miraculously missed significant downpours. Ric the Westside Tours provider was attentive, maybe too much at times as he skited about his past escapades, local knowledge and the influence he had had on the development of the trail, in his second generation Irish fashion, but his bikes and flexibility made the trip very successful.

Toronto December 2017

What began as an unexpected invitation from Molly and Charlie for Mars and Juddy to go and see them for Christmas, in the middle of November, materialised into another and probably our last trip to Canada!

Sunday 17 December The Journey

We usually report that the trip went smoothly and according to plan and this was nearly the case with the connection though tightish made successfully and the usual drug induced few hours’ sleep on the 13 hour leg from Auckland to Vancouver. Watching movies helps a little, but there is nothing pleasant about the lack of leg room, the hand luggage making our space even smaller and the this time unappetising Hindu meals – our choice because it usually means we get our meals first. Mixed with this is a sense of excitement as we look forward to seeing Rachel and Pete and the kids, a year after we farewelled them in Auckland as we headed for Myanmar.

Air Canada is certainly a no-frills airline, their organisation slightly chaotic and meals that required payment and which bore little resemblance to the photoshopped menu, if they had your choice at all!  And the fight attendants weren’t that attractive either! But then we are accustomed to Air New Zealand’s smooth operation.

It was three quarters of the way through the flight to Toronto that the call every medic dreads came over the intercom. “Could any medical doctors (i.e. not the PhD kind I presume) make themselves known to the flight attendants.” After waiting a discreet few minutes and not seeing  a stampede of medical doctors “making themselves known” Greg did so and spent the next hour or so assessing and treating with the help of an obstetrician, an orthopaedic surgeon, a heart nurse and a reasonably comprehensive airline medical kit, an elderly diabetic man with a blood sugar of  1’ish i.e hypoglycaemic who was thrashing around in his seat, clearly out of it. An attempt was made to give him some sugar orally but the IM and then IV dextrose did the trick and he was then able to eat something and the medical incident was over. The plane was met by paramedics and he was carted off on a stretcher. The airline provided a disclaimer form for Greg to complete to protect him in case of any subsequent medico-legal issues.

By chance Pete was a scheduled to fly in to Pearson airport at the same time, 9.30 pm’ish and though both arrivals were a little late we were happy to see Pete waiting for us…..wearing his hat at my request. That was short lived as he hates it! We caught a bus to the TTC subway station and home to 267 Glebeholme Boulevard, about a block away from their previous home on Wolverleigh Blvd and Rachel in her spotty onesie! It was bracingly cold. So it was off to bed on the fold out couch and the delicious feeling of stretching the legs.

Monday

Fortunately everyone was off the next day – the kids given an extra day off, and predictably at what seemed like an ungodly hour, Molly and Charlie leapt on top of us, and the sleep opportunity was over!

We spent a lovely day together initially playing in the somewhat kompti snow in the back yard and then taking the TTC (Molly delightfully observes that to mean “Take the Car” which does the very efficient and cheap public transport a disservice) – one moves seamlessly between the slower buses and streetcars (trams) and rapid subway trains. Auckland ‘Take heed’! First stop was “The Bay” ex Hudson Bay, a Canadian icon, a cross between Smith and Caugheys and Farmers, all decked out with Christmas decorations and humming with Christmas shoppers. Molly acquired a new jacket and we then caught a bus to a favourite pizza restaurant for a treat lunch – meatballs for me followed by samples of everyone else’s delicious desserts! Then home and Pete cooked and Rachel went out to a staff party.

Tuesday

Bleak and icy wind (but no more snow) meant we didn’t stay outside longer than needed when we took Molly and Charlie to and from school, then explored the arty-crafty-designer distillery district where we lunched and coffee’d and then drooled our way around the gourmet food St Lawrence market. Pete had another day off and officiated with dinner and processing the kids.

Wednesday

Neither of us could quite believe our lack of energy for any adventures today, and we both had morning sleeps! NZ is 6 hours behind and one day ahead. Did the school runs in the still very bleak conditions and I had instructions to cook a b&e pie for dinner and Greg concocted a chick pea, cabbage and spinach dish for diners with more mature tastes.

Thursday

Theree was no justification for more morning sleep and we dismantled the sofa bed just in case! After the school run we caught the subway and  walked through Kensington Markets and Chinatown, retreating into a rather fancy restaurant, the Peter Pan for coffees and a pumpkin themed dessert …..for the journey! Greg and I then split, Greg spending the next few hours at the Ontario Science Centre and no surprises, me ‘doing the Eton Centre’ a large shopping mall with the usual chain stores – the Gap, Victoria’s Secret (chunder chunder) etc and coming away relatively unscathed – just two check sale shirts made in VietNam, from, I’m ashamed to admit American Eagle outfitter…..to commemorate Canada’s being the check shirt capital of the world. Less wind today temperature could be described as ‘balmy’ at about 4 degrees! We met again at the school gate after for me slow bus and tram trips and some long walks for Greg. Homework, baths, dinner were all completed before Emma, and Huntington and Clinton and then Rachel arrived for dinner – Uber Eats Thai takeaways. Hunt is a beautiful baby.

This is a very busy time of the year especially for Rachel who arrives home tired and hungry at about 6.30 on normal days, but with the extra preparations for Christmas, packing for the cottage and the different dress themes for this last week before the holidays. I remember well the extreme stress of everything happening at once.

Friday
What a marvel and a wonder it is to wake up to a fresh coating of snow on everything – we guess about 3 needed inches after the snow that we played in on Monday had all but melted.  The in between stage was pretty horrid – piles of dirt mixed with snow. And the weather was no nicer either.

Children trudging to school today in the snow, all muffled up in colourful cold weather gear like Michelin men is certainly a memorable image – kids in overtrousers, boots, mittens, school bags slung on backs, hats with pom-poms kicking through the pristine snow piles.  It looks magical but I can imagine, though it is the way of life here, that the novelty soon wears off!

It doesn’t seem to have yet neither for the kids, nor us as we dug out our tramping boots – our best imitation of snow boots, mine with corroded eyelets from the salt from our last foray into such snow in Ottawa 3 or 4 years ago, and shovelled the snow off the drive and footpath and squeegeed the accumulation off the car. It continued to snow all day. The trip to school was quite unpleasant with the combination of the icy wind and snow.

Rachel got off work early and packed the car to the gunnels while we collected Molly and Charlie from school. A note had been sent home indicating that they would be collected early and we signed them out all trudged home, loaded ourselves, favourite toys, food etc into the car and left at about 2.30pm, Greg in the front seat holding a pile of Christmas presents and peering over the top and me jammed between Molly and Charlie in their booster seats. The journey took some time – usually 3 hours with no traffic but as expected like Auckland at the beginning of a long weekend, the going out of Greater Toronto was slow, though moving, and we came across the odd snow plough clearing the roads. We invented counting games to while away the time, stopped for cupsatea and Timbits (like donuts flavoured with sugar and chocolate or cinnamon.) The last leg along more deserted snowy, icy and potentially slippery roads was exciting but Rachel’s driving and car’s snow tyres were up to the task and I uttered an expletive only once when we skidded slightly. It continued to snow.

We had phoned ahead and Matt was waiting for us with the ‘gator’ – a John Deere machine with a tray and we and our paraphernalia were transported down to the cottage after the 5 hour journey. It was great to see Mickey, Matt and Scotty the dog, and Pete and Bill showed up shortly afterwards from Kingston. The cottage was as we remembered it but the winter vista wonderfully new. After a quick catchup and Matt-created pasta we all turned in. The various accommodation options provided keeping warm challenges especially Rachel and Pete et al in the cabin where Greg and I froze in September at the time of our very first visit. We were snug in the cottage itself with the fire and electric heating. The hourly chime of Bill’s antique clock kept us appraised of the time throughout the night.

Saturday 23 December

“The more it snows, tiddlypom the more it goes tiddlypom , the more it goes tiddlypom …..on snowing. And nobody knows tiddlypom,how cold my nose tiddlypom , how cold my nose tiddlypom is growing……” An apt AA Milne quote for today as we ventured out for a ramble through the woods, Rachel and the kids in their snow shoes and Greg and I improvising with sox to prevent snow from going into our boots. I was reminded of one of the traditional snow activities – standing under a small snow laden tree and shaking it. The snow rains upon you creating a brief whiteout….and snow down your neck. I did a reasonable impression of a Canadian patriot of O Canada standing under the flag with hand on heart. It’s always great to retreat from the elements into a warm environment inside especially the open fire simultaneously warming us up and drying our damp gear. Mickey and I did a foray to nearby Seeley Bay with Matt for essential supplies – tonic and cream! And the boys partook in manly activities like felling a tree for firewood.

The Carscallens beat the Juddies at a game using an early Genus American edition of Triv. Not too much crowing!

Sunday 24 December Christmas Eve

The sun came out for the first time in the week we have been here, a lovely change. There was plenty of snow based activity today including riding the Gator, looking for Molly and Charlie and the dog who are free to roam in the woods, and actually sitting outside on deck chairs. Even more magical today! Some snow melted but the sun made little impression on the foot deep accumulations of snow on exposed structures. I have a great image of a foot of snow on the barbecue! Blobs fell off the trees from time to time. The lake is covered in snow but is supposedly not safe to walk on….yet. There are dire consequences if you walk on it before it is the requisite metres thick.

We are getting plenty of games played, Jenga piles created, elderly but still working Fisher Price toys unearthed, books read, alcohol consumed ++ and repartee and weak jokes! Greg has been labouring through Great Expectations all week. Mickey has Alzheimer’s but seems content, observing all the activities around her but unable to read or really participate much.

The children are beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of Santa’s arrival. And the pavlova is in the oven and the Carscallens are all off to church in deference to Mickey’s wishes. Great enjoyment at the latter activity was expressed by all with varying degrees of truth.

Monday 25 December Christmas Day

It gets light quite late here in winter near the Arctic Circle so Molly and Charlie did not surface and start creating havoc until after 7 am. We all found stockings with yummy edibles and over the course of the morning opened most of the huge stack of presents under the tree. Everybody was delighted with their haul particularly Pete who received a large jar of Vegemite from Mars and Juddy. He is not a lover of Vegemite and had realised that this was a joke present even before he opened it. Molly and Charlie gave him a brew labelled ‘Stout’ made up of a mixture of soya sauce and goodness knows what else. He has no intention of indulging them by even a pretence of drinking it.

The process of Christmas dinner preparation was the responsibility of the Carscallens with two Y chromosomes and the process was a marvellous thing to behold. Cooking goose and ham is not meant to be a competitive exercise but Bill and particularly Matt and Pete made it so. Even the time of Christmas dinner was up for debate! The result was a 4 pm feast of goose cooked to within an inch of its life and a little like beef, a trophy of Matt, ham – not Huntington Almon McFadden, the newest Carscallen grandchild, and Maple Syrup infused Brussel sprouts followed by the never fail pavlova which lived up to its moniker, lashings of cream and berries. Molly and Charlie were by this stage somewhat hangry and probably tired with the excitement of the day and eating Brussel sprouts, a step too far. But they appear to have enjoyed the day with Molly playing with a fairy inspired cutout ‘game’ and Charlie practising and playing magic tricks using his new set of devices with varying success of his sleight of hand!

Martha, Matt’s current girlfriend arrived after a 6 hour drive from Halifax. And the highlight of the day….Rachel and I streaked around the perimeter of the cottage in knee deep snow, with only cold feet to show for it, much to the bemusement but no comments by the audience. It was minus something degrees. Don’t try this at home.

26 December Boxing Day

Today was departure day from the family and cottage and after a pancake breakfast and genuinely fond farewells, Rachel drove us to Kingston with no sign of any snow thawing and we caught our Via Rail train, running half an hour late to Union Station in Toronto where we caught an airport train to Pearson airport. It’s very economical being ‘seniors’!

Making our flight to Los Angeles on American Airlines was tight and we were the last passengers to be allocated seat numbers at the gate so sat separately. Manoeuvring four long queues to fulfil US entry requirements was an ordeal and I have decided I hate America and never want to grace this fu’ed country with my presence again! Travelling takes its toll on ones tolerance.

Anyway we did make it and also our connection at LAX to Auckland was uneventful and we arrived at Auckland at about 9.30 am on 28th having missed Michelle’s birthday, the 27th, altogether! We expected to be struck by the warmth, but alas it was only 20 degrees with a biting wind and we occupied ourselves with the usual process of laundry, making it to and appropriate bedtime with time zone confusion which was helped by eating dinner and opening Canadian Christmas gifts with the Barkins. Feeling awful but we both had a surprisingly good sleep.

Now it’s all over and we reflect on our wonderful if demanding but totally worthwhile trip. It is excellent to reestablish relationships with the Mouldy Lot, and also the wider Carscallen family although we may not get back to Canada as Rachel and Pete are planning to come back to NZ in the next year or so.

 

 

Northland Twin Coast Cycle Trail November 2017

Northland Cycle Trail.png

As has become our habit, we set out for the Jac House after dinner on Thursday evening but this time instead of staying for another quiet and glorious weekend, staying the night was a stop over on the way to Kaikohe.  We were joined by the McLeans and Wings who also stayed the night.

We travelled in convoy to Kaikohe mainly on State Highway One but turning off on to State Highway 15 just before Whangarei. We found opportunities for coffee were somewhat sparse but discovered the quaint Cafe/pub/vintage machinery place at Parakao where the coffee and peanut brownie were at least as good as anything we have enjoyed in Auckland. A pleasant but uneventful journey….it seems ages since we have ventured this far north.

We had contact with the other Intrepids, the Pearsons, the Burtons and the Mckessars, who had arrived at the Far North Motor Inn, apparently the only accommodation in the seemingly abandoned, Kaikohe, the night before and they decided to set out before we arrived to give themselves a head start on the trail. The McKessars were very proud of their electric bikes. This weekend saw an intersecting of two cycling groups of whom we were the common denominator.

Day 1 – Kaikohe to Horeke

After a quick bite to eat we set out on the mostly down hill 42km cycle trail bound for Horeke on the Hokianga Harbour. It was a very pleasant day, the gravel track was dry and the scenery while not spectacular…more typical New Zealand with some exciting up and down bits through forest land and alongside the river.  We caught up with the shuttle driver after the three-hour ride and the other Intrepids who had arrived quite sometime before us having set out mid morning. We cycled the final few kms to the Mangungu mission site where a version of Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed. We agreed to stay at the Horeke pub for dinner as Kaikohe reportedly had few dining out opportunities. After freshly caught fish for dinner – there were three menu options, we were regaled with a history lesson by Pete, the very proud pub owner for 20 years. This area was the location of quite a few NZ firsts – commercial ship building, postal service, murder trial, pub and second oldest town. The pub is now undergoing extensive and no doubt expensive renovations. With the completion of the cycle trail, there is the expectation that the towns and businesses around the area will thrive. We were shuttled back to Kaikohe and anxiously consulted the met service as we anticipated our second cycling day. The obliging proprietor was waiting to lock up our bikes.

Day 2 – Kaikohe to Opua, Bay of Islands

The view out the window was not good, with steady rain, but after a caucus meeting some decided to not set out at all, and the rest of us decided to cycle as planned. We were wet before we even left the accommodation and the track extremely muddy, and after a short time, so were we! It wasn’t cold, but the Pearsons turned back after a short distance with a view to trying again tomorrow!  Today’s scenery or what we saw of it, because we were all cautious, our eyes mostly fixed on the track in front of us, was again not spectacular. As on day 1, we had to stop frequently to negotiate the cycling equivalent of stiles and cattle stops, intended to stop motorcyclists we think but these mini-rests were quite welcome. We cycled over some old half buried rails along the way and a spectacular old wooden viaduct reinforced to accommodate the track. The rain cleared briefly at times but while we were chowing on loquats near Moerewa, we witnessed a potentially nasty motor accident on the road next to us – a young woman, saying that her steering wheel locked (yeah right), was distracted, hit a bridge on the side of the road, collected a fence, crossed the road and ended up in a ditch. The car was certainly a right-off, and the woman emerged from the driver’s seat seemingly unscathed and was spirited away in her mates’ car which materialised from nowhere, clutching a damaged cell phone, before the police even arrived. The young woman’s mates tried to pull the car out of the ditch with predictably no success. We wondered if the police would want to talk to us but, we carried on before anyone else came.  Jan phoned the police and described what had happened.

The Railway Cafe at Kawakawa was an oasis in the desert – it was mid afternoon and we hungrily gobbled down hamburgers, quiches, carrot cake and gallons of tea before knocking off the last 10km to Opua. We were warned to lock our bikes. I’m sure the locals are well kitted out with bikes and gear! The steady rain continued and we were quite happy to be picked up, muddy, wet but happy by Ray the shuttle driver with his 12 bike trailer, who provided us with towels to protect his newish coach. The lovely motel provider was again waiting for us to hose down the bikes and had even turned on the heaters in our rooms. We recc’ed the main street finding a not particularly prepossessing Indian takeaway with tables big enough for our party.  Despite expectations the Indian food was excellent and as usual we over ordered. Plenty of leftovers for tomorrow!

Day 3 – Homeward bound

We could have gone straight home, but the Pearsons, McKessars and ourselves decided to do a mini tour of Northland. First stop on the journey along rolling deserted roads was Rawene on the Hokianga, a very picturesque town with its landmark hospital-on-the-hill, a wonderful cafe over the water, a board walk among the mangroves and jellyfish and a very absorbing puzzle shop. We were all tempted to spend up large! The plan was to meet up again further on the road home, but in the event we did our own thing – for us a nice picnic on the hill above Opononi, tea from a road side stall at Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest and a saunter along the main street of the metropolis of Dargaville.  Many of the towns we passed though with signs of previous prosperity, made us sad. We saw empty shops, rundown houses, car wrecks, abandoned schools, derelict factories and scrappy land. No sign of the trickle-down effect of the ‘rock star’ economy here. The Wairoa river was wide and muddy. Could intensive dairying be responsible? As we approached Wellsford, we decided to take the long way to the Jac House via familiar-from-cycling country roads to avoid the possible intersection-from-hell in Warkworth.

It was nice to back at the Jac House albeit briefly for a leftovers meal before heading home, tired but happy.  I won’t mention spending the whole of the next fortunately sunny day laundering muddy cycling clothes and scrubbing shoes and backpacks.

 

Tahiti September 2017

 

Not a cycling trip this time but………

It all began when Greg won the major spot prize, return air fares to Tahiti from Air Tahiti to be taken before the end of November this year,
at the Cycle for Life cycling event out at Clevedon at the beginning of the year. He graciously agreed to take me with him although it would have been a major scandal if he hadn’t!

Over the next few months we made contact with a travel broker – recommend by the airline – what is the point of travel brokers. …and he put together an itinerary with suggestions from us, at twice the cost of the airfares! But what the hell?! Greg managed to cobble together locum cover and we were pleased to be ‘forced’ to have a mid-winter Pacific Island getaway. Greg has had a very busy and at times stressful 6 months since we were last away in Myanmar in February so it wasn’t difficult to justify! And I have only a hobby immunisation job!

So on Sunday September 3rd after a 50 km ride with the boys, we took the four hour flight landing in Papeete 22 hours earlier than we had left! I was very happy to watch two movies – ‘Their Finest’ and ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ directed by Niki Caro a New Zealander I think. A very effective way of whiling the flight time away.

I’ve always wanted to be met at the airport by a man with our name on a board – the other fantasy I have is for my bionic hip to set off the airport metal detectors – it hasn’t yet, and so it was with a lovely Tahitian woman with a envelope full of the vouchers we had paid so much for, labelled Mr Howie! Yes!

Effortless trip with no jet lag and a happy settling into the Manava Resort, twenty minutes’ taxi ride from the airport.

Nothing was open on the Sunday and we ate a generous breakfast intended to last all day, lounged by the pool, inadvertently and disappointingly were sunburnt through the sun umbrella and explored the not very interesting neighbourhood and waterside watching the locals enjoying their water sports before a bistro dinner at the resort. You can’t go wrong with fish and chips.

We are starting to appreciate the value of the travel broker as the pickup from the hotel and transfer to the wharf happened like clockwork even allowing us an hour or so to roam the downtown Papeete market. I would like to find a suitably Tahitian sarong and maybe long shorts for Greg so it was good to have a recce of what is available and the prices which appear expensive for everything here. We paid $10NZD for a double chocolate Magnum.

The roll-on-roll-off ferry to Moorea took 45 minutes and we were met and transported 15 minutes along the coast to another Manava resort – a classic combination of little huts over water, hotel accommodation and tastefully designed thatched wooden huts like ours with their own wee yards and swimming pools – about the size of a Baptist church baptistry – which we rather enjoyed. Despite being quite hot we ventured out walking along the main road to the village, recce’d the eating and sarong buying places and the multitude of available activities. Greg had the local delicacy ‘poison cru’ – raw fish and I attempted two enormous steak skewers at the little barbecue restaurant, the Manuia, over the road – a relatively economical eating option. A couple of Auckland apartment dwelling kiwis regaled us with tales of their ATV and jet ski adventures – we may settle for less adventurous – read ‘scary’ activities although we are more than happy to laze around, reading enjoying the ambience and not doing very much at all.

We are getting plenty of opportunities to indulge in my favourite activity of people watching, guessing nationalities, marvelling at some people’s body-flaunting-around-the-pool shamelessness. If it’s not a women with an 8 month pregnant tummy in a look-at-me tiny fluorescent bikini prancing backwards and forwards all day, it’s a short fat American woman in one piece hide-nothing fluorescent play suit or a wobbly arsed tiny bikini bottom wearing young woman. All nicely tanned though which is something I will never be able to boast of. Or at the laid back beach restaurant, Rudy’s, a very tall woman wearing 6″ stiletto heels having dinner with her aged parents. Or the chap at the next table, American I think, with a shiny gold band somewhat self-consciously worn on his ring finger gazing at his new wife across the table. Or the American woman with evidence of a hideous left leg injury limping to the pool and her Indian companion wearing figure concealing swimming attire.

I’m not even attempting to speak French although I would love to be able to justify my 6 years of learning French at school and university. Tahitians speak both Tahitian and French as well as passable English so why bother?

We took out a double sit on kayak ensuring that we didn’t go far because of a significant breeze and water building up on the kayak. It was nice to look back to the shore with its spectacular back drop of bush-clad mountains sometimes eerily surrounded by mist and coconut palms, looking like a Gauguin painting.

When we go on cycling trips we can pretend that we are not ‘tourists’, but maybe adventure travellers, but anyone seeing us sipping our gin and tonics by the pool today would be left in no doubt as to our true status!

Even though holidays are supposed to be breaks from our normal lives, I do enjoy keeping up with news from home including the very interesting and exciting election campaign, and emails via my trusty I pad and hotel wi-fi facility.

Wednesday (it is hard to keep a track of the days as it is a day later in NZ) was motorcycle hiring day in order to circumnavigate the island. I was initially very gung-ho about getting on a motorised two wheeler again since my student motorcycling days. We had hired scooters on Vanuatu and Greg reminds me of my hooning round a roundabout the wrong way, but had done nothing since. But getting on the very heavy brute of a Peugeot ‘Tweet’ although only 50cc was something else and I was extremely nervous. I could have opted to be Greg’s pillion passenger but where’s the adventure and self determination in that?! Suffice it to say, we had an enjoyable ride – the colour of the lagoon was improbably teal blue, the mountains high and grand, the traffic respectful and slow as we meandered the 62 km at about 40 kph stopping a few times for pictures and to give our wrists a rest from the automatic accelerators. The couple of hours wasn’t long enough to feel really confident and I was happy to get back to base with our skin and motorcycles intact and the astronomical insurance excess unpaid.

It was refreshing in the middle of a hot and sunny day to plunge naked into our private swimming bath.

Thursday was water sports day. After breakfast we collected snorkelling gear and enjoyed the coloured fish without venturing too far into the very suddenly deep lagoon. Then it was trying out paddle boarding which is more difficult than it appears or is it just we are senescent! I fell off three times but managed to manoeuvre around the over-water huts. Paradoxically if in panic you grasp on to something fixed, you are more likely to can out because of the change of balance, than if you stay upright. Sitting then kneeling helps ease you towards standing up. More practice needed is the verdict! But paddle boarding is no advance really on kayaking. Reading and snacking by the pool gave us again more people watching opportunities including the puke inducing woman posing on the side of the pool while the partner took endless shots, and then they prevailed upon fellow French speakers to take pictures of them in a variety of poses together. Certainly there are plenty of loved up or not so loved up couples including one who had dinner at an adjacent table to us at the Moorea Beach Cafe, who barely engaged with each other, spending the whole time on their respective cell phones. We have had contact with some local people who have behaved in a very offhand way – is it French arrogance showing through?

Tourism is the most important industry for Tahiti and there is very little evidence of anything else. The community looks quite prosperous with no evidence of the poor subsistence living we are so familiar with in Asia. There are so many adventures on offer. Boating adventures of various kinds, diving, snorkelling with the opportunity to kiss stingrays and observe sharks close up, jet skis both individually available to hire bit also guided options, horse riding, tramping up mountains, four wheel driving around mountain tracks, small scale cycling, anything to extract mega dollars from the visiting rich, mainly from France and the US and the locals don’t even have to be polite!

I finally had the chance while Greg had another look at one of his stories, to browse the few tourist shops and came away relatively unscathed – just a pareo (lungi/lava lava/sarong) and a pair of shorts made out of gaudy Pacific print – made in Indonesia!

Gin and tonics by the pool before a disappointing dinner at the resort restaurant – Greg’s fish was OK but my veal escalopes tough and almost inedible. This was our last night on Moorea and we checked out the next morning, lounging by the pool getting sunburnt again alas, and connected with our pre-arranged taxi to the ferry terminus. The nine bananas we bought as a bunch at the wharf market tasted so much sweeter than the Ecuadorian ones we are used to. We feel we have done all we wanted and intended to do and think a week is long enough to unwind and soak up the French Polynesian atmosphere.

Home sweet home but freezing cold – 12 degrees – after a 5.30 am start and a boring long 6 hour flight. Bought some savate – jandals and a Tahitian flag at the airport while we waited for our flight. More people watching to do – a bottle blonde women wearing tight pink trousers-with immobile improbably large hard looking objects attached to her chest, the thick necked American chap almost certainly a sufferer from obstructive sleep apnoea, the skinny seventy’ish French speaking woman who has obviously had ‘work done’. It takes all types!

Brunch was pretty awful, couldn’t make my entertainment system work, so no movie, and Greg’s seat kept moving backwards. International air travel loses its excitement about 2 hours into a flight.

Nice to be unpacking, opening mail and reading newspapers and mentally preparing for a return to business as usual tomorrow.