Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back on track: NZ Day 9

As with the previous night, I had a terrible sleep at the hostel at Mt Cook.  It seemed like the loudest accommodation in the cosmos - all night I heard bumping, creaking, snoring, talking, yelling, laughing.  It turned out our Brazilian roommate was just as loud in his sleep as he was awake, with the most bizarre snore I have ever heard.  I was lying there tossing and turning, and I looked out the window to see stars in the clear night sky, so I rested a little easier knowing at least the weather would be better in the morning.

Nothing could have prepared me for this view out of the hostel window!

Outside was a proper winter wonderland, with crisp shining snow glistening in the bright sunlight.  We quickly scoffed our breakfast and hurried outside to crunch around.  Upon seeing the shining sun I felt a pang of regret that I wasn't riding the bike out of Mt Cook, but the second I stepped on the icy road and nearly slipped over, I felt validated in our decision to catch the bus.

Jer preparing to go photo crazy.  This morning was a great finish for his first snow experience

I noticed someone had already ridden a bike around the paths early in the morning, which made me feel pretty weakcore

The icy peak of Mt Cook / Aoraki catching the morning sun

The road south out of the valley looked easy enough, but was covered in slippery ice.  We shuffled around awkwardly like Mr Popper's Penguins, looking even more preposterous than the premise of that particular motion picture

The glare off the white snow was intense.  I was pretty well covered with my shades, but Jer had somehow lost his sunnies, and was squinting furiously

For November in Mt Cook village, this is apparently an unseasonally large snowfall.  Despite all the negativity we experienced there, we were fortunate to have been able to witness it all

And most remarkably, the car park snow phallus was still there, and had even grown in size!

Let's get out of here
The Mt Cook Connections bus arrived at 10am.  We were the only passengers, and our friend Allan from a few days earlier was driving us down to Twizel.  Allan was a cool guy, and was fast becoming the hero of our trip.  He had saved me from the crazy winds at Lake Pukaki, allowed Jer to recover by driving him up from Lake Tekapo, and all along the way was the consumate professional and guide, equipping us with all sorts of knowledge about the region.  Now he took his heroic status to the next level - producing Jer's missing sunglasses out of the glove compartment.  Jer was beside himself with gratitude, and we headed off towards Twizel.  As soon as we turned out of the valley and onto the shores of Lake Pukaki, the snow disappeared, and we were back in a dry, brown landscape.  We drove along chatting to Allan, trying to impress him with how much independent learning we'd done about Mt Cook.

Allan from Mt Cook Connections carefully stows our bikes on the bus.  This guy is a legend - in fact, I reckon he is so legendary he'll probably even pop up in The Hobbit somewhere.  Just sayin'...

Looking back up into the snowy valley to Mt Cook village, to the left of the photo

Allan kept asking us to relax for our photos.  This is as relaxed as we get!  If you haven't figured it out yet, we're pretty highly strung guys

Big skies and interesting clouds over the lake.  Someone told me these could formations meant something, but I couldn't remember what it was - pretty helpful!

Back on the bikes
As Allan drove into the small town of Twizel, it was clear it wasn't just us who thought he was a cool guy.  Pretty much every single car we saw had someone beeping and waving to him, and even people on the side of the road waved at him as we drove past - it was like he was the king of Twizel, or at very least the Lord Mayor.  We unloaded our bikes, and headed into the very pleasant town square for breakfast, even though it was nearly midday.  Twizel is apparently a very young town, established in the 1960s while the hydroelectricity scheme was being constructed.  The town was due to be dismantled, but the townsfolk who lived there liked it so much, they lobbied for it to become a permanent settlement (Allan told us all this - I hope he reads this and is impressed with our recall!).  I can see why they enjoyed it so much - on this day the sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was warm, snow covered mountains in the distance, and there was a surprisingly wide range of shops and cafes.  Another nice touch was the council piping music into the town square, at a volume that drowned out the music in the cafe we were sitting at.  Normally I'd find that kind of racket offensive, but when the authorities are blasting you with Get Out Of My Dreams Get Into My Car by Billy Ocean, it's pretty hard to be too upset about it.

We treated ourselves to a big breakfast and coffee in the Twizel town square, to celebrate our escape from Mt Cook

Jer makes a few more adjustments to his setup, next to a monument to retired earth movnig machinery - seriously

Soon we set off on the road to Omarama...

...but not before Jer makes one final adjustment

Return to New Zealand
Jer instantly felt better on his newly adjusted touring bike, and all his pain and sores from previous days seemed to disappear.  His spirits lifted immeasurably, as did mine.  We rolled along through the farmland, with snow capped mountains in the middle distance, and blue skies over our heads.  I suddenly had overwhelming feeling of "I'm back in New Zealand!".  It might sound like an odd thing to say, but over the past few days in Mt Cook, it hadn't felt like I was anywhere - like I was stuck in some kind of international tourist wormhole that could have been at any location anywhere in the world.  I've been to New Zealand a fair bit and I don't know what it is that makes the country what it is, but for me it certainly wasn't at Mt Cook.  As we pedalled along, the anxieties and negativities that had plagued me throughout the trip just evaporated away with every kilometre.  We were in beautiful and vast landscape, with just us, the bikes and the road - some cycle touring was definitely happening.

Rolling across green farmland, with snow dusted mountains to our north

I was riding behind Jer, and it took me a little while to realise something wasn't quite right...

...check out the pannier rack. A bolt had fallen out and the whole thing was nearly rubbing on the rear wheel, courting disaster

Jer unleashes his mad skills to get the Fuji rack mounted properly again.  The bolt must have rattled out on the journey somewhere - it pays to check your gear every now and again Jer!

We found a roadside rest area, with a bizarrely low table.  We sat there feeling like we were sitting at a kid's school desk, before the inevitable happened - we started referring to everything as "SO BEAUTIFUL" in a Brazilian accent

I personally think a loaded touring bike is a thing of great beauty from every angle.  So I took about a billion shots like this throughout the trip

A bit of creative bidon placement and I made my own Lord Of The Rings tribute.  The greasy mark on the steerer stem shows how far Jer adjusted his handlebars up

The closer we got to Omarama, the happier I became.  The claustrophobia of Mt Cook was well and truly behind us, and we both felt positive.  As we got closer to the town I noticed the terrain began to change from mostly flat farmland, to sparsely vegetated rolling hills with rocky outcrops here and there.  It was the first time we'd come across this kind of terrain on our journey, and the change of scenery energised us.

We had no firm plans for accommodation at Omarama, and Allan had given us the recommendation that Ahuriri Motels had a backpackers attached to it and was a good place to stay.  As we got closer to town we debated our options for the night.  Jer was a bit unsure about another backpackers after the dorm experience at Mt Cook, and was leaning towards getting a twin room at the motel or the pub, regardless of the cost.  My feeling was we just go with the backpackers on account of the cheap price, and I reasoned it probably wouldn't be too packed, as Omarama isn't really a tourist town.  We easily found the place, and asked the lady at the front desk if we could stay in the backpackers.  She was really friendly, and curious to hear about our adventures on the bikes and what we thought of New Zealand.  We walked around the facilities and she showed us the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms, all in a building near the campsite.  She then showed us to our room - we expected a dorm, but it turns out the Ahuriri Motels definition of a "backpackers" is actually a totally private motel room, featuring a bedroom, fridge, table and chairs and couch.  We were beyond excited - after the chaos of the Mt Cook hostel, we had our own quiet little space, far from the maddening crowds.  And all for the price of NZ$30 each.  This place gets my full recommendation for cycle travellers - it was superb.

Our room at Ahuriri Motels - superb solitude

Having not had the luxury of a couch for a week, our first order of business was to sit around on it eating lollies for an hour

This is how I saw it. I don't think I've ever been so relaxed as sitting there in that hotel room that day

I reckon this is my favourite photo that I took on the trip.  We were so happy that day, and we thought everything we saw was awesome

There was a little table and chairs out the front of our room, I sat out there for a while working on my bike and looking at the view

Keeping it nice and irie
After completely relaxing with a rigorous program of silently doing nothing for a few hours, we wandered up to the local 4 square supermarket to re-stock for dinner and the following day.  Tomorrow we planned on riding over Lindis Pass to Wanaka, a 120km trip with no towns or shops for the first 90km or so, so we stocked up on a lot of road food.  There isn't much to Omarama it seemed -  a couple of shops, a pub, a petrol station.  As we were walking around we made the awesome discovery of a little kind of museum / gift shop type place with a display of costumes from Xena, Hercules and Cleopatra 2525.  I was certainly very familiar with Xena and Hercules, but Cleopatra 2525 was something I'd not heard of before.  It certainly got us pondering and was the cause of a lot of laughs on our walk back to the motel, as we tried to put together what the plot might be.

Sheep looks unhappy to be wearing socks.  Man looks unhappy to be reunited with his sunglasses

An evening spent having a quiet dinner and chilling out, researching all we can about Cleopatra 2525, including the awesome theme tune

Our trip from Mt Cook to Omarama had been a great day.  Even though we'd caught the bus for the first part of it, we'd started and finished in two different worlds - from a hectic world of ice and snow, to a silent and calming rocky landscape.  Tomorrow we had the biggest and most daunting mountain pass of the journey, as well as the longest day, but we were both feeling positive and were really looking forward to it.  On our short ride from Twizel to Omarama, we'd successfully managed to recalibrate our attitudes and were now very much enjoying our holiday.  Omarama was fast becoming one of my favourite places in New Zealand, mainly because it gave me my optimism back.  Plus we learned about the existence of Cleopatra 2525 - a profound discovery sure to change all our lives for the better.

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