Greetings, friends and relations, from Middle Earth.
There have been moments these last two days, my third and fourth in NZ pedalling first into a ferocious hidwund (sorry, headwind) some 45 miles from Wanaka to Makarora, and then today a further 50 miles through blazing heat and increasingly rainforesty mountains to Haast on the South Island’s West coast, when I could have bottled the feeling and the fun:
– Waking this morning at the Makarora campsite to the utterly enchanting, bubbling calls of two native New Zealand Tui birds with, I leaned last night, two separate voice boxes that allow them to mimic almost any sound, including speech, with clicks grunts and even chuckles.
(By the way, Kat, I also learned last night from a Kiwi bird specialist at the campsite that yellowhammers and blackbirds and thrushes and, yes, sparrows, are all relatively recent European imports to NZ, so the one we saw in New Plymouth last year did say pen with an e and not pen with an i…);
– stepping outside my tent for a pee last night (SO less often than on past bike trips, hallelujah!) to look up at a Milky Way and Orion and, it felt, millions of stars blazing in the darkness with an intensity that made me want to weep for what we’ve lost in the Northern hemisphere;
– meeting and cycling all day with Gerben from near Utrecht in The Netherlands, on a black touring bike that, apart from aluminium frame, could be a close cousin of my sturdily steel-framed Raven – though at 44 years to my 62, Gerben was consistently faster than me up the (many) hills;
– having slogged upwards, barrelling downhill off the Haast Pass (a mere 562 metres, against the 1070 metres or so of the Crown Range on Sunday) at a record, for me, 45 mph. And no Sue to scream at me from the back to slow down… Sweeeet.
– discovering the naturally bluest water I have ever seen, at the Blue Pools (another imaginative NZ naming) with their snow melt pouring out of the spectacular mountain ranges towering above us as we trundled slowly out of the dry mid-NZ plains into the forests of the coast.
One moment I won’t, however, want to repeat is kneeling on my Kindle two nights ago as I fumbled my way into my tent in the Wanaka dark after too much blogging.
A nasty cracking sound, and, yes, the screen was b***ered.
Only course of action, into the bun. Sorry, into the bin. Blast.
Next morning, yesterday, I had to sit for nearly two hours in the WiFi zone at the campsite (five NZ dollars, but unlimited download for a day’s subscription) while all my current novels and books, and especially the NZ Lonely Planet (a BIG file, with lots of pictures) crawled their way from Amazon onto my Android.
I love eBooks – and while I’m now Kindle-less (and therefore decided against the physio, as I’ll need the cash for a replacement, and my knee is behaving itself anyway) – my sturdy HTC Android smartphone is allowing me to continue reading, especially, Gordon Turnbull’s absolutely wonderful account of his journey, as one of the UK’s leading experts and a Thoroughly Lovely Man, into a profound understanding of trauma.
Reading his book reminds me how much I learned in my early years in this field from Gordon himself – so, if you ever read this or find yourself mentioned in a Google search, thanks Gordon.
I’m going to sprinkle photos around this blog as before – it’s the easiest way to illustrate without having to concoct a narrative that doesn’t really exist (Ha! Unlike in my journalistic days, when that was often all we did…)
But to add a few thoughts, to which I might return, pedalling across New Zealand is like going back through my prep school geography lessons. Remember drawing those diagrams showing how winds off the ocean rise up the slopes of the coast, dumping all their moisture as rain and leaving the plains beyond dry desert, always from left to right? Well, that’s exactly what happens here on the South Island.
Remember learning about volcanoes and magma and so on – though not, I think, quite yet in the 1950s about plate tectonics, which hadn’t yet been accepted as fact?
Well, I’ve now clocked how New Zealand runs right along one of the planet’s Really Big Faultlines, with two plates clashing into each other below where I’m writing this now with the same kind of throwing-up-mountains force that created, and continues to create, the Himalayas.
In fact, the mountains here with their unstable scree, pointy and jagged ridges and peaks and constant landslides, remind me very much of the mountains along the Karakoram Highway down from the Chinese Far West into Pakistan.
It’s so dramatic you can almost see geography and geology happening before your eyes, though hard to illustrate with photos.
And finally? (I could rabbit on for pages – noting by the way that rabbits, with stoats and possums and rats and other land mammals, were all introduced here by a brief 1000 years of settlement by both Maori and Europeans, and have caused utter devastation to native flora and fauna.)
Knees and knerves continue to hold up, though I’m reminded of the story of a back surgeon friend in Oxford who told me of a patient with acute and severe back pain who only ever felt really healthy when he was climbing Everest…. Cycling New Zealand is a kind of equivalent, so I remain soberly realistic about how I’ll feel on my return.
Next stop tomorrow, Fox Glacier. A mere 120 km away. An early start is called for…