Alleykat’s first taste of holidaying and bike touring as a couple
As a bike touring ‘noob’, I could not have been more stoked as the plane took off late late late on a Monday evening, back in early January, 2011.
Armed with rather heavily laden bikes, less than an hours’ sleep and a whole lot of butterflies (which surely could only have been floaties in gastric juice after the length of time they’d been fluttering in my stomach), Alex and I began our bike tour of the North Island of NZ from Auckland airport at approximately 7:53am on Tuesday, 4th of January.
We both kept journals along the way, inked in a manner unique to each of us. I decided to number events and “things that I noticed from day #…”.
Day 1 was as follows (I will do well to mention here that the rest of this blog post is far less verbose and detailed!):
111kms on the first day of cycling. 1000+m of climbing too!
Things I’ve noticed from Day 1: Auckland to Miranda
1. Road kill – so much is apparent, literally “in-your-face” when riding a bike. Definitely not something I thought about as part of the experience!
2. Respect. Learner drivers especially, but really, all drivers here give us ‘bikepeople’ lots of space. There’s quite a lot of bike repsect, bike awareness and bike signage (1.5m to survive)
3. New Zealanders are super friendly! But sometimes overly so – we met a woman while stopped at ‘Swan Lake’ who told us her life story: she was minding her friend’s grandkids (two gorgeous twin boys who Alex and I named Dylan and Leon), she was in her late 50s, she was into ‘natural’ sports drinks and promoted them to us, she appeared not to realise the day was quite warm and sunny and the boys really needed a drink and more clothes on. She didn’t stop talking for approximately 47 minutes and was just wandering along the side of a highway…super friendly though!
4. There are certain parts of a lady (yes, I am one of those!) that hurt a lot after riding. In fact, they hurt during riding and before riding. Definitely the most painful part by far.
5. Alex is incredible. Which I knew already, obviously, but PHOAR he is a machine (see below illustration for evidence).
6. When you need sleep, you (I) can sleep through anything. And for someone who has difficulty sleeping through the night let alone anything else in the darkness, this is a big thing. The chick at the desk of the holiday park we were staying in (she’s from Sydney, read: racist!) warned us about “a big group of Asians!” staying near us. But despite the relatively noiseless group next door and the relatively noisy rest-of-the-campground-regardless-of-Nationality, by 9:30pm, we were out to it. Bliss. I love sleep. I want to bike tour every day of my life if it means I sleep like I did last night!
And approximately 6923 words of journal writing later, this is the last thing I wrote for the last day:
7. Five hours later, through the rain (thanks for holding it off for the rest of the time, NZ!) we arrived at Auckland Airport and got on the plane content and tired and also really happy to still be happy about sitting next to each other.
‘The Hilarious Language and Idiosyncratic Kindness of people in New Zealand’
People in New Zealand sometimes seem to be a parody of themselves – thickly-accented, pipi-eating, kind-hearted story-tellers. It was even rare to stumble upon an unkind person regardless of background – New Zealand has a way of overwhelming residents and visitors with kindness, altering their brains and forcing them to be good spirited, helpful and funny!
There were a number of memorable times we came into contact with such people:
“At the turn off to Tapu River, we paused at the sign to take photos and check maps, when a family of Maoris with accents to rival (or narrate even) those well-loved voices from the show ‘Beached Whale’, informed us that “Youse guys are mean, as?!”. Ah…yes, yes we are ‘mean’ indeed…? Paused on their way to fish for pipis, we had a nice little chat. They’d seen us on the bridge coming into Thames and were extremely impressed with our biking abilities, speed and distances ridden, thus they held us in high regard and have dubbed us ‘mean’ along with everything else that is awesome.”
Snaking our slow bikes along the coast on the winding roads, (which were kinda nice to ride) we were pulled over by a little bloke.
Once stopped, he declined to offer a word of explanation to indicate the reason for his halting us, or his arm gesticulations and motions to the back seat of his car. We thought, some kind of tasty surprise for us, perhaps? A surprise, for sure! He produced a stack of dubious-looking fluro vests, and began proclaiming loudly that Alex should wear one both for his own protection and to save drivers the embarrassment (?) if they did hit him. He didn’t offer me one. In fact, he didn’t even offer me a smile or a word. We noticed his long-suffering wife sitting in the front seat rolling her eyes as if to say “not another one, Gerald!”. After donning the jacket and watching ‘Gerald’ and his poor wife drive away, it’s needless to say, we spent the remaining 20-or-so kilometres waiting to be hit by a car.”
We received lessons in navigation, ‘Aussie’ English and Maori pronunciation along the way.
“We camped next to a wicked Maori dude and his wife. Larger than life is the only way to describe him, or to describe them both really! They were so lovely. And big. He enlightened us that Whitianga is pronounced ‘Fitdianka’ and Wangamata (where were are future-headed) is pronounced Wang-ga-ma-Ta with a heavy emphasis on the last ‘Ta’. He also told us that both Rotorua (aka Roto-Vegas named thus because everyone goes there to gamble) and Lake Taopu (two more places we hope to end up) are rather expensive. Read very expensive. Ta dude!”
Occasionally we had to help each other out with language interpretation:
“I felt a bit silly riding along listening to Mark from the ‘Wentworth Valley Holiday Camp’, who, despite being friendly and lovely, seemed to be talking gibberish! I couldn’t quite grasp a single word he was saying really (Alex has just explained most of it to me now but how he, nay anyone, could understand I cannot fathom).”
As well as being interesting, kind and extremely good at making coffee, New Zealanders are often really rather talented and good looking, which we found out at the ‘Hungi Feast and Cultural Show’ in Rotorua:
“They were an all singing, all dancing troup (Manaka I think they were called) with poi, sticks, moves – dance moves that is. There was even a goose-bump-inspiring rendition of Po KareKare Ana – a duet, beautiful. So glad we were able to stay for the show and not just the amazing food! Admittedly, I’m also glad we stayed for more pervy reasons – we watched one of the most stunning girls either of us have ever seen ever! Alex got to hold her hand in the last singing-in-a-circle part, so lucky! I felt a little jealous, but not of her, of Alex!”
New Zealanders are so kind and add to the experience of touring around the country. We had directions painstakingly described and illustrated for us, recommendations made to us, compliments paid to us, stories told to us, lifts in vans given to us, storage space supplied to us, ‘bike-specific’ campsites bestowed upon us, calls and bookings made for us, tolerance and respect doted upon us (which is especially evident on the roads, everyone gives you space and no one jeers at you or automatically hates you for being a cyclist).