New Zealand

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October 31, 1997 - January 1, 1998

I flew from Sydney to Auckland on October 31. I arrived at the airport in Auckland, and discovered that they wanted to examine all tents and hiking books and stuff coming into the country, to protect their fragile environment. So I had to dig my hiking boots out of my pack. They deemed them clean enough to enter the country. Then the vegetable sniffing dog sniffed my day pack. The guy asked if I had had any fruit or vegetables in it in the last few days. I had, because my aunt had given me some apples and bananas. Them dogs are good.

I was going to be staying at Mary's, a friend of a friend of Léo, who has a home stay. She was going to pick me up at the airport, and I had emailed her my flight information. But I didn't know what she looked like. Finally I phoned her number, and Yvonne had answered. She said Mary had my name written on a red piece of paper. Just then I saw a woman go by with a red piece of paper. Sure enough, it was Mary. She had been looking for someone with a bike box, but I was going to rent a bike in Auckland.

She drove me back to her home in Point Chevalier, but it was too late to go trick or treating. Actually, it's just in the last couple of years that they've started celebrating Halloween in New Zealand.

Yvonne was at Mary's place, having arrived that morning from Cairns. It was nice to see someone from home.

Mary's place was great. It's right on the water, and Mary had just gotten a kayak, so in the morning we paddled around the bay.

We spent the next few days hanging out. Did the coast to coast walk across Auckland, which was good, but took way too long.

The temperature was cool, especially after coming from Australia, but it was nice. High teens. But we kept seeing on the news that it was 30 in Christchurch.

Mary had a Guy Fawkes party, which was pretty neat. All her friends, and their kids came over. They had a barbecue on the beach and then sent all the Guys they had made out to sea and burned them.

Léo arrived, with his bike, and my panniers and tent and crap. We went down to the bike rental place and picked up my bike. It was pretty good, but the gear shifters were on the down tube, which took some getting used to.

We spent a day getting prepared, and then headed out. We took the commuter train to the edge of Auckland, saving about thirty boring, city kilometres. Auckland is very spread out. There are no apartment buildings, so it's all suburb. It's the fourth largest city in the world in terms of area.

We set out, and it was a perfect day for cycling. We headed to the Coromandel Peninsula. We had to cross one big hill, and I could feel that my legs weren't in shape, not having done any real cycling in months. But the hills and the bay were lovely. We ran into a few other cyclists along the way.

We rode to Miranda, where we stopped at a motor camp and pitched our tents. Then we took a dip in the hot pools. The perfect way to ease aching muscles.

All the motorcamps in New Zealand have big communal kitchens, complete with pots and pans, and usually utensils and stuff. They also have lounges, with tvs. And it was Wednesday. Party of Five night. But Léo said it was from last season.

The next day dawned cold and cloudy. We were going around the bottom of the bay, so it wasn't a long day, and it was pretty much flat. After an hour or so, we wanted to stop for a second breakfast, as we'd done in Oregon, but nothing was open. A problem we would run into repeatedly in this country.

We rode up the coast to Tapu, and it started to rain just as we were getting near. This was the start of six weeks of bad weather.

All the motor camps also have cabins, so we decided to get a cabin that night. In fact, we decided to get a cabin most nights.

A Canadian couple were the only others staying there. They were originally from Ontario, but had lived in Whistler the last five years. They were also cycling.

The next day we set out up the coast. There was a long, flat stretch, before we finally hit a hill. It wasn't too bad, and we were all pleased, when we hit the second hill. It was very, very steep. The engineer who designed it should be shot.

Finally, we headed down the other side, into the town of Coromandel, and it started to pour. After lunch in Coromandel it cleared up, and we headed across the peninsula on the 309. There are only three roads across the peninsula, and none of them are paved.

It started to pour again, and it was a very steep hill, and our bikes were getting covered in mud. Léo fell, and got covered in mud. We stopped to see the grove of giant kauri trees, which were really big.

We arrived in Whitianga, got a cabin, and hosed down the bikes.

The next morning we took the ferry across the river, and headed down to Whangamata (pronounced Fung-a-ma-ta, with the accent on the last syllable). Very beautiful, but the hills were tough. On one long winding climb, we stopped at a hairpin turn to look at the scenery. We looked over the side of the cliff, and down below were two cars.

As an aside, we discovered that the Kiwis are horrible drivers. And almost every car in New Zealand is badly in need of a tune up.

The next day was cold and windy. We were getting blown all over. I got blown off the road once. Then it would start to rain. We were being lashed with freezing rain, and getting worried about hypothermia. We even got hail. At one point it was so bad that we ended up huddled by the side of the road, under Léo's ground sheet for his tent.

We arrived at Omokoroa Beach, almost dead. As the rain lashed down, we found a motor camp. A woman coming out of the office looked at us and said, "You're mad." They had nice hot pools to warm up in.

The wind howled all night, and was still howling the next morning. Apparently it was a cyclone, and would blow itself out by that night. So we were trapped in our cabin for the day.

The next day was warm and sunny, and we rode the 22 km to Tauranga, where we took the bus to Rotorua, where we were able to pitch our tents.

That night we went to a hangi. We took a bus out to a Maori village, where they performed traditional Maori songs and dances. Then there was a big feast, which was cooked with coals under ground. On the way back to town, first gear stopped working on the bus, and it almost didn't make it up some of the hills.

The next morning we checked out the geysers and boiling mud pools. Because of the thermal activity, Rotorua smells like rotten eggs all of the time.

From there we rode down to Lake Taupo. It was still cold and drizzly, but it seemed to be downhill all the way (although a later check of a cycling book said it was actually uphill). We ran into more cycle tourists that day than any other day. There were ten others we kept passing along the way.

They call Lake Taupo The Great Lake, but it's not so great. How great can it be if you can see the other side. In the tv listings I saw that Ed's Night Party was on that night, but we didn't stay up to watch it.

From Taupo we went down to Turangi, at the south end of Lake Taupo. We actually managed to tent again that night. We went to the DOC office to check on tramping at Tongariro. They had a pamphlet entitled "How to Find a Toilet in New Zealand". Which is very important, because they don't have them where you'd expect them, like gas stations and restaurants.

The next day was a long steady climb all day long up to Tongariro National Park, which was very hard work, even though it was only about 50 km.

We went to Whakapapa (pronounced Fuck-a-pop-a), which is a ski resort in winter. It's on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano. It last blew big in 1995. There were a couple of small eruptions the week before we got there.

Unfortunately, they were out of cabins, so we had to pitch our tents in the rain.

The next morning we started out on the Northern Circuit tramp. We left out bikes at the motorcamp, and set out with out backpacks. We took a bus to the start and headed out.

It was nice in the morning, but as we began to climb it became very windy. We were climbing the saddle between two volcanoes, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. The wind got so bad that we actually were blown to the ground.

As we started climbing down the other side of the saddle, the sky cleared up just long enough for us to take pictures of the Emerald Lakes, which were stunning. There was still a bit of snow on the ground. We continued on to the hut, where we spent the night. It's quite big, with bunk beds for about 30 people, and a gas stove for cooking.

The next day was cold and rainy. We hiked through a magical, misty landscape. The volcanic rock made it seem like we were walking on the moon.

We hiked to the next hut, where we met an American couple. Then a bunch of old Kiwis arrived. They were the quintessential Kiwi trampers. When they got to the hut they were upset, because it had a gas stove.

The next day was cold and rainy; surprise, surprise. We were walking between Ruapahu and the other two volcanoes, but couldn't see any of them, because of the clouds. And it was quite boring scenery. It was nice to get back to town, get a nice warm cabin, and eat in a nice restaurant.

The next morning we got out our bikes, and rode the 15 km to National Park. It was downhill all the way, but it was hell, because it was really cold, and then it started to rain, and my hands went completely numb.

There we caught the train to Wellington, where we got a hotel room in a hostel. We spent a couple of days in Wellington. It was the city I liked most in New Zealand. It was the only city that seemed to have any culture. The street near our hostel was a sort of Queen St. W. type area, which was nice.

We went to the Canadian Embassy to find out that the Riders had lost the Grey Cup. And Mel won the election. I figured there'd be nothing left of Toronto by the time I got back.

I went the the New Zealand Film Centre, which had an exhibit on the history of New Zealand film, but no mention of Peter Jackson.

Got back to the room one night, turned on the tv, and The New Music was on.

We then caught the ferry to the south island, and cycled to Havelock. The weather was great, but then it turned windy again. By the time we were getting close to Havelock we were getting blown all over the road again. The locals said it had been blowing like this for two months, and they couldn't ever remember it being this bad for so long. They were blaming El Nino. I had bought a book on cycling New Zealand, and now I looked in it. The author said if it's an El Nino year, it's better to postpone your trip for another year.

The next day we rode in to Nelson, headwinds all the way. In Nelson we arranged to rent sea kayaks.

The next morning the bus was supposed to pick us up at our hostel. We waited in front. There was a bus down the street. Finally it drove passed us, and we saw that the kayak company's logo was on the side. Yvonne went running after it. Somehow she managed to catch it, and we got on.

We got up to Abel Tasman, and the sea kayaking place. There was another group of five going out at the same time. It turned out they were doing a story on sea kayaking for Expanse, a new Australian and New Zealand adventure magazine. There was a young woman writing the article, and a Kiwi photographer. There was the woman's boyfriend, and another woman, who was their kayak expert. Also in the group was a Canadian guy who was also cycling.

We got our kayaks packed up, got instructions and maps, and then headed down to the sea, where our instructor gave us more paddling instruction, and then sent us on our way.

It was beautiful weather. We paddled along, and stopped for lunch. The journalists arrived, and took some pictures of us. Then we headed out along the Mad Mile. Starting about 10:00 the sea breezes would kick in, creating a headwind, and making paddling tough work. We got to a beach, and set up camp.

It was a pretty popular beach, and soon filled up. The journalists arrived, but decided to keep going. There was a couple from Markham there, and we talked about canoing in Canada.

In New Zealand they tell you to take all your food into your tent, so the animals won't get it, which is a pretty foreign concept. There were these Wekas - small, flightless birds - that would scavenge for food.

The next day, while paddling, we saw some fairy penguins in the water. We paddled along until we got to our camp site for the night. The wind had picked up again. By the afternoon, when it was dying down, it was getting cool, and Léo and I didn't feel like going back out, so Yvonne went out on her own.

The journalists arrived, and interviewed us for the article. Yvonne never returned. It was getting dark. Finally she arrived. She had gotten lost, and ended up by the island where the seals hang out, where she tipped her kayak, and got attacked by a seal.

The next day we kayaked back to town. It was nice to kayak with a tail wind. Then we got the bus back to Nelson.

Back on the bikes, we headed south. At Wakefield we found the coolest washroom on the face of the planet. It's a little town, with the Exceloo in a park in town. There are lights outside the say Open, Occupied, and Closed. If it's open, you push a button, and the door slides open, like in Star Trek. Then you go inside, and push a button, and the door closes. On the outside, the Occupied light comes on, and if you push the button the door won't open. On the inside, elevator music starts playing. You push a button, and a machines doles out toilet paper. It cleans itself, and the Closed light lights up when it's cleaning. To prevent loitering, an alarm goes off if someone's been in there for ten minutes.

That night we stayed in the most bizarre campground on the planet. It's a Christian campground. Half the campground was roped off, and there were cows grazing on it. We had to kick away the dried cow pies to pitch our tents. There were rope rides and stuff for the kids to play on, and an Austin Mini painted in psychedelic colours.

Payment was by donation, at a board by the entrance. I went up there to pay, and a phone sitting there rang. It was the wife of the owner, and so I took a message on the pad sitting by the phone. Don't know if he got it. There were also a bunch of school kids camping there, but they were pretty well behaved.

The next day we rode to Murchison, and again the headwinds were killer. And the hills incredibly steep.

From there we rode 98 km, through the Buller Gorge, to Westport, on the coast. It was warm and sunny. There was no wind. The scenery was beautiful. It's amazing how fun cycling can be when the cycling is fun.

Once on the coast the forecast was cold and rainy. We decided to take the bus down the coast, and cycle up, to get a tail wind. We took the bus to Fox Glacier, but, unfortunately, there was only room for one bike. They said they would try to get the other two on the next day.

The next morning at Fox it was bright and sunny, although very cold. We rented bikes from the motor camp, and cycled down to Lake Matheson, where, early in the morning, you can get a photo of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman perfectly reflected in the lake.

Then we went up to Fox Glacier. It was pretty cool. A long river of ice. You can't get really close, because of the danger of falling ice, but Yvonne jumped the barrier, and did it anyways. Fox and Franz Josef are the only glaciers in the world that are advancing. They've advanced about a kilometre since last time Léo was there.

That night our bikes didn't arrive. The driver said that there wasn't room, because the bikes needed to be broken down, and the gear packed up. I told him that we had broken down the bikes, and that we had all our gear with us. He said, "The bastards lied to me!" He said he'd get on the phone and make sure they were on the bus the next day.

So the next morning we took the bus to Franz Josef. Just as we set out to walk to the glacier it started to pour. We got soaked to the skin, and it was very cold. But the glacier was neat, and you could walk right up to it and touch it.

That night our bikes arrived.

We rode up the coast the next day. The weather was nice, the tail wind was great, and we ended up going a lot farther than we had planned, doing 109 km to Ross.

Of course, it was pouring rain the next day. We were resigned to staying in Ross, but by the afternoon it cleared up, so paying half price for the day for the cabin, we made a mad dash to Hokitika. There we stayed at a new hostel, overlooking a jade store.

The next day we took the bus across Arthur's Pass, to get to Christchurch, where reports were it was 25 degrees, and they were having a drought. Originally we were going to cycle it, but it was too cold and rainy. On the news they were advising campervans not to go across the pass because of the wind.

It would have been a hell of a bike ride. A long, steep climb. We stopped in Arthur's Pass for lunch. Five minutes past Arthur's Pass the sky abruptly cleared, and it was warm and sunny.

We went to Sheffield, and stayed with Léo's friend Marie, and her husband Willie, and their three kids. They put on a huge barbecue feast, which was great. Saw a picture of Léo when he was fifteen, but didn't recognize him.

The next day, of course, it was cold and rainy. So much for the drought. We rode into Christchurch, where it never did get very warm.

We rode down to the Banks Peninsula, just south of Christchurch, to Akaroa. It was very hilly, but at least the weather was good.

The next day Yvonne and I rented a sea kayak, and went kayaking with the dolphins. There were three dolphins that swam along with us. They would come up beside us, and make a sound like someone taking a deep breath after holding their breath underwater for a long time. It was pretty cool.

Then a boat came along, and told us that a wind was blowing in, and that we should get to shore. We were closest to the far shore. When we got in the wind was howling, and it was cold and rainy. The harbourmaster, who was also the kayak company owner, met us there, and said he'd send the truck for us if it didn't clear up. So we sat there freezing for a couple of hours until the truck arrived.

The next day we headed across the peninsula, because the cycling book said we could. It was hell. The road was very steep. There were four huge hills to climb. One of them gravel. Léo and Yvonne had to walk part way.

The next day we took the ferry across, and cycled back to Christchurch.

Then Léo stayed in Christchurch to visit friends, while Yvonne and I went down to Dunedin. I wanted to go to the Cadbury factory, but it turned out that they had stopped running tours a year ago. But we saw the albatrosses, and the seals, and the sea lions, and the yellow eyed penguins, which were pretty cool. And we walked up the steepest street in the world.

I flew back to Auckland, while Léo and Yvonne continued on to Toronto.

Next I went down to Waitomo to see the glow worm caves. On the trip was a Leann, a girl from Vernon, B.C., but her family was originally from Lumsden.

We got on wetsuits and miner's helmets and stuff, and abseiled down 30 metres into the cave. Once in there, we abseiled and crawled and climbed, through the mud and water, squeezing through passages. Leann tasted the water in a stream running through the cave and was amazed to find it was fresh. She thought all the water in New Zealand was salt except for Lake Taupo.

The next day I did some horseback riding, and then headed back to Auckland. There was a woman from Barrie on the bus. We got to talking about our trips, and I said I'd been to Nepal. She said she'd worked there for three and a half years. I asked her what she did, and she said she was a doctor. I asked her if she had a copy of The Medical Post with her. She was surprised I knew about it. I explained that I knew the editor who selects the photos of doctors reading The Medical Post all over the world. She said that she never reads The Medical Post, but she always flips to the photos.

I had emailed Len to get Michel's email address to try and get a hold of Dylan Horrocks when I was here, but Michel never responded to me. Then I was in a comic shop that stocked a lot of Pickle, and I thought they might know how to get a hold of Dylan, and sure enough, they did.

I went over for dinner with Dylan, his partner Terri, and their three year old son, Louis, who was high on chocolate muffin. Had a nice dinner, and talked about comics and New Zealand history and stuff.

The next day I took the Kiwi Experience bus up to the Northland. I'd been trying to avoid Kiwi Experience, but it seemed the best way to get up north and see stuff along the way. It wasn't too bad. There were only eight people on the bus, and the average age was way above the usual average.

We stopped at a beach, but it was too cold to swim. I was taking pictures of the New Zealand Christmas trees, when a road worker started talking to me, and pointed out Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter's summer home.

We went through some caves by candle light, which was fun, and muddy. We went to a waterfall, and the driver jumped off the cliff, 26 metres. Which was kind of irresponsible, since two people on the bus a couple days before ended up in the hospital after jumping off.

Got to Paihia, which was to be my home for the next week. Did a couple of bushwalks. Met Tina and Trish from Saskatoon and Edmonton. They'd been at the western final.

On Christmas Eve there was a barbecue in the park, and all the people from town went there to sing Christmas carols. I opened my Christmas presents. My aunt and uncle had given me a present in Sydney, and my mom had sent me some from home. Then we went to The Lighthouse, a night club in town. It was the most unusual Christmas Eve I'd had since spending Christmas Eve in the bus depot in Vegas.

I spent Christmas Day on the beach. 90 Mile Beach to be exact. I took the Kiwi Experience bus up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand. To get there you drive along 90 Mile Beach, which is, in fact, 89 kilometres long.

We stopped part way to toboggan down sand dune hills on boogie boards, which was great.

Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet, and you can see the turbulence where they meet.

I called home to find it was two above, with no snow, in Regina. Guess I picked the wrong year not to go home for Christmas.

There were lots of Canadians in the hostel. Leann was also there, and another girl from Edmonton, who had been to the western final, and the Grey Cup, and a woman from Orangeville. And another girl from Saskatoon.

Met a couple of Americans who work for ILM. Principal photography has wrapped on the next Star Wars movie. One of them, Derek Thompson, has done some comic book work, mostly for Dark Horse. He just finished a Hellboy spin off book. And he works with Trish, Joe Matt's ex.

I went scuba diving to the Rainbow Warrior. It's the Greenpeace ship that was sunk by French terrorists. It was pretty cool. Lots of colours, and fish and stuff.

Got in my history by seeing where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, where they Maoris agreed to having the queen as their monarch.

And finally headed back to Auckland. Checked into a smaller hostel. They had a barbeque on New Year's Eve. Then I walked to a park with a few others from the hostel, and we watched the fireworks, which were mounted on the Auckland Tower (the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere).









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Last updated: July 17, 2015