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AeonHunter in New Zealand

a travel blog by aeonhunterinnz

A seminarian and his best friend bike across New Zealand's North Island.
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Melbourne, Australia

Dec. 11th, 2009

I stand at the beginning of a great adventure. In two days I end my Australian holiday and journey into the heart of New Zealand. I'm a bit afraid of the challenges ahead of me. Up until today I have only looked on with excited anticipation. Now, surrounded by the cultivated Wilderness of the Royal Botanic Gardens I am beginning to dread the true Wilderness. I worry that I won't be able to make it. I worry that my friendship with Shad will be tested to the breaking point. I worry that I won't find what I'm looking for; worse still, that I won't even be able to articulate it. What purpose has driven me to this great undertaking? What will push me forward when my physical strength gives out? Is it just wanderlust? Or am I searching for something more existential? How will I know?

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 11, 2009 from Melbourne, Australia
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En Route to Auckland

Auckland, New Zealand

Dec. 13th, 2009

Tonight's stay is in Auckland in the backyard of Kahu and Beca. I'll meet Shad there. So begins my great adventure. I don't know how to describe my emotions right now. It's a bit intimidating, opening yourself up to the Wilderness. I'll leave New Zealand a changed man, but I don't know yet what that change will look like. It's intimidating being on the verge of becoming something unknown.

I think part of my intimidation comes from recently seeing the stories of men following similar urges come to deadly ends. On the way to Australia I watched a movie about an Australian who died trying to be the first to paddle the Tasman. On Friday I saw a painting about 3 men who crossed Australia. The trip killed 2 of them. Now I'm reading Into the Wild, again ending in death. It's weird to know that this urge inside me, left unchecked, could kill me. That's a scary thought, eh?

This trip is an exercise in letting go. It's about letting go of fear. It's about letting go of mental constraints on my physical body. It's about letting go of my secret and simple affection for being clean. It's about letting go of a life lived within the boundaries of what society calls “Normal”. It's about letting go of the stress that has my back, neck, and shoulder muscles in persistent chains. As I let go, I'm counting on God, the Earth, and my relationships with others to catch me.

My dinner tonight was eaten without taste. Something gripped me so much that I couldn't enjoy the simple present pleasure of eating. How much less can I enjoy seeing my best friend and embarking on a terrific journey? It's an odd predicament, a frozen feeling. I must contemplate this.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 13, 2009 from Auckland, New Zealand
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Tuakau, New Zealand

Dec. 14th, 2009

Tuakau (72km) – The first day of the trip was a long one. We had to wait until 4pm to start riding, due to it taking forever to get my bike set up and rented. Once we got started, it took me all of 30 seconds to make a wrong turn and have one of my bags fall off. Then we rode forever down Great South Road until finally, long after I figured we missed our turn, we found the street we were looking for. Too bad it took only a few km's for me to make another wrong turn, put us on the motorway, quickly find out way off the motorway, and end up again on Great South Road, the road we didn't want to be on anymore. It was too late to backtrack, so we just forged onwards.

This mess all happened after I didn't sleep and had very little to eat. I didn't find Shad when I got in. It was 1am and there was no sign of him where he was supposed to be, so I spend the night hidden behind some trees in a park. Then I got torrentially rained on as I walked to go get my bike. The day did not start off well at all.

The good news in all of this is that I did eventually find Shad.

Also, as we were enjoying fish & chips in Tuakau, a town we were never supposed to go through, an older woman by the name of Diane chanced by and struck up a conversation. After hearing our plans to camp in the countryside, she quickly invited us to stay in her home. We accepted. When we arrived she set us up each with our own spare bedroom, gave us clean towels for showers, made us tea, shared oranges from a tree in her yard and fed us homemade muffins. Then the next morning she made us breakfast! There was a reason we got lost after all.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 14, 2009 from Tuakau, New Zealand
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Pirongia, New Zealand

Dec. 15, 2009

Pirongia (104km, 176km total) – Tonight is the 2nd night of biking. Shad and I are camped by the river just outside of a little town called Pirongia. The hammock set up is decent, but I've got to get better at the assembly .I'm worried the rain fly is set up too weirdly to keep me dry if it rains tonight. I hope it is. Shad and I made a dinner of rice & beans & carrot burritos. Not too shabby actually. Just finished eating and cleaning up, now we're both crashing hard.

It was a long day of biking today. We were trying to make up for lost ground after getting lost the first day. We had a strong headwind most of the way, so even though the terrain was gentle enough, it was pretty rough. A highlight for the day was the first 8 km from Tuakau and having a delicious ice cream in the shad after it. A lowlight would be the last 25 km. Shad was having a pretty rough go and had expended all of his energy. It took many stops and some nutella bread to make it here. Tomorrow we make for Waitomo Caves, and catch up with our itinerary. I'm pretty exciting to be going back to this country. It's absolutely beautiful.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 15, 2009 from Pirongia, New Zealand
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Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

Dec. 16th, 2009

WAITOMO CAVES (40km, 216km total) – Somehow Shad and I have managed to lose each other. Our ride today wasn't long, but the hills outside of Pirongia were massive. He took the lead and kept it. A few of the hills were just too much for me and once I was forced to walk.

We hit a long downward sloping section and Shad took off. I tried to keep him in sight, but was getting a lot of pain my my left knee every time I pedaled. The pain got worse as I went on, forcing me to stop a few times to let it subside. I got to our turn-off down Waitomo Valley Road, expecting Shad to be there waiting for me. He wasn't I stopped there and wondered if he had missed the turn or taken it. He had the map, he shouldn't have missed it. After a minute a road biker came zooming from the other direction. I asked him if he had seen another biker up aead. He said he hadn't so I took this to mean Shad had made the turn.

I took off down Waitomo Valley, fighting through the pain in my knee. The road was gentle, but even so the pain made me stop and walk at one point. A local drove by and pulled over and we had a nice conversation. His son married a girl from Chicago and he was flying in today. He assured me Waitomo was very close. I struggled through to Waitomo Caves, expecting to find Shad there waiting for me at the I-sight. Not so. Now I'm here and I don't have a clue where he is. I've been waiting 4 hours now and still no sign. This was our destination for today, so I don't have any choice but to wait for him. Without a car I really don't have any hope of finding him. I really hope he turns up soon.

During the ride I began to think of alternatives to our itinerary. If my knee keeps acting up, there's no hope of me making it so far so fast. We could take an extra day to get to New Plymouth, making the rides a bit shorter each day. From New Plymouth it's possible to catch a bus to Wellington. We can then bus to Napier from there. That gives us a few more days to get around the East Coast as well. We would lose Taupo and the mountains, unfortunate for sight seeing, but fortunate for my knees. I'll have to run things by Shad when/if he shows up.

I hope he shows up soon. If he spends much more time out there on the road he'll be way to tired to go anywhere tomorrow. Where are you Shad?



Thankfully within an hour after I had finished my last entry I did manage to find Shad. He had been in Waitomo for almost two hours, just holed up in a different building where it was hard to see the main street! We exchanged stories. He had completely misheard me when I explained our route in the morning and had glossed over Waitomo Valley Road. He thought our route was the longer way around on the main highway. When he realized we were separated, he rode all the way back to where he last saw me to look for me before going on. He had a very long day of riding, going at least twice the distance I did. At least on his route he passed the Big Apple market and was able to acquire us some fresh fruit and veggies.

We then headed out to explore The Caves via a walk a few km's out of town. It was a great little walk, but the best part was climbing up into a cave opening and exploring what turned out to be a huge cave system that seemed to go on forever. To get back to town, we elected to try the trail since the road had been so incredibly steep to get there. It was a bit rough. We had to carry our bikes up and down a long set of stairs and over what seemed like a hundred fences (one of which I discovered in a most unfortunate way to be electric), but it was worth it in the end and was a largely successful reroute.

For the night we decided to pay for a campsite in town, complete with a hot tub, showers, and the opportunity to get dinner at Curly's Bar. A few beers and a couple of giantly delicious burgers later (mine had 2 pieces of steak, bacon, beet, tomato, onion, and sauce), we were both happily satisfied and ready for bed.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 16, 2009 from Waitomo Caves, New Zealand
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Moeatoa, New Zealand

MOEATOA? (62km, 278km total) - Today was the best day of the trip yet. We had great cycling.
The entire day was almost all downhill through a gorgeous mountainous countryside. We got our workout in though with a significant incline to start and end the day, plus a stiff wind coming into Marokopa.

So much happened today. We took four side trips throughout the day. First we saw a very impressive natural land bridge. Then we stopped and explored Piripiri caves. Then I was left speechless standing before the immensity of Marokopa Falls.

Our last side trip was to the black sand beaches of Marokopa, a phenomenon I had never seen before. The dry sand looked like graphite and the wet looked like cold tar.

Lunch today was at the bottom of our longest descent at Te Anga Tavern. This bar was one of the best bars I’ve ever been to. They had great food (cheap too!), a wonderful and quaint interior, a nice deck, and the view was to die for. It was well worth the stop.

We weren’t sure where we were going to camp – just see how far we got by around nightfall and set up camp on the side of the road somewhere. We ended the day on a long stretch of gravel road stretching through a mountain farming valley. One farmer even let us ride through/chase a herd of sheep on our bikes. (Shad’s got a great video of it.) It was seriously in the middle of nowhere. One grizzled rancher who drove by us turned around and asked us where we were trying to get to and where we were thinking of spending the night. When he heard our plans, he pointed out a campsite just off to the side of the road and told us to camp there. The site was too good to be true – a miracle camp site. We had a metal shelter with a fireplace, outhouses, tress for me to hang my hammock, and it was right by a little river (where we each enjoyed a refreshing but cold bath). We built a fire, made some delicious pasta with tomatoes, avocado, and broccoli, and then somehow managed to consume an entire loaf of just purchased bread. I fashioned a bit of wire into an excellent campfire toaster and we had peanut butter, nutella and honey sandwiches. For the record: Nutella and honey is a perfect combination.

It turns out there's nothing in Moeatoa, not even a house. Just a miracle campsite and heaps of stars. Perfect.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 17, 2009 from Moeatoa, New Zealand
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Mike's Brewery

Urenui, New Zealand

MIKE’S BREWERY, OUTSIDE Urenui (110km, 388km total) – Today was a long day without much to remember about the riding. We did manage to cover quite a bit of distance, the furthest so far, thanks largely to gentle terrain and long downhills. My knee has been feeling better and we almost considered pushing through to New Plymouth tonight. But those plans fell away as soon as we arrived at Mike’s Brewery outside Urenui. Even though the sign said closed, Shad wanted to check it out anyway. I’m glad he did. The owner was still around and gave us a free beer tasting of the four brews that they make there: a strawberry blonde lager, an ale, a lager, and a pilsner.

We also happened to meet three Americans who had been volunteering here at the brewery through W.W.O.O.F. Sara and Tracy were two beer and bike enthusiasts who have just recently completed a bike and brewery tour of the US (www.bikeandbrewtour.com). Paul was a traveller who happened to land at the brewery. The owner let Shad and I camp in the avocado orchard here and the five of us stayed up late talking, drinking, cooking, and eating.

Today’s lowlight would have to be Awakino. After so long in the Wilderness, I was highly anticipating our lunchtime stop in this little seaside village. It turned out to be a complete hole. The tavern/hotel had bad food (my steak Sandwich was a strap of leather between 2 slices of white bread) and it was dirty and extremely unappealing. I was glad to make it a quick lunch.

Today’s highlight – definitely the brewery. Fine people. Fine camping. Fine beer. What more could you want?

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 18, 2009 from Urenui, New Zealand
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New Plymouth

New Plymouth, New Zealand

NEW PLYMOUTH (36km, 424km total) -
Today we had a very short ride into New Plymouth. Paul was headed off on bike to Wellington the same day, so he joined us for about the first 30km. There was an unlucky attempt at a winery visit (it was closed for a private function), but otherwise it was a very uneventful ride in.

Once we made it into the city we ran into a family that had seen us yesterday descending Mt. Messenger. They had rolled down the windows and loudly cheered us on. There was a mother, father and three older teenage children. The family was in town for the big Fleetwood mac concert here. Everyone has turned up for this it seems; the city is teeming with visitors. So this family walks up and we start talking about biking. They ask us if our asses hurt and then the mom grabs a big fistfull of Shad's butt and exclaims how tight it is! It was hilarious. I think Shad kind of enjoyed it. He was glowing about it for a good half hour afterwards.

We tracked down our host Kim and headed over to her place. It was a big house full of girls, and I think everyone was sharing a bed with someone else except for me and Shad. She told us 10 people would be staying there tonight, including us, her, her sisters, their boyfriends, and some other friends of hers.

We unloaded our gear and had a beer and a shower. Then Kim took us on a driving tour of New Plymouth. Even though it was kind of a cold grey day, the views of the beach and the sea were still impressive. Shad fell asleep almost immediately in the back seat. When we got back to the house we had a bit of time to relax as Kim got ready to go out. She was taking us to a "Christmas" party her friends were throwing, complete with backyard cricket and homemade sangria.

Kim's friends were great. This was my second ever experience with playing cricket, and I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it. The first time I played it was a bit odd and boring. This time was much better, more laid back... better house rules... something, it was just better. Much partying ensued and I got more than a little drunk. I somehow received the nickname "Nestle" due to my persistence that it was one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Then we went out on the town, barhopping to three different places. Shad was dubbed "Droppy" since at one point in inexplicably dropped an entire beer on the floor. The last of these bars was a Celtic bar that didn't know what an Irish Car Bomb was, ridiculous. Downtown was a madhouse with everyone from the Fleetwood Mac concert. By the end of the night around 2 or 3 we were much ready for some good sleep.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 19, 2009 from New Plymouth, New Zealand
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New Plymouth Day 2

New Plymouth, New Zealand

N.P. Day II (6km, 430km total) - We were woken up early this morning by Puppy - the tiniest, furriest, squirmiest little dog in the world. It was a very cute alarm clock. Shad and I made breakfast for whomever was around to eat (we ended up serving six). I made swedish pancakes and Shad put together an awesome fruit compote. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The girls were heading to the south island to be with their parents for Christmas, but were gracious enough to let us stay behind and relax a bit more before moving on. It was much appreciated. Kim told us she would be in Auckland when we got there, so we look forward to seeing our host one more time before we leave New Zealand.

We got packed up and headed over to our next couchsurf - Neil. When we got there, Neil and his wife were each engrossed in a book. He showed us where we would be staying but then went back to reading, telling us he was right at the climax of a great heroic fantasy story. We shared little bits of conversation and pondered the meaning behind our shared birthday (June 5th, 1985). All in all it was a very calm house. Light guitar music was on the radio, sun was streaming in the windows of their pink main room, they were both reading and I was sipping peppermint tea. It was peaceful and simple.

The two of them had prior family dinner plans, so Shad and I had the night open. We decided to o for a walk and see if we could find something to eat. As we started walking though, we saw how close we were to Paritutu Rock, a steep and spectacular hill on a point of the coast. We decided to climb it. It was very steep, but short and a fairly easy climb along the trail up. At the top we got whipped by a super strong wind.

It was fun to struggle against for a little while, but we were getting hungry so headed back down. The view of the sea at the top however was quite spectacular. We also talked to a couple locals and when we mentioned we were biking they asked about the Forgotten World Highway, citing how excellent it was supposed to be for biking. This was our intended route before our plans changed to include a bus to Wellington, and I feel a bit of loss not being able to experience it. Alas, my body will thank me and Wellington is almost too cool to miss out on.

From the rock the two of us walked into the CBD along the coast. The first food we came to was an ice cream van that only served one kind of ice cream. I got mine in the form of a raspberry soda. It was a huge mistake, as the mixture of raspberry flavored syrup, club soda, and ice cream was bright pink and disgusting. Shad's sundae looked and tasted much better.

We walked from there all the way downtown before finding a place to get a decently priced meal. We ended up at a restaurant next to the I-site and had a huge meal of salad, calamari, pizza, and fries. The calamari and fries were free from our waitress as for some unknown reason we were her "favorites for the night". The meal seemed alright, but was generally way too salty. I didn't feel right afterwards. It was like my insides were scorched by salt.

After dinner we checked out the movie "Avatar" at a local theater. It was a fantastic movie with a great story. I was amazed with how well it tied into the themes of the Parliament - indigenous people and care for the earth. I would recommend this film to anybody. Unfortunately the movie got out later than we expected it to and we had to hoof it back to our host's house, hoping that he was still awake. They told us they would leave the back door unlocked for us. The only problem was that the back door led right through their bedroom. We got back as fast as we could and luckily they were still awake (although I think both were in bed when we arrived). Neil was extremely gracious and forgave our late arrival immediately. Thanks again Neil.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 20, 2009 from New Plymouth, New Zealand
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Wellington, New Zealand

WELLINGTON (6km, 436km total) - We woke up early to make our 8am bus to Wellington. i still felt pretty gross from last night's meal, so I bypassed breakfast completely. The bus ride down was uneventful, with only a lunchtime stop in a small town called Bulls. I again didn't eat anything, just drank a smoothie. I felt pretty disgusting all day long.

Once we got into Wellington the first task was to find internet. We traced down a place I could access and checked our couchsurfing accounts, but none of our requests had come back positively. We begrudgingly checked into a hostel and hoped we would have better luck with tomorrow night.

From there we walked down to the national museum, Te Papa. We spent a good two hours perusing artifacts from New Zealand's past and present in the rather impressive museum. Then we picked up some groceries at the supermarket and went back to the hostel to cook. We made rice, scrambled salmon, salad, and borscht. It was a decent enough meal, but nothing fantastic.

After dinner we headed to an internet cafe to work on securing couches in the rest of our couchsurfing stops. Luckily we found one for tomorrow too and look forward to checking out of this hostel in the morning. As I go to sleep I feel a little better having eaten something, but still like I've got a bit of stomach rot from last night's meal. Damn the salt.

permalink written by  aeonhunterinnz on December 21, 2009 from Wellington, New Zealand
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