Windy Wellington Return

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21/03/08
Howdy folks. Welcome back. Today sadly marked my departure from New Zealand’s South Island, on my return journey to Auckland, and ultimately my leaving of Aotearoa, after an awesome three and a half months. In order to make it a little more symbolic, I chose to ride my way off the island. I stayed in Blenheim last night, which is about 30km from Picton, where the ferry terminal is. My plan was to get up, cycle into Blenheim first to see that a little bit, then make the final journey up to the ferry terminal in Picton. I had an awesome night’s sleep at Ann and Murrays, and was up the next morning and sitting at the breakfast table with them by 8am. Of course, it was also Good Friday, which meant that most shops would be closed, so it was a good thing I ate with them, because finding a pie might have been tough :-). Read on for a little more info on my final day on the South Island. No really big stories, just a short narrative.

After breakfast, Ann headed off to church while Murray was baking up some fresh hot cross buns. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around when they were done, so I didn’t get the chance to sample them. Too bad, if the bread from the day before was any indication, I’m sure they were great. I re-packed my bags once again, and loaded up the trailer. The last couple days, I’ve been riding with my daypack rather than living out of the big bag, but with the longer bike ride, I decided to put it all back in the trailer. I finally left just before 10am, but not before Murray snapped a couple quick pictures of me all geared up.I wanted to leave at a good hour, even though the ferry wasn’t until 2:25, as we’d just learned that there were Northwesterlies blowing, which would mean headwinds all the way for me. How fitting, don’t you think?

First up was the ride back into Blenheim itself, which was a virtual ghost town due to it being a national holiday. The streets were eerily silent as I pedalled around town, checking it out. As Murray had put it the day before, basically, it’s just a town. Nothing more, nothing less. There were a couple more scenic spots, like gardens and fountains, but for the most part, the core was lined with shops, as are most Kiwi towns, and there’s an information centre for tourists. I needn’t any information this morning, so after a quick stop at the bank machine to take out my weekly ‘allowance’, I left town via the SH1 heading North. There is apparently another back road, but it’s a narrow, winding, steep, dirt logging road, one of the very few in my book called ‘very difficult’. This clearly would have been a bad idea, so I avoided it.

I had barely gotten in ten pedal strokes when I noticed the headwinds blowing on me. They were indeed quite fierce at times. Although the terrain was generally flat to undulating, I was still forced to go into my smallest chainring to make any decent forward progress without straining too hard. After all, this was more of a ‘ceremonial’ ride, like the Champs Elysee on the last day of the Tour. I wasn’t about to go all out just to get to Picton. I wanted to savour the ride. After this one, I have only one other ceremonial ride, which is the token ride from Auckland center to where I started it all; at Kevin’s house. He offered to pick me up, since I’ll be arriving in the evening, but I declined as I have to finish this trip on the bike, not in a car, right? Perhaps it was also because of the nature of my day’s ride, but I just wasn’t feeling top notch today on the bike. Everything was mechanically working okay, but I felt draggy. However, the scenery was nice, and the sun was shining bright, so it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant ride.

I took only one little stop on the way, as my tummy was rumbling around noon. I pulled over roadside near a farmers field where they were haying, or harvesting, I couldn’t quite tell from my distance. I had some nuts, multi-grain snacks and crackers, washed down with clear Blenheim water. Admired the surrounding hills for a bit, and watched a lazy creek flowing to wherever it was flowing, likely out to the Pacific Ocean eventually. Once satisfied and feeling happy inside, I hopped back on and turned myself into a lazy creek of sorts, and just pedalled my circles, driving forward to the Strait. A few more little hills, and I crested with a view to the little town of Picton. I’d been hoping their bakery would be open, so that I might have a pie, but sadly, they were not. Instead, I had to make my way to the formulaic Subway to grab a sub for lunch before the crossing. It was 1:20 by this time, so I still had a little over an hour. To mark the fact that I was taking an ocean trip, I opted for a Tuna sub. First time I’ve ever ordered Tuna. I liked it.

I biked the final 500m to the ferry terminal and presented myself for ticketing, which I’d booked days ago. Hmm, they had no reservation for me. No record of it. That’s not ideal. She checked a little further, and discovered I’d been booked for the following day, rather than today. Not ideal. Luckily, since I was a walk-on and not a car, and because the ferry wasn’t busy for this sailing, she had no problems switching me to this boat without charging me. Well, apart from the customary $15 bike charge that is. Back into the sunshine I went to wait the next 20 minutes or so without boarding. Chatted with a security fellow for a bit, who let me head down closer to the loading area if I wanted. With not much else to do, I rolled down to the Railmaster’s hut (they load on rail cars as well sometimes), and watched the cars offloading from the boat. Normally, cyclists have to wait for all the cars to be on board, but after befriending another deckhand, he snuck me on before any cars got on. Sweet. I tied up the bike, and strolled the decks long before anyone else was on.

I should have taken more pictures of the empty boat, but I didn’t. Crew were surprised to see a passenger on already, and I just said I’d been let on as a special passenger 🙂 I settled into where I figured would be a prime spot on the boat. In a back corner, just off the Club Lounge, which meant no through traffic here, and relative quiet for me to type some blog posts and watch the sea roll by on my massive window to the left. It was a stunner of a day, so the views were magnificent. Rather than get all tangled up in trying to snap the perfect picture, I opted mainly just to soak it up, although I couldn’t help but get out and take a few quick shots of the last bits of land on the South Island. Once clear of the South Island, I could already make out the contours of the North, and things looked decidedly greyer up there. Pity.

I tried to spot whales or dolphins, but none were to be seen. The seas were fairly low, with swells looking like 4-6 feet at the most. I imagine things can get pretty spotty out there on some days. Even with the small seas, the boat was still rolling side to side a bit. Of course, it was nothing like the exciting ferry trip of Stewart Island! By 5:30 we were docking in Wellington, and I was belowdecks, ready at the bow of the boat to be the first passenger off the ship. The large sea door lumbered open to brilliant light, and blasting headwinds. Ahh yes, Windy Wellington. I rolled off the ship, and headed up the traffic ramp. The nice thing is that the headwinds quickly turned to tailwinds, as I was turning 180 degrees to head downtown. Yippee! I was staying with Travis again, the same fellow I stayed with on the way down. I biked back there from memory, only making one small mistake. However, I got there to find the house dark and locked. D’oh! There was a little note telling me to call him on his cell. My kingdom for a phone sometimes.

I parked the trailer and set out searching for a phone, knowing it would be tricky, especially as almost no payphones take any coins. I went to a corner shop, and they directed me to the nearest phone. Of course, it was a card phone, so I fished around my wallet for all the various calling cards I’ve collected. The first few were either empty or didn’t have enough credit for this call, as a call to a cell phone from a payphone is stupid expensive. Finally, I found one that told me I had 9 minutes remaining. Huzzah. I got through to Travis, and he let me know where he hid a key for me, and said he’d be back by 9, he was working at the hospital. Fair enough, that meant I could shower and settle in before he got home. I let myself in, and had showered, and was just uploading a few pics when he got home, earlier than planned. Plans had changed and he said he was meeting friends for a bite to eat then a movie at 9.

I joined in for the food, at Nandos, a great roasted/bbq chicken place, but passed on the movie. I decided I’d rather do a little more Internet stuff, then go to bed at a reasonable hour, since the train was leaving at 7:25 the next morning. As it was, I was still up when he got back, but I’d managed to upload a fair number of pictures to Flickr (you’re welcome), and have a bag of microwave popcorn I’d been lugging with me, while watching some Discovery Channel stuff. All in all, a great relaxing night in Wellington. Thanks again Travis for all your hospitality. Since I’d already seen a lot of Wellington, there was little else to do anyway. So ends my voyage of the South Island, and begins my final trudge up to Auckland. Tomorrow I’m off to Otorohanga, where the day after I’ll be spending pretty much all day deep undergound in a cave system. Stay tuned for that exciting post!

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