Back on it

Believe it or not, this used to be a blog about cycle-touring!!  After a whole lot of backpacking and bus-riding, hiking into the hills, and drinking til we dropped, we actually mounted our trusty bicycles, and pedalled a few miles, fully-loaded once again.  From Blenheim, we headed North-West to the small town of Havelock, the last stop before we’d head into the Marlborough Sounds for a camping adventure.

Not much happens in Havelock, but we entertained ourselves with a short, scenic hike, and did our shopping for the planned trip.  We’d visited the Sounds on our NZ holiday 5 years ago, and it was one of our favourite places, if not THE favourite, so we were pretty excited.

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View from Cullen Point

We awoke the following day, packed up our stuff and headed to the campsite office to double check the weather forecast.  Oh dear!  Heavy rain was coming our way, with weather warnings and watches a-plenty.  Not really camping weather…..the weather changes here a lot more often than we change our clothing!

Sighs were sighed and we hastily altered our plans.  We cycled to Picton, holed up in a hostel (taking great advantage of their free Netflix, breakfast, soup and chocolate pudding) and wondered what to do next.  Should we bin off the Sounds and just head straight to Wellington??  The snag being that we’d then have an awful lot of time on our hands before heading to Auckland, without a whole lot more to see.  Or should we head into the Sounds as originally planned?  The snag being that we’d have to backtrack along the impossibly scenic Queen Charlotte Drive for a whopping 20K…..in hindsight, it was a bit of a no brainer!

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Views like this were no hardship

We had various camping options alongside beautiful Kenepuru Sound which would dictate the length of our journey.  The closest campsite at Moetapu Bay was out because it floods during a king tide….quite glad I read the info AND checked the tides beforehand!  The arduous terrain soon ruled out the furthest option, so we actually ended up camping at Nikau Cove, where we’d stayed at in our camper in 2013.  As we couldn’t remember much about it, this wasn’t a huge downside!  Amusingly, digging out the old photos I now realise we actually camped in exactly the same spot…..

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Higher levels of luxury 5 years ago

Funnily enough, not many people are keen on camping in the southern-hemisphere equivalent of mid-November, so it wasn’t exactly packed, and there certainly weren’t any other tents around!

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In a bid to sit still for as little time as possible, we took our campsite cookery to a new level, and made flatbreads!  They need work, but turned out pretty well and were an excellent accompaniment to our instant curry and mash.  Shame no one brought any wine…..

We didn’t actually freeze despite my concerns (and thanks to $20 worth of blankets to supplement our summer sleeping bags) but we didn’t repeat the swim from 5 years ago either.  We also didn’t drown in the king tide – I was worried, Ed just laughed at me.

Oh, and the stars were pretty awesome.  We have even figured out how to find the Southern Cross (how many astrophysics PhDs does it take blah blah blah….)

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We slept pretty well, meaning we had the energy to repeat the hilly journey all the way back to Picton the next day for more of these views…..

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and more chocolate pudding!!!

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Still no wine though.  Standards really are slipping.

My Emirates app informs me that we have just 17 days left in New Zealand.  We are SUPER excited about getting to Australia (assuming they let me in, obvs, given previous debacles!) but also really looking forward to one last hurrah on the bikes, taking the TRAIN all the way to Auckland, and catching up with the very lovely Jihanny Baby once again!

More weather warnings for tomorrow…..this time for wind.  Wish us luck on the bumpy ferry!  Travel sickness tablets have been purchased in anticipation…..

 

 

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Show me the wine

In my last post, I covered one of the major draws which brought us back to New Zealand (spoiler: tramping, read all about it here).  The other main reason is somewhat less wholesome, and that is WINE.  We love wine.  And we love wineries.  We visited Waiheke Island (for the wine) during the first few days of our trip.  We cycled over 40km in the pouring rain in order to sample Carterton’s finest offering.  And we changed our entire trip plan to avoid missing out on the fabulous Pinot Noir in Central Otago.  So it was only natural that we would end up spending a chunk of time in Marlborough, New Zealand’s best known wine region!

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Some quick stats for you.  Marlborough produces around $1.25 billion of wine exports annually, with just $0.25 billion coming from the country’s other regions.  It is home to around 140 wine companies managing over 25,000 hectares of vineyards, employees over 2000 people, and crushes more than 300,000 tonnes of grapes every year.  It made its name thanks to its fabulous Sauvignon Blanc, which still comprises 85% of the wine produced.  And a whole lot of it is exported to the good old UK 🙂

Such a lot of wine just waiting to be savoured.  We decided to spend a full week in the region to properly check it out.  We visited a total of 12 wineries in that time – I’ll focus on the highlights rather than presenting you with a chronological list, but do scroll to the end for a summary!  We limited ourselves to three wineries per day, which we found to be plenty, given that we were trying up to 9 wines (looking at you, Wairau River!) per tasting.

The winery experience

The majority of tastings are pretty informal, taking place at the winery’s ‘cellar door’.  This usually involves standing up at the bar, with a host who will pour the wine and tell you all about it.  Some wineries offer a set tasting list, others allow you to choose.  Here in Marlborough, they are nearly always free, or ask just a token amount (eg $5) which is then waived if you buy a bottle.  Each winery and indeed each host will have their own style but, in our experience here in Marlborough at least, they have been universally warm, friendly, well-informed and passionate about their wine.

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You would die of boredom if I went through every tasting experience in detail, so here are a few highlights!

Giesen.  Our first Marlborough tasting and what a great start.  We were guided through the vast selection by an exceptionally knowledgeable German lady.  We particularly enjoyed their August 1888 Sauvignon Blanc – my love for barrel-fermented Sauv was born.

Nautilus.  A cosy cellar door with a window into the barrel room – always nice to see wine-making in action.  The wines were just fabulous, and we bought a bottle of their Chardonnay.  We thoroughly enjoyed picking the host’s brains about matching wine with food, and loved her take on cheaper wines – ‘different wines for different times’.

Spy Valley.  Worth it for the beautiful building and stunning location, but the tasting was fun too!  And they have a gorgeous (huge!) dog.  We enjoyed the barrel-fermented Sauv, and also their Merlot-Cabernet blend, which is fast becoming a favourite.  And I discovered that I do like some Riesling.

Jackson Estate. This was one of Ed’s favourites.  The tasting was really relaxed, and the building is super-cool.  The wine was excellent, and we were delighted to learn that it’s widely available in the UK courtesy of Waitrose 🙂

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Villa Maria.  It would be easy to bypass such a huge name, but we were glad we didn’t.  I’ve drunk buckets of their wine at home, but it was a real treat to try some of their smaller batches including a rather fabulous 2010 Merlot-Cabernet from their ‘wine library’.  And the host was absolutely brilliant – pretty sure he would happily have talked about wine all day.

Is it all about Sauvignon Blanc?

As I have already alluded to, it most certainly is not.  In fact, a few days ago I even noted that we were ‘a bit bored’ with Sauv!  However, a couple of new things have come to light.  Firstly, the trend for adding a bit of oak to the equation.  We both love oaky, buttery, Chardy, so this is definitely a step in the right direction for us.  Over the last couple of days we’ve also started learning that Sauv from different areas of Marlborough can be very different, which is making things more interesting, and will be very useful when selecting wine in the future.

The other biggie around here is Pinot Noir.  When we visited Marlborough five years ago, we were seriously underwhelmed by their Pinot.  In the interim, we discovered the Central Otago variety, but have more recently found it a bit too far in the direction of Ribena for our liking….whereas the North Island Pinots are a bit on the light side…..turns out the Marlborough variety is a good balance!

The area also makes a lot of ‘aromatics’ – that’s the more Germanic varieties such as Riesling, of which there is plenty.  Ed loves Riesling but I came to Marlborough thinking I was not a fan.  This has changed somewhat….give me an aged, dry Riesling and I’ll actually be pretty happy!  Now that my mind has opened, I also really did quite enjoy a taste of a Wither Hills Grunerveltliner today, not least because it felt like quite the privilege to taste something from a run of just 300 bottles.  AND Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer (which tastes of turkish delight!) was pretty fabulous too.

There’s also a good sprinkling of Chardy, which keeps me happy,  plus the odd Merlot-Cabernet, which is fast becoming a favourite.

If the rest of the world would just temper its obsession with NZ Sauv, we might get a bit more of the interesting stuff arriving on our shores!

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Is it all about Marlborough….?

It really isn’t.  We’ve had a great time here but enjoyed the other wine regions equally.  We absolutely loved Martinborough, Hawkes Bay, Central Otago AND Nelson, although we didn’t do quite such comprehensive tours there.  We’d encouraging any other budding wine-os to consider the alternatives!

We’ve also had great fun at a couple of ‘serve yourself’ wine bars.  The concept is brilliant, if a little dangerous…..

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We may pop back to Marlborough’s ‘Wine Station’ tomorrow if time allows, for one last tipple before we head off on our bicycles once again…. Good times!

The full list 

Summary of where we went and what it cost.

  • Giesen, $7 for 6 wines
  • Wairau River, free
  • Fromm, free
  • Spy Valley, free
  • Forrest, $7 for 7 wines
  • Framingham, free
  • Nautilus, free
  • Allan Scott, $2 for 5 wines
  • (Cloudy Bay, $10 for 4 wines, $15 for 3 Sauvignon Blancs, $25 for the ‘indulge tasting – we didn’t actually go in)*
  • Jackson Estate, $5 for 7 wines
  • Villa Maria, free
  • Wither Hills, $5 for 4 wines
  • Lawson’s Dry Hills, free

We would recommend visiting any/all of the above, if you’re ever in the area 🙂

 

 

This is why we came

Many people seem surprised that this is my fourth (and Ed’s second) trip to New Zealand.  Apparently it’s firmly in the ‘trip of a lifetime’ bucket for most people, and not somewhere they’d consider visiting on more than one occasion.  Various factors brought us back here yet again, not least the ease with which one can propel oneself into the (relative) wilderness on a multi-day hike (or tramp, to use the kiwi terminology).

New Zealand has a huge network of tramping tracks (translation:  long distance footpaths) of varying difficulty, all just waiting to be explored.  Not that unusual, you might think.  But I haven’t come to the best part.  Huts.  Backcountry huts.  Punctuating most, if not all, tramping tracks at regular intervals, these modest shelters mean that you can head into the hills for days (weeks, months?) on end, without having to camp.  New Zealand has nearly a thousand of them! I like camping, but not having to carry the tent, or indeed sleep in a tent in inclement conditions, really is the icing on the cake (and leaves more space in your pack for the important things, such as chocolate pudding and wine).

I’ve already described the wonderful time we had tramping the Pouakai Circuit in Egmont National Park, the Greenstone-Caples loop (mostly) in Fjordland National Park, and our short foray to Mutton Cove in Abel Tasman National Park.  Last week we headed into the somewhat lesser visited Nelson Lakes National Park, and both agree that it was the tramp that had everything.

Awe-inspiring scenery

To be fair, you have to try quite hard to find parts of New Zealand that don’t tick this particular box.  However, I think Nelson Lakes deserves special mention here for managing to wow us despite everything we’ve seen thus far (including walking the Milford Track on a previous visit, boringly-often touted as the ‘finest walk in the world’).  I would even go so far as to say that this is the most scenic multi-dayer that I have ever done.  The perfect weather certainly helped things along here, so thanks to everyone who was doing their sun-dances on our behalf!

 

Memorable lodgings

We’ve stayed in a fair few New Zealand huts now, but mostly on pretty well-worn paths, and therefore mostly of the somewhat more plush variety.  Heck, some of them even have flush toilets, which took us somewhat by surprise!  Not so, however, in Nelson Lakes.  And while I’m no greater fan of the long drop than the next tramper, it did kind of feel more real.  Add to that some far, far smaller huts costing just $5 per night (compared with well over $30 for the popular ‘Great Walk’ tramps, up to a colossal $70 per night on the Milford Track, for very similar facilities!) and we felt like proper trampers for sure.  We had the first two huts all to ourselves which was a real treat.  The third did come to the princely sum of $15 and we did have to share it, but the incredible setting more than made up for it.

 

Fascinating flora and fauna

New Zealand is cloaked with plants that would not look out of place in one of those massive greenhouses at Kew Gardens.  It’s green and pleasant to the max, positively dripping with foliage at every turn.  We know next to nothing about the plants, but like to think we make up for our ignorance with enthusiasm for ‘botanising’.  We’re also continually fascinated by the hilariously friendly New Zealand birds.  Now I’m all sympathy for the pest-problem (damn and blast those pesky white people for bringing their nasty stoats and rabbits with them!) but really, when you’ve nearly stepped on the curious robin for the fifteenth time,  you can kind of see how natural selection works.

 

 

Just enough challenge

On planning the tramp, I was a little concerned that the days were too short, and that we might not feel sufficiently challenged.  Oh, how foolish I was.  With this not being such a popular location, even the paths along the valleys were pretty tricky underfoot, with roots and rocks a-plenty, and were far from anything I would describe as flat.   Add to that multiple stream crossings (wet feet ahoy) and we were definitely tired!  I knew that the third day was potentially a wee bit tougher, with 16km distance and 1000m ascent, but was not actually prepared for the reality in any way.  In fact, I’m not sure I would have agreed to it, let alone chosen the route, if I’d known what it was like!  Note to self – there’s a reason why everyone else goes the other way!  At the 15km mark, you basically hit the sheer side of the valley, and the only way is up.  Hands down the steepest, rockiest kilometre of my life – which Ed gambolled up like a mountain goat of course.

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Yesterday, this river was full of water!
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Up there? You can not be serious.
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The only way is up.
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Somewhat precipitous on day 4.

While all of my photos are of sunshine and bluebird skies, it was also pretty cold at night in the small huts.  The stars made up for it though, and we even managed to light successful fires two nights in a row, winner.

Chocolate pudding and wine.  Yes really.

Quality nutrition is very important when tramping.  The physical requirements are obvious, but we are also great believers in taking appropriate items with which to keep our spirits up in times of hardship.  We feel we now have our catering pretty much perfect – curry and instant mashed potato was the previous highlight; this time we extended our larder to include steamed chocolate pudding for the last night, and wine for the previous two.  Thank you, thank you, Peter Yealands for selling wine in plastic bottles, a tramper at heart for sure.

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Before arriving in New Zealand this time, tramping was one of the things we were most looking forward to.  Four tramps down, and the itch has most certainly been scratched.  Which is a bit of a relief as it really is getting a bit cold now, and Marlborough wine is calling!

I’ve posted a million more photos of Nelson Lakes on Facebook, so do head over to @unprofessionaladventurers and check them out (if you aren’t bored already).  You’ll be pleased (amazed??) to know that I’m already planning the next blog post, all about wine tasting.  Good times 🙂

 

 

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!!

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)
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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.  
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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!