Adventuring in Abel Tasman, and other stories

A few weeks ago, we stayed with some kind Warm Showers hosts in a small town called Tua Marina (and, in fact, left our bikes and a large fraction of our stuff in their garage). One half of said hosting partnership, Rene, spent some time extolling the virtues of an area called Golden Bay, passionately describing the sense of weight lifting off his shoulders as he drove there over the infamous Takaka hill. So, here we are in Golden Bay. And it’s lovely.

Let’s rewind a tiny bit, to get you up to date. I last wrote from Fox Glacier, wayyyyyy back down to West Coast. It was 8 degrees and raining! The following day, we hopped back onto the bus and, after a brief detour (gotta love the Great Sights bus!) to take this photo of Mount Cook:

we headed North in search of sunshine. It’s a blinking long way to Nelson from Fox, so we also broke our journey in the ever-lovely Punakaiki, home to the infamous pancake rocks, and also a lot of splendid riverine scenery:

Alas, as is the case with SO MANY of the Department of Conservation tracks at the moment, we could only enjoy the beautiful Porarari River for a short distance. Cyclone Gita strikes again! A good stopover nonetheless.

Back on the bus for one more (very scenic) day, and we’d made it all the way to Nelson and (we are assured) New Zealand’s sunniest region. And there our bus adventure pauses for a couple of weeks….because, as Facebook fans will already be aware, we are now in possession of a motorcar! Toot toot!

First things first: day number 1 involved a short tour of some of Nelson’s excellent wineries which we enjoyed not only for the wine, but also for views like this one from Brightwater:

We did eventually manage to drag ourselves away from lovely Nelson (and our hostel with its free chocolate pudding and ice cream every night at 8pm) and headed for Takaka Hill. Up and over we went, thank goodness the road has now reopened after a long stint being fixed after….guess what…..Cyclone Gita. The views were pretty good:

And I’m pretty sure I felt the weight lifting as Rene had promised. A brief stopover to check we really can still camp in the Southern-Hemisphere equivalent of late October, and we headed into Abel Tasman national park.

Abel Tasman. I have actually been before, back in 2002, on a kayaking trip with Loz and Anna. I remember it being very beautiful, but no real details, although you can’t visit New Zealand without being bombarded with pictures of the place. It’s certainly on every backpacker’s checklist, and the sheer conveyor of people heading there in day trips from our hostel back in Nelson certainly supported this popularity theory. This nearly put me off from going at all…..but having read reports of the north being much quieter, and recognising that it really is the very end of the season, we went ahead. And were glad we did, as the huge, popular campsite wasn’t too busy after all:

It was certainly no hardship to spend two nights at Totaranui bay:

From where we hiked both North and South, and discovered that it is indeed possible to ‘make’ steamed pudding and custard on a camping stove:

Keen to explore further, we headed back along the horrendously bumpy gravel road (not sure if I’ve mentioned New Zealand’s roads before? 😉 to head right into the Northern reaches of the park. The famous Abel Tasman coast track does in fact go up here, but the water taxis do not, meaning that most people don’t bother. In addition to this, as the linking section of the track is currently closed and requiring a significant detour (giddy Gita causing landslips once again), we did not anticipate the place being overrun. And overrun it certainly was not, in fact once the handful of day hikers had departed, we had the rather idyllic Mutton Cove and campsite all to ourselves:

aside from a few feathered friends and some gorgeous seal pups playing in the shallows. It was a little on the chilly side, however! We were pretty warm in the tent, with full thermals and our new £5 blanket, but watching sunrise was downright freezing. A small price to pay for this I suppose:

The short hike out felt a bit on the strenuous side, presumably due to four nights camping rather than the pitifully small amount of walking, so it was only fair that we rewarded ourselves when we got back to the relative civilisation of Takaka:

It’s fair to say that things are pretty golden so far here in Golden Bay. We’ve been taking things very easy at our friendliest hostel to date, have to say I am all in favour of the absence of internet in the main building as everyone actually talks to each other, and the hosts are pretty cool too:

That’s Willy the cat. There’s also another cat (although yet to be spotted) and two hilariously soppy dogs. The human hosts can’t do enough for their guests, hosted a ‘pot luck’ supper last night, and provide delicious muesli for everyone in the mornings. It’s really wonderful here.

Tomorrow we’re moving further north and right into the sticks, for beachy days, glow-wormy nights and composting toilets (although I confess we are treating ourselves to a double room after all that camping and an extremely ‘cosy’ bunk arrangement here!

As it’s ANZAC day tomorrow, the supermarket is closed all morning so Ed is currently pacing up and down in an attempt to get me out of the internet room and into the car to go shopping (again). It would not do to go hungry now would it. So I’d better go. If you haven’t had enough of my photos, there are more on Facebook of course 🙂

Next update might involve some more tramping in the mountains – please pray to the weather gods on our behalf!! Forecast currently for a prolonged period of rain, let’s hope they’re wrong for once……

PS I have given up with my usual editor, and reverted to my old friend foe wordpress in the interests of giving it another go.  Please let me know if the formatting is screwy!!

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It’s not all unicorns and rainbows

Oh my, was my last post really on the 25th March??  How time flies.  

I’d like to add ‘when you’re having fun’ to the end of that sentence but that wouldn’t be the whole story.  It’s oh so easy to write breezy updates on social media, and to post endless smiling photos.  I’m certainly guilty of that, but the truth of the matter is that I have been a little down in the dumps down under.  Unfortunately for you, dear reader, I am one of those who really feel better after getting things off their chest.  Consider yourself my agony aunts for the next few paragraphs (and then I will get on to what we have been doing, I promise!)

If I were to explain this to poor old New Zealand, I’d certainly be rolling out that old classic ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.  We have both had a hard time adjusting after 5 wonderful months in Asia, so that is a factor.  But, for me, this runs deeper.  I’ve mentioned feeling homesick before…well let’s add a few more bits to that. Communal living arrangements and fairly tight budget aren’t helping, but can’t really be blamed. I miss my life! Friends, family and cats go without saying. But I now realise I miss my routine and my goals.  I’m feeling without purpose, and a year long holiday adventure doesn’t actually help that one bit (although obvs I’m well aware of how bloody fortunate we are to be doing this!). So there you go.  I have been a reet ol’ misery guts – not all of the time, it comes and goes, real peaks and troughs.  I’d prefer a bit more balance!   But how on earth do I drag myself out of this, given that I’m a) on holiday, b) in one of the most desirable destinations in the world and c) utterly carefree???

Given how prone I am to tying myself in knots about these things, I am attempting to quit the over-analysis and to take some positive action.  And for this, I am turning to one of the many versions of the ‘5 steps to well-being’ – I remember looking at this type of thing when feeling absolutely fine, and thinking that it all sounded very sensible.  The scientist in me is keen to see if it works in practice (although obviously I am a very unscientific sample of one!) 

I’m going with the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’s version, as that comes up first when I google at the moment!

  • Be active.  You’d think this was a done deal, but now that we’re not cycling, our activity is pretty sporadic.  For me, with a long history of sport and training for events, I interpret this as ‘needing to do more running’.  I’m totally out of running shape.  So, I pledge to get back into the running part, and also to do some strength work on the side so I build a really good base for getting back into competitive running when we’re back in Devon (and hopefully will prevent me from getting injured)
A woman running and waving
Wanaka parkrun! Surely a contender for the most ridiculously scenic course? Also nice and flat, so I even managed to run a tiny bit faster (26:49 for the nosey runners reading!)
  • Keep learning.  Well, I went paddleboarding the other day, and it was BRILLIANT!  I felt a ton better afterwards.  I might find a couple more opportunities to have a go, but really I need something a bit more regular, so I’ve decided to learn Spanish.  I’ve been saying I’m going to do it for forever, so why not now.  I’ve downloaded 6 podcast episodes so just need to start listening to them!  Ed (who is fine) is learning about knots.  
Two people kneeling on paddle boards on Lake Wanaka
I did stand up. And only fell in once! Fun times. Ed was invited, honest!
  • Connect.  While we were in Asia, I really missed having people to talk to (other than Ed).  Now we’re back in the English speaking world, and largely staying in hostels, this should be easy.  But actually, it’s also quite easy to hide in your cosy couple, and not chat with anyone.  However, at our lovely hostel in Wanaka, people just kept talking to me!  It was great. So now I am going to make an effort to chat with people, even if briefly.  This paid off last night when I discovered that one of our room mates was from Taiwan!  I love Taiwan, and she was very lovely too.

 

Four people at a dinner table
Putting the world to rights with our Warmshowers hosts near Blenheim, Rene and Leonie. Thanks for looking after our bikes / junk!
  • Take notice.  I remember chatting with someone a while ago about the concept of getting ‘sceneried out’ when you’ve been to a string of amazing places. I am sorry to say that I am kind of at this point.  I can still SEE that the surroundings are beautiful, but I feel slightly numb to it.  It’s very strange!  More effort needed to properly take notice and appreciate where we are – Wanaka was just SO beautiful that it almost shook me out of this apathy.  Being there for a good few days also gave plenty of time to absorb and take in – a good lesson, I think.
Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka looking pretty good in the autumn sunshine
  • Give.  Haven’t figure this out yet – I’d like to volunteer at a parkrun, but we haven’t really been around anywhere long enough for me to organise this.  I might manage when we’re in Blenheim.  Other ideas welcome.  Do I have any skills that lend themselves to remote volunteering!?
In addition (yes there’s more!!) my incredibly lovely (and exceptionally generous) parents have boosted our coffers, so that we have a few more options around accommodation and transport.  This means that I am now hugely looking forward to the next phase of our NZ adventure, because we will be HIRING A CAR!  While we’ve actually quite enjoyed travelling on the buses, it will be great to have our flexibility and freedom back for a few weeks, and to escape the more touristy areas. We’re still hoping it will be warm enough to camp when we get up to the Nelson region (the high today in Fox Glacier is 8 degrees!!) as the best spots are the out of the way campsites (with pit toilets and no showers, ha ha!). BUT we will be able to afford a cozy room if my optimism does not pay off.
 
ENOUGH OF ALL THAT!  (I feel better, thanks for listening)
 
Where do I even start with updating you??  Let’s go with a more pictorial update, given how many of my words you’ve already had to read!  We crossed the Cook Strait (surprisingly smooth on a VERY windy day), cycled 18km to Tuamarina where we left our bikes, and caught the Intercity bus to Christchurch.  Interesting to experience New Zealand driving from a new perspective 😉 Christchurch was lovely – still in pieces, but wonderfully upbeat.
Memorial wall in Christchurch, next to the river
Christchurch memorial wall, with all the names of the earthquake victims engraved. This would make me cry anyway, but the fact that they were nearly all Asian students learning English…wwwaahhhhh! 
Tiles in a maori pattern
All sorts of cool stuff is popping up in the ‘gaps’ where there were previously buildings. I loved these tiles, in the pattern from a maori weaving.

We then hopped back on a bus for another very scenic (read windy!) journey to the adventure capital of Queenstown.  We liked Queenstown for its spectacular setting, but wouldn’t rush back.  It’s a bit like a cross between Bowness on Windermere and a ski resort, with an awful lot of bungy jumping, jet boating, and _insert_adrenalin_fuelled_activity_here.  
A couple at the top of a hill
We resisted the temptation to throw ourselves off stuff, and hiked to the top of Queenstown hill instead.

Then it was time to cram our tiny rucksacks full of dehydrated food and waterproof clothing, and to head into the hills.  The Greenstone-Caples loop gave us 61km / 4 days of splendid views, some sun, some rain, a lot of mud, and a really wonderful time.
 
The Caples Valley
Caples valley on day 1 (my birthday!). Note raindrops.
 
 
 

Mountain views
McKellar saddle on day 2

A man in a valley
Ed with a wet foot on day 3, Greenstone valley

 

Waterfall
One of many waterfalls on day 4. Love that I can change all the settings on my camera to get this (cheesy) effect with the water!

We then made good use of YHA Queenstown’s facilities for an evening, including stuffing our faces with all the items we could take tramping (chips and dip, wine and chocolate!)

A woman and a lot of stuff in a hostel room
The perks of paying for a private room! What a mess. And wine too, tut tut.

I’d like to say we awoke well rested, but actually we felt pretty dreaful the next day!  Not the wine of course….  Fortunately, we had just a short bus journey to whisk us to wonderful Wanaka, where we stayed for 5 nights.  Lovely hostel with huge picture windows for ample lake-gazing.  Our room was right under the creaky stairs which nearly drove me to actual madness, but fortunately the other benefits just about prevented my demise!

Vines and a beautiful lake scen
The incredible view from Rippon vineyard. The wine wasn’t bad either!  Yep, that is snow on the mountains!

A plate of roast veggies
I always find cooking therapeutic so it was great to have such a good kitchen! That pumpkin cost £1 and fed us for 4 meals….food IS expensive here but you do find surprising bargains.

Snowy mountain
Even more snow yesterday!

It was hard to leave Wanaka, but with no real improvement in the weather forecast, there seemed little chance of us tramping on any reasonable timeframe.  

We are now in Fox Glacier, and it is raining.  Fortunately we nipped up to see the (slightly sad) glacier last night, so don’t need to go anywhere today unless we really want to.  Tomorrow, we hop back on the awesome ‘Great Sights’ bus (think cafe stops and photo opportunities – well I am 41 now!) to Punakaiki for a couple of days, then we’re full steam ahead 

Aside:  Reading this post back, you may be forgiven for wondering what on earth is wrong with me.  I totally agree. 
 
So there you go, you are finally up to date!  I’m sorry to say that I have given up with Flickr – I can’t get it to work on hostel wifi.  Not sure many people had the appetite for any more anyway 😉 As ever, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram, @unprofessionaladventurers.
 
Until next time, thanks for listening 🙂

Cooking up a storm on a camping stove

I love to eat good food and, fortunately, I also love to cook 🙂 While cooking on a camping stove (especially our MSR Whisperlite, which is basically OFF or VERY HOT) does present an additional challenge or ten, I am hoping to encourage fellow travellers to be a little more adventurous than the staple of pasta and sauce, at least when in the vicinity of a reasonable supply of ingredients.  So here goes!!

Before I launch into the recipes and instructions, here are our top tips for successful campsite cookery:

  • Most carbohydrates will cook if you simply stand them in boiling water, with the lid on.  If it’s cold, it’s better to isolate the pan from eg the ground, and perhaps use a ‘pot cosy’.  It’s surprising how hot things stay!
A pan full of pasta
Pasta cooking away from the heat. Note that it is placed on the lid from the other pan to isolate it from the cold ground.
  • The key is to be very organised.  Chop your ingredients, open your tins and have everything to hand before you even light your stove.
A selection of ingredients
All set to make the sauce
  • Bring a sous-chef if (like me) you find point 2 challenging!
A man opening a can
A bit of help can come in useful at critical moments if you’re as scatty a chef as me! 

 

  • Some stoves (looking at you, Whisperlite!) don’t really have much temperature control (although it does help a bit if you don’t have the Whisperlite on full gas).  You can get around this by taking the pan off the heat from time to time – so that it boils / cools down rather than actually simmering (which is pretty much impossible). You can even take a break from eg cooking your sauce and give your carbs a boost.
  • We carry a small store-cupboard around, usually containing oil, garlic, soy sauce, veg stock, curry powder, and chilli flakes.
  • If you don’t want to carry oil around, and haven’t picked up any of those handy portions of butter or marg, skip onion and just use garlic.  Reduce the quantity slightly, chop it as fine as you can and simply cook it in your sauce.
  • It’s worth having some sort of well-sealing container for carrying leftovers.

Note:  everything in this blog assumes that you have two pans, and that at least one of them has a lid.  If you were thinking about skimping and leaving one at home, we’d highly recommend that you think again!

Now for some recipes for inspiration!  All vegetarian, and all can be made vegan (eg use tofu or chick peas instead of halloumi in the curry).
Pasta with simple bean and tomato sauce 
Level:  beginner
You will need:
  • Oil or butter / marg (see top tips for a way around this)
  • Garlic and/or onion, chopped
  • A tin of tomatoes
  • A tin of beans (optional, we used cannellini. Lentils would be good. You could also use soya mince, if you can get hold of it).
  • Seasoning of some description (we use soy sauce; salt or stock powder would also work)
Optional extras:  other veg (eg peppers, courgettes, mushrooms), chilli powder
Get everything ready and arrange it so you don’t have to move far!  Then you can light your stove.
  1. Boil a pan of water for the pasta.  Tip:  boil a bit too much so you can make a cup of tea 🙂
  2. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and bring back to the boil.  Then pop the lid on and remove from the heat.  Try and isolate the pan from the ground if it’s cold – we use the lid from our other pan.
  3. Put the oil in the other pan and add the onion.  Fry until softened (you may need to keep lifting the pan off the heat occasionally to prevent burning).  It will brown more than you might like, but that’s fine.
  4. Add the garlic and any other veg and cook until softened, but don’t worry too much as it will cook in the tomatoes.
  5. Add tomatoes and beans cook until you’re happy with the consistency.  Again, you may need to keep lifting the pan off the heat.
  6. When you’re happy with your sauce, drain the pasta and stir it all together.  Season to taste.  Done!
A woman stirring food in a pan
Sauté that onion 🙂
Adding beans to the pan
Add tomatoes and beans 
Adding soy sauce
The all-important seasoning 
A finished pasta dish
Mix it all together and hey presto!

 

Coconut curry with halloumi

Level:  intermediate

You will need:

  • Oil
  • Onion and garlic, chopped
  • Other veg, chopped (we used green beans and red pepper)
  • Curry powder
  • Coconut milk (we used powdered, but tinned would be fine of course!  You could use tomatoes for a different type of curry.  If using powdered, follow the instruction to make it up with warm water)
  • Halloumi, chopped into large chunks (or tofu, or chick peas)
  • Optional:  some sweetness for balance.  We used chopped dried peaches because that’s what we had!  Raisins would work, or honey, or sugar.
  1. Boil water for your carb of choice.  We used couscous.  For couscous, simply soak in an equal volume of water.  It’s best to ‘fluff’ the couscous after 5 or 10 mins, otherwise it does tend to solidfy!  Add some oil or butter and seasoning.  If you really have to have hot couscous, make it when your curry is ready.
  2. Saute the onion in the oil.  As before, you may need to lift the pan off the heat from time to time to prevent burning.
  3. Saute the other veg until slightly softened.
  4. Add the curry powder (1-2 tsp) and stir in for 30 secs or so.
  5. Add the coconut milk and stir well.  Reduce a little if required.
  6. Add the halloumi and cook for a couple of minutes.  Again – don’t be afraid to lift the pan off the heat to moderate the temperature through the whole cooking process.
  7. Season appropriately (including sweetness if required).  Done!
Adding vegetables to the pan
Sautéing the veg 
Stirring a pan of curry
Stirring well after adding the curry powder and coconut milk 
Halloumi cheese in a pan of curry
The halloumi will melt slightly in the sauce. Yum! I’m prepping dried fruit in the background, as ours was a little bitter. 
Curry served with couscous
The finished dish, served with couscous

 

African peanut stew

Level:  advanced

This is a slightly ridiculous thing to try and cook on a camping stove, but actually it worked really well!  The recipe originates from our friends over at letsgoanddofunstuff.wordpress.com, who nagged me to write this post in the first place.  Not sure they expected this one to feature 😉  If you want some more precise quantities, please see this other post that I wrote a while ago.  We made an absolute mountain on this occasion – good job we have a tupperware for leftovers!

You will need:

  • Onion, garlic and ginger, chopped.  (TIP:  you can peel ginger with a spoon!  Try it!  Thanks to our good friend Luce for that tip 🙂
  • 1-2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 or 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes (it would probably fine if you didn’t bother peeling).
  • Tin of tomatoes
  • Tin of beans (we used a mix but any variety will do)
  • ‘Half a cup’ of peanut butter (two big splodges)
  • Veg stock (couple of tsp?)
  • ‘Some’ leafy green veg (we used some left over pak choi), torn into smallish pieces.  (We used a lot less than we’d use at home, due to availability and also pan size!)
  • ‘Some’ tinned sweetcorn (we used about 2/3 of a tin.  The recipe asks for frozen peas but we couldn’t get any – sweetcorn adds similar sweetness and was very yummy)
  1. Boil water for your sweet potato
  2. When boiling, add the sweet potato.  Bring back to the boil, then set aside with the lid on, preferably isolated from the cold ground.
  3. Fry the onion in the oil until softened.
  4. Fry garlic and ginger for 30 secs or so.
  5. Add the coriander and stir briefly.
  6. Add the tomatoes and beans. Heat it through again (until it bubbles).
  7. Add peanut butter and stir well.  It takes a little while to ‘melt’ into the sauce. As ever, take the pan off the heat to regulate the temperature if you’re using an MSR.
  8. Add veg stock powder, and as much water as you need to keep the sauce at a ‘good’ consistency.  I don’t add water at home, but the MSR cooks much hotter, so I kept adding a splosh from my water bottle.
  9. Stir in greens and sweetcorn.
  10. Check that the sweet potato is cooked, then stir in.  Ours was well cooked, which surprised me.  Another option is to set the stew to one side, and give the sweet potato a boost on the heat.
  11. Season to taste, and serve!
Man peeling a sweet potato
Even more important to prep in advance for this one. Wine optional 😉

 

Sweet potato cooking
Get the sweet potato going first

 

Adding tomatoes to the pan
Sauté your onion, garlic and ginger, then add the tomatoes

 

Stirring stew
Add the beans, then stir in the peanut butter and stock powder.  Watch the heat, it can easily stick!  Add water as required.

 

Pan full of stew
Stir in the greens and sweetcorn, and finally the cooked sweet potato

 

Woman stirring a pan of food
Season to taste

 

Two bowls of stew
Done! We topped ours with extra peanuts. It was honestly just as good as at home!

So there you go!  Even if you don’t fancy trying these very vague recipes, I hope that this post has given you some inspiration.  It’s surprising what you can do on the humble camping stove!  Please drop us a line if you have any questions.

An administrative aside:  for regular readers who were disappointed by the lack of a flickr link in yesterday’s post (all 2 of you 😉 please check out our latest album here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/xKa08m

As ever, you’re welcome to follow us on Facebook and Instagram, @unprofessionaladventurers…..  Updates somewhat infrequent at the moment, apparently it’s harder to find free wifi in New Zealand than most of South East Asia…..

More soon 🙂

Choose your own adventure

Was anyone else obsessed with the ‘choose your own adventure’ books back in the day?  I loved them.  What a brilliant concept!  I’d re-read each one, choosing all the different options to see which gave the best ending. In real life, it can often be difficult to choose to do what you actually want to do, rather than doing what you think you should do.  (Or maybe that’s just me – Ed certainly struggles far less with this predicament!)

This certainly applies to cycle touring.  We’ve met many cyclists who were proud to tell us they’d ‘cycled all the way’ from X.  But also, and arguably in greater numbers, those who were slightly embarrased about having ‘given in’ and hopped on the train / bus / plane / boat for whatever perfectly valid reason.  We nipped this feeling in the bud on our UK pre-tour, when we took the train between Newport and Bristol because we were hungover after Doddski’s wedding, and simply couldn’t be bothered to cycle.  This has made subsequent similar decisions far simpler!  It’s not a competition, and we’ve actually quite enjoyed the variety that alternative modes of transport have provided.

Two people on a train
On the train to Wellington yesterday

However, when you’ve told everyone that you’re quitting your job and b*ggering off to ‘go cycle touring’ for a year or however long, it can be a little difficult to admit that, actually, you’d kind of had enough of riding your bike, and would quite like to do something else for a while.  But this, folks, is where we are.

For me, it’s been coming on for a while.  I’ve had the feeling of something not being ‘quite right’ for a few months, if I’m really honest. For Ed, there were flickers in Malaysia, as we were nearly run off the road on a couple of occasions by fast moving trucks.  But it’s really solidified over the last few weeks here in New Zealand.

Beautiful as it may be, cycling here can be summed up in three words: hills, wind and trucks.

Hills we can deal with, and actually quite like (most of the time, gravel roads not included).
Headwinds make me grumpy, Ed remains stoic.
But, oh the trucks!  When combined with hills, where the road gets squeezed and the shoulder disappears, and especially descending, when the trucks go so fast, there is absolutely no way they’re stopping.  Or when combined with a gusty crosswind, blowing the cyclist into the main carriageway.  Potentially lethal?  Maybe….if you were very unlucky.  Borderline terrifying?  Absolutely.

A cyclist being passed by a large truck
Sigh.

We do think there is hope for cycle-touring around this fantastic country, but with a major caveat.  You can’t (as we did) expect to decide where you want to go based on your choice of ‘sights’, and simply use your bike to take you there. You need to go where the cycling is good.  I have to admit, I had read several accounts telling a similar tale before we arrived.  But I had to experience it for myself to get through my thick skull.

In addition to all of the above, it turns out that New Zealand is actually quite BIG.  We thought we were happy to compromise, and just to see the parts of the country that we had time to cycle to…..but when we were REALLY honest with ourselves, we realised that this was not the case.

So, I hear you cry, what IS the plan??  Well my dears, I hope you are sitting comfortably.  Ex-work colleagues will be amused to hear that we practically had a brainstorming session to figure this out (and, alas, I was NOT in charge!)

We are currently in Wellington (the capital, don’t you know), having cycled most of the way from Auckland (yay us ;). On Monday, we  will hop on the Bluebridge ferry and cross to Picton on the South Island.  We will then cycle 18 whole kilometres to the small town of Tuamarina where we have secured not only a bed for the night, but storage for our trusty steeds AND a load of our junk for a ‘few’ weeks.  Hooray for warmshowers!!

We will then identify as ‘backpackers‘ for the aforementioned few weeks, exploring the delights of Queenstown and Wanaka (for hiking and wine).  We will travel by bus, stay in hostels / campsites, and continue living pretty frugally. We will breathe in mountain air and ogle at splendiferous views.  I can’t flippin’ wait.

We are going to pick the bikes up again, and ride a little bit more, but it won’t be our focus.  No, folks, the hiking shoes will be firmly ON.  

It doesn’t end there either.  We’ve made the big decision not to cycle-tour in Australia.  Mostly because it’s massive, but also because we’ve heard similar reports about the road conditions  We are hoping to buy a van 🙂 for a serious road trip.  With a bike rack, obvs.

Because we do still love our bikes, honest.  So much in fact, that we’ve changed our flights to fly back to Bologna, rather than Heathrow (rumour is the pizza’s better).  The plan is to ride home from there….somehow!

INFORMATION OVERLOAD!!  

Enough already.  Here are a few pics from our ride between New Plymouth and Wellington, which is probably why you’re actually here.  Apologies for all the rambling 🙂

A black sand beach
We saw many black sand beaches along the ‘surf highway’

A river valley
We spent a day exploring the wonderful Whanganui river road

An old house
We did a lot of camping, but also stayed at this extremely lovely hostel

A panorama with blue sky
We’ve been treated to some fabulous views (read: ridden up A LOT of hills) 

A New Zealand pigeon
We’ve made friends with the locals (this is Mr Kereru)

Two people drinking red wine
And we’ve sampled the local wine (it would be rude not to)

And that’s it, you’re up to date!  Now don’t fall off your chairs when I say this, but you can expect another blog VERY SOON.  Before we leave Wellington, if all goes to plan.  It will be quite a change from the usual programme, in that the main topic will be COOKING! On a camping stove.  Get excited!

Flickr album coming soon…..flickr is not my friend today but fingers crossed it comes around ASAP!

A change of tack

I am sitting in the lounge at Sunflower Lodge YHA in New Plymouth, listening to chillaxing music, eating an apple with peanut butter, and waiting for Ed to make me a cup of tea.  It’s almost like we’re on holiday or something!  The slight snag is that when I try and get up and walk anywhere, I’m currently waddling like a duck.  More on that later.  What on earth have we been up to since I last posted??

We have cycled some beautiful roads, and taken in some spectacular scenery.

Two cyclists on a dirt track
Pretending we’re on mountain bikes in Pirongia Forest Park (on our way to the free campsite – see below)

 

Cyclist on the road in the New Zealand forest
On our way from Marakopa to Te Kuiti.

A man walking onto a black sand beach
Checking out Kawhia’s Ocean Beach

We’ve tried our best to stay on the backroads, with some unfortunate consequences…..

 

Cyclist giving a gravel road the thumbs down
And the road turns to gravel…..for 7 steep, downhill kilometres.  Sense of humour failures all round. I didn’t kick my bike, honest.

We’ve also been scared silly by the occasional close encounters with fast moving trucks.  They are mostly pretty courteous…and give you space when there’s space to give.  If there’s no space, rest assured they’re coming through anyway.  Our new tactic is to jump off the road when they approach – possibly overkill, but it makes us feel better!

We’ve camped in some special places, including one in the pouring rain (where the host took pity on us and gave us free shower tokens!)

Campsite
Camping with a view at Shekinah Farm. The hosts let everyone share their kitchen and living room so no need to sit in the cold wind either!

 

Campsite with a single tent
We enjoyed having Kaniwhaniwha campsite all to ourselves! We did have to swim in the river to wash, and the water filter came in handy….but it was free!

 

We’ve even managed to cook up something of a storm at said campsites.

 

Chick peas with couscous
Green beans, chick peas and tomatoes with couscous

 

Curry and rice
Coconut curry with halloumi

Pasta
Lentil ragu with pasta

 

We’ve also spent two wonderful evenings in the company of Warmshowers hosts….in the lap of luxury in their nice houses with well-stocked beer/wine fridges!!  Not to mention their friendly cats 🙂

 

A couple
Off to a good start – fun times with Ray and Zoe in Papakura

Four people sitting around a dinner table
Another lovely evening thanks to Stephen and Kara – who previously hosted Anna McNuff! Also great to meet fellow cyclist Ev.

And so we find ourselves in New Plymouth!  Not on everyone’s itinerary due to being somewhat stuck out to the West, but I have wanted to come here since my very first visit to New Zealand.  Why I hear you ask??  Because it is home to this beast:

 

Volcano
Mount Taranaki. Who doesn’t love a perfect pointy mountain?

Not only did we cross paths with my parents once again, leading to a bonus evening spent in their company, but we stumbled upon two days of utterly perfect weather, making it more than feasible to FINALLY don our hiking kit, and get up into the hills.  If we’re really honest, so far, cycling in New Zealand hasn’t really hit the spot*….but this certainly did.

*slightly our own fault for being on bikes that don’t deal well with gravel or single track…and thus being forced onto the highways a lot more than we would like.  Not sure any fully-loaded bike would make me feel comfortable on the slippy stuff, however, but I am the sissiest of sissies!  But really, New Zealand, can’t you manage to pave your flipping roads??  Thailand has managed…..  Grumble over!

So, we squeezed our kit and food for 2 days into our ridiculously small backpacks, hopped into a shuttle up to the National Park, and were deposited at the start of the Pouakai Circuit.  Two days of arduous ups and downs, steps and tree roots, a spot of mud…..and wall to wall sunshine illuminating view after stupendous view.

Panorama with a volcano
The track is mostly contained within this photo!

Hiking hut
Home for the night – Pouakai hut 

Hiker is the woods
In the woods

Forested hills
Looking back at the Pouakai ranges – the remains of a volcano much older than Taranaki

It was really wonderful.  Friendly people at the hut in the evening, perfect stars when night fell (is it easier to see the milky way in the southern hemisphere?  I shoud know this!), and a stunning sunrise over New Plymouth the following morning.  Sigh.  If only my legs were still talking to me!  😀

More tramps are to be tramped….this change of tack is not temporary.  Watch this space!

So, onto the usual admin 🙂  Photos from our NZ cycle adventure so far can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/A4871U

And, of course, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @unprofessionaladventurers – struggling a bit with lack of wifi here in NZ but my intentions are good!

 

 

 

All change

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while.  I’d anticipated writing about the change between cycling in Asia and being on holiday in New Zealand but, I’ve left it so flipping long that we’re about to start cycling once again!  What can I say – so much fun to be had. I’m a bit under the weather, but after 2 weeks in NZ already, we’re bursting to get back on the bikes, even if we don’t make huge progress for a few days.  So, what have we been up to?

We’ve spent a bit of time in Auckland, including meeting up with Ruth and family and participating in parkrun 🙂 🙂 🙂

People standing with the parkrun flag
Happy parkrunners

We’ve enjoyed a campervan adventure with my parents, to the gorgeous Coromandel peninsula.

People walking along a seafront boardwalk
Bowentown beach. Not too shabby.

People sitting at a picnic table next to a campervan
This camping lark’s alright

 

We’ve explored the equally gorgeous Northland.

 

Beach cottages
We stayed here. Thanks to Gracie and Mark for letting us gatecrash!

 

People on the beach
Only 80km of perfect beach…..

 

We’ve spent lots of time with the wonderful Jihanny Baby.

 

Two ladies standing on a walking track
Old friends!

 

People on swings
Never TOO old

I’ve even managed to compete* in a triathlon.

*possibly overstating things a wee bit…..the swim was a disaster and my chain came off, but I made it to the finish line and loved every minute!

Three people in wetsuits standing at the edge of a lake
Checking out the swim course like pros

 

Female runner, waving hands
On the run after a mechanical!

However, the greatest story actually comes from our, sorry, my, somewhat traumatic entry into the country in the first place.  Sigh.  I suppose I’d better fess up on this one.

Those who have known me well for a while may remember that I had a small ‘mishap’ when backpacking in Australia as a naive 22 year old….namely that I inadvertently overstayed my welcome, and received an automatic exclusion from the country for three whole years.  Oops.  Which, considering how square and law-abiding I am in reality, has been a source of amusement ever since.  To be honest, I hadn’t given the implications a huge amount of thought, other than fearing that entry into Australia at a later date may be more complicated…but they did say they would probably let me back in, and I’ve heard of others actually being deported, and still being admitted at a later date on long-term visas.  I’ve also travelled extensively since that fateful trip, including to the somewhat picky US of A numerous times, and never encountered any problems….until now.

Turns out that the New Zealand arrival card has a box that I was obliged to tick.  I also had to answer ‘yes’ to the fateful question at the e-passport gates.  

‘Have you ever been excluded from any country?’

Oh dear.

Yes.  Yes I have.  But…..it was so long ago!  And I was just stupid!  I am so boring and well-behaved, surely this isn’t an issue???!!!  I’ve been to New Zealand THREE TIMES since this happened, why is it an issue now??

I was escorted to the naughty seats and left to sweat while my passport was taken away for further examination. Eventually, a somewhat stern lady came over and took me through the one way door.  And left me to sweat a bit more.  Someone else photographed me and took my fingerprints.  And then left me once again. 

Lady number 1 (who did introduce herself with her first name and was perfectly nice to me) eventually returned, and took me into the ‘interview room’.  She informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I fell under section 51 of the immigration act, 2009.  I fell into the same category as actual criminals, and New Zealand was not at all keen to let me in.  With Ed sitting on the wrong side of the one way door, my parents already safely in their hotel room, and Jihan on her way to collect us, you could say that my heart sank a little bit.  We went through everything:  what happened on the trip to Australia, what I was doing in New Zealand, and how on earth I’d managed to enter in 2013 when the new rule was already in place (still a mystery).  She wanted Ed’s details, my parents’ dates of birth and flight number, even Jihan’s date of birth which I didn’t actually know.  She said we needed to ‘make a case’ for letting me in – did I have any really pressing reason to be there?  Not really.  A holiday and the expectations of others. Things were looking very bleak indeed.

Then, off she popped to ‘speak to her manager’ and left me to sweat once again.  I was sobbing by this point – things looked completely hopeless and I couldn’t imagine breaking the news 😦

After what seemed like hours, she returned.  And it was a bit like a switch had been flicked.  We went through everything again, but her demeanour was more cheerful (I should say that at no point was she unkind to me – in fact she was pretty nice, considering the conversation we were having!)  A six month visa was to be mine after all.  

I am still unsure if the two hour ordeal was ‘teaching me a lesson’, or if my entry into the country really was in serious doubt.  Apparently they deal with people like me on a case by case basis, so maybe I really did have to convince her that I was worthy!  Either way, it was pretty harrowing for me, and possibly worse for Ed, stranded on the other side of that door.

Quite funny that we’d been so worried about the weight of our luggage, yet Qantas didn’t even weigh our bike boxes.  We’d also fretted extensively about the state of our tyres and tent, knowing how strict New Zealand’s biosecurity controls can be.  The guy DID look at our tent, and DID check that our boxes indeed carried bicycles, but was far more interested in chatting to us about our trip than giving us a hard time.  It’s always the things you haven’t thought of that come back to bite you!

We were then in a big ol’ rush to get the bikes unpacked and ready for Jihan to collect us – good job we didn’t have to ride anywhere, as I wasn’t in any fit state to do a decent assembly job at this point!!

In the bike assembly area at Auckland airport
Not sure my mind was quite on the job!

Two weeks later, I’m still heaving a big sigh of relief.  And, in case you’re wondering, I applied for my Aussie visa as soon as we had a spare moment….success!  I’m not counting my chickens, but all does seem to be well…..and I am am well aware of the conditions of said visa, like a proper responsible grown up.

Today we head south.  We’re actually only cycling 18km, then taking a boat and a train to Papakura, where we’ll be staying with Warmshowers* hosts for the first time. We then have a couple more easy days lined up as we potter towards the surf town of Raglan and eventually on to Mount Taranaki for a spot of tramping (NZ-style hiking!)  We’ve had blissful sunshine for most of the last fortnight so, of course, the weather is breaking today and rain is forecast. As my Mum would say, this is why New Zealand is such a green and pleasant land!  Bring it on 😉

*Warmshowers is a network of people who are happy to host smelly cyclists in their homes.  We are hosts in the UK so if you’re ever passing near Ottery St Mary, look us up!

Photos from the first stage of our Kiwi adventure can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/h08G8h

ICYMI my round up of our SE Asian adventure can be found here:  https://unprofessionaladventurers.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/asia-you-blew-our-minds/

The next blog will feature some actual cycling once again, fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Asia, you blew our minds

Oh Asia.  What an adventure we have had!  How we will miss your incredibly kind, friendly and delighted-to-see-us people, your delicious (and CHEAP!) food, and your (mostly) sunny skies.  If you could sort out your issues with single-use plastic, too many kids not in school and treatment of animals, our love would be virtually unconditional!  Oh, and maybe start providing roast potatoes. 

So.  Many.  Memories.  It’s impossible to name the ‘ best bit’ or our ‘favourite place’. Instead, here are a few(!) of the most unforgettable moments from the last five months.
 
 

Thailand
  • Cycling 26km through central Bangkok and its crazy traffic. Without dying.
  • Finding a bike shop in Uttaradit to fix Cecil’s bent rear mech hanger…for the princely sum of £1.25.  And having our photo taken with the lovely owners for their Facebook page.
  • Deciding to go out for a walk in Lamphun when we really didn’t feel like it, and finding ourselves the only visitors at a beautiful temple, complete with chanting monks. 
  • Braving a very local restaurant in the tiny town of Mae La Noi for lunch, and encountering a friendly teacher who spoke perfect English, in addition to a beautifully laminated English menu.  And the food was excellent 🙂
  • The wooden windmills outside all manner of establishments.  Why?  ‘Because they look nice’.
  • Cycling up Chiang Mai’s local mountain, Doi Suthep, on our day off.  WHAT were we thinking?
  • The birth of our fascination with the local agriculture, and the ability to grow crops on a sheer hillside.  Mountain cabbage, anyone?
  • Stumbling upon a celebratory night market in Mai Hong Son with traditional music and dancing, tons of delicious food and everyone out enjoying themselves.  What an atmosphere.
  • The sight of the ‘backwards 17’ sign signalling the presence of a fully vegetarian restaurant (yumtastic).
  • The day we cycled to Pang Mapha, and encountered Devon-style gradients for kilometres on end.  #shutuplegs #shutupkaty
  • The first time we saw the Mighty Mekong, and looked across it into Laos.  Then sat next to it while eating our dinner at the wonderful night market.
  • Trekking through the jungle on Ko Mook with Marie, and literally being EATEN ALIVE by mosquitos.
 
Yummy veggie food served here!

 
Laos
  • The process of entering Laos – AKA general confusion.  We soon learned that this was the norm, and to just go with the flow!
  • Our first day cycling, involving encounters with free range children, chickens, pigs and goats, and seeing people washing under communal taps in the street.  With big trucks hurtling through at (fortunately) infrequent intervals.
  • Cycling in the hills up to Kiew Kacham and down again, including a night in the tiny mountain town.  Not sure they see many funny western tourists…..
  • Eating lunch with chickens wandering around under the restaurant tables.
  • Finally meeting a few other cyclists, and having a good old chinwag.
  • Arriving in shiny, cosmopolitan Luang Prabang, where there are croissants-a-plenty.  Is this really Laos?
  • Bathroom sinks emptying directly onto the floor.
  • Getting stuck in the tiny town of Phonsi due to high winds, and the fear of flying corrugated iron from nearby roofs.  No window, squat toilet and cold shower?  No problem.
So cool to meet like-minded souls!
 
Vietnam
  • The weird, post-apocalyptic no-mans land at the border.  Made weirder by dense fog.
  • Our incredible first meal (fried rice, quite the staple) in a tiny restaurant in a tiny town.
  • Hot taps and sinks that don’t empty onto the floor…..but baths that do(!)
  • Exceptionally loud karaoke in the middle of the countryside at 10am.
  • Stopping at the friendly MOC coffee shop with the proudest owner in the land.
  • The coffee.  Full stop.  
  • The free tea that comes with the coffee.
  • The entirely uninhibited people.  Happy to holler, to stand and stare, to follow, to touch, to selfie.  Always wanting to help (think tiny ladies carrying Ed’s massive panniers up three flights of stairs). Overwhelming at first, but we learned to love them!
  • Hiking up the side of a waterfall in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.  Health and Safety, what’s that?
  • Going in search of veggie banh mi sandwiches in Hue and eating them sitting on teeny plastic chairs in a building resembling someone’s garage.  And THEN finding veggie bun noodles next door and just having to try those too.
  • The large, modern towns that look somewhat Western and yet feel totally Vietnamese all at the same time.
  • Mopeds (and cars) living INSIDE the houses
  • Cycling the Hai Van pass in the pouring rain, accompanied by shouts, waves and beeps of encouragement (incredulity??)
  • Mopeds carrying pretty much anything.  TV?  Washing Machine?  Plate glass?  No problem.
  • Getting happily lost in the heart of the coconut industry in the delta, and stumbling upon the most wonderful veggie restaurant for lunch.
  • The sheer plethora of veggie restaurants in general.  Google for ‘chay’ or just keep your eyes peeled – they are everywhere!
  • Ferries instead of bridges.  A dying lifestyle.
Cafe vong (hammock) AKA cyclist heaven

 
Cambodia
  • Arriving in lovely Kep with its beach and warm sea.  Bliss.
  • Having a much easier time of it in general, thanks to the kind, gentle people.
  • Incredibly noisy weddings right by the side of the road.  ‘We play the music loud so that everyone knows there’s a wedding and can come and join in’.
  • Red coolboxes full of cold drinks outside every other house.
  • Cycling in the craziest, most lawless but surprisingly considerate traffic in Phnom Penh.
  • Exploring Bayon Temple after the crowds had gone home with Nixie and AJ.
  • Unexpectedly pretty scenery.
  • Unexpectedly pleasant towns.
  • Unexpectedly good roads
Cambodia. Pretty countryside and chillaxed cows.

 
Malaysia
  • Oh the food.  Once we’d cracked it, we couldn’t get enough of the veggie Chinese buffets and the fried rice / roti canai / lemon tea at the 24 hour Muslim eateries.  
  • Not the roads.  Or the traffic!
  • Being back in the mountains.  With the promise of elephants….we saw some poo!
  • Wild camping up a tower.
  • Actually being sad to leave a country that we really took a while to warm to!  This short list is unrepresentative 🙂
Wild camping with a view

 
Singapore
  • The absolutely wonderful Tree in Lodge hostel which looked after us so so well (spoilt us rotten, in fact!) and allowed us to meet so many other cyclists, with so many stories to share.
  • parkrun with Emilie.
  • Watching the Marina Bay Sands light show from entirely the wrong vantage point with the Morgan-Forsters.
  • Eating delicious food in Chinese veggie restaurants with Mum and Dad.
Singapore. Not too shabby.
 
And that was that.  New Zealand here we come!
 
PS last lot of Malaysia photos here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/g403M2 
Singapore pics to follow!