Time again for Jutta’s view.
Four weeks into our tour and one week on New Zealand’s South Island, it’s a good misty day, with my right calf and tendon strained, to take a day’s rest, put my leg up and put some reflections down.
Luckily, my leg has timed this perfectly, keeping us for another night just short of Greymouth at the delightful Formerly The Hilton Hotel in Blackball (they had to add the “Formerly” to their name when Hilton International took offence), with exquisite cuisine.
I am beginning to appreciate Mark’s enthusiasm for cycling – the sandflies don’t keep up! Nor do bumble bees who absolutely love our blue tops and blue barrel bag.
I look either left or right, and when I get tired of it, and especially puffing uphill, I just look down on eternal tarmac of varying quality. So, at times New Zealand feels like an open air gym with gloriously fresh air.
Occasionally, Mark ducks to share his dress circle view. Mostly, I trust blindly, trust being the most important quality for a tandem back rider. (With so many of our psychotherapy clients having trust and control issues, tandem back seat riding would make the perfect Cognitive Behavioural therapy intervention!)
Although we’re taking the easy options (but what’s easy in hilly NZ?), we have struggled up and down various gravelled off-road trails.
I do sometimes wonder why on earth we let ourselves be tempted into it, especially when the hilltop is crowned by an electricity pylon rather than the expected stunning view promised by our maps over lakes and forests.
In the end, we did get rewarded by the most beautiful and extended downhill run through indigenous forest and a gorgeous, long, quiet traffic-free valley.
It’s always a gamble, whether to take the quiet, hillier and windier routes versus the busy, noisy main roads. New Zealand’s long-distance traffic happens on ordinary two-lane highways rather than dual-carriageways, let alone motorways.
Hence, all lorries thunder past us on main roads. At times the drivers have a somewhat optimistic estimation of cyclists’ capacity for steadiness and need for space. (Mark holds the bike amazingly steady, even in side winds and after the blasts of wind that follows passing lorries). On the whole, though, our tandem invites a lot of good-will and cheering on by passing cars.
South Island farm animals and deer are, by the way, just as puzzled by us on the tandem as their North Island comrades, and obviously consider this two-headed creature to be a freak of nature that curiously nevertheless moves ahead efficiently.
To me South Island is much prettier and more varied than the North, and more reminiscent of Bavarian or Austrian countryside.
The West of the North Island that we traversed seemed mostly to be one huge and somewhat monotonous farm with solitary houses on top of hills surrounded by bare grass. I suppose it facilitates overlooking their land.
New or well-kept houses have beautifully-tended gardens with exotic flowers and a profusion of bushes and trees; such a relief to the eye.
Huge rainwater containers on their grounds provide their water. In towns, road signs as we cycle in remind everyone to use municipal water supplies responsibly.
South Island, especially the West, has plenty of water. Sadly, our photographs can’t convey the lovely gurgling of frequent streams and the beautifully eloquent and pure sound of Tuis (native birds) that chat away noisily with each other above our heads.
On both islands you often see fire warnings, for instance a huge coloured disc with a hand showing the level of fire danger. Forest and land clearing fires are an issue here – as we witnessed yesterday cycling into Blackball.
So, with my leg well-iced, massaged, Arnica-creamed and with a good dose of Nurofen inside me, we should be back on course tomorrow towards Hokitika via Greymouth.