If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain
Aside from being adrift in the South Pacific Ocean - or in outer space – we are currently as far away from home as we can possibly be.
Dunedin, a city in the south of New Zealand, is officially the furthest city in the world from London where we left four months ago.
It’s great to be here, and marks the end of our cycle tour of New Zealand, and leg three of our world tour. Here is the route we took down the country:
The eagle eyed amongst you will spot we didn’t actually get to the northernmost, or southernmost points. According to Google, the distance between Cape Reinga in the north and Bluff in the south is 2,221km. Due to our scenic route, we covered 2,287km on the bikes so we are counting it as a country crossed!
Although we’re 19,075km away from where we started, Dunedin does actually feel quite a lot like home. Especially for Ewan, whose hometown is Edinburgh.
Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers in 1848, and was named after the gaelic word for Edinburgh. Many street names are copied from those in Edinburgh (the main street is Princes Street), the surrounding towns are called things like “Clyde”, “Bannockburn” and “Hampden”.
The early settlers certainly were adventurous, making it to the other side of the world by boat - if a little unimaginative with their names…
One of the city’s founders was a gentleman called Thomas Burns, who was the reverend. He and 239 others braved five months at sea to start their new lives in what would become known as Dunedin. Thomas Burns was the nephew of the famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns, of whom there is a giant statue in the centre of town.
Here we are sitting next to Rab at the end of leg three:
We fittingly arrived on January 25th which is Burns Night – a celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s national poet.
The weather in the South Island has also reminded us of home.
It’s been less New Zealand summer, and more Scottish winter…
A man who introduced himself to us as “Kiwi Jim” outside a fruit stall said:
“It’s been the worst January in 100 years”
He definitely wasn’t 100… but various other people have confirmed to us it’s been the worst they can remember.
We have a trip rule between us, which is never to complain about the weather. If you’re going to be outside for a year on a bike you’re going to have good days and bad days.
For every day you wish it was hotter, you’ll have as many days wishing it was cooler. For every day you wish it wasn’t raining, you’ll have as many days in the baking sun wishing it was pouring.
The weather is what it is… there’s no point moaning, you’ve just got to crack on.
All that said… the weather the last two weeks has been particularly bad.
This photo of the usually placid Lake Waihola sums it up. The wind was whipping the lake into waves, and the rainfall was so bad the play park was underwater.
Even in the rain and storms, New Zealand is still a beautiful country.
Waterfalls cover the mountains; from a distance they look like ribbons of silk then when you get close they turn into a raging torrent. The rain soaked forests heat up once the rain stops, and steam pours off the trees like a warm white fog.
It’s particularly bad on the West Coast. The rainiest city in the UK according to the met office is Cardiff which gets 115cm/year. Parts of the West Coast get 641cm/year – 5.5x the wettest place in the UK.
And the British are always moaning about the rain!
Despite the showers, we made good progress down the west coast and were planning on taking a day off in Fox Glacier.
We were kindly hosted by Marietta and Grant who let us dry out our kit. Here we are with Marietta:
Marietta and Grant live in a beautiful house in the shadow of Mount Cook (the tallest mountain in NZ), right next to Fox Glacier and various picturesque lakes. Unfortunately all we could see was rain and mist.
Marietta collects indigenous New Zealand rocks (the exact names of which neither of us can recall) from the local hills and rivers, and has amassed an impressive collection. The first rule upon entering the house:
“Whatever you do - don’t touch any of my f*cking rocks!”
Each rock has it’s own story, some had been found, others had been gifted. There was a particularly big rock in the front yard that we learned about. The gist of the story was:
“I was on the beach one day and saw the corner of a beautiful rock poking out from underneath the sand. I started digging around, but it was too big for me to do anything with there and then, so I buried it back up so no one else would find it and take it.”
“A while later we went back with a friend of mine who is an expert and can tell the weight without seeing the full rock. This one weighed around 300kg. After a time, the sea moved the sand so the rock was protruding again and more accessible. We went back with the help of some of the guys, and uncovered the rest of it.”
“It was too heavy to lift, so we got the bonnet of a scrap car, fashioned it into a sort of sled and managed to get the rock onto it. We then attached the bonnet with chains to two quad bikes, and towed it 40km back here to the house.”
Over a nice home cooked meal we learned:
“The main loves in my life are:
Grant chipped in:
“Ah, glad to see I’ve moved up above the horses this time.”
Conversation then turned to how we keep ourselves nourished whilst we’re on our bikes. We explained we usually just keep eating and drinking throughout the day, little and often – and try and cook or buy at least one big meal a day.
“Ah that’s interesting. Did you know there are some people who can survive without food and water, they just live on light and air. They’re called Breatharians. You should look them up. There are guys in India who haven’t eaten for years”
“Native American tribes used to do vision quests where they fasted and didn’t sleep for four days. They used to have epiphanies, and it brought them closer to mother nature and the spirits.”
“I did a vision quest in Murchison (in NZ) once. You had to beat a drum every hour so they knew you were alive, and hadn’t fallen asleep. You also had to keep your fire going, if it went out the vision quest was over."
"I didn’t have any visions or epiphanies… others did though.”
I did look up breatharians, this is all I could really find. Think we’ll stick to tried and tested method of eating and drinking.
We planned to stay a rest day in Fox Glacier, but the weather reports were describing some extremely bad weather coming in over the next couple of days.
This could have meant staying put for three or four days, which we couldn’t afford, so we made the call to crack on to a town called Haast.
This particular front was being descried in the New Zealand media as a “Weatherbomb” and was going to hit particularly badly on the west coast, where we were at the time.
There was a chance when we got to Haast that we could outrun the storm and cycle inland. We’d need to camp that night, get up super early the following day and pedal our way through the Gates of Haast to our next stop, all before midday the next day when the worst of the “bomb” was due to hit.
The plan depended on getting an accurate weather forecast so we could determine if it would be safe to press on that night.
With this in mind, we pulled into the usually helpful tourist information centre in Haast:
“Hi, we’re hoping you can help us… We know there’s very bad weather coming in the next 24 hours. We’d like to know if you guys have an accurate hourly weather forecast so we can work out if it’s going to be possible to get beyond the Gates of Haast by tomorrow morning?"
“Sorry – we only have the forecast on the wall” (literally just said: Thursday: Heavy rain)
“Right – do you have wifi so we could get online and check the next few hours?”
“We don’t have wifi”
“Okay, is there any chance we could hop on your computer and check?”
“Sorry you’re not allowed to use my computer”
“Okay – could you tell us how far it is to the next campsite?”
“It’s an hour and a bit drive”
“Okay – we’re on bikes so need to know the distance, and elevation. Is there anyway you could just look it up for us on google maps quickly?”
“Sorry, we don’t have google…”
Hitting a dead end at the tourist info office made up our minds for us – we were going to stay put, which we did for the next two nights whilst the worst of it passed.
It was probably a good thing we did, the New Zealand Herald the next day reported:
“Weather bomb strikes - The weather gods delivered a king-hit of heavy rains and high winds over parts of the country today, causing flash flooding and closing off roads due to slips.”
All the time we were holed up, people kept warning us about going over the Haast Pass whilst the conditions were bad. The Haast Pass is the road that connects Haast on the coast, and inland Wanaka. It’s very hilly and windy, and to access the pass you have to go through the Gates of Haast.
By the time we actually got to the Gates of Haast, so many people had mentioned them to us, we’d built them up in our mind to be some giant scary gate like the Gates of Hell, or the Gates of Mordor.
They were in actual fact a lot less scary, and we had a fun if slightly windy ride to the beautiful Lake Wanaka below:
We had a brilliant few days relaxing in Wanaka with Ewan’s old friend Ashley, her husband Scotty and their baby Beau. They hosted us for two nights in their lovely house and cooked fantastic meals for us – it felt like a spa retreat after the weather we’d had on the west coast.
Having cycled across the USA, we’ve eaten our fair share of decent burgers. The two we had in Wanaka and Queenstown were two of the best of the trip.
Ashley and Scotty run a burger bar called Red Star in Wanaka – they are doing incredibly well.
They have owned Red Star for a couple of years after they bought it off the previous owners, and in that time have doubled the amount of burgers they've sold.
They are establishing themselves as the go to place for burgers in Wanaka.
Here we are with Ash and wee Beau as we were leaving:
The standard for top notch burgers in the South Island has been set incredibly high by their competition in Queenstown – Fergburger. As they say on their website, they are a tourist attraction in themselves.
The queue pours out the door and goes on right down the street. They are open from 0800 to 0500, and only close at night to clean – such is the demand for their burgers. They employ people whose job it is it to purely keep the queue moving down the street, and not to block the entrances to other shops that the queue goes past.
The guy working told us they serve between 2,500 to 3,000 burgers a day – every day. That’s over two burgers a minute, every minute for 21 hours every day of the year except Christmas – the only day they close.
It’s been open since 2001 when it was a hole in the wall, and has built a cult following. Ask anyone who has been to Queenstown and they will rave about Fergburger. CNN rated them “possibly the best burger joint on the planet”. It’s an incredible example of starting a small business from scratch and developing it into a brand that people from all over the world now know.
And to be fair – the burgers are very tasty (although Red Star is better).
From Queenstown it was two long days to finish our New Zealand leg. We had the most incredible tailwind for both days, which we felt we’d earned after enduring a lot of punishing weather.
One day we’d stopped to cook some lunch when we spotted a Chinese lady, she was sort of hiding behind a bush. She was trying to take a sly picture without us noticing, like people do with their mobiles sometimes.
Only issue for her was that she was using an ipad… She was sort of squatting behind a bush, holding an ipad as though pretending to read a book, but quite clearly taking a picture.
We invited her over and started chatting to her. She had quite broken English, but was really sweet. She couldn’t believe we were cooking our own lunch.
“Sorry I take picture – I too shy to ask you”
“It’s no problem, would you like one with all of us in it?”
“Oh yes please! In China no one cook outside like this. I would like to show my friends at home. It amazing.”
We asked her name, and about China:
“My name is Julia – like Julia Roberts! I do have Chinese name but I picked Julia for when I am outside of China.”
“I come from Sichuan. Some days it so polluted you cannot go outside. The sky is not blue it is yellow. We have to wear mask on our face to stop breathing in the pollution.”
“My new husband and I (we think it was their honeymoon) come to New Zealand to see the blue sky and the fresh air. I think it amazing you cook outside like this. In the city I am from no one can do this, or ride bikes on the road like you”
As we were about to leave she came over to us:
“I have gift – Sichuan is the home to the Panda. Panda is national animal of China, we are very proud of him”.
She gave us a set of panda postcards in an authentic Chinese envelope. Here we are, Katie holding the panda set! We’re yet to find a use for them, but it was a generous thought.
We said goodbye to Julia and tackled the final hills before rolling into Dunedin and completing leg three.
It’s been tough going with both the terrain and the weather, but that makes it all the more satisfying finally getting here. The final stats for leg three are:
Total Leg Three Distance: 2,287km
Total Trip Distance: 7,765km
Total Days Cycling (Leg Three): 22
Total Climbing (Leg Three): 18,445m
Accommodation wise in NZ has been as follows:
Camping: 11 nights
We now have a week of chilling out in New Zealand where we’ll stay in Dunedin for a bit, rent a car and drive into the central lakes for a few days, then head to Christchurch.
We then fly from Christchurch to Sydney, hang out there for a few nights before getting back on the bike again in Vietnam and beginning leg four which is Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, to Tamu on the western border of Myanmar. See upcoming route here, and currently completed route here.
The South Island, and New Zealand in general has been beautiful, you can see the full South Island photo album here.
Although it’s been a wet few days, as the famous philosopher Dolly Parton once said,
“If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain”
We may currently be as far away as it’s physically possible to be, but every pedal from here on in brings us closer to home.