Archive for the 'New Zealand' Category
I have updated the Finances page with the cost of our time in New Zealand. We ended up at $57.34 per day for a total cost of $4013.78. The total cost of our trip is now up to $18,902.29.
Hello from … Sydney?! Australia? Wait, weren’t we planning on skipping this continent? Yes, but yesterday was quite the trying travel day and we are currently sitting in a hotel outside the Sydney airport. Let’s trace back the sequence of events that led us here.
Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early to begin our journey from New Zealand to Singapore. The day before, we purchased some packing supplies to construct our makeshift luggage: two boxes to serve as suitcases, two rolls of packing tape, and one 60 meter roll of bubble wrap. Yes, 60 meters. You see, at the packaging store down the street from our hostel everything was cheaper in bulk. Two rolls of tape were the same price as one and the colossal 60 meter roll of bubble wrap was cheaper than a shrimpy 10 meter roll. So, we supersized everything, figuring it would be better to have too much than to run out. Here is Sarah transporting the tape and wrap back to the hostel.
By the way, Auckland International Backpackers is by far the most disgusting place we have stayed so far. Every table in the kitchen was stickier than a vinyl car seat in August. The kitchen was not cleaned a single time during our 5 nights there and the couches in the TV room were noticeably wet to the touch. The smell of mildew and mold was everywhere - so much so in the shower that it was nauseating.
Transporting the supplies from the hostel to the airport went smoothly. The boxes created a nice platform for the massive roll and we even had an orange flag just like the ones you get at the lumber yard. The day definitely went downhill from here.
A few days earlier, we had called the Auckland Airport to enquire as to whether or not they sold bicycle boxes. They did, for $NZ30. Expensive, but we figured it was worth it to not have to transport a huge box to the airport and we had also heard from other cyclists online that the bicycle boxes sold at airports are usually huge. We were giddy at the thought of dropping our bicycle into an enormous box with room to spare. When we arrived, we were surprised to learn that the boxes the airport sold were the used ones discarded by cyclists who had arrived at the airport. $NZ30 for this?! You have got to be kidding me. We picked through the pathetic lot and chose the two biggest boxes, but they looked like they were designed to hold children’s bicycles. The next two hours were spent disassembling, packing, and repacking our bicycles into the dwarf boxes. We were lucky to have all the tape and bubble wrap because we used most of it. Sarah gave up on getting her bike to fit about halfway through and focused on creating some avant-garde packaging sculpture with her box. Her inspiration for the piece was the natural form of the rhinoceros.
With our mutant boxes in hand, we sidled up to the Emirates counter to try check in. We began to get worried when the clerk insisted on weighing each and every bag we were carrying. 10 kilos, 40, then 80. The numbers kept climbing and our hearts kept dropping. We were also told that since Emirates has an allowance for golf clubs and fishing rods, but not bicycles, we were going to be charged a bicycle fee in addition to being charged for the weight of our bicycles. What?! “What is the bicycle fee for then?”, we asked. Silence. The clerk then proceeded to punch some numbers and then got a pained look on her face. She didn’t have the heart to read out the total to us, she just swiveled her computer monitor around to show us. $NZ850. Panic.
After Sarah peeled me off the floor, we began to weigh our options. Shipping some of the gear on a cargo flight was a possibility, but it could take quite a while to arrive in Singapore. We decided to check it out and were directed to the “nearby” office. I guarded our belongings while Sarah made a mad dash over to the cargo office, which was actually close to a mile from the terminal. Three days and NZ$350 is what they told her. She rushed back and after about 2.5 seconds of deliberation we decided to bite the bullet and pay for it. She pushed the cart of bikes back toward the office like a bobsled pilot at an Olympic trial and I waited for her to return.
Over an hour later, I was still waiting and was sure we were going to miss our flight. I kept staring off in to the distance, straining to catch a glimpse of Sarah’s head bobbing through the bushes as she raced towards me. Here is a visual depiction of how I felt at this point.
Finally she did return and as we raced back to the Emirates counter she relayed the details of what happened to me. When she returned to the cargo office, the clerk had informed her that since our bicycles were large but light we were going to have to be charged for the volumetric weight instead of the previously quoted weight. Be honest, how many of you have even heard of volumetric weight? How much was that going to cost? Surprise, surprise. NZ$850. After enough bitching and moaning by Sarah, she got the supervisor of the warehouse to agree to only charge her for the actual weight. This must have been quite the no-no, because it involved several approval forms and then some destroying of evidence so no one would be able to figure out who actually charged her the cheaper price.
The only positive thing to come out of all this was that we learned that our bicycles plus all of our gear weighs just a hair over 99 kilograms (218 pounds).
When we reached the counter, we had only 30 minutes until our flight departed and our clerk had told us to come right back to her, so we budged right to the front of the line. “Excuse me, but were you in this queue?”, a woman asked Sarah. Sarah explained our situation and turned away from the disgusted woman who then stared me down. The lunatic look on my face from the preceding events must have intimidated her, because I could literally see her sucking vile words back into her mouth.
With our boarding passes, we rushed through customs (after paying a NZ$25 departure fee each. Another what the?) and made it to our flight to Sydney just in time. On the way, we passed a clueless young guy making his way towards the Emirates counter with a kayak wrapped in bubble wrap. I cannot express in words the pity I felt for him.
When we arrived in Sydney, we learned that our Gulf Air flight to Singapore had been canceled. At this point, nothing could faze us so we just listened in silence as the clerks told us they would provide us with a hotel room and food for the night. We had to pass through Australian customs and in doing so lost our delicious New Zealand apples and our precious pepper spray.
So now we are spending the day in Sydney waiting for our flight and enjoying the comforts of a hotel. A king size bed, private bathroom, and free restaurant meals are so luxurious it almost makes the troubles worth it. Almost. Tonight we will fly to Singapore and hopefully our bicycles will arrive soon after us.
Moral of the story: Do not fly Emirates with excess baggage unless you also wipe your ass with twenty dollar bills.
On Saturday we took the train from Wellington to Auckland. It was a full day’s journey - 12 hours! The day started with a few moments of panic as Jamie and I realized we were riding our bikes all the way around the gigantic Wellington train station…but we couldn’t seem to find a way to get in to the actual terminal. After a few kilometers we did a desperate U-turn, raced back around the station, and finally found the entrance.
Next we hung around the baggage car with our bicycles waiting to load them onto the train. We were getting nervous because the baggage worker was nowhere to be seen but then at the last minute he came strolling down the terminal, strumming some other passenger’s checked guitar, and looking extremely drunk. It was only 7:20am! Jamie tried to hand him our baggage tickets, but this guy’s brain seemed to be working a bit slowly because he didn’t quite understand what was going on. He held out his hand to shake Jamie’s hand, rather than gather our tickets and load our bikes. Oh brother!
Me in front of the train during a break:
Luckily this train was fairly comfortable and we got a few breaks to stretch our legs, so the day wasn’t too bad. We were also very entertained by the running commentary by the train manager. One notable quote was “This bridge we’re on right now collapsed in 1950 when a train was making its way across the river. On that fateful day more than 100 lives were lost.” How lovely!
We arrived in Auckland at 7:30pm and were impressed with the futuristic train station:
Yesterday was spent wandering around the city. We happened upon a celebration for Korean Day. We stayed for awhile and listened to the great music - it was so happy sounding, we loved it! Here you can see a lady in a traditional costume singing along with the band:
Next we investigated a Lantern Festival to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This was one huge party - it took place in an entire city park and every tree and grassy patch was decorated to the nines. This year is the year of the pig:
Red lanterns strung up in all the trees:
Pagoda and red lanterns in the park:
Lots of illuminated figures on the ground and up in the trees:
There were a few stage areas where we were able to watch interesting performances. First we saw a Tae Kwon Do class demonstrate their amazing leaps and kicks. The highlight was a black belt master’s display of skill. First he was blindfolded. Then, two of his students stood in different places in the grassy field holding an apple impaled on a dagger. Then the students rang a tiny bell and the black belt master was able to locate the students with their daggers and apples purely by the sound of the bell. Then he actually kicked the apple, which was held at head-height, off the dagger. He missed the second apple of the first try, but then went at it again and kicked it so hard its pieces sprayed into the crowd. We were very impressed!
Next we say the Lion dance. Here are the children getting ready for the performance:
They were really good - one kid would jump up and sit on the other’s shoulders to make the Lion walk around on two feet:
There was tons of delicious food at the celebration. We tried lots of new stuff including curried fish balls, taro fritters, laksa, spring rolls. And don’t forget the Mr. Whippy cone for dessert!
Here’s me chowing down on the laksa. A yummy combo of noodles, chicken, herbs, and coconut broth. I guess I’m officially off the raw diet for now:
We just spent a great couple of days in Wellington visiting our friends Taisuke and Brenda. They are really into raw and living foods and Brenda has even started here own line of raw snack foods, Vida Foods. We got to try all the goods and they were amazing! We also had a couple of excellent dinners of raw foods with them. Some of the highlights were thick fruit smoothies served in a bowl with sprouted buckwheat granola sprinkled on top, homemade guacamole with sun-dried tomato & walnut raw crackers, huge salads with delicious herbs & spices we’ve never tried before, and chewy cashew coconut truffles. Sarah is now addicted to these. Here we are right before chowing down.
Taisuke and Brenda live in a beautiful old shoe factory that has been converted to lofts right in the middle of Wellington. We had our own room and bathroom and slept on our first real bed in two months. Oh the luxury! Their apartment is right off one of the pedestrian-only streets, Cuba Street. Cuba Street has the highest density of cafes in the Southern Hemisphere. Here we are enjoying the afternoon and the lack of cars.
Taisuke and Brenda are also very accomplished at Bikram Yoga and we went to a session with them. Bikram standards instruct that the yoga studio be kept at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. The night we went to class there was something wrong with the thermostat so our room was only 100. Wow! We have never sweated so much in our lives. It really felt great though and we realized how tight some of our muscles are from cycling so much.
We also realized how beautiful Wellington is while we were there. We passed through it on our way down South, but having Taisuke and Brenda to show us around really made us appreciate the city more. It reminds us a lot of Seattle and San Francisco back home with its mountains and surrounding water. It is also extremely hilly! Here is Sarah making her way up one of the many neighborhood switchbacks.
There is a giant green area right in the city called Mount Victoria where we walked their foster dog, Gus. Here we are walking through one of the filming locations of Lord of the Rings inside the park.
Sarah and I were also able to get our Thai visas while in Wellington. Here Sarah is with her hard-earned Visa.
After getting our visas, we decided to go on a celebratory bike ride around the coastline surrounding the city. It was a beautiful ride and we were impressed with all the untouched beaches right outside the city.
One of the many beautiful bays:
A fun road to cycle - very curvy, but not hilly!
Watch out for airplanes and flying bicycles!
Thank you so much Taisuke and Brenda and thanks for keepin’ it raw!
For the next few weeks Jamie and I will just be regular tourists - no cycling until we reach Thailand. That’s almost three weeks away…a long time with no bikes!
First we’ll see a bit more of New Zealand sans bicycle. We ended our trip on the southern part of the South Island in Dunedin. While in Dunedin we visited the steepest street in the world - the average gradient of the hill is 1 in 3.41, and the steepest section is 1 in 2.86! We hiked to the top but didn’t attempt the hill on bicycles, although Jamie claimed “I could easily ride up this hill on my racing bike.” Sure Jamie, sure. We had a lot of fun watching an old clunker of a van try to make it up the hill. They got a running start, revved their engine, and took off. About halfway up we saw them run out of steam and chug to a stop. They were forced to back up into a driveway to turn around. Everyone watching from the bottom of the hill was laughing hysterically - we all though the van was going to pitch over sideways and come rolling down the hill during this maneuver. As we hiked past the resting van on our way to the top it smelled strongly of burning rubber - some sort of critical inner part had met its demise, I’m sure.
Jamie standing on the steepest part of the hill:
During the next two weeks we’ll make our way back to Auckland via bus, train, and ferry in time for our flight to Singapore on March 8th. Right now we are in Christchurch enjoying all the cultural activities here. Next, we’ve got a four day stop in Wellington where we’ll visit Jamie’s friend Taisuke & work on getting a 60 day Thai visa. We’ve already applied for our Cambodia visas, which you can do online - very convenient! Here are our lovely visa pictures:
We arrive in Singapore early on the morning of March 9th where we will gather our baggage, get through customs, and then make our way to my friend Jennifer’s house. We’ll only get to hang out with Jennifer for one day before she leaves for her vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Bad timing on our part, but she’s been generous enough to let us stay at her place while she’s busy laying in the sun in Mexico. We’re super excited about this because it means we’ll have the perfect place to take a break from traveling, fix our gear, make some improvements to the website, take care of various travel-chores, and explore Singapore. (Thanks again Jennifer!)
After a week in Singapore, on March 17th, we’ll catch a cheap flight to Phuket, Thailand. We purchased our tickets through Jet Star - they were only $32 Singapore dollars each, which is about $18 US. What a bargain! As we finalized the purchase, however, a bunch of extra surcharges and fuel fees were added to the price of the tickets bringing them up to $100 Singapore dollars each. That’s only about $60 US though, so we’re not complaining.
Once in Phuket we’ll begin cycling east and north, eventually entering Cambodia on its western border with Thailand. We don’t have a specific route planned yet; we’ll work on that in Singapore. If anyone has any Thailand cycling experience and has route suggestions, send them our way! After Cambodia, it’s on to Laos and Vietnam!
Today we lost one of the members of our party. My beard. It was a hard decision, but his lack of pedaling ability and knack for disgusting Sarah outweighed his ability to keep my face warm, so we decided to part ways.
Here is a little photo montage of the good times we had together.
Mugshot-esque photo for documentary purposes:
Sharing an ice cream cone:
Absorbing a little New Zealand history together:
Basking in the sun and taking in the scenery:
Side shot to display extraordinary puffiness:
Beard + gobs of sunscreen = great times
Impending doom at the Barber Shop:
Today was another milestone for us. The last full day of cycling in New Zealand! We have arrived in Dunedin and our odometer reads 2347.0km. What a ride!
Today proved to be another difficult day of steep hills. We also added in a little gravel to mix things up.
That may have been a mistake because our 700×32 road tires were slipping all over the place when things got really steep and Sarah was suggesting we take a bus into town, instead of “riding the last miserable mile.”
But, we stuck it out and eventually made it to a nice road along the coast that led us right into the city centre of Dunedin. We passed a little shop that was selling whitebait and decided to finally try it. It was served in a patty of fried egg.
The verdict? It doesn’t taste like anything! We could have been eating plain ol’ eggs and wouldn’t have known the difference.
Now, take a look at this picture and wager a guess on why Sarah has such a wide grin on her face.
She just climbed her last hill in New Zealand! It’s literally all down hill from here baby!
On arriving in Dunedin, we decided to have a celebratory dinner of one of our favorite meals of New Zealand: bacon, avocado, tomato, and cole slaw sandwiches. Our take on the BLT. Add in a six pack of beer and some Cadbury’s chocolate and you have a meal fit for a king.
Today seemed like one of the toughest we’ve had so far. We got to endure rain, depressing gray weather, cold winds, and lots of hills.
As we ate breakfast it started to rain. No worries, we just brewed an extra cup of coffee and chatted with some interesting New Zealanders while we waited and hoped for the rain to stop. It slowed down to a drizzle so we hurried outside to get everything packed up. After that was taken care of we hopped on our bikes and started off into the gray mist. Within five minutes we were climbing a never ending hill. It wasn’t too bad, though, we had just started out and had plenty of energy! At the top we stopped and did a short hike through coastal rainforest to see a beautiful three tiered waterfall.
The coastal rainforest really felt like a jungle, except it was cold:
One of the waterfall tiers:
After the waterfall hike we spent 30 kms and a few hours climbing up and down lots and lots of hills. The rain kept on coming - mist, drizzle, showers - the whole time. We stopped for a lunch break in the small town of Owaka. This was a very unusual lunch because we didn’t have peanut butter sandwiches! OMG! Instead we had muesli and yogurt purchased from the Owaka grocery store. Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy eating the muesli very much because as we ate we had to huddle on a picnic table in a parking lot, in the rain and wind, as our sweat dried to freezing ice droplets (almost). We ate as fast as humanly possible and then jumped back on our bikes to avoid hypothermia!
We spent a few more hours riding up and down some more “gently rolling and undulating hills”, as our guidebook calls them. Around 4pm we reached one of the larger towns in the South, Balclutha. We knew this was a large farming community and we could definitely tell as we rode into town. We passed several stockyards packed solidly full of sheep who were waiting in line to be slaughtered, processed, and the resulting sheep product loaded onto the waiting trains to be whisked away. It smelled a lot like dog food for a few miles and I admit I felt a little sorry for the sheep - they were so clueless!
We decided to continue on for another 22 kms past Balclutha to make it a little closer to our final destination - Dunedin - so that our ride tomorrow isn’t too tough. This had the unfortunate effect of making today’s ride very tough. At the end of Balclutha we started climbing up the very hilly highway along with millions of speeding cars and semi trucks. At the top of each hill you could see quite far into the distance - far enough to see the next two giant hills and their valleys you’d be climbing through. There was absolutely no flat ground anywhere. To top it all off, traffic was horrendously busy. We’ve gotten too used to the deserted highways and slow paced travelers over the past few weeks. Big trucks crammed with sheep, diary tankers, trucks hauling boats, and obnoxious speeding teenagers blew by us like we were standing still. In fact, we were basically standing still as our pace was slowed to a measly 5 km/hr on the steep hills.
A warning to watch out for high winds. This picture is not very beautiful, but neither was our day:
We finally reached the tiny town of Milton where we’d decided to stop for the night. We set up the tent in a frenzy because the rain was starting again. Ack! The rest of the evening was spent in the warm dry kitchen at the Holiday Park. Tomorrow is our last day of riding in New Zealand - neither of us can believe it!
Well, not really. But we did manage a sighting of the rarest penguin in the world in the wild. Here he is, a Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Can you spot him?
He was returning to his nest at sunset to feed his chick after spending all day fishing out in the ocean. These penguins can dives to depths of up to 160m to catch fish out at sea. It was really neat to see him swim up to the beach astonishingly quickly and then waddle awkwardly as soon as he got on dry land.
We spotted the penguins at Curio Bay, which has been the gem of the Southern Scenic Route so far. Up to now, we have had quite a few days that only a duck could love down here on the southern coast. The weather has been extremely gray and wet and the scenery has been endless fields of sheep. Not what we were expecting on the “scenic route!”
When we experience the occasional sunbreak, we are overjoyed. Here is Sarah soaking up the rays. I believe we experienced a downpour immediately after this photo was taken.
As we arrived in Curio Bay, the clouds finally disappeared and we dried off. The final stretch of road to the bay was extremely hilly and windy, but beautiful. We planned for this week to be a recovery week, but the hills have made that impossible. It is mile after mile of rolling hills down here.
Our first stop was at the local museum at the bay, where they love to stuff Stoats and Possums and arrange them in aggressive poses next to dead fawns. They really do hate these little pests around here.
Curio Bay is famous for its 180 million year old stand of petrified tree stumps and logs from the Jurassic Period. I thought this was pretty interesting, but Sarah and a couple of other New Zealanders we met described this as “Eh.”
Right next to Curio Bay is Porpoise Bay, which is famous for the group of Hectors Dolphins (the rarest dolphins in the world!) that inhabits the bay during the summer. They hang out in the shallow water with the swimmers, kayakers, and surfers and they even surf the waves themselves! They aren’t fed by humans, so scientists are still trying to figure out why they live so close to shore. Sarah and I swam around for a bit, but we never got closer than 15 feet to them. They may have been a bit put off by our body odor? Here I am spotting them in the surf.
Tomorrow we will continue on the scenic route towards Dunedin, enjoying the hills, views, and sheep along the way.
Stats from Week 7 (02.12.2007 - 02.18.2007)
Mossburn - Fortrose
5 days cycling, 2 days resting
333.93km (55.65 km / cycling day)
18 hours, 23 minutes, 36 seconds in the saddle
NZ$488.42 ($NZ69.77 / day)