Think about your partner, the person you love, the person you enjoy spending time with. Now think about how it would be to spend 7 months alone with them, sleeping in a space which measures roughly 4 x 6ft square…..?Think about being tired, hungry, bitten by flies and boiled by the sun. Think about having to navigate strange roads, mountains, busy traffic together not knowing where you will be spending the night in strange countries full of dangerous animals, dangerous places, strangers.
Think about having to pee in a toilet which involves a long walk through dark woods every night and having to wash your smalls out in a strange sink every few days. Boiling every drop of water before you drink it and having to carry all of your shopping with you all of the time.
Still seem appealing?
If you’d asked me this question a year ago I’d have said you were insane, who could do that?
To be fair, if you’d asked me that question at varying points over the last 7.5 months then it would have been a similar response. But it turns out I can, we can and we have.
And now, weirdly it has become a way of life. Which is good as we are now officially half way through, not only our time in New Zealand but the entire trip. 50% done.
To celebrate we had wine and cheese and a few days in an air b&b. What a way to push the boat out.
It’s hard to believe the time in New Zealand is half done, let alone the whole adventure. In homage to the kiwi way of life I have been reflecting on the last 2.5 months that we’ve been here and I have learned the following 5 important things:
1. Mailboxes are an extension of your personality. Every house has one, some are plain boring old boxes but some are true works of art, everything from chickens, to bees to kiwis, miniature replicas of houses to campervans and tractors.
Mine, I think, would be the replica of a cake. A big old sticky bun. (Too much time to think here).
2. Ice cream cones are huge. No matter if you ask for a single scoop you’ll always get at least double that, often more. They literally just keep piling the ice cream in the cone until it threatens to topple over. How they make a profit I don’t know but happy days.
3. Every creek, river and gully has a name. It might be the name of the farmer who owns the land (Jones River), it might be the name of the body of water flowing through it, but equally it might be totally weird/random. My favourites so far include, Lovers creek, Sulky creek, Despair creek (almost a progression there) and Dead Dog Creek! I idly mentioned to M that I quite fancied a creek being named after me. Low and behold a few days later we stopped by a bridge during which M mysteriously disappears, not for a wee as it turns out, but to pin up a temporary, handmade sign with my name on the signpost. I had my own creek after all, much to my delight and the bewilderment of a passing motorist.
4. There is so much impossibly beautiful scenery you think it just can’t get better, but it does. I have so many photographs of lakes, mountains, forests, glaciers, deserted beaches it’s unbelievable but…..every day is like a slap in the chops with some new, stunning piece of landscape (which has also been used as a backdrop for Lord of the Rings).
5. Sandflies are the living embodiment of all that is evil,.
These tiny flies, not much bigger than a pin head, can and do make camping life an absolute misery. Apparently it is only the female that bites….a fact that keeps being thrown back at me like I am responsible for all things of my gender, be it human or insect. They have however been a big part of our trip down the west coast.
Stunning, remote camping spots on crystal clear lakes become things of torture. The lead time is approximately 30 seconds of standing still before some insect jungle drums get going and you are being bitten to death by a cloud of Satan’s spawn (sandflies).
Every activities from cooking to eating to toileting need to be undertaken on the move after the 30 second lead-period when the flies start biting.
The only way to escape, other than constant motion, is to sit in the cocoon of the tent, which is OK at night, but not if you arrive somewhere at 2pm in the afternoon. That’s a long time together in a tiny space.
5.1 (OK, I can’t count). There are a lot of people cycling across New Zealand and not all of them are happy. Staying at Lake Ianthe, near Franz Joseph, we run into 2 cyclists both trying to compete the infamous TA (Tour Aotearoa) an off road bike route which traverses the length of thd North and South islands. Die hard followers of the official route like to complete this in just 30 days. It’s a brutal amount of mileage over difficult terrain. We’ve completed bits of the route on our way but it’s not something we’re actively following. The people that we met however were, one in particular had signed up to do the challenge with friends, as his first tour. He had pretty soon found himself lagging behind and had been left on his own, he was now grimly churning out a horrid 100-150 km a day to get to the end. Partly due to a flight deadline, partly because he didn’t want to let down family and friends. He was absolutely hating the experience and was in a very bad way when we saw him.
Apart from feeling sorry for him however his situation made us think about our time on the bikes, what we were doing and how we wanted to travel.
We have had some amazing riding but the west coast had seen a number of big mileage days and sandfly filled nights.
Fatigue was certainly present too but so was the prospect of more long, remote days with limited supplies and poor highways and that sealed the deal in terms of travelling. Down the road at Fox Glacier, just like that, we stopped, and booked on a bus to Wanaka. This not only cut out 200km of tortuous, narrow highway, but a mountain pass and some long, remote days in the saddle. We have another 2.5 months after all and it’s about enjoyment, not pain and definitely not about riding every inch.
Enjoying the spectacular views from the bus window it was a surprise to pass 2 cyclists on the outskirts of Wanaka, none other than our disgruntled friend from Lake Ianthe. Still plugging away, I have the greatest respect for him. I hope that however far he gets he is proud of his achievement.
These last few weeks have given us some stunning scenery along the wild West Coast (Wilderness Trail) from Greymouth to Fox Glacier. Snow capped mountains, wilderness, crystal clear lakes, remote trails, alpine forest, the bluest ice water streams and glaciers. They have also given us a lot of tough, hot and gritty miles and some big, big elevation gains.
It’s been a great ride but, if there is one thing the last 7.5 months have shown us, it’s that great things can often best appreciated from afar, more specifically from the comfort of a moving vehicle or a pocket sprung mattress.
So, here’s to learning curves, here’s to creature comforts, here’s to not strangling your partner for leaving the tent flap unzipped again for all the little sandflies.
Here’s to a sense of humour, a sense of humility, the ability to compromise and learn, to a sense of adventure and another 7.5 months of surprises and life on the road.
Stats so far in New Zealand: 1078 miles, 51,000 feet of climbing.
Overall: 3300 miles, 147,000 feet of climbing.
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.
3 February 2023 at 5:02 pm
Great report and we seem to share the same bath towel 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
5 February 2023 at 8:02 am
Haha I have had mine for years. It is very threadbare now but it has sentimental value 😊
4 February 2023 at 1:51 pm
Disappointed not to get a pic of your creek signpost! Sandflies are not a problem here in Scotland, but midges – aghghghghgh!! 😫 Gotta love ecosystems??
LikeLiked by 1 person
5 February 2023 at 8:00 am
For some reason the photo wouldn’t upload but I will try and figure out a solution.
Both in Scotland and here landscape is so beautiful but the midges/sandflies mean you can’t stand still too long to look at it 😂
5 February 2023 at 8:29 pm
Another fantastic report. Thank you for painting such a vivid picture yet again. Beautiful. I take it that citronella spray does not deter sand flies? It does a fantastic job of annoying mosquitos. When camping, we spray some in the top of the tent each day, straight onto the material and all insects immediately leave. In our mosquito ridden garden I have to cover myself in the stuff every summer, just to do the weeding. I also spray some onto my clothing especially my sun-hat and it works wonders. What do the locals do? Is everyone there eaten alive by flies? Or do they avoid living there? I hope the next leg of your journey is fly-free and just as beautiful. xx
LikeLiked by 1 person
12 February 2023 at 6:36 am
I love your suggestions. It feels like we have tried almost every product on the market, natural and chemical. It seems avoidance is the best tactic for now, either in the tent or a strategic visit to the pub! Heading to the coast I think the wind is keeping them at bay, thankfully 🙂