Back to the home page Visit the Geoff Thomas Foundation
Memories of the trip so far: Week 16

Autumn on New Zealand's South Island is a lot like a British Autumn. I arrived to familiar smells of fallen leaves, moist earth, lawns and mushrooms. As I left the airport I was welcomed with a little rain from the grey sky.

My old friend Steve works ever so close to Christchurch airport, so I met him first and then cycled over to his house to see Steve's better half Ruth and new baby George. Steve's work were all very welcoming, but I wasn't instantly tuned in to understanding the Kiwi accent so I thought a lady who said 'Welcome to MYOB Vinnie!' had said 'Wilcom tu my oh beaver knee' which doesn't make sense so I said it back to her and would have caused offence if she had understood me. I made a swift exit to use the last of the light for the ride over Dyers Pass to the house in Littleton.

Vin with friends Steve, Ruth and baby George near Christchurch, New Zealand

While I spent time with my friends, the first big storms of Autumn were gathering energy at sea and aiming themselves at the land.

Time with my friends was just what the doctor ordered. I changed my back tyre, fitted a handlebar bag, packed in my new warm clothes, tinkered with various things which needed it, opened post from my wife and my dad.... and briefly joined in a happy normal family life; a trip to the swimming pool and stroll on the beach, a home cooked meal and a Guinness before bed. I know I'll appreciate home all the more when I've finished this ride.

Steve, Ruth and baby George seemed more happy, loving and contented in their place, relationship, friends, and their work than I've ever seen them.... Or anyone else.... Ever.

Lack of daylight hours meant setting off before dawn would be needed every day, so I started heading north at 05:30 on my first full riding day. After a few breakfast stops I started to encounter other cyclists on Sunday club rides. It was great to have conversation and pace making. I got warned that some storms were rolling in quite a few times. The storms at sea were heading for land at the same place and the joining of them could suddenly produce one massive storm; a so called 'weather bomb'.

Next day I again headed north hoping to make the ferry to the North Island. At each breakfast stop people warned me about the weather for the day. One person showed me the front page of the newspaper: 'Deluge forecast!'. I pushed on past beaches where seals played, hoping to beat the worst of the weather to the infamous Cook Straight ferry crossing, and despite a cold, wet and windy day I made the last ferry for New Zealand's capitol city Wellington.

Wellington is the exact opposite side of the world to Madrid in Spain, and these two cities will be how I satisfy Guinness World Records' requirement that I visit 'antipodal points'.

The rain was lashing down in the morning when I set out for a little tour of the city and breakfast. I had major navigation problems avoiding back-tracking or crossing my path in to the city; constantly stopping under bus stops to use the GPS on my phone.

Eventually I made it out up the hill to the north, passing Cornish place names reminding me of home. Once I was away from Wellington the place names were almost completely Maori from here on. Maoris are the natives of New Zealand, and although they have suffered some persecution and discrimination in the past, modern New Zealand has these people well integrated and close to its heart... At least that's how it looked to me having just seen the worse situation in Australia with Aboriginals.

The weather bomb had now landed on Wellington, a spiralling mass of wet and wind whipped at both islands from this central location. The east coast of the South Island where I'd just been riding was suffering major floods and expecting snow. The west coast of the North Island, where I now was, was having rain and gales from the north west as the air rushed down into the eye of the storm.

I made slow, hard, uncomfortable progress in to the wind. Consoling myself with good value accommodation and friendly conversation. One other thing which kept me going was good coffee; the Kiwis are excellent at coffee and frothy milk. At one great coffee stop the staff gave me an energy bar of 'skroggin' as I left which really was seriously good cycling snack food.

The weather system eventually decided to focus all attention on the South Island, so my friends got snow while I got improved conditions; grey skies, light winds, some showers... Autumn stuff really. The improved weather let me see the views and improve my mileage as I went over the 'desert road' - actually a sort of moorland I think - past the North Island's highest peak and through a World Heritage site. Back to how I'd like the Great Bike Ride to be.

My final dash into Auckland was 144 miles of sunshine and showers, good wildlife, bad cycle routes, and a great old highway beneath a still and starry night sky. It was another example of the variety of weather and life this small country had shown me in a short time.