The journey from Wellington to Auckland was full of the simple pleasures of being on the humble bicycle. After a few weeks of procrastinating in Auckland I eventually got away on Tuesday, July 20 at 4.15pm. Incidentally, it is an awful pity that there isn’t more research done into procrastinating. Needless to say, it has to be a terrible cost of time to everybody’s life. Indeed procrastinating (mine in particular) has always interested me. While at university in the 90’s, I did try and do a literature review on it as I though it would be a good topic to say you were working on if you needed an extension. I was very surprised, then, that there was so little research done on the subject. Hopefully that has changed in the interim. However I had to get a second extension at the time, to research another topic, as there wasn’t enough material available to complete a literature review on procrastination.
Anyway, back to the bike. I had no set route planned to take me to Wellington but I was keen to visit Eketahuna as it is twinned with my local town, Ballycastle in Ireland. I was in Eketahuna for the town’s twinning celebration on St Patrick’s Day in 1996 and had such an enjoyable time that I vowed that I would return for another visit. In celebration of the 16th anniversary of the towns’ twinning, I had placed an auction to close on August 2nd on the internet site Trade-Me, saying that I was prepared to do a voluntary day’s work in Eketehuna in exchange for the auction winner donating the winning bid to a local charity.
My first stop after leaving central Auckland was Greenlane, just 8km from the city centre, to say goodbye to my friend Brendan Mulligan. Brendan, from the finest Irish and New Zealand, stock is a natural host and insisted on us having a wee drink for the road which I gladly accepted knowing that is a long wee road ahead. However the road would stay long if I didn’t drag myself away at 8pm and continue on my journey to Papakura, which is another 30km down the road. Here lived my friends Nina, Lisa, and her husband Kelsyn. Naturally they were a bit surprised to see me at 9.30pm as I had told them I would be there around 6pm. One of the lesser differences between people who immigrate to New Zealand is to get used to the fact that Kiwi’s go to bed early. Nevertheless, in typical Kiwi fashion, Kelsyn and I retired to the garage and after a few more yarns, some beers and a very long game of darts, which I lost, we retired for the night at 2am. So far the trip was going mighty.
Wednesday morning was spent pottering around Papakura. A favourite place that I always visit when I am on the road is the local library. There is no better place to kill a few hours and of course you can keep up to date with the local, national and international news. Another good place to visit is the local ‘opportunity’ shops – always a good place too to find out what is happening in the area. And the great things about these shops, apart from the bargains, are the shops’ staff. These are usually volunteers and they’re prepared to have an old chat with you whether you are buying something or not. And they never say “would you like chips with that” nor do they utter, as they now always do in the supermarkets in New Zealand these days, ‘is that everything’ when you have clearly emptied your shopping basket. I’m very tempted one day to stick a couple of things under my jumper and down my trouser and, when I am at the checkout, pull these things out when I am next asked that question.
Believe it or not, I had forgotten to pack a spoon so naturally I had to go to the opportunity shops to find one. I found a fine one just big enough for shovelling things into my mouth for 25 cents. The nice ladies there wished me a safe trip and gave me a wonderful complement that “if the bike broke down I would have no trouble getting a lift as I was such a good looking bloke with a lovely Irish accent”. (It still amazes me how a little complement can make one feel so good – maybe they should prescribe them in the pharmacies).
After struggling to get my swollen head out the door, I was on my way to my friend, Richard’s, place to do a small electrical job. Richard, better know to all his acquaintances in the greater Auckland region as Rev. (the son of an outback, Australian preacher). I had promised him I would fix one of his kitchen light fittings about four years ago and Rev, being the patient bloke he is, knew I would and knew, too, it would take a little time for me to get around to doing it. After a four year wait, the light got fixed and I stayed with Rev and his lovely partner Jenny for the night. Naturally Rev pontificated for most of the evening, at least when I had the fitting fixed – “he saw the light”.
After Thursday Morning Prayer, where Jenny and I prayed for Rev, I struck off and at last was getting the feeling I was really on my journey. It was a lovely day for cycling and all was going well until I got my first puncture.
When one is on any major trip the first puncture is always memorable. And the first one I got was in Rangiriri (Thursday July 22 at 10.02am) which is only about 44km from Papakura. And while punctures are only minor inconveniences, this one was memorable in that it attracted the attention of two motorists. The first to stop was Wade, a cycling enthusiast, who stopped to see if I was OK. Not alone does Wade give me invaluable road advice but, believe it or not, gives the bike a quick safety check and even cleans and sprays lubricant over my chain. It’s on occasions like this that you appreciate the kindness of the total stranger. So Wade, a fellow electrician: thank you for your help and advice; and enjoy the birth of your first born child in September.
Low and behold, whilst I am putting my wheel back on the bike, I realised that somehow I lost the nut for the wheel axle. Well I searched and searched and could not find it. As I was slowly mowing my way around where I had changed the tube, an alarmed David stopped to see if I wanted a hand in ‘saving the hay’. I thanked David for stopping and declined his kind offer of haymaking but accepted his recommendation that I put my bike in his utility so that he would take me into Hamilton (50km away) to a bike shop where they would probably give me a nut for free. And that is exactly what happened. As I hadn’t decided which route south to take to Eketahuna, that decision was make easier by David offering me a lift to Otorohunga, which is 57km south of Hamilton. Now going through Otorohunga would not be the normal route to Eketahuna, but this route would be much quieter and the scenery in the king country in winter is most picturesque. So thanks, Dave, for the lift and all the best with your wedding next year.
Otorohunga is a lovely Waikato country town. Naturally I visit its library to check out its facilities. It was very pleasing to find that the internet is free in this rural library. After a quick read of the “Waikato Times”, I was on my way to the next town on this route, which was Te Kuiti. As it was nearing 6.30pm, I decided to stay in Te Kuiti for the night so I had a good look around the town for suitable accommodation. Eventually I decided to book into the Rugby grounds.
When one is sleeping in alternative accommodation, there are some crucial basics that you must get right. Firstly, is it safe there; secondly, if the skies open, will you be somewhat protected from the elements; and thirdly, you are not disturbing anyone by being there. (thereby nobody will disturb you) Well Te Kuiti rugby park proved to be an ideal spot, although I woke up at around 3am from a dream that I was having that I had scored the winning try to clinch the ‘Meads Cup’ for King Country, right at the butt of the posts (what actually happened is that I had banged my head on a piece of timber that I was lying close to).
The great thing about sleeping in such an environment is that one always gets up and on the road early the next morning. So by 6am I was on my way to Taumarunui via Waimiha. This is rugged rural New Zealand at its best. The countryside is very deserted and I met nobody on the rural roads, however the hills around there were a real challenge to me and I was soon knackered. I seemed to be spending more time walking the bike than riding it in this part of the world. I eventually took a break at an abandoned school in Waimiha.
The thing that impressed me about the deserted school was the fine facilities the local children once enjoyed there. Good sports ground, swimming pool and a basketball/netball court among other things. And the building itself is in reasonable condition. I would have loved to have booked in there for a couple of nights as I was feeling exhausted. However I had spent eight years in primary school in Ireland learning the alphabet so I decided to keep going. Unfortunately it is a reality in rural New Zealand to see numerous schools like Waimiha primary being closed down. Employment opportunities no longer exist in these once thriving rural areas. Maybe Prime Minister John Key should speak to his education minister, Anne Tolley, to allow these schools to be used for accommodation when New Zealand gets its National Cycleway Project completed in the not to distant future.
I eventually managed to get back on the main Te Kuiti-Taumarunui road, near a place called Ongarue, and decided I had had enough of cycling for the day. So I diverted to plan B, which was to hitchhike with the bike. Low and behold, after only a few minutes standing beside the bike with my big thumb stuck out, I got picked up by a forestry contractor in a blue truck who said “God told him to pick me up”. Naturally I agreed that God was right with his instructions and by 2.30pm I was in Taumarunui. I had a good look around Taumarunui and, of course, I had to visit its library. I had half contemplated staying in the town for the night but, as I hadn’t spotted suitable accommodation, I decided I would keep cycling. On leaving the town, I had stopped to take some photographs of the Ongarue River when a young man named Micah Pere engaged me in conversation. Micah was born and bred in Taumarunui and liked the town and wanted to stay there but told me he was struggling to find fulltime work. He wished me well on my journey and said I was the first Irish person he had ever met.
After the morning cycling in the hills I really did not have much fuel left in the body and it was almost 11.30pm when I wheeled into Owhango, which is only 20km from Taumarunui. The town was very quite indeed for a Friday night and as I was reading the local notices on a shop window (no library in this town) when I was engaged in conversation by two gentlemen who were out walking their dogs (well a dog is entitled to his or her midnight stroll too). They both were interested in history and gave me a short history lecture on their town. After cycling around the town to see all the ‘historical sites’, I decided I would retire to the town’s “historic bus shelter” which was right on the main street. Thankfully, there were no other “bus passengers” booked and no buses stopped either.
However, I was surprised at the amount of freight train traffic that passed through the town during the night. When I had booked into the “bus shelter” I didn’t realise that the train tracks were less that 50 meters away. The temperatures were pretty low too (-2 degrees C) so, after a few hours sleep, I was on the bike again at 6am. I arrived bright and early in National Park village after my 20km early morning cycle. As I hadn’t showered since Tuesday, I felt that this town would be an “ideal shower town” and was soon enjoying the innate pleasure one gets with having a shower when one hadn’t had one for a few days. On completion of my shower, I realised that I had acquired a few tender saddle sore spots in the nether regions. They actually were a bit painful and after drying myself off I decided that I would not cycle for the remainder of the day. So plan B was again implemented.
As it happens, it was not too long for the “Gods of picking up Bikes with hitch hikers” to play their card and Barry, a mature motorist stopped, and offered to take me to Whanganui. (I always use the word mature for anybody I think is over the age of 65 as “old” seems an out of date word for describing such people). Barry (another electrician), a man of 71 years of age, was well able to drive and we ended up in Whanganui in no length of time.
Considering the Paraapar’s are no small mountain range, I was real pleased to have enjoyed the scenery from the comforts of a very warm station wagon. Barry invited me to stay for a couple of nights as he had done a bit of cycling in his youth and knew all about saddle sores. I gladly accepted on condition that I could repay the favour in some way and he wonders would I like to do a bit of gardening for him. So the deal is struck and I booked into Barry’s place for the next couple of days. I spent a few hours in his garden that afternoon and enjoyed the weeding and pruning that needed to be done. He has a fine garden and tells me one can grow almost anything in Whanganui as it has a very good climate. Considering how plentiful the weeds are, I would have to agree with him. After a home cooked meal I retired to a wonderful comfortable bed and slept till 7am on Sunday morning.
Most of Sunday morning was spend in the garden and, for lunch, we went to McDonald’s where Barry likes to go every now and again. We then visited Barry’s daughter Pamela and her husband Bruce and their three daughters. I was beginning to feel that I was part of the family already. Then Barry took me on a guided tour of Whanganui.
Whanganui is indeed one of the finest historical towns in New Zealand. It has many of its historical buildings restored and it even has a statute of another Kiwi Irishman in one of its gardens. Alas the statute has lost its head. The headless statute commemorates John Balance who was born in Co Antrim in 1839 and was Premier of New Zealand from 1891-1893.
To cap a fine weekend off, Barry cooked me another one of his home specialities. To Barry I must say a gigantic thank you. It was wonderful spending those couple of days being looked after. And if I have half your energy when I get to your age I certainly won’t be complaining.
I left Whanganui on Monday with my “head still attached” at 4pm “heading” to Palmerston North. Feeling very rested and full of energy, I got the 74km cycle done in just under four hours. While Palmerston North is a nice city, there was not much to do there on a Monday night (its library closes at 6pm) so a visit the local Accident & Emergency department at Palmerston North Hospital seemed like a good idea. I was also aware that their central heating should be good and chances are they would have a few magazines on hand for a bit of light reading.
It sure was warm in the A&E and thankfully it was not too busy. A very pleasant staff member asked was I OK and, after establishing that I was, let me continue on with my light reading. I supposed they assumed that I was waiting for someone or maybe waiting for an accident to happen. The worst accident I observed there was a middle aged gentleman fall over. Thankfully he did not do any serious injury to himself or to anyone else for that matter. Another emergency patient and I offered our assistance but two hospital staff handled the “emergency” very professionally and soon had him on a stretcher bed. His only concern was that he had lost his large bag of tablets. I was thinking to myself that if I had to take a quarter of those tablets, I don’t think I would be able to walk never mind to be able to walk and fall over. The “emergency” was declared “over” once the gentleman was reunited with his bag of goodies. I decided then that I should “evacuate” myself because the person I was assumed to be waiting for hadn’t turned up.
So at 3am on Tuesday morning I evacuated myself to St Mary’s school as it is practically across the road from the Hospital. I booked myself in for a few hours sleep before daybreak. I awoke at 6.45 and headed for the University College of Learning institution whose building I spotted the previous evening. I wanted to check out their shower facilities. I found a great shower and felt refreshed and ready to meet the day. I was having a look around the campus when a Maori gentleman named Te Mataira beckoned to anyone who cared to listen that a Pōwhiri (a Maori ceremony for welcoming visitors) would be performed soon to welcome all students especially international ones who were new to the institution.
I asked him would it be OK for me to video the Pōwhiri and he said it wouldn’t be a problem. It was an enjoyable experience for everyone concerned and talking with some of the students afterwards, they felt they had experienced a unique Kiwi ritual. Te Mataira, who was the master of ceremonies, insisted that I stay for kai (food) which I gladly accepted, as it was the first hot food I had since leaving Whanganui on Monday. I would like to say thank you to Te for allowing me to observe the Pōwhiri and it is reassuring to know that New Zealanders are getting more comfortable in recognizing both its Maori and European traditions.
Naturally the last thing I did it Palmerston North was to pay a visit to its library. I couldn’t even think of leaving a town without dropping into its library. Maybe I should add at this stage that I do not have a fetish for books or newspapers for that matter either.
Leaving Palmerston North, I decided to take the Pahiatua-Aokautere road as it looked the nearest way on the map but was warned that there were some challenging hills to be climbed. Sure enough there was and soon I was ‘walking the bike’ again. Needless to say that a Mr Adams stopped to give me a lift up Polson hill, which I was grateful for and, at 7pm, another motorist named Elizabeth stopped to see if the bike and I were alright. Elizabeth offered me a lift to Eketahuna which I accepted. As both of us had a good interest in politics we had a great all round discussion on the wrongs of the political world and if either of us was in a position of power we would no doubt have rectified everything by the time we had reached Eketahuna. Elizabeth is also doing extensive research on the feasibility of growing flax. I do wish her every success with her research and, as she is a New Zealand National Party, member it is good that she is bringing some green politics to her centre right party.
She dropped me off in Eketahuna and soon I was booked into the local camping ground in a lovely cabin for the unbelievable price of $12. This has to be New Zealand’s best keep secret. On Wednesday, I really did need to visit Eketahuna’s library to use the free internet to see how my auction was progressing. I also printed off some fliers for the auction and then walked the little town putting my fliers up in the various businesses. While I was putting up the poster in the Eketahuna Hotel, I got talking with the local publican, Corry, and he asked me would I be able to give him a hand out on the coming Saturday night, as he had a band playing. Naturally I agreed as I hadn’t worked in a pub since I closed down my one in Auckland in March. Corry also said I was more than welcome to stay at the hotel, free of charge, in return for giving him a hand out. The rest of the week was spent enjoying the peace and quite of my little cabin.
When Saturday arrived I booked out of Eketahuna’s wonderful camp ground and into the Eketahuna Hotel. Saturday night was indeed a busy night in the bar and we were all flat out keeping everyone fed and lubricated. There was a great band playing outside in the hotel’s back yard. With temperatures close to -1c, I was amazed at the amount of people who were outside having a great time in the middle of winter. A hardy lot those Eketahoons? By the time we had cleaned up it was past 5am. But that’s what life is like in the hospitality trade.
I killed a few hours on Sunday by doing a couple of maintenance jobs for the hotelier. I wandered to the library around 4pm to check out how my auction was going but found the library closed. I was wondering where I could get internet access, when I happened to drop into a recently opened art gallery that is run by a fine fellow named Bernard Winkles. As it happens, his mother was born in Co. Roscommon, Ireland (a bordering county to Mayo where I hailed from) and he had lived in Ireland himself for a few years too. The internet problem was solved by Bernard inviting me back to his home, where I met his lovely partner and her family. He telephoned his Mother who lives in Wellington and his mother and I chatted about bygone days in Ireland. The more mature Irish immigrants to New Zealand reminisce about Ireland a lot and while they have lived in New Zealand most of their lives, their ties to their place of their birth remain strong.
Monday morning was spent answering the last of the Trade-Me questions before the auction ended at 11.30am. The winner was Kate Te Rure of Pukerua Bay, Porirua, whose winning bid required me to recite poems by Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, and cook an Irish stew. I was pleased with this task as there were numerous strange requests been made prior to the auction closing. A real surprising fact of the auction was that over 24,000 people viewed it. It shows that a lot of Kiwis are Trade Me members and also the power of the internet.
By Tuesday afternoon, I was ready for the road again and loaded up the bike and struck off for Pukerua Bay. Kate, the auction winner, had said that I was more than welcome to sleep on her couch if I wanted a place to stay. It was a lovely day for cycling and I enjoyed cycling the beautiful Wairarpapa. It seemed like no time until I was approaching the Rimutaka ranges, which are approximately 60km from Pukerua Bay. No sooner had I started the ascend, than Jason, a South Africa migrant, stopped and insisted that I take a lift as he felt the road was too dangerous to cycle, especially as it was getting dark and also there were major road works taking place. So Jason: thank you for your lift to Upper Hutt.
I had cycled a further 10km when Colin Hayward stopped on the hill that shared his surname and advised, too, that I should put my bike into his vehicle. Well what could I say? Colin insisted on going out of his way to drop me off in Pukerua Bay. I sure was glad I took the lift from Colin as I had miscalculated the distance to Pukerua Bay and I would have been very late in getting to Kate’s place if I had to cycle the whole distance. And I should know by now what time Kiwis go to bed!
The minute I walked trough Kate’s front door I was greeted like a long lost family friend and wholeheartedly welcomed into her home. It is one of life’s real pleasures when you meet a total stranger who makes you feel that you have been a friend of the family for all your life.
Now, part of the auction deal, as well as reciting poetry, was to make an Irish stew for the family supper. So on Wednesday morning, I struck off on the bike for Porirua city for supplies to make the stew. Alas on the way back I got my second puncture. As I hadn’t brought my spare tube with me I caught the train back to Pukerua Bay. And to demonstrate how small New Zealand is, the people that I chatted with at the train station were from Whanganui and they knew Barry, whom I had stayed with while I was there.
When I got the bike and the bag of spuds back to Kate’s place, I found a note left on the front door from Colin (who had dropped me there the previous night) saying he had called around with a bag that I had left in his vehicle the previous night. He didn’t leave the bag at the house as he was unsure whether I had stayed there or not. He left his telephone number and when I rang him he insisted on coming over at once with the bag. I felt really humbled with this amount of generosity but Colin was of the opinion that what comes around-goes around. At least he took a few spuds from me as a gesture of my appreciation.
Well I got the stew cooked before Kate and her delightful daughter, Pirimai, got home from school and they were ever so complementary about the stew that I had cooked. Kate had decided that I should do the poetry recital on the Thursday night so I spent Thursday reading a book of Seamus Heaney poetry as well as cleaning out Katie’s garage. (I had to pay for my keep by doing something).
Indeed I find cleaning very therapeutic as you usually can see some result at the end of the task. It is also an ideal way to keep fit. And talking about keeping fit…. In my idealistic world we would all keep fit by doing physical productive tasks. It does seem a hell of waste to keep fit in an unproductive fashion. So maybe we should be looking at ways to harness all that energy that we produce in the gymnasium. You would think those gym’s would at least be able to harness the expended energy to keep the electric light’s going.
The poetry recital did not use up to much of my energy and my small audience were appreciative of my efforts. At lease I had the accent almost perfect! Overall, it was a most enjoyable experience and I intend to do it again sometime. Friday morning saw me head off to Wellington city and I was looking forward very much to this as my girlfriend, Harriet, was joining me in New Zealand’s capital for the weekend. On the trip I had met some wonderful, genuine people. To all these people I would like to say thank you for looking after the interests of the cycling Kiwi-Irishman. I had been on the road for 20 days and spent just over $130. Well that works out at about $7 a day. I would be very happy if I could keep expenditure at this level for the duration of the journey (there is the possibility of a double-dip recession you know). However, time will tell and hopefully I don’t have to stay in Wellington for too long before I can sail to Australia for the next leg of the journey.