After ten weeks of what felt like non-stop cycling, we FINALLY made it to Auckland; our final destination in New Zealand. We have considered New Zealand to be the training leg of our adventure and without a doubt it has thrown everything it has to harden us up.
After a chilled out evening with Phil and Linda in Palmerston North, we spent the morning at Phil’s bike shop, Crank It, giving the bike a once-over and were even given a pair of Crank It socks. We headed off onto some back roads suggested by Phil and Linda to avoid the busy roads. As we cycled further through the back roads we reached the only campsite in the area which turned out to be closed for the winter. It worked out good for us though as we had the place to ourselves and more importantly it was free! Sadly, the next morning before we got out of the tent Steve made the mistake of saying that it sounded like a pleasant day. Of course nature’s response to this was to rain very, very heavily. We ummed and aahed about whether we should push on or spend the day in the tent.
However, as we were pitched next to a river with signs saying that it was an at-risk-of-flooding area and the area where we were camped was becoming increasingly boggy, we decided just to push on and get wet. In hindsight this was probably still the right decision but the rain was just the start of what has officially become the worst day of our trip.
We only had to cycle about 65 kms to the nearest campsite so we estimated that even if our average speed was a very slow 10kms an hour we would get there well before dark. We were very, very wrong. There were so many hills on this route (please see our GPS print out for day 58 under the ‘Where are the Tandem Turners’ tab for proof) and the roads were extremely windy. Every time we went down one hill we had to turn right back onto ourselves to go up again. Lots of effort with no gain going forward. The down hills were too steep to free wheel at any speed especially as our confidence in the wheels had taken a bit of a shaking after the events in Wellington. On top of that the back roads soon became the worst gravel tracks we have been on.
At one point we spent a frustrating hour trying to cycle past an escaped cow as it ran further and further away from the field from which it had escaped. A number of tactics were tried to get past but eventually it turned off the road into a track leading to a farmhouse so we could sneak past. We hope that it found its way home eventually.
It did not stop raining (although we know you folks back in the UK know all about that!) and with a bitterly cold strong wind, hailstones and sleet we were soon freezing, even when pedalling as fast and hard as we could. At one point we were cycling along an exposed ridge of a hill with the wind and rain coming at us horizontally causing my left shoe and left ear hole to slosh around with water. My mantra for the day was ‘this is really, really dreadful, Steve’. For once Steve agreed with me. However, little did we know that the worst was yet to come.
A police car pulled up beside us as they couldn’t believe we were cycling in this awful weather on such difficult gravel roads. They confirmed that the only route to the campsite was the one we were on and ‘helpfully’ said that it was still a very long way. The cycling was so slow going that it started to get dark and we were still about 20 kilometres from the campsite with nowhere suitable to pitch up before then. So on and on we cycled into the darkness with just our cycle lights and Steve’s head lamp to guide us.
Our only route took us onto a road which wound round a huge cliff which towered above us on our left-hand side. It was then that slap-bang in the middle of the road, out of the darkness, we saw a boulder the size of a football that had obviously fallen from the rock face. Neither of us said anything to each other as we silently cycled past it both thinking how lucky we were that it had fallen before we got there. But then the road started to get worse as we cycled on with rock falls extending further and further across the road. With the weather conditions as they were these were clearly not old rock falls. I couldn’t help but think about a recent article we had seen about a road which had been completely engulfed by a land slip and many months later debris was still being removed to get it open again. Whilst cycling past a weakness in the rock face with water gushing out and seeing rocks strewn across the road, all I could think was that it was a very real possibility that we could suffer the same fate.
In the end Steve had to cycle on the wrong side of the road so that if rocks did fall we had a chance of avoiding them but I soon realised that on the other side was a sheer vertical drop to a river a very long way down below . If rocks did fall, Steve had absolutely nowhere to go. I knew this was not a good time to panic as Steve needed to completely concentrate but believe you and me I have never been so terrified in my entire life. Being on the back of the bike with absolutely no control was scary and I had nothing to occupy my mind apart from nightmarish scenarios. The only thing I could do to take my mind off the miserable situation was to think of answers to typical interview questions such as ‘Can you tell me whether there has ever been a time when you have had to overcome a challenge?’. Why, yes, I would say.
It was only by pure luck that Steve spotted the tiniest sign indicating the office to the campsite. We were finally there! Steve went into the office and as I held onto the bike, I had the worst shivers ever. I have never been so cold or scared. We were directed to a cabin over a bridge, the other side from the gorge and the cliff face. Thankfully the cabin had a gas fire and as we stripped off our sodden clothes, I burst into tears at the relief of being safe and warm. I was so, so proud of how Steve cycled us safely and calmly through the rock littered roads in the dark. He really did a fantastic job. We would never purposefully put ourselves in danger but it was a scary situation where we had no other option but to keep cycling onwards.
After changing into some dry clothes, eating a dinner which has never tasted so good, and watching an episode of Inbetweeners on our laptop, we were soon cheered up and laughing away. There was no point of thinking about ‘what ifs’. That night, as the weather continued to be wretched, we could still hear and feel rocks sliding and falling into the gorge on the other side of the bridge.
The following morning you would never have guessed the events of the day before. The guy who came to collect the cabin fees said it had been such a bad storm that it was the first day in a year that he had decided not to work outside. He also said that the rock falls onto the road only happened once or twice a year. We hadn’t timed that well!
That day we cycled just 20 kilometres to check into a backpackers in Taihape as we felt an easier day was in order. Taihape is a service town which wasn’t very pictureseque but we did find a very cheap hotel to gather our thoughts before we pushed on.
Whilst in Taihape we got chatting to a couple of NZ army officers in a café who had just completed a training drill nearby. As we left Steve strode off saying ‘Well, take care, boys. Watch out for cyclists.’ On paper this doesn’t sound funny but the way he said it absolutely cracked me up and as I have repeated it more and more times the way Steve said it has become camper and camper. This line has kept me amused for some hours much to Steve’s chagrin!
After staying in Taihape a couple of nights, I was not keen to move on as I had become a bit nervous about our trip but I also didn’t want to stay in depressing Taihape. Once we were off though my nerves eased off a little and with lots of encouraging toots from people we were back on the road again. Steve said all we needed was a couple of days of good cycling and we would be right as rain again. After a lot of uphill we finally reached Waiouru at an altitude of 792 kilometres. It is here the NZ army trains and on the vista we could see Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano.
We cycled onto Okahune which is a ski resort. The problem was that we were arriving right at the start of the season on the first day of the school holidays. Because of this we were charged an extortionate $40 to pitch our tent (surprisingly we have been the only people we have seen camping in these minus temperatures!). Nevertheless the view from our tent was pretty priceless.
The next day was an even better day of cycling as two more volcanoes came into view, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro. I have never seen a volcano before and so I was very excited to see three in one day. Plus it was a beautiful day!
That night we camped in Turangi feeling on a high after a great day, followed by another good one as we cycled round Lake Taupo. Steve was right; we only needed a couple of days good, problem-free cycling and we were back on form again.
Just before arriving in Taupo we pulled off to a scenic viewpoint to stop and have lunch and to look at the three volcanoes. It felt weird to know that we had been the other side of them the day before and we had gotten all this way just by cycling. As we ate our lunch we laughed as we saw car after car pull in to take a quick photo (some not even bothering to get out of their car) and then jump back into their car again as if ‘ Volcanoes. Done.’
We camped for really cheap in the car park of a backpackers. Although it wasn’t the nicest of spots, we still got to use the backpacker’s facilities. It was here that we got chatting to Cornish Chris who was having a bit of a holiday before he went home after working in New Zealand for some months. After hearing about our trip he became the first person to donate to the charity, Practical Action, which we would like to raise awareness of. Hopefully he will not be the last and if you would like to donate, remember we have a Just Giving page. Thank you, Chris!
But news just in – we’ve had a second donation from the Pryce family led by Col and Cherie who have bought some practical presents. These include some ‘funky chicks’ for residents of semi-arid areas in Zimbabwe where frequent droughts have left them with not enough crops to provide a basic income for their families. Providing them with chicks that can be raised and sold at the markets means they have a better chance of generating the money needed to supply their loved ones with provisions and an improved standard of living. The donations are rolling in now!
As we got closer to Rotorua we began to see evidence of geothermal activity as huge clouds of gas rose out of the landscape. It was bizarre and as the gas contains sulphur it was very eggy-smelling. No blaming Steve this time.
Both of us were feeling great after a couple of good days of easy, straightforward cycling in pleasant weather. Then 5kms outside of Rotorua I heard an unpleasant noise on the bike as we were free wheeling down hill. We discovered the rim on the back wheel had completely split. ‘Not again!’, we both moaned as we limped into another town with a broken bike as the smell of sulphur got stronger and stronger. We both felt there were enough challenges on this trip already without this and our good moods lowered slightly. Despite this, the more and more these challenges do pop up, the more and more I am determined not to give up.
All we could do was to find somewhere to stay. After a few nights camping in the cold we decided to check into a backpackers. We headed for a YHA as a guy we met on the South Island who was also cycling round the world told us that you could get a huge discount for being carbon-neutral. We thought we would give that a go and it turned out he was right. Just as we were about to take our bags to the room, the girl who booked us in apologised as she had double booked our room and so ‘unfortunately’ she would have to upgrade us to a double room with an en-suite! I cannot tell you how very, very excited I was about this. So much so I needed the loo! My very own bathroom that I didn’t have to share with anyone (well, apart from Steve) and no running through icy grass to get to.
As we waited for the bike to be fixed we walked round the local park where you could see bubbling, squelching mud pools and clouds of sulphur rising round every turn. Once the bike was repaired we cycled out of Rotorua and as we did so we passed a guy about to do a bungee jump. We watched for about ten minutes and despite people cheering him on, he obviously bottled it when he began to pull his bungee rope back up and the crane from which he was to jump lowered. Although you would never in a million years catch me up there, I was gutted for him as that night I am sure he would regret his decision and think ‘what if’. Plus he should have just got on with it as soon as he got up there as the longer he left it, the harder it was to jump. I think here, my friends, there is a lesson for life. If there is something you want to do, just go for it and whatever you do, don’t put it off as otherwise it becomes harder and harder to take the plunge.
We spent a couple of nights with Ken and Karen, who are parents of a friend of ours living in London. (Jake you look so much like your dad that we took a couple of takes thinking it was you!) Spending time with them really couldn’t have come at a better time as I had been feeling very homesick (particularly as we saw a cafe that could have been run by my mum en-route) and as soon as we arrived Karen gave us both huge, very much-needed hugs. Although we had never met them before we felt completely at home. Then Steve saw their dog, Zeus and I have never seen him so terrified! It turns out that Zeus may be big but he is a complete softie and I absolutely loved him.
Ken is a horse trainer and we really enjoyed learning how Ken trains a horse from scratch. It was exciting to meet a real horse whisperer.
Ken and Karen took us for a day trip to the beach city of Tuaranga in the Bay of Plenty. We had so much fun with them both and felt so comfortable in their company that I was really sad to leave them and as we cycled off I felt teary. We really hope to see you in London when you visit Jake and Amie at some point in the future and thank you so much for looking after us.
After a night at a campsite in Miranda, then a free night camping beside some public toilets (nice!) at a scenic reserve in Clevedon, we finally arrived in Auckland!
We have been enjoying what the city has to offer and have to give a massive thank you to Kate, who Steve did his teacher-training with and her husband, Jamie and their baby, Lily for putting us up in their beautiful house and making us feel so part of the family. We especially loved the way Jamie rolled the towels left on our bed as if we were in a posh hotel. We knew then we’d finally made it! We were even trusted enough to babysit for Lily when Kate and Jamie went to a mid-winter Christmas do.
Our stay in Auckland has been a great end to our trip in New Zealand and we have easily become used to the comforts of a lovely home. But tomorrow we head off to Sydney and who knows what adventures Oz will bring but one thing is for sure, it certainly is big!