I made it to New Zealand in one piece, though a word of warning to anyone planning on flying soon in Australasia – when you book your tickets, make sure none of the flights you select (even if booking through a major carrier) are with Jetstar. Jetstar is the Ryanair of Asia. As a result, my bags were not checked through all the airports and I had to fork out twice for my extra baggage.
Before I even made it officially into New Zealand, I spotted someone I knew working as a border official in the very next booth to the one that I passed through myself. It was quite surreal, as it was over 5 years ago working on cruise ships that we last saw each other. It’s not often you randomly bump into someone on the other side of the world that you know!
A friend of a friend who lives in Auckland, Amy (thanks again Neish!) very kindly picked me up from the airport, fed me and put me up for the night along with her husband Mat. A huge steak and salad was presented to me, which given I had eaten neither for the previous 2 months was really welcomed. I’ve never really been on the receiving end of such hospitality from people I’ve never met before prior to this cycling trip, be it someone random in rural Laos or friends of friends. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, not knowing how to take it. It does plenty to restore my faith in human nature though.
Some of that positive vibe was knocked out of me the next day however when I was threatened with having my head chopped off…. Two months with nothing other than a few angry dogs in Asia, then this within an hour of starting to cycle in New Zealand. “I’ll knock your f**king block off” I believe was the phrase the gentleman used. It was a typical bit of anti-cyclist road rage that people seem to get when inside the protective bubble of their car. That was the exception rather than the rule though – everyone else I have met so far has been really friendly, much more so than the UK. It’s still all a bit of a shock being in a westernised country though, having got used to the ways of Asia. For example, I found it amazing to discover that one could drink water out of a tap in New Zealand!!
One guy I chatted to at my first campsite just north of Orewa, had a remarkably similar work background to myself. A Kiwi, he worked in the Merchant Navy as a Marine Engineer for several years, then transferred to the Kiwi equivalent of British Antarctic Survey (New Zealand Antarctic?). The only major difference was that he was 79 years old! Still, it was good to share stories and discover how similar the operation is to BAS.
The morning after, I made my way (via a busy and often hilly road) to a campsite by Goat Island just past the small village of Leigh. I’m still trying to work out how best to use campsites and choose where to stay as all I really use them for is the shower and toilet. The DOC (Department Of Conservation) apparently run more basic campsites which would suit me better, though I have yet to find one.
The day before yesterday was a pretty tough day – I managed to find a head wind, many, many hills, un-tarred roads and rain. It all came good though when I found a DOC campsite just north of Waipu after 79km. Right next to the beach too. It’s much quieter than the last couple of nights which had families away for the weekend.
Last night I managed to get to another DOC campsite at Whananaki North which was full, though it’s amazing what looking tired standing next to a fully loaded bike can get you. I was invited to have a beer with the neighbouring family, the father of whom had cycled across Canada 20 years ago so he knew what life on the road was like. Once again, the generosity of strangers overwhelms me…
Today I cycled inland to get to highway 1 and head further north – easily the most dangerous stretch of road I have cycled on so far, and that includes the notorious main highway down Vietnam. I was going to cycle the coast road via Helena Bay and Parekura Bay, though I was strongly advised against it by 2 Canadian cyclists – many hills and no reward for climbing them. I made it to Russell and have set up camp tucked at the back of a nature reserve. It’s not easy trying to find free camping spots – I spent a good hour pedalling about finding my spot. I finally got the internet working on my laptop, through my phone, so there should be more regular posts again.
I’m not sure what the plan is for the next few days, though the I know for sure that I’ll be getting the bus back to Auckland at some point to avoid the dangerous roads (I don’t feel like I’m cheating as this is what the Canadians I met were planning too!).