People often worry about putting on a little weight over Christmas, just usually it’s not in their panniers.
When your life is dominated by the weight of your possessions, the tradition of gift giving on Christmas day has the potential to be fraught with difficulty. Because of that we made a firm commitment definitely not to give each other gifts this year.
Which we then both ignored.
On the plus side the gifts were of the practical variety – tin mugs, as our trusty as old faithfuls were on their last legs. It may have been helpful however if we didn’t buy 2 each.
Total haul for Xmas = 4 tin mugs, 2 bars of chocolate, biscuits, socks and a tangerine.
Boxing day was therefore spent returning mugs and/or trying to exchange them for some useful/weight-free alternatives…..more socks.
The brief seasonal break in Wellington was wonderful. New Zealand’s compact capital city was delightfully empty of people, most residents heading off for their summer holidays at the beach, so we got to enjoy it’s museums, waterfront, beaches and parks unhindered by hordes of people.
Christmas day itself consisted a cycle, a sea swim and a feast of pie and mash.
Other highlights included the stunning
Te Papa museum, currently fielding an exhibition on the WW1 Gallipoli campaign and the ANZAC forces. The exhibit featured letters home from those serving at the time, but were brought to life, breath-takingly, by exquisite double life-size models of the writers, painstakingly reproduced from photographs (by the Peter Jackson’s – Lord of the Rings workshop) and so real you could see every pore, hair, scar on their skin. Every drop of sweat, tears, fear on their faces. I defy anyone not to be moved.
This Wellington institution is also free to access for which I can only applaud them.
Four days and slightly fewer tin mugs later and it was time to ship out again, literally, on the interislander ferry whose relaxing 3.5 hour crossing delivered us and the bikes safely in the small town of Picton on the South Island.
Most people opt to drive straight through Picton to onwards destinations but we were in no hurry, easing back in after the Xmas break. One night was definitely enough but the quaint waterfront with its model railway club, water parks and mini golf made for a pleasant afternoon, apart that is from adding to my losing streak in the golf. It was the volcano that did for me!
Leaving Picton we debated taking the Queen Charlotte track, a popular off road walking route, which you can also bike (not so easily with panniers though) and, after finding some elements closed to cyclists in high summer we decided this was one for another day. Instead we opted to take the pretty and hilly road which hugs the coast, swooping in and out of sparkling, blue bays and forest. The Christmas excesses were definitely being felt on the large hill climb out of town but, as always, it was good to be rolling.
The appearance of a random coffee stop in the middle of an otherwise un-populated valley was extremely welcome, especially on the discovery that it also had one of the quirkiest mini-golf courses ever seen.
Home-made holes included spinning bicycle wheels, throwing the ball into a bucket and potting it across a pool table with the handle end of the club.
This style must suit me too as I racked up my first win in a while, much to M’s disgust.
The quiet Christmas break though had lulled us into a false sense of solitude, meant we’d forgoten that December/January are some of the busiest months of the summer holidays for campsites here. Trying to book places for just one night had suddenly become exceedingly difficult, so it was with some trepidation that we approached the DOC (Department of Conservation) site at Pelorus Bridge.
On arrival however we found not only a delightful, shady grass pitch but one of the most beautiful swimming rivers so far. A short, sandy walk from the site were clear, deep pools, shaded by cool rockfaces covered in ferns and moss. There was even a small waterfall to swim under and just a handful of people. After a long hot day it was heaven.
A small onsite cafe also set us up in style for breakfast the next morning and the ‘big hill day’ to Nelson. Out of 2 route options we’d gone for the one which didn’t contain a 1000 metre climb on rocky, dirt roads. It was on the main highway however and had two large, if slightly less vertiginous lumps.
We were feeling smug though that, at the end of it, we’d managed to bag the last of 800 pitches, on Nelson’s main site, to see in the New Year.
With everywhere else in town being stuffed to the rafters with holiday campers it was nice to definitely have a place to call home for a few nights.
The hills were tough and exceedingly hot but the thought that kept us going was pitching our tent by the beach and relaxing for New Year.
In hindsight, the knowledge that there were 799 other families on site should have indicated camping wouldn’t be a tranquil affair. As it turns out this is one of the biggest campsite in the southern hemisphere.
Arriving after 38 hot and extremely hilly miles however it was not a happy discovery, to be thrown into what looked like a large scale music festival or city of tents. Especially when our precious pitch turned out to be located on a tiny grass verge, in a busy thoroughfare of cars and people, with no shade or means of finding some. We were melting, literally. Suffice to say there were tears. I won’t say whose.
Not wanting to stay and melt for 3 whole nights a frantic trawl of the internet threw up 2 just diametrically opposed alternatives. Rooms for either £250 per night or £30.
No prizes for guessing which won.
Last minute, £30 a night buys you a shared shed on the outskirts of Nelson in the delightful Ruby Bay. It also buys a portaloo and bunk beds but no electricity and water from a garden tap.
On the plus side the host was incredibly accommodating and the shed was right on the beach.
New years eve was spent therefore in the company of a very nice, random stranger from Montreal, swimming in the sea and eating sausages cooked alfresco on our camping stove before retiring to our girl guide camp style bunks.
My liking for our new cabin mate did suffer somewhat of a hit though when I unexpectedly saw in the New Year accomapined by his voluble snoring. It still beat baking in a tent at festival city though.
Welcome to 2023.
Unfortunately, the best thing about Nelson it seems had definitely been the exit. Not just because of the enormous crowds but also the beautifully constructed bike path that led out of the city along the waterfront. This gravel and boardwalk delight is part of the region’s 200km Great Taste Trail a dedicated walking and cycling route we would follow for the next few days.
Outside of Nelson the route wound through deserted marshland, the the wildlife sanctuary of Rabbit Island with its stunning white sand beaches and blue water, the little passenger ferry to Mapua which runs once an hour and actully waited for me, when arriving breathless and late some kind people on the beach flagged it down, seeing my plight.
M also met a couple on route, touring on a random. Turns out they had taken the other hilly route to Nelson. Arriving after 10 hours and a whole day of pushing up and down precipitous mountain tracks. At least we have made some good decisions!
After the New Year shed-stop the Taste Trail ran onwards through quiet lanes and purpose built tracks into the quirky town of Motueka before splitting either towards Abel Tasman or heading West.
Our destination however lay just outside Motueka, in the fertile Riwaka Valley where the road is lined with berries, hops, fruit and vegetables as far as the eye can see. The warm scent of Boysenberries and cherries hung in the air as we pedaled past fruit stands overflowing with produce.
Coupled with a cheeky visit to a winery to sample some local produce as well as the great local craft beer.
If ever there was a place to stop for a while this was it.
The lure though was not the abundant produce but the chance to catch up with old friends, ones made volunteering some 11 years ago when I terrorised their free range chicken farm for a few months.
It was truly a joy to be back again in a place I loved so much. Collecting eggs and walking the fields, swimming in the bays and some of the coldest streams, kayaking and enjoying farm life.
The weather has caught us up again however and after a week or so of summer sunshine a weather bomb of wind and rain has descended to wash out Kiwis and visitors alike on both Islands. On the plus side, the campsites are much more likely to have spaces now!
On the day of departure we linger, not wanting to leave friends, waiting for the rain to slacken a bit. As it slows to a mere downpour we take a deep breath, tighen pannier straps, zip up waterproofs, say a fond farewell and splosh out onto the road again, this time heading west.
Biggest thanks ever to Kate and Len and the menagerie for putting up with us, to Alison and Phil and Tony.
If you enjoy reading about adventure, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.
It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.