Having reached Invercargill we checked into a mixed dorm in a youth hostel. However, having battled the weather in the Catlins, I had come out the other side with a bad cold and cough. Anybody who has ever had the misfortune to share a room with me at any time will know that this causes me to snore like a warthog. In order to prevent annoying the other people in the dorm, I asked Steve, who was in the bunk bed above me, to wake me up if I started snoring. This resulted in an entire night of Steve having to kick the bed every single time I drifted off. Not exactly a great night’s sleep for either of us. However, the next morning we headed to the outskirts of Invercargill to have our first experience of staying with somebody from the warmshowers website (a bit like couch surfing but for touring cyclists). I am so glad that we did as we stayed with a lovely couple, Liz and Allan, who immediately made us feel at home. They fed us, let us catch up with our laundry, took us for a day trip to Bluff (the very tip of the island), shared photography tips with Steve and chatted with us as if we were long-time friends. Having arrived at their home feeling very under the weather, we left with a spring in our pedal and a song in our heart.
That day we stopped to have our lunch (normally a loaf of bread with some soft cheese followed by an orange) in a very rural, very small town. We found a nice patch of grass and as the sun was finally shining we settled down for a pleasant picnic. However, the pleasantness did not last long as two very hungry looking cats started approaching us, meowing desperately. Our wafting hands did little to deter them and when Steve chucked a bread crust to placate them, they viciously fought over it. They kept getting closer and closer with manic eyes and were totally giving me the creeps. To put this in context, a couple of weeks prior to this, we had seen what we thought were two very sweet looking cats until it dawned on us that they had blood round their mouths from where they were feasting on a dead wallaby! Cats back at home, which includes our Colin, are wimps with their mice catching. However, with this is mind we decided to end our lunch early and get back on the bike as quick as we could lest we become their lunch. As we did so, a couple more scary looking cats came out of the bushes and began fighting viciously with the other two over any food scraps they could find. I’m glad we left when we did.
That night we made it safely to Charlie and Caroline’s home. Charlie is a childhood friend of a boyfriend of one of Steve’s good friends from work and despite this being yet another tenuous link, we were still warmly welcomed into their home, offered a bed, fed good food and had a thoroughly pleasant evening. They are currently setting up their own dairy farm and the next morning after Charlie cooked us eggs and bacon from a wild pig he had shot, he took us out in his ute to take a look round. We went up this incredibly steep hill which slightly terrified me but the ute handled it and the views from the top were beautiful.
Charlie was a very laid back guy and let Steve drive his ute back down the steep hill, whilst he was perched on the back, giving Steve instructions. This was now even more terrifying but Steve handled it and of course, when we get home he now wants his own ute!
As a leaving gift, Charlie gave us a huge hunk of venison from a deer he had shot and which was now taking up his freezer. That night we had the greatest dinner on the road and that venison was truly the best I have ever tasted.
A couple of days later we made it to the home of Stef and Ad in Te Anau. Ad is the nephew of a teacher that Steve worked with and despite them not really knowing who we were or what we were doing, incredibly said that we were welcome to stay at their home whilst they went away on holiday. We shared a lovely couple of days just chilling out and enjoying the amazing view of the mountains from their living room. As our tandem seems to draw attention everywhere we go and therefore results in lots of conversations, it was a joy just to be quiet.
The day we left Stef and Ad’s was the day that we FINALLY had a tailwind, even if it was only a slight one, and after all those uphills and all those battles through roaring headwinds, we were flying as our strong legs pumped like pistons. I couldn’t believe how fast we were going, even though for some time we were cycling through sleet. Eventually we had to take shelter in a swede hut to let the worst of it blow over.
But a couple of hours later, the sun came out and we were motoring again. As we were climbing up a not particularly steep but very long hill, a young couple in a car who we had waved to earlier, drove up alongside us and handed us a Mars bar. Although we don’t know who they are and they don’t know who we are, that kindness from strangers spurred us on even more. Usually we have to bring our final destination forwards due to being over ambitious with the distance we can cover but that day we pushed on even further than we had planned resulting in our first 100 km day; well, 107 km in fact!
We spent the night at an empty campsite so we had the run of the kitchen and lounge area. To our delight there was even a log fire which was most exciting as when the sun goes down, it gets really cold. However, when Steve moved the grate, a manic flapping sound made us realise that there was a bird trapped in the flue. We managed to get it out as it fell into the burner section (unlit thankfully) but we then spent a happy hour or so trying to get it to fly out of the many doors and windows we opened, letting all the freezy air in!
Eventually it got the idea and we cosied up in front of the fire. However, we didn’t have a great night’s sleep as what we can only hope were possums, were making unearthly noises in the wilderness surrounding us. Neither of us had heard anything like it before and it sounded like it was getting closer and closer to the tent. We didn’t mention it to each other at the time in case it meant we had to go out to investigate but Steve said he knew I heard it as I had stopped breathing!
The next day, the sun was shining and we had an amazing cycle round Lake Wakatipu. When I was at work, Steve had emailed me a photo of the road winding its way around this beautiful lake and whenever I was feeling down, I would look at it and dream of our adventures. All I can say is that we were not disappointed and that photo could not do it justice!
We arrived in Queenstown, the adrenaline junkie’s paradise, where at every corner there is bungee jumping, sky diving and other death-defying activities on offer. I’m going to say that it was because of budget constraints that I did not partake in any of these activities rather than being a wuss! We took a day off there so that we could give the bike a once-over before we tackled the Crown Range. The Crown Range is the highest road in New Zealand and I had been absolutely dreading it after our experience up Porter’s Pass right at the beginning of our trip. The Crown Range is just as steep and even longer!
The road starts off zig-zagging which is tiring in itself but once to the top of that, you are lulled into believing you have made it to the top, only to get round the corner to be faced with sheer mountain to get over.
We rode for three hours up and up and up. It was hard going but it certainly made me realise how much stronger and fitter we were than from the beginning of our trip. We didn’t have to push the bike at any point and we only had a handful of quick rests before we pushed on. As we climbed the last stretch we could see two caravans and a car at the summit, watching our tiring ascent as we battled the steep gradient for about half an hour. We got to the top absolutely elated about our achievement and we were feeling literally on top of the world. The only thing that spoilt it was that nobody in those caravans or car even acknowledged us or what we had conquered. But we felt a bit sorry for them as I don’t think you can truly enjoy such a view without knowing how hard it is to get up there by your own engine rather than that of a vehicle. And now, I knew I could call myself a bona fide touring cyclist. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. x