Circling South

Christchurch, South Island, NZ. 30th January 2015.

If you look at the Banks Peninsular on a map it gives the impression of a flower, with petals surrounding the stamen. It is very obvious from this that the area was created by a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. In the centre is the caldera, once a lake but now linked to the sea by a narrow passage. The central ‘lake’ is surrounded by steep hills which in turn run down in to small bays. The countryside is wild and windswept and, as I rode out to it, very cloudy too. My plan was to explore the many gravel trails, free camp for a couple of nights, and then head south down the coast.

Volcanic heritage at the Banks Peninsular.

Volcanic heritage at the Banks Peninsular.

I left Christchurch towards Lyttleton and then headed to the hills. I stopped at a view point and got chatting to a couple of nice English women, who had hired bikes for the day. Nora and Bernadette where on a six week holiday and were quite jealous of my four month long NZ tour. I headed out around the bays, diverted inland to get some fuel as I’d forgotten to fill up when I left the city, and just enjoyed wandering about. Most of the gravel trails just led to the sea, although a few did link up with other roads. The weather was a bit chilly and showery but I was happy just tootling around, no deadline, no pressure.

Pretty bay, threatening clouds.

Pretty bay, threatening clouds.

Eventually I Came to Pigeon Bay where I found a campsite. I pitched my tent and took a look around. It was a strange place which had about twenty caravans on it (the towing type), most have which clearly hadn’t moved in years. Some didn’t even have wheels on them. There was no-one around and I found an honesty box where I could leave my $10 fee – except that I had no change. I’m guessing the site was used by weekenders and fishermen, being right next to the sea. Further down the road was a boat launching ramp. These seem to be publicly supplied as there’s a launching place in almost every waterside town or village. I’d already realised how much Kiwi’s love their boats and their fishing. Eventually the caretaker came round and I was able to pay my fee. He also gave me some good advice on routes around the peninsular. The site was another terrific place for birdsong too, a real treat.

Pigeon Bay, good for boaters and fishers.

Pigeon Bay, good for boaters and fishers.

Obey the rules!

Obey the rules!

In the early hours of the morning I was woken up by what I thought was someone walking past my tent on the gravel. Then I remembered there was no gravel and realised that something was rooting through the rubbish bag I’d left in the tent porch. I unzipped the inner door, put my hand round it and came up against a hedgehog. I let go of it very quickly indeed! It was all curled up so I pushed it out under the tent flap and moved the rubbish bag over to the other side of the porch. In the morning an apple core had gone so Henry Hedgehog obviously came back for a second go.

A prickly andful.

A prickly andful.

It was a showery morning so I decided to stick around. While walking through the nearby trees I found a collection of tree branches, shells and stones laid out as what looked to be a shrine. It seemed to me like a representation of a house, with a kitchen/living area and another room next to it. Very odd. More people had arrived by now and when I asked one of them about it he reckoned it was just kids messing about. He did say that the area used to be a Maori fishing village though, so maybe there’s a connection.

Created with a purpose, I just don't know what it is.

Created with a purpose, I just don’t know what it is.

The rain cleared up in the afternoon so I went for a nice long walk down the headland. The sea looked great. Grey, and with clouds scudding around the surrounding hills. I walked for about three hours, survived a shower of rain, and really enjoyed my evening meal. Henry paid another visit and this time my camera and I were ready for him.

Henry Hedgehog gets his reward.

Henry Hedgehog gets his reward.

More trails to explore next day, with names such as Starvation Gully and Summit Road. The ground was a mixture of stones, grass, ruts and mud. A bit more challenging than gravel and they reminded me of Green Laning back England. I headed for the town of Akaroa, a very pretty place on the edge of the sea lake. There are two hostels there but there was no bed. The best I could do was a camping space in the garden. No excuse not to use the shower though!

Akaroa history.

Akaroa history.

I mentioned previously how some French settlers were heading for NZ. Akaroa was their destination although it by the time they arrived the English authorities had established a settlement, in the nick of time. Even so, they were still welcomed and settled there so the town has a very French flavour to it. The majority of the streets have French names and many of the businesses do too. Things came very close to the south island being French. Mon Dieu!

Les Rue Francaises.

Les Rue Francaises.

I wonder if the petrol came all the way from France too?

I wonder if the petrol came all the way from France too?

Walking round the town in the very warm sunshine was a real pleasure, as was the visit to one of NZ’s last wooden lighthouses, now preserved on the seashore. Built in 1880, it was only replaced as recently as 1980, when an automatic one was installed, and it was dismantled and moved to its present site. Several boats worked out of the harbour, offering tourist trips to view seals and penguins. I met a Dutch guy at the hostel, Noel. He has ridden his Honda Africa Twin all over Europe, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Mongolia, although he was backpacking this time. He knew Lukas, the Austrian guy I’d met on the ferry to Japan, and also Michael, the Danish guy I’d met in Kyrgyzstan. More evidence of how small the world sometimes seems to be.

A venerable veteran of lighthouses.

A venerable veteran of lighthouses.

A venerable veteran of the water, now used for wild life trips.

A venerable veteran of the water, now used for wild life trips.

The next destination was Lake Tekapo, near to Mount Cook. It was time to head inland for a while. On the way there I stopped at Fairlie, a place that Grant, who I met on the ferry, suggested I should visit. It’s famous for its pies and having ate two of them, I can see why. Ingredients such as venison with cranberry, that was so delicious I tried the pork and apple, which came with a little bit of crackling on the top. Fantastic. At Lake Tekapo I called in to the i-Site to find a hostel bed. Outside, who should I bump into but Noel, from Akaroa. The hostel he was at was full. Down at the Lakefront Lodge I was in reception and who should I bump into but Bernadette, one of the two women I met near Lyttleton. She was with her husband this time. Time for a bit of a moan here. This hostel wasn’t one of the cheapest I’d been in, at $30 and they wanted $7 a day for wi-fi access. To me that is a rip off and it’s one of the things that has annoyed me about NZ. The only other place I’d been forced to pay for wi-fi was Germany. To my way of thinking it should be included. Even worse though was that as the evening wore on the wi-fi got slower and slower until it packed up altogether. A proper rip off. OK, rant over.

Mineral rich Lake Tekapo.

Mineral rich Lake Tekapo.

When I rode out towards Mount Cook next day the sun was shining although the wind was very strong. My poor bike was really struggling and the fuel consumption was really suffering. Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki looked fantastic, deep turquoise in colour and pretty as anything. Unfortunately as I approached Mount Cook the weather closed in and the sun went. The mountains were mostly obscured by clouds so I didn’t get the view and the photos I wanted. I took the road that led to Tasman Glacier viewpoint and in the car park I met Noel again. We chatted a bit before I began the rather steep walk up to the viewpoint. Halfway up I met Bernadette and her husband once more. We chatted and I was very glad of an excuse to stop for a rest as the climb was proving to be hard work in all my heavy bike gear. At the top I could just about see the edge of the glacier way in the distance. It has receded significantly over the last twenty years and the lake it feeds into is low too. Global warming at work, sadly.

The disappearing glacier. The bank visible on the right was the level of the glacier twenty years ago.

The disappearing glacier. The bank visible on the right was the level of the glacier twenty years ago.

Too cloudy for Mount Cook to show up, but still a magnificent vista.

Too cloudy for Mount Cook to show up, but still a magnificent vista.

My next destination was the city of Dunedin, back on the east coast. I’d booked a hostel in Oamaru to break the journey. About 12kms outside of Lake Tekapo, my speedo cable broke. Not to worry, I had a spare. So I dug it out and fitted it but it was too short. I’d only bought the inner cable so I was now going to have to buy a complete unit because I didn’t know whether the problem was that a non standard one had been fitted at some time or the spare I’d bought was wrong. Probably the latter given that it came off Ebay. Oh well, something else to add to the list of bits to buy. Fortunately my GPS records distance travelled even when I’m not using it to follow a route. All I had to do was keep it switched on.

Another travelling biker, Peter from Denmark.

Another travelling biker, Peter from Denmark.

Further down the road I stopped to look at some Maori cave paintings. Very disappointing as they were just some bad charcoal sketches of a sailing ship and a man on a horse, so clearly not even very old. But I did meet another biker in the car park, Peter from Denmark. He was on a six week holiday and, like Geoff the American, had hired a bike. He rides a BMW K100 at home, a great bike, one of which I used to own many years ago. Further along I turned off down a side road to seek a gravel trail. When I found it there was a sign warning me about sharp bends, steep hills and deep fords. A ‘welcome sign’ as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t actually all that challenging although it would have been a different matter in winter.

The kind of sign I welcome.

The kind of sign I welcome.

In Oamaru I found the hostel and settled in to wait as reception didn’t open until 4pm. I made some tea and managed to get on the internet. While I was busy I suddenly heard a voice say ‘Who wants chicken?’ I looked up and saw a woman standing by the door so I asked whether it was cooked, raw, whole or in pieces. She glared at me and then said, very deliberately ‘Who wants to chick-in?’ And then I realised she meant ‘check-in’ but Kiwis pronounce their ‘e’ like an ‘i’. So, egg on face, I went to ‘chick-in’ and apologised to her for the misunderstanding. But I couldn’t stop myself smiling when I saw a notice on the kitchen wall saying there were hen’s eggs for sale at 30 cents each. I just had to wonder which came first, the chick-in or the eggs.

Old style furniture.

Old style furniture.

The hostel had a bit of an old fashioned flavour to it, as witnessed by some of the furniture. But I did enjoy looking through the records.

Old style fun.

Old style fun.

While in this town I had hoped to see the rare Blue Eyed Penguins which live on the beach here. They come back from their fish hunting trips at dusk but when I got to the viewing point there were none to be seen. In fairness I was a bit early but as it was cold and raining I gave up and went back. I stopped to chat to an Aussie guy who had been thinking of bringing his Ural outfit over to NZ but it was going to cost him over £1,000 each way so he and his wife hired a small camper instead. I’d often heard that the Tasman Sea was one of the most expensive stretches of water in the world to cross so now I was worried about what I might have to pay when I went in the opposite direction.

Outside the Steam Punk Museum.

Outside the Steam Punk Museum.

Next morning I left for Dunedin but stopped in Oamaru town centre to look around. There were some very nice, stone built municipal buildings along the High Street, mostly erected between 1850-70. Apparently the cost almost bankrupted the town but they managed to survive and are great examples of their type. When I got back to the bike who should I see but Noel. Just how small is this world going to become? He’d seen my bike while driving past and had stopped for a chat.

Oamaru town hall. Monument to excessive municipal ambition.

Oamaru town hall. Monument to excessive municipal ambition.

Eventually I set off and finally made it to Dunedin, where I was going to be staying with Maureen for a few days. She is the Kiwi that I’d met briefly in the hostel in Lithuania. She’d invited me to stay and who am I to turn down a free bed? In truth I was looking forward to seeing her again as we’d kept in touch after we’d met. It was a very windy, and wet, ride through the hills as I approached the city and Doris seemed to be really struggling. At first I thought there was something wrong but eventually realised it was just the combination of weather, terrain and a small engine. Once I’d arrived Maureen made me very welcome. We chatted and reminisced and found out more about each other. Maureen has three kids and seven grandkids but split up from her husband many years ago. There was another guest due to arrive later, via the Couchsurfer website. She was going to stay for a few days too. Couchsurfing seems to be a way of getting free accommodation at the homes of willing participants. Maureen tends to provide the first evening meal and then the supplies for breakfast thereafter. Generally it operates on the principle of taking when you need to then giving when you can. Money does not usually change hands although the guest will often buy or cook a meal or share a skill. It seems a great idea although it might not suit me so much as it involves more forward planning than I usually commit to. Maureen went to collect Karen from the bus station. She’s a 67 year old American, a former computer programmer, now retired. She spends all her time travelling as she has no other commitments. I wonder who that reminds me of! She seemed to be a bit abrupt at first but as she relaxed we realised that she just happened to be quite a matter of fact person. We all had a good weekend together and Maureen drove us around the city and out onto the Otago Peninsular, which is an attractive spit of land with great sea views from the high cliff road. There are a couple of penguin sanctuaries out there, as well as one for albatross. A plan for the week was formulating in my mind. We drove through a small village called Wellers Rock, one of the first whaling stations in NZ. I spotted an interesting house there and asked Maureen to stop.

Altered and unevenly extended, the former supplies store at Weller's Rock.

Altered and unevenly extended, the former supplies store at Weller’s Rock.

The owner was outside and I asked him if it was OK to take some photos. We got chatting and this house used to be his holiday cottage but is now his main residence. Why? Because of the Christchurch earthquake. He had a large property there, worth $850,000. It suffered some damage which would cost about $125,000 to repair. But the area was red zoned so it was pulled down along with all the others in the zone. All he got from the insurance company was the $125,000 to cover the damage, nothing else. He then spent $65,000 fighting a legal battle to get the full value of the property but he lost. As I mentioned before, this was a common story and to me, quite shocking. Maureen told me this guy had been a very successful children’s TV entertainer so I guess he was able to carry the loss but most people wouldn’t have been in that fortunate situation.

Further along we came to a Maori church and meeting hall. We stopped for a look at the buildings. There was a nice stained glass window in the church but more impressive was the Harley Davidson parked in front of the stage in the hall next door. It seemed that a wedding was about to take place and the bride’s father had died recently. His bike was attending the wedding instead. It made sense to me!

Evocative stained glass window inside the church.

Evocative stained glass window inside the church.

Guest of honour. Quite rightly.

Guest of honour. Quite rightly.

On Saturday evening some of Maureen’s friends came round for a meal. Sue, who I’d met with Maureen in Lithuania, Rhona and Ana. All of them had been travelling companions at one time. Ana was with Jim, her new fella who she’d met on a dating website. He’s a really nice guy and is a biker too, although he tends to go for large and comfortable bikes. We all had a great evening. Kiwis really are an open, friendly bunch and good company is never far away.

Is it?

Is it?

Next day Maureen took us into town and we visited the World’s Steepest Street, called Baldwyn Street. And it really lives up to its name. The average gradient is 1:3.4 but the steepest part is 1:2.86. That, my friends, is a hill and a half! Karen and I accepted the challenge and walked up it. I had to stop for a rest once and I was very pleased to find a drinking fountain up at the top, and a bench to sit on too. Why it was made so steep I don’t know. It has houses on it and other streets off it, so in that respect it’s just another urban road.

I would say 'Yes'.

I would say ‘Yes’.

A much needed resting place at the top.

A much needed resting place at the top.

Next we went back onto the peninsular to walk down to Tunnel Beach. This involved another steep hill, much longer this time. At the bottom of the path is a very nice area of limestone rock, eroded into all sorts of wonderful shapes, with caves worn into it. Tunnel Beach is accessed by a tunnel. Who’d have thought it. It’s about 100 metres long, slopes downwards and was dug out by hand. It was done by the landowner who had spotted this really nice beach and wanted to be able to access it. Money talks and he got what he wanted.

Maureen takes the tunnel.

Maureen takes the tunnel.

Someone should have said to him, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Soon afterwards his daughter was swept out to sea by a rip tide and drowned. But it is a nice beach despite the sad story.

Tunnel beach is very pretty.

Tunnel beach is very pretty.

Limestone formations near the beach.

Limestone formations near the beach.

Once we’d recovered from the walk back up to the car we headed home. Karen was due to leave next day and Maureen and I had reached the conclusion that she’s a bit of a weird one. She reckons there is a ‘family’ of world leaders who control everything and that they’re all related to each other. George Bush is related to our Queen, she said. What??? She’s spent the last twenty years living in Boulder, Colorado. Maybe that rarefied air has got to her brain. But she used to live in California before that, so maybe that’s the reason. Anyway, we all had good fun together and everyone is entitled to their theories, however weird.

A former neighbour of Maureen’s came round to visit as he wanted to meet me. Keith used to live in Bellingham, near Lewisham, but had been in NZ for over forty years. He rides bikes too and used to go to some of the Rocker cafés out at Biggin Hill, so we had a good chat over dinner. He’s been back a few times but like most long term émigrés, he sees ‘home’ as pretty much a foreign place. Being a similar age, I found that we had socialised in some of the same places.

Maureen has some friends who live further down the coast. Brian and Jill were due to go on holiday but wanted to meet me before they went. Brian is a keen biker and wanted to hear about my journey. So the plan was to ride down, stay with them, then ride back next day. They live in Owaka, down in the Catlins. This is one of NZ’s many national parks and has a more gentle, ‘rolling hills’ kind of aspect to it, as well as a very nice coast line.

Dunedin Station. A classic design and very well preserved.

Dunedin Station. A classic design and very well preserved.

Before heading down there I went to the Suzuki dealer in town and picked up most of the items I had ordered. They included my much needed speedo cable. I fitted it in the street outside and got chatting to some guys who were meeting up to go for a ride. One of them very kindly gave me a 100mm square metal plate, with a bit of string attached. It’s for putting under the sidestand on soft ground. He said he makes them at home then gives them away to bikers he meets. Thanks Charlie, it’s been very useful. Because I had my GPS to record distance travelled I was able to work out that I’d covered 305kms since the cable broke. So just adding 300kms to each odometer reading made the adjustments accurate enough.

When I got to Brian and Jill’s I had some lunch then Brian took me out to show me some of the local sights. First port of call was the Lost Gypsy Theatre.

Lost Gypsy Theatre bus.

Lost Gypsy Theatre bus.

What a fascinating place! It’s an old bus which has been converted into a display facility for the owner’s huge number of fun, funky and fabulous models. He makes them mostly out of stiff wire and the majority are worked just by turning a handle or pulling a wire. Sometimes they light up or make a noise as well. Their style reminds me of those old toys from Victorian times, that can be seen in museums, although many also remind me of toys from my childhood. There is a model railway that runs around the perimeter of the bus too.

Weird ....

Weird ….

.... and wonderful.

…. and wonderful.

In a building round the back is another collection of the weird and wonderful. Many of these models use electronics as well as mechanics, so are even more fascinating. Best of all is that they are all made using recycled bits and pieces which have been re-engineered and adapted in a very imaginative way. Real art and truly fascinating. More info here. http://roamaholic.com/lost-gypsy-gallery/

A fascinating collection.

A fascinating collection.

We went down to the sea shore, taking in a very pretty waterfall on the way. After a bit of a walk on the sand we came across some sea lions, basking in the sun. They come ashore at low tide and just loaf around on the beach, sleeping off their breakfast. They can attack if there’s cubs around and it’s best to keep a bit of distance as they can move faster than their bulk suggests.

Very pretty waterfall.

Very pretty waterfall.

Sun basking Sea Lions. Do not disturb!

Sun basking Sea Lions. Do not disturb!

On the way back to the house we stopped to look at an old skow which had been bought by some Auckland Yuppies. They wanted to convert it into a floating restaurant. Despite being warned that the boat wasn’t seaworthy, they decided to sail it up the coast. It was taking on so much water that it only managed to cross the river before it had to be abandoned. And there it sits, a warning to all those who think they know better than the local experts. It’s a great shame because the hull contains three layers of Kauri wood which would be very valuable if it could be recycled.

 

Abandoned by the ignorant owners.

Abandoned by the ignorant owners.

Abandoned by the ignorant owners.

Brian rides a Honda CX400, imported from Japan. He also has an old MZ, which he is refurbishing as a local run around. He used to be a teacher, and still worked sometimes, post retirement. But he said he fell out of favour with the authorities because he used to teach the kids things they needed to know, such as life skills, instead of what he saw as a fairly pointless curriculum. So now, amongst other things, he helps Jill tend their very fabulous garden. We had some very enjoyable chats about bikes, racing, and Australia. Brian had visited and worked there so he gave me some useful pointers for my future visit.

Once we’d finished putting the world to rights and had finished lunch, I headed off for a very nice ride along the coast on the way back to Dunedin. In and out of small, pretty bays, wandering along the gravel trails. The weather wasn’t great but it was good enough to enhance the pretty countryside and the great sea views. A couple of times I came across big herds of cattle or flocks of sheep, being moved via the back trails, reminding me that almost every area of NZ that is accessible is busy producing food of some kind.

Dramatic coastline along the Catlins.

Dramatic coastline along the Catlins.

Back at Maureen’s I made plans for the next couple of days. Birds were on the agenda, feathered of course. I made plans to visit the Royal Albatross Colony and Penguin Place, both of them out on the Otago Peninsular. They are nature reserves and sanctuaries for each type of bird and help to protect and enhance the population of species which might otherwise struggle to survive. They often have no real defence against animals which European settlers introduced, such as stoats, weasels, rats and feral cats. Possums were introduced for their fur and have also become a major pest. Efforts are continually under way to combat these creatures and these sanctuaries are part of the battle.

Albatross wingspan, compered to other birds.

Albatross wingspan, compered to other birds.

The Albatross colony is out at Taiaroa Head and was established in the 1950’s. The area became a nesting site for these birds after it was cleared of its WW2 fortifications. Ironically it was the clearing of the brush and trees for military purposes, originally carried out in the late 19th C, which made it a suitable nesting site. Protected from predators, the site has developed into an area of continuous monitoring and study of the birds.

Peeking out from behind the Albatross is a chick.

Peeking out from behind the Albatross is a chick.

A few Albatrossy Facts. They have a wingspan of up to three metres, making them the worlds largest bird. An adult weighs about nine kgs. Chicks take their first flight at about seven months old and then don’t touch land again for over a year. The parents will leave the colony for a year before returning to breed again. Meanwhile their chicks will only return to the colony after four to five years. Our guide, Joel, told us that the juveniles – birds that are not quite old enough to breed – will practice their mating dances and nest building skills before ‘trying it on’ with a potential partner. They mate for life.

The Armstrong Disappering Gun.

The Armstrong Disappering Gun.

Joel also took me to see the Armstrong Disappearing Gun. The headland has served as a defensive position since the first human habitation and the European settlers were quick to follow their Maori predecessors. In the 1880’s war was threatening between Britain and Russia. Fort Taiaroa was constructed and in 1889 this innovative artillery piece was installed.

This is how it works.

This is how it works.

Built by Armstrong of Newcastle, it is a six inch, breech loading gun on a hydro-pneumatic carriage. It is sited in an underground circular pit and it was aimed and loaded while still underground. A water and air ram system then raised the gun above ground for firing and the energy from the recoil was harnessed to force it back underground for reloading, at the same time recharging the hydraulic pressure. It was never used in anger and had been overtaken by better technology by the time of WW1. Fortunately it was preserved, along with all its workings, and proved to be fascinating.When I got back to Maureen’s I realised I’d managed to leave my backpack behind, just for a change, but was very glad to receive an email later to say it had been found.

Artistic bus shelter, Otago Peninsular style.

Artistic bus shelter, Otago Peninsular style.

Next day I visited Penguin Place, one of two penguin reserves on the peninsular, this one dedicated to the Yellow Eyed Penguin. These are another endangered species and this privately run reserve helps to maintain breeding birds and rescues those injured or abandoned. This was another fascinating visit and we were able to get much closer to the birds than had been possible at the Albatross centre. There is a hospital and a large nesting area there, in amongst the brush. The owners, who are keen conservationists and started the centre almost as a hobby, have dug out trenches which enable visitors to walk along, effectively at ground level.

Below ground trench, visitors for the use of.

Below ground trench, visitors for the use of.

We were warned to be quiet and the reward was to be able to see the chicks at about a metre distance, close enough to see the yellows of their eyes! The reserve has set up nesting boxes amongst the brush, favoured terrain for the penguin, and they have been very successful. The adults leave the chicks on their own during the day while they go off fishing, travelling up to fifteen kilometres out to sea and twenty five along the coast to find food. At dusk they return and feed them.

Cute chicks, patiently waiting for their fish dinner.

Cute chicks, patiently waiting for their fish dinner.

It is during the day that chicks can fall prey to predators, all of whom have been introduced to NZ by settlers. Reserves such as these invest time and effort in keeping their areas predator free. The chicks looked cute of course, and it was great to see that the work of the reserve was ‘breeding’ success.

Cute chick.

Cute chick.

I also saw an adult who was in the process of its annual moulting, which takes four weeks. During that time they can’t go in the water, so no food. In the wild the weaker ones die. They have a gland at the base of their spine which emits an oil. Once the new feathers have grown they use this oil to preen them, so making them waterproof. This is a constant task. Any adults which aren’t heavy enough to survive the annual moult will be hospitalised at the reserve, thereby helping to increase numbers.

Cute chicks, patiently waiting for their fish dinner.

Cute chicks, patiently waiting for their fish dinner.

They mate for life but if chicks fail to arrive they will split up, by mutual consent, and find new partners. So it’s not just humans then.

After leaving there I went back to the albatross centre to collect my bag only to discover they didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about. No-one there had sent me an email. So, back at Maureen’s I re-read the email and realised it was from a German lad who had seen it fall off my bike and had stopped to pick it up. I met him and his friend that evening and they told me they’d got my email address from the Inter Islander ferry ticket that I’d, luckily, left in there. Another backpack related close shave. Maybe I’ll learn to be more careful? Maybe.

This train takes tourists out on the mountain railway from Dunedin.

This train takes tourists out on the mountain railway from Dunedin.

The beautifully restored Dunedin station concourse.

The beautifully restored Dunedin station concourse.

Very nice floor mosaic.

Very nice floor mosaic.

As it always does, the time came to move on. I’d had a great time at Maureen’s. We have much in common, especially as travellers, and it was great to meet her friends and just spend some time relaxing and socialising. One of the delights of travelling is to enjoy chance meetings with people and Maureen’s generosity was especially delightful. I know I want to go back to NZ in the future so I’m sure we’ll be able to meet again.

Windy Welly and Beyond

Napier, North Island, NZ. 10th January 2015.

Napier is a place that has experienced both tragedy and triumph. It sits by the sea at Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the north island,  and is a very pleasant seaside town. But in 1931 it suffered a devastating earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter scale, which completely destroyed the town centre. Buildings that weren’t flattened by seismic activity were destroyed in the subsequent fire. Most of the buildings were brick built and just fallen apart. One hundred and sixty one people died and there were other casualties in nearby towns too.

Fortunately some old buildings survived. These are along the seafront.

Fortunately some old buildings survived. These are along the seafront.

But thanks to the efforts of two government appointed commissioners the town centre was rebuilt within two years. They immediately set to work on creating Tin Town, an area near the seafront where temporary shops and offices were built to enable the town to function. Within two years most of the rebuilding was complete. The commissioners made use of the four architectural practices in the town and they used the Art Deco style, the Spanish Mission style a couple of others. Most were Art Deco and although some have been replaced with modern buildings over the years, the majority remain thanks to the town council’s recognition of their value as a cultural and tourist attraction. Restoration and conservation has been carried out and the result is a town centre that gleams in the sunshine.

Art Deco town centre building.

Art Deco town centre building.

With their pastel shades and classic lines, the buildings are a magnet for architecture lovers around the world and the town is considered to be unique. The CBD is bordered by the main road which runs close to the sea. The quake caused the sea shore to rise up by 2.7 metres and the extra 100 metre width of shoreline was filled in with the rubble from the town and is now a fantastic public space, with a market, skateboard park, flower garden etc. The quake giveth and the quake taketh away.

Seaside skate park. Bikes and boards too.

Seaside skate park. Bikes and boards too.

As well as gaining some extra land, another benefit was to make the NZ government review all its building codes and impose rules that made new buildings far more able to resist the effects of being shaken apart. Reinforced concrete was favoured for commercial buildings as they had survived best, and it was decided to put services underground. So Napier led the way for the rest of the country. Something positive out of the disaster.

Classic lines.

Classic lines.

For my part I really loved the town centre and was very taken with the buildings and the tree lined streets. I was quite puzzled though, by the number of buildings that seemed to be for sale or lease. I couldn’t quite see why this was and subsequent conversations with locals didn’t really give me an answer. Maybe it was just time for the release of the lease?

Lovely building, yours if you want it.

Lovely building, yours if you want it.

Spanish style.

Spanish style.

I took a walk up Bluff Hill, where the view across the bay was fabulous on this sunny day. Below me was a busy port, dealing with containers and logs. The route up took me through an almost hidden park where shady trees housed some of NZ’s small, native birds, such as the Fantail. It had been designed by an Austrian biologist who wanted to create a restful, peaceful place for the townsfolk. I think he succeeded.

A view of the port.

A view of the port.

Essential pest control.

Essential pest control.

The town has a great museum, The Museum, Theatre, Gallery (MTG). Obviously it covers the earthquake, with some very moving personal testimonies, but it also has a big section relating to NZ’s first female Maori MP, Tini “Whetu” Marama Tirikatene-Sullivan. She was a forceful character and set a very modern tone for the 1960’s. She insisted on there being facilities to enable her to bring her children in to work with her and she very deliberately took the Maori style and pattern of dress out into the wider world with her. She became Minister for Tourism and then for the Environment in the 1970’s.

Napier street art.

Napier street art.

While in the hostel I got chatting to Overt, a German Kiwi who was sailing his way around NZ. He was retired too. He explained to me all about WOOFers. WOOF stands for Worker On an Organic Farm, although the term is now used for anyone who works their way around the country. A young French couple were in our room too and they were looking for work on one of the fruit farms. Overt said that Kiwi’s didn’t want that kind of work as it was at minimum wage so there was plenty of it for the Woofers. I came across lots of young Europeans, German, French, British etc., who were on a one year work visa and were having a great time. Many of the hostels, like those I’d stayed at in Europe, allowed people to earn their bed, usually with a couple of hours cleaning. A great way to fund a travelling holiday. The other useful thing I did at the hostel was to join BBH – Budget Backpacker Hostels. Membership gives a $3 discount at their member hostels as well as a 10% discount on the Inter Islander Ferry, the main ferry between the two islands. I knew I would get my $45 back pretty quickly.

A German visitor of a different kind, and perfectly in keeping with the rest of town.

A German visitor of a different kind, and perfectly in keeping with the rest of town.

Napier now done and dusted, I hit the road for Wellington. On the way I stopped for a coffee and had one of those chance meetings that result in a new friend. Another biker pulled in at the café, an American named Geoff. Firstly I was impressed that his parents knew the correct spelling of our name. Secondly I was interested to hear that he had flown in for a two week holiday and had hired a BMW GS650 to tour on. The hire company had worked out an itinerary and booked his accommodation for him too. He works as a rocket scientist and spends his precious leisure time enjoying biking trips in various countries. We had a great chat and he insisted I visit him when I eventually get to the States. I surely will!

Geoff, with hired BMW. One of those great chance meetings.

Geoff, with hired BMW. One of those great chance meetings.

The owner of the Suzuki bike shop across the street wandered over for a chat and he listened to my rattly engine. Cam chain, in his opinion. The engine was still noisy but no worse than before. I’d been riding with everything crossed – a good trick if you can do it – and I didn’t have too far to go now. So I set off for Wellington in a confident mood and yes, you’ve guessed it, just outside the city nothing whatsoever happened and I got there with no problems. Was I ever pleased!

Harbour view.

Harbour view.

The big and busy city centre hostel had two things that I particularly liked. Free breakfast and free dinner. OK, the breakfast was just pancake mix that I had to cook myself and the dinner was only starter sized, but I could upgrade it for a couple of dollars and it was always nice. I’d booked in for five nights as I didn’t know how long it would take the shop to fix my bike. I took it up to Red Baron’s next morning, showed the mechanic how to get the seat off, told him not to throw away my cleanable oil filter and left him to it.

After a bus ride back to town I headed for Te Papa Tongarewa, the New Zealand Museum, situated on the quayside. What a fascinating place. I wandered around there for more than four hours before hunger drove me out. The exhibitions were mostly about the natural forces, ancient and modern, that have shaped NZ; the Pacific and European immigration stories; the Treaty of Waitangi; plus more general exhibitions about dinosaurs and art etc. Well worth the time spent especially in that it increased my understanding of NZ’s history. It was free too.

Sculpture on the bridge.

Sculpture on the bridge.

The Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty of Waitangi is modern New Zealand’s founding document. It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. This day is now a public holiday. The Treaty is an agreement, in Maori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Maori chiefs. Growing numbers of British migrants arrived in New Zealand in the late 1830s, and there were plans for extensive settlement. Around this time there were large-scale land transactions with Maori, unruly behaviour by some settlers and signs that the French were interested in annexing New Zealand. The British government was initially unwilling to act, but it eventually realised that annexing the country could protect Maori, regulate British subjects and secure commercial interests. The fact that the French had their eyes on NZ too meant they had to act fast. The Treaty was prepared in just a few days.

Maori Waka (canoe). Two of these, joined like a catamaran, crossed oceans.

Maori Waka (canoe). Two of these, joined like a catamaran, crossed oceans.

Missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward translated the English draft into Maori overnight on 4 February. About 500 Maori debated the document for a day and a night before it was signed on 6 February. Because of the difficulty in translating some of the legal terms into Maori there have since been disputes about exactly what the chiefs signed up to, especially regarding land ownership and rights. Most of them signed copies of it written in Maori but relied on oral explanations too. The Colonial Office in England later declared that the Treaty applied to Maori tribes whose chiefs had not signed. British sovereignty over the country was proclaimed on 21 May 1840. In 1975 a commission was set up to deal with disputes arising from the treaty and to make adjustments to NZ laws where necessary. This is still ongoing but is a genuine attempt to achieve fair solutions to all disputes.

Rugby is popular in NZ!

Rugby is popular in NZ!

While resting up back at the hostel I received a phone call. My bike was repaired. So soon? I was very surprised but also pleased as it clearly wasn’t as serious as it might have been. When I got to the shop I was told that the nut on the right hand end of the crankshaft had worked loose, thus allowing the cam chain drive sprocket to move around and the cam chain to shake, rattle and roll. This was the cause of all the noise. Some thread lock and a big spanner effected a cure. I was pleased to have been proved right, even more pleased it wasn’t anything too serious but not at all impressed with the £200+ bill. Most of that was labour charges, at main dealer rates. But it could have been far worse. I was so pleased to have my best girl in fine fettle once more. As I left I got chatting to Stewart, the owner of the business. He invited me to call in for a coffee and a chat on my way north again . Will do!

19th Century port building, beautifully preserved.

19th Century port building, beautifully preserved.

Tonight was theatre night! I’d fancied a bit of culture and had discovered a small venue, above a bar, not far from the hostel. The play was Richard III. I’d seen it on the TV in the Hollow Crown series on the BBC and fancied seeing it live. It was brilliant! All the lines were true to the original Shakespeare and the young cast did a great job of delivering them in an amusing way while remaining true to the spirit. They threw in some modern ticks, such as pretending to use a key fob to open a door or pretending to use a mobile phone. There were also a few political digs, aimed at NZ and Australian politicians. The venue was small and all the actors were great at conveying the emotions of the characters. This is a very complex play, with many inter-related characters, so they had written all the names on the floor and as each one was bumped off they placed a red cross through their name, just to help us all keep up. It was a real rip snorting performance and great fun to see.

 

NZ's parliament building.

NZ’s parliament building.

Over the next few days I explored Wellington. It is NZ’s capital city and houses the parliament buildings and law courts. I visited the Wellington Museum, which tells the story of the first settlers’ arrival in 1840; its growth as a port, including some of the tragedies that have occurred here; the local Maori tribes; the 2013 earthquake. ‘Windy Welly’ is the name Kiwi’s give to the city, and with good reason. It sure does blow! There was a ferry disaster in 1968, when a boat was blown onto rocks following engine failure. The earthquake wasn’t too serious but I was surprised to see yellow notices on some of the older buildings saying that the owners had until 2020 to make them quake proof or pull them down! That seemed a bit harsh but experience in other parts of NZ suggest it to be necessary. New Zealand is a great place but it has its faults and they lie deep underground where the earth literally moves. The consequences are often devastating and fatal. How does an old building get to be made quake proof? One method is to replace the foundations with piles and then sit the building on rubber rollers. It’s split horizontally at ground level and it is, literally, able to roll with the punches. This was the method used to make the old Custom House, which houses the Wellington Museum, quake proof. Other essential advice includes securing household objects to something solid. Being hit on the head by a flying TV would be a very daft way to die. To give you an idea of how powerful an earthquake can be, Lambton Quay now sits at the heart of Wellington’s CBD. It used to be called Beach Street, because it was next to the sea. It is now 250 metres away from the water. Sea bed upheaval in the 1855 quake changed the foreshore completely.

Seen outside the law courts.

Seen outside the law courts.

I picked up a leaflet describing a walking tour, which left the town hall at 10 am. As it is opposite the hostel it seemed a good idea to make use of it. Mark is about my age and he led our group around the various important city sights. We saw the NZ’s largest wooden building, the former Government House. It survived the recent quake with little more than some cracked plaster, saying much for the hidden benefits of wood over brick.

Former Government Buildings, made entirely of wood.

Former Government Buildings, made entirely of wood.

The beautiful, and rare, hanging staircase inside.

The beautiful, and rare, hanging staircase inside.

One thing I particularly liked was the celebration of Kate Sheppard, one of the key players in the Women’s Suffrage movement in the late 19th C. NZ was the first country to introduce universal suffrage in 1893 and there is a statue of Kate near the parliament building. The thing I liked the most was that nearby pedestrian traffic lights have a green woman, in 1890’s style dress, rather than a man. A very neat, and typically Kiwi, touch. I took a trip up the city’s funicular cable car to the Kelburn Lookout and Observatory which overlook the CBD. There is a nice museum about the cable car’s history and I then had a fascinating hour or so gazing at the stars in the planetarium. The accompanying exhibition is great, with plenty of hands-on things to keep all the children there entertained.

Funky Funicular.

Funky Funicular.

I spent plenty of time walking round the CBD and along the quayside. The port has moved further out of town now so the quayside is more of an entertainment space these days. There was a celebration going on relating to the city’s founding so there was a band and kids in fancy dress, all trying to have fun in the blustery wind and threatening rain. There are a number of plaques set into the walls of the promenade celebrating various events during the last century. There were many US servicemen and women stationed in NZ during WW2 and there’s a plaque in their honour. More poignant was the one commemorating the rescue of families, especially children, from Poland.

Plaque on behalf of the Polish children.

Plaque on behalf of the Polish children.

I very much liked the 1926 steam ship that had a deck mounted steam crane on it. It looked really top heavy but had sailed to NZ under its own power from the shipyard where it was built in Scotland. It’s under restoration but was in good enough condition to steam down to Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake, where it helped to clear the harbour. Pretty good for an old ‘un.

Steam crane on steam ship. 1926, built in Scotland.

Steam crane on steam ship. 1926, built in Scotland.

the quay and one of the pedestrian bridges across it was built to act as a public space. There are several sculptures, all of wood, reflecting NZ’s history and heritage and as well as being artwork they provide seating areas for lunchtime workers to enjoy some fresh air. Beyond the bridge is a public square which sits behind the town hall. It has various sculptures in it but the main display related to the forthcoming cricket world cup, something that was being very strongly publicised.

Looking forward to the Cricket World Cup.

Looking forward to the Cricket World Cup.

My final touristy action was to walk around the CBD taking photos of some of the older buildings, many of which looked good, others looking a bit tatty. As in Napier, I saw a fair number of vacancies and it led me to wonder whether the fast growth of Auckland, at over 1.4 million was sucking the life out of other cities. Greater Wellington has around 400,000 people, which is an increasing trend. So why all the vacancies? Puzzling. Wellington is a nice city to spend time in. It has plenty to see and do, definitely an oasis in the ‘cultural desert’ that NZ is sometimes accused of being. There is good night life if you want it and plenty of people around to socalise with. I liked it very much.

City view from the Planetarium.

City view from the Planetarium.

It is also the place from where the Inter Islander ferry leaves so on a damp and blustery morning I made the ten minute ride down to the port and checked in. I met up with Grant and Ken, a couple of bikers from the south island, who had been riding some of the trails in the north. They were good company on the journey across and Grant gave me info on some of the good riding trails in the south. Just the job as I was keen to explore some of the back country roads. That included an alternative route to Christchurch so the fun would start soon.

Ken and Grant. Both Geography teachers, so I was happy to take their advice on routes.

Ken and Grant. Both Geography teachers, so I was happy to take their advice on routes.

Inter Islander Ferry.

Inter Islander Ferry.

The ferry docks in Picton, a small town which is really just there to service the port. It has a small CBD but there was a good place to eat there and the essential supermarket for supplies. I tried to book a hostel in Christchurch but was struggling to find somewhere. So I decided to stay in Picton an extra day, giving me the opportunity to explore the area around Shakespeare and Queen Charlotte Sounds. It turned out to be a good decision. There are some terrific roads for a luggage free bike and a bend loving rider and we had a great day out in the sunshine. I explored some gravel roads leading out to various pretty bays and beaches along the jagged coastline and came to the conclusion that this particular part of NZ’s coast was a true delight.

Shakespeare sound. Pretty as you'll ever get.

Shakespeare sound. Pretty as you’ll ever get.

At one of the viewpoints I bumped into a young couple from Essex who had been travelling for nine months, and as I headed out towards the gravel trails I met a couple of French cyclists who had been journeying down through South East Asia and Australia for the last seven months. I love meeting other travellers and exchanging experiences. It adds to the enjoyment of being out in the world. I’m full of admiration for cyclists especially, but I’m pleased to see any youngsters getting out to discover the world before they settle down. It’s the right thing to do.

Get pedalling guys, there's a steep hill ahead!

Get pedalling guys, there’s a steep hill ahead!

Bay by bay, by gravel road. Fun!

Bay by bay, by gravel road. Fun!

Lunch was eaten next to a beach in a bay, coffee was drunk in a hotel in a bay too. The ride back was amazing. Plenty of challenging bends and once I was back on the main road I was pushing the bike hard into the very tight bends and really getting ‘on it’. Probably the most fun I’d had on the bike so far. I loved the way that occupants of cars waved as I rode by and whenever I stopped to admire the view other people would chat to me and I to them. This kind of behaviour is infectious and it makes time spent out and about very enjoyable indeed. I was surprised to see how many houses and farms there were, even right out on the distant spits of land. A mixture of holiday homes – a Bach, pronounced Batch in NZ – farms and retirees living their dream. The remoteness didn’t seem to trouble them and one guy was pleased to tell me how the local village store, closed for the past three years, was about to reopen. Picton was an hour’s drive away so they needed it. Many of the properties were up quite long dirt tracks and it became common to see a small collection of mailboxes standing in a row where the track joined the road.

'Mailman, bring me no more blues.' Impossible on a sunny day.

‘Mailman, bring me no more blues.’ Impossible on a sunny day.

Fortunately it tends to be wet in this area rather than cold, so access was unlikely to be a problem in winter. There were enough flat areas to support farms and the vegetation was green and lush. By the time I got back I’d reached the conclusion that the top part of the south island, with its stunning coastline, was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been in.

Queen Charlotte Sound. Beautiful coastline.

Queen Charlotte Sound. Beautiful coastline.

What a great life!

What a great life!

When I left next morning I started the bike up and left it ticking over while I loaded my luggage. I was just about to go when I noticed some oil on the ground. It seemed to be weeping from the small access cover in the middle of the left hand engine cover. Damn! Further investigation revealed there was a crack in the slot where the Allen key fitted. It seemed the mechanic at Red Baron had been a bit heavy handed. I took it off and repaired it with some liquid steel. While I was waiting for the repair to go off I got chatting to Peter and his mother Gill. He was living and working in NZ with his girlfriend and Gill was out for a visit. She’s about my age and we passed the time very pleasantly.

Careless mechanic causes crack!

Careless mechanic causes crack!

But eventually all was fixed and it was time to head off. Before I left I rang up Red Baron to tell them what had happened and they agreed to order a replacement for me to collect on my way back north. I made my way along the main road towards Christchurch and turned off to head to the Molesworth Trail. Molesworth Station is a government owned former sheep station which has been occupied by the same family for over forty years. It was a a run down failure when they took it over but they replanted the grass and introduced cattle instead of sheep. It is now a big success story. Replacing sheep with cattle was happening a lot in NZ and, as I was to learn later, it’s a successful business but has some environmental drawbacks.

Dry countryside despite the river.

Dry countryside despite the river.

One thing I noticed is how dry the landscape looked despite the fact that I was following the fast lowing Awetare River. But it tended to run in a gorge of varying depth and clearly wasn’t feeding the land around it. There hadn’t been much rain lately and it showed.

Rick and his DR650, a common bike in NZ and just right when you want to head for the hills.

Rick and his DR650, a common bike in NZ and just right when you want to head for the hills.

On the trail I met a guy called Rick, riding one of the very common Suzuki DR650’s. He had dual NZ/British nationality and had taught engineering in English schools. At one time he lived about three miles from my house and taught at a school less than two miles away. It is, as they say, a small world. After following the Awetare River for some time the trail went up over Mount Chisolm before following the Acheron River. The trail was great fun, mostly straight and fast but with some nice climbs thrown in. I was very glad it wasn’t wet because my rear tyre, although a Michelin off roader, was worn out. I’d fitted it in Japan thinking it would be great for the NZ trails, completely forgetting that the Japanese asphalt meant it would be worn out by the time I got there.

As I came off the Molesworth and hit the blacktop for the run into Christchurch it started raining so my rear tyre and I took it steady and reached my pre-booked hostel before dark. I had struggled to find a place to stay but this hostel had vacancies and was a bit cheaper than the others. When I checked in I could see why. The room was small, with worn out beds and a very old carpet. The rest of it was OK but definitely below the standard I’d seen so far. But the problem was that Christchurch was suffering from a shortage of housing following the earthquake and with the influx of workers needed to rebuild the city, beds were at a premium. So I didn’t complain and settled in. I was only there for a few days anyway as I was going to be staying with an old work colleague once he’d returned from his holiday at the weekend.

A touch of Old London Town.

A touch of Old London Town.

The first thing I did was to contact my second cousin Bob. I’d met him once before when he visited England but that was way back in the sixties. My brothers had visited him recently and I was keen to do so too. We had another second cousin in the city too and when Bob contacted me we arranged to meet at the weekend.

Earthquake damaged building, and containers used as a barrier.

Earthquake damaged building, and containers used as a barrier.

Meanwhile I set out to explore the city. These days it is defined more by the earthquake damage it suffered, and the attempts to rebuild it, than any of the more usual tourist attractions. There were two quakes, one in September 2010 and the second in February 2011. The first one caused a lot of damage but only two fatalities, the second increased the damage further and took 186 lives too. Easily NZ’s worst natural disaster. Huge areas on the eastern side of the city have been rendered uninhabitable due to liquefaction of the ground. In these areas many properties suffered relatively minor damage but because of the risks inherent with the way the ground now is, the areas were red zoned. The houses have been pulled down and parkland has been created. In most cases this risk was not insured and many people lost out in a big way. Bob was lucky. The Avon River runs through the city and his house was on the safe side of it. On the other side there is only grass and bushes where once there was a large estate. As I walked around the city centre the devastation became obvious.

Quake damage.

Quake damage.

Complete blocks of buildings were missing, now cleared and laid out as temporary car parks. There are some very big building projects under way to replace the commercial space that was destroyed and there are also lots of ‘pop ups’, small businesses housed in sheds and containers.

Follow the Giraffe trail.

Follow the Giraffe trail.

No comment.

No comment.

There is an area in the city centre where containers have been set up as shops and banks. The conversion from rusty cargo space to funky and attractive commercial space is amazing to see. Sometimes I had to look hard to realise what they came from.

It's incredible what can be done with a container! Christchurch's version of Tin City.

It’s incredible what can be done with a container! Christchurch’s version of Tin City.

There are some nice art projects there too, such as the giant sized three piece suite. There is a nice tourist tram circuit around the city although I’m not sure whether that pre-dates the quake anyway. Sadly there are many buildings still in ruins and they have containers of the rusty cargo variety stacked up in front of them, placed there, I presume, to protect passers-by should the building collapse.

Sit down, make yourselves comfortable.

Sit down, make yourselves comfortable.

The one certain thing about everywhere in NZ is that it’s impossible to predict when and where the next quake will strike. NZ sits on top of several known geological faults and is constantly at risk.

Christchurch Cathedral. Still in ruins because the church doesn't want to pay for it and neither do the citizens.

Christchurch Cathedral. Still in ruins because the church doesn’t want to pay for it and neither do the citizens.

I met Cousin Bob and he showed me around some of the sattelite towns near Christchurch. Many of them suffered quake damage and it was horrifying to see the lumps of rock, often as big as a house, that had fallen off the cliff. Some had crushed the buildings below them. Once again there were containers stacked up in front of cliffs near the road, as protection.

Protection from further falls.

Protection from further falls.

Big enough to crush buildings, Sadly, some did.

Big enough to crush buildings, Sadly, some did.

Bob showed me Lyttleton and its harbour. It was where he was born and raised, and he was very knowledgeable about its history. He was a carpenter and had worked in the shipyard there which has one of NZ’s two dry docks. Unfortunately the quake damaged the area to the extent that the lucrative cruise ship business had to go elsewhere. After a sobering morning looking around it was good to meet Bob’s family and enjoy a nice lunch. We also went to visit another cousin, Betty. She’s in her eighties and lives in retirement accommodation. There’s no doubt that it’s good to meet distant relatives and interesting that a meeting with strangers, but who happen to be family, tends to lead us into that comfortable family feeling very quickly and easily.

Lyttleton Harbour. It suffered quake damage to the extent that the cruise ships can no longer dock there.

Lyttleton Harbour. It suffered quake damage to the extent that the cruise ships can no longer dock there.

It was time to attend to my damaged riding gear so I contacted Paul Delis, the guy that Fern had told me about when I was in Auckland. I rode over to his house was made very welcome. He is a retained fireman, a Fire Chief, in fact, and part of his business is to supply specialist clothing to the fire service, often specially made. He also imports KLIM riding gear, a very good but expensive product from the US. So, the crucial question was, ‘Can we fix it?’ And the answer was ‘Yes we can!’ At least, he was fairly confident his seamstress would be able to effect a repair using similar material to the laminated Goretex from which my riding suit was made. So I left my jacket and trousers with him and after a look at his collection of bikes, I headed back into town. He would contact me when the results were known.

In the hostel I got chatting to a young Dutch woman who was keen to take a train through China, Russia and Mongolia. I dug out my Mongolia map and showed her were I’d been. I told her about the great hostel I’d stayed in when in Ulaanbataar, and of the tours they can arrange, and encouraged her to go for it. I hope she did.

A walk in the park took me through the Botanical Gardens, which were very good indeed. They are divided into various sections, including a huge rose garden, but I think one of the nicest things was to hear the variety of birdsong, particularly from the native species. Impossible to describe in writing unfortunately.

Botanical Gardens, Rose Garden.

Botanical Gardens, Rose Garden.

A Busy Bee.

A Busy Bee.

Afterwards I met Chris and his girlfriend Lisa for lunch. I used to work with Chris in the energy efficiency industry in London and it was great to see him again and catch with his news. He came here about six years ago and has made a success of things. He continues to work in the same field, currently managing the roll out of smart meters for a large electricity supplier. Lisa is a very nice woman, funny and feisty. She worked in the UK for fourteen years before taking a teaching degree when she returned to NZ. I thought they made a great couple.

Lisa and Chris.

Lisa and Chris.

Chris has a nice house, where he lives with his son Ryan, and I was going to stay with him for a few days. He has a lodger, named Norelle. She’s a very sport type and always seemed to be out running or cycling.

Having moved to Chris’s I went to visit the city museum. Plenty to see there – natural history, geology etc. But the most interesting section related to the city’s role in Antarctic exploration. Many of the famous expeditions left from there as did the often related rescue missions. There was a good display of Antarctic equipment, both ancient and modern.

Antarctic sled, old school style.

Antarctic sled, old school style.

While i was at Chris’s I got some essential bike work done. I bought and fitted a rear tyre, a nice, meaty Shinko adventure type. Nice and cheap too at £50. I fitted a new chain slider, which goes on the front of the swingarm but while doing so I damaged the plastic chain guide, which is mounted beneath the swing arm, at the back. Then, while refitting the swingarm to the bike I forgot to reinstall one of the dust covers for the bearing, so had to do it all again. Is it just me? Please someone, tell me that I’m not the only cack handed idiot on the planet!

By the time I’d finished cleaning the bike, and myself, I was ready for some good news. Paul Delis rang me to say that my riding gear was ready, nicely repaired, four patches fitted, all for about £85. I was delighted and met Paul to collect them from him. I promised to contact him on the way back north to go out on some of the trails he knew. That’s something to look forward to.

Excellent repair work.

Excellent repair work.

Out to a local pub that evening where I was delighted to be able to treat Chris and Lisa to a meal. They ordered Lemon Meringue Pie for dessert and caused a bit of a furore by asking for it to be warmed up! Not the done thing in NZ it seems. One thing the pub does, which I was very taken with, is to serve you your steak raw and then supply a hot stone slab on which you cook it at the table. A great idea and no-one to blame but yourself if it’s over or under done. I’d had a great few days with Chris, Lisa, Ryan and Norelle. The bike was now in fine fettle, apart from needing the new chain guide. But that wasn’t causing a problem although I took the precaution of ordering one from the local Suzuki dealer. They were happy to have it delivered to the dealer in Dunedin for me, a place where I knew I’d be spending a few days. Now I was going to head out to Bank’s Peninsular, with plans to spend some time exploring and camping.

Quiet and serene. The River Avon runs through the city.

Quiet and serene. The River Avon runs through the city.

One of the locals.

One of the locals.

2014 in review

Thanks to one and all for supporting my blog since I left home. More to follow soon.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.