Momma Bear Adventures - Wk 1 & 2 (South Island)
Pre-cursor: Our travelling style is cheap and our focus is on the natural beauty of the country. We do not care for big touristy areas, or seeing the “sights of the city”. Most of our accommodation was in campgrounds, with the occasional hostel to escape from nasty weather. I let my mum have the comfort and ease of the car (I tip my bike up sideways so there’s lots of room on the foamy mattress). I took my one-person tent, which was my home over the month that my mum was here. Here’s the first two weeks of adventuring with my mum, mostly on the South Island.
My dear mum flew into Auckland early Monday morning, the 12th of February. Her excitement was contagious and it felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket to be side by side with family after 5 months of being away from home. That day was a lot of chatting, eating and napping (for my mum), and we even got down to the park to feed the possums.
(Feb 13th) The next day we went into town again to run a few errands. That afternoon, Sheryle drove us to a beach and let Sam run and run next to the ute (truck) along the sand. We thought this kiwi-style of “walking the dog” was hilarious. We enjoyed a walk through the Miranda Shoreline bird Sanctuary, then a relaxing dip in the Miranda Hot Springs.
Valentines Day, February 14th, was our road trip departure date. This was a big day. We started off by heading south to Raglan for a lovely lunch and coffees at The Shack, then off to Otorohanga to visit the Kiwi House. We were a few minutes late to see the kiwi feeding (they were in a nocturnal sanctuary so it took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust - I saw what I’d describe as a brown/gray basketball moving around a bit). The other birds and reptiles in the Kiwi House were neat to see too...although very sad because they all wanted out of their net cages. Just down the road from the Kiwi House is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. We had hoped to get in the boat tour, but they were having a busy day and the boats were all booked, so we joined a 2-hour walking tour instead. One member of our group that had done both tours said the walking tour was actually better executed than the boat tour, and we felt good for supporting a smaller, family-run business. It was interesting to learn more about the glowworms. I didn’t know that they were actually larvae of a fly, and although the worm itself is only the size of a matchstick, it has tons of sticky string lines that it produces and hangs down to catch prey. The light is to attract bugs into thinking they’ve found a way out of the cave, but instead they get trapped and reeled into the glowworms mouth. Since we got on a later tour than planned, we opted out of going all the way to New Plymouth that night. Instead we stopped at Urenui campground, half an hour away from New Plymouth. We watched the sun set beside beautiful Mount Taranaki, bathing the volcanic peak in brilliant pink. The campground was quiet and clean and perfect for what we needed.
(Feb 15th) I rose just after the sun to do yoga and a workout on the beach. Felt so good to move after a couple weeks of being under the weather. Covered in sand and sweat by the end, I showered, packed up and we headed to New Plymouth. Once we arrived, we had some errands to run. I had broken my flip-flops (jandles), so we had to pick up some new cheap ones, and my laptop was not turning on (which is why I had a huge break between blog posts), so we found iRepair, who was willing to fix it that day. While waiting for the laptop repair, we climbed Paritutu Rock. Although only about a half-hour hike, the top half was basically rock climbing. I was super proud of mum who clung to the chains and hauled herself up with a smile. We enjoyed lunch in the sun on Back Beach, picked up my laptop and headed to Rotokare Scenic Reserve to freedom camp for the night. Rotokare is a park with huge fences around it to keep out pests (rats, possums, stoats), and it has a double gate entry to allow you to check your car for any cling-on pests and to make sure none sneak in the park. The pests kill the native birds and eat the endangered trees, such as the kauri, so they are not well liked in NZ. I set up my tent right by the lake, where there were many birds, including wekas, pukekos, black swans and fantails, all pecking around in the grass for bugs, and calling to each other in the trees.
February 16th was a very special day. It was my dear niece, Rosetta’s second birthday and my heart ached for her. Quite sore from the previous day’s workout, mum and I headed for a quick 4k walk around the Rotokare Lake. The trees and native bush, so lush and green, guided our way, and gave us both a deep sense of gratitude and peace. Packed it up again, and we hit the road for Wellington. Luckily we left with lots of time to spare...the road had numerous sections of slow construction, which made our journey an hour longer than planned. We still arrived half an hour before check-in time and loaded onto the Interislander ferry, Kaiarahi, with ease. During the 3-hour ferry ride, especially after we shared a greasy dinner, I pretty much had my head on the table the whole time. Boats and Skye do not get along well, and there was quite a bit of chop along the Cook Straight crossing. Mum enjoyed it and explored every part of the ferry she could (she liked to get her bearings on where she is in case of emergency). That night we stayed at the Fat Cod Backpackers hostel to save the trouble of setting up camp in the dark.
(Feb 17th) By this point, I was itching to get on my bike. I saw on my Trailforks app that Picton had a small network of mountain bike trails. We parked at the Marina so mum could do a little hike and watch the sailing regatta, and I finally got to pedal. I did a single-track climb up to the Picton Reservoir, which led into an off-camber track called Ridgeline. I followed that to West side which had gorgeous views of the ocean from the cliff side and led into the mellow Kanuka track ending at the point and looking out over the sparkling ocean. On the way back I followed Leicester and Grip it and Rip it - old school, tight and twisty. Off to Nelson. After a visit to the I-Site (Information Center) to ask all of our questions about the area, we set up our water taxi tickets to visit Abel Tasman National Park for the following day, and I went to Gravity Nelson to get the news on all the great riding. The guys were very helpful and once mum and I got settled at Brooks Valley Holiday Park, I set out again to try the Nelson dirt. Trails: Codgers - Tasman’s Track - Jack’s Track - Fire Road - Turners (my fav) - Take me to your Leader - Hotbox - through the city and back to the campground. My body was definitely feeling it after the 15km in Picton and the 18km in Nelson. Mum was amazing and had dinner ready when I got back.
(Feb 18th) Up at 6:30am, on the road at 7:15am, 1-hour drive to Marahau and the Abel Tasman Center and onto our water taxi at 9am. They loaded us on the boats, while they were still on trailers behind tractors, then drove us down the road behind the tractor, right across the sandbars until it was deep enough to detach us from the trailer. What a neat, efficient and different way of getting people on the water fast and dry. It was a 45min water taxi ride, along with a few stops to look at Split Apple Rock (the 2nd most photographed rock in the world), baby NZ fur seals sun bathing, and various bird species on a pest-free bird sanctuary island. Once we arrived at Torrent Bay, mum and I stopped to get the sand out from between our toes, have a quick snack of tomato and cheese, and began our 1hr 45min hike to Anchorage. This was the first little leg of our hike; at low tide, you can cut right across the bay to Anchorage in about 30 min, but we arrived at high tide, so around we went. The trail from Torrent Bay to Anchorage was a bit rugged and got the sweat going. At Anchorage we had another quick break, then enjoyed the wider, flatter trail along the coast, stopping at various viewpoints and beaches. We swam at Coquille Bay, the last chance to swim before returning back to Marahau. The water was so warm and welcoming. We let our bodies float, taking the load off our feet for a few minutes. This was a 20km hike in total. I’m so proud of my momma bear for doing so well, with such great attitude, whistling away trying to talk to the birds. On the way back to Nelson, we spotted a sign for fresh fruit and bought a bag of delightful peaches. We both slept well that night.
(Feb 19th) Gravity Nelson MTB Shuttle Day! Met the group in town at 8:30am, $99 got me a day of shuttles; we set off just after 9am. Started with a warm-up of Involution - Grade 3, 5km of roots into rocks with a couple stream crossings. Next came two laps of Te Ara Koa, another rocky, rooty Grade 4 with a couple steep rolls (reminded me of Canada riding in a way). I had to stop and shake out a few times on these -body was FEELING it. Last two laps were on Codgers area - upper Firball (fun, dry and flowy), to Crazy Horse. This was a 25k descent day. One guy got 2 flats; I fell on the last run but only came away with a scraped elbow. Such an amazing day with perfect overcast but still hot. Mom had fun on a hike then walked through town, treating herself to an iced mocha. We stayed at the same campground, Brooks Valley, again. We had both learned to cover up our skin from the flesh eating little buggers of midges and mosquitoes.
(Feb 20th) We hit the road early to try to escape Cyclone Gita, which was already making her way into Nelson. It started raining at 4am and was pouring the whole 4-hr drive down to Hanmer Springs. Sending good thoughts to all those affected by the cyclone...poor Nelson and all the northern coast of the South Island flooded, many businesses stayed closed and there was a warning from the environmental leader to head inland for the night. After a wet walk through town, and a wonderful time in the Geothermal pools, we made dindin and were so grateful to get into our own rooms and warm beds.
(Feb 21st) Fairly uneventful, rest day. Made banana pancakes and mum treated us by buying Canadian Maple Syrup...mmm. I spent the majority of the day writing. And we had another great couple hours relaxing in the Hanmer Springs Hot Pools in the rain. They have about 6 pools to choose from - the sulphur pool being the hottest and greenest. Momma bear’s silver wedding ring turned purple, then black in the sulphur. She couldn’t take it off due to spraining her finger multiple times in the past. Luckily we have a polish cloth that took the tarnish off.
(Feb 22nd) To Christchurch we go. We had a little blond, German hitchhiker join us for the morning. It was a jigsaw puzzle to fit him and his stuff into our car full of all our camp stuff and my bike, but we did it. He wanted to go to Kaikoura, which was closer to the coast than we were going, but we dropped him off half an hour south of Hanmer Springs, where he was more likely to get a ride up. (We later learned that both sides of the motorway accessing Kaikoura had been closed due to Cyclone Gita damage...we hoped that he wasn’t stranded.) Unfortunately the day that we got to Christchurch was the day after the cyclone hit, which meant every mountain biking trail was closed due to trees down and excess water. So I hit up the rock climbing gym instead. Claire recommended I go to Uprising, a bouldering gym that makes their own holds. It was a great little gym with two levels; I lasted just over an hour of steady climbing. My climbing strength still has a long ways to come back, but I still the love the sport and get so inspired watching people climb hard problems. I think to myself “I remember when I could hold on to those!” (My crimp, sloper and pinch strength has diminished significantly). Mom walked around a mini, hipster strip mall that was super cute and had lots of vintage and op (opportunity/thrift) shops. After I bought us smoothies, we headed to our camp spot at Awaroa campground; a beautiful, quiet campground with amazing ocean views, just out past Sumner.
(Feb 23rd) Got up ready to ride my bike! The park supervisor told me about a trail called Anaconda right near the camp spot. It was very scenic since it was right on the grassy sheep fields above the water. The fun, cruisy trail ended with a bit of rock tech right at the beach, called Taylor’s Mistake. The only poopy part was having to climb back up what I just descended (I much prefer a climb trail). After getting back up to the top I did a summit trail, which went around the mountain beside the road. There was a barge in the bay and I raced it as it passed through the ocean beside me. Up at the top of that hill, above all the sheep, there was a WWII bomb shelter. I sat on that, read the history and headed down. We hit the road to Lake Tekapo. We were looking into star gazing tours because Tekapo is definitely the place to do it in NZ, but the forecast said clouds, and it wasn’t super high on our to-do list (plus it was expensive). Mum has a cool app on her phone called Skyview which shows you all the constellations and stars when you point your camera at them - very cool. We stayed at the Top 10 Holiday park in Lake Tekapo. People were very loud that night. The people beside us arrived at 5pm, went over to their friends camp spot to socialize until 10pm, then came back over to set up their tent, talk loudly and shine their headlights at us to see. It is ridiculous how inconsiderate and disrespectful people are sometimes.
(Feb 24th) To Queenstown! I was really excited to go to Queenstown, but quickly got such a weird vibe from it, and it was super busy so both my mum and I weren’t keen to spend much time there. We stayed at the 12-Mile Delta campground, a self-serve, $13/person big open space next to a lake. It looked welcoming, despite there being so many people. That night though...the wind. DEAR GOD, THE WIND. It started bad, and got worse. The tents pegs kept blowing off; it was like someone was grabbing the tent and shaking and shaking and shaking it. My dear momma got out of the car and pilled rocks over my pegs so they would stay-put. It helped the tent stay down, but it didn’t help me sleep. The shaking movement of the tent kept me awake most of the night. Also the sand blew right up under the fly and coated my sleeping bag and face.
(Feb 25th) After that eventful, sleepless night, we headed to Repco to buy engine oil because my car was totally out of oil (will look into the seals), then to Skyline for some gondola shuttles. It was really nice and easy just giving my bike to the guys at the gondola and having them lift it up, then take it off and hand it to me at the end. So easy! I got two laps in in the first hour, then the line picked up and it was almost an hour waiting for my 3rd lap, The trails were super fun and I stuck to the flow trails (Vertigo, Thingymajig, Thundergoat), but also followed an Argentinian guy down Jungle Gym (Gr 5 techy, rooty and fun). I ended up doing 7 laps in my 10am-2pm half day pass (which was perfect because it worked out to $10/lap). When I got back to the car, I found out that my mum had been struggling to find accommodation. Everything in Queenstown and Wanaka was booked because it was Chinese New Year. We ended up getting a room in Cromwell, an hours drive away, at a place called Falcon’s Nest. We thought it was a hostel but pulled up into a super weird, seemingly deserted industrial area. We went up the deck of this industrial condo-looking building. It looked like a strange conference room and very modern kitchen. Upon going inside it was actually very nice and clean, but still weird.
(Feb 26th) Wanaka was so quiet compared to Queenstown and both mum and I really enjoyed it. I went right to the Sticky Forest, which was a recommendation from friends. It was very ‘Canada’ with all the pines, and tight, twisty, short, and old school trail, which felt like Hartland. A guy that had come to 440 a few weeks ago actually recognized me and we got talking and riding together for a little while. Mum and I had lunch by the lake, and headed to the Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park. The sunset was beautiful and painted the sky red and pink.
(Feb 27th) - Leftover pancakes for breakfast - yum. We finished the maple syrup though, which was sad. We hit the road to Franz Josef Glacier. We did a quick 15 min hike to Sentinel Rock and had a great view of the glacier. We made a pit stop in Hokitita for a quick ocean break, and again at the Punakaiki Pancake rocks and Blowholes, which was super neat to see. We stayed in Murchison at the Lazy Cow Hostel, where we splurged and got our very own twin room with an ensuite. It was a beautiful little hostel, and very welcoming. I watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby with a bunch of Americans and a girl from Finland.
(Feb 28th) We travelled from Murchison to Nelson for a few hours of riding, and there was no one on the mountain. It had been on and off rain the last few days and the tracks were mucky but I was on my bike, so I was happy. I tried a new trail called Hulk’n Hogan - awesome. Then on the road to Picton to stay at the Fat Cod Hostel again. This was a nice, relaxing evening of laundry, writing, shower and food making. I made a sweet and spicy Thai coconut stir fry with shitaki mushrooms.
(Mar 1st) We caught the 9am ferry back to Wellington, on the North Island. TBC...
(Wk 3 & 4 coming soon)