Blog // Tales from the trail
...and a new form of transport! I feel Corallie is still scratching her head as to just how it came to be so, and, at current, I can feel a nervous bubbling of anticipation below the surface each and every time the prospect of 'setting off' is addressed.
Bizarrer still is that rolling discussions backwards, we actually believe it was Corallie who floated the idea first, somewhere above the Tasman Sea on our flight to New Zealand; perhaps a suggestion subconsciously popping into her head and out of her mouth whilst flicking through glossy, picture-postcard-perfect images of our next destination's array of landscapes proudly adorning the pages of the in-flight magazine.
First priority after arriving in Auckland however was sleep, after a long Emirates flight (the crew visibly grumpy to be working on Christmas day), a long stop-over in Melbourne airport (customs also grumpy - "International transfer? No idea what ya mean mate. Check-in is at departures") and finally a much shorter and chirpier flight with Air New Zealand. Thankfully our host, Kate, very kindly agreed to meet us at the airport and so all we needed to worry about was relaxing and catching up on some much needed sleep. Drifting along in a semi-conscious state, our drive back through Auckland reminded us of so many European places, but also beautifully unique in its own way.
Kate's flat was located in the stunning suburb of St Heliers and the following morning after a lazy breakfast, we took a scenic walk along the coast and enjoyed a sharp coffee in a neighbouring bay.
A bit more awake we turned our conversation to the matter in hand - how were we going to make our stay in New Zealand (our most expensive stop so far) both enjoyable and economical? Granted, many travellers come here to make money during a +6 month trip by WWOOFing and/or fruit picking etc, but our agenda was a little different, as we didn't strictly 'need' money right now and having only 2 months we were looking more at a means and pace to stretch given funds over this duration.
Our first thoughts turned to the world of vans, as this had served us very well in Morocco, enabling cheap transport as well as the ability to cook and sleep in said van. What we didn't bank on however was just how seasonal New Zealand travel is and rental quotes were coming in several times higher than the advertised* prices, if indeed they had any vans left to rent.
*terms and conditions apply, rates valid only for the coldest, darkest days in the depths of winter.
Secondhand purchase prices weren't much better either from early investigations, with seemingly over-the-odds asking prices for well-worn looking campers; which we would no doubt only be able to sell at a loss towards the end of the peak season when we were due to leave (assuming no major repair bills occurred in-between).
It was at this point Corallie reminded me of her brainwave - bicycles! A quick look on some of New Zealand's secondhand auction sites revealed reasonable prices and at some point in our search we stumbled across a bike shop in Auckland specialising in secondhand touring bikes - perfect!
The next morning Kate kindly offered to take us down and have a look, first impressions count for a lot and a softly spoken American, Brue, showed us around the 'options' along with a few helpful suggestions. Before we knew it two suitable bikes had been lined up along with his 'buy-back' guarantee - keep them for up to six months, and bring 'em back in one piece and I'll buy it all back (bikes, panniers, bags, helmets, the lot!) for half price.
Caught up in the excitement we were a little late for a catch up brunch with one of my former colleagues in Qatar, Wei, and his wife. All was going well until our plans for New Zealand came up. They say the best way to understand something is to try and explain it to somebody else, and at this point the realisation of cycling down New Zealand with no idea of route and zero bike-touring experience began to kick in. This continued on our walk up to the top of One Tree Hill park and upon reaching the summit and looking out on the impressive vistas before us, we felt inspired and empowered - we can do this, and besides if it doesn't work out we can always just sell the bikes either way!
Thus the next few days were spent touring town in search of post-christmas sales, trawling auction sites and raiding the occasional 'op shop' ('op' for opportunities, or charity shops as we know them) for cycling and camping gear and suitably warm clothing; once again our new best friend Kate coming up with numerous suggestions and driving us there. We were informed we could collect the bikes on New Year's eve and each day up to that point the sun seemed to burn brighter and longer than the day before and our optimism grew along with our collection of goodies to pack.
On New Year's eve itself, two of Kate's friends also arrived to stay - Phil and Di, intrepid Australians who had lived a fair proportion of their adult lives at sea and in which period had sailed around the world at least once (or at least as much as their modesty would give away). Needless to say they thought our [un]planned trip was a bonza idea and even accompanied us to the bike shop to pick up our new steeds. Some chaos ensured but after a couple of hours or so (and a few adjustments) we were trundling the 15km coastal route back to St Heliers, our new panniers loaded up with booze (for New Year...!) and the sprouts excited in equal measure about bikes-a-new and the leg of lamb the other half of the team had collected as part of our New Year's BBQ celebrations.
A fantastic evening was had by all and as we wandered out onto the promenade to watch the fireworks welcome in 2016, way before the rest of the World, the idea that we should 'test out our new tent' was raised, however thankfully we opted to stick with the bed, for along with the New Year came vast dark clouds and thunderstorms.
The strong winds and rains continued for another two days, and whilst we had planned on setting off, we were more thankful of concrete walls, warm tea and a roof over our heads than ruing any time lost on the road. Evenings were spent catching up on the latest TV series', rather than the gentle strolls we had enjoyed earlier in the week.
We did use the rain as an opportunity to test out our bikes and wet weather gear and further explore the suburbs of Auckland. Kate also had one last kind gesture up her sleeve; she was planning a day trip to Raglan, and assuming our bikes fit in her boot we were welcome to hitch a lift down.
The bikes swiftly dismantled, to be rebuilt in sunnier climes, we opened a bottle of New World rose to celebrate and settled down to a brand new episode of Sherlock and a sizable portion of 'fush and chups' from the local shop to commemorate a thoroughly enjoyable first week in New Zealand.
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