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by Pamela Blalock with John Bayley

With March came Autumn! The switch off of daylight savings time seemed to come early relative to its equivalent time back home (mid March here is equivalent to mid September there). And the sun seemed to view the opportunity for shorter evenings as a chance to take it easy. We had been blessed with lots of light well into the evenings, ever since we arrived here last October, but it seemed right after we switch off daylight savings time, the sun set noticeably earlier and earlier. Of course it is still very pleasant - warm and sunny during the day, with those lovely cool nights that make great sleeping weather.

Of course since it is Autumn, we've been trying to get out more and more on the mountain bikes. There are a fair number of trails around here, as well as lots of gravel roads. We have been discouraged at times though, since many of these pass through forestry land and are inaccessible during the week! What good is it for us to be unemployed, if we can't play during the week? But we have been persistent and have found quite a few of these unsealed roads that are public and open for riding at any time.

It's also been enlightening to find that these gravel roads are not quite like the unsealed roads we love so dearly back in New England. We regularly took our road bikes down all manner of dirt roads in Vermont. Often the dirt roads were smoother than many paved roads in Massachusetts. The dirt was firmly packed down and quite rideable on road bikes. Well here, they put down quite the layer of gravel. Apparently the clay base is quite slippery in the wet and this gravel helps with traction. But it also can be quite deep in places (and thin in others), making riding a bit more technical. Well, we had these mountain bikes built with the move to New Zealand in mind, so it's good that they will get plenty of use.

We've found a lovely loop not too far away that combines several great quiet gravel roads and some sealed ones too. I was a tiny bit disappointed on our first trip to Dovedale to find no coffee shop, tea room or even corner store, but later in the ride, near Neudorf, we found a great tea room. This has become one of my favourite loop rides. We've done it several times, using road bikes, mountain bikes and tandem.

When we first arrived, lots of folks asked if we've been up the Brook. They were referring to a set of trails at the end of Brook Street. From the trailhead, one can climb up to quite a few trails, some steep, some technical, and one not too bad for a beginners like me (Pamela). Of course getting up to that trail isn't so easy. When we first arrived, we had the choice of riding up a road that got steeper at the top, or talking a walking trail with many hairpins, some with steps in them, which got very steep at the top. John, of course, can ride up the steep technical walking trail without a problem (although one set of steps in one of the turns causes him a little grief.) I found the road more to my liking, although I struggled at the top with the steepness (not as steep as the trail, but still pretty hard). I'm sure I've mentioned before how the emphasis around here on mountain biking is on the mountain. Many trails are quite steep - well over 20% is not uncommon. A lot of folks around here do pretty hard-core downhill riding, where they drive to the top of some ski run, uh I mean firebreak, and then go straight down, sometimes jumping giant gaps and drop-offs. But there are also a bunch of superfit people who ride up these 20+ % grades, without difficulty. I personally want to have words with the author of a local mountain biking book that rates several nearby trails as easy that I can never hope to ride up! But back to the Brook trails. The easy one is a former railroad line that goes to a hut called Third House. It does a bit of climbing, but not bad by any means. It has a couple of easy stream crossings, some of which are followed by a steep bit, but even for a novice like me, it's not bad. I have truly enjoyed my rides on this trail. But not too long ago, the road access to the trail was closed. They are upgrading the water system in Nelson, and the pipeline runs right along this road, so now I get to push my bike up the steep walking track. I have finally learned why they call non-motorized bikes push bikes! One day when coming back down, I saw another fellow near the top of the steep walking trail pushing his own bike, and I made the comment that it was good to see I wasn't the only one who had to walk. He wasn't very happy with my comment and informed me that it was a downhill bike - one of those heavy machines designed only for downhill, that our friend Peter White refers to as an invalid bike - one that has to be carried to the top. Of course I figure they are also invalid bikes, because one wrong move, and the rider can end up invalid! Anyway after passing him, I mumbled under my breath that regardless, he was still walking!

Time has been flying by and we aren't quite sure how we are spending all our days, but we are keeping very busy. We have continued to work on the house a bit. We have finished stripping the kitchen floor, and have now started on the small bedroom and workshop at the far end of the house. Both of these rooms are pretty small, and in need of some decorating. The first job is to make one reasonable sized room out of the two small ones and then we'll redo the walls and floors and paint. See we don't spend all our time mucking about riding bikes and hiking!

And even though we aren't technically working, we still think about weekends and holidays. Easter seems to be a much bigger holiday here than back home. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. And this year, at least, ANZAC day fell on the Friday after Easter Monday, making for lots of holidays in a short period of time - like Christmas. And the two week school break encompassed it all. We had talked about various trips we could do, and had hoped to entice some friends to do a tour with us, but they had prior commitments. We have recently bought a new tent, so we decided to give it a test by heading up to Golden Bay and camping out for a few days. Golden Bay is an area north of Nelson just over the Takaka Hill. We'd managed to ride up Takaka Hill once before but John's knee was bothering him pretty bad that day, so we cut our ride short, with a promise to come back. Takaka is one of the longer and tougher climbs in the area. The gradient isn't bad, but it does go on and on, with a few false summits. It climbs to the west of the Abel Tasman Park. The easier way to Golden Bay is a water taxi, or hiking the Abel Tasman coastal walk!

We'd read about lots of great mountain biking in the region and also knew there was nice road biking - the climb back and forth over Takaka Hill, as well as the ride to the tip of the island to Farewell Spit. We wanted to do a bit of both, and had a little trouble deciding what bikes to bring. In the end, we opted for the mountain tandem and a couple of road singles. It was fun trying to pack the three bikes and camping gear in our little van, but we managed to wedge it all in. (I do miss my old van, but I hear that Peter and Linda are getting good service from it.) We got a bit of a late start, and then found a great coffee shop in the town of Takaka, so by the time we pitched the tent, we just had time for a short ride. We took our road bikes and headed north, but turned back after about 15km when it started to rain. We checked out another café in town before heading back to camp.

Since it was our first outing with the tent, and since we had brought a few bikes, we stayed in a proper campground. Most campgrounds here have quite nice facilities, including kitchens with gas cookers. But wanting to feel like we really were actually camping, we used our Trangia stoves and cooked at our own campsite. Of course, we did take advantage of the back door on the van to get some rain protection while cooking. It got quite chilly that evening, but we still saw plenty of kiwis in shorts and bare feet. I don't know how they do it. I was all bundled up in wool pants, top and jacket!

We planned a big ride for Saturday. The Rameka Track is actually inside the Abel Tasman park boundary, but because of its status as a legal road, is still open to mountain biking. Otherwise mountain biking is not allowed in any of the national parks. (Local mountain bikers are working hard to regain access to some trails that were recently swallowed up by parks.) We'd read quite a bit about this trail, including that it had some technical sections, but given its status as a legal road, we decided we've give it a try on the tandem! I've mentioned that lots of rides around here are one-way and lots of folks are interested in downhill. One of the suggestions for this ride is to get a lift up the Takaka Hill, and ride back down on the trail and a farm road. Of course we would never do such a thing, so we started from our campsite in Pohara, rode the paved road up the Takaka Hill, past our turn on Canaan Road to Ngarua Caves visitor centre where we could get coffee. It was a bit cool, but still quite pleasant in the sun. We then started the unsealed part of our journey and headed back to Canaan Road for an 11 km journey into the Abel Tasman Park.

Shortly after reaching the parking lot, we spotted the turn for the Rameka Track. It started out innocently enough, but soon turned a bit more technical, and a lot less like a road. The track had numerous stream crossings, where the trail dropped sharply into a rocky stream while turning 90 or 180 degrees. Additionally there are heaps of roots, which were quite slippery after the rain the day before. We were able to ride parts of it, but definitely found ourselves dismounting a few more times that we had hoped.

John may have had better luck on his single, but I would not have. It definitely would take a skilled rider to get through lots of the steams, and drier conditions to not go sideways on the roots. We eventually came to a short steep downhill, where we did slide off the side of the trail. We picked ourselves up, brushed ourselves off, and continued. The trail then popped out onto a farm road with a long steep descent back toward Takaka. I was quite happy to have the tandem and it's drum brake for this descent!

We got back to town early enough to stop for coffee. There are several cafés in town, and we checked out most of them in our four days in the area!

I mentioned we'd bought a new tent and this was the first outing. It had rained the night before, and exposed a potential problem where the fly touched the inner. It didn't leak, but if it had rained hard, it might have. We played around a bit with the set-up to see if we could prevent this potential problem, and eventually decided to unhook some of the clips on the inner near the point of contact. Of course it didn't rain anymore, so we didn't get to fully test our theory - does it sound like I wanted rain?

The next day, we took our road bikes and headed up past Collingwood and to the visitor centre at Farewell Spit. The skies were a bit overcast, and it wasn't the warmest of days, but the ride was quite pleasant. We stopped for soup and coffee and the visitor centre and did a bit of walking around. John really got a kick out of the presence of a whale rescue kit out front. The bays here are quite shallow and whale beaching is actually very common. We picked up a flier on how to refloat a whale, and checked out the rescue kit. Amazingly when we got back to Nelson, a whale had beached himself that day, and rescuers spent the day trying to save it.

We stopped in Collingwood on the way back for another coffee at a lovely little shop in an old villa. The sun poked out long enough to cause all the outdoor seating to fill, so we enjoyed the warmth of the indoors!


For our final ride, we decided to head up to the Cobb Dam. The first part of the ride is sealed and follows the river up to the dam. Once the tarseal stops, the climbing begins. I figured out the average gradient must be about 10%, as we climbed and climbed and climbed to reach the viewing spot above the lake, about 10km later. This road heads into Kahurangi, another National Park where mountain biking on trails is not allowed. Riding on the road is permitted however. It was a lovely climb up through the bush, with a nice view on top.





Apparently it can be dangerous to ride upside down


We really had a grand time on our brief trip into Golden Bay. We definitely plan to get back up there both for more biking as well as some tramping. The area is littered with tramping tacks! Part of the reason we made the trip so brief was the cats. We haven't quite figured out how we should deal with Nightshade's need for medication. I'm not sure she would take it from any one else willingly, and forcing blood pressure medication on a cat has to be counterproductive. We recently took all the cats back into the vet for a follow-up visit for Nightshade and Echo, and initial benchmark for Diabolo. They are all doing quite well and have stabilised with their new diet. So we are feeling a bit better about the possibility of longer trips away using a house sitter. In the meantime, we are keeping the trips short. Of course the weather has started to deteriorate, so it's not a bad time of year to keep trips short.




Update on Cats