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Friday, 31 December 2010

Napier-Nelson-New Years Eve 2010, 13th-31st December

Napier turned out to be a really good experience for us. We stayed with a British couple who have moved to the city recently. Ruth is a dentist and her husband Rowan is still looking for that perfect job. They are renting a colonial style town house near the centre of the self named ‘Art-Deco’ capital of the world. Indeed, theirs is one of only a few houses to survive the great earthquake which struck the city back in the 1930’s. Ruth and Rowan made us feel very welcome and gave us lots of tips about where to go while we were in town. We ate some lovely food while at their place, a BBQ on the first night was followed up with one of our home cooked chillis and Ruth cooked a special secret recipe chocolate pudding on our last night there. It was good to hang around with some Brits for a few nights. A good chance to discuss the differences between life over here and life at home.

We decided to check out some of the cycle paths which connect the city to the surrounding countryside, winding their way through vineyards and orchards, they are a pleasure to ride through. One of the paths leads to an even more impressive location – that of a boutique ice-cream parlour called Rush Munros in Hastings. Naturally we gorged ourselves on 2 massive Sundaes with lots of different toppings, a delicious reward for all the cycling.

For the first time in 14 years I was able to meet Aunty Margaret (a relative of my sister-in-law), the last time we two met was at my brother’s wedding. We had been in contact via email and it was such a pleasure to visit her at her house. Ivan, her husband, showed us round his very impressive garden and we even got to sample his fresh strawberries and drink tea with lots of cakes and cookies. The strangest experience occurred while we were at Margaret and Ivan’s house; they have framed photos of my brother and his wife on their wedding day. It felt really odd seeing those on the wall and being so far away on the other side of the world. Ivan drove the three of us up to a nearby lookout and gave us a tour of their neighbouring townships before we parted and moved on to a Christmas celebration which was taking place in a local park.

‘Christmas In The Park’ is an annual event in the city of Napier. It is a free event with bands and carols and the compulsory visit of Santa who arrived in true traditional style – on the back of a fire engine. Young children and teenage girls were in hot pursuit of the vehicle, though I suspect for different reasons! It is a massive event with over 25,000 people. We sang carols with our ‘couchsurf’ hosts and our 'WWOOFing' friends from Germany. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t put on any buses to get people into town after the event. We ended up giving our German friends a lift into town on the back of our bikes the end of the evening. It was quite a long way and I was only able to carry Manuel a short distance due to the fact that he is 6”2” and nearly broke the bike we were on! But Mel managed to get Anette home safely, Manuel ended up jogging the 6 km back to the city. If you are reading this Manuel – sorry about that mate!!

We packed a lot into the few days in Napier and we were full of smiles as we pushed off towards our next destination; a small collection of houses, high up in the hills on Salisbury Road, 12 km off SH 12. We were staying at a ‘couchsurf’ hosts place, Daniel, Emily and their son, Ralph. Unfortunately we were unable to meet Daniel face to face, but we were hosted by the lovely Emily and the equally lovely 20 month old Ralph. During our stay with them in their perfectly proportioned little home and their unequalled view we were treated to a once in our lifetime experience; the chance to visit working bee hives and to learn a little about the craft of breeding queens. I am of course sworn to secrecy over the ways in which this noble and ancient art has developed, but Emily’s family allowed Mel and myself the opportunity to get all dressed up in the bee keepers vale and jump suit and watch them at work sorting our their dozen or so hives.

We even got to taste honey straight from a hive which was almost too scrumptious to describe. I took a rather long video of them at work. I was surprised at how chilled out both Mel and I were surrounded by all those bees, we didn’t get stung and we must have been right in the hub of many thousands of them. Apparently they are only cranky in the autumn when the pollen dries up and they get low on supplies. We enjoyed lunch with Emily’s family at her dad’s new eco built property. It is a massive place with sandy yellow bricks made from a saw dust base. It is super insulated and can keep a steady room temperature even when it is freezing outside.

Emily cooked us a lovely dinner on our first evening there and even cooked a delicious chocolate cake for desert. Naturally we returned the favour, minus the desert on the second evening. Mel and I got to learn a little bit more about how to make a few different veggie delights including almond milk and lentil brownies. We were both feeling very inspired by our trip up Salisbury Road.

Next stop on the Charles and Melanie Hindley New Zealand cycle tour was the town of Danniverke. We had cycled another 90 odd kms before finally arriving at the campsite in the early part of the evening. We were able to pitch our tent anywhere as the place was deserted apart from 2 other tents, one of which contained a newly wed couple from Cornwall, here on a 3 week honeymoon with a hired motorbike. The other tent contained a couple of mature women with a very large inflatable mattress. So large was it in fact that they had to bring it to the kitchen to plug in an extremely loud machine in order to deflate it the day they left! As it turned out on our second night there, we were the only people on the campsite until it was almost dark. It was a really strange few hours by ourselves; it was as if we were the owners of a massive plot of land, the size of a cricket pitch, and with all these facilities to play with. We sat and drank tea in the little kitchen, looking out onto the mown grass and getting more and more wound up by a very vocal magpie. It was clearly really cheesed off that it’s mum and dad were no longer prepared to feed it and was chasing them around the entire site endlessly belly aching.

From Danniverke we cycled to Palmerston North, the last proper bit of cycling we would do on the North Island. We went in a roundabout way so that we could visit the Tui Brewery. It was a good place to stop, eat our lunch and grab a tasty pint, before heading on to a far busier campsite in the large township of Palmerston North. We got quite soaked on that journey and were grateful that there was a break in the rain when we arrived to set up the tent that evening. The rain turned out to be quite heavy on and off for the right through to Christmas Day. We didn’t get up to much in Palmerston North; it was a dormitory town for us really as we were to catch the bus to Wellington from there, which we did at around 1pm the following day.

We arrived in Wellington which was our final destination before catching the ferry across to Picton. We stayed with another Warm Showers host there, another generous soul by the name of Garry. He lives in a nice little terrace house with a great view over his area (Hataitai) of the city. It would have been a brilliant place to relax were it not for the horrendous rain and terrible wind we experienced during our stay. We still managed to pay a visit to Parliament and visit some of the local shops and café’s. We found a brilliant Malaysian café called Aunty Mena’s Vegetarian Café; she cooks great Laksa and serves brilliant coffee. It was so good in fact that it kept me up for almost an entire night! We went to see ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest’ at one of the cinemas in town. It was nice to see the final part of the trilogy, even if we missed the second movie.

On our final night at Garry’s we were joined by a really nice and interesting couple who now live in Toronto and are cycle touring round NZ together, more or less following the same route as ourselves. Anna and her husband are from Russia and the U.S.A respectively and together with them and Gary we put the world to rights that evening over a mix up meal of pizza and chilli noodles with cabin bread and cheese. It was a really nice evening. We cycled to catch our ferry in the pouring rain the next morning and saw nothing of what we had been told is a beautiful sail into the harbour at Picton through the saturated windows on the restaurant on board. So rainy was it that when we left the ship we couldn’t see the road we were cycling on and Mel fell off her bike when her wheels caught on an unseen train track which was leading towards the town from the port. Luckily there were no broken bones and fortunately for us both we were very close to a BBH Hostel who had a double room available for us which we snapped up keenly before retreating from the torrent and into hibernation for the remainder of that day.

It took us 2 days to cycle to Nelson, via Queen Charlotte Drive - it’s about 120 km overall, but we chose to spend one night on a nice D.O.C. campsite at a place called Pelorus Bridge. It was the first day for a while that turned out nice and sunny. The campsite was really nice, only a handful of people there, lots of lovely trees and the sound of crickets in the trees as we went to sleep. Mel and I watched a movie in our tent, courtesy of Rowan, our ‘couchsurf’ host who helped us to upload some to our hard drive. All legal and above board you understand. Mel cooked some Dutch pancakes for our onward journey the next day and we had them cold, by a river, somewhere between Pelorus and Nelson.

We arrived in Nelson in the late afternoon and checked into our BBH Hostel; Honeysuckle Lodge. It is run by Joe and Lynn, along with their really hairy moggy, Poppy. We had booked a double room for Christmas and it turned out to be excellent. We had just a day and a half before the big day and we were keen to find out if the other guests were up for a joint Christmas dinner. It all turned out really well. We ended up having dinner with Wouter, Jenny, Aniza, and Zara, from Holland, Canada, Taiwan and England respectively. We all contributed something to the meal and it turned out to be a really nice concoction and entirely vegetarian – for the first time in my life. Mel and I cooked veggie toad-in-the-hole with roast potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Wouter and Jenny made roast veggies and a lovely dark and white chocolate cake with berries in. Zara provided Mulled Wine and boiled veggies. Aniza cooked a Chinese soup and a red bean dessert. We ate and drank lots and were even treated to some mince pies by the owners of the hostel.

We had to check out on Boxing Day and head over to the Tahuna Beach Campsite. It made a huge difference to the price for a night’s accommodation. It was also a real culture shock. People in New Zealand like to go camping at for New Years, and it seems that 5,000 of them had descended onto the largest campsite in the southern hemisphere (that’s official by the way). They had enormous tents, drunken behaviours and loud children. The campsite has varying standards of facilities, some kitchens have a TV and an area to sit in, ours didn’t even have cold water, just boiling, and an area inside to sit in, forget it, just 2 tables outside, covered in bird poo. On our first night there we were kept up by our near neighbours who were playing music and being drunk together. On our second night we were hammered by rain and wind all night. Some people lost their tents! Last night was much better though, just a few people playing cricket and having a good time – probably celebrating England destroying the Ausies in the Ashes at the MCG in Melbourne. (Just as an aside here, could I just say: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA Australia lost, England won, how does it feel Australia??)

We actually spent most of Boxing Day with Wouter and Jenny, they drove us up to Nelson Lake where we were able to enjoy a fantastic hike up to the top of a mountain where we indulged in the leftovers from Christmas Dinner and took some photos of the brilliant views.

The four of us went to a Thai restaurant for dinner that evening and shared a bottle of wine and a cold beer. They are such a fantastic couple, Mel and I both really hope that we can meet each other again someday when they have set up their lives in Canada together. Thanks for the great memories you two!!

So that brings us right up to speed. There are a couple of bits that I may have missed, including some really important ones, so I better retrospectively go through those now… We have decided to ditch the trailer; it has managed 2,200 km and is now very tired indeed. So we have spoken to Bruce at Adventure Cycles and he has sent some rear cycle panniers through to me for the onward journey. Oh yeah, and we have cycled more than 2,200 km now, which is so impressive to us. Pro cyclers might be laughing right now, but we are seriously chuffed with ourselves and I hope that we can clock up another 2,000 before completing the South Island. Yesterday we took a short trip into Nelson and hiked up to the geographical centre of NZ. I somehow managed to replace all sorts of parts on both our bikes yesterday and today. Norwich City, the greatest team in history in my opinion keep the home fires burning, maintaining their great form in the seasons championship with wins at Coventry City, 2-1 and at home to Sheffield United 4-2! Next up, it’s the league leaders at home, QPR, can they keep it going??

I’m currently sitting in the ‘Guest Lounge’, here at Tahuna Beach. Mel is out in the sunshine somewhere near the tent. I really needed to catch up with this blog and I’m pleased I did. Tomorrow is New Years Eve and we reckon that we are going into town to hopefully enjoy sunny weather and a few drinks. Here’s to all of you amazing people who have read the blog up to now, I am really flattered to have actual followers out there, thanks for your support – Happy New Year for 2011!!!!!

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