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by Pamela Blalock and John Bayley
When we booked our motel we were told that we could only stay through Friday, since due to the upcoming holiday weekend and the international Fireman's games, every place in Christchurch was booked. This meant we'd have to get out of town Friday!
We managed to find a room in a hostel in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula for the weekend, so we planned our first loaded tour. But first we had to get rid of some gear. See if you can follow this, John has a cousin in Ireland who is married to a kiwi rugby player, who's mate's mum lives in Christchurch. Arrangements had been made to leave stuff with her. We used the same shuttle that we had used to get from the airport, and for a tiny fee carried all our gear out to her house in the burbs and got a lift back to our motel. Prices here are quite reasonable when converting from American dollars. Of course salaries are rather lower, so American tourists can live it up, while those of us permanently relocating have to stop converting and start budgeting. But that's another story...
Back to our weekend ride. We loaded the tandem with 4 panniers, racktop and bar bag. We tried to carry minimal gear, but this wasn't just a weekend trip. After the weekend and another visit with the cats, we plan to do a reasonably quick tour of the south island to try and decide where to live. The cats will be out of quarantine in a month, and they aren't going to want to go bike touring! So we needed to carry warm clothing for the varied conditions we'd see over the next few weeks. We also had lots of maps and guidebooks. Needless to say, we were not going to set any speed records.
We were using a couple of different books to help select routes. One was the Lonely Plant Cycling NZ. I hadn't looked closely at the route description, trusting John fully. I learned my lesson! We headed south out of town over the Port hills. Our first climb up to the summit road was a good one. Unfortunately it was pretty chilly and cloudy on top, so there was no reward of a view. The descent into Littleton was a screamer. The wind was brutal. We checked the ferry times and grabbed a quick bite to eat before catching a bike/passenger ferry over to Diamond Harbour. Since the ferry didn't carry cars, it didn't have the easiest access, so we got to carry the tandem and our panniers down a long flight of stairs!
The sun came out while we were in Littleton, and by the time we crossed the harbour, it was a totally different day, warm and sunny! We then headed onto Port Levy, with another brutal climb and screaming descent. While John stopped to take pictures, I grabbed to routebook to catch up on some reading. Our next section of road was a 5.5 km moderately steep dirt climb followed by a 4 km steep descent. OK now I'm prepared. Well somewhat.
The sun really was getting intense - quite a change from earlier in the day, and we were both stripping down and piling on the sunscreen. But I'm not complaining. The scenery was glorious and it wasn't that flat boring ride out to the quarantine facility.
The descent into Pigeon Bay had some added excitement of a puncture from a sharp stone. But we quickly repaired it and continued on. The final big climb of the day took us over the summit road and down into Akaroa Harbour. At this stage we had about 7000 feet of climbing and were well under 50 miles! John read from the routebook that we had 2 one km moderate climbs. The third came as a bit of a shock! Closer inspection of the profile showed the third climb, but the cue sheet only mentioned two. I must send a note off to to the Lonely Planet folks!
We finished the day with just over 8000 feet and 50 miles. I took another look at the Lonely Planet Book, and noted that it recommended against doing this route as your first tour in New Zealand, but rather use other routes to get in shape for this one! Oh well, other rides should be easier!
We found our hostel, Chez La Mer, and met the Dutch couple who'd fallen in love with New Zealand a few years before, and bought the hostel when it became available. The British beat the French (by a few days) in claiming Akaroa, but it was still settled mostly by French, and in tribute to its French Heritage, many of the streets and business names are French. More history can be found here.
We had worked up a pretty good appetite and found a great restaurant on the bay where we had our first of many great bowls of pumpkin soup. It was actually early Spring in New Zealand, but pumpkin soup was on the menu everywhere - and it has become one of my favourites. We were both pretty tired from the days cycling, but when we got back to the hostel we ended up sitting and chatting with our hosts all about New Zealand immigration.
The next day, we planned to spend exploring Akaroa, but despite recommendations from various guides that it would take the full day, we didn't take that long, so we took off on the bike, planning to go back up to the Summit road and down the other side to one of the more remote bays. We left our panniers at the hostel, so it should have been easy, but we gained about 2000 feet in 4 miles, and saw 29% on our bike computer for gradient at one stage. When we reached the top, clouds had rolled in, and visibility was pretty limited. We pressed on a while, as the weather seemed to deteriorate, and the winds increased. We reached our turn, and looked down at the harbour. We briefly considered riding down to sea level, where we'd have to turn around and ride back up and to get back to Akaroa on the far side. We huddled in a ditch and ate the sandwiches we had brought along with us! We headed down yet another road (but on the Akaroa side), and eventually back to town. When we returned the weather was quite nice, so we donned our walking shoes, and heading out on one of the many tracks in the area.
After another wonderful dinner and great nights sleep, we began our journey back toward Christchurch. We'd planned to stay at a hostel in Littleton, since we figured Christchurch was still all booked. The weather started our glorious although a bit brisk. We warmed up soon enough as we headed back up that climb with the 29% sections, this time with panniers. The winds were a but lighter than the day before, and the views from Summit Road were spectacular. We eventually came to the Hilltop Tavern, and joined the main road. The descent into Little River was a screamer, and we were a bit chilly and hungry when we reached the town, so we stopped as soon as we saw a place for soup and sandwiches. Unfortunately the selection was limited in that they only had one bowl of soup left, and not much else. We stopped again at the next place we saw, and found good coffee and pastry. But just as we were ready to leave, THE storm was rolling in. We heard other folks talk about a severe storm in Christchurch. At some point mention was made of hail and severe thunderstorms, so we began making inquiries about places to stay. The shopkeeper recommended a bird sanctuary, Birdlands Holiday Park, up the road that might have cabins. We decided to give it a go, even though it was several km out of our way. We arrived just as the proper rain was getting going and little hailstones were collecting on the road all around us! We looked like drowned rats, and that likely helped us get the only available spot in the end of a cabin (basically a room with two single beds). I think it really was just another bedroom for the main part of the cabin, with a separate entrance. There were communal cooking facilities in another building, but we were on a credit card tour at this stage and had no food or camping supplies with us. The woman running the place said she could scrounge up a few cans of beans, if it didn't clear enough for us to go back into town later. We changed into dry clothes and hung out in the very primitive unheated cabin reading for a while. The storm raged for a while, but eventually eased a bit, so we took a walk around the bird sanctuary. Of course it began to rain hard again just as we got back to the cabin.
Fortunately we did have a good break in the storm later, and we headed back to Little River for dinner. Then the folks in the main part of the cabin began to cook, so we headed out for another nice walk (to avoid hunger from the smell of more food) and got some pictures of some of the locals...
The storm gathered strength again for a few more heavy blasts overnight with quite heavy rains. We delayed leaving as long as possible, but the rain wasn't stopping, so we donned our warmest clothes and headed back to the diner where we were becoming regulars. We had a nice breakfast and read headlines in the paper about a tornado nearby in Lincoln, apparently a rare event, and giant hailstones, and lots of flooding and other damage. We definitely made the right choice to stop the day before. Our route from then on was quite exposed and very windy. The rain finally started to ease after about 30 km, when we stopped in a tea room for tea and scones. We debated for a while whether to head over the hills or continue around the flatter way into Christchurch. The clouds seemed to be breaking up, but it still looked quite threatening up in the hills. In the end, we took the flat route, and made our way back into Christchurch, where we found a backpackers a few blocks from the city centre, which has become our base in Christchurch. The sun was shining and is was positively balmy out!