Tolaga Bay to Blenheim

New Zealand

In three days we covered quite a lot of distance, thanks to the Intercity bus line.

On DAY 15 we left the serenity of the east cape for the burgeoning city (pop: 30,000) of Gisborne, where we splurged on a meal at an Indian Restaurant after having a scoop of ice cream. Dessert had to come first because the restaurant didn’t serve until 5:30pm and we were starving.

The next day we hopped on the bus for a brief 10-hour journey to Wellington, the southernmost capital city in the world and one of the windiest cities in the world. The bus ride was uneventful save for the part when the bus driver side-swiped a guardrail protecting us from falling to our deaths in a deep canyon. Carrie and I agreed that it was good we didn’t decide to ride along this narrow and twisty stretch of road.

When we arrived in Wellington we headed for the nearest pay phone to inquire if the only hostel in town with tent sites had any space for us. At the pay phone we met a very interesting lady. Long story short she got agitated that I thanked her after she stepped aside from the phone to let me use it. I asked her what was the matter and then she called me obsequious. Obsequious? She said I didn’t need to thank her because it was a public phone. Detecting that she was obviously totally nuts, I told her sorry for spoiling her day and Carrie and I got away quickly.

In case you’re wondering, I looked up the word obsequious a couple of days later. It means in essence to be a kiss-ass. Maybe I was being obsequious, but she was being supercilious, so there.

Back to the story. After escaping from the crazy lady and learning that the hostel was booked up, Carrie and I headed to the train station to get a ride about 10km out of town where there was a motorcamp. When we got off the train, Carrie asked the first person she could find to give us directions to the motorcamp. She couldn’t have chosen a better couple of people to ask.

The couple gave us directions to the camp and then politely asked about our means of travel and how long we’d been in the country and where we were headed. The standard questions. But then the woman asked a not-so-standard question: “Would you like to stay at our house for the night? We live close by and we can come back with the van to fit your bikes.”

This is why many people we talked to before leaving on our trip had so many wonderful things to say about their own travels in New Zealand. Yeah, the landscape is amazing, but so are the Kiwis. The whole “never talk to strangers” culture just doesn’t exist here. Children say hi to you, teenagers wave when you ride by, people will literally stop what they’re doing to give you directions even when you didn’t ask for any. As for John and Roz, the couple we met at the train station, they were incredible.

When we got to their house, Roz let us hang up some laundry, fed us some great wine and gave us a bed to sleep in. Carrie and I hadn’t slept in a bed since Feb. 4. The mattress was firm, the pillows soft, the sleep, oh so easy. We passed out immediately.

The next day (DAY 17), Roz treated us to breakfast at a local cafe and then shuttled us to the ferry terminal to catch a ride to the port town of Picton on the South island. We hugged Roz goodbye and promised to stay in touch.

The ferry ride over was nice because the sun was out and the waves were small. We arrived in Picton a few hours later and made a dash for the motorcamp, worried that the all of the other ferry passengers would eat up all of the accommodations in town. We did get a tent site but were surrounded by a bunch of other tents. Not ideal but everyone was quiet that night. Everyone except the cicada.

That’s right. At about 3am, the loud screeching of a rogue cicada woke me and the whole tent community up (Carrie slept through it). Cicadas usually do their mating call, the sound of the Chipmunks (Alvin, Simon and Theodore) hitting a Mariah Carey high note after eating rattlesnake tails, during the middle of the day. This rogue cicada, however, perched himself on top of our tent for an early morning aria. The noise nearly fried my brains. Luckily, he was brief. He stopped and didn’t call again until four hours later. Carrie found him in the morning on the way to the bathroom, still sitting pretty on our tent.

On DAY 18, Feb. 26, we left Picton for a town just down the road called Blenheim. Blenheim is situated in New Zealand’s largest wine grape-growing region. Carrie and I decided it’d be fun to spend the day visiting some of the local wineries. We started at New Zealand’s largest winery called Montana, where we took a factory tour and sampled some of their wines. After the tour while unlocking our bikes, we met three other tourists retrieving their rental bikes. Matt and Kelsey from Canada and Jill from England had a similar plan so we teamed up and rode to another four wineries together. Sampling the wines was fun. New Zealand is known for producing great light wines like sauvingon blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. After the fourth winery, everything was starting to taste the same because we weren’t making use of the spittoons, so we decided to have dinner together. Matt and Kelsey also have a blog recording their travels.