Monday, 20 June 2011


24 March 2011
Much happier with the bike after some further running repairs and minor adjustments. Also got some Tiger Juice lube for the chain... just the stuff. One really good thing about having the bike Is the scope it gives for exploring. I went along the lake edge, the Maori village and Kuira Park nearby and had a good look at the steam coming out of the ground and the mud pools bubbling away.

The steam is used by the locals as a heating source. The meeting hall in the Maori village was my first taste of their culture. I got some more of it that night when I went on a trip to Mitai village. John, our guide kept us entertained and claimed the Maoris had found New Zealand through astral travel. We had a tasty traditional ‘Hangi’ meal, cooked on hot stones in a hole in the ground. There were a lot of people sitting for the Hangi in a large marquee including an old running pal from Penicuik over in the far corner… fancy meeting you here!. After the Hangi we went for a walk in the bush and the Maoris re-enacted a canoe scene. Canoes are an important recurring theme in their culture and are called ‘Waka.’ The Maoris navigated from Polynesia to New Zealand in their “Wakas’ by the stars and the moon. I thought the ‘Haka’ was an intimidating display on the rugby field but the welcome ceremony is much higher on the scale. Luckily for us the Chief told us that they don’t eat whiteys any more, they go to McDonalds instead. He explained about the importance of the ancestors to the Maori people and told what all the tattoos on their faces stand for.

When I was cycling along the lake front, I spotted a float plane and was immediately taken back to my childhood and comic stories of Biggles landing on the Amazon and carrying out heroic deeds.

What else could I do but book a flight the next day and am I glad that I did. The 1954 De Haviland ‘Otter’ was straight out of the past. The technology was authentic 1950’s which meant pumping up petrol up the pipe manually before take off. We listened to the pilot through our head phones as we flew over amazing volcanoes and multi-coloured thermal pools with steam rising from them.

Our destination was Orakei Korako, an active area of geothermal activity. We landed on the river and got the ferry across to the silica terraces, geysers and a geothermal cave.

I needed some fresh air after all that sulphur, so I went along to the Redwoods, a few kilometres outside Rotorua. The Kiwis know how to organise outdoor activities and this was a good example. Set in beautiful forest, there are separate areas for walking and running, horse riding and mountain biking. I had a fabulous cycle down the ‘Turkish Delight’ with lots of roots and rocks and steep descents. The bike and I held up well and I didn’t fall off. I was planning to leave the next day but the rain started and I’m glad I stayed because I made friends with Vera and Loz from the back packers and we had a good time at the night market where I met All Black Frano Botica. I also went along to the very traditionally British looking Rotorua museum and got another dose of Maori culture and local history and experienced what it is like to be in an earth quake. The next part of my trip was to Lake Taupo and I was getting itchy to get in my first long cycle.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

South it is then!

22 March 2011
Rain and flooding in Northland caused me to do a quick change of plan. Instead of heading north to the Bay of Islands and Cape Renga I decided to go south to the smelly capital of NZ – Rotorua. Although the idea of staying in the sulphur laced air of Rotorua sounds off-putting it is well worth a visit. To get there I cycled into central Auckland again and went to the Inter-city bus station, next door to Sky City! I was feeling a bit nervous wondering if the bus driver would let me on and I got talking to the kiwi women waiting in the queue. People always want to know where you are from and when you say Scotland they tell you that they have a grandfather from there, usually somewhere in the Borders. This woman was a bit different.

“Where are you from?” she said

Near Edinburgh is my stock reply and if they have been there I usually follow up with, ‘I live east of Edinburgh in a place called Haddington.’

“I was born there,” she said

“Left when I was two and I’ve lived here ever since.”

If I had known as much about kiwi slang then as I do now I would have said ‘sweet as…’ but instead I acted as if these sorts of co-incidences happen all the time on the other side of the earth.

‘My mother is from East Linton, but I don’t think she’ll go back to visit, there’s no one left there now” she said.

The bus arrived and I palled up with the driver (this sometimes works and at other times it doesn’t.) On this occasion it worked and he let me on the bus without having to take any wheels off. When I thought about it I realised it was fair enough to have a rule about bikes because they go under the bus with the luggage and nobody wants a dirty bike on their backpack. But rules should be applied with some common sense and this bus driver had some, there was very little luggage so he didn’t apply the rule… he was a rarity! I found out later that he was also a bit strange. He applied the rule that ‘thou shalt not get on the bus if you have a ticket with the wrong time on it,’ to a young Indian lady and it was only after much pleading that he let her on. For the next half hour he talked to himself about passengers who tell you stories that aren’t true. Every now and again he looked over to me as if I would confirm what he was saying... whoops I should watch out who I should become friends with. When the trip was at least half over, he asked me where I was from and on learning I was a tourist he decided to give a running commentary on the sights as we passed them… not just to me but over the PA. He was keen on the horses and as luck would have it we were in a stud area, so we heard all about the owners of the studs and the horses that had been successful. Every now and again he mentioned a mountain or some other site which, he thought we might find interesting.

Rotorua - the lake and the hills around it are what remains of a volcanic cone

Entrance to Rotorua museum

We arrived at Rotorua and yes it was true the place smelt like slightly of rotting eggs but I liked the look of the town centre and I headed for the Funky Green Voyager backpackers on a bike which didn’t want to change gears again.

Funcky Green Voyager

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Auckland - you beauty!

18 March 2011

Arrived in Auckland jet-lagged and no bike box. The nice people from Qantos must be used to this kind of thing because they gave me a little bag of toiletries and a T shirt and pants with the Qantos logo on them for sleeping in. Just as well seeing as all my gear was in the bike box.

Headed off to the backpackers wondering what they would think of a grey haired, retired cyclist turning up amongst all the gap year trendy students. I didn’t need to worry because the first person I met was the receptionist Vee, a lovely young lady from Glasgow who made me feel most welcome. If you are thinking of staying in a backpackers and don’t want to kept awake all night by partying 18 year olds, here’s a tip… pick a smallish place on the outskirts of town. Doing this stood me in good stead throughout the trip. I stayed in Oaklands House, at Mount Eden which boasts the highest volcanic cone in the Auckland volcanic isthmus.

 There are 27 volcanic cones in this area which I found to be a bit disconcerting. Traveling to the other side of the world does strange things to your head. I wondered around Mount Eden thinking that I would pay a visit to the local artist’s auction which was being held on the next day…Saturday. As I was about to get on the bus, someone said I should visit the local artist’s auction which was just around the corner – I’d lost a day!

The idea was that about 20 local artists set themselves up in the park and paint Mount Eden. At the end of the day the paintings were auctioned to support the local art scene. The local artists were very chatty and quite happy to tell me about their painting process. A guy called Ewan Woodruffe told me about his way of painting resin-oilcolour on linen. He gave me his leaflet with examples and he called it ‘The Dangerous Looseness of Doom.’ There was a trio playing some laid back music so I sat in the hot sun (my first touch of sun since last October) and soaked it all in.

Mount Eden Volcanic Cone

Here’s another tip… if you want a great view of Auckland go up Mount Eden and keep away from the tourist buses which deposit their contents for a five minute look. They get off the bus and start shouting at each other… oh for peace and tranquility.

My bike arrived, I put it back together and set off down the hill to have a look at Auckland. They have a GPO tower that they call Sky City and it being NZ people jump off it on an elastic band. Visited my first ‘i-site’ and discovered just how well organized the tourist trade is over there.

The closer you get to the sea front, the more glitzy and high rise the place becomes. The place is awash with mega bucks yachts. Did a water colour of the Auckland bridge. There seemed to be a fair bit of $ around juding by the bids for the paintings of Mount Eden.

Cycled back up the hill with an armful of maps and ideas but dear oh dear the bike was in poor shape. A spoke was broken, I couldn’t get into bottom gear and the brakes were a bit iffy. Dropped it off at a bike shop for some necessary repairs.

My Watercolour painted at this scene

On the advice of Adam and Claire I decided to head north to the Bay of Islands and Cape Renga on the northernmost tip of the North Island. My cycling book had a five day trip which fitted the bill. The trip started 100km north of Auckland which meant a bus trip. In my experience bus companies can be mediocre, bad or very bad when it comes to catering for the needs of cyclists. Inter-city are mediocre. They allow bikes on at the discretion of the bus driver but want you to take off the front wheel, remove the pedals and cover the chain and oh yes loosen the handlebars!

I picked up the bike which seemed to be going a bit better, so I was all set and after a good nights sleep raring to go. Just before bed logged on for a quick update on the weather and saw the heading  Flooding had hit Northland.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

On yer bike or why I went to New Zealand

16 March 2011
I have met a few Kiwi's on my travels and I've heard about New Zealand from Ross Hope - a fellow triathlete so before I left I had an idea that NZ is a lot like Scotland but also has volcanoes, geothermal mud, glaciers and big mountains thrown in.  I hadn't seriously thought of going there until a few things came together... all of them were good.
  • My baby Zoe who lives in Melbourne had her own baby boy Soli... another trip to Oz was immediatley on the cards.
  • I decided to take retirement and thereby set myself free from the world of drudgery
  • Zoe's sister, Sally offered to look after Harvey (my dog) for me while I was away.
  • I got a lodger who was happy to keep an eye on the house and feed the fish.
Given all that, there was nothing to stop me going away for an extended break. The idea of visiting NZ before going to  Melbourne stirred in me. I decided right away that I wanted to take my bike with me which isn't as tricky as it sounds. You can put your bike in a bike box (got from a local bike shop) suitably dismantled and as long as it is less than 23 kilos the nice people from  Qantas let you take it on as luggage. Only trouble was that my ex tribike that I use as a touring bike had proved to be too highly geared to go up the big hills with panniers on them. I got some new gears fitted and they worked like a dream. The week end before my flight I dismantled the bike and all was going well until I tried to take the handlebars off... they wouldn't budge. Even with the help of my DIY expert neighbour, Harry I couldn't get it off. The bike shop man broke his rubber hammer on them! It looked like I wouldn't be taking my touring bike with me. I had three days to think up an alternative. It so happens that I have another bike which I took to India for the LEPRA charity ride. Although it was rough and ready and not serviced (this came back to haunt me later) I decided to take it with me. It dismantled like a dream and I fitted my panniers into the box and carried my new all weather back pack as hand luggage. I kept the amount of stuff I took with me to a bear minimum to keep the weight down but I had my 'Cycling in New Zealand' book with me and my new pair of all purpose gortex running and biking shoes bought from Joe Forte Sports at the last minute. With some useful tips on where to go from Adam and Claire who had lived in NZ for two and a half years I was cruising.When Sandy Wallace came to pick me up for the airport, I had done nearly all the 19 last minute jobs on my list and I did the last one before boarding - organising a proxy vote for the elections on May 5th. Off I went to Auckland via Heathrow, Bangcock and Sydney.