Shop windows, pedestrian crossings, and dazzled expressions on faces of commuters whizzed by as I careened through downtown Wellington. It was 7:30am, and the Blueridge ferry that would take me across Cook Straight from the North Island to Picton on the South Island was scheduled to leave in less than 30 minutes. I would have to push hard to make the 8am sailing.
Images of how I would react upon sighting the South Island flashed in my mind’s eye as I pedalled. Tears welled up as I realised that I would soon be standing on ‘home soil’. As much as the North Island is part of New Zealand, I knew that I would never truely be home until I set foot on the South Island.
I did make it on time, screaching up to the terminal just in time. The following crossing was smooth, and I took advantage of an empty ‘Commercial Drivers Only’ cabin, sneaking in and locking the door for a few hours of shut-eye.
When I did finally emerge from the cabin, careful to depart undetected, I met an extraordinary man. Phil was his name. An algae reserach specialist from Lincoln, just out of Christchurch. “I cycle to most of my confrences,” he told me after I enquired about his cycling shoes and lycra shorts.
Phil was travelling back from a conference in Wellington to Christchurch. On a bicycle. “How long did it take to get from Christchurch to Picton on your bike?” I asked.
“One day. Well, 14 hours, to be exact,” he replied.
From Christchurch to Picton is a distance of 330km (just a shade over 200 miles). In one day. That is a decent effort. Very decent. Looking at Phil’s legs, I was not entirely surprised. Think Popeye.
Phil and I cycled out of the ferry terminal at Picton together, before he sped off on a mission to Nelson. It was just before noon, and he expected to get to Nelson (150km and some very big hills away) by evening. I was left alone to savour the tranquil beauty of the bay in Picton.
I never really appreciated it before, but the South Island really does feel different from the North Island of New Zealand. The trees no doubt feel the wind, but they sway lethargically as if thinking “well I suppose I may as well sway a little…I suppose that’s what I do…”. Ducks waddled, unafraid of humans as they pecked at the ground at my feet, lunging for crumbs off my ciabatta bread. The entire place had an air of un-rushed tranquility.
A lunch of ciabatta bread with peanut butter and jam devoured, I pushed off towards Blenheim, a short 30km ride away. The laid back vibe of my surroundings was only slightly disturbed by a fairly constant flow of traffic from Picton.
Half way to Blenheim, I was met with a very pleasant surprise. The plan was that I would stay in Blenheim at the flat of Heather, a Canadian, maths teacher, and avid active-type living in Blenheim. Also living at the same flat was none other than Nicola (Nic) Clark. My Mum will know who I am talking about. A neighbour from way back when I was living in Invercargill, at the southern end of New Zealand. I haven’t seen any of the Clarks for more than 15 years. I is a small world.
The pleasant surprise was that a friend of Nic’s was on a training bike ride, hoping to meet me along the way. It was a great diversion to the traffic, being able to chat as we cycled.
Heather had been a regular visitor to this blog since she had found it (while I was in China), and it was great to meet another blog reader in the flesh. With over 600 visitors per day to my blog at present, to actually meet one in the flesh, let alone hear from them via comments, is a great pleasure.
A question I was asked by Heather’s flatmates was “Isn’t it weird to meet someone that knows so much about you, but you know so little about them?” It was a valid question, but for me, nothing much is weird anymore when it comes to meeting people. I value the ability that this trip has taught me, to be able to enjoy the company of complete strangers, without feeling too out of place.
Heather, seemingly unafraid of any challenge, was the first to attempt my recumbent bicycle. After a few false starts, she was cycling comfortably in a straight line in no time. People often ask me if a recumbent bike is hard to learn to ride. My response is that in my experience it is easier to learn than a standard bike. Think how long it took you to get the hold of an upright bike!
I enjoyed going to a local pub with Heather (of course by bike) and her flatmates that evening, and meeting some of the other local high school teachers.