Sunday, February 27, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I'm going with Trips & Tramps again tomorrow for the shuttle to the town at the start of the 3 day trail. This one is a bit more expensive than the Great Walk, but I get my pack helicoptered into the first lodge, and there will be a hot shower and a warm bed with SHEETS! waiting for me.
Sounds like my sort of trip.
I've had to adjust my trip planning due to the earthquake in CHCH. There's still lots of conjecture and little hard information to go on. I have a flight from CHCH in just on 2 weeks' time. It makes no sense to go into the quake zone unless I have to. I have to figure out how to get to the airport, etc. All in good time.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Apparently 450,000 people visit Milford Sound each year. T&T does small van tours. I signed up for a bus and cruise trip. As I'm a YHA member, there's a little discount off list price. Here are my awestruck companions looking around the Hollyford Valley. We had many moments like this in achingly beautiful Fiordlands National Park.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
I was able to join a paved bike path into The Remarkables Shopping Centre, which is on one side of Queenstown International Airport. It is one of the most scenically-situated airports you could wish for. I bet pilots just love to land at this one: a long approach with huge spiky mountain ranges on both sides.
I rode out of Frankton on SH6 for a few km, then took a turn signed "historic bridge" which led to the bike/pedestrian only old Shotover River bridge. From here, I followed my nose, and the occasional signpost, looking for the Wakatipu Trail to Arrowtown. I had to walk a couple of huge hills, but it was a lovely back route, off the busy highway to Cromwell and Wanaka, and the scenery, was, as to be expected, extraordinary. Officially it's 17km to ride from Queenstown to Arrowtown by this route. I did a lot more bonus km, as I got lost here and there.
In Arrowtown, an old gold mining town that's now a row of tourist boutiques, I had a great lunch at a nice artisan bakery, where they really did make artisan bread like promised on the shingle hanging outside. Arrowtown lies alongside a river, with tall mountains all around. Lots of interesting trails out of here, to ghost towns back in the hills.
Turns out, the Connectabus was just loading at Arrowtown for the ride back to Queenstown. I rode up to the bus door, jumped off William, did my sleight of hand fold up trick "dah dah!" in front of the curious bus driver and fellow passengers, and got on board. The bus doesn't allow bikes, but, as the driver said, in this case, it doesn't apply. Bus ride cost $8, with a change in Frankton.
It's starting to spit with rain finally, so I think I got lucky.
Today's Sunday jaunt is exactly what William is designed for. A tool around in the country, then a ride back to the start via public transport.
Tomorrow, we're off to Te Anau on the 7am InterCity bus. I'm watching the weather. If it breaks and fines up, a trip to Milford Sound is on the menu.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I read somewhere a quote from Daniel Boone. I think it goes: "I enjoyed myself, despite the dangers and inconveniences."
Queenstown is sited on beautiful Lake Wakatipu, opposite an immensely attractive mountain range, called The Remarkables. This is the place where you can bungy jump, tandem sky dive, river surf, jet boat, river paddle, mountain bike to your hearts' content. There are plenty of outfitters here who will happily relieve you of your cash.
Just for fun, I went and priced out a coach/cruise/fly back by Cessna trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The booking office looked like a plush hotel lobby, so that gives you an idea just how profitable these trips are to the local economy.
After I recovered from the price, I'm at an internet cafe, where I can get the cheapest internet yet: $3/hour, with a discount if you have a BBH card, a YHA card, or several other options.
Back in the C19th, Queenstown was a goldrush "town" called "the Camp." It rebranded itself to Queenstown, but the goldrush spirt is alive and doing very well here.
Still, I had a great surprise today, in town. I was walking back from my survey of the town, looking for public telephone booths that might have a shelf in them wide enough to hold a laptop. I'm doing this odd activity because I have a couple of phone job interviews to do back to Australia this afternoon, and it would be nice to have a relatively quiet location in which to do them. Anyway, I saw two people ride by on fully loaded folding Bike Fridays. Now, I have been chatting via email with a couple of Seattle cyclists that I've never met in person, yet we have a friend in common. Exactly what Facebook and LinkedIn do, but way better. Real people, a real handshake. Well, well. It's them. Hi Ermanno and Mary!
It's rare enough to see other cyclists on folding bikes in New Zealand. So this meeting is super sweet. They're off to Te Anau soon, and both look buffed and tanned and obviously having a great time. Happy trails!
Me, I'm off to the phone box for some job interviews. Still, tomorrow I may get a free ride out to the start of the Routeburn track with a couple of Canadians who are staying at my hostel.
Life's sure a trip right now.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Yesterday was the first really sunny day in Wanaka, so I celebrated by first riding out of town to the right, and lying on a park bench at Eely Point, a little finger of land that juts out into Lake Wanaka, and gives you nice views of tussocked green brown mountains all around. Later I rode to the left of town, about 12km on the Mt Aspiring Road, as far as the motor camp in Glendu, a mountain + lake setting so beautiful you can't believe it's real. This road, also known as the Matukituki Valley road leads to a long dirt road, and eventually to the Rob Roy Glacier hike. It's a roller coaster of a road, and I found it pretty tiring, given the heat, and the normal headwind involved, though, laughably lightweight in comparison to what any fully committed touring cyclist faces when riding the West Coast.
I thought about riding up SH6 to Makarora, but it's a series of super roller coasters. The SH89, to Cardona then Queenstown is also likely a butt buster.
I've just been contenting myself with hanging around in Wanaka's cafes, and snatching up any copies of the Otago Times or Christchurch newspaper [name forgotten]. Today's Otago Times had a scary article about some 24y0 woman who killed 3 cyclists last November, basically by spinning out of control into a group ride. The story recounts the tearful courtroom presentation by the son of one of the three killed, about the experience. It's a bizarre and gruesome tale, involving a quote like this: "when I was home that night I washed people's body parts off." WTF?! What I find interesting is that apparently all the relatives of the victims petitioned the judge and apparently don't want this driver jailed.
This to me is astonishing. Such forgiveness of reckless driving? I guess there is no punishment in New Zealand for being stupid. Heavens above, yesterday, on the Glendu road, I saw two locals, one driving a truck with empty trailer behind, take a shoulderless corner so fast, two wheels were in the dirt, kicking up gravel and sticks. Given the fact that 30 minutes earlier, I'd been riding in that exact spot on my bike, this caused me some concern. I'm sure that, in person, drivers of both these vehicles are perfectly nice people. But they were driving recklessly and apparently people just throw up their hands here, as in "what can you do" mode.
What is it about this acceptance of such totally avoidable and totally stupid road behavior that I don't get? It's not as if there is any big important place these drivers need to get to in such a hurry. This is the South Island of New Zealand. I still think people are outnumbered by sheep here. Perhaps its sheep driving then?
1. Two Australian organizations want to do telephone interviews this week
2. They couldn't reach me on my mobile phone when I was at Mt Cook
The explanation I got from 2 Degrees, the NZ carrier is that possibly it was on account of the number of high mountains in Aoraki Mt Cook NP getting in the way. Well, perhaps. I bought a really cheap little cell phone to carry with me during my travels, but it's showing its limitations. I can barely read the screen, I'm only apparently getting texts from 2 Degrees wanting me to "top up" and other things.
I brought my US i-phone with me as well, though I turned off the phone part. I figured it's cheaper just to buy phone cards to call home. Up until a few days ago, it was a useful device to capture photos and quickly load them to this blog when doing a full flash card dump from my camera wasn't convenient. However, I'm having wifi problems with it now, with the wifi carrier used by the YHAs. The carrier is Global Gossip, and I can't seem to rid the i-phone of an error page, which remembers my GG card from Mt Cook, tells me I'm out of $, but won't let me change it to the one I bought in Wanaka. I emailed GG today, and their explanation: "can't use 2 devices at once" to access GG, isn't the issue, and that i need to buy 2 cards, or register two devices, or some other crap that an itinerant traveler surely has no interest in doing. I'm not sure I have the energy to deal with their helpdesk anymore today. It doesn't help that I know I logged out of one device before using the other. I'm sure they will think I don't know what I'm talking about. All I know is the few photos I have taken in Wanaka, are trapped in my i-phone right now and I can't post them until I get the blasted GG message to butt out.
Most cumbersome of all, I brought a notebook PC with me. I did this because my eyesight couldn't handle the idea trying to write job applications, and use different companies' online HR systems to upload resumes, cover letters, references, and all the paraphenalia of job hunting in 2011 on a smart phone.
What the hell happened to travelling I wonder? Back when I first came to NZ, you could barely trust email to do a backpacker booking. When I was here in 2005, a few backpackers had wireless enabled laptops, but the service was still Internet Cafe based, so these poor people had to lug around a useless brick for the whole trip.
I've noticed that a large group of travelers do cart around their notebook, and even their laptop these days. I have to presume a few of the bike tourers do it, but I sure wouldn't do it. I'm in the oddball situation of needing to apply for managerial level jobs, so I have to present an image other than being some sort of eccentric. All I know is the computer weighs a lot and it's a pain having it, plus cables, etc., in my bike bag.
Last night there was a French touring cyclist staying in my dorm. I'm not sure if he had a PC with him or not. What was most impressive about him was the huge number of red welts he had on both legs, from the knee to each ankle. He told me he got bitten badly by sandflies in Haast, when he passed through. I felt for him. He's obviously one of those poor people who is allergic to these suckers [literally]
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Every backpacker you stay in has its own distinctive flavor. I've also stayed in those that are part of the BBH network, and others that belong to no network at all.
Sometimes the single-sex dorms are filled with considerate bunk mates. Sometimes they're not. Ditto for the mixed dorms. So far, I've dealt with one woman who insisted on turning on the dorm light at 2am, and then who proceeded to email into the wee hours, inspite of 5 other people trying to sleep. Fortunately for this priceless person, I was exhausted after hiking, so I could sleep through despite this blatant rudeness. In Mt Cook I had to deal with a stink pot, a giant of a man who I don't think took a shower, despite having just come off a 4-day tramp on the Tasman Glacier. Last night, I had to enjoy the sounds of a woman in the room who was snoring loudly. Not only that, her cell phone must have been powered up, as I could hear faint supersweet elevator music coming from the depths of her daypack.
The solution to all this is having the right attitude + earplugs and an eye mask.
In other backpackers I've met the most delightful fellow travellers you could wish for. Great girls and boys, men and women from Israel, Germany, Russia, France, Holland, USA, Australia, UK, Norway, Spain, Canada, Uraguay, China, and other places.
The best situation is to be around many other solo travellers. That way, you are happy to talk to others. I've met a bunch of "WWOOFERS" [Willing Workers on Organic Farms]. One German guy told me he's woofing to get 12 weeks' experience before enrolling in an organic agricultural degree back home.
Many of the travellers on on a "gap" year, either taking time off, up to 1 year, after high school and before starting college, or during a college break. Most seem to be in the 20- to 35 yo demographic. Yesterday I shared a shuttle ride with a guy coming off 5 months of work in McMurdo in Antarctica. Travellers like me, in their 50s, are quite rare, and often folks with interesting reasons to be on the road. I met one woman from York, England, a landscape designer with 3 college age children, here to visit her 92-y-o uncle,and get inspired by the tussocks and mountains of New Zealand's national parks. Not your"run-of-the-mill" type.
Sometimes the backpackers have excellent kitchens, well stocked with dishes and cutlery. Other times, they are greasy pits where you don't want to risk touching any surface. Those nights you eat out.
I find the Chinese travellers the most interesting to watch in the kitchen. There are many more Mainland Chines folks touring around than I've seen before. I guess it's a sign of the Chinese economic boom. Usually these folks try their darndest to do a full-on multicourse dinner in the backpacker, with freshly prepared vegetables and enormous fruit salads. I'm always interested to see how they do it, as most knives in backpackers are so blunt you could use them as a mallet to hammer in your tent stakes.
If you're a fully self-supporting bike tourer, YHA gives you a good discount on nightly stays, around $19 per night. The rates vary depending on good ol' economics. In larger towns, like Wellington and Christchurch, you pay $30-$35 for a dorm bed. In smaller places you pay less.
YHAs usually have somewhere for you to store your bike. However, often it's a shed filled with old mattresses and stacks of extra chairs, so you have to have a sense of humor about "bike storage" as a convenience.
In at least two backpackers, I've walked into the TV room, and joined a bunch of kids watching one of the LOTR movies.
Yesterday, I went through Twizel. Nearby is the site of the big battle scene with orcs, armoured elephants, etc., from the 3rd movie. Apparently Peter Jackson recruited the entire town of Twizel (1000) people, plus everyone in Mt Cook Village (300 people), backpackers with time on their hands, to be extras. He still couldn't get enough people for the shoot, so apparently he contacted the New Zealand army. As they had little else to do, they were happy to help.
Nice to know that if New Zealand is ever invaded by orcs and goblins, their defense services are well-prepped.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Here's a shot of "cloudpiercer" at 5pm today. I came over from Lake Tekapo this morning on the shuttle, and my plans for tomorrow include a hike to Mueller Hut, assuming the weather is a repeat of today.
When the sun is out, this glacial valley is hard to beat. I rode a total of 2km from the backpacker where I'm staying, then lay in a field, reading a book and watching the mountain.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
The ride from Nelson through the famous and very extensive Malborough wine region was a little stomach-churning, given the fact that the day's bus driver had the proverbial "lead foot" and really enjoyed zipping in and out of the curves on the very windy road over two not so small inclines. I almost lost my lunch during this ride. Luckily, I have a variety of plastic bags in my jacket pocket just in case.
Don't know why, but after the change in Blenheim, I hit the jackpot. got to sit in the only empty seat behind "Mr Stink Pot" a strange young guy in filthy clothes, even down to the soles of his sneakers. I actually sat in the seat with my bike jacket over my nose as the stench was so bad.
Still, despite the dubious value of this fellow passenger, I couldn't help but notice the incredible scenery down the coast, with the Kaikoura seaward mountains on one side, and the black sand, crashing surf and seal colonies on the other. The mountains are snow free, and a little hazy, but they are beyond spectacular.
This section of the East Coast is known to cyclists for 2 things:
1) Spectacular scenery
2) Truck infestation + dangerous drivers
Back in Nelson earlier this week I was reading the Christchurch newspaper. There in the news was a spectacular photo of a delivery truck crushed on the rocks of, you guessed it, the Kaikoura coast, with a load of 2 x 4 planks scattered down the rocks like so many matchsticks. Unbelievably, the driver lived, due to early intervention by a couple of American tourists who happened to be nearby.
Now, I do wonder how hard you have to try to be this stupid on this road. It is narrow, winding, no shoulders, and there's huge amounts of major road work just outside Kaikoura. I remember a lot more one-lane bridges in this section from when I was last here in 2003, but I think they're disappearing. The roadwork, I guess.
The owner of the backpacker where I'm staying tells me it's also dangerous to ride the highway south of Kaikoura [sigh]. He's done volunteer ambulance work apparently, so likely this is a rational statement. I'd really like to ride part or all of the way to Cheviot, but, again, I will need to be alert to fools.
No pictures with this blog post, courtesy to Mr Stink Pot. I was too nauseated to pull the camera out and try to get photos. But I will likely ride William the Conqueror part way back up the highway, at least as far as the female seal and pup colony we passed, and compensate.
I visited the I-site yesterday, and picked up a great looking booklet, called "Chill" which has something to do with cycling. Unfortunately, it does seem exclusively devoted to mountain biking, despite the "share the road" advertisement inside the front cover.
I will not be deterred, however. I rode William a little way through town yesterday evening, towards the male seal colony. Yes, apparently they do segregate except during mating season. Perhaps the males seals, like the kiwi truck drivers, also act like idiots when traveling. Perhaps they dash themselves on large rocks, choke themselves with long strands of kelp, dive off ridiculously high cliffs, etc., in order to attract a mate.
Honestly, I'm surprised there are still lunatics out there, as surely I'd have thought these kiwi drivers have taken themselves "out of the gene pool" early, prior to procreating?
Survival of the fittest?!
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
It's a commercial partnership between the Department of Conservation, DOC and the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, with souvenirs to match: T-shirts, baseball hats, etc.
I would think it's a boring walk, being flat. However, it might be great for gentle mountain biking, especially with the "steamers in the handlebar" set.
I've already seen one snarky newspaper editorial (forget which paper, but I think on the North Island) in which the writer states he will puke if he reads another "it changed my life" testimonial from some baby boomer on a bike who rode it. I presume that this toad, then, is:
1. Not a baby boomer
2. Thinks he's a gonzo cyclist, but probably isn't.
3. Has issues with aging
I'm not going to bother googling to find this lightweight vitriol. There's already too much of it available on the Internet.
It's a sign of something successful when people are spiteful. As a 50+ solo female traveler, I've had more than a few distasteful experiences so far in NZ with other people (DOC, bus, accomodation) assuming that I am not doing anything more challenging that sewing a quilt patch and having a sip of tea and a bikkie with my age-appropriate gal pals.
There's a great aphorism out there that goes: old age and treachery trumps youth and beauty.
I'm not planning to ride the rail trail. But don't criticize those who do. It's a cheap way to get a laugh.
Rose kindly gave me a little spiral bound book: Bike Nelson: Urban & Mountain Bike Rides, pub lished by the Nelson City Council. A week ago, I'd accidentally ridden pieces of some of these rides, when I followed the bike lanes to the waterfront. Turns out, this little civic project has produced a nice little group of rides: 6 road, 10 mountain.
Way to go, folks!
As a resident of Seattle, home of Starbucks, I have a fine "nose" for independents. Here's a fine one: Zumo in one of New Zealand's lifestyle capital cities: Nelson. It's kitty corner to the YHA, where I'm not staying. It offers excellent brew, free wifi and you can bring your own food! What's not to like? I packed my bike panniers this morning with granola and my camping bowls and rode down here from The Bug where I am staying. Presently I'm inhaling the smell of freshly roasting coffee and enjoying the excellent music. I'm not alone. The place is hosting Nelson's retired, self-employed and quietly unemployed, like me.
I may stay here blog till my 'puter's battery is fully discharged. This is part of my recovery from Nelson Lakes.
Tomorrow I am heading down the East Coast, towards Kaikoura. It was greating pulling William the Conqueror out of storage at The Bug today and doing a little ride into town. It's been almost one week since I rode.
FWIW, the road from Nelson to St Arnaud's is 90km of lovely scenery, and it's steeper going up than back. I saw a couple of hardy bike tourers chugging up as I went by in the shuttle. It's possible to ride through to Murchison, thence to the West Coast. The top half of the South Island is very scenic, but if you're a bike rider, you should believe all reports about steepness and difficulty of riding those hills, fully loaded.