Monthly Archives: February 2013

Queenstown. I’m not going anywhere for a few days…

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It wouldn't be a blog about NZ without a picture of some sheep would it now.

It wouldn’t be a blog about NZ without a picture of some sheep would it now.

A road sign in the Gibson valley with lots of wineries

A road sign in the Gibson valley with lots of wineries

Queenstown sunset @ Hippo Lodge backpackers

Queenstown sunset @ Hippo Lodge backpackers

The first settler in Queenstown.  This guy's granddaughter gave me some anzac cookies (See picture below)

The first settler in Queenstown. This guy’s granddaughter gave me some anzac cookies (See picture below)

My tent, next to a another the same.  Tight spot, but it does the job, and the hostel has an amazing view.

My tent, next to a another the same. Tight spot, but it does the job, and the hostel has an amazing view.

So it appears environmentalists haven't reached Queenstown yet ...(it spews out smoke like this every day)

So it appears environmentalists haven’t reached Queenstown yet …(it spews out smoke like this every day)

Lunch overlooking a reservoir above Clyde.  The cookies you can see were donated to me by the granddaughter of Queenstown's first settler (see other pic)

Lunch overlooking a reservoir above Clyde. The cookies you can see were donated to me by the granddaughter of Queenstown’s first settler (see other pic)

I’m now in Queenstown trying to resist adding another bike to the family of them I have sitting at home. More on that later though. I made it along the road from Clyde – the end of the Otago Rail Trail, and got a bit of a shock with the bad traffic, having seen none at all for the previous few days. One guy who cut me up on the road, then tooted his horn (an aggressive toot, not the friendly Thai/Laos toot, or the harder to recognise friendly Kiwi double toot), and given I was already angry at him cutting me up, I shook my fist in the air. He must have seen me as he put his brakes on to consider stopping and do, well I have no idea what to me. Thankfully he continued on without stopping. Yesterday, in the Kiwi press, there was piece about a very similar incident where the driver did stop, and proceeded to push the cyclist off his bike (he was seriously injured). Time refrain from fist shaking and limit it to swearing profusely – I doubt many drivers can lip-read through their rear view mirrors….

Yesterday I checked out the score with hiring/buying a mountain bike here. Queenstown has some of the best mountain biking on the planet, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity while I’m here. I tried out another 29er bike – the shop is very clever in what they do – they give you a bike for free, take you into the hills with a bunch of folk, even giving you a free uplift and send you down an outrageously fun track with a view to buying the bike. I couldn’t help but ask ‘So, how many bikes have you managed to sell by taking folk down this track then?’ to which the answer was ‘Oh, a few’. Once back in town I put my sensible head on said I’d have a think about it. It’s hard enough getting around NZ with one bike and all my clobber, let alone two. I’m thinking I’ll just hire instead – I went round the shops comparing the deals they would do on long term hiring rates (I do have the Scottish ‘deep pockets, short arms’ stereotype to uphold after all). I got a blinder of a deal from one of the shops where the guy in charge was there for the love of the sport, not to make money. I went out on one of the many tracks here, and caught up with 3 Americans who were also hiring for the day, one of whom was 61 years old, has had 2 knee replacements (are knees replaceable?), as well as a hip replacement. It wasn’t a simple jolly either, it was a 4 hour marathon with some serious hills.

I’ve just booked tickets to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra a week from now, which may or may not be as grand as it sounds. It does boast ‘the world’s best ukulele soloist’, James Hill though. Is there a world ukulele championship every year? If so, it sounds awesome!!.

This morning I managed to sleep in until 9.30am, which was a great change – I’m normally up at the crack of dawn with somewhere else to cycle. I think my body needs the rest to be honest. Though ’m still cycling almost daily, this is the longest I’ve stayed in the same place since I left home in November which is fantastic and allows me to slow down somewhat.

Warning. Rant…

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While sitting in a coffee shop minding my own business, I have just been acused of breakibg the law by not wearing a high vis jacket while cycling. Obviously a bloody great road sign with an arrow on it isn’t enough. I told the guy I had quite strong views on the subject and didn’t want to enter into a discussion (after already having been run off the road here by traffic that most certainly knew I was there).  ‘It’s your life’ was all he had to say. I didn’t mention that the NZ policy on mandatory helmet use is not actually reducing deaths, it’s only reducing the number of cyclists (half the number of cyclists since the rule was brought in). There are people trying to make high vis jackets the law. Stay calm johnny… stay calm….

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The first mountain biking in months… Think I’ll do some more.

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What exactly what I was supposed to do here - did I miss the guy handing out kevlar jackets??

What exactly what I was supposed to do here – did I miss the guy handing out kevlar jackets??

Someone was was obviously getting desperate for tourist attractions...

Someone was was obviously getting desperate for tourist attractions…

Dunedin, taken from the coast road on the Otago peninsula

Dunedin, taken from the coast road on the Otago peninsula

Taken from the back of the train.

Taken from the back of the train.

First time I've ever seen such a thing, where trains & cars share the same bridge.  Just as well I had my arrow on there so the trains go round...

First time I’ve ever seen such a thing, where trains & cars share the same bridge. Just as well I had my arrow on there so the trains go round…

Johnny trying to get arty.

Johnny trying to get arty.

2 mean machines. A tree feller & a Santa Cruz Tallboy.

2 mean machines. A tree feller & a Santa Cruz Tallboy.

Ukelele orchestra

Ukelele orchestra

Riders in the Duathlon

Riders in the Duathlon

From Dunedin, I caught a train inland to Pukerangi, the last stop of the train that day. It was a tourist train taking people along the Taieri Gorge. I spent most of the journey sitting at the back of the very last carriage, watching the tracks disappear into the distance trying to not stick my head out the side when the narrow tunnels approached (if this were the UK health & safety would have prevented it. Thankfully it’s NZ). Once at the last stop, all the passengers got out and looked about pointing their cameras at anything remotely interesting before getting back on again and head back to Dunedin. I got on my bike and headed towards Middlemarch, 20km or so away. Middlemarch, the end of the line as it stands today, is also the start of the Otago Central Rail (cycle) Trail. 160km of (almost) flat cycling along a derelict railway track which has been turned into a very popular cycleway. In the first 70km of the trail, I must have passed at least 200 cyclists doing the route west to east, mostly as part of organised tours. I stopped at the first real town, OK village, Ranfurly where there is an art-deco festival on this weekend – everything from people in period costume, a ukulele orchestra and vintage tractors. Can’t wait. In the mean time I headed up the road to the small village of Naseby 15km away, which for such a small place (so sleepy the coffee shop wasn’t open at 9.45am. At the weekend. In summer), rather surprisingly holds the first? only? dedicated indoor curling rink in the southern hemisphere. In the winter, the locals curl on the local pond it’s pretty nippy in these parts in the winter apparently. Come to think of it, it was pretty damn cold last night too… 5 deg or so.

Anyhow, as well as curling, it has some pretty awesome mountain biking, which I couldn’t help but explore for myself. Knowing there were mountain bikes to be hired, I asked a bunch of folk at the village green putting up a marquee where it was – ‘you’ll be looking for me then’ was the response I got (I did say it’s a small place). Through a bit of a (rather boring) technical misunderstanding, Kela VERY kindly offered me his own carbon Santa Cruz Tallboy. The 3-4 months of cycling daily (getting fitter), combined with an outrageously fast bike made for a great time. It turns out that the marquee was being put up for a wedding, the bride of which is of one of New Zealand’s best cross-country mountain bikers, which explains why there are so many mountain bikers (and bikes) in town.

This morning, I headed back down to ukulele and tractor action, though the combination of slightly elderly cyclists wearing way more lycra than they should be dancing to ukulele Beatles covers all got a bit much for me so I headed further along the rail trail. Today there is a duathlon taking place on the rail trail, in the opposite direction to myself. There must have been a good 200 of them – the first few were ‘head down’ grinding away the gears in super competitive mode, and by the last few, there were people pushing up the rail trail (this is a railway line remember), and sitting in the shade of the few trees that appeared along the line. Tonight I’ve made it to Omakau and plan to make it to Queenstown by the 25th (I’ve booked a hostal & there’s mountain biking galore there).

Christchurch 2 years on

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The world's steepest street.  1:2.6 at it's steepest.  I managed a good 65km/h going down!!

The world’s steepest street. 1:2.6 at it’s steepest. I managed a good 65km/h going down!!

A rather cheesy room in the Antarctic museum - it felt like a film set!

A rather cheesy room in the Antarctic museum – it felt like a film set!

The entire city center was closed to everyone but builders.

The entire city center was closed to everyone but builders.

For me, the only really worthwhile part of the visit - a really good film showing people what life is like on the cold continent.

For me, the only really worthwhile part of the visit – a really good film showing people what life is like on the cold continent.

Building left standing. Others around it have been torn down.  I suspect because this is a historical building and they want to preserve it.  1/4 of all historical buildings were destroyed in the earthquake.

Building left standing. Others around it have been torn down. I suspect because this is a historical building and they want to preserve it. 1/4 of all historical buildings were destroyed in the earthquake.

Several streets have been created using shipping containers with coffee shops, banks and clothes shops.  I suspect they will remain after the rebuild is complete.

Several streets have been created using shipping containers with coffee shops, banks and clothes shops. I suspect they will remain after the rebuild is complete.

Demolition work is still being carried out, two years on.

Demolition work is still being carried out, two years on.

The main Intercity bus terminal.  No running water or electricity the day I was there.

The main Intercity bus terminal. No running water or electricity the day I was there.

The small town Kiwi Saturday night out in Springfield turned out to be predictably unpredictable. There was a deal on where the cafe/pizza shop was trying out a new pizza menu and tonight was a ‘tasting’ night. What they didn’t tell you was they would ply you with wine as part of the deal. After countless samples of wine, and a few beers, and having stuffed myself with pizza I wobbled my way back to the campsite, to almost cycle over the French slacklining couple who were stargazing.

The next morning was the first morning I’ve woken up in the tent with rain outside. That, along with a thumping headache made getting up a bit hard, though I still managed to get up, cook breakfast and leave by 9.30am. I was going to head south, avoiding Christchurch on the advice of a German guy working there, though the lack of supermarkets and the prospect of another night in a wet tent steered me in direction of the city. Just as well, as when I got another puncture (caused by the Singapore $2 note which was holding my tyre together chaffing on the tube), I noticed that the rubber on the tyre is starting to fall off, revealing the fabric below. I suppose that’s what happens after five and a half thousand kilometres!! Thankfully this happened 20km from Christchurch.

I stopped by the International Antarctic Centre near Christchurch Airport. It’s a huge visitor attraction, with models of the Scott Antarctic base, a ‘blizzard room’, actual penguins and numerous informative displays. I just thought I would stop by to compare it to the real thing which I’ve seen for the past 4 years working down by Antarctica myself. I’m afraid I found it all rather corny and doesn’t put across the magic of the place, with one exception. There was a 20 minute film shown on a large screen with no dialogue which was fantastic. It brought back many memories for myself, and gave the other visitors who aren’t as fortunate as myself an insight into the vast wilderness down there.

Christchurch really is a bit of a ghost town. I’d guess at least one in five houses appear to be no go areas, and the entire city centre (at least 5sq km) is out of bounds. The result is a city without a heart, which is very strange. I spent over half an hour earlier in the day trying to book a space at a hostel, though every one of them was fully booked. Countless people are flocking here to work on the (rather slow) rebuild, and many people have been relocated due to their houses being to dangerous to live in. This means It’s hard work getting a bed in the city. I did consider going into the cordoned off city centre and pitching my tent in the middle of the street, though I’m not sure I’d sleep to well!! In the end I had no choice but to opt for a motel – the most expensive night’s accommodation in the trip so far.

I has a good look at the map and a calender and decided to catch a bus down to Dunedin which will give me more time to explore the south of the island. Dunedin is known for being the Edinburgh of New Zealand, and it shows… Countless street names are taken from the Scottish Capital and it even has a Water of Leith! The owner of the guesthouse I’m staying at mentioned that Dunedin has the steepest residential street in the world, which I obviously had to go and cycle up. Just. It’s 1 in 2.6 at it’s steepest. Quite simply ridiculous. I certainly wouldn’t like to be the postman round here (they deliver post by pushbike in NZ towns). It’s apparently freshers week this week, so I may venture downtown to see what madness I encounter. It’s really nice to visit a city which I’ve visited countless times during my cruise ship days, though never once managed to step off the ship and take the time to explore.