New Zealand Or Bust · Travels

A post-NZ account of NZ: ChCh–> Home

Though a month has passed since returning to the homeland of the Americas, I figured an account of how the NZ adventure ended is needed!

Let us go back to the land of Christchurch (ChCh), where David and I went to volunteer with Earthquake Relief efforts. We rode along the east coast of the South Island, getting more and more warnings of the state of ChCh. Many people expressed concern that it was dangerous, that we would not be able to help, that there were not adequate supplies for us, that we should stay clear… others said Wow, go for it! So, we rode on, down the beautiful East Coast of the south island. We camped on beaches, touched our toes to the water, loving it despite the little sand flies (imagine biting gnats that leave bites like mosquitos) that were eating all of the flesh off of my ankles – leaving David’s hairy epidermis in pristine condition. We stopped in the town just outside of ChCh to ensure we had enough water and food to be completely self-sustainable for the few days we were going to spend in ChCh.

We rode into ChCh without a plan, not knowing where we were going to stay, how we could help, or what we were doing. Many of the roads were closed because of the damage and construction. Streets were flooded because of liquifaction, where water seeped up through the cracks in the road, creating lakes where there once was a road. There was dust and debris in the air, so many wore surgical masks; nearly all houses had visible damage from the outside, and a significant amount had been reduced to rubble. The beach and ocean looked beautiful, but there were signs saying it was a public health hazard to swim in the water because of sewage leaks. The city was eerily empty because many people evacuated. The people that were left seemed solemn. We found a station run by the army that was distributing food and water. We asked them if we could help, and they told us to check out a nearby distribution center organized at a local church because they were leaving the next day. As we rode through the streets, a fellow biker asked us what we were doing with all of our touring stuff. We explained, and he immediately offered us his place to stay, saying he had a couple extra beds. His name was Hector. A slightly overweight, bald, 50ish year old man. He showed us to the distribution center, where we signed up to volunteer the next day. We were skeptical of Hector at first – unsure if he had good intentions. But, trusting our faith in the goodness of humanity we decided to take him up on his offer to host us.

That night at Hector’s house, his wife Marge fed us delicious dinner, and they were also living with their friend Auburn. They were one of the lucky few to have power at their house, though along with everyone else they did not have running water. Their toilet system was ladies pee in a bucket in the bathroom, and guys go outside. For number 2, we were put grocery bags underneath the toilet seat and when we finished, we were to take the bag out to the dumpster. Though they were short on water, they proudly showed us their fridge dedicated solely to beer. Fitting for their self-proclaimed “Beer House”. They were good people, who worked hard in the day – Marge and Auburn at a meat factory, and Hector with construction, and they spent their evenings chatting, watching TV, kicking back and drinking beer. We laughed about the differences between America and New Zealand, shared stories, and had a grand old time.

The next two days we volunteered at the distribution center from 9am-6pm. Basically, the distribution center was an everything-you-need grocery store set up in a community center. People would pick up a box and go around the perimeter of the room picking up supplies they needed for themselves, their friends, and neighbors. Half the volunteers were handing out supplies, and the other half were organizing all of the incoming deliveries. With an incoming delivery, people would create a chain, where gallons of milk were tossed from person to person from the parking lot to the staging area inside. It was cooperation at its finest; laughter filled the air, morale was high, and despite the destruction surrounding us people were hopeful and just so generous. It was so awesome to be a part of that community for two days. We befriended a kid named Harry – about 16 years old who wore an army jacket, and was the mastermind behind the staging organization. He ensured the tp was separated by rolls of 2, 4, 8, 12, and 16, that daipers/”nappies” were organized by age, and that each and every item of food that came in made it to its proper place. He ensured chaos did not reign, and ran a tight ship. He’s going far in life.

Back at the beer house we were introduced to Clint Eastwood’s finest movies… the Dirty Harry series. Hector, Marge, and Auburn couldn’t believe we were American and hadn’t seen the movies so we watched them. And loved them. We have a newfound love of Harry’s – be it Harry from the distribution center, or all-star SF detective Harry. I’m going to name whatever animal I get in the future Harry.

After a couple days volunteering we said bye to ChCh and rode on. The bike riding was HARD. We hit headwinds that were so strong we were pedalling to ride downhill. It was insane. It was the worst at a town with the name of Windwhistle. We HATE windwhistle. Windwhistle sucks so bad. In fact, it drove us to the edge… with our time in NZ getting shorter anyways, we decided to take a bus to Queenstown so we could visit the coveted… MILFORD SOUND.

This was a low point in the trip… between the days where we were suffering extreme headwinds, and arriving at Queenstown, we weren’t exactly in the best mood. David was pretty upset from biking, where at one point he just sat down on the side of the road, set down his bike, and said he wanted to go home. On another occasion, David and I had a disagreement where I said David was driving me crazy. In short, we were exhausted. Biking day in and day out was not just physically challenging, but mentally as well… In some ways in retrospect, ChCh was a culminating point on our trip. We put a lot of effort into getting there, trying to help, organizing a ChChQuakeFund to get donations from friends and family back home, and once that was finished we hit a little slump.

But despite this rough patch, we were in a beautiful place surrounded by incredibly warm people. Though we can’t ignore that there are low lows when traveling with the same person day in and day out for 7 weeks, looking back at those low points is actually pretty funny. Its all part of it. But anyways, back to Queenstown.  We used our dear warmshowers.org website to find a host just outside of Queenstown. We camped along with two other cycle-touring couples in the backyard of the Smiths. The Smiths had two boys in high school, and two beautiful black labs. The parents ran their own physical therapy business, and ran quite the tight ship. They definitely made us feel like part of their family when they put us to work cooking for our pasta party! Everyone helped to make spaghetti from scratch – rolling the dough through a crank that made thin little noodles. They noodle dough was hung to dry, and after about 15 minutes, placed in boiling water – ready in just 2 minutes! Soooo fresh, and so delicious. We ate the homemade spaghetti with homemade bread, homemade butter, homegrown fruit pie, and homegrown veggies!

David and I went to Milford Sound the next day, where we were struck by the grandeur of it all. No words could describe how beautiful, how awesome, how massive, and pristine Milford Sound is. It was a 5 hour bus ride there through the most green luscious forests, a 2 hour ferry ride through the fiord where we saw dolphins, waterfalls, seals, galore, and then a 5 hour bus ride back. At the end of the day we came back to the Smiths where we had a pizza party! And you guessed it, everything from scratch. We each made our own personal pizzas and then shared. Unfortunately that night I suffered my own bought of food poisoning, where everything that had gone in the past 2 days made its way back out. This set us back a day, where we decided to take a rest day instead of bike onward. Unfortunately I could not stomach any more fresh food, so my diet was reduced to nothing but plain cous cous, bread sandwiches, plain oats and water.

The next day we were off, to ride over the highest paved road in New Zealand- the Crown Saddle. David and I rode and rode, up and up and up and up and up and up and up. My body still felt so weak from getting food poisoning, and after hitting a muddy patch where construction was forcing traffic to come towards us head on, I cracked. I couldn’t take it. It was my turn to breakdown… I sat down on the side of the road, and just sobbed uncontrollably. I was so frustrated with myself because this was the first time I felt physically incapable of doing something I set out to do. It was awful. But after a good cry, and saying that I wanted to through my bike off the cliff, and that all I wanted to do was to go home and watch romantic comedies, I felt much better. We biked on, just a couple more miles until we reached the pinnacle of the Crown Saddle. The view was awesome, and we gloriously ate clif bars looking down on the valley of queenstown, and the huge mountain ranges surrounding us. The downhill that carried us all the way to Wanaka made up for the uphill struggle. Talk about a roller of emotions! We screamed that WE LOVE BIKING!!!! as we rode down the windy road, going just as fast as the cars, and chanting USA! USA! USA!

When we arrived in Wanaka though we decided enough was enough. Our bike trip was over. With only a week left, we decided to bus up the west coast of the south island, and leave a few days in Wellington and Auckland to unwind, shop around, and relax. We rode first up to the greenstone  (Jace/Punamu that brings good fortune in Moari culture) capital of New Zealand. And there was also a glow-worm dell that we visited at night, and a sock museum with such nice wool socks hand-made on antique sock making machines.

From Hokitika we took a bus to Nelson, a wine/arts center. In Nelson we celebrated our trip where we found a place to free camp looking onto a bay with wine and cheese. I must say that this was probably my favorite evening of the entire trip. The next day we played at the beach, walked around town, and took a bus/ferry back to Wellington where Gary kindly hosted us for a few more days.

It felt so cool coming back to Wellington because it felt like we were coming home. It was the first city we were revisiting and just knowing the way “home” to Gary’s house without looking at a map made us feel like this was our turf. In Wellington we hung out with Gary, saw him coach his track-bike team at the Velodrome, picked blackberries, and saw a rugby game! It was so cool to go to a rugby game – NZ culture at its finest. The dudes were massive, they hit incredibly hard despite no padding, and the crowd’s enthusiasm was contagious!

From Wellington we took a day train up to the land from whence we arrived in New Zealand – Auckland. The train ride took us up the west side of the North Island that we hadn’t seen yet. We could stand in the front outside part of the train and feel the wind blow our hair without having to pedal! Again, we stayed with our previous host from Auckland, Rob. Rob’s high-pitched Welsh chuckle warmed our hearts, as he was the gatekeeper to New Zealand. We feasted on a nice dinner. David had the coveted lamb chops of NZ that we had heard so much about.  There are more lambs than people in NZ! I baked cookies at night, made pancakes in the morning, and felt like I was right at home.

NZ was awesome. We were ready to go home by the end, so leaving was not sad, but so sweet. So sweet because we went there without a concrete plan, without too many expectations, and did everything we could in the time we had. I would highly recommend NZ to anyone and everyone not just because their french fries are so delicious, the land is so beautiful, but because the people are the kindest people I’ve ever met.

May the adventures continue…

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3 thoughts on “A post-NZ account of NZ: ChCh–> Home

  1. Harry was a great kid. I looked up to the little squirt you know? And he, me.

    In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t throw our bikes off the cliff.

    Please note that there was a passion surrounding our southward detour to Christchurch. It overcame me to go down there and try to help. It seemed as if we had no choice, but to offer our assistance. It’s bizarre when the feeling of obligation controls your every move.

    When our health or life is at stake it’s easy to understand why we don’t stray from conventional paths. Then there are the times when it’s “optional” and “voluntary” with the paradoxical feeling that some force outside oneself is guiding or making one continue.

    Try resting your head at the opposite end of the bed tonight and you might see what I mean. You might not feel anything either [sic].

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