Monday, 25 July 2011

Lake Tekapo and the Star Gazing 22nd – 24th July

We’ve swapped rooms from a twin to a double here at Lake Tekapo YHA. It’s always nicer to have our own room and just one big bed, rather than singles. There are unfortunately 2 downsides to our new room when compared to the last room we were in. It is on the outside of the building which actually means we have to walk through the garden to get to the bathroom and the heater is nowhere near as effective in this room as it was in the twin. We really wouldn’t mind so much, it just that it is below freezing outside our front door and if your not careful you could loose your toes on the way back through the ice and snow to the main part of the building. The positives, as ever, do outweigh the negatives though. The view over Lake Tekapo with it’s bright blue water set against the backdrop of the snow covered mountains all around us is a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be here. I think they call it life affirming.

The staff are also extremely friendly and generous. Inside the main building there are 2 wood burners, a heat pump and the offer of lots of blankets and free hot drinks, so all in all we’re having a ball as usual at the YHA.

Its mid afternoon on the 24th of July, just under a month before our flight departs from Christchurch to Kuala Lumpur. It feels really sad that time is passing by so quickly and we’re enjoying each day as if it was our first, still full of admiration and excitement with all the offerings New Zealand throws at us.

The 90 Km ride almost non-stop up hill from Geraldine to the Lake turned out to be too much for one day’s ride. We almost pushed on at 3pm when just outside of Fairlie 3 days ago. In the end though, we knew that we wouldn’t have arrived until after dark, so the decision was made to stop at a motel for the night and attack the last 35 Km the following morning. It was a wise decision as the weather was already freezing and we are still a little down on our fitness. The motel was really good though, as was the price of a jug of beer in the pub next door - $4.80 for around 2 pints! We stayed and had chip butties there.

The final stint of the up hill slog through Burke’s Pass to Lake Tekapo turned out to be a brilliant ride.

The air was still bitterly cold, but the sun actually managed to sneak through the cloud of the previous day and we arrived into Lake Tekapo with crisp, bright sunshine all around the valley. So lucky were we that the weather had held, that we decided to go up to the Observatory to do a bit of star gazing that night. We had to rug up well mind you - 2 hours on a mountain top is nippy! I was so pleased we made the trip though as we were given some really jaw dropping sights through the telescopes. I’ll never forget seeing Saturn so clearly. One of the astronomers was particularly passionate about his job, he also sounded like a character out of Star Trek which helped add even more to the experience. Our driver down from the mountain was hilarious; a Japanese guy who spoke ‘Ingrish’ fluently and regaled us with stories of how cute all the rabbits are in ‘New Zearond; but da Kiwi farmers dey done sink so, dey axererate indey cars!’
You can check out their website:

We have made the most of our time here and given how small the place is there is still much to do. Lots of walking, taking in the views, visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd, watching the ice skating or the families flying down the snow shoot in giant rubber rings by the lake. Today has been a complete rest day though, just eating, adding logs to the fire, watching DVD’s and catching up with the blog. So far we have watched ‘Spy Game’ and ‘Bucket List’ and I’m hanging out for ‘Harry Potter’ later, but we’ll see. We were meant to be heading across to Twizel today, but the weather looked so dodgy earlier that we decided to bunk up here for one more night. At least, we hope it’s only for one more night…

Saturday, 23 July 2011

50, 60, 70…

Punakaiki – Greymouth (bike 50 Km), Greymouth - Darfield (Tranz – Alpine Railway), Darfield – Methven (bike 60 Km), Methven – Geraldine (bike 70 Km). Sunday 17th – Thursday 20th July 2011.

It has been great to get back on the bikes after a prolonged stay in sunny Nelson and we were in good spirits after a few days of relaxation at the YHA in Punakaiki, tucked away in the jungle by the sea. We were able to do a spot of hiking and also to catch up with Sophie and Alex Ricketts for lunch and a walk round the ‘Pancake Rocks’ the day before we left. It was such a nice surprise to find that they were enjoying a few days off together in a similar part of the island. The rocks themselves are yet another awe inspiring, natural phenomenon - of which there are so many in New Zealand. After enjoying the Pacific Ocean thundering into the caves and overhangs of Punikaihi’s geology, the four of us dined together. Not surprisingly, the cafĂ© does very good pancakes!

The ride into Greymouth took us about 3-4 hours and it’s a good road to cycle on as it hugs the coastline for the most part. With the sun eventually rising to the point where we could feel the benefit from it, we didn’t mind the hilly nature of the terrain in the early part of the ride. However, once the road turned inland we were caught on the hop by the bitterly cold winds which were coming directly off the snowy mountain ranges, burning our extremities. The flip side of the cold weather is that is keeps the summer sweats at bay.

Greymouth YHA was much as we had remembered it from our hitch-hiking trip during the Easter break, except that this time we were in 4 bed dorm situated next to the double we had shared the last time we were there. Mel and I were excited to see that Harry Potter 3D was showing at the local cinema that night, so without much ado, we booked our seats for the 8:30pm showing. It’s a good job we did as well, as the entire cinema was packed, everyone itching to see the last film in the biggest selling movie series of all time. We were especially chuffed as the waitress at the restaurant opposite the cinema had given us free warm chocolate to drink just prior to going in. The machine had stopped working properly so the ‘Hot-Choc’ was just luke-warm. It was a lovely surprise and we appreciated the gesture.

It was a cold night in Greymouth and we were pleased we had a proper roof over our heads as we held hands on the walk back to the YHA. There wasn’t anyone else staying in our room, so we had done well again, just $38 for our own private room. We went to sleep with thoughts of the following day; another of the worlds great train journey’s – the ‘Tranz-alpine’ from Greymouth to Christchurch.

It turned out to be a brilliant journey; we spent the entire trip with our mouths open, staring at the mountains, lakes, blue skies and charming townships which are dotted around the central ranges. The train stopped off at ‘Arthurs Pass’, a full 750 metres above sea level. Everyone got out to throw snowballs at each other, whilst Mel and I took photos of an inquisitive Kea and the 6 inches of snow on top of the Morton’s Bach. We both remarked at how unbelievably cold it must be in there at this time of year.
Lake Brunner taken from the TranzAlpine

It was almost dark when the train rumbled steadily into the small town of Darfield which has an absence of backpacker accommodation, so we booked into the Darfield Hotel, situated just across the road from the station. The Darfield Hotel is a mishmash of many different things; bar, casino, take-away and restaurant come coffee-shop. It is ideal for people who are travelling through on business and such like. It was $80 per double room with ensuite, not bad for what we got. We enjoyed some hot chips from the take-away and they were really nice.

We managed to get away by around 10am the following morning and we were pleased with our progress. It took us 4 hours to get to Methven and to check into the YHA there. The roads are noticeably flat this side of the south island and we were enjoying the open landscapes with the ever present snow-capped mountains to our right as we cycled south. The only real challenge of any note that day was a gorge we had to get through; easy free-wheeling down, but a massive effort to climb out of.

Methven YHA is a good place. Run by an Aussie named George, it is set out over 2 buildings, both identical in design. We were in a 3 bedroom dorm with another girl. There was free tea and coffee as well as Sky TV, big wood burner, friendly cat (called Honey) and lots of nice backpackers who have arrived for a season in the snow. All the lads with their carefully manicured ‘just-got-off-the-peaks’ mops of hair, designer stubble and branded clothing. All the girls with DG printed on all their clothes and bags. People on the slopes have money, that is something you can be sure of.

It was noisy in our room due the positioning of it in relation to the stairs which go up to the TV room directly above the beds. Mel didn’t sleep much. $40 for the night is not something to sniff at though.

The next morning we enjoyed a free breakfast of toast and porridge, before managing to get away on the stroke of 9am. Despite having to stop and repair our first puncture on this leg of the tour, we still managed to complete upwards of 70 Km in just 4 hours of cycling. It was entirely flat for almost the entire trip. It was the coldest day so far though, which made it tough going and we were happy to arrive in Geraldine at lunchtime and enjoy a hot drink with our lunch.

So, here we are at a very, very quiet backpackers, in another 3 bedroom dorm. It is called ‘Rawhiti House’. It started life as a maternity hospital and went through various incantations before ending up as a BBH Hostel back in 2004. The proportions of the rooms are really good and I love the 1950s joinery on all the doors and windows. Mel has been religiously doing her 90 minute yoga routine whilst I have been writing this blog. I think it’s time I had a shower now, before we enjoy our baked kumara and salad for dinner.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The last few weeks of our stay in Nelson, written on the 14th July 2011

Something terrible happened today and the memories of it shall stay imprinted in our minds for all our lives. We left Nelson. Under cover of darkness, disguised to every human eye by our wet weather gear and festooned with the winter rains that don’t show any signs of stopping, we free-wheeled down on our bikes to the bus terminal from ‘Morton Mansion’ and after a heated discussion with the bus driver, who at first refused to take our bikes but then relented when he realised he only had 6 passengers on the 50 seater and therefore plenty of room to stash them below deck, we boarded the Intercity to Punakaiki. Though many would not have recognised our shadows drifting through the blanket of Nelson’s rain-filled night, the two of us were barely able to utter a word to one another as we were consumed by thoughts of the last 6 months and the anxiety of not knowing what may lie ahead. But that’s life.

Here we are, curled up in front of a roaring fire, in what appears to be our very own jungle retreat on the very same day. It’s around 6:15pm and Mel and I are currently the only people checked in to our 10 bed YHA hostel. We have enjoyed a luxurious meal of super noodles with veg, Mel has a book from the book exchange and we have nestled together on the sofa. A little to my left; a massive limestone bolder juts through the centre of the hexagon shaped, timber built structure and I think it’s quite a nice feature of the build and reminds one of the fabric of the earth on which it’s built.

We’re looking forward to the cycle to Greymouth in a few days after viewing the Pancake rocks and blowhole which are a few kms down the road. For now we’ll just enjoy the peace and quiet in our own jungle retreat, complete with a Weka (large bird) which lives under the veranda!

Kaikoura and the dolphins 9th – 11th July 2011

Mel and I both finished work on the same day, the same time and bizarrely enough at the same place; such were the circumstances of that rainy Saturday afternoon. I had arranged an S.S.A event that was scheduled to be held on the steps of the Nelson Cathedral, but the rain was so heavy that the surrealist picnic had to be moved to Fashion Island Mall (home to Mel’s work at Lush) where some 30 performers all descended and created a living installation, freezing in character for 3 minutes, much to the amazement of bystanders.

As the performers drifted away into the ever greying skies, Mel and her colleagues at Lush took pity on me and gave me some fruit tea in the tiny staff room behind the counter. They even had the time to chat with me during their very busy day.

Mel and I eventually wandered off with our borrowed bikes (our others were still getting repaired in Auckland) in order to pick up a hire car which we were going to drive down to Kaikoura so that we could enjoy some of the wildlife down there before our bikes were retuned and we could get going for real, so to speak. Rent-a-Dent gave us a lovely little Nissan Sunny, which was a good car for the money and we set off the following morning, having enjoyed a lovely dinner that night with Sue and John and the now infamous cat ‘Puss’.

View Larger Map

The weather was improving all the time as we drove across country, indeed back along the road we had cycled on our way into Nelson all those months ago, both of us remarking how much of the route we remembered; places we ate and places we had camped. We reached the east coast at around lunchtime and we were looking for somewhere to have lunch when I first spotted a large, brown object on the rocks next to the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean. It appeared to be moving a little like a seal. I was most impressed when I realised that it was in fact a seal and I congratulated myself for having spotted it, after all they must surely be a very rare, mustn’t they? This was not the case; the east coast has huge numbers of seals and this proved to be the first of dozens we came into contact with during the course of the 24 hours.

We pulled up at a picnic area and were lucky enough to have a close encounter with a very young pup, a great photo opportunity and a chance to enjoy the novelty of watching a seal in the wild whilst enjoying a hummus and crisp sandwich. A little further along and it was cameras at the ready again when we came across many large adults enjoying the sun and posing for all the tourists who had pulled over to get a batter glimpse of them.

We arrived into Kaikoura a short time later and having decided to drive through the centre of the sprawling metropolis (!), found ourselves parked by yet more seals, literally next to us in the car-park at the base of a coastal tramping walk. We decided to make the most of the weather and have a short stroll up onto the cliffs where we were followed by an incredible number of young cows, who were collectively certain that we were either their parents or that we were going to provide them with food.

From on top of the cliffs we could see more seals, to the east and even a humpback whale out in the deep blue water. To the west, were snow capped mountains, some of the most impressive I have seen with my own eyes and without the aid of a TV screen.

We checked into the YHA just as the sun was going down and we were treated to another of the countless brilliant sunsets, highlighting the magnificent snow capped peaks which changed colour from white to pink to black against the fading light of the evening sky. We were enjoying a free night’s accommodation, having re-joined YHA that day back home in Nelson. We received 25% off our new membership (as we’re cyclists – low carbon you see), 1 free night, $10 off vouchers and 30 minutes free internet. We were even lucky enough to not have to share the dorm with anyone else. Gotta love low season!

Next morning, we arrived at the ‘Encounter’ centre and the next instalment of our honeymoon adventure. Mel had always wanted to swim with dolphins and go whale watching, and I had always wanted to see Albatross in the wild and we incredibly managed to do all three in one morning. I decided not to pay the extra $80 to swim with the dolphins; Mel would have you believe that this was due to me not having to balls to jump into the sea with up to 2,000 meters of water beneath me. However, this is not the case; I just wanted to make the most of seeing Mel enjoy a dream come true whilst we still had the means to document it with our video camera which we would send home in the post before we left Nelson properly the following week. Anyway, whichever person you choose to believe, the day moved forward well, Mel was fitted for a midwinter wet-suit and I waited patiently with the cameras, towels and dry clothes that would be needed after her swim. There were 9 passengers and 2 crew on the boat. Mel was 1 of 6 who were braving the water that day.

After a briefing and a short bus ride to the dock, we were out on the sun drenched ocean and before long Mel was living the dream and swimming with the dusky dolphins. The tour guide had encouraged all of the passengers to make lots of noise when they entered the water, suggesting that this would encourage the dolphins with their inquisitive nature to come and investigate these rather oddly behaved creatures that had just jumped in to swim with them in their pod. Mel was not shy in coming forward with her singing. She sang her heart out from the second she entered the water till she was eventually too cold and out of breath to go on any further. I caught it all on camera of course. It seemed to do the trick mind you, with no fewer than 800 dolphins coming to the party, and seals, all kinds of birds and sperm whales. This all played out in front of the breathtaking coastline of the Kaikoura and the surrounding bays. It was well worth spending some of the last remaining wedding money we had from our friends on. It made us both so happy.

We had every intention of freedom camping that night in a basic DOC camp on our way back to Nelson, but unfortunately the weather didn’t allow for this. The campsite was 2 feet under snow. We went to the next one – it was flooded! We were so put off by the heavy wind, snow and rain on our journey back towards Nelson that we aborted that particular mission and threw ourselves at the mercy of Ngaire and Tom, begging them to take us in one last time. Our great friends did for us once again what they had done when we first arrived in Nelson and gave us another sample of the never-ending hospitality. Spending more time with them was like going home to visit family. We ended up spending 3 nights there instead of the 1 we had planned to, not just because of the weather, but also due to our bikes and equipment arriving late back from Auckland. Words escape me when I try to sum up how brilliant some people in Nelson can be.

Leaving Party

It’s been a fortnight of farewells for us. We enjoyed a few too many beverages with our friends at the Sprig & Fern in town a couple of weeks ago, neither Mel nor I have much memory of the 5 km trek back to Sue and John’s place after the event, but the fantastic poem and gifts we received from the gang were most humbling and we treasure them all! Ngaire – the very greatest of friends - had written us a poem which she read out during the evening, it was fantastic. She also got us ‘I heart NZ’ t-shirts as everyone we have met along the journey has been horrified by Mel’s ‘I heart Australia’ t-shirt!

We received a card signed by everybody who attended the party and I am now the proud owner of an ‘I’ll train you at SOUNDSTAGE’ black hoody, something I will wear religiously now that winter continues to get colder. Thanks Jane. There were other gifts too – Mel received some lovely Possum and Merino gloves from Izzy, her boss at Lush and there were many drinks bought for us. Even the barman delighted with his generous quadruple single malt whiskey, after which I am sure you’ll appreciate, much of the evening has been lost. Good times!!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

‘Terra Nova’ and our last few weeks in Nelson. Early May – June 26th 2011:

So we’re in our final week of WWOOFing at Fairfield House and what an amazing time we’ve had here in Nelson. Mel and I have both collected some vivid memories and we’ll no doubt recall our time here with great fondness for the rest of our lives.

Since my last entry we have achieved so much and continued to thrive both socially and artistically. SOUNDSTAGE students are still as brilliant as ever and 2 weeks ago we created a new group called ‘S.S.A’. It is a collective of performers from in and around Nelson who will be creating improvised instillations at all sorts of different venues around the city in an effort to create a focal point for the general public, the benefit of doing this is 2 fold. It gets the public talking about theatre in the community and it also informs the performers as we continue to grow artistically. If you want to know more about us or to join the group, visit the group on facebook.

Terra Nova’ finished a run of 9 nights here at Fairfield house and it was a great success. The press and the public loved it, ‘Charles Hindley played Robert Falcon Scott whose imperious tone and intensity of eye movement made me feel truly sorry for him’, The Nelson Mail; May 28th, 2011. 

I don’t often blow my own trumpet, but I did feel great reading that after all the hard work we put in to producing the show. You can read the full review on the Body in Space website: 

It had nearly been a disaster. 2 nights before the curtain went up there was an almighty storm here and the marquee we were performing in flooded completely. I actually took some video of it the morning after the tech rehearsal, 6 inches deep in water. It took an entire day to divert the water away form the area and Mel and  I spent most of our time digging trenches. 

By nightfall the evening before the show kicked off, the decision was made to forget about doing a dress run as the inside of the tent was too wet and to be perfectly honest we were all shattered. We spent the entire day leading up to the show opening running around like headless chooks getting the place organised. Lisa finished the tech stuff about 7 minutes before the start, but the rest is history. It was the most astonishing production and I would like to spend the next 10 minutes writing down every superlative I heard about it and my own performance, but I think you get the general idea.

“So, what’s next for Charlie Hindley the actor?” I hear you cry. I’ll be better able to answer that in a few months. In the mean time I have my amazing wife’s 30th birthday to consider. Mel’s big day is at the end of the coming week and I have been busy buying presents this weekend. I was even given some lovely wrapping paper by Miss Brosnehan, Fairfield House manger and someone who has been a great friend to us since we arrived in Nelson. So I have attempted to wrap the presents as well, not something that I have a natural flair for, but I have made a good start. From time to time Mel and I chat about how amazing the last 8 years have been for us. We’ve known each other longer, but it was about that time when we started hanging out together and became ‘Facebook official’ or whatever it was called back then. I can remember our first music festival together – T in the Park 2003 – We saw The Darkness, The Proclaimers, REM, Coldplay and an old favourite of mine called Skin. It was 3 days of brilliant weather and great times. Mel showed me round Perth, her home town and we camped a night by the river at the back of her old house at Almondbank. There was nobody there in that valley but us, the campfire and our big blue tent.

Our friend James Esbester has made his way back to the UK to be at his brother’s wedding this month. We ended up spending a lot of time together while he was in Nelson. Mel and he used to have 2 hour Yoga sessions which I tried to join in with from time to time, but I always seemed to be too busy with shows or work to get as involved as I would like. It seems to have done the trick for Mel mind you; she’s looking very toned at the moment. In fact, she comes home from work in a few hours and we’re going to attempt a Yoga session together. The roles of busyness have reversed in recent weeks, she now seems to be out most of the time whilst I have been cooking the dinners and cleaning the house in her absence, such is life. It will all change after next week though, as we are back on our travels again and back on the bikes again.

The next leg of our trip will be to cycle from here to Bluff which is the southern most point of the country and in preparation we have decided to send the bikes up the Bruce in Auckland to have them serviced and prepped for the big trip. We are really looking forward to the journey and expect to reach Bluff, come rain, snow and high water within 6 weeks. We will spend another week looking after ‘Puss’ the aged tortoise shell cat at Sue and John’s before we depart, during which time we can relax and go for a few big runs in an effort to get the fitness back up a wee bit.

Winter is upon us here in Nelson. I went for a run this morning at 7:30am and there was much frost about on all the cars. It’s the first frost I have seen here and I get the feeling it wont be the last! Our little shed is warm enough, but I am not looking forward to going camping in the snowy south that’s for sure. As the nights have drawn in we have spent the time over eating and watching movies on the laptop. We had dinner at Ngaire and Tom’s as well as hosting Sophie, Alex and Doug in our own place in recent weeks. We have made some good friends indeed, Sophie even taught Mel some Origami – our little shed is now collecting lots of Origami birds as her skills continue to emerge. We’ll miss Nelson, but hopefully it’s just ‘Au Revoir’ rather than goodbye forever.