Blog // Tales from the trail
"Get South!". That's where the cycling is at, we'd been told on many occasions by many people when discussing NZ cycling routes. And so, after one final coffee in our new favourite coffee shop in the entire world, it was time to head to the ferry terminal - although, not before a quick and tasty food-truck stop (to line our stomachs you see) on the waterfront before the ferry crossing.
The wind was up even by Wellington standards and of the two passenger terminals that serve the Cook Strait crossing, typically ours was the one a few kilometers out of town in the direction the wind was coming from. At some points the gusts were so strong it felt like we were going backwards, but persevering we arrived on time and checked in; "Leave ye bikes around the side, you can board as soon as the train is on..."
The train?!? On the ferry!?! Yes, we had heard correctly as we bunjeed our bikes to a random-looking box on the rail-deck of the super-massive ferry before heading up for a rooftop-level vista of the city and to say our farewells (for now) to Wellington. En route, we met only the second pair of cyclists of the trip-so-far; a French lady and a Scottish gent who had teamed up on their route south, and so exchanging past and future trip stories and plans, we chugged out of the harbour, across the breathtaking bay and out onto the Cook Straits.
Despite the wind, the considerable bulk of the vessel made for smooth sailing and a rather entertaining game of - how far can you lean into the wind before you fall over - to pass the time.
Hitting the Marlborough Sounds it wasn't just the wind that took our breath away but some of the most spectacular scenery we'd encountered so far, as the ferry navigated through the maze of brilliant green angular peaks, rising out of the crystal clear blue waters. We could only imagine what Cook and his crew felt as they sailed through for the first time, although we were starting to get an impression of why the Maori before them referred to the country as 'Aotearoa' - the land of the long white cloud.
Upon docking we strolled downstairs and rolled our bikes off into the late afternoon light as soon as the large ship doors had opened (last on - first off!), said farewell to our new cycling friends and trundled around the coast to our digs for the night at Patricia's, a very good friend of Corallie's mum who conveniently lived in Picton.
We were entertained all evening by fascinating stories from Patricia's career (an author, academic and educational advisor amongst other things) over a BBQ and a glass or two of Kiwi plonk. We also took advantage of her local knowledge and sketched out a rough route for tomorrow's cycling on a map of the south that we had picked up earlier in the day.
- Total distance - 36 km
- Time taken ~ 4 hours
- Broken chains - 1
- Bays passed - many
- Cyclists met - 3
In the morning we were treated to a quick tour of Picton and the surrounding bays, concluding with a tasty lunch stop before it was once again time to pick up our bikes and hit the road. Our destination was Havelock, rumoured to be the mussel capital, not just of New Zealand, but the entire world!
Whilst hilly, the back coastal road out of Picton was one of the most impressive we'd ridden to date and if this was to be a sign of things to come, we were starting to see what all the hype about South-Island-cycling was about. Diving in and out of stunning bay after stunning bay we stopped in a particularly impressive one (complete with scenic reserve) for a sit down and a handful of nuts.
Just as we were about to move on, our third cyclist sighting on the South Island rolled in, toppling our total North Island tally on only our second day. After a brief chat and query about how our 'second-hand bikes were holding up?' (OK - so far!), no fewer than 1.5 pedal strokes out of the car park - CLANG - my chain had snapped - and I'd been so diplomatic in my fate-tempting response!
Two removed chain links later however we were back on the road, out of the steep, winding bays and dropping down the valley into Havelock. About 10 km out of town, a keen road cyclist had overtaken us. No surprises there. What was surprising though was that about five minutes later, he came back to, as it transpired, shield us from the headwind by leading our two-sprout pack! A lovely gent, he gave us some tips about the route west, where to stop, where to avoid, and as soon as were sheltered by the next set of hills, he bid us adieu. This was the type of over-and-above friendly encounter from strangers, that we were experiencing frequently, and very appreciative of.
Havelock itself is only a small town on the main road, home to a couple of shops, pubs, a campsite and most critically the Mussel Pot; serving up the regions famous fare by the bucket load.
Although they can be readily found in the wild, to produce the quantities required for export the mussels are farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. Babies or 'spat' are collected from washed up seaweed, which is in turn stuffed into a cotton stocking that also contains a rope. These are then hung from floats back out at sea and once the cotton perishes a rope covered in baby mussels remains (100s per metre). Over the next 6-8 months these grow and compete for space, at which point they are removed and seeded to another rope in lower numbers (30ish per metere). These are left to grow until maturity, at which point the farmer's main concerns are having enough rope to keep them all and having enough floats to stop the ropes (and now sizable mussels) from sinking the farm!
The end results were juicy delicious treats with shells as big as your hand, best washed down with a local vino!
The Mussel Pot were also keen to dispel a myth (apparently started by a British celebrity chef) that those mussels which don't open when cooked aren't good to eat; provided you don't remove the beards too soon (which kills the mussels), smell is your best gauge!
Stuffed with mussels and very satisfied the sprouts decided it was time to call it a night - a long drag on the main road awaited the next day and we needed our own muscles to be fresh!
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