Rain Stops Play (again)

It’s really all my own fault.

If I’d stuck to Plan A, I’d have arrived in New Zealand in fifteen months’ time, in the middle of summer.  As it is, I’m stuck with spring, which means the same as at home: entirely unpredictable weather which can change several times a day.  What a difference from the US, where the only real question was ‘will it be hot today, or very hot?’

It was bucketing down when I crawled out of my pit this morning, ready to get on the bike and head off to Lake Taupo.  And local opinion and the weather forecast agreed that it was going to stay wet all day.  I rate local advice.  I went back to bed.  I’m not in that much of a hurry, anyway.  Needless to say, it was dry by half-past eleven, and this afternoon was perfect cycling weather.  Doh!

Still, tomorrow looks nice (which presumably means hail and thunder by breakfast time), and at least I can fill you in on Rotorua in the meantime.

I used my planned rest day yesterday (obviously in dazzling sunshine) to visit Te Puia, which is only a couple of miles out of town.  Basically, you stroll out past the pristine racecourse, the famous chip shop, and a thousand motels, and into the charming green countryside.  And then you’re suddenly confronted by a huge park full of boiling mud and sulphurous moonscapes.


The park has a lot of Maori cultural stuff going on, which is really interesting.  But for me, the highlight was the Pohutu geyser, which is absolutely spectacular.  The shot below has some tiny people on the left of the picture to show the size; steam is nearly as difficult to scale on photos as the Grand Canyon…

20141102RTW_29As earlier posts have probably indicated, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with my uncanny ability to avoid seeing any interesting wildlife (alive, at least; the road-kill count is epic).  Fortunately, the domed structure behind the statue (below) had an enclosed, and extremely dark, habitat for a Kiwi inside.  Even without my wildlife-avoidance skills, I’d struggle to see one of these shy, nocturnal birds.  But with one trapped in a concrete dome, even I couldn’t miss.

20141102RTW_31The Kiwi was on a break.  I saw some feathers on a grainy CCTV feed from its burrow, and that was it.  And no, I don’t know why the statue is eating a stick, either.

Knowing my luck, the wildlife drought will end suddenly in Australia, where pretty much every creature is out to kill you.  In the meantime, I’m increasingly thinking of going to a decent zoo, and faking sightings of all the animals I should have seen.  As far as New Zealand’s concerned, this slightly aggressive-looking black swan (or possibly a black swan with a sore neck; how could I know?) is as good as it’s got so far.  And he shot off as soon as I saw him…

20141102RTW_38Assuming the weather forecast for Tuesday is a tad more accurate than today’s, I’m back on the road south.  Lake Taupo, then the big hills before Whanganui on the coast, which I need to reach to hit my mandatory pair of antipodal points.  I’ll leave the insanely boring explanation of what an antipodal point is, and why a pair is mandatory, for later.

I can tell the suspense is killing you, and I’m sorry.  But I might need the ammunition if the weather turns again.  Which, I’m afraid, it almost certainly will…


Land of Pies and Hobbits

After finally spotting a gap in the never-ending curtains of rain in Auckland, I escaped in a fast boat to avoid the next batch of showers. I’ve been taking my first tentative trundles into New Zealand since. And, apart from the dodgy weather (and let’s face it, as a Brit, I’m not exactly un-used to that), and now two iffy knees, it’s been a delight so far.


I’m struggling a little to make sense of how long it takes to get anywhere over here. The roads are sometimes fairly straight and smooth, and sometimes wickedly twisty and steep. So what looks like an easy day’s ride on the map can end up being anywhere between about forty miles (and three hours) and seventy miles (and too tough for a day).

Still, the payback is phenomenal, with mountains dropping into the sea or disappearing into the clouds, and downhills on the bike which are more than worth the climb beforehand. And this is supposed to be the less attractive of the two main islands…


I’m even pushing my boundaries to discover the local food. Never was a country more in love with pies. Even the most tired and run-down garage in the smallest village has a warming rack full of them. And a bewildering array. Pastry-topped pies filled with beef, or chicken, or veggies. Or a whole breakfast. Pies topped with mashed potato or sweet potato. Pumpkin pies (maybe Halloween specials). Sweet pies and savoury pies. Fresh pies, and pies that may well have been sitting there since God was a boy. And other pastry-and-meat-related delights like pasties and sausage rolls.

I really don’t mind pies.

But what I’ve missed is decent, old-school chip shops, and New Zealand has loads of them. And they sometimes still wrap their ‘chups’ in newspaper. Which is so quintessentially British that hardly anyone in the UK does it any more.


Anyway, I digress slightly.

I’ve meandered a little way across North Island, reaching Rotorua this evening. This has meant crossing hobbit country, and, in fact, within just a few miles of ‘Hobbiton’ (film set / tourist attraction). Unfortunately, my luck with exotic wildlife remains unchanged; no bears spotted in the US, and no hobbits, orcs or wizards here. Yet. There’s still time, I suppose, but I don’t hold out much hope. They’re quite elusive, apparently.

Rotorua looks nice, and the legs feel like they deserve a day off on Sunday before pushing on southwards and slightly westwards. Hopefully, the weather will hold for a while, so I can appreciate NZ properly. Fantastic so far, and a long way still to go…