February 11, 2002 - Hot And Sunny, Finally

I left Christchurch this morning and made it to Rakaia, about 60km south.

I left fairly late (nearly 10am) as I had a long conversation over breakfast with another solo cyclist who was staying at the hostel. He was about the same age as I, but about 6'4" and built like a football player. He had ridden inland from Picton and through the hills and over Lewis Pass to get to Christchurch. He said that it was easy cycling, that the North Island was harder since the hills there were short, but steep and here the grades were more reasonable. He had started in the North Island and ridden south. He was in much better shape than I, obviously.

He is a British oil geologist and would periodically stop working and go on a cycle trip. His first one was South Africa to Uganda. His second was Anchorage to the tip of South America (that one took almost two years). He did say that he wouldn't do the African trip again; It has gotten too dangerous. He's currently living in Zambia, when not cycling.

I took a look at his bike, which was just a simple low end Trek Mountain Bike. The big difference was in the gearing. His rear cluster was more like my old one, but the small chainwheel was much smaller than mine. He had much better hill climbing choices than I, not that I would be able to follow him with similar gearing.

My limitations in the kitchen really showed last night. While my chicken and vegetable stir-fry over rice was pretty good. I was in a hostel full of adults who knew how to cook and, I have to admit, had better food resources. One advantage of auto travel from hostel to hostel is that you can bring lots of food supplies.

Summer has returned. It was sunny and very warm today. The Canterbury Plains lived up to their name; they were flat, flat and more flat. One disadvantage of riding on the flats is the lack of coasting opportunities. I basically pedalled constantly when moving. At least the wind was with me today. It was 15km before I got out of Christchurch and its dense suburbs. The end of the suburbs was pretty abrupt. There was the Giant Cookie Factory and then it was suddenly countryside.

Needless to say, my first rest stop was the Cookie Time Giant Cookie Factory (Home of the World's Largest Cookie). They are in the Guinness Book of Records for making a five ton chocolate chip cookie. I bought a couple as road snacks (gotta keep up the energy, you know). They are actually very good.

Most of the ride was sheep, cows, fields and more of the same. There was one point, however, when I cam to the end of a stand of trees and a huge vista of the mountains to the west opened up.

What I didn't expect, once I got out of Christchurch, was the traffic. It was constant. It seemed that half the population of the South Island was out on Route 1 today. I don't think that there were more than two or three times than I could actually hear the bike, due to the traffic noise. I think the noise is exacerbated by the way they pave the road, since the gravel pressed into tar is pretty rough surfaced compared to asphalt paving. It also make pedalling harder since there is more rolling resistance.

There really is a two kilometer long bridge, with no shoulder, just before you get to Rakaia. It was a little intimidating because of the traffic. The last half of it, however, had just been resurfaced with asphalt paving. I immediately gained 5kph when I hit that part.

There was not a choice of accommodation in Rakaia, so I'm am staying at a B&B which is a little above my desired price range. It is NZ$60 for the night. It is very nice though. It is called the St. Ita's Guesthouse and is a converted convent and parochial school next door to St.Ita's Catholic Church. It is a pretty brick building with some stained glass transoms over the doors and windows, high ceilinged rooms and nice wood floors and panelled walls. It is also surrounded by nice gardens; the view from my room is of a formal garden with fountain and pool. My room is certainly the most comfortable that I've stayed in with a double bed and my own, very nice, shower and a large supply of big towels.

The St. Ita's Guesthouse particulars:

Rakaia is a typical small farm service town that the train runs through. Some businesses which supply agricultural and building supplies, gas station, post office, school, community center, small stores, two churches and two pubs and a few streets of in town homes..and it has a giant salmon. I had dinner at one of the pubs. I had Hoki, a local deep sea white fish. It came breaded, which probably meant it was frozen, not fresh, but once I stripped the breading off, I had two nice real fillets. It was pretty tasty. Since the dinner came with chips, I passed on the sticky date pudding.

The hosts, Miriam and Ken are about my age. Miriam is from this area, but moved to Auckland a long time ago and met Ken, who is from there. They moved here about seven years ago for an easier lifestyle. The guesthouse, alone, doesn't quite support them and Ken works in Ashburton, the district center. They have a very nice 13 year old Golden Retriever named Zack.

All in all, it was a nice, but not very exciting day, but I got my first look at the plains, pretty plain (or is that plain pretty?). It was just rather tiring.

Updated: 20 March 2002