Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Monday, January 31, 2011

Nelson Lakes map

This is a highly stylized interpretation of the Robert Ridge route in Nelson Lakes, from the display in the Dept of Conservation [DOC] office on Lake Rotoriti. I chose not to ford the Traverse River [braided stream] to hike the left side of the lake, as 3 guys who shared my last night at Coldwater Hut told me it was a thrilling waist-deep wade. Unlike Abel Tasman, this water is somewhat colder.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sea Kayaking next to Abel Tasman NP and Ridge Top Tramping in Nelson Lakes NP

Enjoying the "balmy" weather on the Robert Ridge Route to Angelus Hut in Nelson Lakes NP. The 60km/hr wind gusts only added to the experience. At the hut I'm sure I saw this guy in a white robe, holding a strange looking walking stick, and wearing pointy hat.

This is an example of a kiwi past-time: bridge-jumping. The bridge is 12m above the tidal inlet to Falls River in Abel Tasman NP. The sound of the guy's belly hitting the water could be heard back in Totaranui. Brought to you by the folks who commercialized bungy jumping.

Below: This brown chicken-ish bird near the tent is a weka. I like to think it nicked my reading glasses. Better story than me simply dropping them somewhere on the beach and losing them in the high tide overnight.

I've been busy doing, and haven't had time to write about anything for a while. I spent 3 perfect hot days doing a guided sea kayak tour of the marine park off Abel Tasman NP. This is a wonderful way to experience the park. The kayaking is lovely but quite tame. I have the benefit of having kayaked before, in both the San Juan and Gulf Islands, off Vancouver, so I'm a bit spoiled. While the kayaking was tame, (more open ocean, fewer islands to explore), you can't beat the weather, a place where you can actually fall out of the boat if you want, and not die of hypothermia. Plus that beautiful Tasman blue green water!

Later, I booked a shuttle ($35 each way) to St Arnauds, to do 2 days' tramping in Nelson Lakes. True to form, Nelson Lakes laid on the full alpine experience. High winds, with 60km/hr gusts and bare exposed ridgetop hiking to a great 21 bed hut: Angelus alongside a glacial tarn. The icy rain, mist and storm clouds only added to the experience. Day 2 involved a dangerous descent on loose rocks to Lake Rotoiti, for more spectacular scenery and tough hiking. Day 3 was a hike out in the mist and rain along the lake shore. I hitchhiked from the road, so didn't have to do the last sodden 4km. I then sat dripping in the Alpine Lodge cafe, inhaling cappuccinos.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another view of Nelson bike path

Final shot, which I took using my I-phone. At the end point of the cycleway, just outside Richmond, if you follow the bike path signs to Moteuka and SH60, you reach Waimea Winery, where you can do some wine tasting among the trellises.

How perfect is that? The Nelson region is the far side of Malborough, which is New Zealand's most famous wine making region. The whites and "varietals" like pinot noir are excellent.

I bought a bottle of Pick and Shovel, a Central Otago pinot noir, on sale in the supermarket for $20 NZD and took it with me on a 3-day sea kayaking trip in Abel Tasman National Park. Golden sand, blue, blue water and sunny weather. A real campaign poster for "Natural New Zealand" the current tourism push, if ever there was one. Still, there is trouble in paradise. Lots of hungry little black sand flies, that like to bite you on the shins.

View of bike path Nelson to Richmond

Another shot of the Nelson Cycleway. It's a fun ride, rolling along the beautiful shore, and ducking under SH6 in places, through tidal underpasses. This means that when the tide is up, you can't use the underpass, but as the tide goes out, it's great fun to ride through the puddles. You ride along the side of the rushing traffic on the highway, and it's another world.

Bike lane on SH 6 Nelson

I arrived in Nelson, a big adventure base in New Zealand, on a dreadfully rainy day. Still, here's the view the day after. This is from the bike lane along Rocks Road. I learned later that this chain fence is historic. I took the photo after riding 18km to the neighboring town, Richmond, along Nelson's Cycleway, which was opened in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Horatio Nelson's triumph at the Battle of Waterloo. Hmm. I had no idea Sir Horatio was a cyclist :-)

Inter Islander, not your typical view of the ferry from the North to South Island

I took the Inter Islander ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. It was a very odd experience to take my bike aboard. I thought it would be like riding the Washington State ferry, where people are used to cyclists walking on board. Not here, folks. Apparently, I'd paid to be treated like a piece of freight.
I got to the terminal in plenty of time, and chose to pay $15 NZD to wheel the bike on board, vs. fold it up and check it as luggage. It's one thing to load William the Conqueror onto an InterCity long haul bus. I've found all the drivers so far have been very willing to have me set the bike upright in the luggage hold, so it doesn't get damaged during transit. It's another thing entirely trusting someone unseen behind a wall to know that the bike is supposed to stand upright. So I ante'd up the cash, thinking I'd insure peace of mind. Was I wrong.
First, I had to wait for ages, until the very, very last rail car was loaded onto the Inter Islander. Lucky for me I had company: another long distance cyclist, Yves, who told me he lives near Montpellier. Our 2nd companion was a large black dog waiting patiently with his owner to be loaded into a cage for the ferry trip.
Well, after an interminable wait, the dog, Yves and I were waved onboard. The poor dog got stuck in a dark cage, and I know it must have freaked him out a bit. The owner made a big fuss about getting a dish of water put in the cage along with Fido. We two cyclists gingerly wheeled our bikes across huge gaps in the metal ramps, and then had to jitter the bikes over superslick, greasy rails, tying the bikes up in the dark inner recesses of the "rail" level of the ferry. I felt like I was in a German Expressionist movie. Super dark and scary down there. Once Yves and I tied the bikes with some frayed ropes and a couple of dirty blue straps, we had to figure how to get out. Forget about signs pointing the way. Oh no, nothing like that. You had to guess that a barely illuminated sign about midway down the railcar was where you needed to be. OK, in order to reach the stairs leading up to level 4, in the sunlight, where all the normal passengers were, we had to literally step over a whole bunch of arm-thick chains attached to enormous hooks that held each rail car in place. The whole place was as dark as a tomb, squeaked ominously, and walking a narrow path between crushingly large freight cars and metal walls studded with bolts was a trip, but not in a good way.
As if the outward part wasn't enough of a trial, retrieving our bikes at the end was equally horrible. As we were pulling into Picton harbor, there were a bunch of garbled announcements about disembarking. I think I heard bits of a cryptic announcement about getting bikes off. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I was supposed to do. I took the first elevator I found down to the level 2, car deck, but this was a dead end. I went back up, found another elevator, and descended to the rail deck. When I poked my head through the door, I saw immediately that all the rail cars had been untethered from their cable/hooks. There were a lot more eery squeaks and bangs coming from the rail cars. As far as I could tell, they were about to roll off the ferry, sucking me, my bike and all my gear under as they went by. It was still inky black down here, so I quickly pulled my head back in, went back up a 3rd time, looked around in vain for some official maritime officer type. Finally I buttonholed a guy vacuuming the restaurant, who told me, so unhelpfully, that I should already be "down there" as I was supposed to unload first. Shit, I thought. Now I'm really in trouble. Those rail cars are likely rolling off right this moment, sucking William underneath as I speak.
I rushed back down. Miraculously, the rail cars hadn't moved. I made a dash for it. At the very last rail car, there was a worker using a giant drill to unscrew the last chain/hook. I found William the Conqueror, still tied up, undamaged. No sign of doggie, no sign of Yves, though I think Yves had retied my bike as we'd lost each other in the crazy "up and down" I'd done trying to find the right level of the ferry. I untied my bike, wheeled it back across the slick-as-heck rails, pretending to be tough and knowing exactly what I was doing, and tried not to look down through the gratings at the surf below my feet as I exited to Picton. Welcome to the South Island, cyclists!
For this experience I got to pay $15?!
Hmm. The Inter Islander has a glossy tourist magazine called Onboard. I had picked up a copy in the departure lounge back in Wellington. Last night I read it. They're running a competition to gather "great pictures and stories of your Interislander journeys..." and are offering a $50 travel voucher as a prize.
Alrighty then. I'm really thinking of sending them this experience. Should I be looking for that $50 voucher in my mailbox real soon? Hmm.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wellywood: things to do on a rainy day

I had one full day to spend in Wellington, before taking the Inter-Island ferry and moving to the South Island. Today's weather was cool, breezy and light rain, so I did "indoor" stuff. First, a visit to the NZ archives to take a look at the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 agreement signed by the representatives of the British Government and the Maori, that set the groundwork for New Zealand's constitution. This is the primary document that sets the baseline for New Zealand's ongoing efforts to reconcile indigenous and pakehe [descended from European immigrants] concerns. Unfortunately, the document is displayed in low light conditions, and, not well-interpreted. The Archive itself is in temporary digs, while its main building undergoes renovation. It's a shame, as it would be worthwhile to be able to read the English translation of the document, which is written in maori. This document is to New Zealanders, what a viewing of the Declaration of Independence is for Americans, or the Magna Carta for the British.

Later, I took the city bus out to the suburb of Miramar, to visit the WETA [pronounced WEE-TAH] cave, next to the location of Peter Jackson and Co's SFX animators, sculptors, artists, etc., related to Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Narnia movies, and Avatar. I really had no idea how much work WETA has done. Sort of like a visit to Disney + Pixar, but this company's digs are a renovated paint plant, out near the airport. All very understated. I even got to meet an actor from Avatar: the guy who shot the tree. He was standing at the counter when I was there. He looked oddly familiar, but in a place like WETA, it's really hard to differentiate between the fantasy and the reality. In the WETA cave you can buy all sorts of beautiful and expensive models, things like Gollum and Gandalf, plus you can see previews of the design work being done on The Wind in the Willows, due in 2012. I could have bought a pair of hobbit ears for $52, but I thought that was a little too much.
Finally, I topped off my day by a visit to the movies in Wellywood, seeing The King's Speech at the historic Embassy cinema, where LOTR was first shown. Lots of photos of Frodo and Gollum waving to the adoring crowd.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cycling Nga Haerenga New Zealand's National Cycleways

According to http://www.newzealand.com/ there is currently underway a project to develop 15 national cycleways, called "Cycling Nga Haerenga." Just like New Zealand's love of the brand "Great Walks" now they're moving into "Great Rides."

Hmm. OK, I checked a little into these claims. As far as I can tell, all these cycle ways are ONLY for mountain bikes. While there is some mention of "on-road" but if sealed roads are part of the plan, the project sure is hiding that fact.

The latest one open (Oct 2010) is on the South Island, the Saint James Great Trail, 60km that follows river valleys and traverses the St James mountain range.

I know many mountain bikers, but I'm not interested in mountain biking. I'm hardly alone in this. I like to walk on single track, rather than ride my bike on it. I like nice sealed roads, which are the perfect surface for bike riding. After a few days' cumulative experience on the North Island, I can report this about the state of "Share the Road" in NZ. It's a work in progress. For a country full of people who love sports, the behavior of motorists is a bit discordant. I've been chatting with a Swiss woman cyclist at my New Plymouth backpacker, who is finishing up a tour of the North Island on a rental bike. She's in her mid-20s, blond and cute, so what she tells me seems so disappointing. She says many motorists pass her too close, either honking, or yelling, or otherwise acting like idiots. Now, this method of picking up women didn't work when I was younger, and it sure doesn't work these days, either. This polite Swiss gal tells me she's taken to giving people the finger in response.

We are both bemused by the behavoir of motorists on a road with a PASSING lane. The signage always says: "Keep left except when passing." But, to kiwi motorists, apparently, when passing a cyclist, this means "Always keep left when passing someone on a bike." Even when there is a passing lane and no traffic in either direction, motorists will not change lanes, and insist on staying in the left lane. What do you not understand, folks? Pull OUT! Pull OUT! It won't kill you, but it might kill me. The draft from your car/van/tractor trailer can suck under a cyclist who's clinging to the white line. I am very glad I put a rear vision mirror on my handlebars, as now I see how it works, I'm always scanning back up the road for approaching morons.

Kiwis love travel and seem to love travelers. I wish they'd apply this logic to bike travelers in their own country. The only people so far who seem to pull out are foreigners driving rentals.

It appears that New Zealand powers that be are adopting the "totally separate" approach to making cycling more feasible in their country for visitors. This theory is that cyclists and motorists shouldn't have to share the same routes. I respectfully disagree with this logic. Why not both? A campaign to educate road users might also be a good part of this "Great Rides" initiative.

It's a thought.

North Egmont Visitors Center What a difference a day makes

To complete my visit to the Taranaki region, after riding a circuit around the mountain, I went back to do an overnight tramp. I booked a shuttle with Ian of Mountain Shuttle in New Plymouth, who, for $50 NZD picked me up at the hostel at 7:30am for the 30 minute ride to the trailhead, and came back the next day at 4:30pm to bring me back.
The first photo shows the Visitors Center at 8:30am, when I set off on the Holly Hut track, Day 1 of what is a 3-day/2-night 25km trip called the Pouakai Circuit. The last photo shows 12 noon the next day, when I returned from Holly Hut.
Is this the same place? You'd better believe it. The central photo shows the trail, as it crosses "the boomerang slip", which is a landslide. You pick your way through loose volcanic scree, called scoria I think.
This is a gorgeous trip, when you can see it. On the return, I was completely enshrouded in mist clouds and driving rain, which was, fortunately, warm. I was totally soaked within about 10 minutes of leaving the hut, which is the correct method for dealing with New Zealand rainy tramps. The visitor center includes a rather nice little cafe, and I made full use of it while waiting for Ian to fetch me. Later that night, the winds on the mountain were gusting to 130km/hr. I'd only dealt with 75km/hr blasts.
As the tourist brochures state: "Mt Taranaki is renowned not only for its beauty, but also for its ever-changing weather conditions."
No kidding. Back in New Plymouth the weather was like Samoa. All the rain was packed around the mountain.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Taranaki photos

Accomodation in Opunake/Typical countryside between Stratford and New Plymouth. Taranaki now hidden.
Thanks to the Puke Ariki i-site/library/museum's free wifi. Faster loading of photos than I can get at any backpacker so far.

Taranaki photos

One of the "spokes of the wheel"-like road that leads up to the mountain. Now imagine a headwind that is strong enough to push you backwards/Some participants in Saturday's Egmont Seafood Round the Mountain ride. Note that noone is hauling any gear, like I do/The typical road surface: lichens + moss + grass growing in between the rural grade gravel

Round and round and round the Mountain

It's day 2 of my 3-day circuit of Mt Taranaki. Weather has been perfect, almost too hot, and the mountain is endlessly fascinating, always on the left, always changing. Today the clouds coated its summit throughout the day.

Day 1 (Friday) was 62km of roller coaster riding on "the Surf Highway" Route 45, from New Plymouth to Opunake. Ocean to the right, green, green pasturelands to the right. I took a short 800m, but steep as heck detour into Mt Egmont National Park to Lucy's Gully, a grove of old growth exotic trees that is managed by the park people. Lots of bird song, and I had it almost to myself for the whole time.

I was ready to stop by 6pm when I got to Opunake. It was headwinds for 3 hours without let up along this stretch, and Wm the Conqueror isn't made for it.

Day 2 (Saturday) and I got to ride along with the one-day racers for Round the Mountain. The first one, a big German guy, came through as I was exiting a coffee shop in Opunake at 9am. Now, this is the same route I rode yesterday, that took me close to 9 hours, including the stop in the National Park. I guess this gonzo chap started at 6am and did it in 3 hours. I shared Eltham road with nearly all the pelotons, until I turned towards the mountains, for the road to Stratford. Lots of "atta-girls" from the many riders. Very different sort of event to what I'm used to. Seems that everyone has a personal support vehicle, so there's a convoy of cars and vans, all loaded with extra bikes, either for other riders to do a relay, or perhaps, if one bike breaks down, why fix a flat?

One of the support vehicles, a red mercedes convertible drove up next to me, and I got handed a bottle of cold water.

Turning to ride into the mountain proved a challenge. Seems like those headwinds were now sweeping down the flanks of Taranaki, and hitting me right in the center of my bike helmet. It took me a good 15 mins to ride about 1km. But for most of today I got side winds. I can tell because I've attached an orange scarf to my helmet to make me more visible to kiwi motorists. When it flaps to the side of my face, that's side winds. Haven't yet had it flap over my head, which would mean a tail wind. People pass too fast and too close for my liking out on Hwy 45. Too many of them roar up behind you, and then pull out, in a sort of half assed way. And forget about slowing down. That's a foreign concept. Even the peloton supporters were passing way too fast. Still, today's 42km ride was much better, as I had most of the last 20km to myself. All the racers were going through Eltham.

In Stratford I treated myself to dinner out, as my super cheap backpacker accomodation really looks like it should be condemned. Then I went to The King's Cinema "home of the first talkies in New Zealand" and saw the Harry Potter film, Deathly Hallows 1, complete with an intermission.

There's definitely a sense of time warp in this part of New Zealand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Plymouth [Taranaki region]

I arrived by Intercity yesterday and spent today exploring New Plymouth. I'm now on the "Surf Highway." The coast is very pretty, sunlit, and everytime you look inland you see Mt Taranaki, a beautfully symetrical dormant volcano. Today it's wearing a cap of cloud, but the weather is supposed to hold for the next few days, which means I will be off on a 2 night/3 day circuit ride.

I'm following the route listed in Lonely Planet's Riding in New Zealand book. The biggest problem will be the wind. It gets pretty blustery here, and no matter which way you ride, it's sure to get you somewhere. Lucky for me I'm one day ahead of a big bike race, around, you guessed it, Mt Taranaki. It's a one day affair, and runs on Saturday. By then I'll be riding from Opunake to Stratford. It's very likely I'll meet them all pounding up behind me. The women in the i-Site helped me book accomodation (it's very rural around Taranaki) and also set me up with a hut permit for the National Park. After riding the circuit, I plan to take a shuttle back to Egmont Village, and get dropped off to do an overnight hike. Not sure what I'll see, but will likely be pretty good.

I'm not familiar with this part of the North Island. I'm not alone. Most tourists don't come over here. You can sense New Plymouth is about to take off as the next "hot" destination. Lucky for me, I'm here on the rising tide. The hordes looking for something undiscovered (oxymoron in NZ) will come later. That's always a problem with "undiscovered" places.

Something else yet undiscovered is New Plymouth's brand new 12km Coastal Walkway, a shared walk/bike/blade path that runs along the shore. It's lovely. Usually concrete, some wooden board walk, some newly graveled sections, here and there dotted with New Zealand's "coastal cafes" which are basically outdoor cafes set up out of funkily decorated trailers. I had the most extraordinary iced coffee for $6 NZD at Big Wave Cafe, a fun place with tables made out of surfboards. I had to stop to investigate when I saw a row of 1950s era lounge chairs lined up alongside the bike path. The thing was basically overflowing with ice cream, sprinkled with chocolate and garnished with 2 chocolate coated marshmallow fish.

Gosh it was good. Big Wave happens to be listed in a flyer I got from the i-Site this am, called "Taranaki's Must Do Experiences" www.taranaki.info/visit, "your guide to Taranaki's 50 most umissable experiences, adventures and attractions, as voted by the locals." I was reading this flyer, and using it as a napkin to wipe off the ice cream that dribbled down my chin.

Unmissable indeed.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

View of the crossing of South Crater
Great weather on Tuesday for the 19km crossing. I took the earliest shuttle (5:30am) from Riverstone Backpackers in Turangi, and was on the trail by 6:30am. Lots of wind in the Mangatepopo Valley, and alternating cold/brisk weather with brilliant sunshine. In 2003, I'd made it to the high point on the right. I was here in November, which meant the marker poles had 6 inch long icicles standing out horizontally. A lot warmer this time.
Reached the exit by 3:30pm, after spending lots of time taking photos, and enjoying a trip and fall about 100m from the exit, where I skinned my knee and started to bleed through my torn hiking pants. Nice one, Cathy. Looks like I need to visit the Kathmandu outfitting store in the next big town for a replacement.
This hike is billed as "life changing," "best one-day trek in New Zealand" and other equally hyperbolic statements. Actually, it's a great hike, taking you through at least 4 ecosystems, including a rain forest for the last 3km. Volcanoes are pretty cool.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Rotorua looks a lot nicer in the daytime than at 2am after an
"exciting" flight and trip from the Auckland airport. You don't really
smell the sulphur springs unless the wind is blowing in the right

It's a curious place. Geysers and hotsprings just erupt where ever they
darned well feel like it. So, you can ride by someone's house, or a
storm drain, and out of it streams a plume of white smoke. I was walking
around on a Sunday, which is quiet in smallish towns like this one.
However, from the local high school I could hear a group of people
singing in Maori. Not part of the tourist circuit, where you can buy a
hangi (dinner) and dance show, complete with haka (the ferocious maori
chant known to most from any viewing of an All-Blacks game), grass
skirts and tourist trinkets.

Rotorua is a big Maori town, and all the signage is bilingual. Down on the lake is a Maori village, that
boasts very interesting looking buildings, including a meeting house
and a church. The architecture of the church is a hybrid of Maori
carving and C19th England. Surprisingly, it works. I didn't go into
the settlement as it's private, so you need to be invited.

I took the Intercity bus at 1:15pm today to Lake Taupo, then changed
to another bus to go to Turangi. I have a 5:30am shuttle booked to do
the Tongariro Alpine Crossing tomorrow. Weather is supposed to be
fine, and snow level is 3,000m.

I'm finding the Intercity bus drivers very cooperative when I want to
load William the Conqueror in a specific way: upright, stuck between
my backpack and a large carryall. No doubt the kiwi bus drivers have literally "seen it all" and are used to crazy backpackers hauling all sorts of odd shaped things. So I fit right in. I'm trying to prevent damage to the
bike. So far, there's lots of luggage in all the busses i've ridden,
so it's not falling over and sliding around like a ping pong ball.

I still have too much stuff, even though I am managing to pack
tighter. Not sure what I will throw out, but something has to go. It's
too unwieldy to ride fully loaded on my "circus" bike.

Monday and Tuesday I'm staying at Riverstone Backpackers in Turangi, one of the
hostels that gets a 90%+ approval rating from the BBH group. BBH is a competitor to the YHA system. I bought for $45 NZD a BBH card, which gives me $3 off future bookings, and $20 of domestic calling card. Riverstone deserves its high ranking. Kiwipaka for the last 2 nights was a bit scuzzy. This
place is palatial by comparison, and I'm paying $25 NZD for a dorm bed
(6 in the room but only 2 others occupied tonight). The private room
at Kiwipaka cost me $52 NZD. The dorms there would have been a bit

Photos to come once I have wireless. I don't trust public internet terminals with my flash drive just yet.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arrival in the Land of the Long White Cloud

My last night in Melbourne included seeing the Australian Shakespearean Company do a fabulous version of The Comedy of Errors in the botanical gardens. [photos to this blog when I remember to bring the flash card, etc., from the hostel.] The next day (yesterday) was my own Comedy of Errors. JetStar should be renamed: "Always big queues, often late, mislay your baggage" cheapo airlines, after yesterday's 2 hour delayed flight to Auckland, with 30 extra minutes wondering where the $!^$@!! my duffel bag was. Wm the Conqueror Bike made it fine, cardboard box well-dented and torn, but bike safe inside, along with its little note about " searched by the TSA" back in Seattle 20 days ago when I left.
So, I had a coach ride booked on Intercity from Manakua City (outside Auckland) at 8:05pm local, I rode out of Auck airport literally like a bat out of hell at 6:45pm and I made it at 7:58pm, despite riding for the first time on left side of road from airport, not know where the hell i was going, all my gear bursting out of the bags I'd trial packed so neatly a month ago. things must have expanded in the Queensland wet. Still, the group of Maori locals and scruffy backpackers standing at the bus stop were speechless when I did a U-turn in front of them, leapt off bike, folded it up, stuck everything in a big Target bag I'd bought in Melbourne to carry stuff on the plane and defeat JetStar's $10/kg extra baggage fee (i carried on about 15kg, so there, JetStar!). Still, out of breath and sweating like the proverbial porker, i then learned the bus was 1/2 hour late, and nothing available to buy to eat or drink. Bugger.

Once on bus, with large extended Maori families all chatting away in Maori, 1/2 hour out on the highway we ran over something, and had a flat tire. Oh yeah. 1 1/2 hours later, everyone standing in a cowfield for multiple smokes, then finally back on the road. I got dumped off the bus somewhere in the dark, as the bus went to Lake Taupo and I had to get a small shuttle to Rotorua. Still, the bus driver drove me right to the door of Kiwipaka and I finally got to bed at 2am. thank you Intercity for this unexpected gift. I would NEVER have found the hostel otherwise.

Then at 6am, the 3 [count 'em] Magic Busses parked at the backpackers roared to life, along with a bunch of obnoxious Australian boy scouts, who ran up and down the staircases yelling at top of their voices. They pulled out around 8am I think and I fell back into sleep.

Finally took a shower in the completely soggy, messy women's shower room (3 loads of Magic Bus does that to a place), and it finally was quiet.

I am now booking hostels and onward journey to Turangi where I will get a shuttle to Tongariro NP and do the Tongariro Crossing on Tues, weather gods holding. After that, fingers x-ed, going to Taranaki [Mt Egmont] for circuit ride OFF the tourist circuit for 3 days.

Kia Ora, Cathy

p.s., Wm the conqueror did GREAT on the highway, despite the stupidity of its rider.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Weldborough and Scottsdale

A couple more views of North Eastern Tasmania, this time the main road from the coast to Launceston.
Plenty of historic "blink and you'd miss 'em" towns, set in rolling countryside, some edged with hedgerows and stands of oaks. Lots of homesick English immigrants in the C19th tried to turn their new home into their old.
Unfortunately, a few of the things they brought over aren't so great. Occasionally you pass bunny rabbit road kill, and I think I saw scotch broom here and there.
This road is narrow and often steep, but it's a possibility for bike riding, as the traffic volume is pretty manageable. Once you get away from the beautiful, and correspondingly popular, beaches, things spread out a bit.
This is the pub in Weldborough. It offers accomodation as well as food and, of course, beer.

Great Western Tiers

A converted mill in Westbury, in mid C-19th Tasmania (or is this England?)

West of Launceston, I discovered an area of Tasmania that's branding itself as a cyclists' destination: The Great Western Tiers. Seems if you take the ocean ferry from Victoria, you land in Devonport, on the North coast of Tasmania. It's feasible to ride off the ferry and head over here.

So, why do this? Namely: quiet roads, gorgeous rural scenery, historic towns (all those convicts were kept really busy cutting sandstone that was sold to build whole Tasmania towns).

I found a fold-up pocket map at the visitors' center in Scottsdale (east of Launceston) for something called The Great Western Tiers Cycling Trails: a map of 4 themed trails: Great Caves Ride, Great Gourmet Ride, Great World Heritage Ride and Great Country Ride, all loops between 52 and 72 km. There's lots of accomodation in the area: B&Bs in the most lovely cottages you can imagine, and some good looking caravan parks.

Check out http://www.greatwesterntiers.net.au/ for cycling podcasts. The routes are marked here and there with color-coded totems and signposts.

On the way to Highland Lakes (another great place for riding, but it's dirt, so you need a mountain bike here), I drove most of the green route: Great World Heritage, from Deloraine to Liffey Falls. If I come back to Tasmania with a bike, this is the one I'd do: it takes you through bucolic farmland of Golden Valley up into some rainforest.
A great find.

Here is the view of Wineglass Bay,that you get if you hike the Peninsula Walk. Generally, all tourism photos of Wineglass are taken from Mt Amos (the tabletop mountain across the bay).
This approach is much tougher, and much lovelier. From this level, you are in a distinctive high and dry mountainous ecosystem. The flowers are in full bloom among the granite boulders.
I found the hike a bit rugged, and had a near miss, when I slipped during the descent on one of the boulders, skinning my left leg, and twisting my right ankle. Luckily neither was as bad as it could have been. I did curse loudly and energetically, however, as the last thing I needed up here was to be airlifted out.
I recommend that the National Park people think about assigning a few $ to trail maintenance up here. I don't buy into the philosophy that you have to leave trails really rough to provide a "wilderness" experience for hikers.
It's a great hike and a lovely example of Tasmanian scenery.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Riding to Freycinet National Park

No, I'm not riding it. The A3 from Hobart to one of Tasmania's signature national parks is narrow, hilly, shoulderless, and extremely dangerous. There are signs here that show a cartoon car hitting a cartoon kangaroo, and the warning "Dawn to Dusk" underneath. There's lots of road kill here, as so much of the fauna is nocturnal, so hit by cars all the time: wallabies, possums, bandicoots, the occasional bird. I did see some hearty touring cyclists coming the opposite way as I drove to Freycinet, but they were lightly loaded (no tents). Looks like if you're sensible, you stay in B&Bs.

However, in Freycinet, I did see a large group of loaded tourers braving the road into the park. They were supported by a couple of sedans, so I think it was a club ride. The shoulder on this road was nonexistent, so I couldn't easily pull over and chat.

I've just finished a 2 night/3 day hike on the Peninsula Great Walk in Freycinet. Pretty tough in places, as trail maintenance appears to be a foreign concept to the parks people. But worthwhile. Photos and a report to come when I have better internet and more time.

Today heading to Launceston.

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Here's what one of the yachts that made it look like. The crew are dressed in bright red jumpsuits. I presume they are immersion suits, as it's not unusual for sailors to be tossed overboard into the freezing Tasman Sea during the race. There also seem to be a lot of sailors on board. Everyone must live on top of each other.
The end of this year's race was very anti-climactic. There was a techncial challenge to the winner, Wild Oats, something involving phoning/not phoning in as they crossed some boundary or other. So the shiny silver cup in the awards tent was still in its display case as I walked by on the way to the Taste of Hobart, the summer's big food fest.
The weather in this part of the world is super sunny, super glary and lots and lots of cloud and wind. Next stop, Antartica.