Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cycling the North Island - Day 02 - Cape Palliser

The lighthouse at Cape Palliser, the North Island's southernmost point.
Sunday 25th November
Yesterday evening I was happily pedaling on HW53 towards Martinborough, the North Island's premium wine region, when I saw the sign for Cape Pallister (the island's southernmost point) and decided to go there, literally on the spur of the moment (ok, not on the spur, but after ten minutes of thinking and checking Google Maps). I had been originally planning to go there, but then scrapped the idea as not time effective, since it's a dead end ride 70km each way, plus it was supposed to be very hilly, difficult riding partly on gravel, at least according to the Rough Guide. Never trust guidebooks. It was a beautiful, pleasant ride and I couldn't have enjoyed it more.


Look closely, do you see the snowy peaks
in the background? The South Island!
I spent the previous night near the junction with HW53; since there was no camping ground and every inch of the road was fenced up on both sides, I had to ask a farmer for permission to pitch my tent on his property. This is one of the few things I really dislike about NZ - there are thousands of hectares of open spaces, mostly deserted or grazed, but you can't pitch a bloody tent anywhere, because it's all private land surrounded by an electric fence. The 90-year old couple whose door I knocked at at 8pm was a bit surprised, but had no objections for me to stay. After a sound sleep it was time to resolve a big dilemma - should I cycle all the way to the Cape, with a nice tailwind, or leave the bike somewhere nearby and hitch-hike there and back to save time and energy, since I'd have to go back the same way anyway? I kept turning the thought over and over in my head, while enjoying a beautiful ride through farmland, slightly downhill and with a favorable wind, until four hours later I eventually reached a long steep descent down the cliff almost to the beach.

A little bit windy...
After a break and a short walk to the Putangirua Pinnacles (where Peter Jackson filmed some scenes from King Kong and also one of his early splatter movies), I eventually did hitch-hike to the lighthouse at the end of the road, and the local guy who was giving me a ride said that it was possible to get to Martinborough without going back the same way. I'd have to cross a 10km section of coastline on a very tough 4WD track through some private land, which would bring me to another dead-end road, also going to Martinborough. That caught my interest, so I hitch-hiked back to my bike, jumped on, enjoyed a splendid coastal ride with good tailwind to the Cape Palliser lighthouse, jumped a gate and now here I am, at the other end of an unmarked track joining two roads leading to the same place. It was no easy task, though. The track is very tough, involving big rocks, mud, several gates to jump, and a huge sand dune. Add extremely strong wind gales throwing shingle in your face and you get something only for the adventurous. As I'm writing these lines, the wind is blowing so bloody hard that it would send my tent flying if I weren't sitting in it!

All things considered, I'm really, really glad I rode to Cape Palliser. It's a beautiful ride with the most amazing views of the South Island; you can see its snowy peaks, looking as if they were floating in mid-air, and apparently during winter, when the whole Kaikoura Range is covered with snow, the views are even more fantastic. That alone is a reason to come back!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cycling the North Island - Day 01 - Leaving Wellington

Welcome to the North Island.
My cycle-tour of the North Island has finally started and I'll try to blog about it as often as possible. I haven't properly sorted my photos, so just adding a few ones make the post more colourful.

Saturday 24th November
What a crazy way to start! A terrible night at the hostel, in a dorm room hot like the Sahara at midday and loud like a dorm room with a Chinese snoring champion at his best. When I finally managed to get some sleep, it was obviously check out time, so out I went, tired and in a terrible mood, to sort out my last bits and pieces, buy groceries and finally get going. I didn't manage to leave Wellington before noon, frustrated for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that the Hobbit's world premiere was due in just five days and I was going to miss out on all the hype and red carpet, but I had already spent too much time lingering around and just had to go.

So, on a sunny Saturday with favorable wind (which I waited for), I finally started my cycling tour across the North Island. Leaving Wellington by bike is far from pleasant and unless you're like me and want to cycle at all costs, I highly recommend to take a train to Upper Hutt, saving yourselves a 40km ride on a motorway's shoulder, even though it's officially classified as cycling lane and there is plenty of space. It's also possible to go through the centre of Lower and Upper Hutt, but according do a local cyclist, it's as busy as the motorway and has no shoulder, so probably not the best option. At least State Highway 2 is fast.

Middle of Middle Earth - that's the marketing slogan
for Wellington's world premiere of the Hobbit movie.
The Rimutaka Incline Rail Trail, and old railway converted into a cycling/hiking path, starts just 9km from Upper Hutt - climb the big hill up SH2, turn right into Kaitoi Loop Rd at the very summit and you'll soon reach the rail trail starting point. It's an 18km gravel track with a mild 1 in 15 gradient and a few tunnels, the longest being 580m long; bring a flashlight so you don't end up in the ditch at the tunnel's centre. The eastern side is a lot steeper, but still manageable. The Rimutaka Incline is a great way to avoid a chunk of SH2 and also a very pleasant ride, with camping spots along the way. It pops out at Cross Creek, halfway along Lake Wairarapa, about 10km south from Featherston. You can also go south and around the lake, if you're heading to Lake Ferry or to Cape Palliser.

Which brings us back to me; I did go to Cape Palliser, even though I wasn't planning to, but I'll talk about that later. First I want to mention Jim, a 65-year old cyclist I met on the Rimutaka trail - my first fellow cyclist in the North Island. He seems to know a great deal about European history (for a Kiwi, anyway), for example about the Spring of Prague in 1968, apparently Alexander Dubček was his youth hero, and he also knows all sorts of things about the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps that's why he's married to a woman from Montenegro.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Wellington

After more than a year spent in the South Island, I finally see the other face of New Zealand - the more populated and tamed North Island. Wellington is a nice, vibrant city which I really like. It's lively, there's culture and pub life, and I can easily imagine myself living and working here. The only bugger is the wind, constantly blowing through the streets, especially around the wharf. From the architectural standpoint it isn't the prettiest city, but it's nice enough. It kind of reminds of a smaller version of Sydney, with its plethora of multi-storey office buildings that don't quite make it to skycrapers (they do in Sydney), and the wharf being lined with old warehouses converted into pleasant-looking pubs. There is no significant landmark visible from a panoramic view - no old castles, cathedrals or buildings that would stick out. Except for a big church on top of a hill that looks more like a convent or a hospital. Wellington's beauty stands in the small buildings you only spot from close up.

The city's also culturally significant - there are events going on all the time, there's the government headquarters (free tours daily) and the Te Paha, NZ's national museum covering nature, history, Maoris and everything Kiwi. Right now the big thing is the upcoming Hobbit world premiere. It's only five days away and it's all over the city. They invented the slogan "Middle of Middle Earth" which you can see on every wall, every lamp post, on post stamps, there's going to be a Hobbit-themed market, all souvenir shops are filled up with Hobbit merchandise and posters of Gloom, Bilbo, Gandalf, etc. hang everywhere. Unfortunately, I won't be here for the premiere, even though it's due in a couple of days. It's one of those badly timed situations like "I'm here now, but the fun won't start for another couple of days, and I can't wait here doing nothing, but if I go away, I'll miss it by inches". So I'm going to miss all the fun with Peter Jackson and the movie stars walking the red carpet to the cinema, but I just can't linger around for five days. If I could at least see the movie that day, but it's going to be expensive and probably already sold out anyway. It's stupid, it sucks, but it's life. At least I'm still gonna see the movie in New Zealand, just a few days after the actual premiere, just in another city in an ordinary cinema.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Back in New Zealand. Big update!

You might be wondering where I've gone and what's up with the blog. I haven't abandoned it, I just switched to writing in Czech for a while. So what's been going on since my return from the Pyrenees? I spent a week in the Slovenian Alps, as if I hadn't had enough mountaineering, rafting, canyoning and the sort sort. Then I tried to earn some cash picking grapes in France, which wasn't much of a success - I can still feel the knee and back pain from bending down for ten hours a day, trying to pick grapes that grow practically on the ground, and not earning more than a few lousy euros.

Last, but not least, I visited London in October and it was really nice seeing all my friends and colleagues and knowing that I only have to put up with the big city for a week. I really enjoyed moving around a place I'm so familiar with, as if I had only been gone on a long holiday. Despite my reluctance to live in London, it was, after all, my home for five years. Between all these trips I spent quite some time in Prague, sending many many liters of Czech beer down my throat and grinding the videogames I was waiting to play for a whole year.

So, all in all, it was quite an eventful summer, finished by a nice 24h flight to Christchurch. That's right, I'm back in New Zealand! As I write these words, the Picton-Wellington ferry is lolling its way across the Cook Strait and soon we'll be disembarking in the North Island. With my pushbike, all ready for the next big trip - 3000km from Wellington to Cape Reinga.