Written on 25th September 2006

G’Day mates 🙂 ,

the subject should better be "Adventures from cycling on New Zealand", but I do not want to change the used style 🙂 .

As I wrote last time, we headed on a trip taking 22 days of cycling around the North Island of New Zealand. We did not have any plan at all, so we did not have to rush anywhere. I always made up a plan for the following day the evening before while my friend was cooking (he is a good chef, by the way 😛 ). New Zealand is a beautiful country, I just did not realise how many hills is there 🙂 . The whole North Island is positioned on a subduction zone where the oceanic Pacific plate slides beneath the continental plate. The resulting volcanic activity has created a number of large volcanoes and thermal areas as well as many "just" hills all over the island. We found out that quite late after a few days of our trip 🙁 . The South Island is supposed to be a flat area with the only mountain range (quite high though) but more suitable for biking 🙂 .

But it did not put us off. We had some problems with our physical conditions at the beginning, when I went as fast as "a devil", my friend "crawled" behind me and I had to wait for him all the time. Our conditions got to equal after a few days. I got a bit tired, my friend got better and in a past few days we exceeded an average speed 20kmph sometimes even with mandatory biscuit’s breaks. We were lucky about the weather as well, because from 22 days we got just 5 rainy ones. We got wet a bit four times but it was not that bad (because even my non-waterproof jacked did not get soaked completely) and we spent the only day, when it was raining whole afternooon, by playing desk games in a warm hostel.

We really enjoyed our ride, countryside is wonderful around here. However, we also experienced moments when we (at least me) wanted to throw our bikes away and go by bus. It happened last Monday and Tuesday when we were moving from the most southern point of our trip, the Wanganui city, to the west. Unfortunately there was very strong wind blowing to our faces at that time (and for the rest of year probably as well 😉 ). We found out on TV in the evening that the wind speed was 75kmph. We managed to ride just 60km instead of planned 90km in 8 hours on bikes and after that time we gave up. Our legs were quite sored. It was quite depressive when your average speed is under 10kmph and we had to peddal even down the steep hills otherwise we would possibly go backwards 🙂 .

Everything got better last Wednesday when we could see a dormant volcano Mt. Taranaki. Just imagine quite a flat landscape and in the middle 2500m high cone with snow on the top. Wonderful view. Of course, we went around that volcano (and it took us three days) because we wanted to see it from all angles. We also went up to 900m to see a waterfall there. Unfortunately the weather was not as good as we wished. After first day without any cloud we got the other two days full of clouds and we did not see Mt. Taranaki anymore and got a bit wet. Local people say that if you can see Mt. Taranaki, it is going to rain, if you cannot, it is raining 🙂 . People living around that mountain get about 7000mm of rainfall per year.

Also our bikes were not exactly touring ones 🙂 . Unfortunately we got mountain bikes and mine was a bit small for me. We found that out during our ride. When oil disappeared from all parts, our bikes started making strange sounds, I got a few broken spokes and also got a broken axis from my rear wheel (but I went with that another 50km to the nearest town – quite difficult have to say). My friend lost (it just fell away) the rear rack about 300m from our hostel today in Auckland 🙂 . But our bikes could carry our load and we managed to get everywhere. I got our tent and all camping equipment including a petrol stove (about 20kg of load), my friend got about half of that weight.

But let us return to the beginning. We left Auckland by train through uninteresting suburbs and then headed along the coast down to Miranda Hot Springs where we took our first hot bath. It was that good for my muscles that I went there the next morning as well. Then we went around Coromandel penninsula which took us about 4 days. The road was quite flat at the beginning but it started undulating later that day. However, we went across a bloody steep hill the third day’s morning near Coromandel town. The road goes up for about 3km from 0 to 400m. You can certainly imagine how hard it was to get to the top. It took us more than an hour to get there but we had lots of time to enjoy a nice view. We were also admired by many people with cars on the top of the hill when we reached it 🙂 . A few days later we got even quite famous for a night in a small village. It happened when we went for a dinner to a local pub and all people sitting there passed us earlier that day when we were climbing a near hill. So we entertained a whole pub, I with my telling of our advantures and my friend with his expressions (some man noted that everyone should have checked my expression and than his, my excitement and his unbelief (but he liked it 🙂 ).

A bit further on the way we visited Hot Water Beach, which is a piece of beach where you can find hot water under the surface. Everyone can dig his own natural spa then. It was something for me, of course. I hired a spade in a close coffee shop (yes, it is not a typo – interesting marketing idea by the way) and started digging. Unfortunately I could not find the right hot spring. Then I got an advice from people in a hole and started digging next to them. It was hot water in one half and cold in the second one. After about one hour of lying there a big wave destroyed all our spas 🙁 .

We also visited the breath-taking rock formation on a beach called Cathedral Cove, which is something like an arch created by water. We met there our first cyclist friend Kamila from Germany. Kamila hired a bike just for a day but we met her a few times later and she also introduced us to our five-days co-rider Ole from Germany. Yep, that guy went with us for five days and over 200km. He was a nice guy and he loved the word "beautiful" in all collocations – with dinner, landscape, road, just all the time 🙂 . Ole got the right touring bike but once when we went on gravel road, it was quite funny to watch the fear in his eyes and proper weaving between stones. My friend Kukin and I did not care, our tires were not possible to puncture (almost 🙂 ).

But let us go back again, we used a bus from Coromandel penninsula, after checking out a gold mine in Waihi, and went to the centre of the North Island to Rotorua city. We had to stay here for three days instead of planned one. We tried zorbing, when you are put into an air ball and thrown down a hill. I tried the wet version when I got also water into my ball and I could lie on water all the way down, while my friend tried the dry version when he was tied up inside. When he finished he did not look well at all 🙂 .

We also went for riding of karts, it is called luges here. There was not any engine but a big hill we went down from. It was an amazing ride (we got five of them) but it was a bit spoiled by heavy rain and our wet backside from luge and cable car up the hill 🙂 . The first ride was a scenic one, we had to proof that we know how to ride (there was just one lever – a break) and then we could choose between intermediate and advanced. We went both and also took some pictures on the track 🙂 .

We spend the rest of days in Rotorua by cycling around Lake Rotorua and by visiting a mud bath and a thermal area called Hell’s Gate (good choice of name). It was full of boiling lakes various colours there, sulphur smelled everywhere (like in a whole central area of North Island) and also boiling mud and a mud volcano were there. It was quite interesting to live in a city where you can smell sulphur all day, something smokes there all the time, where there is a fence with boiling mud instead of flowers in a park, and a lake full of steam. We got used to it after a few days.

We also went to visit a Maori village to find out something about Maori culture. Maori are the first people who came to New Zealand about 1000AD. As usual the arrival of Europeans decrease their numbers and put down their culture. Nonetheless we experienced quite a good performance in an open air with a huge dinner. Everything started when a guy asked us where we were from and always said a few sentences in the language of that country. To my big surprise, he knew even how to speak Czech. I asked him later where he had learnt it and he showed me lots of papers with basic phrases in 72 languages 🙂 . Then we saw the right Maori village, we were shown old customs, tools and weapons and we also saw a poi dance. Poi is something like a ball on a rope and you can rotate it. Maori men used that for their wrists, women for dance and music. They were really good at it. The chief learnt us Maori dance later, when we were supposed to jump on one leg, shake hands and heads, loll out our tongues and look all around at other people. In the end the chief congratulated us to getting crazy. Good joke 😀 . He got everyone.

On the next way we stopped on place called Wai-o-tapu, where you can experience a real geyser. It is regularly "set off" at 10:15 every day. The natural cycle of that geyser is between 36 and 72 hours but some wise man in the past found out that geyser can be regulated by soap. It works as following. There is a hot water under ground and above that is some cold water working like a cork. A special quantity of hot water is needed to release this cork. However if you put some soap powder into geyser, it destroys surface tension and hot water can go up. We stayed there watching geyser for about an hour then.

The next big experience was Tongariro crossing a bit southern. There are three big volcanos in the middle of North Island, Mt. Tongariro (the smallest), Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Ruapehu. It is possible to go skiing on Mt. Ruapehu, which we intended originally, but I was put off by a local man who I asked about a skiing condition. He said: "If you are from Aussie, it is a paradise, if you are from NZ, it is ok, if you are from Europe, it is a waste of money.". So we exchanged that for crossing of Mt. Tongariro. It was a guided day walk because the top is still in snow and ice. We got even two guides, young guys, everyone got hiking shoes (who had not got his own) and cramp-ons. We started at 1100 metres and went to 1900m. I started the walk in T-shirt and shorts and on the top I was quite happy I had got my winter jacket (first time I used it in three months of carrying it, by the way), a hat and gloves 🙂 . We did not have to use cramp-ons in the end because on the steepest part our guide made steps and we just walked in them (it was quite slippery). There was a beautiful view from the top and was quite interesting to find places without snow and with hot soil. It is really just a dormant volcano, not everyday I can walk on the top of volcano 🙂 . The way down was even better. One of our guides had a shovel and slided down about 200m on it. I followed him later on my jacket. It was really good experience together with throwing of snowballs and getting dry in the middle of snow on hot stones.

Then we went along the Whanganui river to Wanganui city, the most southern point of our trip, as I wrote above and then to Mt. Taranaki. The last three days we spent by riding on the road called the Forgotten World Highway, where we really met just a few cars a day. The landscape was beautiful, so different from the rest of the island. The whole way was full of heritage places, one of them was the only village in 150km’ range called Whangamomona. This village claimed itself a republic in 1989, they have borders, border guards, president elections and they have also got their own passports, which we could buy in the local "hotel". We had a chance to speak to the first lady, quite drunk must say. Everyone was a bit drunk that night, they must have been celebrated some kind of bank holiday 😉 .

I also went for a three hours walk through a bush where I was supposed to experience how landscape had looked like before people came here. It was really hard walk, walk was marked by signs on trees and a track could be just in my dreams. I wished I had a machete sometimes because I had to go through ferns, spiky bush, went through mud, had to use my hands to climb up hills and down as well, went accross gorges and streams using fallen trees. Shortly wonderful experience for someone like me (my friend did not go 🙂 ).

We had to cycle 90km long part without any civilisation through hilly landscape last Sunday, the last day of our trip. I have to say that we were running out of water and force, hills were quite steep and my friend laughed to my enthusiasm when I claimed at nearly every curve that behind it there must be the final city :-). In the end we reached Taumarunui, took a necessary winning photo and the next day, on Monday, caught a bus back to Auckland.

We also had a few funny stories which cannot be unwritten (sorry Kukin 🙂 ). It happened the other day in Rotorua when I sent my friend ahead (usually I went first) and he was supposed to wait for me at the turnoff to Blue and Green Lakes, which we passed day before. When I reached the turnoff, of course, my friend was not there. I supposed that he continued but when I did not catch him on the way uphill, realised that he did not notice of 2m high sign next to a road and got lost. Unfortunately I got a puncture that day and having spare tube but no airpump I was a bit in trouble. I was saved by a guy called Jack from near holiday park who lent me a compressor and I could inflate my tube. I met my friend later that day about 10km further when I came back from "Burried village". About a hundred years ago a volcano erupted at that area and burried a few villages by mud. I went to see the excavation.

The next story is again about my friend and happened near the Republic of Whangamomona. I went first and stopped near a sign announcing entering to the republic. As usual I shouted at my friend (who went just behind me until recently) to take a picture. Because I did not get any answer, I turned my head and saw my friend, riding directly to me with his helmet in his hand, holding it in front of his face and looking into it. The crash was just a matter of few seconds. My friend hit my rear pannier bag and kissed the ground a moment later. My bag was all right while my friend got a raw knee and bend his front wheel. Then I could laugh for almost an hour while my friend was jumping on his wheel trying to fix it 😀 .

Of course we got much more experiences and I filled up whole my travel diary I got from my flatmates Ondra, Lida and Palko. Kukin also managed to put some photos on the server http://australie.aikidoprosek.cz/ (not working anymore – pictures will be added to my gallery).

We met a lot of people from different countries during our trip and I had a chance to talked to many people from NZ and OZ as well. We also met four Czechs. First couple were two girls travelling by car and going back to Auckland and then back to the Czech Republic. One of them was from the next village to mine and she even knew my mum because my mum used to teach her. The other couple were our friends Kure and Smejki. We met them just by accident in a supermarket in the middle of North Island. I tried to talk to them and I found out that they were travelling by bikes, their trip had been good so far and they had got wet once. Our conversation was just from my side (as usual) and so I wished them good trip after a few minutes and went to talk to other people to a hostel 🙂 .

In total we managed nearly 1300km in 22 days on bike through hilly landscape without any previous preparation. I think it is a big success that we are alive and can walk 😀 .

We are going to give back our bikes tomorrow and will go to buy some souvenirs. Flying back to Cairns on Wednesday early in the morning for three days where I would like to go diving for the last time and then we have three days in HongKong. Then just back to Dublin, my friend directly back to rhe Czech Republic, I will stay one day in Dublin and then I am going to the Czech Republic for two weeks as well. Then my holiday will be definitelly over 🙁 .

How we will get on in Cairns and HongKong I will write in the next and last email.

Please feel free to forward this to anyone who I forgot to send it to.

Pavel (Inža)

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