We started off pretty slowly in the morning, true to how we normally get on the road at home, sort of unprepared. First order of business was to stop at the travel agent’s office as he had called the airlines to get everything set for our round-the-world ticket and figured out all the flights as well as Daniel’s credit from Raytheon for his trip home. After meeting with Richard the travel agent and paying the largest sum of money either of us has ever spent on anything in our entire lives, we had to decide where we were going that day.
We had an extremely general idea of where we wanted to go–South, basically– and having heard from locals that you can pretty much camp wherever you like and that it’s normal to bike on the highway, we just had to get a map. We went to the office of the Department of Conservation, and the woman at the office told us about something called the Rail Trail, a bike path built onto the old railway.
We had biked most of the way down highway 75, which had some pretty awesome views: the rolling mountainous farmland and lots of cows and sheep, but which was also kind of scary as the shoulder of the road had turned from bike lane to nothing. When we were most of the way to Motukarara where we were planning on camping that night, we figured out that the reason I was having such a hard time biking was not only a cheap bike and having everything I own on my back, but also the brakes on my bike had gotten stuck on, somewhat permanently. We didn’t have any tools to work on the bike with, and I was pretty ready to get where we were going, so we just biked the rest of the way to Motukarara and camped in a park right next to a horse racing track, where there was a race going on. We managed to build a fire from found wood (we were pretty proud of ourselves, as we did not have the benefit of either fire starters or Peter C. and his machete), and as we were boiling water over the fire for dinner, a man named Mark wandered by, got excited about the fire, and went to get some sausages to share. We had a short dinner with him, and when we were done eating, we set up camp. We had optimistically purchased a large one person tent (we couldn’t turn it down: it was on sale and only weighed one kilo) and had a rather cramped and chilly night.
In the morning, we decided to try to find an allen wrench, and after coming up empty-handed at the caretaker’s office and at the cafe down highway 75, we started to walk the bikes back to the Motukarara camp site, very frustrated and without a plan. A driver slowed down on the highway and asked if we needed help, to which we said yes please, and he happened to live just on the other side of the property adjacent to where we had camped that night. His name was John and he also happened to be an avid biker and know exactly what to do to fix the brakes by adjusting the cables on the spot and adding grease to the caliper springs–this was much better than our original plan which was to take off all the bolts and see what happened. He also lent us a whole set of tools to take with us on the next leg of our trip and gave us a tour of his property (he and his wife Heather oversee an accomodation/halfway house for people in the community and surrounding area).
Having two working bikes and half a day left, we set out to reach shelter and water before nightfall. Our eventual destination was Little River, a small township on the Banks Peninsula which marked the end of the Rail Trail, and the beginning of the volcanic mountains which surround Akaroa. After a quick false start we found the Rail Trail, a gravel-and-rock path that wound its way through the creeks and inlets nearby. Much of the trail itself is on the coast of the Kaituna Lagoon, which connects to the much larger Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora, in Maori), which is itself split off from the Pacific Ocean just barely by the Kaitorete Spit. The ride was beautiful, the sun was shining, and even though the path was rocky (without bike shorts, “a bit rough on the bum,” as John put it) the view and the environment made it worthwhile.
We stopped and had a snack at Birdlings Flat, a tiny town with a pebble beach on the Pacific. After we noticed the sun getting low we hopped back on our bikes, realizing that we both definitely wanted somewhere indoors to stay the night. We rushed through the last leg of the path, sadly missing some fantastic photo opportunities of the sun setting in the hills, and arrived just in time to find the one guest room still available. It was a little out of our budget, but beautiful; halfway up a hill, with a view of the surrounding hills and a giant garden covering the property. Without any light pollution from the city, the view of the stars from the trellised and flowery patio was fantastic. We took showers, did some laundry, and went to sleep in a bed that was decidedly softer than the ground by the racetrack.
We took our time heading back and enjoyed the path through Birdlings Flat since we knew there was a place to stay and water to drink in Motukarara. We took some great panoramic pictures along the way (we will post these soon), and had plenty of time to moo at the cattle and slow down for the sheep who were grazing alongside and in the middle of the rail trail path. We made great time and were able to stop at the restored railway station mini-museum, and signed the guestbook. We were the only people from Minneapolis in it!
John had offered to let us camp on his land when we came back to return the tools he had lent us, and he and his wife kindly set up a mattress in the back of their camper/customized half-semi truck bed, and offered us use of the toilets and shower block that was a part of the property. They were so kind to us, complete strangers from out of town, and we are very grateful to have met them along our way.
Rather than taking the most direct route back to Christchurch (ie., highway 75) we decided to take a westward detour through Lincoln and Prebbleton, where another section of the rail trail was laid (you can check out the rail trail at www.littleriverrailtrail.co.nz). John and Heather had asked to to return a library book for them since we were going through Lincoln anyway, and after finding the library, we had a quick iced coffee and got back on the road. This section of the rail trail was sealed, which was a pretty exciting surprise for our sore seats. We made it back to Christchurch’s city center with plenty of sun left in the sky and we are now staying at the Foley Towers backpacker which is Northeast of Cathedral square. We only have a week left in Christchurch and are gearing up for the next leg of our trip–Bangkok!