Lessons learned

This is an assortment of slightly humorous yet particularly important lessons learned about traveling and bicycle touring from my time in New Zealand. These are pretty non-technical and a more cycling specific list will come next for anyone who’s actually planning such an adventure!

Do not go to the grocery store hungry

Okay, this one is a general rule for life. You know how it goes, you go hungry and you leave with a 5 pound bag of pizza rolls and some ice cream. Well, it’s even worse on tour. The level of hunger that comes after a week of struggling over huge climbs smashes any of that precious willpower that otherwise stops you from buying chocolate pastries the size of your head.

If you screw up and buy too much at home you just stick the extra food in your cupboard and slowly slowly eat through it. If you do this on tour you get to figure out how to stuff a dozen apples, a pack of bananas, 4 boxes of granola bars (but they were on sale!), a full loaf of bread, a small jug of milk, assorted canned food and a bag of cookies into your panniers to ride the remaining distance to camp. I’m not proud to admit that I didn’t make up that example, I really did that once.

It actually got even worse, the bag of cookies being always in reach within my handlebar bag, was finished by lunch and my stomach was not pleased.

Do not check the weather

You can’t do anything about it. It will only make you unhappy to see that it’s going to pour in a couple hours. Plus those guys are wrong most of the time. Don’t worry, you’ll see the dark clouds coming if it’s going to happen.

So I recommend you wake up and if it’s nice out get on your bike and if the weather is awful get on your bike anyway. You have everything you need in your panniers anyway so if it’s cold you put on warm clothes and if it’s raining you put on rain gear. Try to not worry about it and just do your thing.

Actually I’ll admit if I would wake up and if it was raining I liked to hang out in my tent and read for a while hoping to catch a break. If it stopped for even a moment I’d rush to pack my bike up and get moving.

Wind is a jerk

When you’re stuck outside for the vast majority of every single day, the wind will find a way to really be a dick.

It will make it hard to put up and take down your tent. I mean it can be like pinning a kite to the ground some days.

It will make it hard to sleep at night. Do not ever take it for granted that there was no wind when pitching your tent in the open or you will have the side walls smacking against you in the middle of the night.

It will make it hard to pedal and terrifying to go down hills. I seriously had a day where I couldn’t even stand up with my bike and had to lay it down on the shoulder and sit there pouting (Day 10 – Wind) and a day where I had to hitch hike down a big hill because a wind gust shoved me into the guard rail (Day 59 – Meh) and I thought I might die.

It will take things from you. I lost the bag for my tent stakes and had to chase all kinds of other stuff when the wind blew it away.

It will, literally, find a way to get sand in your beer.

But some day you’re going to get rocketed for 50 miles at 25mph with no effort because, finally, the wind is at your back. It just feels like this day will never come.

If it can break you should be prepared for it to break

Bring replacement screws bolts, patch kits (for tires, tents and inflating mattresses). More importantly, bring duct tape, electrical tape and zip ties for the day you realize you forgot what you needed to fix the only thing that broke for your entire tour. If you bring a spare you probably won’t need it and if you don’t bring one you will.

You will be miserable sometimes

If you’re on a sufficiently long trip you’re going to have some bad days. You’re going to sit there on the side of the road or under a tiny shelter hiding from the weather or maybe just trying desperately to rest your legs and ask yourself “why the hell am I doing this?”. Sometimes I’d think I could be just as happy in a car but when I looked at my pictures on my phone it reminded me of where I was and how often that only happened because of the fact that I was traveling on a bicycle.

So if when you have a rough series of days then maybe change something. Find someone new to ride with (or split from your partner for a bit) or just take some time off. I took a three day break at a hostel on the Coromandel Peninsula because I was miserable and spent the better part of that time staring at clouds, napping in the grass and fishing (Days 78-80 – Bad priorities, good results). I left it entirely rejuvenated and with maybe the most memorable experiences of my entire trip.

Remember that it’s not a race. You don’t have to be cycling every day or even every week if you’re really not feeling it. It’s a holiday, enjoy yourself.

So… Now what?

The last time I wrote I was sitting in Auckland awaiting my flight out. I meant to post some wrap up kind of stuff but I spent to be honest most of the months since my return wrestling with the heavy question of “Now what the hell do I do?”. I kept trying to write but before I could process my trip and answer this question it just didn’t feel right.

So when I left for New Zealand I absolutely didn’t know what to expect. I seriously, had no idea what wonderful thing my “quarter life crisis” had caused me to flee into.

I assumed it would be a one off trip and that I was just killing some time between jobs. During those three months I met so many fantastic people who had found happiness in ways I never thought possible. People who gave up on the dream that a car and a paycheck would buy them happiness. They traveled the world by bike or foot or car. They set out to entertain, learn, teach or work on farms. I started seeing all kinds of ways I could be happy and saw travel (and bike touring) as something that needed to be a part of my life going forward.

I am super thankful for everyone I met on the road who inspired me and helped me look at life a little differently. They were the people I talked about more than how annoying the wind was, if you were paying attention.

Anyway, I’m already excited for and vaguely making plans for my next big trip but for now it’s back to the working world. I could (and might?) write a post about how I went from apathetic software consultant to where I am now but the skinny of it is that I’ve moved to Boston Massachusetts to join a social enterprise working on software primarily for community health workers in underserved areas of the world. That’s a mouthful, sorry. I wanted to use my abilities and passion to make the world a better place for people and would prefer to not hear someone say the words “business value” again so this felt like quite the match for me. It’s an adventure of it’s own but not one to be detailed here.

For now expect a couple wrap up posts (finally!) and I’ll post about my shorter trips as I explore the New England area on my Surly.

Auckland and the trip home

I woke up early in the morning to catch my bus back to Auckland. A strange feeling knowing it's over now!

I got dropped off near the dock and cycled up to Parnell to check into the same hostel I stayed at last time. Unfortunately they were booked but he told me of a hostel down the road (Lantana Lodge) that does cheap tent sites so I went there. Realized after paying that the tent spots are jam packed into a small mulch covered patch. At least it was cheap and the guy next to me was friendly.

I only booked one night, just to see how it was, and first impression caused me to walk back up the street to book my remaining two nights in Auckland city at the first place, which did have openings those days.

The original hostel (City Garden Backapckers) apparently used to have tent sites (which would have been fantastic) but their neighbors complained and they aren't (and can't be) a registered camp ground so they were threatened to be fined. Bummer. Lantana Lodge has just managed to go unnoticed.

I went for a walk down to the Sky Tower to take a view from the top but after seeing the price I decided to skip it.

The downside of switching hotels was that I had to wake up the second morning, pack up the bike and find something to do for a few hours before I could check into City Garden. I didn't roll out until about 11am and from there went to the nearest park. Grabbed a chair near some guys who were showing off some wood sculpture they'd built and chatted with them for a while before I retreated to my kindle.

Quentin made it to town but also apparently didnt book ahead for City Garden so he ended up at Lantana instead. Left my cozy park bench to join him for lunch and bought what was to be my final giant kiwi burger.

Egg and beet root, nom nom

Quentin was wanting to do some cycling around the city so he decided the next morning he'd rent a bike. I got a text around 9:30am that he'd rented a bike and was heading over so I finished breakfast and got ready to do some pedaling.

After spending three months slowly cruising around rural roads, being in a city makes me feel a little out of place. Now I have to try to keep up with Quentin who's cutting in and out of traffic and in general booking it through the city. Fun, but totally had lost some of my confidence for this!

We headed to Mount Eden and split when he decided to take the stairs up part way with his bike but I was more sane and would rather punish my legs by pedaling than climbing stairs. Met again half way up and finished the (reasonably short) but steep climb up. Rewarded with a great view and felt better about skipping out on the Sky Tower (which can be seen in the background between us).

Far from home

From there we headed back into the city center to grab a ferry across to another area of the city. Dropped into Davenport which had a nice suburban feel.

While over there we ate some fish and did a couple more hill climbs for good views and pretty pictures.

After catching the ferry back we explored the wharf area and fought our way through a mess of people until I caught a familiar song, Of Monsters and Men! Was excited to hear it played but then I realized that it was live, right next to us! On the other side of the fence was a music festival and they were currently on stage.

Max zoom of my camera
Unzoomed from same location as last

We were really, really far away from the stage. The speakers in the back still gave a great sound for us and I sat on the side of the fence and enjoyed almost an entire live Of Monsters and Men set.

Alt-J came on after but didn't sound as good live (or at least from beyond the fence) so we headed out.

The next day it was time to relocate again. The airport is a bit of a hike from downtown Auckland so I booked a hostel next to it (Skyway Lodge) so that I wouldn't have to worry about cycling over in the morning. Had more time to kill in transition so did actually the exact same thing as the day before. Chilled at the same park and got lunch with Quentin again. Then made the ride over and set up in a pretty decent hostel. Much less busy than City Garden and Lantana were so it was a bit more relaxing. Ran into a cyclist heading out as well from England and spend a while reflecting on our times in New Zealand.

I'm pretty paranoid about flying with a bike and camping gear in general but when you add the fact that my bike was still unboxed on the morning of my flight I wound up getting a super early start. My flight out of Auckland was at 7:30pm and I left my hostel at 9:30am. Technically had to be out by 10am so there really wasn't anything for me to do to delay much.

I cycled the 7km down past the airport to Natural High to meet up with Logan, who I spoke to through warmshowers.org. They were kind enough to let me use their facilities and provided me with a cardboard box and plenty foam, tape and zip ties to prep my box for the journey. Natural High does bike rentals and second hand bike sales and has a lot of bikes with racks and panniers as well, they are actually the company James bought his bike from even.

When I finished up, I loaded my stuff onto an airport trolley and set out for the entertaining 2km walk down the street to the airport. Pushing a bike box down the road gets you some funny looks.

The bag sitting in front of my bike box may look small but it's big enough to swallow three panniers. It's what is, apparently, called a Chinese shopping bag? It's woven plastic and in theory is supposed to be reasonably strong. The big perk is it was $3nzd which is cheaper than the bag I flew them here in.

Getting through security wasnt so bad and I had to pay a lot less to fly the luggage in this direction. The fun part was when they asked if I had matches or lighters in my checked bags. Apparently I could fly with those on my person but not in checked bags. The fun was had when I said yes, both, but couldn't find them. Spent about 20 minutes emptying every pannier and recovered matches, but not my lighter. I must have lost it recently and not noticed.

So after all of this I made it to the gates with a whopping 5 hours to spare. Blah. This was the start of a long but uneventful trip home. Well, home as in a couch at a friends place in the city I most recently had an apartment in, at least.

The bag holding my panniers was fine when I crossed customs but had torn some around the handle when it showed up in Columbus. Still held the stuff inside so did the job fine. My bike on the other hand got delayed in customs for inspection and didnt show up until the day after my flight landed. They delivered it to my friends house and everything was still in there and safe so all was well.

Now to start planning my next bicycle adventure! For a while they will be much shorter and closer to home but this trip has left me wanting more, that's for sure.


Days 82-85 – Post Auckland

Day 82 – Leaving Auckland already

Since I've still got some time left I got quickly out of Auckland. Left on a morning train to go as far away from the city traffic as possible, which meant directly west. They don't charge for bikes on the train, which is good, but somehow they didn't feel so prepared for them. I was running a little close on catching the train so I stormed straight into the train station with my bike, someone asked if I needed help and a nice girl from Kentucky helped me get my ticket sorted out. She explained how to get around to the elevator but I saw the train sitting down below with a pair of escalators in the middle. So I manned up and took a fully loaded touring bike down two separate escalators. I loved the look of people going the other direction as I stood there holding up the front end of my bike so it wouldn't roll down.

I survived the escalators and caught the train in plenty of time. It was a much less scenic ride than the one going out of Wellington but gave me a chance to do some reading.

From the suburb of Waitakere I bounced around some back roads as I started to make my way north. Was a quiet country road and rather scenic though full of abusively steep hills. After a couple leg trashing climbs I made a rule that if my Garmin so much as flashed 20% grade I was immediately dismounting and walking. I wound up walking 4 hills by this rule and spent at least 3 others at the limits of what my legs were capable of.

So by the time I made it to Helensville, the last possible non-freedom camping stop for 57 hilly kilometers I decided to call it a day. Only 40km on the saddle today but whatever, I'm in no rush but am in plenty of pain. I'm over attempting to rush anywhere on a tour!

Unfortunately there are no motorcamps in Helensville and the hostel here wouldn't let me pitch a tent. I decided to get a bed anyway, no sense pushing on if there's nowhere to stop. Though I suppose the next part may have been unpopulated enough to find a freedom camping spot but being so close to Auckland, I didn't want to risk trying.

Calling it a hostel isn't accurate. It's really a B&B with a dorm room in the back corner. They actually don't even advertise the existence of the backpackers room so I wound up being the only one in a 6 bunk room.

Day 83 – Uuuuuugh

I woke up feeling sort of okay after the pounding I gave my legs yesterday. Today was 65km of constant up and down. Within 15km from the start of my day I'm already feeling it. I start one of the two particularly tall climbs of the day and am reduced to walking when the road becomes too steep. When I make it to the top and see the road signs my heart plummets. A fork in the road, with two dead ends. I took a wrong turn and just made this climb for nothing.

I hit some kind of low. I'm whipped and just walked up a hill that was so steep it was completely exhausting to even walk up and it wasn't even the right hill. Maybe I'll quit, I think. I begin to doubt why I even left Auckland after getting there. When I get back to the missed turn I could just go the other way. I can catch a city public transport bus from Helensville, maybe they'll take my bike.

(Un)fortunately when I reached the turn I had missed I kept heading north. I won't quit yet.

I make my climb of the big steep hill I was supposed to climb and it only gets worse from there. The road continues to be a constant roller coaster of hills, still crazy steep but they are taller now.

I saw far too many signs like this

I spend the rest of the ride to Wellsford grunting, mashing, walking, swearing and yelling. It's a pretty nice scenic ride but its hard to enjoy it when all you want to do is strangle the guy who decided a dozen separate times that the road should go over the peak of the hill, not around the side.

I make it to Wellsford completely drained. Unfortunately I find out I was wrong to assume the Pedallers' Paradise book would be mistaken. It's a decent sized town with everything from a library to a McDonald's but no motorcamp and no hostel. I'm really not enjoying this ride north of Auckland. I decide that it is, in fact, time to throw in the towel. I go to the library and try to book a bus out today. They're all booked until tomorrow afternoon and the library closes in a couple minutes so I write down the phone number and figure I'll sleep on it. I start roaming town trying to find someone who will let me pitch a tent on their yard. Seems people aren't as friendly as they used to be and everyone tells me to go to the pub for a room, which I eventually do. I had been looking for a decent spot to camp on the way in but there was nothing that I could see. To explore side roads was to commit to riding down and back up the steep hill if I didn't find anything.

Fortunately the pub has rooms for $35nzd. Far above my usual budget but it's a price I'm willing to pay to have a safe and easy place to sleep after this exhausting day.

Sorry TV, but your best use is to hold my bicycle up!

Early in my tour I'd watch a little TV when given the chance. Later I realized that its a sure fire way to kill a night of any useful thinking or reading I'd do instead. Hope that's a lesson that carries over when I get “home”. It's conflicting with the fact all of “my shows” have had heaps of new episodes while I've been gone.

Day 84 – Onwards

A good nights rest in my own room helped me calm down and by morning I was ready to keep riding. Tough I realized it was unlikely that I could make it to Kaitaia in time to get a bus back to Auckland by the date I'd like to be done. The only other stop along the way that would be easy to catch a ride back is Dargaville, two days away. So I pack my things and get on the dreaded SH1.

I was only on SH1 for the first 25km but it wasn't as bad as I expected. Lots more traffic than other roads but nothing too crazy, at least this far north. I passed two pairs of cycle tourists going the other direction, all with very light loads. They are the only ones I've seen since I left Coromandel. Perhaps the hills on the side roads are more avoided than the traffic.

The day continued to be filled with constant hills though less steep and half as tall as yesterday's so it wasn't too bad. Never had to walk, at least. Despite the hell my legs have been put through the last two days I can still wake up and turn the pedals fine this morning. No where near full strength and they sure dont feel pleasant when I start on hills but they keep me moving which sort of surprises me

Not too much of interest on my route today, though I did stop and visit the kauri museum which was pretty cool. Lots of history about the destruction of kauri forests and info about the trees. Sorry, no photos, though.

Not long after the museum the road flattened out. It was a beautiful thing to see no hills anywhere nearby.

I make it to Ruawei and pitch my tent at the backpackers. Turns out I'm the only one staying here. Weird that I normally like these for the social aspect but now I'm hanging out in a house alone.

Day 85 – The end

I saddled up and headed to Dargaville. Pretty certain this was the last day traveling on my bike so I knocked out the 30km in one solid go. It was still flat (I mean flat, I think I had 5 meters elevation gain in 30km) but it wouldn't be my last ride in New Zealand if it wasn't windy and raining. The wind was a light to annoying cross wind and the rain was occasionally horizontal sprinkling so nothing terrible.

On arrival at about 11am I head to the info center to see what they know about busses. Turns out there's a reasonably priced one (Main Line) that will deliver bike and body to Auckland in the morning. They even guarantee space for my bike, something that other companies would not do. Apparently if other travelers have lots of junk they would have to leave my bike behind for a later bus. No thanks.

So I pay my fee and head to the library to kill time before I can pitch my tent. The motorcamp is pricey and too far out of town for me to want to stay there if I have to catch an 8:30am bus so I head to the backpackers. They don't do tent sites but its only about $6nzd more than the camp so I went for it.

The hostel, Greenhouse Backpackers, is in an old school building. Gives a rather unique feel to it.

Now I feel strange and relieved that I get an extended break from cycling hard every day. Took a long nap, watched a movie with some others who are staying here and had some beer to celebrate.

There's an article that has been favorited in my instapaper for a while now. I read it a couple times this week and it is a pretty good post on the nature of quitting such adventures titled “Thoughts on sticking it out”. The truth is that I didn't really have a strong reason to continue. I wanted to see the kauri forests but, honestly, it felt like I completed this tour. I made it to the city I'm flying out of and then was just riding for funsies (a fine reason to ride, of course, but not a strong reason to stick it out when you're suffering).

I'm glad I stuck it out at least part of the way. I didn't get to Kaitaia (or Cape Reinga) but I ended on a higher note and gave it a fair shot.

While this is the last day of me touring, I've still got more blogging to do so I guess stay tuned. I'll post about my adventures in Auckland for the new few days and then some wrap up stuff. Gear comments, stats, lessons learned, things I forgot or should have left at home and similar stuff.


Day 81 – Moving again, reluctantly

Today I had to leave Tui Lodge and Coromandel Town. I won't lie, I really considered staying longer. Unfortunately, Quentin left while we were eating breakfast and Chris/Lewis left a bit later. I was stuck waiting around for the ferry to Auckland, though, which left at 3pm. This gave me plenty of time to let the relaxed environment fill my bones with content laziness. Staying longer would have meant calling my trip over, essentially, so I figured I needed to follow suite and leave as well. I think if the others had stayed longer I would have been fine with finishing my time here but only Lorenz was left, and his girlfriend is landing tomorrow and they they will be heading off to travel. So after Chris and Lewis left, I road to town to use the Internet and booked my ferry.

The morning was full of sad farewells and hugs but that's the way it is. Maybe I'll see some of these guys again if I'm roaming through Europe (something I really want to do in the nearish future). I had some time to kill and Jackie was okay with me hanging out a bit so I came back to the hostel after booking my ticket to wait for my ferry. I talked to Lorenz, enjoyed reading in the back yard and had a final short bounce before I had to hit the road for my 8km flat ride to the ferry.

I guess for a ferry to Auckland I was expecting to find a large dock awaiting. Turns out Hannaford's Wharf is about as small as it gets.

I loaded my bike on the boat and got ready for a two hour cruise to Auckland. After I sat down I noticed a familiar face, a Czech girl I met along with Paul when I tented at the hostel back in Whakatane. Was fun to catch up on where we've been since then. She hitch hiked around Coromandel area some and was heading to Auckland to catch a red eye flight to Thailand.

The ferry over was a bit expensive ($54nzd) but was a pretty scenic ride, bouncing between some of the islands, so it was a good ride.

When I made it to Auckland the chill mood I've been in for the past few days was stripped away. The boat unloaded next to a cruise liner that had probably an order of magnitude or so more people on it than lived in Coromandel Town. The port sits next to the train station and bus hub, so the streets were full of busses and cars. Sidewalks packed with people running to catch their transport and in general in some type of rush I haven't seen since I left America.

I realized quickly that I wasn't getting out on a bus tonight, so I followed Quentin's advice and headed to City Garden Hostel. A 3.5km ride from the ferry landing and it felt like I dived into a new world. The street felt like a suburb and the hostel had a lot of garden space (hence the name, I suppose). Full of people who looked much younger than me (I must be getting old) though I found some people to talk to. After getting my quiet and peace back, I had no interest in roaming back to the city so I spent the rest of my night there.


Days 78-80 – The journey, not the destination

Day 78 – Bad priorities, good result

Today I woke up and really, really wanted to be in Coromandel. To be honest, I don't really even know why. From Coromandel I plan to take the ferry to Auckland and continue my riding over there but there are no morning ferries so I could easily finish the trip off tomorrow in plenty of time.

It was only 90km to get there anyway, but 90 very hilly, windy kilometers. I've also built a nice debt in my legs that I can feel every day as my last day off was in Hastings, some two weeks ago. I've taken some short days to keep my legs working but I've been pushing harder than I should. I'm dead set on my goal. I want to finish my trip to the top of the north island and I want to be back in Auckland with enough time to be safe.

I start my ride and push over reasonable hills and against occasionally annoying wind and I come to realize at some point there's no way I'm making the route through Whitianga and into Coromandel Town today but there is a short cut, a scenic gravel road that has a shorter hill and much to see. I was hesitant to do this because it is still a big hill and that is no fun on gravel given my tires and weight of gear and I've also been trying to nurse my remaining stock tire. I don't want to blow the money paying double to replace it here if I could get it home in tact.

As I get to the turnoff for the 309 road I see a girl on a mountain bike coming down. I ask how the road is, “it's not bad, you'll be fine”. Okay I'll do it! Coromandel Town today it is.

I start down the road and am pleased with the quality. It's mostly dirt and thin, fine gravel so it's easy riding. Then it turns sour as the road turns to the sky. 300m climb to make in about 4km and the road twists and turns, with some turns so heavily banked that I slide down to the edge and get stuck. I pedal as much as I can as the gradients get steeper and the gravel gets thicker and heavier. Lesson learned, don't trust people on mountain bikes.

At some point I've given up and stick to walking up to the peak. I realize that I've been pushing harder than I should today and lately. I'm so set on the destination (Coromandel Town at the moment, but Kaitaia in the end) that I'm neglecting to let myself focus on enjoying the ride. At this point it's too late, I'm stuck crawling over this sketchy gravel road and have nowhere I can stop but Coromandel Town. Fortunately the ride down was easier and shallower than the ride up.

When I arrive I head to a hostel called Tui Lodge to pitch my tent based on the recommendation of Paul, the Irish guy I met in Whakatane. When I roll in I spot three tents, with three bikes. I'm pumped, I love seeing cyclists where I am staying so I quickly book my tent spot and set up near them.

There I meet Chris and Lewis, a pair cycle touring together from England. They're rolling on the two mountain bikes (front center and right side of the above photo). As well as a guy from Switzerland (the bike in the background). Chris and Lewis are also doing some actual mountain biking here so their setups are a little more thought out than some of the people on mountain bikes that I've seen strictly touring on pavement.

I also meet a handful of non cyclists staying here as well. Most notably are Lorenz, a German here traveling by car and Quentin, a French guy on a working holiday visa, currently traveling while he waits to hear about work in Auckland. The pile of us and a few German girls hang out jumping on the trampoline, playing cards, chatting and stargazing until quite late. It's a good thing I don't have to be anywhere until the afternoon ferry the next day I tell myself.

The hostel is pretty awesome as a whole. Tons of outdoor and open air space, free laundry and a trampoline!

Day 79 – Leaving by ferry Fishing and trampoline jumping

I woke up today fully intending to pack my bags and leave by the only ferry to Auckland that day, which departed at 4:30pm. While eating breakfast Chris, Lewis, Lorenz and Quentin slowly trickle in and we all decided to head into town to use some wifi. I let the lady who runs the hostel know I'll be back later to pack up the tent and leave.

The gang have all been here for at least a few days and begin to make plans to go fishing together again today. I realize I have absolutely no motivation to head out so decide I'll stick around a second night and join for fishing. You know, here I was yesterday in a hurry to be somewhere but it's really here, the place in the middle, that I want to be.

We ride down to the dock in Lorenz's car after stopping to get Quentin a fishing rod. Not wanting to carry one for my remaining week and then try to fly home with it, I pass on buying one and give it a shot throwing a line by hand over the pier. I actually caught a fish like this! A small one, but I caught food with my bare hands so I'm pretty stoked. Now I was entirely unprepared to kill it, having never done this before. It flopped around a bit before Lewis lent a hand.

I get tired of hand holding a line so mostly I hang out while the rest of the guys fish. Everyone catches at least one and we make a good gathering for dinner. Back at the hostel I learn to gut, clean and filet a fish. Not glamorous work but felt like I'm a little more suited for life outdoors and after this experience I will be bringing a compact fishing rod on my next bicycle tour!

Lewis whips up a rice, cabbage, onion and fish meal that is absolutely fantastic. One of the best meals I've had on this trip, perhaps that was because I caught and gutted part of it, but still. Picture came out poorly but that's Lorenz, Quentin, Lewis and Chris below.

Sometimes it's hard to remember while cycle touring that its not about the kilometers or that pin on a map you're trying to reach. It's about getting there. It's about traveling slowly, meeting people along the way and letting the trip figure itself out. Sure maybe I won't see as much of the kauri forests in the northern tip now, but in 5 years I probably wouldn't remember that part of the trip anyway. What I will remember is panicking as the first fish I ever caught flopped around on the dock, when I learned to prepare and cook a fish that I caught and all the people I spent my time with.

So as they say, it's about the journey, not the destination. As hard as that is to remember when you're putting in your remaining week or two before you fly home or go back to work or whatever you have waiting for you after a tour.

Day 80 – Okay now I'm really leaving More fishing, more trampoline

It became obvious last night that none of us wanted to leave. Chris and Lewis decided to stick around again and Lorenz will be here for a couple more days anyway. I said I'd stay if they were, which apparently caused Quentin to stay put as well. As with yesterday we ate breakfast together and walked into town to use the coffee shop wifi. I find that the longer I'm gone the quicker I finish my business online and grow bored of having Internet access but spent a while staring at reddit while the gang finished up.

I jumped on the trampoline for a while then we went fishing. I let the wind blow away the hand held line I had yesterday so today I was just moral support but relieved some of the guys of their posts when the sun or boredom got to them. Wound up catching three fish big enough to eat.

After fishing and gutting a couple of the guys went to do a long hike nearby but I chose to stay behind and work on my R&R. Spent two hours laying in the shade of a tree, drifting in and out of consciousness, watching the clouds drift by. Fantastic. It's been a long time since I've been able to stare at the sky with no thoughts of what I should be working on instead or what I need to do later today or tomorrow.

Our total count of fish for the day was around 16 fish so when it came time to cook dinner we managed quite a feast. Tons of veggies, rice and fish with a total cost of $3 each. Last night we cut filets out and threw it into our dish but tonight Quentin cooked them on the grill. This meant eating a fish that still had eyes but I got to dig into the fish pictured above.

Sad to be leaving tomorrow but getting back on the road for my short time remaining will be good. I've stayed here at Tui Lodge for three nights and that is longer than I have stayed anywhere in these three months. It is a fantastic place and I have loved the time I spent here. It was all because Paul said “Stay at Tui Lodge when you get there… Write that down.”


Day 77 – Coromandel peninsula, more wind, less traffic

In leaving Waihi I got on SH25 heading into the peninsula and off of SH2 which now runs to Auckland. This means no more bonkers traffic. Feeling almost no wind as I head slowly up the Waihi Saddle climb. When I make it down the other side I'm greeted with a strong westerly wind as I try to head north/north west. I swear if I ever encounter a windier place than New Zealand I'm going home immediately!

I ride on, fighting a bit of wind and some hills until Whangamata, the place I had hoped to be the night before. First town actually in the peninsula and its obviously pretty tourist packed. Was a little bummed at first until I discovered Telecom covered the area I was eating lunch in with free wifi. It's been a few days since I've eaten out so I stopped to get a sandwich and laughed as the wind blew away my order number card and knocked over the salt shaker.

From there it flattened out until Opoutere Saddle. I make a climb to about 190m, drop down some then have a stiff incline back up to 200m. It's taking everything I have in my legs to get myself up this. I reflect on why I'm unwilling to walk it but keep mashing the pedals. Bottom gear, 6kmh, ugh. I get to the top and the ride down is just as steep. Steep enough to be a little terrifying, actually.

Shortly after I crossed the top I saw a cyclist walking up the hill, it was next to a rest stop so I pulled in to chat and, well, give my body a chance to catch back up. A guy from Russia, with brand new looking panniers. Turns out he started in Auckland so he's only about 250km into his tour at this point. He asks about the terrain and traffic going the way I came. Hilly and soon it will be heavy traffic, I tell him. “Ah, I may take a bus for part of it. I'm 50 years old and this is my holiday, I don't want to keep clomping.” As he smacks the cleat in his shoe against the pavement a few times I get the choice of wording.

I'm sure I'd have been in a similar place if I started out up here, but I am glad I had a couple months of the more forgiving South Island terrain to get me in shape. I can't believe I'm calling that terrain forgiving though, but while it had huge climbs and frequent mountain passes, you may have only one or two steepish and tall climbs a day. Instead up here every day can have a dozen small and extremely steep hills.

Tented at another backpackers and I was woken pretty early by some loud squawking outside of my tent. When I climbed out I discovered about 6 of these weird birds strutting around my tent and bike squawking. Not sure what they are, though. I'd like to eat one of them for waking me up at 7am.


Day 75 and 76 – Towards Coromandel Peninsula

I'm running out of time. I knew I wouldn't be able to do all of the north island but I am only now coming to accept how little I am able to do. A while back I plotted out my goal for the north island, a dash to the top (Cape Reinga) then back to Auckland. Of course, I never follow any plan that I make ahead of time here. It really is a good way to tour, have a vague idea of what you might do, but ask everyone you see what you should do and find a better plan. The straight shot skipped the east cape area (cutting direct from Gisborne to Tauranga) and did not do the peninsula.

Well I spent a week slowly bouncing from bay to beach along the east cape and am set on strolling up the Coromandel Peninsula as well so I had to skip Lake Taupo (set next to “Mount Doom”) and Rororua (geothermal area of interest that apparently smells foul). I also had to skip Hobbiton, which is something everyone from home seemed to think would be a requirement while here. It was still in my plan to make it to Cape Reinga though. They may be small islands but there is so much to see I could probably spend years here just exploring.

Day 75 – 95km to Tauranga

I set out to make it to Tauranga, a port city. My great luck with the weather finally left me. I fought an annoying crosswind most of the day. Perhaps it was weaker than what I often had on the South Island or I'm getting stronger (though my legs feel like mush currently) as I was keeping a pace of around ~15kmh as opposed to the 10kmh I would have during South Island heavy winds.

If the winds weren't enough, dark storm clouds moved in and I spent a while getting rained on. I'm actually not able to remember the last day it rained steadily during my riding. Surely hasn't been since early on the north island or maybe even further back than that. No complaints there!

Tauranga is big enough to have a YHA, so I took advantage of the cyclist discount and got myself a bed. A good decision too, it stormed pretty hard overnight and the winds were pretty loud even inside.

Day 76 – 65 crazy kilometers to Waihi

I've been getting pretty used to figuring out which road, as there is usually only one, is going to take me to my desired destination. So, silly me, didn't read Pedallers' Paradise before leaving. I left Tauranga riding State Highway 2 all the way to Waihi. The guide had this to say about that segment.

Note: SH 2 between Waihi & Tauranga has a reputation for heavy and sometimes dangerous traffic and is called “Suicide Highway” by some!

Now, given I did not see this coming, I make the right turn leaving town on the roundabout and am plunged into what most closely resembles an interstate highway in the states. Oooooohhh boy.

I can't shake the feeling I'm really, really not supposed to be here. I'm pedaling along 17kmh against the headwind still present on the side of the shoulder as a few lanes of cars barrel by me. I see the occasional bicycling related sign which continues to reassure me I'm not doing anything wrong. Well, legally wrong, I still don't want to be here. I didn't stop to take a picture because I didn't think anything good could come of lingering on the shoulder of this road.

The further I get from Tauranga the more the road calms down. The cement wall divided highway with on/off ramps gives way to a normal double lane highway, then two lanes each way drops down to one. The shoulder remains for the vast majority of the ride (and for this I was so grateful). Despite heavy traffic, my slow legs and my dipping in and out of traffic for every bridge or occasional narrowing of the shoulder, people were rather courteous. I was honked at twice in my 65km time on the road. Once while I was about 6 feet from the road in a huge shoulder and once by a guy who didn't think he should have to use the passing lane to pass me. I waved and eventually he found the other lane.

I had wanted to get to Whangamata, 36km into the peninsula but between stress of the crazy road and being tired from another day of head winds and 700m climbing, I called it a day at Waihi. It was an okay day I suppose but it left me seriously missing the peacefulness of riding in the South Island. It also left me wary about my trip going north of Auckland, as I know those roads are going to be heavy traffic as well.


Day 74 – Silly pronunciations

After drinking some last night I didn't quite get enough sleep. I didn't feel bad at all this morning, just tired. Figured I'd take a lighter day due to that and the gloomy weather and only ride to Whakatane (pronounced f*** uh tah knee). That provided a lot of confusion when I was trying to figure out what city people were talking about..

I'm glad my last two days were during the weekend because apparently I'm in the line of fire of logging trucks now. Had about a dozen pass me in the 10km I spent on the main highway before I got off for a shorter scenic route via Ohope to Whakatane. The weather was gloomy but I enjoyed a cool day with no heat from the sun.

Found that it was another $20 camp in Whakatane so strolled around the backpackers like last night and found one that does tent sites for $14. I really like tenting at backpackers. It's usually cheaper than motorcamps and I get the social aspects and nice kitchen/public area of a hostel. The tent sites are often in a garden with only enough space for 1-4 tents so it tends to feel pretty cozy.

I spent my night talking to an Irish guy here traveling and working on planes named Paul. He seemed to know the north island in and out and gave me tons of tips on where to stay and all kinds of cool stuff to do on my route. Unfortunately given my short time frame I can't do much of that but oh well.


Day 73 – No shoes, no problem!

I set out from Whanarua Bay with no real plan of how far I'd go. I have been avoiding set hopes and plans as I tend to have no clue how my legs are going to handle a day. As I mentioned before the hills, though smaller on average, are often extremely steep and can be pretty exhausting. Again the day cut in and out of the coast with the same beautiful weather I've had all week. I was glad to see some clouds though, which gave occasional relief from the heat of the sun.

I passed camp site after camp site as I was feeling pretty good and enjoying the day. I make it over Maraenui Hill and decide to skip the Hawaii Bay and head the remainder of the way to Opotiki, a small city. When I get to town I realize the motorcamp there is $20 and I'm not willing to fork that out so I try roaming around for backpackers. I discover Central Oasis Backpackers which seems pretty nice and only charges $12 to pitch a tent so I'm sold.

It's pretty packed with working holiday kids and as it was Saturday night most of them were ready to drink. I was enjoying hanging out with them so this was fine with me.

A New Zealand thing that I haven't talked about before is the fact that shoes are pretty much optional here. Most establishments have signs about leaving dirty work boots outside so it's common to see people kick off their boots and go in socks but its also common to see people on the streets or in stores completely barefoot. I mention this because they were heading to get more beer and I decided to join but could not find my shoes and was quite excited to finally take advantage of this shoes-optional policy and hopped in the car without. Felt strange walking around a supermarket barefoot, though.

So I had some beers as they worked to cook the mussels they caught that day in various fashions. Had Belgian style, more normal cooked versions and even mussel patties. This was the first time I've tried mussels, I enjoyed the taste but not the texture. The patties fixed the texture problem, though.

College is something I spent a while wishing I could go back to, I usually feel when I'm at hostels full of working holiday travelers that this is the closest thing you can get to being in college again. You live in a dorm room, spend most of your time not at work watching tv or drinking and instead of complaining about class you complain about work. To top it off there's no homework this time! At this point I wouldn't really want to take one of the fruit picking jobs but pay seems descent, something like $15/hr.