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2000 Biking New Zealand

DIARY: 7 December 2000 through 6 January 2001

Day 01, 8 December 2000, Friday
Bluff – Lumsden; 122.5km @ 18kph, Lumsden Hotel, $45

We slept last night, our first in the Land of the Long White Cloud, at Flynn’s Club Hotel ($60) in Bluff. Bluff is not quite New Zealand’s southernmost point, but it is here we chose to begin our trek as “Bluff to Cape Reinga” – not quite New Zealand’s northernmost point – signifies New Zealand end-to-end.

Bluff, while not unattractive, is not a quaint seaside resort; it is a working town. Oysters, aluminium, exports, and the ferry connection to Stewart Island. Inland are fertiliser plants and deer farms. 27km north, the small city of Invercargill, originally a Scottish settlement.

We flew from Johannesburg via Perth to Sydney where we spent a night before flying via Christchurch to Invercargill – pleased to see from the air on this last leg a vast flat valley below us which promised a relatively easy day on this our first cycling day. We were collected at the airport as arranged by Derek of Spitfire Shuttle. Who had a package to deliver in the town (trustingly leaving his van idling while he popped into a local motel with said package) before driving us to Flynn’s; and who chatted throughout in a harder-to-understand-than-expected accent.

Getting to Bluff in some ways proved easier than anticipated; in others much harder. Firstly, we had good seats on the Johannesburg to Sydney leg – an aisle and adjacent seat facing the galley wall with more leg room than usual. Secondly, the flying time was less daunting than expected – 10 hours to Perth and, after a one-hour stopover, four hours to Sydney. We took a shuttle bus to the Pink House – booking at the same time the return leg for the following morning – to find that they could not after all accommodate us but had arranged alternative accommodation at nearby Kanga House. To which the Pink House receptionist walked us in the increasing dusk of Sydney’s King’s Cross at 10pm-ish.

We both awoke before 4am and by 5am gave up the battle, showered and went out walking on a drizzly Thursday morning. King’s Cross is Sydney’s ‘alternative’ suburb, its red-light district. And many shops stay open all night so we found without trouble a coffee shop called Krave’s for coffee and pastries. Charl, who has today stopped smoking, asked if he could smoke. He was told by our young waiter that it was recently made illegal, but that he could go ahead – provided he extinguished his cigarette if he saw someone “suspicious”. The young man was quite clear about his views on the immorality of a government that tells people what to do on private property – and scathing about the fact that the new law was introduced just prior to the Olympics “to impress the world”.

We have spent the last couple of days transferring from a large plane to a smaller plane to a smaller plane yet. Both Air New Zealand flights were pleasant enough (with good food, but no sheepskin or Biggie Best curtains as anticipated) – especially the first which crossed from the Tasman over the west coast of New Zealand. From cloudless sky to cloudy. From blue sea to barren snow-capped peaks – the Alps almost hidden by a broad band of cloud blown in from the Tasman and trapped against their heights. We’re pretty sure the one peak peeking through must have been Mount Cook (3 755m – lower by about 10m since a 1991 rockfall of epic proportions, named after Captain Cook, climbed first in 1894, and also by Edmund Hillary).

Booking this trip, however, was more problematic than on any previous occasion. (See Appendix 1 for the letter of complaint I wrote once we got home.)

We arrived in Bluff after 8.30pm. To find that Flynn’s was once a grand old place, now dilapidated. An old building with high ceilings and a faded charm Our host offered, when we asked about dinner, to call the local takeaways and ask them to stay open a little longer to ensure we had time to drop our stuff in our room and hotfoot it the three blocks or so to their door. Where we ordered blue cod and mussels in batter with chips and were served these wrapped in newspaper by a friendly soul. And ate with great appetite and greater pleasure our first real meal in New Zealand, seated in the bar at Flynn’s. Where there is a dirth of women, and many men. On the way back to the hotel we saw a car bearing the registration ‘Codman’ – testament to Bluff’s location and occupation, no doubt. And Charl popped into the RSA Hall (Returned Servicemen’s Association – equivalent to our old MOTH Halls ie Memorable Order of the Tin Hats of which Charl’s dad was a member) where a Xmas party was in progress and wished the paper-hatted patrons a Merry Xmas.

This morning, a Friday, we were surprised to find preachers on three TV channels, with CNN on another. And interested to find on the news later a segment about ‘titpillows’. Huh? And pleased to find TV critics recommending Dickens as great Xmas reading for kids. A quick introduction to parochial New Zealand; a country in many ways stuck in a gentler recent-past.

When we were ready we braved the icy breeze and cycled first out to Stirling Point to take the obligatory photos at the signpost there – Cape Reinga being shown as 1 400-odd crow-fly km away. With Dog Island not far away south, and Stewart Island, and then not much at all before Antarctica. Then back through an awakening Bluff to shop for ginger biscuits at the local discount store on which we breakfasted standing on the pavement sheltered from the cold wind and in the warming sun. Although the day began colder than expected (Charl actually wore his thermal vest), by day’s end the intermittent sun was shining more often than not – and Charl had a much-tanned face. And the wind was not too strong and then either behind us or off to one side.

We inflated our tyres at Bluff’s garage where the sight of Charl’s South African flag, jauntily flying from his WideBerth Device (designed by me to encourage drivers to give us a little more room), led to the inevitable discussion about cricket: The thrashing we recently gave the New Zealand team (on the last one day international we needed three runs off the last ball and hit a four to win all the one days in style); the Hansie saga and a country in mourning. (Luckily we had caught the above one-day as, armed with this, we managed to discuss cricket with a cricket-mad New Zealand throughout our trip!)

So…we left Bluff in good spirits bound for Lumsden 120km north. Cycling first along the bay then through pleasant undemanding countryside on an easy road with a narrow shoulder to protect us from more truck traffic than we liked. For the bulk of the day we cycled in a vast unassuming valley interspersed with the odd hill, soon conquered. Cycled toward snow-peaked mountains distant and pale against bleached blue. Past trees with backs bent to the prevailing wind. Past numerous elk farms where the deer all stand alert at the first hint of your approach – having responded not at all to considerably noisier vehicles – ears pricked high, eyes staring, and then turn in unison and bolt away. Past lamb on the spit, lamb chops, lamb kebabs, roast lamb…a-graze in pastures green. Fat and sassy and easily spooked; the newly-shorns creamy clean and slender by comparison. Past hens a-peck on a rural lawn; and whimsical gardens containing cement unicorns or father Xmas legs dangling upside down from a chimney or a wooden cutout of a little girl sitting on a real swing. And past roadside flowers in butter yellow and mustard.

In Invercargill we took care of some practicalities: Drew money and visited a cycle shop and pharmacy. And also paid a visit to the Tuatara House housed in the museum at Queen’s Park. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any tuatara – including Henry who is reputed to be over 100 years old. Charl reckons the whole thing’s a hoax! The tuatara is the only survivor of a type of reptile – the beak-heads – that evolved 150 or so million years ago during the Age of the Reptile ie pre-dinosaur. It became extinct 60-65 million years ago, with the dinosaur, except in New Zealand where it survives on some isolated islands – and at the Invercargill Tuatara House where two females now breed annually. Its most famous feature is its third eye. Situated on top of its head, this eye has a lens and a retina but cannot form images. Its other famous feature – or lack thereof – is no organ for copulation in the male (huh?)! It looks like a large lizard – about 2 foot in length (though apparently it used to grow MUCH larger) – but is quite differently structured with, for example, a skull more like that of a crocodile. It can live to over 100 years of age, does not begin mating until it is over 20, mates in January but only lays the 5-15 hard-shelled white eggs from October through December. The eggs are ignored by the parents and hatch after 12-15 months – the longest known incubation period for any reptile. They like cool temperatures, in which they breathe only once an hour. So…lots of information, no tuatara!

From Invercargill to Lorneville on State Highway 6 (SH6), then left to Wallacetown and right onto almost totally untrafficed back roads to Winton. Enjoying especially the windbreaks New Zealand style. Conifers planted close together, the lower branches trimmed and trained to form and impenetrable ‘wall’. Sometimes the tree tops left untended; sometimes cut off. In Winton we lunched on sausage rolls and tea in the first place we have so far encountered with less-than-friendly service. Then on the SH6 again – quiet and with a narrow shoulder – through Limehills, Centre Bush and Benmore to Dipton for drinks and a Coconut Magnum which we consumed on a bench in the sun. And then the last tough 20km which included Josephville hill – most of which I had to walk.

And arrived in Lumsden with energy only to consume a large meal and climb the stairs leg-weary to our room to sleep still travel-stained. The Lumsden Hotel has a very busy popular pub downstairs. We had to order dinner from an obscure hatch there – un-signposted as the “locals all know where” to order. In the pub one man was showing off his ability to stand on his head; another arrived with his dogs in tow; several, one so drunk he was swaying bleary-eyed before the TV, were watching the obviously-popular sulky/trotting races. The hotel is situated opposite the cute public loos with attendant water tower decorated with Xmas lights (we subsequently found there were public loos in almost every town – usually clean. Unfortunately we missed the famous Kawakawa loos which were designed by Hundertwasser).

After we had gone to bed I received my second phone call from David Wall (he had left a message for me at Flynn’s) who wants to spend the next couple of days photographing us for Next magazine. We are to meet manyana. I took his call in the pub dressed in my gown and purple corduroy shirt – much to everyone’s amusement.

We’re really tired! Already?

Between Bluff and Lumsden
Between Bluff and Lumsden
Between Bluff and Lumsden
Between Bluff and Lumsden
Between Bluff and Lumsden
Between Bluff and Lumsden
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