We usually do not have much of a plan. This has the massive benefit of ensuring that nothing can go wrong as no plan can fail. In trying to use public transport you have to step over the line from self-propelled wanderer and explorer to something closer to tourism. This requires planning, which will go wrong. It also requires you to know what day of the week it is which is something of a novelty. We had intended to ride down the East Coast of South Island to Christchurch where, for the first time, the railway that you often cycle next to on this coast, offers a passenger service. It comes at a price but is a great rail journey. It had been damaged by the earthquake, but was due to reopen and yes it takes bikes, so all was good.
We went into the info centre in Dunedin to book spaces. It was not going to run now or any time soon and the replacement bus does not take bikes. ” Can you tell us a way to guarantee a bike space on a bus or coach?””No, unless you take it from here and book now for four days time”. We had spent all morning working on a route to cycle to Christchurch on quieter roads, but the plan was now changed. We caught an Atomic Shuttle Coach all the way down the East coast to the ferry terminal at Picton and this is a top tip for bike travelers on the dangerous and sometimes frankly quite boring stretch of coast. Atomic take bikes and they also operate a little like a taxi, picking up and setting down on demand. I think I would always skip the bit around Christchurch. There are fantastic stretches to cycle but you would need to be a bit of a completest and slightly nuts to want to do it all.
Spike Milligan wrote about travel and how things are so fast now. “We have gone from asking what is this? To asking, What was that?” The trip on the shuttle buses frightened me with its huge increase in speed from that of a bike. I tried to take some photographs, but most did not work. It was all too fast. Two weeks of cycling, done in 12 hours and we experienced so little of it.
We picked up a ferry time table and had our tent down and were at the harbour for 8 the next morning. It was a misprint, or just wrong as there is no ferry. A 5 hour wait in Picton on a Sunday morning will always be a drag, and so it was. Rain and a low mist that followed every contour of the forest clad hills around Picton are our memory of it and stupidly expensive prices for food.
In Wellington we rode to the train station from the ferry terminal on quiet Sunday streets. We asked for the train to the West Coast. ” It leaves in 15 minutes but only goes a short way where it is replaced by a bus”. Of course the bus does not take bikes. “The SH1/2 is without doubt the most dangerous stretches of road in New Zealand and should be avoided by cyclists”. Says our guide book and you can guess where the train was going to dump us.
The West Coast it was not going to be, so we had a 2 hour wait for a train to Masterton. Which could take us and our bikes away North from Wellington to somewhere we know we can camp. In darkness and heavy rain we pitched our tent. Things had gone wrong with our plan and most of it was Rail NZ’s fault. The wind really got up in the night and it turned out to be our lucky day. A big branch was torn from the trees around us and missed our tent. That would have ruined quite a number of plans.
Out of Palmerston and North we have gone, taking the rather quiet Highway 2 (It is a monster further North!) to Eketahuna in bright sun and a perfect 21*c. Back in the groove, and back with very little of a plan.
We camped at Eketahuna, which we would recommend you all to do. A quiet, cheap and delightful site and a quirky village as well ( The next morning I met one half of a wrestling tag team – The Manic Medics, who thrilled me and all other 12 year old boys on a Saturday afternoons World Of Sport back in the 70’s. He talked of all the wrestlers I knew on TV back then and his time in the States with Hulk Hogan).
The next day was even warmer and came with a breeze that only a touring cyclist could detect as a headwind. Highway 2 remained calm ( drivers on the North Island we have decided, give cyclists more room ) and we passed through Pahiatua and Woodville before taking Highway 3 through a gorge to Ashurst and onto Feilding to pitch the tent for the 52nd time on the trip.