At a cafe one morning, a bemused young English guy behind the counter was making the small children of the owner repeat the word “eggs.” They would say “iiggs” and then he would laugh and say no, no, you can’t have any until you say it properly. They would laugh and shout out “iiggs, we want iigs!” and he would say no, no, you have to say it correctly this time, as they giggled more.
If you want to know whether someone is from New Zealand, ask him or her to pronounce the word “egg.” Or ask them to read the following: “Where were we? Oh, yes, the Nepalese rescue effort on Everest went well.” After that you will know. In New Zealand, the E in egg is pronounced like the American pronunciation of the first E in egret. It will come out sounding something like “Whiire wiire we? Oh yiis, the Niipalese riiscue iifort on iiviirist wiint wiill.”
Or if someone says “sweet as, bro.” This doesn’t mean that your butt is fetching. What it does mean, I haven’t a clue. It could be a term of endearment? Or “cool, dude?” Or I really don’t know. Perhaps someone could explain this to me.
Monday, April 27th. Wellington (The Capitol)
Today it was stormy weather. In Hong Kong it would have been a typhoon day but in Wellington everyone seemed to go about their business as if not noticing the gale force winds. They were strong enough to blow one around the sidewalk and cycling would have been prety much impossible. It was perfect weather to stay inside and watch a movie. A Russian movie called Leviathon to be exact, that matched the clouds outside. It was beautifully grim and desolate and drunken and portrayed every part of Russian society as being depressed, corrupt and morally bankrupt. The church, law, courts, government, men, women, even the children. King blamed me for choosing the film. It’s not my fault. It won awards at multiple festivals. The poster was full of accolades from the critics and academies. Never trust a movie poster.
We feel underdressed with our sparse wardrobe now that we’re back in the city. In the countryside towns we don’t really notice. In the cities we start to feel self conscious.
The quality of the food in Wellington, as we’ve found almost everywhere, is excellent. It’s not cheap but we’ve yet to have a bad meal. And the coffee is the same. It’s hard to find a bad cup of coffee. Coffee making is an art form in the cafes of Wellington. At the end of the trip I’ll share a list of the best desserts and cafes from the road.
Tuesday, April 28th. Wellington and the National Museum.
Spent 1/2 of the blustery day at the National Museum viewing the deeply moving battle of Gallipoli memorial exhibit designed by Peter Jackson. It was larger than life and brought the tragedy, suffering and sacrifice of the battle and war to life. It runs through August if you are in Auckland.
One of the things that I miss about Hong Kong is not being able to wave your hand at waiters to get their attention. Now that we are back in a city for the first time in months, I was reminded by someone that this is not done in Anglo speaking countries. It’s impolite or something. Now, perhaps I’ve been away for a bit too long, but what else am I supposed to do? Randomly wait until one of the waiters makes eye contact, which of course never happens? Inefficient. Much better to raise your hand like that annoying student in class with the answers, wave it around a bit and have someone immediately respond, than to wait and wait and wait for pigs to fly.
We have settled on where to spend our remaining days in New Zealand. There isn’t enough time to ride to Auckland unless we take busy highways, without stopping, defying death hundreds of times a day from massive sheep and cattle trucks, tailgating impatients and Chinese RV renters, all breaking the speed limit. Instead we have decided to cycle the East Cape, a remote arm of land sticking out towards South America from the North Island. Also, the weather report calls for a couple of days of heavy tailwinds. Tailwinds to a cyclist are better than New Zealand carrot cake; better than riding smooth sweet tarmac; better than a broken-in leather saddle; well, better than almost anything. We love tailwinds.
Wednesday, April 29th. Bus to Gisborne.
We spent 10 hours on the bus. 10 hours on the bus with King nodding off from motion sickness pills is a long time. Did you know that one of the side effects of motion sickness pills is they can make you very grumpy? I have my doubts but will look that up.
We had one of the best dinners of the trip at USSCo and then prayed for the rain to stop and the howling wind to change direction before we leave tomorrow morning.
Thursday, April 30th. Gisborne to Tolaga Bay on the Eastern Cape. 61 km.
The few cars were mostly loaded logging trucks going in the opposite direction. “Opposite direction” and “loaded” being the key phrases here as we would have needed some nerve pills had they had been going in our direction. The logs ship out of the port in Gisborne. The further we rode, the fewer cars there seemed to be.
Almost a full moon.
Friday, May 1st. Tolaga Bay to Tepuia Springs. 52 km.
If you take the clearest day you’ve ever seen, that’s basically what the air is like every single day in New Zealand. Unless it’s raining. Which is often. But if it’s not raining, it will be the clearest day you’ve ever seen. Especially if you live in Hong Kong or China. Then you may likely have never, ever seen a day that clear. You wouldn’t even have known that air could be so clean. It is impossible for air to be so clear you would say. Well, not if you are in New Zealand, Everyday it’s like that, unless it’s raining, in New Zealand.
After another beautiful day of riding, we stopped in Tepuia Springs where were told to track down the proprieter of what we thought was the boarded-up Tepuia Springs Hotel. He was taking a nap at home. That night we soaked in the famous sulfur springs containing what the sign says are the World’s Highest Mineral Content Hot Springs. These were Guiness Book of World Records worthy springs. They indeed felt minerally and the sulpur fumes were bracing.
That night I finished reading Julian, by Gore Vidal about the pagan Roman emporer Julian. I’ve never read any of his historical fiction before. It was as well written as his auto-biographies and I’ll have to pick up his American novels at some point. Julian would be a good read in a combo with I Claudius and Yournencier’s Memoirs of Hadrian. I’m almost caught up with my “one book of substance per week” New Year’s resolution.
Saturday, May 2nd. Tepuia Springs to Te Araroa. 80 km.
The road continues to see fewer cars over the weekend, and the logging trucks are gone. There are only a handful of cars each hour and we can just relax and ride and ponder. At one point on the side of the road every 50 meters or so was a small rotten pumpkin. This went on for a couple of kilometers and will remain one of the great mysteries that I pondered on the trip.
At the end of the day I got a flat tire. The first of the trip. We were already running late and ended up riding for the first time in the dark. We were passed by a lone policeman who stopped and asked where we were headed and if we needed help. The moon was mostly full, the road flat and the night quiet as we covered the last one and a half hours with our reflective vests, headlamps and flashing tail lights, though they were barely needed.
I read the mercifully short Aimes-Vous Brahms… by Francoise Sagan. Unlike the Vidal book, I probably won’t be eagerly tracking down her others.
Sunday, May 3rd. Te Araroa to Waihau Bay. 50 km.
The East Cape seems to be in a state of slow decay. The old buildings in small towns are mostly abandoned and have cracked, dusty windows. The small and long-closed banks with their peeling paint have old sounding names that bring to mind ships that no longer call at the abandoned docks and bays of the Cape.
The town and place names are all Maori as are the people who live here and each town seems to have a small Mormon church with a freshly mowed lawn and an Anglican church with garden and hedges somewhat gone to seed.
Maori woodwork inside an Anglican church.
We have been quite lazy and haven’t been camping much at all. On the downside it means things are expensive. On the upside it means I can read more. Tonight’s short book that was then gifted to the next occupant of the room was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. It’s witty, well written and I want to watch the movie.
Monday, May 4th. Waihau Bay to Opotiki (ride from before Hawai). 65 km.
Today was another clear day with no traffic on the small back road and a smoking volcanic island in sight just off the coast all day. This has been some of the nicest riding of the trip and you could lose yourself here for weeks if you had the time. There are few cars on the road, sparse mobile coverage and you can listen to birds and waves all day as you pedal along.
Today was likely our last day of riding in New Zealand. We were running late to make it to the Motor Park for the night and then on to Rotorua in a few days to meet my Kiwi friend from Hong Kong, Mark Joyce. About an hour before dark, a truck stopped 50 meters in front of us and a guy hopped out and asked if we wanted a ride. This was the first time this happened on the trip. It was also the first time we really needed one and that we would have said yes. We gratefully accepted and got a lift for the last 40 kilometers to Opotiki. At one point when talking about Hong Kong and big cities, I had asked him if they had a subway in Auckland and he said yes. After dropping us off near the information center he pointed up the street and said there was a Subway sandwich shop in Opotiki just around the corner. After repeatedly thanking him, King asked his name and he said we could just call him God. Indeed! What a perfect way to end our cycling in New Zealand!!
This is what God looks like from behind: