The New Year
trip back from Queenstown was a bit difficult. It would be a real
disservice to imply that John and I had relocated around the world
without any stress. It would also not be fair to say that we have
found everything perfect here. Lots of our American friends questioned
the wisdom of moving somewhere we had never been. Interestingly
the Irish friends didn't think it that odd. We certainly weren't
the first to make such a big move to a new place, unseen. After
all many folks moved to America, without visiting. This had been
John's dream for many years. We had done so much research and
we had talked to so many folks. No one ever said a negative word
about the place. And of course everything we read about the cycling
was incredibly positive.
New Zealand is a hikers paradise. There are places
to hike everywhere, and the scenery is incredible. There is an
amazing hut system in place, so it is possible to hike all over
without a tent. The huts vary in level of facilities and price.
The most expensive huts are found on the great walks, and have
gas cooking facilities, coal stoves for heating, flush toilets,
and bunkrooms with mattresses. These huts must be prebooked, so
you are guaranteed a bed when booked. An annual pass gets one
access to all the other huts, which are a bit less well equipped.
When do walks other than Great Walks, it is necessary to carry
a stove, and a thermarest might come in handy if all the mattresses
have I mentioned the scenery? Riding offroad is also pretty awesome.
We've found wonderful quiet gravel roads through forestry areas,
and truly remote lands. There is a lot of single track, although
we are just finding some of it, we are assured there is plenty
more. The emphasis on mountain biking in the immediate area is
definitely on the mountain - many of the trails are outrageously
steep - up and down. There are a lot of folks into downhilling
in the area, and thanks to all the logging and forestry here,
firebreaks provide some pretty good downhill routes!
The roads here are wide by Irish standards, but
are still mostly 2 lanes. As they cross the mountains, they are
quite twisty and make for great fun on a bike, with one exception.
They are major highways! These same roads that should be ideal
for riding are the ones the trucks use to haul logs, and petrol,
and milk, and furniture, and everything else, and the same ones
that tourists driving rental motorhomes use to access some faraway
place, and the same ones that locals in a hurry use to get anywhere.
And the speed limit on open roads (anywhere outside of a city)
is 100 kph - regardless of the appropriateness. So the twisty
mountain road has a speed limit sign indicating 100 kph speed
limit. Now the road code says you are supposed to drive appropriate
for conditions, but you won't get a speeding ticket for driving
80 kph when it is only appropriate to do 50, because the speed
limit is 100! And folks here drive fast, and many drive recklessly.
One of the truly sad sights along the roads is so many roadside
memorials for some loved one killed on the road. Many of the accidents
involve just a single car and are likely excessive speed.
The newspapers here are filled with stories about the road toll,
and amazingly they don't seem to get why it is so high!
we have discovered one of the downsides of a low population density
is less roads, and less roads mean sharing with high speed traffic
- since there are no alternatives for us or them. The other
issue for us is lack of loops. To do a loop, we might need to
ride 300 km! We've found a couple of small loops around here,
but we were a bit spoilt in New England with so many possibilities.
We could do a different medium length loop ride every day for
a couple of weeks! John is adjusting to the idea of out and back
rides, but there are a limited number of those too. And then there
is the scale. It can be 100 km between points of civilisation.
It's very important when driving to pay attention to the fuel
gauge, because it really can be 100km to the next petrol station.
For a poor cyclist, who likes stopping at cafés, this can
be hard. So while we love hiking and offroad riding, we are road
cyclists at heart, and the road cycling here is just not ideal.
So here you have it. Our paradise is missing something. Greener
Pastures and all that.
As we travelled around trying to decide where to
live, we realised it was going to be about compromise. The places
with the best jobs didn't have the best weather or riding. We
did not come here to advance our careers in the software industry.
We came, as so many do, for the lifestyle. So there was really
very little question of living in a place with good jobs, but
not so good conditions for play. So it really was pretty easy
for us to pick the place with the best weather, but we were starting
to worry about paying bills down the road, and if we'd ever again
be able to afford to travel overseas. And since the road cycling
isn't ideal here, we'd likely want to go to places where it is
this has been bubbling up from time to time, and each of us has
tried to suppress our dissatisfaction. This was such a big dream
and such a big move that we had a hard time dealing with the possibility
that it might not work out so well. And we were homesick. We missed
many of our favourite rides and destinations and mostly our friends.
We've been trying to stay in touch, but it's not the same.
So we spent most of the drive home and a few days
after that hashing out all of it. Well, I'm happy to report that
our relationship has survived this test. And we've decided on
a two to three year plan. We are going to see and do everything
we can - concentrating on the best New Zealand has to offer (so
probably lots of mountain biking and hiking). And in a couple
of years we will reassess, and maybe head home to New England.
Of course, it may be a very different world by that time, so we'll
have to see what happens.
Oh yeah, home to New England may surprise some,
who heard me say prior to coming here, that if it didn't work
out, we'd likely go somewhere different. Well there is nothing
like not having something to make you appreciate it even more.
Well we've really come to appreciate all the great things we left,
and even though neither of us is a native New Englander, we have
realised that it is home. So to all our friends back there, please
take good care of it for us, and don't fail to appreciate all
it has to offer.
Now, all that said, we do not regret coming
here. And we've come to the conclusion that we still might have
made the move even with a prior visit. There is an awful lot that
you don't see on holiday, that you find out in day to day life.
Any married couple will tell you that life after marriage is different
from when they were dating. And I still advise folks who have
similar dreams to take the leap!
Ah but enough of this philosophical stuff. We are
seriously out of shape, and have a big hiking trip coming up soon.
Our first visitor is coming in a few weeks. When we told various
friends of our plans to move around the world, many said they
would come visit - and we have set up a guest room - so we expect
folks to come. Well, Susan Lowery, decided to make the trip before
we'd even left! We decided to do a couple of tramps together.
Tramp is kiwi-speak for backpacking. Susan actually didn't just
come to New Zealand to see us. Her main purpose was to climb Mt.
Aspiring. Seeing us was just icing on the cake! And the tramps
were to help get her in shape for the big climb. Well we needed
to get in shape for the tramp. Fortunately, this place is a walker's
paradise. We had heaps of great walks to do out our front door,
so we started trying to do more long walks, since we only had
two weeks left to get ready!
rang in the new year hours and hours before any of our friends.
Here in the southern hemisphere, of course, it is summer, and
we sat out on our deck, and toasted a new life in a new world,
in shorts. And then of course I had to send email,
gloating about it! The next day, we went for a walk up the Grampians
Hill. It's one of the highest nearby points and has a television
mast on top, as well as an incredible view. There was a concert
going on in a park down in town, so we had musical accompaniment
all the way up! We actually got back into town just as a bike
race was finishing up in the centre! We'd totally forgotten. Oh
well, next year!
We also took advantage of our new van, and did a
few rides with remote starts, as we explored the Queen Charlotte
Drive, and the road out to French Pass. Both are areas we want
to get back to for several days for much more exploring, and we
will soon, but we need to walk more now.
There are several routes up the Grampians, so a
few days after our first time climbing it, we did a long hike
to go up from the far side. It is like a totally different world
there, as it is more rainforest like from that side. We managed
to do a few more walks up various hills around town to try and
break in our hiking boots as well as getting into shape.
In between walks, we worked on the shed...
house is too small - plain and simple. In Chelmsford, we
had a giant basement, where we kept all the bikes, skis, outdoor
stuff and tools. We have no basement here. And while we have the
same number of rooms otherwise, they are smaller. So part of our
time has been spent trying to find room for everything. We do
have a giant deck, and kept bikes and assorted thing on it for
a while, but decided it wasn't the best idea to leave the bikes
on the deck while away for a couple of weeks. For Christmas, we
piled them all in the kitchen, but this is not a good long term
solution. So we built a shed in the carport. And I should let
John describe the ordeal of building this shed, but I'll just
say that it is a steel shed that is pop-riveted together with
no less than 3,000 rivets. And the instructions, while likely
written by a native English speaker, left a bit to be desired.
Lots of energy and swearing, and drilling went into this beast.
And on more than one occasion, we had to drill out rivets, and
start over! We got the last bit put together just before heading
out to meet Susan.
And when not working on the shed, or walking, I
was actually doing a little work. Back before Christmas, I stopped
in a local shop asking if they needed Christmas help. Turned out
they wanted a website
- so I built one for them.
So with the shed built, and bikes locked inside,
we caught a flight to Queenstown for two weeks of vacation! Be
sure to read about Tramping