Archive for the '16 New Zealand 2009' Category

Warming up!

Posted by on Jul 30 2009 | 16 New Zealand 2009, 17 Hawaii 2009, English

Summer follows winter

On the drive back to Christchurch we stopped at the Hamner Hot Springs. It was, as usual, raining and pretty cold to get from one pool to the next. The 37°C pools felt freezing in the pouring rain. But there were warmer pools with rocks around them where Chan loved to play and try to swim. Later we went to a café for a hot chocolate. That night we had an inside frozen car for the last time.

Driving out of the mountains towards Kaikoura, the sun burnt the humidity off the road and the fog slowly rolled up from the ocean towards the mountains. We took a small road which turned into gravel after a while and suddenly we were caught in the fog. I could only drive between 30 and 40km/h, sight was really limited to a few couple of meters. It was kind of ghostly. We were lucky the day turned out to be really beautiful once we arrived in Kaikoura. We ate lunch at the edge of the ocean next to some lazy fur seals. One of them crossed over the parking lot to lie down in the grass, in the shade of some bushes.

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It wasn’t far to Christchurch anymore now. Back at our friends place we organized bike boxes and started packing. Every time we take a plane, we have to find a way of packing everything within the weight limit. Flying internationally this shouldn’t be a big deal, since you get two pieces of 23kg per person. But for us with the three bikes, the trailer and the follow me it still is a challenge. That’s why we got rid of everything we don’t really need, got rid of all our food and still it was a gamble. That’s why we borrowed a small kart and loaded half of our luggage onto it, then pulled it through the neighborhood to the close mall, where they had a scale at a pharmacy. Little things went back and forth between the boxes and our Bolivian bags until every piece of luggage was exactly 23kg and every piece of carry-on baggage was exactly 7kg.

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The airport scale measured the same weight! Our flight was leaving Christchurch early afternoon July 5th and we arrived in Sydney, Australia around three in the afternoon. The next plane was leaving around 8pm. We were flying through the night, a long flight, and finally arrived in Honolulu July 5th at 10 am! It was like a fairytale. Here we were, pulling off layer after layer until we were only wearing shorts and t-shirts, our feet in sandals. While on this exact same day we had been freezing in wintery Christchurch. Magical date line!

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Entering the US wasn’t a big deal and our entire luggage made it whole as well. Right outside baggage claim was an area with benches and lots of space. We brought our four boxes and two Bolivian bags there and started unpacking right away. We put our bikes back together and stuffed the panniers with everything else. It took us four hours to get ready. By then we were starving. So Florian went to look for something edible while I finished packing the bikes. Our first food in Hawaii was a cup of cut up pineapple.

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Camping can be complicated

In order to camp in Hawaii, you need to have a permit, that is, if you are looking to camp on State and City Campgrounds, which are the only campgrounds besides one private one on the island of Oahu on which we were. It was Sunday and therefore the offices from which to get the permits were all closed. We had to find a hotel. There was an ad at the airport for a relatively cheap hotel room. The hostel didn’t want us because we are a family. But that hotel still had a cheap room and so we started pedaling towards Honolulu and the famous beach of Waikiki.

Our room seemed luxurious even though we probably found one of the cheapest in Waikiki. It was equipped with a fridge, iron, air conditioning, TV, three different sizes of towels per person, shampoo and body soap, face soap and a coffeemaker. After we took a nice long shower and organized our luggage in the room, we headed out to the beach. I brought a light jacket, since it was shortly before sunset. We just made it in time to the beach for the sun to turn into an orange ball lightening up the distant mountains and setting the clouds on fire. The waves washed over our feet and didn’t send chills up our bodies, as we would have expected. There was no need for the jackets even now. The surfers caught the last waves far out in the ocean before the light faded. The restaurants lit up the torches along the beach. We kept walking and taking in the sounds, smells and sights of rich men’s life.

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On the way to the supermarket next day, Chan’s back tire somehow came off and deformed so badly, that it had to be replaced. While I walked back to the hotel with Chan after we shopped for groceries, Florian cruised around town to find a new tire. At the hotel I tried to find out more about campgrounds and Florian visited the satellite city office where he could get some permits for some City Parks. We weren’t ready to leave Waikiki for another couple of days. We had salad and yoghurt dinners in our hotel room and in the early evenings, when the sun wasn’t as strong anymore, we enjoyed the beach.

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On a beautiful morning we finally pedaled off for our Island roundtrip eastward. We assumed that there were hotels in the other towns of Oahu as well, and so not worrying where we would be staying the nights for which we couldn’t get a camping permit. On Oahu camping isn’t allowed Wednesdays and Thursdays anywhere. When we reached the next town we looked for a hotel. There was none! We got the well intentioned advice to just camp in a city park without permit. Nobody would be bothering us. But that kind of advice is sweeter if you don’t have to act on it yourself. We didn’t want to be woken up by police sirens and be moved in the middle of the night. We rode on over a hill to the next beach. In the beach park was no where to hide our bright yellow tent. Florian went scouting for a place while Chan was flying a kite with a veteran and I was watching our stuff. We ended up pushing our bikes into the dunes and bushes of forbidden state property. It was the most romantic camp spot on our round trip; the waves washing over black rocks nearby, glittering in the light of an almost complete moon, clouds chasing towards the mountains and jamming into thick black monsters wetting the rocks and plants further up the valley.

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Early in the morning intense sun rays hit our tent driving us outside. We packed up ate breakfast and pushed our bikes back to the road, as the first people strolled passed along the beach. It was a really hot day. In the next town we wanted to look for a hotel, but again, there was none. There was a campground in the botanical garden, but because it was Thursday, we weren’t allowed to camp. No exceptions. Not even for sweaty cyclists who just biked up half a dozen really steep, but short hills and back down, only to see the Botanical Garden Headquarter…

We climbed over all those hills back into town and filled our panniers with good food, then pedaled on. We wanted to enjoy Hawaii’s beaches and therefore not pedal for more than 30km a day. We were around 40km when we came across an Inn in a very funny little town. People there must have mistaken their driveways for dumps and between all the free walking hens and roosters, we felt like being back in Mexico. The Inn turned out to be a bit overprized, for the cheapest room was 145$. We headed on, along the beautiful seaside of eastern Oahu. The parks along the highway were too small for a got hideout for our tent and we started to wonder where we could be spending the night. People sent us further to another beach park, they didn’t seem to know the rule of not being allowed to camp on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so we wanted to give it a try. We pushed the bikes to a picnic table and sat down for a bite to eat. It was now almost 7pm, one more hour of daylight, the bike computer showed some over 60km. As soon as we had settled at the table, a maintenance worker came over, to tell us, that we couldn’t stay here. So we said that we didn’t intend to camp there and that we were on our way up north to some other park. The maintenance guy went back to his four-wheeler and sat down thinking, not moving away looking at us. So I got up to use a bathroom. He called over, that that bathroom was out of order and I had to use the other a bit further away. Then he came back over to us. He said, that we wouldn’t make it to the next park before dark and that it was too dangerous to be on the road in the dark. He was worried about Chan and finally told us to push our bikes around the corner behind some bushes and stay there for the night. He was going to inform his maintenance partner and was going to wake us up early in the morning so that we wouldn’t’ be caught by higher authority. And that’s what we did. It was a beautiful spot right at the beach, where we camped and we spotted small crabs in the sand.

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Camping with a permit finally

We woke up before we were woken up and pushed our bikes out of hiding to a table, where we ate breakfast. Then we pedaled only about 7 more km to Swanzy Beach Park for which we had a permit. The system works like this that you can only get a permit for a whole week exempt Wednesday and Thursday. That meant that we took the space for a whole week even though we only camped there for two days.

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It was nice for a change to know, that we were allowed to camp where we were and to be able to stay for more than one night. There was a playground right there and more families camping with plenty of playmates for Chan, which meant that we had a lot of time and nothing to do but reading magazines, news papers and eat.

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After two days we pedaled on for 20km to Malaekahana State Beach, where we were able to book three nights (different permit system for this park). That was a beautiful spot to spend some time. We camped in the shade of trees and bushes. The beach was right there. There was drinking water and even showers, although with cold water only and no shower heads. Flo and I discovered Sudoku while Chan was busy with the sand, the waves and other kids. It was like vacation at the beach.

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The other face of Hawaii

When we continued our ride, we had no more permits for a few days. But because we were now at the north end of the island, which is known to be really busy with surfers, we thought, that there must be some sort of accommodation. There wasn’t. There was a hostel in one town which wouldn’t allow us to stay because of Chan. So we ate lunch, checked email and had an ice cream. Then we checked out private camps, but it was not possible to stay in any of them. On the way back into town we took some shortcuts through back roads. Suddenly we found ourselves on gravel, the houses around us were falling apart in the air lay the scent of poverty. At the end of the lane lingered a pack of street dogs. Was this the US or Latin America?

Back in town we checked out a recreational area. The only possible spot to hide our tent seemed to be someone else’s home already and we weren’t keen of homeless people about us, so we tried to find another place. There was none. Finally we decided to ride out of town knowing that there would be cultivated fields for the next 20km with little chance of a spot for us. But at the end of the town was a huge traffic circle with some trees. Flo went to check it out and we decided to stay there over night, since this was the only spot with no signs prohibiting camping. We waited until dark to put up the tent. But as we were about to mount it, the sprinklers started at the other end of the circle. We spent the next half hour searching the ground for the pop up sprinkler heads but couldn’t find any. Finally we put up the tent and went sleeping. We were lucky, that none of the sprinklers popped up from under the tent and we had a quiet night. We got up early in the morning, with the first light, and then went over to the gas station to get some breakfast, before we rode on.

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Before us was the first and only kind of a pass on Oahu. It looked like we would get rained on, but the wind chased the clouds ahead of us. We tried to get a permit for a road crossing through army and navy land. We got permission from the army but not from the navy which meant, that we had to ride a detour to our next City Park, for which we had a permit.

The highway was not too busy and we were riding mostly downhill now. The detour wasn’t too bad until we reached the highway going west, which turned into an interstate without the interstate sign and no shoulder for parts of it. We decided to stay on the first park along the way and enjoyed the beach. We cooked dinner, when the park was still open for public and once the light faded looked around for a spot to hide our tent. We found the perfect place between stacked canoes until we discovered that the ground was covered with spikes from a tree. Chan was fast asleep by now in the trailer and we didn’t want to move again. So we took down the tent, cleaned the ground as good as we could and put the tent back up a little bit less hidden, where there were no spikes. Nobody bothered us.

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We got up very early again and packed the bikes before we moved to a picnic table to have breakfast. We were visited by two homeless guys, both of them warned us about heading more west individually. We didn’t think much of it, until just a couple of kilometers further up the highway the beach looked like a slum. We kept going, but the homeless settlements didn’t stop. After a while we stopped and discussed what we should do. I wasn’t in the mood of putting up our tent in between homeless structures, even though we had a camping permit for a park some 15km further up the highway. We asked a police woman about the conditions further west and she said that it would look all the same until the end of the road. That was probably why only that park still had some camping space available for that weekend.

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We called the hotel we had stayed before in Waikiki to see if they had a room available. Then we started riding back. I hated the part on the interstate which wasn’t one. Suddenly a car stopped on the gravel strip and the women asked if we wanted a ride with them. I said yes immediately, Flo a bit more reluctant. The women even offered us to drive us right back to Honolulu, a 30km ride for us on busy highways. I was so glad. I needed a shower and I was looking forward to the nice beaches, even if they were touristic, with no garbage lying around, illuminated at night by torches. I wanted to really enjoy the last days on this beautiful island like a vacation, who knows if we will ever be able to come back.

Back in the hotel room we showered, how good does it feel when you’re clean! Then we went to buy lunch which we brought down to the beach and we were speechless for a moment. That beach was covered with human bodies, towels, beach chairs. It was in its own way kind of gross. So THIS was Waikiki. We realized that before we went around the island, we had only visited the beach in the early evenings, a time, when most tourists are heading off to the restaurants and it had been the beginning of the week. That’s why it had felt so pleasant and not crowded at all. Now it was just after lunch hour and it was the weekend! After the initial shock we kind of enjoyed people watching though and Chan found other kids to hit the waves. The water was nice and warm. I’ve never enjoyed swimming in the ocean more than here.

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Time to move on

Again it was time to pack the bikes. The day before the flight we rode out to a Best Western right next to the airport, where we were able to store our bike boxes all that time. It took us the whole afternoon to pack up again, even though we had scribbled on each box what was in there last time. Somehow it didn’t work out and one box was now suddenly 10 pounds more than last time. We didn’t care and paid the 50$ overweight the next day at check in. The flight was five hours to San Francisco and American Airlines didn’t serve any food. We had the option to buy a 10$ sandwich, which we didn’t want to buy.

For the first time on our journey we were about to be picked up from an airport and we were looking forward to that very much. We could stay with Peggy and Michael and their kids again as we could last time we were in San Francisco, about three years ago. We have been staying with them again for almost two weeks. In a couple of days though it will be time to move on…

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Under the rainbow

Posted by on Jun 21 2009 | 16 New Zealand 2009, English

The wettest winter in 50 years

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Spaceship

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2 comments for now

Culture shocked and jetlagged

Posted by on May 07 2009 | 14 Argentina 08/09, 16 New Zealand 2009, English

A different kind of travelling

Finally we were in Ushuaia. It was a wired feeling and we didn’t really know what to do now. Eight years ago we had set out to reach this point of the world and now we were here. It wasn’t a very special place nor very romantic. In fact, it was pretty cold and the first snow came down onto our tent. A few days later the campground closed down for the season.

 

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We moved to a hostal. Once we went to town to celebrate our arrival with a nice cup of cappuccino and a chocolate cake. We felt restless and started looking for what should happen next. We checked internet pages for flights to New Zealand and Australia and searched for information about the countries and their regulations for visitors and working possibilities. Florian found an incredible cheap flight for the three of us to Auckland, New Zealand, for two weeks later which he booked immediately.

Now we only had to get up to Buenos Aires within those two weeks. We wouldn’t be cycling. This part of the country is pampa with huge distances without any towns and known for the strong winds from the sea. A flight was outrageous expensive and they allowed only 15kg baggage per person and 100 Pesos (about 30$) per kg overweight. The bus wouldn’t take us either because of the bikes. The only few companies serving Tierra del Fuego allow not more than 30kg luggage per person.

We decided to try hitch hiking. Before we could try it out though, we had to get rid of a few things to make our baggage a bit lighter and easier to handle. Then we headed to the gas station at the entrance of Ushuaia early in the morning. We talked to truck drivers filling up on gas and tried to stop pick ups or vans on their way out, but without any luck. Then a car driver stopped his car and told us to go a bit further to the police control post where all cars had to stop anyway. So we tried that. The policemen were very nice and let us stay inside of their post, where it was warm, while one of us talked to the car drivers.

Then they had shift change. By now we had waited for five hours. The new crew checking headlights and engines of the passing cars took pity in us and finally asked a mail van to take us to Rio Grande, still on Tierra del Fuego. The driver gave us and another hitch hiker a ride and dropped us off at a supermarket in Rio Grande. We bought some food, though not too much, since we weren’t allowed to bring any fresh groceries over the border into Chile. Then we decided to ride out of the city and try for another ride up to the border. It was mid afternoon and we still got some time. But again we tried without luck, because we had too much luggage. Finally we started looking for a place for the night.

The owner of a shed at the beach sent us two kilometers up the road to a truck stop. But when we got there, there was no truck stop. But a little bit further we came to the buildings of the police school. We asked there and were sent just a few hundred meters further to a hostal. We couldn’t find it and when we asked at a house we were sent to another house, belonging to the police as well. The officer sent us to a back lane where the hostal was supposed to be. Though it was labeled with Government Hotel, the owner sent us away immediately in a unfriendly manner. What now? It was dark by now. Another policeman in training came along and was once more talking about a truck stop only a kilometer up the road, where we could camp. When we got to the building he had described to us the receptionist stopped us at the gate. He said that we could not stay there. We told him, that the police had sent us here and he explained that this was not a truck stop anymore. That he did in fact rent out rooms, but to another kind of customers. We understood that this was not a good place for us to spend the night and carried on. I was wearing gloves by now and we were freezing. A bit further again was a truck scale. There was someone in the house and we asked if we could camp there. The man let us stay and we could even use his kitchen.

From here we wanted to hitch hike again up to the border in the morning. We got up very early, before the sun was up. Our tent was frozen and we could not get warm, standing on the shoulder. Chan was bundled up in the trailer and we were using the hand warmers, which were a goodbye gift from the Velo Plus employees in Switzerland. But Chan and I were freezing. After a few hours at the roadside, I went inside again with Chan. We boiled water for a cup of hot tea and brought another cup out to Florian. We waited for another six hours, before finally a pick up stopped. It turned out to be a Swiss guy, second generation in Argentina. He originally wanted to drop us off about 15km before the border, but then decided to drive us all the way.

 

Argentinean customs was not a big deal and soon we were riding the 15km to the Chilean border. We passed immigration quickly and one officer was fond of Chan and brought us a kettle with boiling hot water for a tea and a hot chocolate for Chan while we had lunch in the shelter of the building. He asked us how far we wanted to go that day and we told him, that we would be trying to hitch a ride up to the next border with Argentina. He and another officer immediately helped us and asked everybody passing the border that had a pick up or a truck, if they had space to give us a ride. We waited for a long time. That particular officer played with Chan at his Schalter with matchbox cars in between serving people. Most truck drivers weren’t allowed to take people and the pick ups didn’t have space. I started to inquire about possible local busses and a place to spend the night, when finally a truck driver agreed to take us along. But we had to sit in the back outside. The border officers didn’t think this was a good idea since we would be driving in the dark and negotiated with another truck driver. He was agreeing to take me and Chan, while Flo got a ride with the other truck, which also took our bikes. We didn’t like to be separated, but this was our only chance on getting back into Argentina again, to the main land, from where we had more bus options to Buenos Aires. We agreed to meet up at the Chilean side of the border.

Our truck driver, Hugo, was a very gentle man. We chatted along and he seemed to enjoy our company. Chan slowly started to chat with him as well. The road through this part of Tierra del Fuego was extremely bad with washboard, wholes and bumps. For most of those 180km we were driving at 20km/h. I was glad to have such a careful driver. It was getting dark out and we still had most of the way ahead of us. By eleven at night we should reach the border. But we had a heavy load and the road was in worse condition than Hugo had thought it to be. Slowly we climbed hill after hill and the hours passed. Chan was still very excited but slowly getting tired. Finally he was laying down on the drivers bed behind the seats.

After what seemed an eternity we reached pavement again. Hugo stopped for me and Chan to go to the restroom. While we were away he prepared some mate for us with a gas stove right in the cabin! Then we drove the last 30km to the ferry to the main land. Here he thought, the other truck would have long caught up to us, but when the ferry took off, they weren’t on board with us. Chan was asleep by now. I started worrying, that maybe something had happened to the other truck. Hugo kept the mate going and reassured me, that the others might just be driving as slowly as us. On the other side we still had some 100km to go to reach the border but luckily it was all paved. We arrived at the border at midnight and it was already closed. There was nothing else we could do but waiting, since the other truck with Flo and the bikes wasn’t here yet. Hugo talked to all the other truck drivers arriving one after the other, but no one had seen Flo’s truck. We waited another hour, hoping that they wouldn’t miss the last ferry to the mainland. Then finally the last trucks for the night turned up at the parking lot and the third one was Flo’s!

 

Flo came over and we lifted a sleeping Chan out of the warmth of the truck into the cold night. Then we walked over to the immigration buildings where the door to the entrance room was not locked. Instead of putting up our tent in the darkness, we decided to just arrange our mattresses in the heated entrance room. The light was on the whole night, but we didn’t care, we were so tired that we soon fell into a light sleep.

 

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Early in the morning I woke up. In an hour they would be opening the border, so I woke Flo and we ate our last crackers for breakfast. Just a few minutes before the border was opening we woke Chan and allowed him to stay in his sleeping bag. Then we had to line up for customs before driving on to the Argentinean immigration, where it was very chaotic. There were busloads of people in lines wound up in each other. Finally we managed to get into the right line for our entry stamps. From here to Rio Gallegos we could both ride with Flo’s truck driver, Lukas, who was fine with all of us plus another hitch hiker in his driver cabin for the remaining 70km. During the ride we were again sharing mate. It was here on those rides, that we really started to enjoy the mate. It connected us with the truck drivers and the land we were about to leave. Lukas dropped us off at the bus terminal.

 

We were starving. We hadn’t had a real meal for one and a half days. Next to the bus terminal was a supermarket and Chan and I went to buy a nice breakfast. After we had satisfied our stomachs we went to find out about the possibilities to get to Buenos Aires by bus. It was much cheaper than from Ushuaia and the luggage was no problem. But all companies couldn’t assure us that the bikes would be on the same bus. They might be put on another bus depending on the luggage of other passengers. One office was still closed and would be opening after the siesta hours around five. We started taking the bikes apart and rearrange our gear into less bags. Then we taped the pairs of panniers together to one big piece. At 5.30pm the last office was finally open and they gave us a much better deal on the tickets than the other companies and reassured us, that our entire luggage, including the bikes, would be on the same bus. We booked with them. When we had our luggage ready we still got some time to have something to eat. There wasn’t much to choose from at the bus terminal, but Chan and I came back with one portion of salad, French fries and a pizza. It must have looked pretty funny, when Chan grabbed the salad and wanted it all for himself!

At 9pm we took off and were now riding for about 36 hours. The bus ride was nice though. We could just sit in our seats not worrying about getting a ride. We knew how long we had to wait until reaching Buenos Aires. There was no unknown anymore. But two nights in a bus is a lot of not sleeping in a bed and by the time we arrived at Retiro, the bus terminal in Buenos Aires, we were exhausted. Retiro is known for luggage robbing, not a very safe place. So we carried all our bags and bikes into a corner, where we only had to watch one side. Flo went to find out about taxis to our friends place, where we could stay. Our friends Silvia, Luis and their son Sebastian had invited us to their home immediately, when they read in our blog, that we were coming to Buenos Aires. We had met them on a campground near Salta, when arriving from the Altiplano. We had been chatting there a bit and exchanged addresses. Then we didn’t hear from them nor did we contact them again.

Preparing the jump into another world

We were really thankful to have a place to go to in Buenos Aires. We found a taxi and shortly after arrived in the quite street of our friends. Silvia was waiting for us outside. Silvia had bought heaps of meat for us. But when we were sitting at the kitchen table she asked me, if I wasn’t a vegetarian. I said yes without knowing, what kind of meals she had prepared for us. She said: “I thought you might be, but I bought all those nice milanesas (steak with a kind of flower around which has to be baked in the oven). Well never mind, let’s go to the shop.” I wanted to protest, but Silvia took me and Chan to the shop, where we bought two shopping carts full of food. I couldn’t stop her!

Silvia and Luis helped us find boxes for our luggage. We could clean the bikes at their place and take them apart. We had to get our luggage down to 6 pieces of 23kg, if we didn’t want to pay overweight kilograms (up to 100 $ US per kg!). That meant giving away many, many things which had come along with us the whole journey. Around the corner was a shop selling foam by the kilo. We bought some of it to protect the bikes and we could borrow their scale to weigh our boxes. Finally we managed all 6 boxes to be exactly 23kg, bikes and trailer and follow me included (15kg per bike, 9kg for Chan’s bike,15kg for the trailer and 5kg for the follow-me). It was like a puzzle, where each piece finds its place slowly.

Silvia and Luis brought us to a festival, the opening of the artisan market for the season. They had gaucho shows and lots of booths with local artisan artwork like pottery, paintings, cloths, mate cups and straws and leather work. We wandered around and enjoyed a beautiful warm day. There we also bought our only souvenir of our entire trip: a mate cup!

 

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Then it was time to say good bye to our friends. A neighbour brought us to the airport with his small delivery truck. We were there very early to make sure, that all our boxes would be checked in. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 2 am and we were at the airport at 7pm. There wasn’t a nice waiting area before the check in so we sat on the floor waiting and eating empanadas until the check in finally opened. It was now 11pm.

 

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At the gate we waited and waited. Chan was very excited and didn’t want to fall asleep. Then we got the information, that our flight was delayed two hours. That meant that we had to wait until 4 am! Chan fell asleep at least, but Flo and I couldn’t really sleep, we doze off once in a while. I was carrying Chan, and Flo our hand bags. We had already passed the usual security check with scanning luggage, but before entering the plane we had to go through another security check, they scanned everybody with a hand device once more. Then we had to wait again. We probably entered the plane around 4.30am. Sometime between 6 and 7am we were served dinner! We didn’t sleep well in the plane. Chan was the only one getting a good night’s sleep. The flight took about 19 hours. April 9th lasted about six hours.

 

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We landed around 10am New Zealand time when we should have arrived at 7am. We had organized a place to stay with some warm shower hosts (www.warmshowers.org) and could take a taxi from the airport directly to their house. Helen and Richard welcomed us to the new country and had a room prepared for us to stay in. That first day we didn’t do much. We needed some time to arrive first. So we went to a park with a flying fox and then to a café to relax after that huge trip from one side of the world to the other.

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Riding at the other right side of the road

Already the first step in this new country felt weird. Everything was extremely clean and organized. There were city maps before baggage claim, the immigration officers were very friendly and so were the customs officers, checking our boxes for organic material.

The taxi driver was very nice, chatting away on the ride into the city, explaining the surroundings. The city seemed very quiet and secure. We left the bikes at the gate, while bringing our boxes into the back yard of Helen and Richard without worrying about them getting stolen. The café close to our host’s house was serving good healthy quality food for a low prize and good real coffee. We seemed to be in paradise. Everything was very unreal! We were unbelievable tired. I was constantly cold wearing jackets, while the New Zealanders walked around in T-shirt and lots of them barefooted. In the park everybody started chatting with us and the children played with Chan.

When putting the bikes back together, we noticed that we needed to replace a few important parts, like two rims which were worn through, the break levers and all our cables. The rims took some time to order, so that we needed to stay longer in Auckland than planned. Helen and Richard were heading off on a bike trip themselves so that we changed our warm shower hosts.

With the old rims and breaks we rode through the city to Cynthia’s and Margot’s. How wired it felt to ride on the left. Every time I looked into the mirror there was on the other side of the handle bar and every time there was traffic on the other lane I was scared until I realized, that they were actually driving correctly.

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A day after we arrived at our new host’s house, Chan woke up in the middle of the night with high fever. He was coughing and had some kind of a flu with ear aching. He stayed in bed for two days and inside for two more until he finally felt better. Cynthia and Margot were the most wonderful hosts, letting us stay, even though they had another visitor at their house. They also recommended very good bike shops to us and drove us around the city, so that we could get everything we needed. In a really good outdoor shop, we finally found good rain jackets 40% discounted.

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After two weeks in Auckland our bikes and all of us were ready to explore this new country. To get out of the city, we took a ferry over to Pine Harbour, to miss the heavy traffic.

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We only rode about 15km, but were exhausted when we arrived at the campground. People had told us, that we wouldn’t find any fresh groceries in New Zealand and if we were lucky it would be very expensive. Meat would be cheap. We found roadside stands with beautiful vegetables and fruits for very little money. A bag full of organic kiwis for just a few coins. Maybe we are just here at the right time, although the weather now changed. It had been lovely warm so far. But now the sky was clouded over and it rained every day. We were happy to have good rain jackets and didn’t ride very far per day. We still felt somewhat exhausted. 30 to 40km was just enough. The grades on those New Zealand roads are quite steep; they take you up to the top of the hill in very little distance. This was definitely different from the long straight Argentinean highways. Traffic is pretty heavy here too and I still get geese bumps frequently when cars are approaching on the right lane.

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On our third day riding we bought a road atlas with all the small roads marked and looked for routes on those roads. So far it has been a relaxing riding country with lots of cafes on our way and campgrounds to stay over night. It is a bit more costly here than South America, but we never have to worry about water or shelter. The campgrounds usually provide a kitchen and lounge and hot showers! Since New Zealand is a volcanic island, there are many thermal areas. We discovered the hot thermal pools which are extra nice in the cold weather brought up to the North Island from the southern snow peaks.

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We wanted to leave Taupo in the center of the North Island the day after I wrote the blog update. We had a nice breakfast in the campgrounds kitchen and rolled off. It was a beautiful day no clouds on the blue sky, just the wind was a bit cool. Eight kilometers out of town I was pedaling in neutral gear. I didn’t understand right away, but Flo of course just said: “Ups, that’s not good at all. That’s actually really bad. Your freewheel is broken. Flo rode back into town to look for a bike store which could have replacement  and I was walking my bike back to town. We spent the afternoon waiting in front of the store. It was a tricky piece to replace, but in the end of the afternoon, the mechanic finally found a freewheel fitting my hub. We went back to the same campground for another night.

Because the weather turned really bad over the next days, we took it slow, riding in the mornings only, arriving at the next campground on the map in the afternoon where we could warm up in the kitchen with hot tea.

We are on our way to Palmerston North, where we will give a slide show on the 14th of may.

 

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