Monday, 28 April 2008

Current whereabouts

Wed 28th May: Chiang Mai.

I am currently in Chiang Mai. It's fascinating city, lots of temples, they are called Wat's. There's this one (Buddist) temple called 'Wat U Mong', hehe, the culture isn't lost on me!

Oh yes, and to be polite, if you are a bloke, you have to say 'krap' on the end of every sentence. Marvellous, krap.

Today I went to a Thai cooking class all day , first we went to the market and had all the weird and wonderful fruit veg and meat explained to us. Then we made stuff Thai style, spring rolls, deep fried banana (surprisingly tasty), Thai noodles, , Tom Yum (hot prawn) soup, and green curry from scratch. Naturally being a 5th Dan in Wok Wielding I had to correct some of the instructors techniques but by and large they knew what they were doing.

Did the mountain biking. Dominated it. It was swelteringly hot under all the protective gear tho. Pushing a 3 tonne bike up a hill in that humidity is not fun.

Over the last few days I've been doing day rides on a dirt bike from Chiang Mai to places such as Samoeng, Pai (via Wat Chan, some good offroad stuff), the Doi Inthanon national park with huge waterfalls and the odd wandering elephant and so on. I've stumbled upon many a hill tribe village and actually had to enlist the help of a whole village to get me home after breaking down in a tropical storm 5 hours from home. We loaded the bike into the back of a pickup truck already full of radish and farmers wives and then made the open air journey to Chiang Mai where they would hopefully sell their radish and I would return my poorly bike.

Going to Chiang Rai on Friday via a bus then we'll cross the border into Loas and follow the Mekong river via slow boat as it winds to Luang Prabang.

I have extended my flights so my return date is July 6th not June 8th, this gives me time to see a little more of this fascinating place.

Above is a pic of J&C's wedding. Never thought I'd see the man in a shirt. He's changed.

The Shand

Thursday 17th April

Slow start followed by a spending spree, purchased a Mini Maton electric-acoustic guitar which is just lovely. Wandered onto the South Bank by the river and played my new baby for a good few hours as the sun set and Brisbane's skyscraper skyline provided an impressive backdrop. As I was playing, the great and the good were exercising themselves along the river, there were hoards of runner, walkers, cyclists and even boxer-cise classes going on along the pretty river banks. I received a few big-ups from the locals as they strolled past, this was great as it's the first time I've played in public. It was a liberating feeling.

Back to the backpackers. More city nightlife.

Wednesday 16th April

The first sensation I had waking up in Straya was remarkably similar to the last I had in NZ, the sound of persistent and heavy rainfall. Aha, but Queensland is the Sunshine State is it not? After coming to properly I realised the rain noise was merely the fan spinning up above my bed. This is Queensland, the Sunshine State. Twas a bit George Michael (Whaaaaaaaam).

I had the option of galavanting down to the Gold Coast or up to the Sunshine Coast, both roughly an hour or so away from Brisbane. Or I could put some roots down and take stock. I opted for the latter as I've been running around like a blue-arsed fly for two months solid so I'm ready for a bit of settling down.

Headed off on a walk with my two new room mates, who were German girls called Telse and Greta. We followed the Lonely Planet's guide to walking around Brisey. We took in the Anzac Memorial, botanical gardens, were given a guided tour by Dennis of the Queensland State Parliament (each state has it's own parliament as well as a national version), wandered around an art gallery, ate at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) union and then back through the shopping precincts of Queen Street.

Had a night out on the town and met a Kiwi fella who lived in Melbourne and a chap called Dave who was a Brisey boy. They were both a bit older than me but we had a good old chinwag after meeting in a microbrewery bar. Pretty big night all round as is traditional.

Tuesday 15th April

It was absolutely belting it down in Auckland today. Now it felt time to leave NZ for (hopefully) sunnier climbs. Just dashing out to the car and back rendered me soaking wet, in the end we drove to an underground carpark just to be able to pack my bags properly without drowning. Signed, sealed and delivered some customs forms to Velo Cycles who had boxed the 575 and stored it for a week or so. Matty was really helpful and didn't grumble once at my blatant usage of their facilities, free boxing and so on. Good lad. Drove to Auckland airport and said 'tara' to Anke and in the twinkling of an eye I was on the Emirates plane and chomping on a bit of fodder watching the Cohen Brother s latest film: No Country For Old Men. Touched down on Aussie soil and got sniffed out for bringing an apple into the country. Now call me sceptical but this is the country ram packed full of crocs, sharks, snakes, spiders, scorpions and a whole host of nasties and they don't want me to bring in a Kiwi apple! Hehe. Twas warm in Brisbane as I landed at 8:30pm, 245 degrees. Commandeered a taxi/bus unit and was dropped off at the Banana Benders backpackers just outside of Brisbane City Centre where I shacked up in a dorm with a couple of Finish girls and a Chinaman.

Monday 14th April

A (mercifully) rare day seeing to important things like shipping the 575 home.

Emotional Baggage
Having reluctantly decided that the 575 may be a bit of a weight around my neck in Oz and especially SE Asia it was time to try and find out how to get my ride home. As it turns out most airlines no longer count bikes as sporting luggage, and worse still have reduced the overall weight limit you can check in from the mid-30kgs down to 20kgs, I've had bigger steaks than that! Oh hello, I can feel a rant coming on! Gone are the days when Franky Zappa could transport Aconcagua around the world in his rucksack (Ant, Paddy and myself actually calculated how much this would cost and it turned out to be more than the GDP of several of the G8 nations combined - another busy day in the office)! After checking and re-checking and trying to sweet talk the Emirates staff on the other end of the phone ('Colin' sadly wasn't having any of it), it turns out that my check-in baggage allowance is indeed 20kg on just about every flight (Emirates/Quantas and so on). This means that if my bike weighs 13kg boxed then my backpack can only weigh 7kgs before I start getting clobbered at $16NZ a kilo, and that's just to Oz never mind the extra to get back to England. I don't mind traveling light but I draw the line at throwing good underpants away. Now here's the really irritating thing: scuba gear and golf clubs are classed as 'sporting' items and can go free. This is clearly racial and indeed just plain bang out of order, I mean, how many fat cyclists do you know? Not that many, so whilst us Slim Jims pay gazillions of $'s to transport the most eco-friendly and efficient form of transport in the known universe, fat b*****d golfers can go for free. The law is an ass. Airlines take note: This aggression will not stand! Tax fat people at check-in I say, how about $50US for every kg over! Infact tax people if they DON'T check in a bike. Free flights for those riding single speeds and recumbants! Rise up cyclists of the world and unite. It's a bag of. Someone start a petition, let's jump on the back of the carbon footprint brigade everybody else has!

Are You Lonesome Tonight?
For future reference the best thing to do if you are over the weight limit is to check in 'unaccompanied baggage', it works out a lot cheaper and gets to your onward destination ahead of you all being well. In the end the Shandyman elected to use a shipping company to send the 575 home, it works out as $455NZ (180GBP's) and they pick up and deliver door to door, so that was a bit of a result all things considered, a weight of my mind, let's hope it gets there in one piece.

Final night in NZ and we headed out to see some Folk/Jazz at a Mexican place. It was quite funny as the French lead guitarist was a bit of a comedian and he kept rollocking the rest of the band for not being as good as he was.

Sun 13th

Spent the day sightseeing in Auckland with Anke. Scaled the volcanic heights of Mt Eden as it looks down benignly on the city skape below. You can see the 'waist' of the north island as Auckland straddles not one but two harbours, pure greed. Cruised around Mission Harbour whereupon we received our first rain in ages. I cooked a stir fry. Yum. Started catching up on blog writing and generally gearing up for a trip to Oz whilst trying to distill my learnings, experiences, observations and feelings into some sort of coherent message to myself. Oh how terribly meaningful. Didn't Roy Castle do a sing about Meditation? Yeah, it's what you need if you wanna be a broken record.

Sat 12th April

Southwards ho through the Coromandel via Onemana Beach and lunched at Whangamata (Fanga-matter) on chip shop fish and chips (no mushy peas again though kids), mmmmmmm.

Cruised on to the capital and back to the relative madness. Saw a couple of bands, an interesting ska band led by an oriental guitarist in a cow outfit, then a truly dire 'punk' band called The Rebelles followed by King Cannon who were punk/reggae, I liked them.

Fri 11th April

Rowed to Pauanui Beach and read my book on Straya whist current bun bathing.
Ate at the pub, the food took ages to come and the staff made an Eastern European lady come and apologise. Not very fair.

Thu 10th April

  • Windsurfing
  • Cathedral Cove
  • Stingray Bay.
  • Hahei beach. All beautiful places with white sands and turquoise seas.
  • Fush and Chups for tea, more early nights, must be all the fresh air!

Tuesday 8th April

In contrast to yesterday's general Auckland-induced malaise twas a day of action and decision making.

Knocked any plans of flying to Sydney and headed for Tairua. I'm not ready to leave this great country just yet and I must see the Coromandel before I go.

Au revoir The 575
Got my bike boxed at Velo Cycles and left it with them. Result.

Arriva derci Mark IV Shandy Kopter
Dropped off the Shandy Kopter and made sure the rental company retired it to a motor vehicle museum. We'd clocked up 5000k's me and that little baby, and the speeding fines didn't seem to have registered with the rental firm so I kept quiet and slinked away after saluting the Pulsar one last time, she was already being prepared for her next mission; a drugs smuggling campaign across South America. Drove to the top of the little hill that guards Tirua harbour which is two hours ast of Auckland in the beautiful Coromandel region of NE of N NZ. Met a wacky Austrian who hated the 'Ze Cherman accent' (whilst clearly having one himself (sorry mate but you do!) and told us a gag: 'Vot are you sinking?'. Had very tasty lamb cutlets and an early night. As promised Ernst was up an at 'em and raring to teach us how to windsurf. The trick is to get the tide right ...

– very busy and in my humble opinion overrated although granted, it is a little unusual to be able to sit on (or more accurately in - you dig holes in the sand to feel the heat) a thermally heated beach as the tide comes in, and we're talking proper hot water. The sort only naughty boys and girls can get into.

Delish lamb shank for tea.

Monday 7th

Rest day. Did my washing which was definitely overdue, there's only so many ways to wear your undies before they start taking on a life of their own.

Played guitar and was joined by a little girl who was half American and half Malaysian, she was transfixed by the guitar. She helped me play it for a good half hour.

Ate at a cheap and healthy Japanese on Ponso high street.

Sunday 6th April

Sad goodbye to Hokianga Harbour, grabbed on last photie then bombed to Kai Iwa Lakes which are defo worth a trip and for future reference waterskiing on them is go.

Took the Kopter for a spin on Bayleys Beach and nearly sank the old faithful but a burst of the afterburner saw me safely back onto the blackstuff (not Guiness Wiggo!) and ate at the Funky Fish Cafe.

Arrived at Uenuku (Rainbow) Lodge in the rather fashionable Auckland suburb of Ponsonby, a bit like Didders in Manchester or dare I say it The Old Town in Stevenage (you are my Saint Nage, my only Saint Nage). If I lived here I'd petition the local council to change the name but hey ho. Re-met Anke which was a pleasant surprise and went out for some food in the city and met Helen - one of Caz's mates. Helen showed us around the harbour area, I forced the ladies to watch the Rugby Sevens final then we drove back to Ponso for a nightcap or five.

Sat 5th April

Spear Tackle
The plan was to head to Kai Iwa lakes but after chilling in the beautiful garden at the backpackers I found myself a little behind schedule. Slightly unenthusiastically I went to find Mike and Etienne who were supposed to be spearing a Kingfish. After scaling the headland in my jandals(NZ)/sandals(UK)/thongs(Oz) I found them plucking Kahawai out of the sea like there was no tomorrow.

In Despatches
It was a pretty sensational sight, I got involved and even a fishing retard like myself could pull out big hearty fish one after the other. We simply baited the line and cast it out where we could see tiddley fish jumping around. I'd real in my line until a Kahawai bit and suddenly it was Tight Lines o'clock. I caught my first 'proper' fish today and had the dubious please of 'dispatching' it. An old boy watching on wide-eyed informed me firmly that I couldn't just carry on fishing and let the Kahawai flip around til it died of natural causes. Nope, I had to stick my thumb in on side of it's gills and then two fingers in the other and rip and twist until lot of bleeding commenced, lovely.

A Fish Called Elvis
Anyways after some time Mike baited up a line with a pipe fish and lobbed it in the water, he instructed me, as the junior partner in this enterprise, to watch to see if the line started jumping about. As the very instructions were proceeding forth out of his mouth the line began moving as if it was possessed. Boom, game on! I'm going to but this yarn short but it took Mike an hour to haul in a 28lb (13kgs) Kingfish that was over a meter in length. This thing was a beauty and had put up a huge tug-o-war, dragging Mike into the water up to his neck. During this epic battle my role had changed from assistant line attendant to official Omapere Times photographer. The fish was finally gaffed (erm, stabbed with a hook on a stick in such a way that it's over-g'dovers for the incumbant) by Etienne and dragged out of the water onto the sany shore.

Chinese Takeaway
At this point a herd, nay a swarm, of our oriental cousins (who'd been watching the battle for a few minutes rocked on over and literally commandeered Elvis who wasn't even dead yet and got involved in all sorts of crazy poses as if they'd caught the damn thing meanwhile Mike who'd worn himself out athing the brute was as speachless as myself and Etienne at this downright rude behaviour. Cue rant: I don't care if it is their culture to photograph everything that lives, has lived or never lived, give the man a bit of space. The Dude was most perturbed and only just managed to abide. In future a 37.5mm will be deployed should Yoko Ono and her crew muscle in on someone else's moment of personal achievement. This was Mikes first ever Kingfish for goodness sake. After dispatching the beautiful specimen by a swift stab to the brain we hauled our sizable catch up to the cars and sure enough the boot was choc full of fish. We drove home and the lads scaled, gutted and sliced Elvis into steaks and to celebrate we treated the whole hostel to BBQ'd Kingfish steak and Kahawai fillets. Delicious, Ant, you missed a treat! On reflection this 'accidental' day (I wasn't even supposed to be in Omapere) was probably my best day so far, and it didn't cost a single penny either.

Friday April 4th

Australia On Hold
Supposed to be giving car back and flying to Sydney today. Nah, that's not gonna happen.

Sorry, Was That Your Head?
Woke up aboard The Rock and we went for a stroll on Robinson Island, the sight of yet more tragedy, this time an over enthusiastic Maori slayed an English family as they'd offended him by putting their washing out on a Tuesday. Fair play bredbin. Engaged in some sea kayaking before heading back to terra firma.

Promises Promises
Kept promise to German Anne and drove her West to Omapere despite wanting a party in Pahia. The sunset was stunning over the huge sand dunes that guard the entrance to the Hokianga inlet, we just sat in the car and watched it for a a good hour.

The Globetrekkers Backpackers
...was superb, great location, well kitted out, friendly hosts and a proper atmosphere between diverse groups, no architypical 'don't talk to the locals' here thank goodness. I dined on free Kahawai (pronounced 'Karwhy'). French Canadian Etienne (to whom I was indebted for my supper) spent most of the night wielding a spear gun and with a determined look on his face telling the rest of the resident that he was going to catch a Kingfish the next day. We all hoped he would but given that no one has caught one in these waters for 6 years it was highly unlikely.

Thu April 3rd

Quiet please
Had a gentle nosey around Waitanghe (Why-a-tang-ee)where a NZ as we know it was born thanks to a treaty signed between a couple of well-to-do Brits and a host of Maori tribal leaders. Rumour has it we ripped the Maori's off but I couldn't possibly comment.

The Rock
Boarded The Rock, a converted car ferry an spent the early evening shooting (plastic) ducks and failing to catch any fish for the onboard barbie. The crew looked after us brilliantly and by the end of the night we were anchored up in the middle of the Bay of Islands with a Scotsman called Spruce entertaining us with jokes and general merriment. Oh, and if you go swimming in the dark you get the little plankton creatures that phospho-luminess (glow Jon!) when you touch them as you swim. It's like having a green aura. Last time I saw this was 2hrs north of Gothenburg with the Wardster and Wiggo. Slept on the narrowest cabin bed in the universe, it was a miracle I did nae fall oot during the night.

Wed April 2nd

Perfect Day
Drove to a local waterfall whose name escapes me, giving an Estonian girl a lift to said falls which were on my route, then we cracked on to Takaka where I dropped her off and boarded Perfect Day, a big cruise boat (20m in length I'd guess) that took us over the choppy waters to Poor Knights Island, the location of a pretty horrendous Maori-on-Maori massacre and now a marine reserve since 1982. The weather was glorious, I was famished so tucked into the grub whilst the others donned wetsuits. No need for that, the water is not cold. I went for a kayak to check out the lay of the erm, sea and then jumped in for a snorkel and saw an abundance of sea life, tonnes of fish, big ones and small ones, a pig fish, snapper, little silver ones and all the while I was keeping my eyes peeled for a pod of orcha (Killer Whales) that had been sighted en route south from the Bay of Islands to here where they know they can feast on stingray. Despite my constant vigil I didn't see them. It's a shame, as it was we cruised back to the mainland and I have to say it was a pretty good day, not quite perfect though!

Connecting Four
Drove up the coast to Waitanghe in the Bay of Islands and took on the German National 'Connect Four' squad (ok, a young lass called Anne, but she'd been practising!) coming out victorious and taking the trophy back to Lancashire where it belongs. Oh Lanky Lanky. Christian Gedina!

Tue April 1st

April Is The Greatest Month
Anke and I headed to Waipu village, she went on the net, I went to the Waipu museum that had just had it's grand opening on Saturday. Fascinating story of Scottish settlers arriving in Waipu via Nova Scotia and Melbourne thanks to the efforts of staunch preacher man Norman McLeod who sounded a lot like my dad!

Followed Anke to Waipu Cove and watched her surf for an hour or so, I would have had a dabble but am looking after my knee. Boo!

Cracked on solo to a dingy town centre backpackers in Whangarei (pronounced Fangeray). Downstairs bar made up for it tho. Met another Dutch girl (they're like buses, DAF ones perhaps?) and went oot for a bit of fodder before retiring for an early night in my less than salubrious surroundings, this place really was a hole, dirty, with the electric fittings poking out of walls ready to electrocute the unsuspecting in the middle of the night. Not really somewhere to recommend.

Mon 31st March

Enquired about kiteboarding and got roundly rebuffed (fair enough).

Extended car hire without any fuss then helped myself to the spa 6km up the road from Owera. Nowt to shout about that place, luckily I'd procured a heavily discounted entrance ticket.

Cruised to Goat Island, a secluded marine reserve just off the east coast mainland and managed to comprehensively lock myself out of The Pulsar. True to form it was watertight. Stayed at Waipu, was scratching around in the dark for a hostel to sstay at and was tired of driving, met Anke the Dutch surfer. Chilled over a bottle of red in Waipu backpackers.

Friday 28th March

Rode in The Redwoods
... (giant Californian Redwoods) bike park, great track, well marked, and although it is very popular I never got held up by other riders. Took on Double Drop, Hot X Buns and so on. Most enjoyable, knee ready to explode when pedaling with seat down. Time to get the Fred Funk outta here and headed to ...

... for the evening. Rocked up at the Mini Tel, my room was indeed mini. Micro might be a better description. Quietish evening as the great and the good came out in various states of dress from st ag rags to glad rags and back again. Made it to the Hamilton meeting which was a breath of fresh air. Wasn't exactly mobbed by hospitality and so cruised on up the road and bombed up thru Auckland (it felt too city/stressy to turn off) and across the bridge on N1 Highway. Stayed in Owera at the Pillows Travellers Rest in a dorm. Ear plugs, we salute you as an elderly member of the travelling community snored all night. He woke up the next day and cracked open the Kiwi equivalent of a can of Special Brew. Owera is a pretty little beach town which I can imagine gets really busy with the 1.4 million JAFA's that live half an hour down the road.

Thu 27th March

Aching of the head.

Rode to Huka Falls and Aratiatia Dam, tailed a pretty rapid female biker until I had to stop and sight-see. Fodder at The Welshman Tui and the boys me me feel welcome as we rocked the Kasbar and everywhere else. Free Thermal dip at the Spa. Weird sensation hot and cold springs and Waikato river. Like running your finger under a mixer tap, you know half of the water is unbearably hot and some unbearably cold but because they are mixing a little you can manage both sensations without being scolded or frozen. Mud pool half way between Taupo and Rotorua, like being on another planet. Avoided paying for nature's free gifts where possible.

A heavy Maori influence. Everyone but everyone is a 'bro' here. Stayed at Treks, had a night out as is traditional. Quality pianist turned up after hours and treated us to some luscious tunes. A late one.

Wed 26th March

Game Over
The fifth and final day of cricket saw England close out the series 2:1 after giving the Kiwi's a one-nil head start in Hamilton just a couple or three weeks ago. Met up with Michelle & Sam - a couple I'd met out in Nelson on St Paddy's day. They are a great couple although Michelle was a bit delicate this morning. As is customary England made heavy weather of it and let's face it this Black Caps side isn't very good. Their top order is the main problem and with Stephen Fleming retiring I can see more problems ahead, that said Ross Taylor struck the ball well and looks a very good prospect.

A Sign Of The Times
Rode in the Esk Valley, a short Kopter flight west of Napier. It is blessed with good flowing tracks and lots of 'em. The tracks are mostly man-made through forested areas. In th same way that each ski run usually has a name, each man-made bike track on a hillside will have it's own name. Here I found my favourite track of all, not really for the way it rides, but because it afforded me ample opportunity to have my photo taken next to the sign pointing out the track's name: 'Ledge'. Amused me no end and especially as I've now figured out how to set the timer on my camera(only taken me 3 years), it's opened up a whole new world!

Taupo And The Pig Stabber
Checked in to Burke's Backpackers in Taupo, a tourist town nestled on NZ's largest lake with the same name, formed by a massive volcanic explosion some 28.000 year ago. Traditional big night out first night up after meeting 'Lou' a proper hunter an trapper. He stabs pigs for fun and I felt thoroughly safe hanging with the kiwi version of Crocodile Dundee all night @ Kasbar - a Maori/local place.

Tuesday 25th March

Great Day For Cricket
... and what a cracking place to watch the greatest game on earth (or is that Rugbeh Leaguh Stevo?). The atmosphere in the ground is fantastic, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. No, seriously, it's so much more pleasurable watching England play abroad because foreign authorities have a much less draconian approach to policing the spectators. We were able to walk all around the grounds, sit in any seat, and even play on the pitch at lunch. It was a joy to be there. The ground was probably only a half-full at best and most of those were England fans. The security people were respectful and genuinely wanted us to have a fun time. There was no rowdiness and no problems with fans what-so-ever despite beer being freely available all day every day.

The Barmy Army
... despite appearances don't go mental for the beers, they pace themselves, starting slowly and accelerating to a glorious finale rather like a Neil Fairbrother innings. The fans were here to enjoy the game, not to be stupid, the best fans in the world without a doubt. Everyone I met in the city were thankful for The Army's presence (nd it has to be said there are equally as many if not more non-Army fans that should also get credit) as it was helping to revitalise what was a dying game here in New Zealand.

Shoulda Brought The Kids
It was also a refreshing change to be able to get a beer in 2 minutes rather than 2 hours as is the case at certain English test match venues, like the one in Leeds that shall remain nameless. On the pitch England didn't declare (a surprise to me) and instead batted on for another 30 minutes allowing just enough time for Straussy to miss out on his double-tonne. The cricketing gods had provided us with gorgeous weather yet again, perfect for cricket and so inbetween Bumble Spotting I tuned into the not unbiased Kiwi cricket commentary (you'd think they were winning with the way they described the action, it took Aggers to redress the balance). Engaged in some sunbathing and the odd Sidebottom chant (to the tune of Robin Hood Riding thru the glen (Siders plays for Nottingham)):
Sidebottom, Sidebottom, swings it thru the air
Sidebottom, Sidebottom with his curly hair
He bats at eight or nine
His hat-trick was sublime
Sidebottom, Sidebottom, Sidebottom.

Jimmy A was unlucky today, (I gave him a fair bit of verbal encouragement given he's a Lanky Lanky) repeatedly getting Matthew Bell in all sorts of trouble but to no avail. The Kiwi commentators said Bell was looking good, rubbish, he looked as shaky as a morning after alky with Parkinsons during an earthquake.

Vettori Copped a fair bit of chanting and it's only several weeks later an significant consultation with Gerry the pub landlord that I've found out what The Army were singing each time Vettori went anywhere near the ball:
(To the tune of 'Oh My Darling Clementine')
Dan Vettori, Dan Vettori
He's Harry Potter in disguise
We're gonna take his glasses
And poke him in the eyes

Today was all about Stephen Fleming
I was lucky enough to see him get a guard of honour (well, actually I missed that bit as the lad at the fish and chip shop pulled out all the stops and deep fried me a square of lasagne which was both a surprise to me and also made me miss a few balls after lunch) by the England team as he came out to bat and a fantastic standing ovation from every single fan in the ground when he was dismissed after securing a test average of over 40 run per innings. This is the man who has been the rock in the Black Caps side for the best part of two decades and the best international captain I can remember seeing play live. A privilege to have been present. After the cricket I stayed @ Wally's Backpackers but only after sampling a couple of quiet ones with 'The Army' at Rosie O Grady's.

Monday 24th March

Early Bird
Up before the sunshiiiiiiiine this morning. The Shandyman was a-rising-and-a-shining for a good cause: Test Match Cricket, so at 5:30 am I was packed up, and after leaving Tina a 'thank you' note and feeding Graham the cat one last time I entered the Shandy Kopter's cockpit and powered up all four jet turbines. Headed north in the darkness past Lower and Upper Hutt, quite a climb up out of Wellers. The terrain then flattened out and the going was good as mountain passes turned into flat farmland and vineyards that characterise the Masterton area.

Playing Away
Cruised into Napier 3hrs 30 minutes later at 10am, and, to my amazement I was not only able to purchase tickets on the gate for about 7 quid but I was also able to park right outside the McLean Stadium gates, for free! Bargain. Bowled in, paid for my ticket on the door and had a bit of patter with the ladies on the gate. Security was minimal, just a cursory almost apologetic glance in the bag, as if they felt it was impolite at best to have a look in someones bag. None of the zealot-like searching you get in England.

Super Cricket, Super Technique
Watched Ian Bell crack an excellent century and Andrew Strauss ('Strauss, Strauss, can't get him out, he plays shots that we dream about' - The Barmy Army 'to the tune of 'Shout, Shout, Let It All Out') scratch about and bat himself back into the England starting XI after a dip in form with a big 175 not out. A day totally dominated by the bat which is remarkable because both sides had been bowled out cheaply on the first two days with Southee (on an impressive debut) and Siders doing the damage respectively.

Happy Campers
Drove to a local camp site and set up the smallest tent in the world. Had an early night after playing with two little Kiwi tots from the camper van next door to me. Reminded me of E&E. Kids are brilliantly inquisitive. Tucked up in the smallest tent in the world and garnered some much needed shut eye.

Sunday 23rd March

Lie in at Tina's, it's a glorious luxury to have the apartment all to myself. Twas a splendiferously sunny day and as I had not had the chance to ride my bike in Wellers on my previous visit I thought it rude not to indulge. After some deliberation and the obligatory half-hour map ogling I settled on riding the 'Tip Track' which involves a super-steep and relentless climb up a 4x4 track. No sooner had I started the ride than I passed a couple at the foot of the climb deep in discussion about the suitability of the ride for the fairer sex. As I rode past I heard the bloke say in desperation 'There! That's how your supposed to do it love'. I sympathised with both parties as the Shandyman has been guilty all too often of taking my nearest and dearest on a ride that was deemed more torturous than being a volunteer at Herman Goering school of pain giving. 'This feels worse than giving birth' was the phrase of choice for one of my rides in Kentmere! Anyway, as I sweated my way to the summit, each sw itchback being relentlessly followed by another, I really began to feel for the couple I'd left struggling at the bottom who had set out with the best intentions of spending some quality time together whilst engaging in a bit of clean healthy exercise. On ya mate! After summiting the hill and enjoying the vista that is Wellington on a clear day I followed the guide book and got hopelessly lost hundreds of vertical meters from any ridable track. After much cursing of the book authors (three Kiwi brothers by the name of Kennet if you've not been paying attention), I eventually stumbled upon the track I needed along a ridgeline that would terminate straight into the sea at Red Rocks where the land meets the Cook Strait. Added an extra loop to see some WWII lookout bunkers then peered over the edge of the ridge which presented a fierce looking descent off what to all intents and purposes was a cliff. It looked really juicy but there was no obvious track down and so sadly common sense got the better of me and I followed the track in the book. Never again, go with your guts Shandyman. It led to an absolutely awful descent through a hillside jungle that was completely unridable, I should have took on the cliff, at least I would have gone out with a smile on my face! If you do a tough climb you expect a bit of payback at the end of it. No such luck today, I was not a happy bunny by the time I'd chainsawed my way down the hillside. If I wanted to go on a scramble would I have brought a bike? Kennet brothers hang your heads (joking lads)! To add insult to injury I'd scored a puncture that wouldn't fix. This threw me off schedule and meant I missed the meeting, oh and I'd managed to pick up my first sunburn of the trip as I'd been riding without a t-shirt so now a piece of my back which was now toastie red. All this calamity had helped me work up an appetite so had 2 Chinese meals in quick succession then watched the highlights of The Black Caps versus England at Lani and Pieters. Early night in preparation for a big day tomorrow.

Saturday 22nd March

Picked up Estelle a random Frechie who was hitch-hiking from Nelson to Kiakora, swapped her for a very tasty gourmet pie in Picton and boarded the Inter-Islander ferry and cruised from Picton to Wellington in three and a bit hours without once being tempted to sit on the 'top dick'. The Pulsar has earned it's stripes safely cruising 3,200 kilometers of the South Island's finest roads and and so received the massive honour of being christened the 'Mark IV Shandy Kopter'. It brought a tear to my eye when I stenciled the hallowed name on the rear window, removing a thick layer of silt with every finger stroke. Needless to say the Kopter was the last vehicle on the ferry. Wasn't sure where I was going to stay whilst in Wellington as my attempts at communication with Tina were somewhat sporadic. My aim for the day was to get to the Memorial, not wanting to miss the most important event of the year I tracked down the KH and figured out that I was a wee bit early so went to a Greek eatery and relieved them of half a cooked sheep. Went to the memorial where Wayne and Debbie were on form and informed me that Tina and family were in Auckland but that she'd made arrangements for me to stay at hers pretty much as long as I needed. This was excellent news as I really wasn't sure where I was gonna stay, did someone mention Matthew 6 v 33?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Friday 21st

  • Ride in Abel Tasman (Rameka to Takaka).
  • To Almond House, Nelson
  • Did Thomsen + Dead Dog ride down to Maitai Valley/River.
  • Excellent seafood and whitewine and cream sauce.
  • Early night

Thursday 20th March

Sailed all day along the Abel Tasman coast line, no walking for the injured Shandyman ...

Wednesday 19th March

Ambled through the fruit and wine producing region that is Nelson and less than an hour later found myself performing the backstroke at Kiakeri beach, how lucky am I to be here? Didn't feel quite so lucky when I checked in to Old MacDonalds Farm in Marahau. This place is truly at the end of the line and is on land that is half-farm, half agricultural theme park. My accommodation was modest, it was just me and the sandflies in the dorm tonight, the dorm being a kind of wooden lean-to affair with bunks. I cooked a stir fry mixing up the lamb with some native silver beet which makes an interesting alternative to pak choi and eased into a glass of NZ red out on my porch whilst reflecting on recent days events. The scene was reminiscent of the Bajans who sit outside their shanty huts on Barbados' north shore except they all had massive speakers and sound systems on their porches which must have cost more than their house.

Tuesday 18th March

Cable Bay
A lie in today but felt pretty good apart from my knee. There was no chance I could go riding in the fabled hills that flank the city (which is really just a little town by UK standards) and so after overhearing a conversation between two locals I was in the Kopter and heading to Cable Bay, a local beach for local people - in other words the ubiquitous backpackers hadn't had it identified for them by Lonely Planet, thank goodness. The bay was gorgeous, I hobbled up and down the sandy beach and then went f or a swim (more of a float), I virtually had the place to myself save for a couple of families who were splashing about and generally going what nuclear families should but very rarely do; have fun, together. It was idyllic. All this sea air had created a hunger and so I cruised into a pie show which was closing and so I got two gourmet pies for one, a steak pie and a delicious sweet potato and nut affair.

Farewell Spit
The Kopter had decided to take me for an amble along the Mai Tia (I thought this was a cocktail?) river as it winds around the back of the city, it really is beautiful along this secluded and literally back-water stretch. I made a mental note to myself that there's a pretty little campsite with a good play area and golf course that flanks the edge of the river should I ever have kids and take up golf (at the moment I think kids are more likely than golf, although given my knee maybe this isn't true anymore!). Inbetween Nelson city centre and the Mai Tai river is Botanical Hill which overlooks the city, it's harbour and then much further out west to Farewell Spit. At the foot of the hill is a park which is the site where the first every rugby match was played in New Zealand, quite something. In full-on Kaiser Sose hobble-mode I made my way up the switchbacked hill and to the top which also happens to be the geographical centre of New Zealand. The view from up here at sunset was soul-filling. As I've been fortunate enough to do on a several occasions already this trip I just had to sit and marvel in appreciation for a good hour and a half as the sun set behind the mountains that make up the Abel Tasman National Park and Farewell Spit - a long thin peninsular that tapers off into the sea dividing the two islands. The sea and land basked in a milky white light that I don't recall ever seeing before. There was no dividing line between sea, land, and sky. The camera took a hammering.

Hungry again and so clattered into more grub before retiring for an early one.

Mon 17th March

The original plan for today was to crack on northwards to Nelson to try out the riding around that region but I had spied a the Extreme Descents white water rafting outfit in the service town that is Murchison. After making a quick enquiry I was suited and booted and being whisked off along the Buller River which flows from the Southern Alps out to sea at the west coast. The water was blue/green and clear. After a typical Kiwi safety briefing (not the namby-pamby dross that you get in the UK, more like 'If you're stupid you'll get hurt, if you're not you should be ok', we were drifting pleasantly along the river as our instructor (another Adam who looked uncannily like Euan McGregor) issued commands that the rest of the team followed. There were eight of us in the raft altogether, I had the dubious pleasure of sitting right at the back with Adam which is the best place to sit if you want to be shaken about a bit. We cruised on through a succession of rapids which to be honest weren't very exciting. At each rapid Adam would give me a nod and a wink and point to the two 'victims' who he expected to fall out. He seemed keen to throw the American couple at the front out first for some reason! Anyway, after explaining that the rapid grades are based from 1-5, and the higher the number the less chance you had of popping back up if you fell in the swim. We were paddling mainly down grade 3's and it was all a bit tame so we ramped it up a bit as two rivers merged, which in itself threw us straight at a big rock face but Adam steered us by after giving us an intentional scary moment. We hit a rather 'busy' grade 4 as Adam again mischievously nodded at the front of the raft. Two seconds later the front of the raft had entered the rapid and, as it exited, the rear of the raft kicked up violently and threw Adam out of the raft via my head and shoulders. So he's clinging on to me and I'm clinging on to the raft with my feet firmly wedged under the raft paneling for extra adhesion. We quickly hit more bumps and the raft was in danger of flipping everyone out, at this point I noticed that I was more out of the raft than in it, with Adam still gamely hanging around my torso somewhere. However, despite my body having already left the raft my left foot was stuck fast under the raft's rubber lining. I looked down to see my left knee directly under my chin and realised I had the weight of two people and the force of many tonnes of water ripping through it. Something had to give and sure enough, with one of those grinding, crunching noises that makes you go queasy I saw my foot slowly released from it's prison. The noise alone indicated that this was not a great situation to be in and that something pretty serious had taken place. No time to worry about that though as the raft had been taken by more rapids and I was momentarily lost physical contact with the raft, which was a moderate concern given the power of the water here. At this point 'the other Adam' turned from villain to hero as he stretched out an arm, I did likewise and like a scene from a cheesy kids cartoon we got a monkey grip on and I was pulled towards the raft. I had to jump back in the raft which involves kicking your legs like a spastic which I suddenly found quite difficult. Fortunately and by complete coincidence I had popped up next to 'Jan' a Czechoslovakian bear wrestler and full time rafting instructor. This bloke was built like a bull, I had sat behind him the whole journey and didn't have to paddle once because he was doing the work of the entire left side of the craft. So The Bear pulled me into the raft (and nearly out the other side) and at this point the pain in my knee began to register. Yeah, it wasn't good but it wasn't completely debilitating and I wasn't going to let it curtail the trip, I'll deal with it back at base. We cruised on down the Buller as it quite literally cut deep into bedrock. At one point we got out and swam through some rapids which was un as they rip you under then spin you in all directions before spitting you out somewhere downstream and we also did a bit of rock jump (only 12m or so for the 'brave') but I still managed to land it on my arse better than my knee I figured!

The Room of Doom
One thing I've noticed about the Antipodeans, they like to have fun, and are quite happy to make their own entertainment. The other thing is that they give things names that put a smile on your face. For instance, as we exited one series of rapids we ste
ered towards a rock face where there was a large whirlpool. Now the locals go swimming in here and it grabs hod of you and dunks you under for 5/10+ seconds before spitting you out if you're lucky. We weren't allowed to do the swim but we did do some donuts (360's) and the rip was pretty violent. The locals had named the whirlpool 'The Room of Doom' 'cos if you got stuck in there you were in big trouble. Just next to The Room of Doom dangling, as if from heaven, was a rope which had somehow been lassoed around a friendly tree and was there should The Room of Doom be about to squeeze your last breath out of you. This was The Rope of Hope. I couldn't help but grin in admiration as Adam gleefully relayed tales of near drownings and daring rescues.

Whip Crack
We debriefed, unsuited, showered and checked out the photo's and videos (yes, they got our crash on vid). At this point Jan declared us all his friends and produced a bull-whip from somewhere and began twirling it around before getting another out anothe
r and treating us to a Wild West show (he had recently won the bull-whip competition in Las Vegas so he wasn't bad). I've no idea how he got those whips through customs without anyone raining an eyebrow but fair play to the big man.

Fired up the Pulsar and made full use of it's autopilot mode, driving with my right foot covering the pedals and my left wedged somewhere up on the dashboard to reduce swelling in my knee as it rapidly ceased up.

We Never Used To Have To Lock Our Front Doors
Landed in Nelson just before dusk and checked in to The Shortbread backpackers which is at the top end of the high street but still quite suburban. After unpacking and being shown the facilities, the girl running the place asked 'Is there anything I've forgotten', I looked back at her a little puzzled and said 'Erm, a room key would be nice', to which she replied, 'We don't have room keys here, nothing ever gets stolen'. I was a little taken aback as (A) Nelson is one of the biggest cities on the S. Island after Christchurch and (B) I'd booked a double room for myself for the specific reason that I'd be able to lock my belongings up safely without having to worry about who had access to it. Ho hum. I don't mind trusting in the milk of human kindness but
there's always a first time for something to get nicked. I suppose it shows that on the S. Island at least it gets pretty close to a Utopian society. I mean, can you imagine any city in England running a joint without locks?! I recall English generations past (shout out to Nanna Eileen and Grandma Vera!) taking about going out and leaving the doors open, well, finally I've found somewhere yet to experience a crime wave!

As tonight is a Monday I expected it to be quite, so I went out for a bite to eat then realised it was St Patrick's Day which the Nelsonians found an acceptable reason to stay out and have a beer. I met a really nice couple from England called Sam and Michelle, it was Sam's 25th birthday coincidentally so it was Sambuca's O'clock until the wee small hours. It helped the knee pain subside your honour.

Sun 16th March

  • Listened to cricket on the free Wireless and lazed around the YHA.
  • Bombed over to Murchison again via the Lewis Pass and stayed in a local motel, nuff said.

Saturday 15th March

  • Drove to Hanmer Springs via the Lewis Pass, one of only three routes connection west with east across the Southern Alps.
  • Dominated the Big Foot Ride and a few other tracks thru the surrounding forests, they were affable, nothing majorly hairy though.
  • Soaked the Shandy muscles in the natural springs which come in various temperatures straight from the earth's core, they stink a bit (hydrogen sulphide (egg Jon)) but are very very relaxing. Your limbs and body float in them rather like the Dead Sea.
  • Clattered into a few beers and had a rumbustious old time.

Friday 14th March

To be fleshed out when I get the chance, here's some bullets:
  • no fly zone
  • Blackball Croesus Track, nice single track, rope bridges to contend with ...
  • stayed at The Former Hilton Hotel, haunting experience, excellent hospitality but had to ask for a stronger knife as the lamb shank was not the best!
  • late night with miners, sign in pub 'Alcohol Will Not Be Served To Miners' har har. Proper locals place way off the beaten track.

Thu 13th March 2008

With a heavy heart and not wanting to leave I said 'farewell' to Wanaka. It is an unspoilt version of Queenstown. Much less commercial, as one wise-beyond-his-years lad from Sheffield observed, 'the only thing to do in Queenstown is spend money', the onl.y thing to do in Wanaka be happy! To gain a measure of a town I make it a habit of asking the locals in a roundabout way if they are happy with where they live. To a man (or woman), without hesitating the Wanaka-strians would all return the same gentle head-nod and knowing smile. They know where their bread is buttered, they're just hoping the Queenstown property explosion doesn't ruin their tranquil life. It's got a great snowboard/ski scene going on in winter too, come on Team Rear, what are you waiting for!?

Past Haas
Fired up the Pulsar's engines and roared up the Haast Pass, a famous road that leads to Haast, another place where nothing exists except sandflies. Had a Fish Sandie (butty) from the only place that was remotely open. After ordering my food and being given an order number, my digits duly came up and I went to the serving hatch to pick it up. I pointed to my plate and asked if that was mine (number 35 as it happens). The chef, who looked more like a hunter than a kitchen hand shrugged his shoulders and said 'Facked if I Know'. I appreciated his candor if not his customer service! I sat outside and chatted to a German bloke and a Kiwi couple who were headed up the pass on their bikes, cycling around the S. Island with all their gear in panniers. I have admiration for these types but it definitely goes in the Not For Me section. I mean, why would ya?

The Gathering Storm

Cruisin' on up the West coast the cloud had gathered and the drizzle was a comforting reminder of home. Along the west coast highway you cross bridges that are single file and some have train tracks on the too. I'm not too sure how to negotiate them properly so I usually check to see if there are no trains then make a bolt for the other end. So far so good.

Hitchhiker Guide to the Glaciers

Picked up me first hitch hiker today. A bedraggled figure had it's arm up unsuccessfully trying to flag down passing vehicles in the steady rain. My mind flashed back to the only time when I've ever hitch hiked, which was in January of this year. Two very kind English blokes gave me a lift to Tignes Le Breviere after I'd managed to get stranded in a village that had no buses or taxis in the French Alps at 11 o'clock at night in a freezing blizzard. Twas blowing a gale and I was really thankful they'd pulled over. Remembering this act of altruism and deciding it was time I did the same, I wound down my window and the green blur I'd spotted moments ago had turned into a very pretty girl called Mia from Israel (well in Me Shand!). 'She's brave' I thought as I asked her where she was going. 'Fox Glacier' came the reply. It was 50k up the road and on my way. Her eyes brightened up and she jumped in. After doing the necessary introductions it turns out her name was Mia from Israel, she'd been waking for a few days and got split up from her mates and now it was raining and a long way from her base. At this point I noticed that I'd unintentionally also given a ride to a small army of sandflies that had befriended Mia on the rode. The thing was tho that she was totally covered up in hiking gear whereas The Shandyman was in shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt. After 30 minutes of air kung-fu whilst trying to drive I was happy to kick Mia and her winged admirers out of the Pulsar.

A Bit Of A Sweat On
The cloud was on the floor and so stopping at either the Fox or the Franz Josef Glacier was not an attractive prospect. I tried to get accom. in FJ but twas super-busy, so I launched into an excellent take away lamb curry and got a big sweat on much to the mobile van-man's enjoyment. As anyone who's had a Ruby Murray with me before will be well aware that The Shandyman has the unique ability to sweat over 13 litres of water an hour when consuming anything that is remotely spicy. The van man kindly recommended me a Sprite which would increase the effect of the capsicin, naturally I obliged and left a huge pool of water and natural salts infront of his curry van. The trail I left behind was not dissimilar as if a 6ft slug had just been doused in salt and melted all over the pavement.

Just The Ticket
Pressed on up the West Coast aware that I was probably missing the best scenery on the island but I'd been in the car all day, bitten to death everytime I got out to take a picture and even punished by the blighters for doing a good deed. The weather was Bir-minging-ham and there was nowhere for me to lay my head near the Glaciers. The Pulsar knew it was time to crack on and responded as such. Me and The Pulsar had become an inseparable team, Batman and Robin, Chakademus an Pliers, Shandy and The Pulsar. My affection for the little beauty has grown to such an extent that I frequently find myself waving at fellow Pulsar pilots, so far no one has waved back. Anyway, me and 'The Pulse' are hooning it northwards on the SH6 when I rounded a left hand bend pretty much sideways on only to see an officer of the law coming the other way looking somewhat perturbed at the rapid nature of my progress towards his bonnet. I looked in my mirror and saw he'd put his red lights on and so I thought a wrist-slapping and fatherly chat about driving more sensibly would be the result. I throttled back and parked up waiting for the fuzz to deliver his message of peace and love, cos that's all he can do right? Can't catch someone speeding going the other way, that would be impossible, so I metaphorally held out my hand for a quick slap with the ruler. The conversation goes like this:

'Going a bit fast around that corner sir',
(innocent shrug of shoulders) 'about a hundred I guess' – hehe, he can't tell exactly how fast I've been going,
'Bit faster than that I think, I got you at 127',
'Damn!' ... but he can't prove a thing right? We walk to his cab and he shows me his speed (91) and mine (127), I protest that it was at least 140k bend in the dry but he's having none of it.
'Engines a bit hot sir' he notes,
'This is a 1992 Nissan Pulsar XL with afterburner' I retort.
By now he's warmed up a bit and offers to kindly knock a few kph's off my actually speed so that my fine isn't as large. He pulled out what looked like a restaurant menu with a list of minor traffic offenses we'll call 'Starters', some hefty main course ones like being drunk at the wheel and then a list of oh so sweet Desserts. Yep, the NZ police force, much like the British, specialize in speeding-fines, you can have them with anything from icecream, cream, chocolate sauce, custard, marmite, yogurt, even low fat speeding fines if you're just over the limit or the house special heart-attack in a bowl fines that mean an instant ban at 140kph+. I opted for the tasty looking $170NZ 'Exceeds 100kph by 25kph' main as the officer apologised for writing me the ticket saying that he has to serve up a certain amount per month in order to meet targets. No worries pal, you give me the ticket, I'll be in 'Stralia, come and find me. To be fair the bloke himself was alright, I didn't have the heart to tell him that these sort of short-sighted money-making (lack of) initiatives will undo hundreds of years worth of respect earned by his force amongst the community as has happened in the UK. One final thing, for those who know The Shandyman, they know he can't keep a straight face when when having a joke, so when the fella asked me my occupation it took every muscle in my face not to beak out into a massive grin when I said 'Rally Driver'. Hehehe, and the geez wrote it down after a quick glance at the Shandies poker face and The Pulsar's racing lines.

Hokitika and the Kiwi Way
Rolled into Hokitika (Hoky) on petrol fumes alone (no petrol stations for 100's of kilometers at times here) and checked into Stumpies, a clean and cheap hotel/motel. I happened to meet the MD of a micro-brewery that night. I was tired and not much conversation so he told me that the 'Kiwi Way' was to just rock up and say hello to anyone and everyone. He's right, and that is what they do, they have no false pretenses or surreptitious expectations like that; it'' perfectly normal just say 'hello, how you goin' and move on from there. It's quite liberating when you give it a try, and a bit like the North of England was maybe when I was a small boy 20 years ago (I'm guessing). Early night, needed the sleep.

Wed 12th March 2008

Lean on Me
Having had a late but quiet night I woke up feeling super-refreshed and ready for my big climb up the highest ridable mountain on the continent, 'tis 1963m tall. The preparation for such a feat of human endurance was a bowl of Pam's meusli and seven cups of tea whist reading the Otago Post, the state newspaper. Tis always good to read the Letters From Readers section, it gives you a feel for the place. Drove up the Wanaka to Queenstown backroad that leads to the Crown Range Pass. After 20k and failing to spot the infamous bra-fence (a much disputed fence where instead of hanging dead animals (possums in NZ, moles in the UK) passers-by hang their bras - of all things. The local farmer whose fence it is has been busted by the council for this display but he doesn't seem to give two hooters about the restraining order and has received a lot of support from the local community who are keen to keep abreast of the situation, Enough of that.

Mt Pisa
Parked up at the Roaring Meg car park – crickey am I in Stevenage?! Began the Mt Pisa ascent, it's 13 dusty kilometers to the Snow Farm and a few more to the top of the mountain. Selected a low gear and ground my way up the slope. Each killermeter was signposted so that at seeing the first sign I knew I was 1/13th of the way to the Snow Farm which is a thriving hub for snowboarders and skiers during the winter. After maybe an hour and a half of grunt I emerged triumphant at the Snow Farm. Like most things at altitude this time of year it was well and truly shut There were a few 4x4's knocking about an some big yellow earth movers preparing the snow park for the action later in the year. Reached the top of Mt Pisa which is a bit of a trek up a couple of Norwegian ski tracks. The views yet again are pretty epic over to the Cadrona ski fields, the Crown Range and further out to the pointy peaks that make up the Mt Aspiring National Park.

The Ultimate Descent
Ignoring Kennett's MTB guide book I had a bash on the bike park even though it was closed, it has some sweeping berms and a couple of table tops then some huge jumps over the jeeps tracks, we're talking 5m vertical, maybe 30ft jumps, I went on the chicken run as neither me nor the 575 were ready for that. Climbed back up to a set of radio/TV transmitters and found Touhys Saddle (pronounced Tooeys) and the farm track that leads all the way to the bottom. As luck would have it I spotted a little bit of singletrack next to it. It was just too juicy to ignore so I hit it (knowing that probably I'd end up in a dead end and have to climb back up). As it turns out it was the best decision I've made on bike so far. The track down was without doubt the best piece of flowing singletrack that I've had the pleasure of riding. It dropped for about 15 minutes and a whole vertical mile. The riding was proper expert with very steep rocky sections, big drops, big jumps and the odd chicken-run (which I have to admit I took every now and then not knowing the size of the drop on the other side). As I cruised down the hill I was grnning from ear to ear. Whoever built this track deserves a massive pat on the back. The route wasn't even marked, it's not in the guide books or local bike maps, probably a good thing as most people would damage themselves. Even The Shandyman had an off, over the bars and onto my right shoulder. No major damage. There are sheep everywhere in NZ, meaning there are also fences all over the shop, the track builders had produced a novel solution of building wooden latted bridges over the fences so the sheep had to stay put but bikers could fly over them. Finished the ride with the adrenalin pumping and wishing I could drop down the descent every day of the week. Gradely.

Lovely Bubbly
Drove home and jumped in the spa at Altamont Lodge. The muscles needed a good soaking and my (by now achy) shoulder appreciated the high pressure jet massage.

Farewell Wanaka, I'll Be Back
Had my last night in Wanaka, rocked up at the speciality local ale place on the lake front and had a beer. Met up with Mark the French chef and had a few cheekies. An entertaining send off via Barlugo/The Cow which are owned by the same people who own Bardot in Queenstown (they have the same huge fires).

Tue 11th March 2008

Kooza and Cuzza Day
More Kooza practising jumps and a multitude of other tracks, twas superb. Cruised up Easy Street and hit a few black descents, that's not racial. One minute down, five back up, bargain!

Had a Ruby Murray at Ashrams(?), he was closing up but served me last, we chatted for half and hour then I retired home for an early night. Food was delicious, a proper Rogan Josh. Early night after much needed!

Mon 10th March 2008

The Altamont Lodge
is the best run backpackers I have stayed at so far. Everything is provided and in sensible places. Big shout out to the owners for getting it right. The owners seem to have a bit of a property portfolio going, you can even buy shares in the place. The only downside is that the walls are pretty thin, but I nobody kept me awake at night, mainly because it was morning before I arrived home! Hehehe.

Plantation Trails
Headed out from Wanaka along the beautiful lake shoreline and after a good few kilometers and lots of gawping at the lakeside views I found that I'd circumnavigated the Plantation Trails. I was supposed to be headed. No matter, I backtracked and after the usual head scratching because there are no signposts or proper maps (the maps they serve up at the info site in town are more confusing than they are helpful!) I finally found the ride area. The locals have stacked up some great tracks based around just a couple of moderately proportioned hills.

Stumbled upon Easy Street which gives you easy access to the start of many of the downhill runs. A northern Irish fella by the name of 'Johnny' had recommended I had a go at the Kooza track. His advice was spot on. It's a great little track with jumps that sstart small at first and then get bigger and bigger. I did the run several times and challenged myself to do progressively more of the jumps. Twas a bit hairy at first but I got into it and the 757 coped admirably with the sometimes heavy landings. Rode home along the lakeside taking in the views across Lake Wanaka and out towards Mt Aspiring.

Back to The Altimont. Cooked myself a fine lamb stir fry then rode into town for a big one at The Cow.

Sunday 9th March 2008

Packed up and headed out of Te Anau, past Queenstown and over the Crown Range Road which cuts through and over yet more magical vistas; lush valleys, foothills and snowy peaks. It's a twisty windy affair but ofcourse the Pulsar cruised up without even the slightest hint of the temperature guage moving from medium to hot.

Cruised into Wanaka, the views that greet you as you descend the Crown Range Road and round the corner to be presented with Lake Wanaka and the Mount Aspiring National Park as it's backdrop is epic. I immediately began to like the place, it was so much less stressy and over-developed/spoiled than Queenstown, yet it is just one short mountain pass away. I had a stroll on the lake frontage to confirm my vibe. Yep, this was nice.

After a visit to the i-Site (a sort of one-stop tourist info / booking agency shop) I was booked into the Altamont Lodge for two nights. It turned out to be four as I like Wanaka so much.

Stir It Up
A wee spot of shopping culminated in me cranking up the barbie and making myself some lamb and vegie kebabs and roast corn on the cob (still in it's green sheath like it has just been plucked out of the field). Sat and chilled with a glass of local red (Pinot Noir is the red grape of choice around here). Regal.

Friendly bunch
Mosied into the little town and found a very chilled out bar. Met the wife of a a chap who run a local builders yard called PlaceMakers. She was so friendly, she was entertaining one of the workforce whose birthday it was as her husband was off on a regualr jolly of skydiving, or hangliding or somesuch. After giving me her card and number and declaring that I'd aways if I'm ever stuck for somewhere to stay that they have loads of spare rooms I wandered home up the hill and had a jolly good nights sleep.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Saturday 8th March 2008

After successfully booking a 'Twilight' sea kayaking trip in Milford Sound I had a little time to cruise around lake Te Anau (well, part of it, it's shoreline is massive) on my velo. I also rode some tracks just behind my shanty town, I mean camp site. Turns out that some school kids had built them on some csrubland and forested area. On Ya Kids! The riding was enjoyable, they'd made good use of the space available as I meandered for an hour on their more tricky stuff which was pretty easy going except for one black section where you hit a board-walk that disappears off into a bog, unfortunately I didn't spot that a two foot section of the boarding had vanished. My second visit to the bog that day.

Pioneer Spirit
As Sir George of Hilton (a slightly rotund but massively enthusiastic C/O from Hull) used to say 'A pioneer should always have a pie in here' (whilst stroking his belly). Having wiped myself clean of rotting bog swamp I grabbed an excellent organic venison pie (they had venison wars here not too long ago!) from Miles Better Pies and began my journey to Milford Sound in The Pulsar. Drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound via Homer Tunnel and The Chasm.
Homer Tunnel
is a long old tunnel that has a hefty downward gradient as you travel towards the sound. 'Twas hewn out of the rocks by hardy labourers in the 1930's on the back of the Great Depression. The Homer Camp where the workers and their families lived received no direct sunlight all year. Tough cookies, they did find time to have the odd game of cricket tho, that's the main thing.

The Chasm
Realizing that The Pulsar had carried me on her wings faster than a Peregrin Falcon at a skydiving tournament I reckoned I had time to ramble on up to 'The Chasm'. I had seen the name on a map and thought it must be worth a dabble a Kiwi's don't name things on a whim. Flip-flopped to the max I stomped past the Rohan wearing masses up to The Chasm and checked out the sculpted rock forms and rounded stone basins that the force of Cleddau River had created as it is forced funnel-like into the narrow soft bedrock forming waterfalls and gorges below. I can't put it any better than David Henry Thereau who said: 'The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time'.

Dafur with Ross Hore (AKA 'Horey'), an eco-nomad but a dude nontheless. Horey showed us his luxurious accommodation which was essentially two cut and shut caravans, it looked like real squalor, he called it his penthouse and assured us that despite it looking like something from Dafur it was actually quite a nice place to live. You might like it, but it's not for me.

Kayaking on the Sound
The 'Sea Ka' took us out to 4k from the Abel Tasman Sea, we paddled back for 5hrs, twas quite hard work. The key to kayaking is to hadly disturb the water as you paddle along, when you can do this you are being efficient. Being Billy No Mates I got to ride in Horey's two-man kayak, which was cool as he knew how to steer the thing. The trip takes about five hours to row back from the Tasman Sea opening to Deep Something Or Other Point, even with a helpful following wind and the tide pushing us home.
Great Shack!
Milford Sound is the place where Shackleton used to set sail from on his Antarctic expeditions. I had been dying to see what it looked like as my imagination had struggled to conjure any concrete image of what it might be like. Around every turn in the Pulsar I was craning my neck to see if I could see an opening to the sea – Milford Sound. Finally I was here, and right down at water level too. It is truly epic scenery, you paddle through what is basically an estuary but instead of having little river banks you have these huge mile high walls of granite rock that tower straight upwards and plunge deep down into the sea bed. The landscape is formed by huge sheets of ice gouging out the rock and leaving a U-shaped valley. The sea then comes in and fills up the 'U' but not completely, the result is that you can paddle/sail up the valley and see these huge towering slabs of granite with waterfalls coming crashing down the walls, we paddled straight under one. The smaller waterfalls only get half way down the rock face before magically evaporating into cloud and causing rainbows all over the shop, it is just stunning. Milford Sound then is actually a fjord – caused by glaciers cutting through rock rather than a sound, which is where a river does the same thing. Ditto for every other Sound in Fiordland!

There are two permanent waterfalls in the sound and literally hundreds when it has rained heavily. The largest waterfall generate electricity and provide drinking water for the few residents at The Sound. We paddled right under the big waterfall, the wind and spray it generates is pretty awesome as it crashes hundreds of meters down onto your head.

Tree Avalanches Did you hear about the time when Paddy and Murphy went to the job center looking for work? One advert was for Tree Fellers. 'That's a shame' said Murphy, 'there's only two of us'. Boom Boom. As you look up from the waterline you can see trees that literally hang out of the vertical rock faces. Their root networks all interlink and they help each other cling onto the rock face. When the trees get really big and the wind blows you get a tree avalanche where hundreds of tonnes of trees slew into the sea. Slowly moss starts to form and just like you get Succession on a beach (ie. pioneer species like Marram Grass begin to colonise sand dunes then once they are their other species can begin to grow) then bigger plant life starts to take hold, bushes then little trees. Horey says the whole process takes a century or so then the tree avalanche happens and the cycle begins again. Did you know, if you cough at young male seals they cough back? It's all to do with their manliness. When they get bigger and start competing for females they cough at other males. Useless but true.

We then cruised back in, in the squally rain as the sun set and the Sound went as flat as a pancake. At this point we rowed straight past a seal that was barrel-rolling in the water, he didn't even notice us, Horey said he was probably asleep and would wake up and go fishing out to sea at night. Really glad I went even tho weather was somewhat wet, in future I would like to see the top of Mitre Peak!

Farming is the root of all Evil (sorry dad)
Horey was really disgruntled with the negative environmental impact of dairy farming - ruining natural ecosystems for export to foreign countries. One firm has a huge monopoly and artificially keeps prices high - cheese is 300% more expensive now than two years ago. He reckoned that the Kiwi's only got the second class produce too as the best stuff got shipped over seas. Drove back at warp speed, as the day turned to night – was rushing to get back before the food places shut.

Te Anau
Just avoid this place if you can, although to be fair, having concluded that the people really are Kiwi versions of rednecks and sworn never to return here, some dude called Dan bowled up to me with a crate full of beer and forced me into a taxi for a house party with Leanne, Kate and this lad who kept taking his eye out and licking it, they called him 'Bungy'.

Friday 7th March

Woo hoo, felt fine this morning, took my time over breky hoping Butterfli Lodge would have spare room a I hadn't finished with Queenstown just yet. Twasn't to be.

Doubtful In Doubt
My very own Master Plan was to head to Manapouri is a which a teeny tiny place on a lake by the same name which leads to Doubtful Sound via a mountain pass and do an overnighter on Doubtful Sound (supposedly more dramatic/rewarding/beautiful/vast etc.) than the tourist trap that is Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound is so called because legend has it (and we all believe in those - right kids?) Captain James Cook of Whitby took one look at the massive rock faces on either side of the inlet and declared that they were so large that he doubted whether or not they would be able to catch enough wind to get out of the Sound once they were in it. Having landed at Manapouri and enquired about overnight trips to D.S. it turns out none were leaving until Sunday lunchtime which was a bit far off as I'm already kind of behind schedule.

Had my first proper encounter with the little critters that are known a Sandflies. I had only stepped out of the car to ask a ferry worker about Doubtful trips for 2 minutes before my ankles were covered in the little hoons (a term the Kiwi press use for delinquent teenagers, I like it much more than 'Hoodies'). It seems that they find foreign blood, and mine in particular, very tasty indeed, tuck in boys! They are little black things that are silent assassins; flying pirhanas. It's hard to know they are around until it's too late, on the odd occasion you do spot one it is invariably perched arrow shaped and head first buried into some exposed part of your flesh.

Te Anau, a bit like Wales, nice place, shame about the people.

Nowt doing in Manapouri, it really is a one horse town, my,only option is to bomb to Te Anau and see if I can grab a Milford Sound day trip. Did so, booked in (unseen) to a naff holiday park, $30 single room for 2nts. It really was just a bed. Give me a homely Kiwi backpackers any day of the week. Te Anau is on a bit of dead-end road that terminates 120k north-west at Milford Sound. The town is perched on yet another vast and beautiful lake however I found the locals were mainly freaks and inbreds, it reminded me of West Virginia, Hicksville. I'm sorry but the place just felt empty and wholly uninviting which is the opposite to just about everywhere else I've been in NZ so far. Did have a fine Thai Green Curry at The Olive Tree tho and scabbed a free taxi home. When I asked why the pubs transported all their customers home the girl sighed and informed me that if they didn't then the clientelle would hang around outside just long enough for a fight to start. Judge for yourselves.

Thursday 6th March, Queenstown

The only thing I was wrestling this morning was a sore head. Roused myself after noon and decided to do the Mount Dewar ride to purge my body of last night's wine and to teach myself a damned good lesson. Drove up Skippers Road to the Cadrona Ski area which provided some amazing views; the mountain that Queenstown itself sits on is about 1000m high, it looked more like a big boulder you'd use to line your driveway with from up here.

Dewar or Die
Hoiked up Mt Dewar, a rather big climb (1360m ish), had a full on sweat in the heat of the day too. Must have been a bit light headed as I began to take pictures of myself pretending that a weather station was my friend. Hmm. Headed DH on jeep track which helter-skeltered pretty rapidly to Shotover River and encountered several sheep, who, instead of stepping off the track out of my way (as I'm doing abut 35mph) run along it for hundreds of yards with myself manically cackling instructions to them. I wished I'd have had a head-cam on, it was like a scene from Star Wars as the white robot fella's try and capture Luke GuyWalker whizzing around the Ewok Village. After reaching the bottom of the descent I stumbled upon two huts which are both pretty sorry looking buildings and relics of the goldrush. The oldest is a tumbley-down looking thing and you'd be pretty miffed if you'd walked all that way just to see these sheds! Followed a sketchy singletrack along the Shotover, it had a big drop-off into the gorge below where jet boats scooted around like motorized Spinning Jennies, then headed up a whacking great climb back to top of Skippers Saddle. Spotted Skippers Canyon ride (DH) on my left, looks pretty good, with cows marking the route all the way along. Had to haul my sorry and tired self back up Skippers Road which isn't really a road, justs a gravel track. It felt like a long old climb back to the top because I'd been belting along at a fair old pace all afternoon knowing that I was likely to finish the ride in the cold and dark if I didn't get a shuftee on. My legs had had it by the time I finally summited the saddle.

Seafood Diet
Pulsar'd my way home just in time to take in more humbling views the Remarkables as they bathed in the evening sunlight. Determined not to make the same mistake twice in two days I was on a mission to to eat something this evening an so launched into some fish and chips, - way more than I could eat (hadn't realised I'd ordered a family sized meal from my traveler chippy van man. Had to leave at least half, what a waste. Met Adrian and Stacey and Urs (Swiss, pronounced 'Oars', quite a dude – wife died recently of cancer so he upped sticks and went traveling, it was their anniversary today), and some ego-stroke Sceptic Tank stockbroker from the Nappa Valley who proceeded to make a total clown out of himself, luckily his associates were alright, Canadian/Aussies all playing in the World Left Handed Golf tourney somewhere around Qtn. Saw a band with A/S/Urs at Winnie-Bagoes infront of another roaring fire. Stacey commented that she didn't recognise any of the songs that the band had played (intimating I think that they were only doing local numbers), which amused me as they were right in the middle of playing REM's 'What's the Frequency Kenneth' – ahh well, at least she had a passport! Passed on the wrestling and headed back to Butterfli at a much more respectable hour.

Wednesday 5th March 2008

Drive to Queenstown from Naseby
... it's mainly downhill. As I entered the outskirts of Queenstown I could feel the tranquility that Naseby had afforded me drain rapidly away. Sure enough the 'traffic' was backed up through the bottleneck that is the town centre and suddenly there were parking restriction signs all over the shop. Hmm ...

Floating like a Butterfli
After cruising around town trying to find somewhere a little off the main drag I happened upon Butterfli Lodge, which was tended by the remarkably cheery and helpful Gemma, who was an English language teacher so we got along fine after discussing the finer points of Wordsworth's usage of iambic pentameter.

The Future is Orange
After a trip down hill into town to pick up the local bike maps (a brand new edition having been published and brought to the shops this avo – timing Me Shand!) I strode out onto the balcony to be presented with the remarkable sight of the erm Remarkables mountain range. These mountains stand proud opposite Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu nestling peacefully inbetween. The sunset is spectacular as it dips down behind the big peaks behind Queenstown and illuminates The Remarkables with a Martian-esque soft orange light. Best served with a glass of Shiraz.

Queenstown by night
For some reason my first evening in larger townships seems to always be the biggest and Queenstown was no exception. I headed to one of Gemma suggestions, twas called Bardot, a fine wine establishment. It had dropped a bit nippy and Bardot looked homely and welcoming with a huge natural fire, after seeing off a very nice Aussie couple from Sydney on a works jolly for the weekend I headed to a couple o' other bars where I met two citizens of the United States of America – Stacey and Adriana. We exchanged tales of wanton redundancy. They were an odd couple, Adriana was a bit more relaxed but Stacey always needed to work to a schedule. For the next couple of hours I chipped in along with a few Kiwi blokes (who were working on another big film set around these parts (Wolverine?)) - trying to convince the girls to change schedule and spend more time in the countryside and NZ rather than flying off to Sydney on a typically US-style whistle-stop tour of Oz. Adriana was compliant, Stacey looked mortified. Terry's argument was that these girls were from NY city and so why on earth would they want to visit Sydney for a large chunk of their trip when they live in a massive city already? He was bemused and suggested they spent time seeing things that they couldn't see at home, ie the Coramandel Peninsular etc. He was a rugged, suntanned, stubble-faced fella around about 45 years old, he was spot on.

Eating is Cheating
Fatally forgot to have anything to eat and the night ended exchanging wrestling moves with a big Brummie lad who was dressed as WWF wrestler and singing Oasis greatest song: Master Plan. Does it get any classier?!