Well, that was a bit of a journey. But I’m here, as are bike and luggage, and the stunningly lovely NZ Adventure Capital of Queenstown even arranged a rainbow of welcome for us all.
But not before, first, my Primus fuel bottle was halted and turned back at UK check-in security; then my pedal spanner (missed during a clearing of panniers of anything that security wouldn’t like) was found and sequestered on transit through HK.
THEN we landed in Auckland in the middle of an extraordinary tornado-and-storm which killed three locals not far from the airport, and had to stay put for a 24-hour layover as flights were cancelled.
Can’t say it was the most comfortable night ever, but at least I had a sleeping bag and pillow, and hey, the adventure begins… (Re “freak” tornado which even made the BBC news – did I ever mention climate change? And how the media, including clearly in NZ, aren’t getting the plot on how extreme weather joins up into a narrative so stunningly obvious to those who are ready to see it, and largely invisible to those who wish it weren’t true? I really must calm down, dear, otherwise these posts will start appearing in green ink…)
Back to Queenstown, this is the most astonishingly young place – full of 20-somethings from all over the world (Europeans, Yanks and Japanese/Chinese mainly) brown to the hairroots from all their out-dooring, bungy-jumping, sky-diving, jet- boating, gigantic Fergburger-chomping (legendary local fare) and seize-the-moment-life-living.
At getting on for three times their age, queuing in the youthful crush for my own Fergburger this evening I felt both thoroughly invigorated and absurdly out of place. But then, these next three weeks cycling up the South Island’s West Coast aren’t about making new friends or leaping from great heights, but more of a gentle and largely silent retreat, being at one with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
The first leg (after finding someone who will tighten my pedals) will take me tomorrow, Saturday, from the Black Sheep backpacker hostel in QT (where Kat stayed when she first arrived in NZ nearly four years ago now) a short hop to the 19th century silver mining settlement Arrowtown, whence on Sunday, with nervous but hopeful anticipation, following Kat’s tyre-tracks from early 2009 requires that I conquer a 2000-foot pass to Cardrona and on to Wanaka.
Crossing as I go, and Kat went, the mountain range quaintly known as The Remarkables, I will muse whether the first Europeans might just as easily have called them The Incredibles, the Amazings, The Out-of-This-Worlds, The Astonishings, the Really-Rather-Lovelies…
(Lovely suggestion just in from John Rankin. “You were thinking of alternative names for the Remarkables – how about a contemporary take on the name: The F’in Magics!”
But then with so many other craftily imaginative names across the country such as Grey River, Windy Bluff, Lone Tree Hill, mount Aspiring, Bay of Islands and so many more, it’s fair to note, with my Lonely Planet guidebook, that those early settlers (there weren’t quite so many Maoris in these southern parts with their own handles for it all) had a lot of naming to do, and probably ran out of ideas rather quickly. I mean, South Island and North Island isn’t exactly poetic
If you’ve come this far (as I really have, see right..), allow me to share a final joyous thought before I conk out on the Black Sheep’s magnificently indulgent double bed and room all to myself (yes, it’s camping from tomorrow) for some jet-and-delay-lag-compensating shut-eye.
You may recall my account earlier this year how all the medical and dental interventions with their anaesthetics, antibiotics and vaccines conspired to knock my nervous system out of healthy action after just 250 miles biking to The Hague.
Well, the downside may have been an aborted round-the-world bike-and-backpack trip.
The glorious upside, solidly confirmed during some 28 hours in the air these past few days, is the lasting end put by one of those operations (a TURP – look it up) to this ageing male’s long-standing and not occasionally quite traumatic need since turning 50 or so to dash to the loo every half hour.
You girlies have other midlife health issues to worry about – and, probably like most of you, well into my 40s I hadn’t a clue what the prostate actually did or does, where it sits and what can happen to it as one grows old. But believe me, you can’t even imagine the overwhelming relief, the revolutionary liberation a TURP can be.
If you’re a bloke wondering whether to go ahead, I can’t recommend it enthusiastically enough. (But terms and conditions apply, I take no responsibility etc etc.)