What I took away...

Wednesday November 17, 2010

Now I'm back at home, and have returned to work, my time touring New Zealand is already a memory.

And while the details will no doubt slowly fade, the vivid mental images of the wonderful landscapes I passed through will surely remain for a long, long time.

While having dinner one night in Hokitika, I was bemused to watch an asian family take twenty minutes or so photographing their food - they took shots of the platters and the table setting, then took shots of each other posing with the food, then examined and discussed each dish in detail, before finally tasting the food. It struck me that whilst asian visitors no doubt find Kiwi culture very different from their own, to an Aussie, visiting NZ is like going interstate.

In the street, many of the cars I saw are also common on Australian streets, and on TV ads I see familiar companies also trading here. In the supermarket, I see many familiar brands.

Even the sometimes vowel-mangling Kiwi accent is not so noticeable - there are so many Kiwis living in Australia that it's heard quite frequently and is somehow now less jarring. And it was very amusing to be told "you don't have much of an accent, for an Aussie".

Actually the most difficult thing to adjust to is the currency, and I lost count of how many times I was told "we got the size of our coins right" - a gentle sledge regarding the odd sizing of Aussie coinage.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I found NZ to be a comfortable, easygoing place to be, and I'm sure that any visitor, and particularly those from western countries are likely to find it the same. You can gain an interesting insight into Kiwi history and culture from the book, "A Land of Two Halves - An Accidental Tour of New Zealand", by Joe Bennett. I found this a great companion read to my tour, with the occasional passage very relevant to cycle tourists.

In many of the touring blogs, journals and travel guides, Kiwi driving habits come under severe criticism. Indeed, during my visit there were what seemed a disproportionate number of fatal road accidents, quite a few involving cyclists.

My own experience however, has been good - the drivers I encountered were with few exceptions, patient and courteous. Most of the roads had reasonable shoulders, but there are of course inevitable tight spots.

Even so, it was apparent that the coaches, log trucks and milk tankers tried to give me all the space that was available (not very much sometimes). Even the campervanners, whose driving competency is often maligned, I found to drive with great caution.

On the few occasions when I felt a vehicle had come closer than necessary, it was invariable a younger, apparently local driver.

Nonetheless, I think it's wise to use flashing lights, front and rear, and wear bright clothing. On the west coast in particular there are many long one lane bridges and roads winding through shadowy forest where it's easy for a cyclist to merge into the background.

Reviewing the pictures I've taken, and those I've shared in this journal, I can only say that it's difficult to do the NZ scenery justice. Most of the time the next breathtaking scene is just around the corner. You have to go there and see it for yourself.

And finally, to my equipment. Once again I took items that were never used, including my tent. It's hard to pick the weather - the weekend before I left home it snowed on the Canterbury Plains at Methven, but I enjoyed quite comfortable temps for the entire tour, and most of my warm clothing remained unused.

NZ has an excellent network of backpacker hostels and holiday parks, and camping fees are often quite high such that a cabin or room doesn't really cost much more for the added amenity. I wasn't inclined to camp in the wild after a hunter fatally shot a camper the day I arrived, nor was I keen to camp with the sandflies, as they are truly ferocious, and I really don't like slathering myself with insect repellant (DEET).

And the bike - the Sabbath Silk Route. I built this bike myself with components sourced from around the world. Some of the component choices I made were deliberately unconventional and thus were a source of some uncertainty, but I'm delighted to report all performed impeccably, and I'm extremely satisfied with the result. It looks great, and has a feel of quality about it, and the ride is very comfortable, with the titanium frame and carbon fork damping the harshness from all but the coarsest road surfaces. The bike attracted attention everywhere I went, and I fielded endless questions about it, even from other cyclists, as none are familiar with the brand.

Oh, and there is one thing I probably haven't mentioned in any of my posts - the food and drink. The Kiwi beer - it's excellent, try a Speight's Golden Ale, a Monteith's Original, or a Black Mac, and the wines, particularly the whites are very good, or so I'm told, although I didn't actually try any. The steaks are good, the blue cod and the green-lipped mussels fantastic. Oh, and the chowder - loved it. I didn't get around to trying the whitebait though - too bad, maybe next time...

Here is a link to the full tour photo album on Picasa.

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