Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 5: Waipoua River to Dargaville

March 1st 2014
Distance cycled: 53 km
Total distance to date: 295 km

No sooner did I write about not having rain than it started raining last night. Not too much, but enough for me to dart out of my tent and grab my laundry from the line. Jinxed it. 

This morning I had my breakfast and a nice chat in the campground kitchen with Robert and a Kiwi woman named Penelope, who was on holiday with her 4-year-old daughter. The daughter was outgoing, vivacious and cute as all get out, and introduced me to her purple stuffed unicorn. I sat and drank my coffee with them and didn't leave the campground until 10am. 

Leaving the forest required an hour of steady uphill climbing. I took it slow and it was actually a very pleasant ride. I passed Robert again as he was walking uphill and as I did, a pickup pulled over and asked if he wanted a ride. I was sure he'd accept one at least to the top of the hop, but he did not. I did not see him again for the rest of the day. 

At 8km away from the campground, I had the choice of taking the highway or turning off onto a gravel road to see Trouson Kauri Park. I figured I'd seen enough kauris and I didn't fancy a ride on gravel, so I took the highway, which my guidebook said would be busier. In rural New Zealand, "busy" is a relative term. And since it was Saturday morning, the road was probably less busy than usual. I stopped for a rest and a mid-morning snack at the top of a hill overlooking the farmland. 

Entering Kaihu, the trees were all evergreens and I felt as if I were back in the PNW. It definitely looked that way! It even began to rain a little, the kind of sprinkle you get back home. Very nostalgic for me. 

Heading into Dargaville, the weather cleared up and even began to get fairly hot. The traffic picked up too, and I was glad when my route branched off onto a quiet sidestreet that took me straight into the center of town. But before I got there, I witnessed a cow conga line:

Where were they going? And how did they know to stay on the road? Silly cows. 

Dargaville is a town with a population comparable to Olympia but feels more like Aberdeen. I had to wait at the grocery store for 3 people (2 of whom I had waited longer than) to buy lotto scratch tickets from the adjacent counter before the lady decided to come check my groceries. I spent a good chunk of time in a café drinking coffee - how I've missed good espresso and cafés with good atmosphere! And they had free wifi. I'll definitely be going there for another coffee before I leave town in the morning. Funny how I will freedom camp to save money (I'm camping in a park on the outskirts of town tonight), make food on a tuna cans stove and endure multitudes of big bites, but I'll turn around and spend $4 on a coffee drink. Priorities!

Tomorrow will be interesting. The route I had planned on taking down the west coast is no longer an option because the ferry I would need to take won't be running this week. Boo! It looked like such a nice ride. Instead I'll take highway 12 east and try to figure out a way into Auckland without having to take SH1, which absolutely everyone has warned me against. At the most I'd have to ride SH1 for 28km but for safety's sake it might be better to grab a bus for those 28km. One of the people who warned me against SH1 was a Romanian guy named Octavian (!!!) who cycled through the country for 3 months but recently traded in the bike for a campervan. He works in nature preservation/restoration in Trouson Kauri Park (the park I passed by today but didn't go through) and invited me to stay with him a few nights and come see the projects he and his team were working on. I politely declined as I want to press on, but did give him my email as he might be passing through Berlin this summer. 

Another funny coincidence was meeting a Maori man in Dargaville whom I asked for advice on where to get coffee in town. Turns out he manages the campground where I stayed last night. And as I reflected, I realized I had seen him at the campground. He was also the guy who pulled over in the forest and offered Robert a lift. Small world! When you're cycling and getting somewhere takes all day, you're amazed when you see someone again who you think must be miles behind you. But in reality it's only a an hour or two's drive by car to the next town. Anyway, he was right about the coffee. 

Road Trip New Zealand

Auckland is a nice town. A town that felt positively provincial after the madhouse that was Bangkok, which should say something about the remoteness of New Zealand, since Auckland is the country's biggest metropolis with over 1 million inhabitants. OK, so it's not a town, it's a city. But it felt very quiet, almost forlorn, as I arrived straight from crowded, hot, chaotic Bangkok.

Auckland has a tower! Apparently, I love cities that have towers. 

My friend Morgan lives just one block away from the Sky Tower, which was built in 1997. Morgan and I used to work together back in 2006-07 at the grocery store in Seattle. I stayed at her apartment for a few nights, and we even went to a quiz night at a pub, at which I was most unhelpful, due in part to the beer tower. 

Beer towers are almost as cool as Sky Towers. 

Morgan and her fiancée are gracious and welcoming hosts, even letting me hold the keys to their place, which is remarkable considering my recent history with keys. They must not read my adventures on this blog. 

On my second day in Auckland, I did some sightseeing in the village of Devonport, just a short ferry ride away from Auckland. It was beautiful:

Just a short walk away from the Devonport ferry terminal, I found San Soucci. It looks a little different than the one in Berlin. 

The view from the harbor was stunning on this partially cloudy day. I went to the top of two different hills, North Head and Victoria. They are both actually volcanoes but dormant and covered in grass to look like parks. 

From the top of both hills, one could view the Rangitoto volcano. (I need to check to see if that's really the name of it.)

The next day, I set out looking for a bike shop and stumbled across a park near the zoo with a lot of birds. It included these funny blue birds with red heads that look somewhat like chickens:

And then there were the usual suspects: ducks, geese, seagulls. 

They wanted my food. I brought them some bread the next day since I had to go back to the bike shop anyway. 

My sister and two of her college roommates arrived in Auckland a few days after I did. We all boarded a plane headed to Queenstown to start a 9-day roadtrip north.

Queenstown is billed as the Adventure Capital of the World. Bungee jumping was invented here, and one can take part in a myriad of activities guaranteed to get your adrenaline pumping. We chose wifi and caffeine as our first stop. 

I hiked to the top of Queenstown hill in the afternoon for spectacular views of the valley, lake and surrounding mountains. 

We also did a fantastic (but rainy, but still fantastic) kayak trip to Milford Sound, relaxed on multiple beaches, and drove many many kilometers up the west coast. 

Of the two glaciers on the west coast, we chose to visit Fox. 

After an afternoon in sunny Picton and scenic ferry ride across the Tasman Straight, we made it to Wellington, where we had great coffee and found a place to sing some karaoke at night. The coffee shop's machine is from Seattle!

We also spent a few hours at Te Papa, Wellington's world-renowned museum, learning about history of NZ and its peoples. 

The view from the 6th floor is unbeatable:


The next day was centered around a visit to the glow worm caves in Waitomo (beautiful but expensive) and the addition of our toothbrushes to New Zealand's famous toothbrush fence. 

My addition:

Yesterday was the end of the road trip. My sis and her friends are back in the US, and I am in Auckland again. Tomorrow I will bus up to the north and get to Cape Reinga so I can start my journey south on my bike. (I already got a flat yesterday... Bad start!) 

Day 4: Rawene to Waipoua River

Feb. 28th 2014
Distance cycled: 54 km
Total distance to date: 242 km

This morning I packed up camp and went to meet up with Margie, whom I'd met last week on the bus from Auckland. She and her friend Rob picked me up and we walked to her house overlooking the harbor for a lovely breakfast. 

Margie was so sweet and had everything out on the table that I could possibly have wanted: fresh fruit, local honey, homemade jam, peanut butter, toast made from local bread, tea, milk, yogurt and muesli. I was just happy to be indoors and have good company (and a place to charge my phone)! We ate and enjoyed the fantastic view from her balcony:

Margie and Rob are also both super handy. I had a bag that needed sewing (an important bag, too: it clasps to my handlebars and has all my important stuff in there like money and passport and such). Margie busted out her sewing machine like a pro!

Within the span of minutes, my bag had a new branding (Johnstons of Scotland) and a new lease on life.

We posed for a picture, not that Margie could have been all that keen on standing next to a sweaty smelly cyclist, but she didn't complain. 

She also gave me some produce to take with me and a garbage bag to protect my tent in case of rain (hasn't been a problem yet but is bound to be sooner or later!). Rob and I figured out the perfect way to cut the bag so it can double as a ground tarp for my tent. Perfect! I am so blessed to have met these people and gotten to spend the morning with them!

Shortly before noon, I finally hit the open road. A late start, but worth it.

Not too long after leaving town, I ran across the skateboarding Swiss guy from the day before, Robert. He'd spent the night in Kohukohu and taken the 11am ferry. We traveled together for a few kilometers, talking about this and that, until my next setback: 6km out of Rawene I discovered my back wheel was flat. Robert continued on while I dismounted, unloaded the bike, got out my patch kit, and set about repairing the flat. It was a very tiny, but very sharp, piece of metal that was my tube's undoing. Amazing how something so small and insignificant can bring you down! Like David and Goliath. 

Once I was back on the bike, I felt like most of the day was gone and I hadn't made any progress - which was true. It was quarter to one and I had a huge hill in front of me. Things weren't exactly looking up. But then, 23km later, I came to Opokoni. What beautiful water! I stopped to take a photo. 

As I was about to get moving again, I noticed there were some people about to climb back into the campervan parked 50m in front of me. One called to me: "you've sure made some progress!" And I realized that it was the retired Dutch couple from Lake Ngatu! It was so cool to see them again. We had a chat and then I continued into town for lunch and a quick dipping of my feet into the ocean. 

After lunch I passed through the neighboring town of Omapere, after which came a steep climb out of town. I took a 1km detour at the sign that said Scenic View and wasn't disappointed. 

A panoramic view of Hokianga Harbor:

As I left the scenic view and pressed on up the hill, Robert waved to me from a spot in the shade. 

One more farming town and then it was on to Waipoua Forest. The cafe there was supposed to have great coffee but was unfortunately closed. I just can't get a break on these coffee breaks! I took a break anyway for a snack and a Coke since my guidebook warned it was my last chance before a 400m ascent into the forest. Oof, was it ever. Slow but steady. As I pedaled away I couldn't help but think of poor Robert, who would be walking up this hill with his skateboard. But ascent and all, I was glad to be heading into the forest as the sun was glaring above me and I'd been overheating all day. 

At the top of the hill came Tane Mahuta, the largest living kauri tree in New Zealand. It was pretty majestic. 

Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

These kauri trees are really something else. I can see why the Kiwis are proud of them. I got to bike through a bunch of them after leaving Tane Mahuta - and 9 of the 10kms were downhill! Best downhill ride ever. Curvy, not too steep, jungle on both sides. Simply amazing. 

At the campsite (a real one this time), I found a nice place to pitch my tent, with great views. 

The campsite had awesome hot showers, which felt like the most amazing thing after freedom camping the last few nights without access to proper bathing facilities. It also had a kitchen so I didn't have to cook on my makeshift stove. I was in the process of making more spicy peanut noodles when who should walk in the door but Robert. He had hitchhiked the last several kilometers since the big hill into the forest had majorly set him back time-wise and darkness was setting in. We sat and ate and chatted in the kitchen over green tea that he imported himself from Asia. In the course of conversation he listed several countries he's traveled through, all of them by skateboard: the Baltics, China, most of SE Asia, good portions of Europe, and now New Zealand. What a way to see the world! We agreed that our methods of travel are both great ways to tour. Not only do you go slower and take in more than you would in a motor vehicle, but you are also somewhat of an oddity, which makes people more likely to strike up a conversation with you. Win win. 

So far, every bit of me likes cycle touring. My stomach is happy because it gets as much food as it wants - I am always hungry it seems! (Bad for my wallet though, ha! Everything costs so much here.) My legs seem to be enjoying the challenge and I like observing their growing strength. My mind is calm, almost meditative, and has time to think through things as I cycle. I get to meet new people every day, so my social needs are met. And there is tons of daily routine involved, which I seem to really crave. The only part of me that doesn't like cycle touring is the part of me that comes in contact with the saddle. Ouch! Hope that I toughen up a bit on that front. Maybe I should have sprung for a Brooks!