When finally leaving Taupo, we left the last rays of sunshine behind us. Riding along the lake was beautiful, the grades not as steep as they were around Auckland anymore, but the nights were getting really cold. The southerly winds hit once again, blowing winter upon the two islands a couple of months too early.
We were only riding 10km then hurrying into the information center in Turangi, when the clouds opened their locks and the water kept pouring down for the rest of the day. We stayed in a cabin on a campground in town and considered taking a bus over the pass through Tongariro National Park. With yet another sore throat I would have opted for the bus. But it was kind of expensive and Florian really wanted to ride his bike. The next morning we were woken up by warm sunrays and really glad to be on the bikes. The weather forecast had been very discouraging for the next days, so this was a nice surprise that lasted until midday, when masses of water came down upon us once more and we found shelter in a cabin on a campground, where we tried to stay warm in the kitchen sipping hot tea and eating soup. The temperatures dropped to minus that night. In the morning the clouds weren’t empty yet. In fact we rode out and could hardly see through the curtain of raindrops. Our new rain jackets couldn’t prevent us from being soaked after 2 hours out on the road. It was freezing with strong icy winds slowing our speed. Up at National Park Village we stopped for the day after only 30km and took a room in a backpacker’s. Even with the nicest hot shower ever, it took a long time for the shivering to subside.
We got rewarded for the exertion off the day before with beautiful views of Mount Doom (Mt. Ngauruhoe), the sun smiling from the sky for a couple of hours, before hiding behind black clouds once more. We saw a white wall approaching straight onto us with unbelievable speed and not even managed to get into our rain gear and gloves completely, when hit by the hail. For the next half hour we were getting a whole body peeling and tried to stay on the road while not exposing too much face to the peeling. As fast as it was upon us, the storm was gone again. We ate lunch warming up in the warm afternoon sun, drying off in Raetihi. Then we decided to get a coffee as well and that’s when we met Monika and Matt. They looked our bikes and the trailer over, than started chatting with us. When we were ready to head off to a campground down the road, they gave us their address in Wellington and invited us to stay in their shared house, while dealing with the immigration.
We arrived at the campground just when the sun disappeared behind the mountains. There was nobody around and no other campers used the sites. We decided to sleep in the kitchen. As soon as we had the bikes locked up for the night it started to rain again. We lit a fire in the fire place and were glad to stay dry and warm for this night.
What a beautiful ride on that road down to Wanganui! Well it would have been a lot more enjoyable even, without the hailstorm hitting down for half an hour. We kept getting in and out of our rain gear throughout the day, for the sun was playing hide and seek with the rain clouds.
But the road was so much fun once we were up on the pass! We were cruising down leaning into curves and looking over beautiful mountain ranges and almost all the way to the ocean.
We reached Wanganui around four in the afternoon, the information was already closed. We sat down to have a bite to eat and decide on what to do, when Sandra pulled into the parking lot. She overheard us talking and came over for a chat. From Switzerland as well and a touring cyclist, she invited us to her home, where we could stay in a camping trailer. We stayed for two nights. I had my fourth cold with a sore throat and Chan had a cold too. We needed a rest and Sandra showed us a recipe for a molasses tea to warm up from inside out.
Two more rainy and icy cold days brought us to Palmerston North on back roads. In Palmerston we stayed with Phil and his family for a couple of days. Flo gave a slide show in Phil’s bike store which was a success, than we took the train down to Wellington, for the roads between the two cities are extremely busy and therefore not much fun to ride. And of course, the weather hadn’t improved and turned the fields into mud holes, the roads into small streams. In fact, people were telling us, that this was the wettest winter in 50 years
The immigration dance
The flat mates of Matt and Monika didn’t know that we were invited to stay there. Matt and Monika had jobs for a few weeks in the countryside and not been to Wellington for a while. Nevertheless, Nell, Seth and Ian welcomed us warmly to their home and showed us Monika and Matt’s room.
It was weekend, so we went grocery shopping and hung out in the library. Wellington was extremely windy. Wind bouts pushed us through the streets and we had to hold on to Chan who was blown into the streets a couple of times. It was not only windy, but also raining mostly. The sun just came to say hi now and then for a few minutes as not to be forgotten.
Monday we started our immigration dance. We also needed to get Chan’s and my Canadian passport done. The Canadian high commission was very helpful and we got all the paperwork done quickly. The passport photos were a bit of a challenge not for us, but for the photo shops. The first one couldn’t do them, after two rounds the pictures still didn’t turn out right. They had a yellow touch to them. In the next shop they said it was no problem and we should come back in 15 minutes, after they had taken our pictures. When we came back, the photos weren’t ready because they had difficulties getting them in the right size. Canadian passport photos are probably of the hardest to take in the world. We took about six sets home, two of them the actual right size. Now we only needed a Justice of Peace in front of whom I had to take an oath for having put down all the correct information on the forms and to declare myself to actually be me. Then we brought everything to the Canadian embassy and that was it.
Our attempt to apply for a work permit wasn’t as successful. At the immigration we were told, to first get a job offer and than fill out the application forms. When we contacted the regional coordinator for seasonal workers, we were told that we needed to apply first for a work permit and only then would be able to get a work offer. Apparently the forms, we were given at the immigration in Wellington, were old ones. We contacted several vineyards on the south island to get work during the winter pruning season. Three promised us to write up a work offer, so that we could apply for our permits. Well, after waiting for a week and calling them back three times, and every time getting reassured, that they would be writing the offer next thing, we never got a written work offer.
After a week I’ve had enough. Wellington was wet, cold and windy. I didn’t want to wait here any longer, wasting our time in New Zealand. We now had only one month left on our visitor status. We didn’t have enough money to be applying for an extension of our visitor status for three more months. We also couldn’t hide the fact that it was winter now, and we needed a place to stay for a couple of months. Riding constantly in rain and getting one cold after the other just isn’t very pleasant. But not even woofing was an option for us since it is considered work and you need a work permit, actually a working holiday visa, to be able to be woofing. For the working holiday visa we’re too old and Flo couldn’t get one as a Swiss anyway.
We booked a ferry ride to the South Island, after we had shown our slides to the shared house. From Picton we took another train down to Christchurch. There we could stay with John and his wife, friends of Phil, while organizing our next steps. Chan was sick again with a fever for a couple of days, actually two sunny days. The weather forecast was again not very promising. We would have liked to at least ride the Otago trail, but they had snow on it and it looked like more of it over the coming days. We gave up our hopes of biking at all on the South Island. Flo checked out car rental places and found the Spaceship winter special: a van which can be turned into a bedroom or kitchen.
When Chan was fit again, we picked up our orange spaceship and headed off for our last month in Kiwi-land. The first few days I was really glad not to be out biking. We were snowed and rained and stormed on. How nice it was to just stay dry and warm inside our little box, listening to nice music. But now and again we all feel the itch of getting out and kicking those pedals again. We tried to do as many short hikes as possible; we needed to move our bodies. But for most of them the weather didn’t improve and we were hurrying to viewpoints, catching glimpses of a beautiful land and coast through raindrops and clouds.
Everyday we also discovered a rainbow somewhere along the way, enchanting the land. I have never seen that many rainbows in my life. After a few days, Chan didn’t even get excited anymore and barely looked at them. He’d rather watch movies along the way, like Aladdin, over and over again.
Chan calls the spaceship “our rocket” and that’s how it actually feels. We are driving between 80km and 250km a day, taking our time. One month is enough for most people to visit the North- and the South Island. It doesn’t feel like too much time for us. We are still travelling in the same way as before, the time on the road is important. We want to see the country not the towns. And still we move about so fast. We see things along the road and can’t stop to get a closer look. We do miss our bikes. But the campgrounds are like swamps these days. Our tent would have been constantly wet. Even in the car we had frozen nights and scratched the ice off the inside of the windows in the morning. We had a few beautiful sunny days, but the majority of them were wet and cold. We didn’t even finish our colds up yet and are at round five right now. (No swine flu so far)
Amusement park country
Our spaceship took us east into the mountains from Christchurch, than south through Dunedin through the Catlins to Invercargill. We camped out at a Doc (Department of Conservation Campsite) right at the beach and transitioned into the land of dreams to the sound of breaking waves. In the morning we gazed out the back window and got a glimpse of a seal playing in the waves at the beach.
A bit further south we waited at another beach for an hour to finally see a yellow eyed penguin walking over the rocks. It was there suddenly. We didn’t see it come out of the water and then there was a second one. They walked over the rocks, stood still and called out seemingly to their companions.
Then the light of the day diminished and we couldn’t tell which was a rock and which a penguin. Chan had been pretty excited to see penguins but the long wait for them made him very impatient and he was kind of disappointed to only see them as some black things moving around, not being able to get close up. We could borrow binoculars but he wasn’t able to see anything through the glass.
But I’d rather have it that way. These animals are something special and that’s what they should be. We could have booked a tour guaranteeing penguin sights close up for over a hundred dollars per person. That would have been stunning for sure, only that those animals are very shy and shouldn’t be approached closely. And even though they are in the wild, it feels more like a zoo when knowing that you will see them for sure, crammed in some supposed to be hide out flashing cameras left and right…
For most tourists over here, the stunning nature, the uncountable possibilities for hikes, the natural hot springs and swimming beaches, the surfing waves and the marine life you can observe with a little bit of patience doesn’t seem to be worth a visit to New Zealand. Whenever we enter a visitor center or take a look into the Lonely Planet guide, drive through a town, we get showered with the most exciting offers to take the plunge and get a real taste of New Zealand: You can Bungee jump in almost every town, go for paragliding or skydiving. There are huge flying foxes and off road tours in amphibian trucks. Take a four wheel tour or why not jet boat every lake and river there is on the islands. If there isn’t any breath cutting, exhilarating activity to book, then you have to dive into another world while on a Lord of the Rings tour or take a scenic helicopter flight. You can go plane whale watching to have a sight guaranteed. If above ground isn’t good enough, book your adventure underground to see glow worms and get a canopy ride trough stalagmites and stalactites. The more adventurous will have to crawl themselves and actually climb up and down the caves along ropes. If one of these adventures isn’t giving you the kick, combine them to a helicopter skydiving hike, picked up by jet boat and dropped off at your accommodation of choice to a nice hot shower and soft bed.
We had the sun on our side, when driving the pass over to Milford Sound. How beautiful the freshly snowed on mountains in gleaming sunlight. What a pass to be riding on a bike…
We found yet another winter special for a boat ride out into the fiord. There was another family on board with a four year old. Chan and Lucca had a blast playing together. We got the chance to observe baby seals playing on rocks and in the water from very close and on our way back to Milford Sound Village there were Hector Dolphins jumping up around the bug of our ship. Chan and I were standing right there and his eyes lit up with wonder while watching those elegant animals. Later, when we went back inside the ship, he said with a trembling voice:” Those were the very first dolphins I’ve seen in my life!”
The West Coast was rainy. We didn’t see Mount Cook, just white clouds. A hike took us close to Josef glacier which had been reclining for a long time, then growing until 2006, when it stopped its growth once more and stalled for now.
Florian’s birthday we celebrated in Greymouth and found a funky café with superb chocolate cake and life music. We stayed out late and then enjoyed a night in a real nice queen sized bed in a backpacker’s.
And finally, when reaching Golden Bay and New Zealand’s sun garden, we didn’t get disappointed and have now had sunshine for the last four days. It also has been freezing cold with temperatures dropping below zero as soon as the sun disappears behind the horizon. How nice it was to walk along the beach at Farwell spit, to even lie down onto the sand and feel the warming sunrays in the face. We took a hike along the beach in Abel Tasman the next day. Again, those views into the bays lit by golden sun light and the scents of flowers blooming (yep there are a few of those even in the winter!) and the vegetation changing from kind of mediterranean to rainforesty within only a few meters of changing the angle of the coastline, were mind blowing.
Now we are in Nelson for another slide show, before we will be heading back down to Christchurch to drop off our orange spaceship home of the last few weeks.