New Zealand – Nelson to Christchurch
Denis Kertz, ©2000
After landing in Auckland, customs was a breeze despite the dogs sniffing for drugs. NZ is a stickler about food and dirt and I was asked to roll out my tent which was OK although I thought for a moment they were going to have a problem with a little bit of dirt on my tent pegs. Fortunately, they didn’t require me to unbox my bike but I suspect they would have had it been a mountain bike.
After customs, I exchanged US dollars for NZ dollars at a rate of 1:2, a very favorable rate. Then I checked in at NZ Air for my flight to Nelson on the South Island. My flight was scheduled for 12:00 but I was able to get on an earlier 8:50 am flight. I thought sure I would have to pay extra for three checked bags but the agent didn’t blink an eye. Again, I didn’t complain. Then I walked to the domestic terminal in probably high 60F and somewhat humid weather.
My jet was a Saab 340 puddle jumper with an outdoor gate and no X-ray check. I guess no one was likely to hijack this Saab. The flight was smooth but there were too many clouds to get any good views. There was a good view of Nelson as we approached landing. Nelson is on the northern coast of the South Island against a hilly background and parts of Nelson are on low-lying hills.
My baggage arrived quickly after landing and I started the assembly process. The bike was in good condition but it still took a couple of hours to assemble and do some repacking of my panniers. Shortly after noon, I pedaled away from the airport and immediately was on the wrong (right) side of the road. But I had installed my bike mirror on the right side of the bike and detected and corrected my wrong side as soon as I noticed the non-existent mirror on the left side. Picton, my next destination was 60 miles away and I decided not to push for it and instead headed to the motorcamp at Tahuna Beach, just a couple of miles away. I would quickly learn that most NZ towns/cities had one or more motorcamps that were camps for trailers (called caravans in NZ) and tenters with shared kitchen and washing facilities. Typically, these motorcamps charged $8-$10 NZ for a camp site and were often right in town, making the town very accessible. The downside was that the campsites were just a place to throw up a tent and not scenic.
I paid $9.50 NZ for a blah campsite and rode downtown Nelson to explore a little. Of course, NZ drives on the “wrong” side of the road and it took a little getting used to, especially when turning right. It was also uncomfortable watching oncoming traffic with a person in the “passenger” seat and an empty “driver” seat. After a short trip, I returned to camp and handed over my bike to be locked up overnight and went for a walk at nearby Tahuna Beach. I washed my clothes, ate at a fish & chip across the street and took a walk up the road. Then I stopped at a pub and watched Kiwis watching rugby, which I quickly learned was, along with cricket, the national sport.
I slept pretty well, showing no signs of jet lag, and got up just after 7:00 in no particular hurry because I couldn’t retrieve my bike until 8:00. After some initial packing, I started looking for my cyclometer that I had packed in my carry on pannier. Knowing it had to be in one of my two front panniers, I emptied them out, found nothing, and panicked. I couldn’t image where it could be. Replacing it would be a real hassle and I would have to replace it since knowing distances is pretty important when touring. Knowing it had to be with me, I made a second pass through my panniers. I was virtually done inspecting the second pannier when I accidentally felt an object underneath my garbage bag liner (for waterproofing) and it was my cyclometer, which somehow had slipped out in a place I might not have found until the end of my tour.
With relief and renewed enthusiasm, I retrieved my bike, installed the cyclometer, changed the measurement style to metric, and packed up. I headed downtown for the Flapjack Café since I knew they had pancakes. I ordered three cakes with bacon and scrambled eggs that were sandwiched between the cakes. This stack looked innocent enough but I almost could not finish it. That’s when I knew I was out-of-training.
After breakfast I picked up the highway to Picton, about 70 miles away with two significant climbs. The first 19K were easy and flat. Just before the first climb, I spotted my first NZ sheep, about 100 of them. With 45,000,000 sheep, that left 44,999,900 more to go.
The first climb was 7K long and took almost an hour in my second lowest gear. After a good runout, the second climb was not as long but the last K was steeper and I used my lowest gear. After descending, I stopped in Rai Valley for refreshments, much needed after the two climbs in fairly warm weather. Then the route was flat as it traversed a valley that was cattle country. 27K brought me to Havelock for another refreshment break which I needed as I was feeling the effects of the first day of touring. I had tried to prepare for touring by cycling 200 miles in 8 days before I left but the only real preparation is real touring.
After Havelock, the route left SH 6
for the Queen Charlotte Drive and some more climbing. An initial climb led to Lookout Point and a great view of Pelorus
Sound. After a flat section the route
was a winding climb along the headlands of Queen Charlotte Sound ending with a
descent into Picton. In Picton I found
a small motor camp ($9.50) within walking distance of downtown. After unpacking and cleaning up, I headed
downtown where I had Picton’s idea of a pizza – chicken and mushrooms and herbs
that was actually very good. Then I returned
to camp, wrote my notes, and retired for the night.
Got up around 7:30 and started packing. Yesterday, I found my bike wasn’t steering right so I checked it and the fork appeared to be a little tight so I loosed up the Aheadset slightly and that appeared to do the trick. I rode the short distance to downtown and stopped at a café that looked popular. I ordered ham and cheese pancakes and they came like crepes with the ham and cheese wrapped inside the two pancakes.
The route out to Blenheim started with a moderate climb then flat to Blenheim, starting in a valley and then opening up as Blenheim neared. After 28K, I stopped in Blenheim, a city of 19,000 that claims to be the sunshine capital of NZ, and grabbed a muffin and drink. I started the wrong way out of Blenheim and had to ask directions to get to SH 6. Just south of Blenheim I saw sheep and would see a lot more.
The route made a significant climb through beautiful yellow grass covered rolling hills with occasional patches of trees. After the long climb there was a very nice runout, a shorter climb, and another nice runout at 30 kph without pedaling. The rest of the way was rolling. I stopped in Seddon for refreshments and checked on camping. There was none but the store attendant recommended a place called Pedallers Rest, just south of Ward.
Another 20K and I reached Ward and stopped for a meal before continuing. Not sure what I would find at Pedallers Rest, I grabbed a little extra food for breakfast. South of Ward I got my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. 9K south I turned off to Pedallers Rest for the 1.5K ride to a cattle and sheep farm with a concrete bunkhouse and two rooms, one sleeping two and the other sleeping four.
There was a spot to pitch a tent
but I elected to stay in the two-bunk room.
After cleaning up I wandered out to the barn where Jim, the farmer, was
administering worm medicine to his sheep and doing some preventive
shearing. When he was done with a batch
of sheep, Jim called on his sheep dog to help move the sheep out of a narrow
chute. The inexperienced sheep dog went
nuts at the opportunity to bully the sheep, jumping over 3.5 feet high fences
with ease and often scaring the sheep into running the wrong direction. His enthusiasm was admirable but his skill
lacking. Later in the trip, I would see
some real sheep dogs show how to effectively herd sheep.
When I woke up it was drizzling hard and I recalled the forecast was for light drizzle early. Unfortunately, the drizzle didn’t let up and it was pretty breezy and fairly cool. I finally decided to stay over and that was a good decision since the drizzle stayed until late afternoon.
Around noon, a guy from Auckland showed up on a mountain bike with a backpack on his first touring trip. I think he just planned to get out of the rain for a bit and then continue on. It actually stopped drizzling for a while but then started up again and he decided to stay. Later, a couple showed up in a van around 6:30. Since the two rooms were already occupied, they chose to stay in a small caravan just outside the bunkhouse.
The bunkhouse had plenty of reading material and I browsed through stacks of Readers Digest and National Geographic. Pedallers Rest turned out to be a good place to be stuck for a day except there was no good food source. It did have a small store so I picked up some minestrone soup and heated it up in the kitchen.
When I woke up there was no rain and it was definitely warmer than yesterday but I expected that. The barometer on my watch had done a nosedive yesterday as expected for bad weather and then ramped up by the evening. As I was finishing my packing, I got talking with Jim who was staying in the caravan. Jim and his wife were taking the year 2000 off. He was a teacher at Eastern University in North Carolina and they had started cycle touring in January in NZ. However, the weather was so bad they bought a used van for $2,000 and were traveling and hiking now with their bikes loaded in the van. Jim was 60 and his wife 56 and they were another example of older couples vigorously enjoying the outdoors. The guy from Auckland left before I got up around 7:30, probably needing an early start to get caught up on his schedule.
On the road I quickly learned my cyclometer didn’t work, probably because it had gotten a little wet. My first interest was to get to Kekerengu, 19K away, where I could get something to eat. At Kekerengu, I stopped at The Store where I met another older couple on touring bikes who were just leaving. They were having a good time, having flown into Christchurch and ridden south almost to Queenstown, over to Haast on the west coast, and up the west coast and now down the east coast. They noted as I had that NZ was very good at providing a variety of accommodation styles for different folks.
When they left, I went in for food but they had a limited breakfast so I settled for two muffins and coffee. My biggest disappointment in NZ so far was their limited breakfasts. Many places only had two types of breakfast, a continental style and what they called a cooked breakfast that was bacon, eggs, tomatoes, toast, and coffee. Rarely did a breakfast place have pancakes or oatmeal, two staples for touring.
Just after I got my food, a bunch of other folks showed up, coming from two busses that had just arrived. If they had come a little earlier, I doubt I could have handled the long line. As I was leaving, I saw another cyclist pass by with what looked like a sign on the back of his touring bike. I took off and caught up with him before long. His sign announced “World Cycle Tour” which had started from Santa Barbara, California. Simon was originally from England but had lived in California for 18 years and had been on the road for almost a year, cycling across the US, in Europe (Germany and Spain), across southern Australia from Perth to Sydney, and now NZ. He planned to continue cycling in Europe in the summer and hoped he could live in NZ afterwards although that was problematic because NZ had some tricky immigration laws.
We rode together for about two hours before he stopped for a rest after 84K, having started from Seddon, 29K longer than me. I rode the rest of the way to Kaikoura, a total of 77K and an easy ride almost all flat. It was great cycling weather, a little cool and no head wind. The scenery was great too as SH 1 followed along the coast with steep hills along the right side. Yesterday’s yellow grass covered hills gradually gave way to greenery. There were also seals sunning themselves on low-lying rocks along the coast.
Near Kaikoura, the route headed inland a bit as the hills receded a little, making room for farms. Apparently some of the farms raise elk and deer because that’s what I saw in some fenced pastures. In Kaikoura I rewarded myself with refreshment and ice cream. Next door a store advertised Internet access for $8/hour so I logged on. Unfortunately, I could not get into my AT&T email so I left after checking out some other sites. I learned of another Internet location downtown and tried there but I still couldn’t get in.
I checked out a couple of motorcamps and picked one near downtown for $10. This place also had some cabins that couldn’t have been more than about 6’x10’ in size, just wide enough for a bunk bed and room to squeeze two bikes in as well. These went for $33 and would be great cheap accommodations where a locked bicycle might not be safe outside.
Kaikoura is a tourist town, known for whale watching, seal watching, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving, kayaking, etc. After setting up camp I walked to the whale-watching depot. I found I could get in on tomorrow’s 5:30, 8:00, or 11:00 boats for $95. I decided on 8:00, which would be easy for me to make and only kill a morning. Then I would have time to make the relatively short 73K to Cheviot in the afternoon. I also stopped at a pharmacy in town for seasickness pills. Then I tried the Internet place again and still couldn’t get into my email. I couldn’t believe the AT&T server was down all that time so I did a search for AT&T Worldnet. Eventually, I got to the AT&T Worldnet home page but it turned out to be www.att.net, which was not the same location I had at home. This finally got me into my email. I responded to a couple of emails, deleted the junk email, and sent some quick updates to family and friends.
Then I scouted out the local supermarket and was surprised when someone said “Hey Denis.” I looked up without recognition then finally recognized Simon who looked totally different off the bike in a straw hat and now clean-shaven. Then I ate fish & chips and retired to a bar to write these notes.
I started packing at 7:00 and took my seasickness pill to get ready for my 8:00 whale watch. It was just a 1K ride to the depot and I locked up my bike. Inside there was a large group waiting as the 8:00 time was waiting for confirmation that the watch was on. Conditions for whale sighting were not looking good as the whales had moved south. Eventually we were told conditions were marginal and the sea a little choppy, enough to cause seasickness. We paid $95 and waited for a safety video. Then they finally decided conditions were bad enough that they cancelled the trip and refunded our money (which still cost me $1.90 US even though the debit and credit posted on the same dates). Had we gone ahead and not seen a whale, we would have gotten an 80% refund.
So off to breakfast at a café with the closest thing to pancakes I could find – French toast. It was OK and I got to listen to Shania Twain the whole time. I’ve noticed several times now that Shania has been piped in. Would be nice if they could sprinkle in some Merle Haggard, George Strait, or Vince Gill. After breakfast I shopped for some groceries for emergency use and headed out.
On the moderate climb out of town, I saw a sign for Kaikoura Lookout. It led to a great view of the Kaikoura Mountains that rise dramatically from the plains surrounding Kaikoura. Leaving town the route again followed along the coast and was hemmed in by steep hills. There were some sea lions sunning themselves and bird life along the shore. Later in the distance I saw a boat skimming across the ocean. I wondered if a later scheduled whale watching boat went out after all.
At Oaro, I stopped for refreshments. Then the route took off inland to cross the Hunderlees that were big rolling hills covered by yellow grass and patches of trees and shrubs. The first hill was a significant climb from 10m to 200m. This was followed by some undulations but nothing major. Now we were in some major sheep country. At one point I spotted a lone sheep outside the fence along the road. As I neared, the sheep nervously started running along the road. I waited for him to bolt across the road so I could run him down but he stayed near the fence, a move that undoubtedly saved his life.
I rolled into Cheviot, pop 1,000, and found a motel with campsites in the northwest subdivision for $7.50. After settling in and cleaning up I walked from the suburbs to downtown for fish & chips. Tomorrow could be an interesting day as I enter Christchurch on a weekend and I don’t know what accommodations will be like, especially since the NZ sailing team is supposed to be in town for a parade in honor of winning the America Cup. What will make this tricky is that I won’t be camping since I don’t trust locking my bike outside.
Since there wasn’t much to do in this sleepy town, I sat on a bench on main street and watched traffic go by. Then I started back to the suburbs and saw a couple, George and Jane from Washington, turn off main street towards the motel on a tandem Friday bicycle pulling a trailer. The trailer turned out to also be a suitcase for packing up the tandem bicycle. I expected to see them at the motel and met them when I arrived in camp. Jane invited me to dinner with George and I readily agreed to meet them for a beer since I had already eaten. After checking in, they road off and I walked back to town. By the time I got to the Paddock Restaurant, they had already met another couple, Craig and Linda, who were also from the state of Washington.
It was an interesting evening with a variety of conversations. George and Jane were taking the year 2000 off on a yearlong tour. They had flown to NZ on December 31 on a flight with 24 passengers and 18 flight attendants. They had all been upgraded to first class although I wondered how the 6 folks who didn’t get their own personal flight attendant felt. They had just completed several weeks of touring with a supported group and were now on their way to Wellington to fly to Indonesia. Craig and Linda lived on an island near Seattle. They were cyclists as well but were touring in a rented car. After dinner, we met Craig and Linda in jail back at the motel. Their accommodation was a former two-room jailhouse with one room now a bedroom and the other a living room. The doors to both rooms were the original doors (repainted) with the slots for delivery of food to the prisoners. After some Scotch and more conversations, I retired for the night, glad to be out of jail.
I woke up a little after 7:00 and started packing up. I saw Craig and Linda and mentioned the motel caretaker’s recommended restaurant for breakfast. At the restaurant, I ordered two meals, bacon & eggs and waffles, which turned out to be about right. Later Craig and Linda joined me and later still George and Jane joined us. Eventually, Craig and Linda had to leave to return a rental car to Picton by noon. A little while later the rest of us made our escapes in opposite directions.
I headed south to Christchurch on what would be a relatively easy route with almost no climbing. Initially, it was a continuation of sheep country in fields surrounded by hills but giving away gradually to flatter terrain. After 65K, I pulled into Amberly where George & Jane recommended a restaurant but unfortunately it didn’t have any sports drinks or muffins so I passed in favor of a bakery that did. Leaving Amberley, the route was now completely flat in farming country. I was flying along at 24 kph. At one point a police car did a U-turn and stopped in front of me. I was sure he was going to give me a speeding citation but it turned out he was looking for a woman cyclist. As he got out of his car and got a closer look, my beard must have tipped him off that I wasn’t who he was looking for.
I continued into Christchurch bypassing SH 1, which turned into a motorway and was illegal for cyclists. Near downtown I stopped to check directions because my guide told me to turn right or east, which was contradictory. A local stopped by to offer directions and invited me for coffee that I had to decline since I needed to find a place to stay on a Friday evening. I stopped at a motorcamp where I could have camped but skipped because there was no place to lock my bike up inside. The proprietor said all the nearby motels would be filled except for possibly a new motel just down the road. This motel was available for $60/night and was pretty nice. While registering, the woman asked her son to fetch her a carton of milk, which I thought strange. When done registering me, she gave me a key and the milk carton. When I questioned the milk, she said it was for coffee/tea. There was a hitch with the unit as I couldn’t get hot water out of the shower. The woman told me since my unit was the last in the water chain, I needed to run the hot water at a faucet for several minutes and eventually this worked.
After cleaning up, I walked downtown to the Square. It was a longer walk than I thought and took almost an hour. While scouting out a place to eat, I found an Internet site and took care of email. All the nearby restaurants looked pretty busy so I finally settled on a Subway in the interest of hunger. Then I made the long walk back to the motel.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2000. All rights reserved.