Cycling in a skirt

One life, some bicycles. A million possibilities, zero clue!

Random Strangers


There was a Dutchman, a Canadian and a Kiwi standing at the top of a hill…..
No, not the start of some bad joke, there actually was.
All giving us much encouragement and praise as we puffed and sweated up the road towards them the scenic Rakaia Gorge viewpoint and the end of a big climb. As we stand and chat, well they chat, I just heave in great gulps of air and mop up sweat, I try to answer the usual questions…. where we’ve been, where, are we heading etc. And then a curve ball…..
“Who do I think is friendlier, the Kiwis or the Canadians?”

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about of late so I’m able to answer instantly. For me, both nationalities are very similar, especially when interacting with strangers.
In both countries, people are always keen to approach you, to have a chat, interested in what you’re up to, keen to help and just really…..kind.
Turns out our new companions had noticed the similarities too and were in agreement.

It’s always hard to know how visitors from other places experience your home country. Do they find the British equally relaxed and hospitable for example?
I’ve had many a discussion back home about the friendliness factor surrounding the North/South divide. My northern friends and family will swear blind that whilst everyone up North will welcome you with open arms, the South of England is an icy wasteland, peopled with a sullen, unfriendly race, ready to ignore and rebuff all human contact.
Not sure that’s true, being from the frozen South myself, where we do tend to smile occassionally and greet visitors pretty warmly, but do we do it on Canadian or Kiwi levels, I’m not so sure?

The last weeks for example have filled me up with a kind of glow of all that is lovely about humanity and New Zealand hospitality in particular. This is especially good as the riding side of things has been particularly uninspiring of late.
From Omaru we’ve been cycling across the Canterbury Plains (New Zealand’s largest area of flat land) to Christchurch. I can confirm it is indeed unending, near flat farmland. Even the addition of the beautiful river gorge at Rakaia did little to counteract the long, long, long, long stretches of straight road, broken only by headwinds and the odd, very welcome giant leylandii hedge.

I remember someone warning us about the tedium of covering miles of flat, straight tarmac, mentioning the drive made him want to scoop out his brains with a teaspoon, and that was in a car!
As the bikes inch forward the same landscape rolls by on an endless loop, fields, fences, disapproving cows, fields, fences etc.
We very quickly run out of I-spy games as there are few varying features, none of which ever seem to get any nearer.
I-spy with my little eye….a barn. 2 miles later……still spying the same barn. You get the picture.

What we do have though to think and talk about though are some memories of a great few weeks involving the kindness of random strangers.

Take Rob, this is the chap we met after our long hot haul over the Lindis Pass. Within minutes of meeting at a coffee stand he had generously offered the use of his holiday home. Whilst we sadly couldn’t make use of it he also issued an invitation to stay with him and his family should we ever pass through Timaru.
Unluckily for him we took up the invite. Not only did we have a friendly place to aim for we also had a fantastic evening with the whole wonderful family, being fed handsomely and talking travel tales. They are not only incredibly adventurous and well travelled, it turns out, but are also about to head off for their own epic, 12 month journey around Canada in a van, kids and all.

Staying here we also solved the mystery of what a New Zealand ‘sleep out’ is, not camping on the lawn as we thought, a ‘sleep out’ is actually a little shed or outbuilding in the garden equipped with a bed. We definitely enjoyed ours that night.
After seeing them off to school/work the next day we were left to have breakfast and lock up the family house as we marvelled at how generous and trusting these strangers were. True, we were much more likely to leave them items rather than take them, always needing to shed weight, but I do wonder how many of my fellow countrymen would have done the same (north or south of the Watford Gap)?

Besides Rob we have also been the lucky recipients of 2 Warm Showers stays in recent days. I try not to ask for hosts too often but sometimes a lack of camping options means I will send a message out through the site.

Glenda and John answered one such call. Two fantastic individuals who, although keen cyclists don’t tour themselves. Understandable when you see how much time their jobs and voluntary work take. These are 2 people who are passionately committed to their community. After dinner (cooked by Glenda before she dashes to a late meeting) we accompany John on one of his volunteering rounds of a local nature reserve.
The New Zealand government has committed to trying to eradicate all predators in the country by 2050, a big ambition.
New Zealand actually has no native mammals, only birdlife, in particular ground nesting birds such as the Kiwi. Since humans have arrived on the islands, so too have predatory mammals including rats, stoats (introduced to catch the rats), possums, rabbits, dogs and even domesticated moggies. The problem being each of these species has thrived, very, very successfully and in turn is decimating the local flora and fauna to the point of extinction. Hence the predator control projects and hence the reason we are wading through rivers and native bush in the twilight whilst John checks and re-baits the possum and stoat traps.
As a volunteer it’s gruesome work, but of importance locally and nationally to help protect indigenous habitat and wildlife. It also explains the abundance of little wooden boxes we have seen everywhere on our travels.
We round off the evening with a drive around town (John points out a mural of New Zealand’s first female GP) and a visit to the Waimate White Horse. A community project run by local volunteers, including Gelnda, to restore an old artwork towering on a hill above the town and to breathe life into it by creating walkways and mountain bike trails, information boards and picnic spots. At 400 metres above sea level the view is spectacular and so is the achievement.

At the town of Geraldine we spend an interesting evening with one of the long term campsite residents, a teacher, traveller, and speaker of numerous languages. She fills us in on local history and current politics whilst plying us with big bowls of fruit and ice cream. 

And, as we finally roll into Christchurch a few days later, saddle sore from some long days of riding and after a particularly dispiriting day, we’re treated to a second warm showers stay. We’re greeted so warmly, plied with beer, cheese and biscuits and great conversation, the stresses of the day slip away almost immediately. Leaving our hosts the next morning, well fed, well rested, well conversed and with a jar of home made honey in my bag, we feel rejuvenated, happy in body and spirit.

There’s something about the openness of the people we have been lucky enough to meet here. Not just the incredible generosity, be it words of encouragement or a place to stay. It’s the combined kindnesses of random strangers that have made me feel more than just welcome, but a sense of connection and belonging.
I don’t know if this approach to life is born from the sparseness of the population and the supportiveness of small communities, the village-feel even of the big towns or whether it is just the Kiwi way?
Whatever it is, long may it continue.
Whilst the scenery here is spectacular beyond belief it is probably these human encounters that make this trip so special and so memorable.
So bring on the random strangers we haven’t met yet. Looking forward to meeting you.

The biggest thank yous to Glenda and John, Rob, Justine, Emma and Tom, Bev and Ross, Bruce, Sue and Pete et al. Not quite such random strangers now.


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.

Author: cycling in a skirt

A forty-something, journeying through life on two wheels. Possessor of limited common sense and practical ability, but full of a passion for adventure, life and bicycles. Writing about the highs and lows of cycling, cycle touring, skirts, silliness and the daily struggle not to grow up and be responsible.

2 thoughts on “Random Strangers

  1. I’m sure the people you meet are mirroring your great British humor as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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