New Zealand: To Wellington

13/01/19 - 20/01/19

It did get to a point where it felt like we might never get there, to Wellington. Pretty much everyone we had spoken to said that you want to get to the South Island asap and a month after arriving in New Zealand we were still miles away from the ferry that would get us there. (I do think this advice is a bit hard on the North Island which is great, but we would now probably advise the same thing.)

A week after leaving Ann and John, we finally crossed The Cook Strait, the second most dangerous sea on the planet. (Thanks, Nick, for sharing that factoid with us two hours before we sailed...) It felt great to be on the Bluebridge Ferry, gliding on kind and calm two metre swells towards Part 2 of our Kiwi adventure. 

From Whanganui we pedalled under a cloud of torrential rain to Mareton for a stay with Neil, Lorraine and their troop which included a lot of goats, a dog, two very small kittens, plenty of chooks, a rooster called Randy who arrived one day and never left and a kunekune pig whose legs buckled when you tickled her in the correct spot on her tummy. We had a great stay with Lorraine and Neil. We arrived, soaking wet, to find no human at home, but the back door open so that we could immediately make ourselves at home. If Wellington and the South Island weren't so firmly fixed in our sights, we'd gladly have accepted Lorraine's invitation to stay another day (which she extended to us even after I dropped her phone in my fejoa sponge pudding and cream... I do ultimately blame Lorraine for so generously sharing some leftover Christmas bubbles). 

As Neil plied us with second breakfast the next morning - scrambled eggs courtesy of the chickens in the garden - we merrily watched our early start disappear. We were less merry just halfway into our planned day at 4 o'clock that afternoon. We had reached Palmerston North, a horrid headwind was more than happy to accompany us however far we were travelling that day it seemed. We called it quits, unconvinced we would make it over the intended pass in good spirits or before dark given our current rate. We had nowhere to stay and wild camping is hard at the best of times in New Zealand let alone in quite a busy town. Not busy with tourists, though, we were later told by Paul, a Warm Showers host who amazingly put us up at the eleventh hour. "Palmy" is not on the North Island tourist trail and Paul said the best they can hope for is a partner accompanying their beloved on business. He also told us that Palmerston North is as notoriously windy as Wellington, the same wind blows through both towns, hence their both housing wind farms. 

Paul shrugged off the unpopularity of his town as he loved his home and said he imagined we were heading straight down State Highway 1 in order to get to Wellington asap. We said we had planned to cross the Tararuas. Besides, Lorraine had categorically said NOT to take the main road. Paul said we could get to Wellington in a day if we went straight and we both started to doubt we'd ever get there if we didn't.

Against our better judgement we were on the road early the next morning, ready to take on one of the North Island's busiest roads. We hoped the early start would allow us to get a head start on the wind too. It soon caught us up though as we tended to my front brake which was protesting against the decisions we had made.

I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend the route we took to Wellington, but we did get there sooner than we would have and we also got to discover some of the Kapiti coast which was very beautiful and we had lunch on one of its quiet beaches. SH1 was a "head down and pedal hard" kind of road. Mostly narrow and with not much of a hard-shoulder, the road wasn't scenic or overly memorable. Crossing over bridges was terrifying as we would pull over and wait for a gap in the traffic before pedalling like mad to get to the other side so as not to hold up too much traffic or, as more often happened, to be passed horribly closely at a high speed by an impatient idiot. 

Hopping on hot sand

Lunch looking out at Kapiti Island

It took us two days to get to Wellington from Palmerston North and we broke up the adrenaline fuelled journey with a stop at a free DOC site at Waikawa Stream. The following morning we meandered our way back to the main road along a couple of smaller roads, picking up some free veges en route. 

We've seen many a funky letterbox in NZ

Free veges

The previous day hadn't been all doom and gloom either. We stopped for lunch at a little park in Levin having managed to cycle 50km before stopping for a break and we were quite pleased with that. As Olly settled into his chair and I perched on the wall, we heard a voice behind us. A lady tottered over the road and handed us each a can of Sprite saying, "that looks like thirsty work". We had a quick chat, learning that she had moved to Levin from Leicester some 40 years ago. The Sprite was deliciously refreshing. As we made to leave, the lady waved and called us over to her house. She imagined we must now be needing to use "the facilities". She refilled our water bottles and refused to let us leave without any food even though we told her we were en route to the supermarket. She opened the doors to her larder and gave us a packet of biscuits and the entire contents of her fruit bowl. Similarly to Kelly from The Flying Fox, the lovely lady originally from Leicester now living in Levin said her daughter had travelled and she hoped people had her been kind to her daughter too. 

At Paraparaumu we caught the train the remaining distance to Wellington. It was a baking hot day and we were relieved to not have to navigate into the centre of the capital city. We stepped off the train and straight into rush hour: a fast-flowing river of people fighting to escape from the net of the working day. We fought against the current to emerge at a set of traffic lights with a funky green man. Later, I learned from Sophie that the funky green man is actually a green woman by the name of Kate Sheppard. She fought hard to secure female suffrage and New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Kate also adorns the blue ten dollar bill. On the other side is a whio, or blue duck. 

Welly station

In Wellington, we stayed in Brooklyn with Andrew and Sally for two nights before we crossed over to the South Island and we had a wonderful time with them briefly discovering a city with more coffee shops per capita than New York! We were filled to the brim after a delicious dinner and breakfast and then Andrew drove us up to the first wind turbine that was installed in the city as a kind of test run for the locals. Once they'd decided they were resolutely pro wind turbines, the original was due to come down, but it had found its way into the hearts of the people and so it remains.

Andrew proposed so many interesting things, and Sophie, a friend of Olly's from university who has lived in Wellington for a couple of years with her boyfriend Nick, had also sent us a list of things she loves to do in the city - including her favourite eateries! (We got ice-cream from Carrello in Oriental Bay on Sophie's recommendation and it was delicious. Olly's scoop of peanut butter gelato was admittedly a bit tastier than my honey & thyme.) It was hard to know what to choose with just a day of discovery available to us. With Andrew we strolled through the botanical gardens, pausing at every viewpoint and also at the cable car which locals use as a genuine means of transport in the hillside city. 

After walking through the centre of town and past the parliament buildings, Andrew left us on the buzzing waterfront. We wandered across the City to Sea bridge and down vibrant, cool Cuba Street. That night we joined Andrew and Sally at their neighbour's BBQ and the "bring-a-dish-buffet" was a-mazing. So many tasty salads, one of which we had made inspired by one of our early Warm Showers stays in France. We had a really relaxed time listening to the neighbourhood chit chat. After a cup of tea we retired back across the road to bed for our final nights sleep on the North Island. 

Packed up once more, we headed down the steep hill from Brooklyn and into the city centre to meet Sophie and Nick for brunch at a great cafe called Fidels. It provided the cafe hit I'd been craving in a city famed for its coffee culture. It was really nice to meet Sophie and Nick, our January people. Every month of the trip so far we've seen someone we know, which is quite incredible! Sophie and Nick chatted away enthusiastically about life and travels in New Zealand as we stuffed our faces! Nick was especially animated about Te Papa, the national museum (he was keen to go for the third time that morning in about as many weeks) that is now firmly on our "next time" list. 

Te Papa

Bike inspection with Sophie and Nick

Our morning with Sophie and Nick came to an end too quickly. I'd just started to really get a feel for life in this uncrowded and cool capital. After picking up a few snacks for the ferry, we hurried along to the ferry terminal which was right by the train station we'd arrived at a few days before. It wasn't long before we started to chug away from the North Island and towards new adventures on the South.

To Picton