First day in the saddle.
Well what a day. I started at 05:00am Monday loading my bike into the back of the car and heading for Auckland airport. After carefully negotiating the bike through the oversized baggage check-in, I headed for the gate sporting my bike gear. I felt just a little out of place next to all of the commuting suits on the Monday morning red-eye to Christchurch, sitting there in my Lycra shorts. I could see that everyone was hoping not to be the pore sod sitting next to me. I couldn’t take the odd glances, so made a quick change into some trousers. The sign of relief was immediate at the departure gate.
Monday was to be one of my longest travel days, 12 hours on the go. The vast majority on planes, and only the last 2 hours cycling.
I hate flying.
It is not the fair of being in a plane or crashing or anything. I just hate sitting on planes. I have lost close to a year of my life sitting in a airline chair, I calculate. I normally nod off for a bit of a nap, but somehow I couldn’t. I was excited about getting to my destination.
I arrived in Invercargill at 11:30am, after a change of planes in Christchurch. My bike and bags safely came out then I put the bike back together, and rearranged all my panniers. The airport emptied and there I was, standing alone by my fully laden bike. Finally my journey was to begin. Yeeeahhhhh! I was off, tearing up the road heading for Invercargill, then straight for Bluff to catch the afternoon ferry to Stewart Island. After a while I realised the airport handlers had let out air in my tires, or else they explode, so a quick pit stop and some furious pumping and I was off again.
The ride to Bluff is fairly flat, which was good as it would ease me into my new routine. A head wind of 10 knots sucked, but I had plenty of time to get to Bluff so I took it a little slower. Trucks grunted past again and again. Besides scaring the bejesus out of me, they provided a temporary wind shield, and created a albeit short tail wind which only served to tease me cruelly for 2 seconds.
So the first two hours on the bike went relatively well. A cold snap had arrived to the south, and so after the first hour I found parts of my anatomy falling off into my bike shorts. I threw an extra layer on and things were more bearable. Then before I knew it, there was Bluff. I rode into town and straight out of it again by accident. I had never been to Bluff so knew not what to expect, I was looking for the bustling centre and found myself running out of road and looking out across the straight to Stewart Island. The sun was filtering through the clouds and a gentle rain was falling. Stewart Island looked like the island from LOST. Alone in a big ocean, with ominous clouds draping over it. I wondered if I was going to be one of the new additions to the Dharma Initiative and would find myself back in the 1970s.
I had now found my way to the ferry terminal, and warmed myself in the waiting room. I was two hours early, and had to repetitively listen to a promotional DVD repeating every 20 minutes. I wondered how the ladies working in the terminal kept sane listening to Dougal Stevenson’s voice telling the story of the island and wildlife. As I was the only one there, I was sure the ladies wouldn’t mind if I accidently unplugged the TV.
The ferry ride was awesome. It was an adventure in itself slamming over waves. The captain, as we departed, announced “Conditions are pretty good so feel free to walk around the boat. Just keep hold of something at all times. This must have been some dry Stewart Island humour. Walking was a distinct impossibility, even with a 2 meter wide gait in my stride. We were actually launching off of one wave and on to another. I am hoping my return trip would not be on a rough day. The sun was lowly setting, and the sky was clearing. Stewart Island is a fantastically beautiful place. The fishing boats in the bay, and the scattering of buildings hiding in the hills made it feel I was travelling back to a simpler time. The ferry pulled up to the wharf at dusk and I disembarked to be reunited with my bike. I only had to ride two hundred meters to get to my accommodation (or pretty much anywhere in the bay) and I wondered if I would appear to the locals as a bit of a knob wearing my helmet. There are not many people on bikes heading to Stewart Island.
After good nights sleep I took the opportunity to take a quick explore of the island before returning to Bluff. I rode back and forth and zigzagged all over Halfmoon Bay, up and over the hills, and that was it. I cycled as far south as I could, easily on good roads that is. It may seem silly to go all the way to Stewart Island to ride less than 10 kilometres of road. But if I wanted to ride from the bottom to the top, then I had to get to the start line. Besides I have never been to Stewart Island, but it was a shame to not have more time to spend there. I have less than seven weeks to get to the tip of New Zealand so every day will count. So reluctantly I boarded the afternoon ferry, less than 24 hours after I got there.
Back to bluff again.
I cycled south through Bluff again, and found the start of State Highway 1 (why is it a “state” highway?) where a signpost of notable places indicated how far London, the Equator and other plus Cape Reinga, only 1401km in a straight line. Unfortunately the route by land is more like 2600, and probably longer with a few detours thrown in. I met an interesting Japanese guy at the Bluff backpackers who has been cycling around the south island for two months. It looks like we will head out together for Invercargill tomorrow. I may head on further if I want to keep up my goal of 70km a day, but we will see.