Sunday, April 1, 2012


Well hello once again, legions of loyal blog readers. I'm sorry I've had so little to say about my New Zealand trip. The problem in a nutshell is that New Zealand is extremely pleasant, and it's hard to make niceness interesting. How many times can you hear "the scenery was amazing", "the weather was beautiful", "the roads are in fantastic shape" before you yawn and move on to more intriguing reading.

The climate is particularly bland. Community said it best - New Zealand is the model for pleasant temperature.

So while it may be gauche to complain about a holiday, perhaps I will share some of New Zealand's challenges.


Between Hokitika and Wanaka there is 400km of biking dotted only periodically with a tiny town of no more than 400 people. So what's between the towns you ask? A naive Canadian like me expected to find wilderness. Instead you find endless agricultural land. In fact, I'd wager more than 90% of our biking was bordered by agricultural land. Now fortunately I like sheep and cows, and don't really mind a foreground of farm land, but the major irritant is the fences. You're trapped in a tunnel with barbed wire or electric fences on both sides. Looking for some shade? A nice place to sit and eat lunch? Some bushes to pee behind? A wild place to camp? Sorry all off limits.

Meghan was the first to discover that the thin looking wire fences were indeed electric. What does it feel like to get zapped by an electric fence? "It wasn't really painful at all. But I'll never touch it again."


Sandflies, no-see-ums, blackflies, or midges as they are known in various countries are insane on the West Coast. They got steadily more numerous as we made our way towards Haast. At first they were encouraging. While you were on your bike and pedalling the wind would keep the blood sucking vampires at bay. So, want to rest and siesta in the sun and have a snack? Denied! Keep moving. But as we got to Haast their volume was so thick that you'd run into them while cycling on the road, at which point they'd cling and bite you. Poorly situated campsites could inspire a haze of thousands while you attempted to cook, erect the tent, or pack up in the morning.


With all land behind a fence and laws and notices prohibiting you from camping anywhere without a toilet (makes sense), you're forced to spend your nights at official campgrounds. The Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites were the most natural, often just a bit of flat land near a lake or river with nothing but a toilet, but the DOC seems unaware of the existence of sandflies. They seem to site their campgrounds as close to lakes, rivers, and swamps as possible and make sure the site is sheltered so not a breath of wind can push the flies away. Luckily sandflies go to sleep at night. So problem solved! End the day, sit for several hours inside your tent, and then go out and cook at night. Just don't turn on your headlamp if you don't want dozens of moths in your face and food.

Commercial campsites are outfitted with indoor kitchens, showers, and toilets. The hot showers have definitely been a perk of NZ touring! But space is quite limited and you'll almost certainly have several campervans within 10 feet of your tent. Campsites look a lot more like parking lots than camp grounds to my Canadian eyes.


"That'll be $13 each. You can put your tent up over here, showers are across from the office, kitchen's in the back, and I've left the garage door open for your bikes. Not that I think they'll pinched or nothing, but you know, the keas...."

"The um, keas?"

"Yeah, you know, might be better off just hiding the bikes. They tend to like tyres, cables, and seats."

"Um, ok, thanks."

We'd read about the pesky wild parrots in all the New Zealand guidebooks, but from what we read, keas live in the alpine, and the campsite at Fox Glacier was only at 300m. Did we really need to put our bicycles in the garage? It seemed unlikely in the late afternoon.

But as dusk approached, loud kea cries filled the air. They sound like a two-year old child 7 seconds after falling off the slide when catching the first sight of blood on the elbow, as bellowed through The Who's amplifiers. We could see them shuffling back and forth on their bare branch over the camp site waiting for night to fall. We sensibly tucked our bicycles into the garage.

But being on an island without bears or raccoons for weeks, we'd rather got into the habit of just storing our food in the vestibule in the tent. I awoke at night to the sounds of a loud beak tearing through plastic. My biggest worry was that those strong beaks might tear through tent or pannier in search of food. Stepping out of the tent, I soon discovered that keas are entirely fearless. A showdown of stomping, yelling, clapping, and threatening gestures was returned by a bemused look. There seemed to be nothing to do but to return to the tent, try to sleep, and just see what the keas had done in the morning. Luckily, aside from a box of crackers inadvisedly left on a picnic table by other campers, there was little damage in the morning.

All right, enough griping. Time to go out and spend a beautiful day in Oamaru where hopefully the famous blue penguins will make an appearance this evening

1 comment:

Nature Nerd said...

I believe if you hold a blade of grass up to an electric fence you can feel the pulse through the blade. Much nicer than wrapping your hand around the wire. Looking forward to a NZ slideshow of pleasantness!