is official. I am now on Bikeabout. I have toured a small blip on
the side of New Zealands South Island.
On Monday I set out to ride the Banks Peninsula. It is sort of a dead
end kind of side trip, and I thought it would be a great way to shake
all the bugs out with my new gear and bike, and end up back in Christchurch
before taking off on the big loop around the South Island. I thought
I could loop to Akaroa -- the town near the end of the peninsula --
in two days, and then back in one. But I couldnt.
Since geology and bicycling are such interrelated fields, let me fill
you in on the geology. Such and such bunch of millions of years ago,
there were two big volcanoes that formed their own island off the
coast of what is now the South Island of New Zealand. And gradually
over another bunch of millions of years, the volcanoes eroded away
into deep valleys and a bay-fringed coast. Meanwhile, really big mountains
on the South Island were being eroded away and the crap that rubbed
off those mountains fanned out in a big flat plain that eventually
connected with the volcanoes.
What this means, is a really nice contrast. Christchurch is happily
sitting on a flat plain (And should be voted Bicycle Commuting City
of the World because of it.). But right next to it are steep, fun,
On Monday at about 1:00pm, (Get An Early Start is my motto that I
never live by.) I rode out of the city and into the hills. Soon I
had left the noisy traffic behind and instead had to deal with the
smell of pine trees, the cool clouds and mist, the sounds of birds,
and a steady incline. The clouds and mist were a pleasant surprise,
because earlier in the day it had been raining, and if I hadnt
been so anxious to test out my new rain gear, I might not have left
the comfort of my cozy hostel. But alas, the gear remained untested
and the only soaking I got was an internally supplied one.
The terrain could be described as rolling, but only if you account
for the fact that it took me an hour or more per roll.
I rolled up to about 1500 feet -- the volcano crater rim -- and then
down to the first of several bays. Then up again and over to the next
bay. And the next. On the way to the fourth bay, the road turned to
dirt and the sun went down and the temperature dropped, so it really
got fun. At last, the light in the sky coming not from the sun but
from the crescent moon, I pulled into a ghost campground at Pigeon
Bay where I was the only camper. And where I set up my tiny tent with
cold-numbed fingers and hoped my untried stove would cook me up a
It did. And I got a view of the starry sky as the clouds from earlier
vanished in the night. And thus got to confirm that I was actually
in the Southern Hemisphere. I mean, I can read a map well enough to
tell that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, but since Id
never been here before, I wanted some astronomical confirmation. And
I got it. Primarily because I couldnt recognize any of my friendly
old northern sky constellations. But there was the Southern Cross.
And the Greater and Lesser Magellic Clouds. And an unfamiliar chunk
of the Milky Way. Cool.
And speaking of cool, that was primarily the reason that I had the
campground to myself. It was not the height of the travel season.
The warm summer weather had gone, and it looked like I was headed
for even cooler weather yet. I made a note to go ahead and take the
short sleeved jersey out of my packs when I got back to Christchurch.
The next morning was bright and crisp. I packed up and got rolling
by about 10:30 and didnt get very far before I had to stop and
take a nice stroll through the native bush of a small
scenic reserve. In among the trees, I thought for a moment that I
was back in the jungle, but for a couple minor differences. One, I
was not hot, sweaty and dripping. The other difference took me a few
minutes to figure out. Like the jungle, there were plenty of ferns
and understory plants, thick-trunked trees, vines and moss. And everything
was all nice and green. (It turns out that the colorful autumn leaves
I had been seeing were all recent imports. The native trees of New
Zealand are green all year long.). But the difference was in the leaves
of the trees which were almost all really tiny. Strange. And I wanted
to know why. Why? Why?
And then I wanted to know why a little bird with a broad tail was
so friendly to me, flying right up to me, acting like it was about
ready to land on my shoulder and giving me a whole Disney-singing-with-the-animals
kind of feeling.
Back on the bike, I rolled up to the rim of the ancient crater and
into the cold wind. Then I zippered up and zipped back down to sea
level and another bay. Okains Bay is the name of the community as
well. There was a nice little store with ice cream treats (cold weather
be damned) and where Fred the 13 year old shop employee and future
mtn bike enthusiast took my bike for a spin after I had taken the
packs off and changed a flat tire.
Then I went to the museum and looked at the huge collection of not
particularly well described artifacts from both the Maori period and
the era of the European settlers. One of the historic buildings that
had been moved to the site was a blacksmiths shop. And no static museum
display, this. No siree, it was horseshoeing day at the museum. Every
six weeks or so the farrier comes to shoe the horses of the nearby
residents. And why not use the well equipped shop at the museum? Why
not indeed. Plus, the smell of burning coal and burning horse hoof
gave the place an authentic historical air.
The whole Banks Peninsula has a long and rich history from the period
of the Maori people. But when the Europeans started showing up in
the middle of the 1800s, there wasnt really anyone to
displace, since the Maoris had pretty much decimated themselves in
wars and feuds. They did leave behind enough artifacts to make a large
and impressive pile in the museum showcases.
The Okains Bay campground was a wonder to behold. I mean there was
some ground, and I camped on it. But there was a pavilion
with showers. I was expecting an open air kind of thing with a roof
and a couple picnic tables. But the pavilion was a nice modern kitchen
building with about 24 electric stove burners, sinks, and water boilers.
And best of all it was warm inside. That evening I cooked in style
with two kiwi guys out from Christchurch, one of whom kept wanting
to talk about American politics (as if I understand Americans or politics).
The showers were another wonder to behold. After the pavilion, Id
kinda gotten my hopes up over the showers. But no. Not only wasnt
there any hot water, there wasnt any water. The showers consisted
of a hook and pulley arrangement for hoisting a solar shower bag.
I had no solar shower bag. And wasnt sure there had been enough
solar energy that day to heat one up. But I made do with a pan and
a couple bottles filled with hot water from the kitchen. Whee!
It was even colder that night. And seemed darn cold to a guy recently
from the tropics with a summer-weight sleeping bag and an airy summer
tent. But the new warm gear did its stuff and (assisted by another
bottle of hot water from the kitchen to snuggle up to) I survived
without even feeling cold. In the morning I bundled up and hit the
beach to look for my first penguin (no luck). Nice clear sunny day,
and soon I was sweltering. By the time I got packed up, I was wearing
shorts and the short-sleeved jersey that I had considered leaving
I was further warmed by yet another climb to the crater rim and then
enjoyed a pleasant ride along the top. I stopped to hike into another
reserve of native bush. Climbed a mountain. Took lots of pictures.
Had a leisurely lunch. Wrote in my journal. And generally made a whole
day of traveling 15 miles. Late in the afternoon I rolled down from
the rim to the little town of Akaroa and into a kind of paradise where
I stayed four days.
Akaroa is inside the volcano. But the millions of years have been
kind. Instead of molten lava, there is a long sheltered harbor surrounded
by picturesque hills. The town itself is filled with quaint homes
and friendly people. I mtn biked up steep and scenic tracks in the
clear, warm sunshine. I sat and read while the brook burbled past
the hostel. I played some intense games of Scrabble with fellow travelers.
I collected mussels with some locals on a stretch of rocky shore.
I dined on fresh fruit and chocolate at the idyllic Tree Crop Farm,
which despite its industrial name, was about as pleasant a place as
I have ever been. And typical of the whole four days. Almost unbearably
And thus Ive been forced to reassess the whole New Zealand travel
plan. Ive been planning on riding my bike around New Zealand.
But if the rest of New Zealand is anything like the Banks Peninsula
(and most reports suggest its better yet), then it would be
foolish to try. Because, no, the trip is not related to the number
of miles, but to the quality of the experience along the way. There
is no real way for me to cover this country in the three-month
time period that is stamped on my passport. So Im not going
to try. Im going to go at a pace that satisfies me and linger
where I want to linger. I wont see it all. But theres
no way I could see enough by moving too quickly.
None of this is exactly new to me. It was just fun to confirm it by
turning a quick jaunt around a little peninsula into a full and pleasurable
Ive also reassessed some of my equipment choices. Got rid of
my day pack. Added more bike packs. Added a couple more tools. Took
off my big heavy headlight/battery pack with its equally big heavy
recharger and NZ power converter and put on a little self-contained
headlight. And a new seat to replace the old, hard, worn-out one that
I brought along with me. (Its amazing how much more one tends
to sit down when touring than when mtn biking.)
The biggest change in equipment is related to you, gentle reader,
because you have become an important part of this Bikeabout. I have
been writing this kind of thing for years. But its always been
solely for my own entertainment, and even then, only while I was writing,
since I pretty much never read it later. Now I have you as an audience
and I like that. I worry about it, but I like it. I worry that Ill
seem like an arrogant, self-absorbed ass. And worse, that I wont
be an entertaining arrogant, self-absorbed ass.
I do want to thank all of you for reading about these travels, and
to thank those of you who have written back with advice or praise.
Because I do cling to the act of writing for you. When I look at what
I am doing and it seems like Im just frittering away my time
and not accomplishing anything, I comfort myself with the notion that
I am an entertainer. My job is to experience strange new things and
to share those experiences with you. Writing and pictures.
Three days into the Banks Peninsula expedition, I had already filled
up my digital camera. And nowhere to empty it back out. Sure, I could
buy some additional memory for the camera, but that would still fill
right up, and worse yet, would be sitting around in a pack, doing
no one any good. So what I really needed was that which I already
had, but had left behind in Christchurch. Yip, this little iBook.
So, after being dragged around Borneo and then being abandoned in
a storage locker in New Zealand for a week, the little blue iBook
makes its return to the expedition. Ill strap it onto the bike
in as waterproof a way as I can manage. Rain and roadshock and robbery.
Itll be risky. But -- I have to keep telling myself -- thats
what its for. And Ill be glad of its company, because
its my link to these tales of adventure and you.
Now that I have actually traveled across a part of New Zealand (Even
though it's just a small part.) I have had a chance to learn a few
things about the country. First Id like to dispel a myth about
Almost everyone that I have ever talked to about New Zealand has mentioned
sheep. There seems to be a common idea that New Zealand is overrun
with sheep. And this is absolutely NOT true. The New Zealanders have
carefully kept the vast multitudes of sheep from overrunning the country
by the clever use of fences. These fences keep the sheep in safe and
easily manageable pastures and generally off the major roads and out
of the cities.
As I mtn biked the tracks and trails around Akaroa, I had numerous
encounters with these fences. (As well as the sheep.) And when the
trail crossed a fence, the process was made easier by the New Zealand
Stile. Now, a Stile is a kind of simple step that allows a person
(but not a sheep) to easily cross a fence. And although this was not
quite first time I have ever encountered a Stile, it isnt something
that is found in the parts of the US that I have lived. This is due
in part to the fact that the typical American property owner is damned
if hes going to let someone walk across his property, and in
part because the typical American is damned if hes going to
walk anywhere. But practice makes perfect, and I have been working
on my New Zealand Stile, as evidenced in the pics.
A Kiwi girl that I was talking/flirting with had gotten a degree in
horticulture and was able to tell me why the native tree leaves were
so small. It seems that its the cold. A large leaf surface looses
too much heat to contend with the colder weather. Even trees of the
same species will have smaller leaves if growing on a high cold mountain
instead of a low warm plain. All of which was very interesting to
the traveling cyclist. Except for the cold weather part.
She also told me that the little bird that had followed me through
the forest was a fantail. And that it wasnt really being friendly.
Only in eating the bugs I stirred up by passing through the vegetation.
Damn. No more than a meal ticket.
So Ive finished my shakedown cruise and am ready for a much
bigger leg of the adventure: To Ride As Far Around the South Island
As I Can Enjoy. And I hope youll enjoy the ride.