Sunday, February 9, 2014

UUhhs and AAhhs of New Zealand

They call it the country of "Long White Clouds", now I understand why

Yes those are the only words coming out of my mouth these first few days in New Zealand as I ride by some incredible sights.  Actually Oh my gosh!!! And Jolin!!! (the Spanish translation for no way) follow all the oohhhs and aahhs.  The scenery blows my mind.  In a way, it’s familiar and reminds me a lot of Oregon.  I started my tour of the south island in Christchurch and headed southwest across the plains over to Mt. Cook.  This area was surprisingly flat and dry.  I could smell the pine trees in the air and the water evaporating on the crops coming from the irrigation sprinklers in the fields.  Again, familiar smells that we also have in Oregon. As soon as I acknowledge the fact that I wasn’t expecting to see so much flat countryside, it started to get hilly.  I looked down at my bike computer expecting to see an absurd amount of climbing, but to my surprise I didn’t.  I realized it was because the hills didn’t last long, they are short and sweet, but, continuous. There was not one flat section of road for at least half of the kilometers I did during day two. 

I feel a bit out of place here, although tour cyclists are a common occurance.  I’ve already seen 5!  In fact they don’t even stop to chat on the road.  I pulled over today as a couple went by and they just kept on pedaling.  The sight of other cyclists for me is still a novelty, I guess not for them!  I feel like I’ve been transplanted to a western developed area where everything runs smoothly and works properly.  My mind (and heart) is still somewhere back west in SE Asia and will shortly catch up to my legs that are pedaling frantically here in New Zealand.

Mt. Cook was my backdrop for a good 50km 
The distances here are incredible because the landscape is vast.  I can’t believe how immense everything feels.  I can ride kilometers and kilometers on the same road and the mountains and hills in the backdrop never seem to change.  Except for the camper vans that whiz by and the rental cars, there is little civilization to be seen here.  In Asia, in the same amount of kilometers, I would have passed 3 small villages, a couple dozen people who all greeted me, and a handful of food stalls.  The kilometers in SE Asia went by quickly because of all these different sights.  Here I’m finding that my days pass by more slowly.  Everything seems so far off in the distance, where as in Asia it was much more intimate and closer.  Although I don’t have the same roadside entertainment as I did in SE Asia, I do have some new distractions.  New Zealand is filled with rugged outdoorsy men and I sure don’t mind keeping an eye out for them as I pedal!  I’m a sucker for that accent as well, they all sound so sophisticated, I love it!

Nuts, cheese, dried fruits, back to the basics in New Zealand

Food stalls, well, they just don’t exist here.  There are several little towns dotting the map, mostly touristy developments with little cafes and pubs.  Therefore, my front left pannier, which I put back on my bike after going without in Asia, is filled with food items.  At $4 a cup of coffee and $20 for a simple lunch (sandwich and drink), I don’t think I will be frequenting many restaurants here in New Zealand. Today I bought powdered milk and instant coffee and I was a sad, reminiscing about the days when I would drink 3 to 4 delicious coffees with condensed milk at 30 cents apiece.  Powered milk just doesn’t compare, not even the full fat version!  I’ve gone back to supermarket picnic lunches, eating all sorts of dried fruit, cheese, and crackers.  I can’t believe I survived off of beverages and fruit during my days cycling in SE Asia.  Here, I find myself eating three or four big meals during my ride, in addition to breakfast and dinner.  I can’t seem to get enough fuel!  Without the heat, my body gets hungry faster.

Love my grocery stores here!

The heat, another thing I miss here in New Zealand.  The weather has also caught me off guard.  My body had acclimated to SE Asia’s weather, which was incredibly humid with temperatures were right around 35 Celsius (95-100 Fahrenheit), never fluctuating more than a few degrees from morning to night.  Here, I’m lucky if the temperatures reach 25oC!  In fact, two nights ago my hosts started a fire in their fireplace and I was dressed in my long underwear leggings and long sleeve wool shirt.  Remind you, it is summer in New Zealand…..My body is in climate shock to say the least and I have a hard time staying warm.  I don’t shed the winter arm warmers and vest until about 1pm, and some days I simply ride with my vest all day long.  I’ve worn it more in the past 3 days than I have on my entire trip!  I’m hoping I will soon adjust but for now, I spend a good part of the day with goose bumps, and try to pedal faster to get warm.  Having said that, the sun is incredibly strong because unfortunately there is a whole in the ozone layer about New Zealand and Australia. The UV rays are very powerful and it is easy to get burned.  I’m coating on the Natura Bisse UPF 50 sunscreen!

Another big change from SE Asia to New Zealand are the prices, I can’t get used to them, I’m appalled!  I knew I was going to be doing a lot of camping and supermarket picnics, but even so, I can’t seem to keep my jaw from dropping when I look at the price tags.  How do people eat healthy here when fruit can cost sometimes 10 New Zealand Dollars a kilogram and vegetables the same?!?  The prices were similar in Malaysia, but there I was dividing the currency by 4 or 5 and in Laos by 10! Here, the New Zealand Dollar is more or less the same as the American Dollar and slightly weaker than the Euro.  I’ll be curious if I can stick to my budget of $17 a day.  I’ve got plenty of time to think about how to get creative and cheap with my diet.  I tend to justify my expenses thinking this is most likely a once in a lifetime trip…however, I say that with a big grin on my face!

I met these British tourists at Lake Pukaki, also cyclists, but this time in a rental car

I forget people speak my language (with a bit of a different accent). On the first day, out of all the cars that passed me, I only got one honk.  In the morning of my second day, I finally got some waves.  I was crossing a bridge and cars could only go in one direction at a time.  I put myself behind a line of traffic and followed.  However, I couldn’t keep up with them, so the cars in the opposite direction waiting on the other side, started to come through.  No problem, the first three were small, and so they passed easily and waved.  I waved back.  My hand was still up as the fourth was about to come, so I proceeded to wave with a big smile on my face.  It was a bigger red sedan with a wide trailer attached to the back.  The man started saying something to me and of course, I assumed he was going to cheer me on, like I was used to in SE Asia.  Well, instead a loud “F*** you biker! Park it!” came out.  I of course, still had a big smile on my face and actually started laughing, being completely off guard by his negativity.  Perhaps all the people were saying the same thing to me in Asia, but I just couldn’t understand them.  However, they all had big smiles on their face and this man was as red as his car in the face.  I don’t understand how one cyclist can make someone so upset, come on!  ¡¡Vaya mala leche tio!!

Sweet Dreams

Don’t get me wrong , I’m not complaining, just taking in my new environment, making observations, and naturally comparisons come about as I try to get my wheels churning here in New Zealand.  It has been a dream of mine to visit New Zealand for a long time.  As a teacher, working during the Kiwi summer, I knew a trip here was going to have to wait until special circumstances, in order to enjoy it during their summer months for an extended period, so that is what I’m doing here in New Zealand on The Loong Way Home! 


  1. I love seeing your perspective of New Zealand. I can relate in so many ways, the weather the high cost of living and of course the incredible beauty! It's funny, I love that it feels so empty like the entire country belongs to us (especially the beaches), but I can totally see how challenging that would be as a biker. I wish I had more tips for staying under budget, but I'm still struggling with that! Pak n Save is the cheapest supermarket if you come across any and just be glad you're coming during the summer instead of winter when you're paying $25/kilo for cherries! Good luck!

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