In a shameless attempt at self promotion, I’m posting up my Lulu author spotlight! Please buy all the wonderful products available on this so I can continue my travels! http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Harry1000
In a shameless attempt at self promotion, I’m posting up my Lulu author spotlight! Please buy all the wonderful products available on this so I can continue my travels! http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Harry1000
For those of you who followed my blog all the way through, you’ll know that I was writing a novel whilst on my travels. So here it is, with a slight change in the title, (in my blog I mentioned it would be called ‘Rise of the Atomic Empires’) I can bring to you “Attack of the Atomic Airships! : The Adventures of Air Group Captain Sebastopol Valiant.
Steven R Harrison – Attack of the Atomic Airships! –http://t.co/ll1fVrN3 #iTunes
I’d like to give a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who has followed my blog whilst I was on my adventure around New Zealand. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Now though, you can buy my book of the whole collection of blogs, with added photographs and things from Lulu.com (soon also from Amazon). Please help a struggling travel writer buy his next ticket by purchasing a copy of ‘Blogs, Bikes & Jelly Beans!’ Follow the link below… THANKS!!!!!
It had started off small, the odd bit of pinched stationary here and there, a cable or two. Then Aaron found he could alter the stockroom details, just with a mouse click. Again it was only small stuff to start with, an i-pod, a mobile phone. But as is the way with these things, once you get going and more confident of not being detected, the items taken get more ambitious. Of course, you can’t just walk out of the warehouse with a sixty inch flat screen television under your coat. No, it needs to be delivered. That was handy when you could snatch the details of someone’s credit card whilst it was transmitted wirelessly around the unsecured network of the local Indian Restaurant. Then all he needed was a delivery address; why not somewhere that was due for demolition in a few short days? The control centre operative in China driving the automated delivery truck via web cam wouldn’t question the surroundings. They have the address, and the tramp signing for the delivery looks over eighteen. Aaron simply hauled the stuff into his own car and off he went with the traceless loot. After creating a cubical out of three high definition; 3D televisions, wiring them up to his games console, he was ready to go gaming.
Thirty-six hours. Two Thousand One hundred and sixty minutes or 129,600 seconds. Either way Aaron looked at it, this time it had been an epic session. And yet the screens he had surrounded himself with still taunted him with the question, “Continue? Yes / No.” It was just as well he’d been zapped by ‘Ming 239’ just then because he didn’t want a repeat of the trouser accident he’d had several hours ago, or was that yesterday? Still, gaming in the nude had been an interesting experience, especially since he’d twittered the fact and now had four new friends who’d like to meet him in a more exclusive chat room. He put down the laser gun and stood up, cracking his joints as the nachos fell off his lap onto the floor. About him were several empty Indian takeaway trays, empty cans of Red Bull, and his own soiled trousers. The place reeked, but not as much as his breath, his teeth felt as if they wore fur coats. After performing a bodily function that didn’t just evaporate, setting the coffee machine for triple espresso with two sugars, he sat back on his swivel chair lifted his gun and blasted at “Yes”.
After forty eight hours Mrs Elizabeth Victor, his landlady, had had enough. The noise pumping through the walls sounded like a warzone and the other residents were complaining just as loudly. She had been hammering on the door for a full ten minutes now and was convinced that she was being ignored. The time had come; she’d use her own key.
Aaron’s battle against the halitosis ridden monks of the Holy Order of Dawkinists had gone well. ‘Ming239’ had been blasted to pieces by a missile fired from one of his own drones and now combat had to be joined against the big boss of this sector. He was the only one with the XP high enough to go up against this evil bastard, the third incarnation of the Soviet Hitler. With energy packs charged, medi-kits on standby and the words of Grand Master Tim ringing in his ears, Aaron blasted ‘Yes’ to ye holy question of continuance. Pouring the last of the Red Bull over his head, Aaron made sure the salsa he’d been using as war paint hadn’t washed off, re-applying in places with curry sauce. Now fully camouflaged head to toe, Aaron blazed a whole magazine away on fifty of the Devotees of the Undecided Pilgrim, earning himself twelve ‘woops’ and four ‘lols’ from his fellow crusaders. But just then, the evil of the enemy showed a new skill. From behind him, emerging from and silhouetted by a portal of blinding light and hellish smoke, a new demon bellowed out “What the bloody hell is goin’ on ‘ere?!” Wasting no time, he swung around his weapon, selected the RPG launcher and let rip the awesome firepower. The demon screamed an ungodly scream as it was forced back into the hell dimension from whence it came, sealing the portal behind it. Reloading his weapon and facing front, a wave of pure joy swept over Aaron as the immortal line of “Congratulations Crusader, you have defeated the Atheist Bishops, Continue? Yes / No.” Knocking back a cold triple espresso with two sugars and a jalapeño garnish, Aaron screamed “Hell Yeah!” and got transported into the next level.
The landlady unlocked the door, opening it up in one full swing. She took a step inside, little expecting the scene that greeted her. Sunlight poured into the room, illuminating a naked tenant sat surrounded by his own filth, shooting away at the most disgusting things she had ever seen on a television set. “What the bloody hell is goin’ on ‘ere?!” she tried shouting over the noise. The tenant spun around in his chair, eyes wide and bulging; streaked in blood and gore. She took a step back in surprise, accidently pressing her hand against the over boiling coffee maker by the door. Screaming, grasping her burned hand, she fell back into the corridor, the door closing on its spring. Getting back to her office, she called the police. The automated answering machine measured the stress in her voice, picked up the flagged words ‘Blood’ ‘Gun’ ‘Screaming’ and determined from the rest that she had been forcefully ejected from her own property. Moments later, four police cruisers and a van spewed their armed occupants out into her driveway. She watched horrified through her net curtains as, after a crashing of boots and doors and shouts of “Armed Police”, several shots rang out. Later, when she managed to peek inside, all she could see was a glowing choice.
Continue? Yes / No
Alas, all good things come to an end, my time in New Zealand has drawn to a close. After twenty five hours in the air, and a fifteen hour stop over in Singapore Airport, the two storied Airbus jet that flew me home touched down at Heathrow. With nought but a gentle judder as the landing gear tyres kissed the tarmac, I was back in Blighty. Reality, at the same time, hit with a crashing sickening thump. I had finished my adventure. I no longer could just do what I wanted, go where I wanted or when I wanted because I had to return to work. I may never again get the opportunity to do anything like that ever again, and that made me sad. I adored every minute of it, every morning when I woke up I looked out of the window (or unzipped the tent entrance) and thought to myself ‘I’m in New Zealand… Wow!’ I looked forward to the time I could sit down and put fingers to keyboard and tell you all about it, because that made it feel like more of an adventure and not just another holiday. I felt like I was writing not only for myself, but for everyone back home. I really did smile every time I got an email saying someone had clicked the ‘Like’ button on my blog, because it felt as if I was talking to someone, that I had company even in the remotest areas.
In the time I had I met some amazing people, shared noodles and stories with kiwis and fellow travellers alike of many different nationalities. I got to experience first hand what it is like for the people of Christchurch after ‘The Big One’, and felt the ground shake myself in two (albeit smaller, thank God) earthquakes just before Christmas. I went skydiving for the first time, picked up hitchhikers (never again!), and stayed in many different places.
Before I left for New Zealand, whenever I told anyone of my plans they would smile and nod, then say something like “You’ll not want to come home.” or “Anything to get away from Britain, there’s nothing here.” I would smile and nod and remind them of my own return ticket that I had bought. I had to come back, I had no other choice and besides, ‘There’s no place like home!’
I suppose with hindsight I would have done some things differently to save money, like not buying the van and instead opting for a cheaper estate car with a tent (or just shoving a mattress in the back). That way I could have also bought a bicycle and a bike rack and had everything with me without the horrendous fuel cost. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have needed to buy a bus ticket and I could have done the North Island in the same way as I had done the South Island. I’d also would’ve had the added bonus of being able to delve deeper into the spectacular countryside on the bike. But then, I wouldn’t have been able to give a balanced (I hope) opinion of the Kiwi Experience bus, and so wouldn’t have had a different twist on the journey.
I’m going to give a roundup of some of the stuff that I may have missed, or not mentioned very much.
In New Zealand, where ever you go to dine out the food is usually of a very good to high standard. Even in what would be considered a greasy spoon cafe, everything tasted as if thought had gone into the production of the meal, rather than just dished up and microwaved. Almost everything had a sprig of greenery, a flourish of artistry, a touch of something that when your eyes take the first bite, they rarely mislead the mouth. Sometimes I felt bad in putting a knife and fork through something that was more like a work of art. I think this is because the stuff you get in the supermarkets is somehow sadly lacking, so the kiwis make up for it in the restaurants. There are two main chains, Countdown and New World. Along with them is Pak ‘n’ Save, a discount store similar to the old Netto shops, and Four Square, that cropped up in the smaller towns like our Co-Ops. From what I gleaned, and without checking this up (so I could be wrong, but I’m sure I read it somewhere) the last two are owned buy the first two. These two, however, have been caught in a price fixing scandal and have been criticised for blocking foreign chains from opening their own stores. They both stock a tiny selection of foreign imported goods, but these are twice the price of the New Zealand products (in New World, they have an ‘International’ stand, selling mainly British stuff. You can buy a can of Irn Bru for the equivalent of two pounds.) The kiwi stuff is limited to one or two brands per product, so for example in the canned food aisle (where I spent much of my time) you’d get either ‘Watties’ or ‘Pams’, the first giving you what you’d expect and the other being the one that gives one chunk of chicken in its chicken soup. Also, there seems to be only one company that does all the pre packed salad, it’s not done in store, like in Britain. I once bought a Greek salad that turned out to only contain lettuce, with a sachet of salad dressing. Mmmm!!!
The Award for the Best Meal goes to….. The Shoreline Cafe & Restaurant in Kaiteriteri! Their Eggs Benedict looked like an art exhibit and tasted like it had been crafted by a surgeon who specialised in stimulating the good bits of your tastebuds.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Meal goes to…. New World! Selling me a box of nothing but lettuce really showed their lack of commitment to quality!
At the start of my travels, I was drinking beer. At the end, I was drinking wine even though I had never even considered buying wine back home (I will say now, I know nothing of wine or its three types, Red – White and Mixed, but I was told time and again by many people that Kiwi wine is world class, so I’ll leave it at that). This is because, after due consideration and taking into account (drinking) many of the different brands, I came to the conclusion that Kiwi beer all comes from the same barrel. They just stick a different label on and maybe a touch of colouring to make them look like they’re brewed by opposing companies. This is not only my opinion, I compared notes with people of many nationalities who agreed. Regardless of whether I was drinking what was described as an ‘ale’ or ‘pilsner’ or ‘stout’, all it turned out to be was a fizzy lager type of thing. It didn’t matter which bar you went into, or which brand you ordered, there is very little to distinguish between them. It didn’t help by the fact that the alcohol content is low by British and European standards, that it’s expensive in the supermarkets and bars, and that usually ‘a pint’ is the generic term for ‘a large glass’ usually of around 440 ml (but not always). Whilst you can buy Australian beer in the UK, when did you ever see a Kiwi one? You haven’t, for good reason. There is one exception though in this lake of blandness. In Wanaka whilst drinking with Peter the German, we discovered a beer that had flavour, body, and went down faster than Anglo German relations after a football match. It even came in a proper pint glass. So…
The Award for Best Beer goes to….Brewski, of Wanaka Beerworks! On a hot day, with fine company, (Cheers Peter! Good Luck in Oz!) this stuff ticked every box a Brit and a German had.
A second prize goes to my mate in Christchurch for brewing his own beer and not letting the side down by becoming a wine-ist.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Beer goes to…. D B Beer. I’ve only two words to say in regard to this stuff, Avoid It.
Places to Stay
Depending on your budget you can stay in anything from luxury hotels to a tent behind the cattle sheds on a farm. Most of the fun in travelling centres around accommodation, and I’m sure everyone has there own list of places. But these are my awards…
The Award for Best Campsite goes to…. Counties Camping in Auckland! I was made welcome from day one, the place was peaceful and well maintained and whilst the weather was a bit hit and miss I got a fantastic suntan!
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Campsite goes to…. Queenstown Motor Camp! They charged excessively for what they gave, basically a parking space. They charged for the showers, over charged for milk and made everything feel controlled and sterile. A no fun place in a fun town.
The Award for Best Hostel goes to…. Jail House Accommodation, Christchurch. In an industry that makes it’s money by cramming in the most people into the least space, at least this place has an interesting story and building to go with it.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Hostel goes to…. The judges have split the award between Base Hostel Wellington, and the YMCA Hostel in Auckland. Whilst both were clean and did what they said they would do, I hated the feeling of being ‘processed,’ that I was just another hassle in the running of the place. The beds were better at the YMCA, but you couldn’t sleep because of old windows and the feeling of everything being wafer thin, and the ill informed staff didn’t help. In Wellington, sleep was almost impossible because of other peoples’ noise.
Well, that’s it. Thank you everyone who helped make my adventure ‘an adventure’! Thanks to you all for clicking the ‘Like’ button. Thanks in advance to the people who are going to buy my forth coming book that includes all of these blogs, plus much more information and many more photographs. I’m making a proper travel book out of it all! If you want to know more about this, you can get in touch by replying to any of these articles as I get an email notifying me of each one. Incidentally, if anyone from the travel industry would like me to visit and write about their place, or any destination please, for the love of god, please get in touch!
The shop sign mocked me from beyond the safety of the windowpane. What up until a few moments before had been a glowing beacon of hope in the otherwise never changing landscape, an oasis advertised at the roadside by a wind blown rotating sign was now a cruel jest. I was knackered, hungry and it was just starting to rain in that annoying way that soaked you before you noticed it was raining. I could see the things I wanted, separated from me by the glass and barred from me by a locked door and a ‘Sorry, we’re closed’ sign. The door wasn’t that heavy, it moved and rattled when I shook it and the glass was only single glazed. I nurtured dark thoughts of illegal activities, I’d only get what I needed, put the cash on the counter and hope they had insurance for the rest. Why didn’t I go with my own judgement and detour toward the town first instead of listening to the man who told me there was a shop in Staveley, the village I had headed toward? Now the town, Methven, was over twenty miles behind me. I looked at my map, there was another village around six miles further down the road, to my left. There was a motor camp symbol by it. Or, should I pray that there was a shop at the campsite I was headed toward – shown by a tent symbol – on my right, a good three miles away? Left or right?
Arctic explorers can say to with in a hundred yards or so how far they can travel each day with the food they have. Out in the frozen wilderness of either the two poles, they know that this amount of food will get themselves and their equipment so far before they have to stop. If they go beyond what they have supplied for themselves, they’ll never get to the target. Everything is weighed and baggage is kept to a minimum, the food is of a quality that is high in energy and low in weight. If they had shops in the middle of the South Pole of the same type as some of those found in the countryside in New Zealand, they’d have still starved to death.
As I’ve mentioned before, everything weighs more on a bicycle than it does when taken off the bike. This means that I’ve been relying on the idea that a campsite near a village would have a shop, thus saving me having to haul my food from the big town supermarket. However, the prices of things in the village shop are sometimes twice what they are in the supermarkets and there is usually very little choice. In one store I came to near Peel Forest, they had one item of everything on the shelves. Honestly, I was reminded of the pictures of supermarkets in the old Soviet Union. If you wanted a nourishing bowl stew and the person ahead of you picked it up first, hard luck.
When I was driving around in the van, I could have breakfast in the morning, (usually cereal of a name similar but not quite the same as a British brand, like ‘Weetbicks’) then it wouldn’t be unusual not have anything at all until tea time. Even then, one can of ravioli would be enough to bide me over until breakfast came around again. This was because I was sat on my arse the whole time driving, burning petrol rather than calories. Also, I used to buy two or three days worth of supplies from the big supermarkets and shove them in the boot before heading off into the wilds. So food was comparatively cheaper, lighter and lasted longer. Now though, I was burning calories at a rate that would horrify environmentalists had I been eating coal. One can of food is not enough. Usually I’m riding my bike for around six hours at a time, covering anywhere from thirty to fifty miles, sometimes more. In the morning I have a large bowl of muesli, this is good because it fits easily into my bag and doesn’t mind being squashed. Then, depending on money and availability a sandwich or sausage roll washed down with bottled tap water for dinner. If sandwiches aren’t available, (they’re not even supplied pre packed in the big supermarkets, shocking!) a choccy bar. If on special offer, vital sugars lost while cycling are replaced with jelly beans or some other sweets. If not on offer, I think sweet things to get by. When I reach my destination, sometimes announced in my best imitation of a sat-nav voice, only when I have put up the tent, blown up the air bed and had a shower (or a wash from the tap, depending where I am) do I sit down for a well earned feed. My choice of destination had been because the place name was that of a town near where I live in England, hence Sheffield last time. Today was Staveley, for no other reason than it was there and had a campsite. It was lucky that the area I was cycling around was on the very edge of the Canterbury Plains, just before the Southern Alps, as it gave a scenic background on an otherwise flat and boring terrain.
I decided right, and set off. I got about half a mile before I pulled over again. If the other place is a motor camp, then it’d have an office. Usually the office sells food and there is more chance it would be open. I turned around and began heading the other way, the rain starting to fall more heavily now. A little further on and I’d pulled over again to get out my raincoat. I looked again at the map. The campsite was closer, and my legs were starting to feel as if they may never work again after today. A girl came up the drive way I was standing by, she was on a motorbike, I needed a second opinion. She told me there was a shop (on the right) but it may be closed. She didn’t know of the motor camp but said the town was ten kilometres away and that it went up hill. I thanked her and she drove away, laughing politely at my request for a tow. To hell with it, I’d come this far, I was pointing that way and what’s an extra few miles anyway when I’d been cycling all day. I continued toward the motor camp.
The rain held off from giving me a full drenching and for once despite the threat of a hill; the town, Mount Somer turned out closer than the map suggested. At least it felt that way. I followed the sign advertising the motor camp and for the second time that day I saw a village shop. For the second time that day, I saw a closed sign. But wait, someone was inside! I’d just caught the owner locking up and after a shameful display of pitiful pleading, she let me nip in and buy my things.
The motor camp, whilst it had all the things you’d expect like a kitchen and shower block (yippee!), didn’t have an office. I was told a lady came around in the morning to take cash, or put it in an honesty box. I’d just spent the last of my cash on stew and rice pudding and the nearby pub didn’t do cash back. The next morning, whilst watching out for the rent collector who never came and only able to put honesty in the honesty box, I quickly packed up and did a runner.
I hadn’t planned to be on the road again and my legs began aching the moment I’d set off. I’d been told Methven had cash machines, so I headed back there. The route took me past Staveley again (and that blasted shop) and I kept an eye out for the campsite I would’ve spent the night in. I rode past the driveway I had talked to the girl, I rode past where I thought the site would be. Nothing. No site, no shop, no signpost, not even an indication of a spot where a campsite could have been. Thanking my lucky stars for a correct decision, I pressed on and found Methven to be all the things I needed it to be, including having a kebab shop! After two nights there I set off again.
In Peel Forest, a place I chose because I was told it had an interesting waterfall, I had a problem. The shop only had noodles. The other problem was that whilst it was a DoC campsite, it was the most expensive one at twelve dollars a night. It had been raining hard all day and the prospect of building my tent in the rain, then only having noodles to eat was a bit disheartening. The good thing was it stopped raining just as I began setting up, and that it had a real fireplace in one of the huts so I could dry out my things! Also I met two girls traveling in a camper van (Elisabeth and Alex, hi!) who had only rice and a few veggies. We turned our meagre ingredients into something really tasty and filling.
I’m headed back in the direction of Christchurch now, and getting on a jet for home in just over a week. Look out for the big round up and awards ceremony coming soon!
Mini Count :- 50!!!!!!!! I kid ye not! One in Methven, two on the road and one in a garage!
Sorry, no pics, slow internet again!
Have you ever played one of those old computer racing car games? The sort they had in arcades in the eighties where you moved your ‘car’ side to side at the bottom of the screen to miss (or overtake) the other racers. They tried to make it more interesting by making a telegraph pole go by every now and then to give the impression of racing down a road. Well, imagine doing that for real, only without the other racing cars on a never ending arrow straight and level gravel track. On your right are the telegraph poles, next to a railway line. On your left is a never ending stretch of farmers’ fields, all growing the same crop. You have thirty miles to cover, enjoy!
Nestled in the foothills just before the Southern Alps, just before you start the Lewis Pass toward Nelson and the west coast, is the small town of Hanmer Springs. I tried to pronounce this name, and I’ve listened to other people say it, but it always sounds like ‘Hamner.’ Anyway, this is a proper little alpine town. When I was in Franz Joseph it felt as if the whole place was geared up toward flogging you various modes of transport up to the glaciers. There were many pubs and restaurants and ample places to spend the night but I always got the impression that it was always just a one horse town. If it hadn’t been for the glaciers, it didn’t seem as if there would have been much point having a town there at all. Whilst people must have lived there in their own houses, I can’t remember seeing a building that didn’t advertise itself as either a boarding house or in some way connected to the tourist trade. Hanmer Springs though has many feathers in it’s cap. You can do all the usual things like Bungee jumping, Jet boating and Rafting, and in winter Skiing, but the town itself is also worth visiting in it’s own right. The main street and town centre is a picturesque mix of park land, green trees and small independent shops selling everything from trinkets to groceries. There are many small cafes tailored for those who just want a bacon sandwich up to those who prefer to eat things drizzled in jus. The buildings are small and reminiscent of those found in the ski resorts of Europe, wooden structures with large windows and triangular pointed roofs. But the thing Hanmer is famous for, the reason there’s the word ‘Springs’ in the name, is because like Rotoroa the town sits on top of natural hot springs. Unlike Rotoroa the place doesn’t stink to high heaven of rotten eggs, though. As you’d expect, there is a spa and unlike the one in Franz Joseph it is actually worth visiting, especially if you have small children. You don’t just sit in a warm pool of water looking at dense forest foliage, you can sit in streams (not natural ones though) or sample pools of differing levels of mineral enriched water. For the kids is a recreation area with water cannons and slides. All this whilst looking around at the pine covered hills dotted by secluded houses. It’s an alpine town that doesn’t ram itself down your neck and is not too commercialised.
I spent three nights in Hanmer Springs, trying in some way to get the town name to live up to a title for a blog I had in my head, ‘Hanmer Horror.’ Other than the agony of cycling up the hills on the way there, which I’ve already written about, I couldn’t think of anything that suited. The campsite I was in was next to a huge pine forest that stretched over the hills toward the Alps proper. Once or twice at night time it sounded like a woodland critter of some kind was snarling and snuffling around outside my tent, but I’d hardly call that horrifying. The only thing I that was scary was the prices of the pubs and cafes, but again nothing I’ve not written about before. The thought of continuing over the Lewis Pass, with 800 metre climbs in places, on a bike that if it was any heavier I’d need a special license to ride, that was horrifying. I sometimes set myself challenges, do things that I’d thought I wouldn’t be able to do or be too chicken to try. I did think about doing the pass, but the distance involved and lack of any shops along the way that I could call into for a sausage roll, meant I would’ve had to carry three or more days of supplies with me. I elected to go back the way I’d come, back toward the east coast and then head south. I packed up (which takes a full hour to do, making sure nothing is going to fall off) and headed back out of Hanmer. The weather was good, warm. The road wound along the between the high hills and overlooked the pebble strewn banks of the Waiau River. The traffic on the road was minimal, and the music playing through my headphones gave me a moment of near perfection. I was on a flat part, peddling along at a good pace. Sat on a fence by the side of the road was a large bird of prey, I don’t know what sort but it had a sharp beak and talons. As I neared it leapt into the air and took off, pounding mighty wings. At that moment, Joe Cocker came in with the chorus of ‘Where we belong,’ that bit where the lyrics go ‘…where the eagles cry, over mountain high.’ Wow. It was all there, the song could have been set in that spot. Up until that point I’d been sniggering that he sounds like he’s singing ‘The lift goes up where we belong…’ yeah, the lifts go up were we are too, Joe.
I made excellent progress toward where I had stayed a few nights before, Balmoral Forest. So good in fact, that I decided to keep going. Going up into the hills is hard, but coming down again is easy and it had taken me over an hour less time to do the same distance back. It could only go down hill toward the sea, couldn’t it?
Three hours later and I arrived as a sweaty aching mess back at Leithfield Beach. Six whole hours in the saddle and over 58 miles (94 km)! I was quite pleased with myself.
The problem is though, there is nothing to do in Leithfield Beach. I spent the next day looking at the road map, where to next? As I scanned the pages, my eyes came across a very familiar name. There was also the symbol of a campsite nearby. What the hell, I’ll head for there. On the bike and off I went. I’d seen villages who had English counterparts before (Rotherham, Oxford, Stavely to name a few) but I couldn’t miss this one. I had to visit the New Zealand version of Sheffield!
On the way there it wasn’t so bad. Flat and straight roads dotted with towns. I stopped for a rest in one town and told someone who asked where I was heading, he said it was a good 30 or 40 kilometres away. I checked my map, that said Twenty. I got there much sooner than I thought, it didn’t feel like twenty at all (although I did pass a sign that said three kilometres to Sheffield, then 200 yards later pass one that said 5 km…) I had been told not to expect much, but I wasn’t bothered. Sheffield was a village with the three main things a village should have. A pub, a school, and a pie shop. The railway ran through the middle of it, there were a few houses, and that was it. I called into the pie shop (the pub was closed, and unless it was boarded up, that is something you wouldn’t expect at lunch time back home) and mentioned I was from Sheffield in England, sort of expecting a free pie maybe or a cheer at least. “Yeah, we get a few people coming through saying that…” was the response from the woman behind the counter. Ho hum. I’d made good progress again and had noticed a second campsite closer toward Christchurch near a town called Rolleston. Also as luck would have it, the railway ran directly there and there was a road that ran alongside the tracks. It was off the main highway, so it would be quiet…
The tarmac quickly gave way to gravel and the road became pitted and pot holed, just like home. I saw something, a shape or a tree out of place in the far distance and I prayed it would be something to mark the end the road. When I got there, I saw only the same thing again, far ahead like a mirage. Mile after mile. In places I rode on the wrong side of the road, sometimes because it was smoother and sometimes for something to do. I was on a never ending treadmill were the scenery never changed…. Never had I been so bored when out riding my bike. When I got to my campsite, I’d covered in around eight hours from Leithfield almost 71 miles (114 km). I’m not going to be moving for a few days, methinks!
Mini Count :- 46 The only thing of interest in Leithfield Beach.
If you think about it, you’d be highly suspicious if you past a field full of people who stopped what they were doing and stared at you silently as you went by. You’d at least feel uneasy that you in particular had been of such interest, especially if you were just going by minding your own business. It would be something you’d mention when you got home. You’d want to know why they all looked at you, why they were in the field in the first place and you’d wander whether or not you should tell the authorities. Yet if you pass a field of cows doing the same thing you would not think anything of it. I think the cows are up to something, I think they’re planning to take over the world…
In the map, the area around Christchurch is called the Canterbury Plains. A flat, vast expanse of mostly farmland where the road stretches ahead for miles without a bend or bump. Ideal for those who are on bicycles, like me. Before I left Christchurch I’d made sure everything was strapped down and balanced as well as I could get it. I deemed my efforts good enough for the roads of Sheffield, so the earthquake damaged roads of Christchurch should be no problem – at least they had been designed flat and smooth before the ‘quake hit. I enjoy cycling and do a lot of mountain biking back home, but I’ve never carried anything heavier than a small bag before and even then only for a short distance. Now though, I had everything with me and I quickly discovered something that all the scientists in the whole of history have so far failed to mention. Bikes have their own gravitational pull, making even the lightest of objects weigh more than they would do normally. The bag my tent comes in says that it weighs three kilos, on a bike that translates into the weight of a small cottage. My clothing; just a few teeshirts and shorts, a weight a child could easily carry, on a bike weigh more than one days entire output of an Indian sweatshop. This computer, whilst I’m using it now is light and easily portable. On a bike it’s the same weight as the WWII Colossus decoding computer. As I cycled along it soon became obvious that anything steeper than going up a kerb would mean getting off and pushing, even the bridges over some rivers were like tackling a mountain. But never the less, once I got up to speed and got a good rhythm going progress was good. On the first day I covered about fifty kilometres (which sounded good until I converted it into miles) and found myself at a campsite by Leighfield Beach. I was done for, exhausted, knackered and hungry. The last thing I wanted to do was build a tent but it had to be done. I promised myself that once that was up, I’d have a shower and something to eat and finally relax. The problem was that I’d never built this tent before and it wasn’t designed like any other tent I’d ever used. It took me two hours of swearing and throwing it around, phoning for help, and sitting staring at it before it was finally put up with the help of a man on the next pitch. All my problems came because I’d got the only two poles the wrong way around. I spent the next day trying not to move at all and I toyed with the idea of just staying in the same place for two weeks, I couldn’t face getting back on the bike.
Boredom, though, is a good motivator. I managed to pack everything so I didn’t have to carry anything on my back, which meant I was glancing over my shoulder every two seconds to make sure my computer hadn’t fallen off. There was no point in continuing to follow State Highway One, I had driven it loads and knew that the next big town was Kaikoura, and I’d already been there. I decided to turn inland and head for Hamner Springs, with a stop over in a place called Balmoral Forest. Before I had been listening to music as I cycled, but I decided to switch it off to save the battery for another time. Following the road ever onwards without music clouding your thoughts means you don’t half think of some weird stuff.
Why do kilometres lie? One sign says one distance and when you think you’ve covered it you find you’re only half way, everything seems further away. Miles are far easier to gauge. How come the Maori name for things, when translated, always mean something like ‘good fishing spot’ or ‘tall mountain’? Never anything like Leeds, or Everest. How come other people on biking holidays make it look so easy, seemingly zooming up the hills? Why are some cows black and white? It serves no purpose. Sheep never look at you as you go by, they have big woolly coats to protect them against the weather and can hide in snow. Cows have no camouflage, how did they evade predators in times past? Maybe they’re not originally of this planet. They stand staring at things for hours to work out what it does and how works and then, when the time is right, they’ll rebel against humankind. It doesn’t matter if we eat a few of them because there will always be more, they’ve even begun to be popular in China. Their numbers are growing. Maybe they’re psychic somehow, that’s why they all look at you at exactly the same time. Its to make sure you haven’t sussed them out yet. That’s why you always hear of people being trampled, the cows judge that their secret is out and decide to stomp the problem.
Next time, I’m going to make sure my batteries are charged up on my music player. Inside my head is too strange a place to be in for long…
Mini Count :- 45 Can we get to fifty before home time?
With only about three weeks left of this adventure, and money beginning to get to a point that even a boa constrictor would consider tight, I decided to return to the South Island. I bid farewell to all the folks I’d enjoyed meeting over the past week at the campsite I’d been using as a base for exploring Auckland, and headed for the airport. This being Waitangi Day, (a bank holiday in New Zealand, the anniversary of the signing of the Waitangi Treaty between the British and the Maori. Very basically, it gave the Maoris the protection of the Crown and New Zealand became ‘officially’ under British control.) no public transport was running so I was very grateful for the lift from one of the camp residents. (Cheers, Lesley! Sorry if that’s not how you spell your name…) I found it bizarre that the check in and waiting around at the airport took longer than the flight itself, but an hour and twenty minutes after leaving Auckland I touched down for the second time in Christchurch. After a second lift from the my mate I’d spent Christmas with, I was back at their house in Mount Pleasant and had a problem. What to do next? Sensing that they didn’t particularly want people staying too long in their quake damaged home, (with over a quarter of the floor space unusable and the five of them relying on a chemical toilet, I wouldn’t want people over for too long) I had to make skedaddle plans. Herein lay the problem, skedaddle how? I’d sold the van, I couldn’t afford to jump on the South Island Kiwi bus, the tent and equipment I’d used on the North Island were all borrowed and I’d given them back. Hiring a car would have meant selling a lung and as for a camper van, pah ha hah hah! It was fleetingly suggested that I gave hitchhiking a go, but I thought that would be ever so slightly hypocritical of me, I could just about hear the yokels tuning up their banjos. So what about hiring a bike then?
A quick check on t’web narrowed the search for a hire shop down to two that didn’t ask for the deeds to your body after you’d snuffed it as payment. One of these was soon off the list as they didn’t have a bike spare so it was in the last shop my hopes lay. It was a second hand bicycle store that advertised itself as in the business of hiring, selling and buying used bikes. I explained that I needed a bike for three weeks, including a pannier, helmet and bike lock. He showed me a selection of bright and shiny mountain and touring bikes, seemingly fresh out of the box. I showed him the moths that were chewing holes in my pockets, he nodded sagely and beckoned me into a dimly lit attic above the shop. Up here, under a single unshielded lightbulb and behind a curtain of cobwebs was stock that had not managed to find a place with the ‘cool’ bikes downstairs. There were almost a hundred of them, stacked for storage and not display. I could see where some of the hostels had bought their own ‘sit up and beg’ bikes. In the dim recesses of the room I fancied that I could make out the outline of a Penny Farthing. The shopkeeper searched amongst his stock, glancing up occasionally to check how tall I was. Eventually, he pulled one out that to me looked fairly modern, I was fearing something that looked like what a post mistress would use. It was a steel frame, 21 geared, Raleigh Amazon, made in Nottingham. I guessed it was somewhere between twenty and thirty years old, but not being in the know about these things I could be wrong. It was coloured with blue / green paint with glitter mixed in. With choice being the luxury of those with more cash, I bought that one with the agreement that the shop would buy it back from me when I returned in a few weeks. He assured me it would be ready at four, after it had been given a thorough check and a pannier fitted.
In the time before picking it up, and with suggestions being made of where I should head to, I picked up a few vital odds and sods from the supermarket. It depressed me to think that I had already owned most of this stuff just a month or so ago, a camping stove, air bed and pump, cup and bowl, knife and fork. It had all being sold with the van (my air bed had a leak and I left it in Auckland). Thankfully, I could once more borrow a small tent. Time ticked buy, I emptied my backpack and tried to arrange everything so it all – tent, sleeping bag, everything – fit into one bag. Did I need jeans? No, they got left behind as did my shirts and best shoes. I only took a few pairs of shorts and teeshirts, jacket and raincoat. I managed to cram it all, including the tent, into the pack. I decided I needed to keep my computer safe, so that went into an old satchel that previously had been used as a school bag before the lad moved into high school. This also carried my wallet, camera and a bag of sweets.
With timing that would impress the military, and reasoning that the shop could be done before four o’clock, I was bustled into the car and whisked back to the bike shop before the kids needed picking up from school. I waved bye bye as mum on a mission dropped me off and vanished in a cloud of tyre smoke. As with all these things though, the shop wasn’t ready at four. The manager had failed to tell his staff that the bike needed preparing, and when they did begin they found a whole load of other problems. I breathed a sigh of relief as they told me it wouldn’t cost me any more, and that some of the things going on were brand new, but it wouldn’t be ready until the next day. As I walked back to the house, I began to feel a bit bad in having to tell them that the bike wasn’t ready.
The next day came and the bike was sorted. After rummaging around in the garage we found an old wheelless skateboard that I strapped to the pannier rack with bungee cables to act as a support for the backpack. More bungees and extra straps made sure everything stayed in one place. Flinging the satchel onto my back and selecting ‘Road to Nowhere’ for riding music, I headed off north – destination unknown…
Mini Count :- 44, there isn’t one for ages then four crop up in one day!