Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some observations on riding in NZ

After many years of looking over my left shoulder for approaching vehicles, I find it's harder to look over my right shoulder - my neck just seems less flexible that way!
The quality of Kiwi drivers varies enormously - some are really great, like the truck driver who blocked traffic for Ciel while she rode up a long, narrow bridge on a big hill north of Auckland, but some are awful. They don't see any problem blasting by us at 140km/h, only inches away (no shoulders on a lot of the roads here)...I wonder how they'd feel if I had a gun and fired off a few shots that went whizzing by, inches from their heads? Would they think "oh, he didn't hit me, so no worries", or would they think "that crazy bastard almost killed me!" The latter is what I think of them....


A few more pics uploaded to Picasa

Picasa pictures of the trip from Nelson Lakes National Park to Hanmer Springs.

We got soaked after leaving Murchison, and the day turned out to be longer than we were hoping for. We got to a DoC camp with a little picnic shelter where we managed to get out of the rain for a little while. The next morning was beautiful, and we celebrated by heading up the road a bit and soaking at Maruia Hot springs. The outdoor stone pools were lovely, but the sandflies around them drove Ciel into the traditional Japanese bathhouses - I didn't like this as much, as we couldn't soak together (separate Men's and Women's bathhouses). We left the springs and rode up over Lewis pass to Deer valley DoC site, only 21km for the day! It did go over a big hill though - over 400m elevation gain, I think.
Yesterday we left Deer valley for what should have been an easy coast down to Hanmer Springs, but I was really tired for some reason, and the tailwind turned into a headwind, then the downhill turned uphill in places as well - not big climbs, just enough to knock me out. We stopped at a side road for a couple of hours to rest, then eventually got to Hanmer Springs. We stayed here last night and had a big feast of spaghetti with meat sauce, and today we're taking it easy. I did laundry for the first time in a while, Ciel is reading a big spy novel, we'll buy some groceries and hut tickets in town later for our next foray into the mountains, and stay another night. The Alpine Adventure Holiday Park we're staying at is the best holiday park I've seen so far in New Zealand - clean, well-maintained, and the price is quite reasonable ($25 for 2 adults in a tent - we've paid up to $44).
We want to head up to the Harper pass track for a bit, then get to Arthur's pass, but we don't know how long it will take. Starting Saturday, the weather is supposed to get ugly again, but I hope it's not as bad as the forecast...


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rain day - Murchison

We survived a night of horrific sandflies at Kawitiri  Junction. Now it's raining on the way south to Lewis pass...
- mark.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nelson lakes - Angelus hut

We spent a night at Kerr bay campground, then headed up the road to stash our bikes. The hike into Angelus hut via Speargrass hut was great, and there were enough people in the hut that it stayed reasonably warm even with no firewood for the stove.
Today is spectacular - sunny and warm, just a hint of breeze for the return via Robert Ridge.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Daily Reprieve

We cut our losses yesterday with a very stiff headwind and quit half-way or so before St Arnaud, somewhere near the Golden Downs forest. Lots of plantation trees, lodgepole pine and douglas fir - I think I read somewhere it's the largest tract of private forest on the south island. It's weird to see the trees in rows growing on the hillsides, very prim and proper. Anyway, it was a quiet place to camp, nobody came by on the public access road and the birds waking us up this morning were fun to listen to. When Mark is done with cycling, I know that I am done as well.

Yesterday we met nice Kiwi Eleanor who took off work to cycle and visit friends which I thought was quite intrepid, since she only had a short time off work. Smart woman to save the money on the ferry and save the gas money, but she was earning her legs like us battling the headwind, and getting vacation pay. Smart cookie... She was headed down to the West Coast where all the Greenstone comes from. She basically was giving us affirmations about cycling, why we do it and the like and it felt good to talk to someone local. She sometimes cycles to work but said it is a real nuisance cause there isn't really good cycle trails and she was as impressed as we were with the railtrails Nelson has invested in to help cyclists get through the city without having to ride with all the suburban/urban nonsense. In general Kiwi's have a very good sense that they are represented by a lot of drivers who think bicycles simply do not belong on the road. Today we only met one logging truck driver that gave us that impression, thank goodness. Most everyone gives us lots of space except for an occasional motorhome driver who doesn't know how big the rig is.

Mark and I visited this old coachstop called the Top House Historic Hotel which was quite sentimental as the current building had been built in 1887. We were greeted by the owner who didn't seem to quite know what to do with us as I'm sure he didn't think we were planning on staying there. However, as part of our continuing New Zealand stimulus package we ordered me coffee and scone and Mark an apple pie with ice cream. It was great to hang out with the cosy fire and warm up a bit in the ambiance. We learned quite a bit about AirAsia which has very inexpensive flights to all sorts of places we'd like to travel to. I'd like to come back and see how his roses that he planted does. I think it snows quite a bit at the Top House and gets quite cold.

Since arriving on the South Island, the gardens in fronts of houses and along the sides of roadways have been full of blooming roses and it's been quite beautiful. I saw that his lilac tree had already finished up.

Okay, night has fallen and I hope there is a Kiwi song or two. We arrived at Nelson Lakes National Park and will be heading out for a two day walk up to a lake that is frozen. The headwinds are supposed to continue so we figured we'll see some sights here before we move on.
And yes, it is different than being at Slocan Lake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Nice French place La Gouramandise serving Pain au Chocolat and Crepes.  We rode our first serious rainday through gold mine country with a very winding wet breeze from the trucks carrying containers to the port here.  Last night we met a bat expert at the streetlights of Pelorus Bridge where it's basically the only place in NZ to see a bat.  We didn't see one but we heard lots of them because he had equipment called bat detectors.  Also saw where Peter Jackson has a scene for the Hobbit movie being filmed.  No hobbits but a last refuge for long tailed bats.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Queen Charlotte Track

We got across to Picton last night and rode 15 km to the DOC campsite at Aussie bay. This morning the sky is clear and blue, and there isn't much wind - a huge change from yesterday!
We rode over to Anakiwa and left our trailers at Anakiwa backpackers so we could ride the first 12.5km of the Queen Charlotte Track.  That was in exchange for Ciel's cappucino purchase she says.   This area is certainly pretty scenic!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Windy Wellington

We cheated again and took the bus from Taupo to Wellington. I booked the ferry trip to the south island for Sunday at 2 p.m., but Ciel really wanted to see the museum here, so I put the ferry off for a day. We walked around Te Papa museum for 6 hours yesterday, and this morning Ciel wanted to go back to see the stuff we missed! I voted to get to the ferry terminal early, because Wellington is definitely windy this morning - gusts up to 126km/hr recorded according to the NZ Met service! That's the windiest I've ever seen it in a city, it's like a mountaintop storm, but through high-rise buildings! Not the most pleasant weather to ride our bikes. The ferry terminal has signs up saying "sailing conditions: moderate". I'd hate to see extreme comditions!
Earlier in downtown Wellington, a woman came up to us to ask for help getting an ambulance for her friend, who was walking along the wharf and got blown off her feet and hurt her neck. My phone was turned off at the time, so while I waited for it to start up, we decided it would be quicker for her to go to the tyre shop just down the street. It's frustrating to have a cell phone for emergencies, only to have it rendered useless by the long start-up time. The ambulance came quickly, as if it had been waiting just a couple of blocks away. After the excitment was over, we just headed for the ferry terminal, where we're waiting now. At least we're in out of the wind.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Waihohonu, Whakapapa, Taupo

We woke up to torrential rain and a howling gale, but it sure was nice to watch it from inside the hut! The Waihohonu hut is the newest hut on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, and it sure is nice and spacious (but loud - you can't close the doors without slamming them, and there is no acoustic tile on the ceiling, so it echoes throughout the hut). The weather cleared by the time we left, so we headed off up and over the hill. The wind was still blowing pretty ferociously, so we didn't linger on the mountain. We only stopped briefly a couple of times until we got to Taranaki falls, where we ate our last granola bar.

Shortly after that, we got to Whakapapa village where we had some food at the cafe (bacon and egg croissant for me, cappuccino and chocolate eclair for Ciel). We browsed through the great visitor center while we waited for our bus ( - great service, they picked us up and dropped us off right where we are staying in Taupo).

Now we're off to get some of those fish and chips that I've been craving as we hiked around the volcanoes!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today started out pretty grim - buckets of rain lashing down with near gale force winds. We had breakfast and went back to bed for a nap. After a couple of hours, the rain let up and the sun came out, so we packed up and headed back up the hill. At the top, the rain started again, and we got hit with some pretty strong winds, but we kept going down to Oturere hut. We warmed up inside and waited for the weather to clear again, which it did after a couple of hours. Now it's perfectly clear just as the sun drops behind the mountains. A perfect ending to a rather shaky start!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Crowded Walk

This morning we woke up to clear skies and cold morming air. We started out up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing route with several hundred others (most of them just got dropped off at the carpark, only a few of us stayed in the hut). It warmed up quickly and cloud started to form on top of Mt. Ngauruhoe. By the time we got to the side track leading up the volcano, it was totally socked in, so we decided to skip the climb. A few others made the decision to head up. At the next side track to the top of Mt. Tongariro, we decided to go for it and headed up into the clouds. At the summit, it was pretty socked in, but Ciel's optimism insisted that we wait for it to clear. Luckily it did, but only for a minute or so - just enough for a few photos.
The rest of the way down was incredibly beautiful - except for the trash left on the trail by some of the other hikers. We nearly filled our trash bag with stuff we picked up off the trail!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mount Doom

This is Mt. Ngauruhoe, which you might know as Mt. Doom if you watched those movies with all the hobbits and orcs... we still haven't seen any hobbits, but some of the people might have been mistaken for them. We haven't seen a kiwi yet either (the bird, that is).
Our first day in Tongariro went well, we got to the hut nice and early, just in time to take shelter from the thunderstorm downpour with lots of hail.
- mark.


Had a really nice day in Taupo, nice and sunny and we spent pretty much all day outside. The best part of my day was going in the hot water stream and then swimming in the Waikato River. Our plan is to go hike for the next 5 days in Tongariro National Park. It costs a small fortune to register so this is the big treat for New Zealand like the great barrier reef was for Australia.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dinner at sunset

Relaxing with the sunset

Naked travelling

Here we are cheating - my legs are not only getting distance - they are resting.  To gain some time heading south we decided to take the Naked Bus to Taupo in 5 hours vs. cycling for 5 days.  Yes I am the queen of rationalization, and instant gratification.  Mark agreed luckily and this will help us to tramp around Tongariro for a couple days.  We are enjoying the bus ride listening to 4 young German trampers talk with bad radio playing as we go very fast watching the blur of green countryside.  Life is good.  Thanks to Shona and family for making a home in the city for us. Snow check either in Canada or US or NZ...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Auckland crankiness

I got a new crank installed by a good mechanic at Kiwivelo today. The old Race Face crank had been through a lot - many epic rides in the rockies, 3 or 4 of the 24 hours rides, and lots of km in Australia and New Zealand. The drive side bearing wore out, seized, and caused the crank axle spacer to act as a bushing, wearing it out too...on top of that, the drive side crank arm loosened and started clunking around as I pedaled. It got me this far, but I'm glad I don't have to rely on it to get me any farther!
The new crank is a Shimano Deore double crank - 22-36 vs 22-32-44 on the old crank. I wasn't using the big chainring much anyway, and the 36 gives me a better range for the flats. I still need that 22 to haul the trailer up some of the hills here!

Edit: to see more of Ciel's photos, go to

NZ fast food

We have one hour during Shona's lunch break so we found an east indian place in the mall's foodcourt. Fantastic idea for fast food.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election season and Treaty of Waitangi

Election less than three weeks away. Signs are everywhere and I can tell where the social-economic and racial differences seem to be. Up north I saw more often the signs of the Maori Party and the Mana Party, and riding back into town it's all National, Labor, Conservative and Greens. National and Conservative signs are where the big farms and rich people live and I've seen Labor and Greens posted throughout the countryside in smaller numbers.

I've always had interest in self-determination of indigenous people since living and working in Alaska. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ANCSA) paved the way for the construction of the Alaska pipeline by creating corporate structure of governance for indigenous people. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) made provisions for establishment of national parks and preserves by compromising rural preference now to protect subsistence uses. The writers of ANILCA knew that it would never pass if they gave Native preference.

So, now I'm touring around New Zealand and I can't seem to avoid the political landscape, especially the tension(s) with land claims and treaty rights.

Here in New Zealand, the people have the Treaty of Waitangi guiding the Māori and the Crown government, however it seems to me that the Māori and the Crown (and most Pākehā) definitely have different interpretations of the Treaty. (Limited natural resources would do that, particularly when survival is at stake...) Pākehā is one of the first words I learned in Māori, it describes a New Zealander of European descent. I'm told it isn't an offensive word.

I watched a tv debate several nights ago on Māori Television that highlighted some issues that probably most tourists never even become aware of.

Apparently it was a huge fight between the television people and the Crown for New Zealand to gain this national TV station, but that's another long story. Anyhoo, they were talking about the return of the Te Urewera National Park to the Tūhoe and I knew absolutely nothing about it. So I needed to get more understanding of at least one of the issues they were talking about.

A quick search on the internet ensued. What I found was a paper that is an excellent summary that I will share only some of here. Sue Able wrote a paper that she presented at a Traditional Knowledge Conference in 2010 that shares her interpretation of the issue and explains what the historical context is and how the media hinders understanding between the Māori and Pākehā (it's very academic but very interesting to read - the link follows).

The loss of the In 1896, the Urewera District Native Reserve Act created a 265,000 hectare reserve as an “inviolate protectorate” within Tūhoe. A council, Te Whitu Tekau, was to manage Tūhoe's affairs. The Crown soon undermined the legislation, imposing £7,000 costs on the iwi for title determination and buying up pieces of land to clear this supposed debt. The Crown, as the monopoly buyer, fixed low prices. Under the legislation this was illegal, but the Government passed a law in 1916 to retrospectively validate its actions. It also charged enormous survey costs and a special £20,000 fee towards building roads through Te Urewera, which were never built. In other words, Tūhoe were supposed to keep what was left of their land in 1896 as a self-governing reserve. However, it lost the land through a series of unjust and often illegal Government tactics over the next few decades.

Jump to 2010. Tūhoe have been in negotiations with the government over their Treaty claim for 2 years. They understood that the return of Te Urewera would be a part of the settlement, which was to be signed on June 14 in Waimana. Three days before this, John Key unilaterally pre-empted this with his public announcement, without consultation with Tūhoe or the Crown negotiators. The only media coverage of Key’s statement that day that gave any of the historical background to the issue was a column in the New Zealand Herald by Paul Moon, specialist in Māori history, who set out in detail the history of Crown confiscations of Tūhoe land, their treatment of Tūhoe people, and invasions of Tūhoe land since the time of settlement. This was not a report—it was a column; that is, someone’s opinion. Nevertheless, the feedback to Moon’s column on the New Zealand Herald website overwhelmingly thanked him for providing a history that people had been unaware of. ....

It is much easier to broadcast images of present day protest action than it is to broadcast images of past Treaty violations.
There are also cultural issues at stake here. Speaking very generally, while Māori, as with many
others of the world’s indigenous peoples, see the past as an intrinsic part of the present and even the
future, for Pākehā the past is out of sight, behind us. Pākehā news workers, therefore, even if they
know of the historical background to a news story, may not see this history as strictly relevant.
It is the elimination of history from the news that contributes to its monocultural nature. To tell
a story without taking the past into account can in itself be seen as a monocultural practice. At the
same time, the absence of historical context feeds into ideas of Māori privilege, a lack of any
understanding about why so many Māori are on the negative side of our social indicators (as indeed,
are indigenous people around the world), and the lack of any understanding of Treaty settlements as
some small recompense for what iwi (tribes) have lost in the last 170 years."

Abel, Sue (2010) "Mainstream Television News, Difference and Tūhoe

Lots to think about riding around the countryside

What a difference a smile makes

I observed the overworked Barista at the coffee shop wirh customers in the cue complaining about how long it was taking to get their drink and I smiled admiration towards the gal working hard, and she surprised me with a very friendly cuppa - what a difference it makes to give a smile.  She said "Have a wonderful day."  Made me smile too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Changes to Auckland countryside

We are within 30 kms and the obnoxiousness of the majority of automobile drivers rise considerably.  This picture attempts to show the once slower pastoral way of life vs the race to get home to the Auckland suburbs. It's more cost effective to grow houses nowadays.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Buddist Spirituality in Whangarei and Guy Fawkes

Yesterday after meditating on the grinds and downhills, I was pleased to find that Rosemary who we are visiting with in Whangarei attends a regular Tibetan teaching on Sundays at the Jam Tse Dhargyey Ling, a Tibetan Buddist Centre established in Whangarei in 1997.

The centre has the most outstanding view of the Whangarei area and they are welcoming to visitors to take a walk around and enjoy the view from the Enlightenment Stupa (Peace Monument) overlooking the community.The teachings this morning were given in Tibetan and kindly translated after we sang meditations and devotions. All this was followed by tea and bisquits and walking around the Stupa.

In stark contrast, last night was all about Guy Fawkes night which was quite ruckous and scared one of Rosemary's and Derrick's dogs - Bracken whose photograph is below. She is five.
Mr. Benji wasn't scared - he is two and can see quite well behind his bangs.

Quiet Guy Fawkes Night reported by the NZ News Wire:

"Emergency services have reported a relatively quiet Guy Fawkes night, with no reports of major fires or serious injuries caused by fireworks.
Four children are reported to have been hospitalised with burn injuries, two with eye injuries and two with minor burns, while police around the country say they had a busy night but nothing serious was reported.
For the Fire Service it was a "steady" night in the upper North Island, while there were 115 fire callouts in the SouthIsland, although not all for fireworks-related incidents."It was really quiet," Fire Service central communications shift manager Mike Wanoa told NZ Newswire. "It's one of those things. It was very much the same last year."
The 1135 tonnes of fireworks imported this year is slightly higher than the 1116 tonnes in 2010.
The relatively quiet night, also reported by St John, comes as a survey by the Sunday Star-Times shows the majority of New Zealanders now want the sale of fireworks banned.
The survey of 3500 readers found 53 per cent support banning their sale, while 44 per cent want to retain the status quo.
Four years ago the legal purchase age rose from 14 to 18 and the sales period shrank to the four days before Guy Fawkes.
Safety fears for humans and animals were the reasons given for a ban.
Of the parents in the survey, 66 per cent say they still buy them, many saying it is their right to free choice and that letting off fireworks teaches responsibility.
ACC injury claims from fireworks incidents dropped from 461 to 275 after sale were tightened in 2007. Injuries have cost taxpayers $1.5 million in ACC claims over the past five years.Burns made up two-thirds of claims but there were also claims for lacerations, bruising and foreign objects landing in eyes."

So you ask, for those of you who aren't British - what the heck is Guy Fawkes? Just google it and you will see a good reason why it's celebrated in NZ as well - a great excuse to set off crackers and fireworks!

Friday, November 4, 2011

We found another bay

Pineapple fritter stop.  The takeaway menus are fun.

Te Uenga Bay

Be one with the grinds and the downhills - a cycling meditation...
Lovely views make it a visual meditation too +  bird song and waves lapping on the beaches.

Waitangi - Russell

Today we dried our tent after a rainy night at Puketi and headed down to the highway and on to Waitangi. We got into the treaty house visitor center grounds and took lots of pictures of the big waka (war canoe) and the fantastic carvings in the Maori treaty house. We also met Colin and Rosie there again, for about the fourth time since running into them on the road just before Omapere. They got pictures of us riding ninety mile beach from the tour bus. Tonight we decided to stop just outside Russell (the 40km to the next campsite seemed just too much for us). Maybe we'll meet Colin and Rosie again tomorrow on the way to Whangarei!
- mark.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Crash and burn

We decided to make it a short day today, so we headed for the campsite at Puketi reserve. Of course the book didn't tell us it's on top of a mountain, up a very loose gravel road. On one of the steeply banked corners, my front wheel washed out and my knee hit the gravel. I got a big hamburger patch of road rash to show for it, but at least we had smoked fish and rice for dinner, with chocolate for desert.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fish and chips at Mangonui

Ciel got brave and ordered the smoked trevally head - I'm going with the regular fish and chips, myself!
- mark.

Ninety mile beach and Cape Reinga

After we left the place in Kohukohu, we rode to Ahipara at the south end of Ninety mile beach. We were just about out of water, so we asked around, but no one wanted to let us have any. Finally the woman at the campground reluctantly agreed to let us have some. We started off down the beach with full water bottles, but it wasn't very fast with a stiff headwind. After a few kilometers, Ciel stopped to talk with people who were kite fishing- they run over a kilometer of line out with 25 baited hooks, the whole lot dragged out to sea by a kite in the offshore wind. After an hour they winch it in and hope the sharks haven't taken any of the fish they caught on the hooks.
We also met Phil selling coffee from his little stand on the beach. About 26km up the beach, we hauled our stuff up onto the dunes and set up camp for the night.
The next morning, we set off up the beach again. We rode for about three hours with a good tailwind and almost made it to Te Paki stream, but the high tide forced us to wait it out at a creek just a few kilometers south of there. While we were waiting, a guy came out onto the beach to do some fishing. We started talking, and Ciel told him we were thinking of camping nearby. He told us we were welcome to camp at his place, and to leave our trailers in his shed while we rode up to Cape Reinga. We got back from the cape and met up with Peter again, and he showed us into a spare bedroom in his cozy house. We were going to cook some spaghetti for dinner, but Peter would have none of it - he cooked us the fish he had caught, and made fried bread for us. The next day we woke up to heavy rain,  so we hung out and went to the beach to collect tuatuas for dinner. This morning we reluctantly said goodbye to Peter and his beautiful place by the beach. Sometimes people amaze me with their kindness and generosity.
After yesterday's storm passed, the wind shifted again, so we headed back down the beach with a tailwind. We left the beach after 47 km and headed out to the highway, making good time to Awanui. We should have stopped there, but I mis-read the map, and was expecting to find some campgrounds before we got to Mangonui. No luck, so we had to get to Hihi to camp tonight. 130km for the day, and I'm still awake, typing a blog post on my phone's touchscreen...not for much longer though.
- mark.