Aller retour (Christchurch – Akaroa)

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bank peninsular bays Bonus days and very hard, hilly roads with views that I lack words to describe and a bit of ‘je ne sais quoi’ French-style make this last week one to remember.

Day one : 14/11/10

Again we jumped on the bus to save some time and not to cycle on “boring” roads across the flat Canterbury Plains, and headed for Christchurch. After a quick gathering of information from the ever-so-helpful i-Site and a chat to a friendly Finnish fella on a “sofa” cycle (recumbent), we headed over Dyers Pass out to the Banks Peninsular. This steep hill (the location for a few cycling races, from the look of the signs) was a serious awakening for our legs. We didn’t last long before we found a place to wildcamp for the night, tucked away behind some bushes right by the bay.

10 rather hard and hilly miles after a long day on a bus.

Day two : 15/11/10

breakfastWe woke up at the crack of dawn along with the birds and were planning to head out nice and early. But we were pleasantly waylaid by the welcome words “Fancy of cup of tea?” from a couple of fellow free campers, Ray and Diane. We ended up having a great chat with these Brits who now reside in Canada. They’d parked their campervan at the same secret site the previous night, and were headed for Akaroa that day.

The road snaked its way along the waterfront to Diamond Bay where we filled our water bottles at a small dairy (local shop). The shop owner gave us plenty of information, such as that the road we were planning to take would be HILLY and that the gravel road would be passable, but also HILLY.

bank peninsular bays The road towards Port Levy was, as the shop owner had warned, HILLY, but the stunning views made the steepness bearable, and the weather became better as the day progressed. We had lunch in Port Levy where there was pretty much nothing else around than us, but it was a lovely bay and a place to spend a sunny lunch hour.

The route for the day was only 28 miles and and we had already done 20 miles. So we had time in hand and only a few miles to do the last bit, we thought. The final eight miles ended up taking us almost two hours!

We had been warned that the road would be bad over to Pigeon Bay, though it was not really the roughness that made this road hard. It was the steepness. It just went up so that we could not go fast enough to make the gravel (‘metal’) road easier to ride. Just as we were sure that we had passed the worst we got overtaken by a mini truck which we could see further on struggling up an extra-extra steep bit.

Even when you knew that you were already in your lowest gear, we found ourself continually searching for that ‘extra gear’, desperately clicking away at our downshifters as we mustered on. And we did have some time to stop and enjoy the view, erm, I mean, reinsert our lungs, time and again.

The summit arrived and we both were gasping for air and shaking with the effort. Now we had around four steep miles down to Pigeon Bay. This was rather hard on the hands, as you have to be on the brakes all the time on this very winding road, with patches of deep gravel and loose rocks.

ray and dianneWe found the Domain Campground at Pigeon Bay (just $8 for the night) and pitched up and cooked up a storm as fast as our VERY tired legs would let us.

Just as we were about to call it a night, a campervan arrived with the English couple, Ray and Diane, to whom we’d chatted that morning. They were rather surprised that we managed to get there before them, they didn’t know about the short cut we used.

28 knackering but stunning miles, with some good company for tea and some of our best cycling yet.

Day three : 16/11/10

akraora bank peninsular bays The weather ladies had told us that it should be nice and hot the last few days, though yesterday it never really happened. We woke up and were wondering whether the 23c, clear sky would ever happen as it was a bit nippy in the am.

We had four or so miles to the Summit Road, which runs along the top of one of the volcanic craters which makes up the Banks Peninsular. The slight rise over the little bridge over one of the small creeks running out to sea was done in granny gear, simply because of the beating we had given our legs yesterday.

As our legs woke up so did the hill but it didn’t wake up slowly or easily: bang and there the wall was. Arriving on the Summit Road we quickly learned why so many people have talked of it so highly. Stunning views pretty much from everywhere on the road down over the bay and Akaroa.

Even though we were on the Summit Road we still had quite a few sharp ups and downs to go. Total mileage today was only 21 miles, but it did quickly fell like muuuuch more.

On one of the uphills we were spotted, thanks to Peli’s noticeable little skirt, by an English and Kiwi couple, who we’ve been bumping into here and there since Dunedin. Malcolm and his wife were also on their last days of their tour around New Zealand and had decided to spend them on the Banks Peninsular.

If you ever come to New Zealand it’s definitely worth spending some time cycling, driving or walking around the Banks Peninsular as it is simply breathtakingly stunning, and not just because we had to fight our way up the hills.

ray and dianne support teamOn one of these hill, where a Great Granny Gear wouldn’t have gone amiss, Ray and Diane passed us in their campervan, waving and cheering encouragement. At the top of said hill I was ready for a rest and a lunch break, but Peli said that we should push on, just to the next junction.

This was clearly a very good call, since our new-found “support team” of Ray and Diane insisted on setting out their stall with chairs, tea and freshly made sandwiches. A gift sent from cycling heaven, cold cheese and cold mayo along with fresh lettuce and tomato, Yummy!

Ray and Diane your kindness and great company made our day, thank you so much :)

cycling down hillAs they set off down to one of the many bays we continued the last nine miles to Akaroa on the Summit Road. It never stopped amazing us with its panoramic views and steep hills.

With a little over three miles to go we met a local cyclist who told us a shortcut into the campsite down a steep gravel road. At first we were not so happy as it was rather steep and we had to push downhill for a while. But when we had visited the town and had to cycle steeply back UP to the campsite we were rather happy that we had not had to endure that when fully-loaded!

Arriving at the campsite we really got to feel the heat that was forecast for the day, which made us very happy that we chose this time of the year to visit New Zealand. We certainly wouldn’t have liked to cycle around in this heat for days on end.

21 miles, very hot, steep hills again (see a theme here for the Banks Peninsular?), a delicious sandwich made by friendly campers, and a yummy ice cream at the end.

Day four : 17/11/10

wet suitFinally a rest day and a bit of a sleep in, though it wasn’t really a rest day as we’d decided to go out to sea and swim with the little Hector dolphins. This is a treat Peli has been looking forward to since we arrived in New Zealand and I got talked into as time went on.

At Black Cat Cruises we donned our wetsuits, something that is rather hard for some but easy for the ones who have tried it a few times. Luckily I’m one of the latter :) But we did look rather funny waddling about in our tight and restrictive suits.

We got onto the boat and had a 15 min ride out to the mouth of the bay where a pod of Hector dolphins were waiting for us. Black Cat operate a refund policy so if you don’t get to swim with them you get 75% of your money back. Plus some of the money you pay goes to a fund that takes care of the dolphins.

We were lucky to have a great swim with the playful and beautiful Hector dolphins, who swam around and about us, riding the waves and investigating the sounds we were making with our snorkels. I think we spend nearly 45 minutes in the sea and we were entertained by the little Hectors most of the time. Or as Peli commented afterwards, was it the dolphins who were entertained by us, bobbing about in our tight black suits making odd noises: “Hey, Flipper, shall we go and play with some humans today?”
hector dolphins
It was a magical experience and we were lucky that Black Cat Cruises took some great shots of us in the water. As we sailed back to harbour we enjoyed looking at the dolphins playing around, swooping along at the front of the boat. How they managed to swim along so quickly I don’t know, but it is amazing and fun to watch.

Day five : 18/11/10

Leaving Akaroa, we only had 50 odd miles to go to return to Christchurch, though big hills faced us in all directions. Since we hadn’t yet done the State Highway, we chose this route. The road’s name makes it sound much worse than it really is: it’s basically a local road. The SH72 runs down near the water for some of the way around the bay before it climbs up to to the appropriately-named Hilltop. At 500 metres above sea level, it’s quite a climb as you zigzag your way up in under four miles.

After we had once again pushed our lungs back into their rightful place we had some time to enjoy the wonderful view over the bay for the last time. Since that was our final hill and second to last day of our NZ tour, it was great to say goodbye with a view like that. Banks Peninsular is not a place to miss if you’re visiting New Zealand.

fixing my wheel“Ding” is the loud metallic sound your spoke makes when it goes pop, and it does send a shiver down your spine. That was what I heard when I picked up my bicycle from the ground at Hilltop, after a pleasant chat with a touring Aussie couple. I’d leaned it against a big rock but since I was knackered from the climb I didn’t do the best parking job, and the bike had fallen over. I couldn’t lift it up easily, so I put my foot on the tyre/rim to stop it skidding around when lifting it. That put extra pressure on the wheel and the spoke went.

Peli offered to take some of my stuff to reduce the weight on the pinged rear wheel. Two water bottles of 1.5 litres, our tent and some food easily clocked up seven kilos transferred to Peli’s bike: the heaviest she’s ever ridden it! Needless to say, the sweeping downhill was done at a gentle speed because of the extra weight on Peli’s bike, and my weak wheel.

Just before Little River the back wheel buckled a bit more when I hit a wee pothole, but thankfully not enough to break. While I fettled the rear wheel into a shape that was a bit more straight and rideable, Peli went for yet more yummy icecream. (Flavours tried this time included Caramel Fudge, Gold Rush (with chocolate honeycomb pieces) and Boysenberry. Yum.) I managed to get the wheel to run straight without it rubbing against the brakes. Phew.

little river rail trailFrom Little River it’s flat all the way into Christchurch and yet another Rail Trail starts there, which runs right into Christchurch with a little break (though this should be joined up in the future). I checked with the lady at the Little River information centre on the roughness of the trail. She told me that it was just fine and would be an easy ride.

We took the Rail Trail since it ran right next to the highway, so if something should happen to my rear wheel we could easily flag someone down. The trail ran along an elevated bank, sandwiched between the road, a lake and wetlands, and later the sea. So, we got a great view of the wildlife. Peli had to stop each time she wanted to take in the view, since the extra 7kgs she was carrying made her bicycle a little hard to handle and she didn’t fancy another interaction with the gravel.

Since trains like straight, flat runs the trail led us right across a wetland reserve so we got to see hundreds of black swans, all the couples had three grey “ugly ducklings” bobbing about in the sea. Herons and other wetland birds were in abundance here too, including a large black bird which dangled its legs when flying in a very comical fashion. The Rail Trail stopped at Motukarara where we found the old train station decked out with memorabilia, an old bike and a visitors’ book, but nothing much else.

little river rail trailThe Pedallers’ Paradise book did tell us that there was a cafe and a Domain Camping there. So, I had a dig around in the GPS and managed to find a Department of Conservation nearby, though when we found it turned out to be a tree nursery and looked pretty closed up for the day. We did manage to find a little sign saying that camping for a tent for a night would be NZ$5, so we scribbled a little note to say we were camping for the night, tied it to a five dollar note and stuck it to the caretaker’s doorhandle.

We got everything ready to make dinner, only to find that the gas only had a tiny squirt remaining. So, we had a small, cold evening meal (cold baked beans and sandwiches) before climbing into bed for our final night’s sleep in our tent of the tour. It turned out to be a noisy night, with the varied wildlife making its presence known!

Day six : 19/11/10

Only 15 very flat miles into Christchurch remained of our tour, but there was a pressing matter since we were out of gas. TEA. Luckily we found a cafe five miles down the road, where Peli could get her tea fix.

packing your bicycleThis little cafe was right at the crossroads of a cycle run. While we enjoyed our tea, delicious cheese scones and a very ORANGE fanta, we saw plenty of cyclists zooming past. There was even free air for cyclists from a track pump, and inner tubes available inside.

Our final ten miles turned out to be the complete opposite of our first ride out of Christchurch across the Canterbury Plains five weeks ago. Then, we battled into a painful headwind. These final miles were covered quickly and easily, with a nice tailwind, and we arrived at the JailHouse Hostel nice and early. Luckily for me we were able to check in right away, as exhaustion hit me, and I really needed a lunchtime nap.

Now we are just relaxing and putting our stuff in order, before packing our bikes up tomorrow and heading back to Blighty after a simply fantastic and memorable tour, filled with amazing experiences.

Click here to see all the photos : Aller retour

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