It was gloomy and chilly for the ride out of Dunedin. We passed through the university end of town which neither of us had chance to visit during our stay. There was a strong headwind and hills ahead, it was all very Scottish. Eal, still feeling weak having been ill for the past few days, passed up the chance to attempt riding the world’s steepest street. So did I, without such excuses. I’m sure J C Meyer would debate its official steepness having given me the tour of Pittsburgh’s ‘dirty dozen’.
By lunch the rain had came making for a miserable stop off underneath the tiniest shelter. As always we made light of the situation joking about old school pals, talking about who the daftest dog is and mocking one another incessantly. By the time we reached Moeraki I was ready to sit in a warm pub with a stout. I pitched up the tent, showered, ate (rice and soup, standard) and was heading down to the nearest place just as Eal was arriving. He met me later on where I had been joined at my table by a couple, Sal and Hugh. We talked the night away, telling tales from the road. Before the evening was out they had offered us a place to stay at our destination in two days time!
Waking to pitter patter on my tent usually means more sleep. I heard no rustling form Eal so I pulled my sleeping bag hood up and snoozed some more. It hadn’t let up by the time I woke again. We eventually packed up and had some breakfast, sitting under a small porchway besides the camp kitchen. Trying to wait out New Zealand rain is a fools game so we hit the road. Eal made an observation on the birds. UK birds don’t seem to like rain much, they choose to stay dry in the trees and don’t mess about at night. NZ birds love the rain, constantly splashing about in puddles with wet feathers and always larking around after sundown. I took heart from the birdies.
We stopped at Moeraki boulders as recommended to us by John and Jessi in SF in what was the only fleeting dry spell of the day. From then on it poured, much to the birds delight. My shoes now held the contents of a small lake, hands shrivelled again. We reached the town of Oamaru without any accommodation options lined up. No camping around, it was always going to be a backpacker night. We find the only place in town with a spare room. Slightly over-priced, super small but DRY. Short of doing laundry and using a tumble dryer, which we only have time for on rest days, there is nothing that can be done for the cycling gear worn on days like this. You have to write them off, tie them up into a plastic bag and throw them to the bottom of a pannier. Heavy rain means no camera action, so just the one picture chaps!
An extended breakfast was had, ploughing through some early job applications with one eye now firmly on Australia. I set out a while after Eal with a mega tailwind, it was flat and I was cranking. The first 40 miles were devoured in just over 2 hours. I was even riding in my converse due to my waterlogged bike shoes. I find Eal snacking by a picnic bench where i stopped to chow down some pastries picked up in Oamaru.
We rode together for the rest of the ride to Temuka, stopping briefly in Timaru for some library action. Temuka was home to Sal and Hugh who had offered to put us up in Hugh’s currently vacant rental place for the evening. We had bought them a couple of 18th Amendments (my favourite New Zealand brew) to thank them. Thank you guys!
The end was certainly tangible now. Just two more days of riding. Head down crank out, get ’em done. My head has been at sixes and sevens about wishing the riding to be over with. I love bicycle touring and have loved every single second of this trip which is why I feel a little conflicted and uncomfortable wishing away these care free days. Its a tricky one, so I try not over-think it. I just need something new in my daily routine outside of mile counting and pedal turning.
One last camp on the eve of my 26th birthday, we ate inside the camp kitchen as usual where we were joined by few elderly Australian couples who quizzed us over our trip and impending arrival to their shores. I hit the hay for a final kip on my trusty airmat. As I closed my heavy lids I glimpsed in a split second a street, face, town, dinner, mountain, river from every single day of riding. We lived it.
26, I am 26! Happy birthday to me. Still sounds incredibly young. Woop. I roll away airmat, sleeping bag, pack panniers with super efficiency. This routine has had some practice now. Oh trusty vango tent, you have been wonderful, good job. Eal bought me breakfast at the lovely cafe next to the campground. The sun was out, birds singing, the area was buzzing for the big horse racing weekend in Canterbury. Even Prince Charles was in town, he shares the same birthday as me, what a coincidence!
With much gusto I span into the day happy and free. Me and Eal had agreed on a meeting spot before entering Christchurch so we could ride in together. I waited at the turn for a good hour with no sign so assumed he had taken an earlier road. I continued on and soon reached the outskirts of town where traffic picked up but thankfully so did the bike paths. Heading past the Christchurch town sign on a bridge over a street named ‘Anderson’ I shed a few tears, overwhelmed by spending a birthday away from friends and family and the culmination of a 6 month bike ride. A powerful and rare moment, sure can be emotional this adventuring jazz, I felt 10 feet tall though.
We pedalled down Europe all the way to Lisbon, through the Ardennes, over the Alps, winding past Vineyards and conquering the Pyrenees. From Boston to San Francisco zig-zagging the Appalachians, beating the heat in the midwest, huffed over the rockies and down the pacific coast. Pushed around middle earth New Zealand’s north and south islands over thermal hotbeds, up glaciers and across rugged landscapes. My mind, heart and soul grown exponentially.
The evening was spent in ‘Jailhouse accommodation’, a converted jail now backpacker hostel. We scored dinner, dessert and beers to celebrate meine geburtstag. Christchurch certainly surprised. Much media coverage was made of the earthquake here several years ago but to be honest I barely heard a jot since. Due to political wrangling amongst other complications and debates on rebuilding most of the clean up and development has stalled. The ENTIRE downtown area is still completely closed off by mesh fences, with crumbling buildings and overgrown weeds making it appear to be a post apocalyptic film set
The next couple of days were spent preparing for Australia whilst hopping to a new hostel each night. The town was super busy with the horse racing event coinciding with Canterbury’s public holiday weekend. Thankfully each place was wonderful and the weather beautiful. We boxed the bikes up and set early alarms for our Brisbane flight, Australia here come!