There’s some irony that we’ve ended up in Queenstown for a couple of days as we’d previously wanted to avoid this tourist sinkhole but the town has in fact been our saviour. This far south there is nowhere else in New Zealand with so many good bicycle and outdoor shops catering to the demands of the world’s tourists seeking outdoor adventure. A quick perusal of marketing literature told us that we could easily go Gondola, Luge, Horse, Jet Boat, Boat, Canoe, Zip Wire, Hang Glider, Para Glide, White Water, Bungy, Canyon Swing and Mountain Bike riding.
Here, we’ve had to stop to find a solution to my broken Campagnola freewheel. The alarming grinding and occasional locking of my chain drive meant we had to get a fix before pedalling any further. This, thanks to ‘Torpedo 7’, is now possible and I’m having a new freewheel shipped overnight and a new wheel built to be able to continue riding. We should be on our way again by Thursday.
Queenstown really couldn’t be a better place to stop for a short while to await a bike repair. We need some rest after having ridden continuously through the South Island for the last 14 days covering 1,059km, summiting three major mountain passes – Hope Saddle, Haast Pass and the Crown Range – and riding into two days of dreadful headwinds and another of continuous rain. We’ve slept and camped in our tent every night except one and realise a town with bars, good food and a beautiful setting is actually a nice place to take some time out of the saddle.
We’ve been discovering that the remote route we’ve been cycling is the well trodden path of many travellers visiting this part of the world. The land is spectacular in its isolation, huge in scale and with wonderful unspoilt country, and this of course is it’s attraction. However, we’ve been finding after we’ve pitched our tent at night that sure enough, much later, several cars will drive up and park almost on top of us as they try to find space in over crowded campsites. They appear to be driven by gap year kids oblivious to their noise and disturbance and I feel both indignant and suddenly old that they don’t see beyond themselves, their own travel odysseys and car enclosures.
I could go on – their litter, dope, shouting and loud fucking – that we have to endure as we try and rest after having ridden all day. It’s only just recently been bad – Wanaka, 12 Mile Delta and here in Queenstown – but for three consecutive nights meant that until yesterday we’d actually become sleep deprived. We tried talking to them on the last occasion, explaining that we needed to rest, and their reply was ‘well go ahead’ as if we were the problem and not themselves. I’d be surprised if there was not regularly trouble on campsites because of this kind of behaviour. Many kids in their cars try and steel into sites late at night to avoid paying to use the facilities – hot showers and kitchens – and park up just anywhere, across the road verges and almost on top of other campers.
Last week’s local newspaper, the ‘Lakes Weekly’ no.586 dated 07 Feb-17, had as it’s cover article a report on the impact of foreign tourist car hire on road traffic accidents in the Queenstown area. Between 2011 and 2015 25% of all road traffic accidents involved a foreign driver. It was shocking reading but after having ridden the roads and watched the kids cavorting around in rented vehicles the numbers didn’t seem surprising.
What is surprising is that as wonderful as New Zealand is, it is not a cheap place to travel. The youth in their cars and camper vans are wealthy or subsidised by parents in Germany, France and America. The grungy look, tattoos and traveller’s patois belie their fundamental conservatism, herd instinct and complete unoriginality. It seems like they all walk the same hiking trails and drink in the same bars and we’re starting to tire of them. We now have a secret code word we say to each other when we come across these modern nomads talking some idiocy which is ‘Wanaka’. It of course sounds remarkably like something else but was the name of the town where we first came across so many of them.
But not everyone, young or old, is like this. We meet on the road many people with differing interests and reasons to travel or live here and we’ve been lucky to meet such lovely people who have given us much to think about whilst we pedal, particularly those who are travelling independently and sometimes without motorised transport. Michelle – cycling solo the hard way over the Crown Range; Sybille – studying native plants and fauna; Peter – riding home to the North Island after his granddaughter’s graduation; Keith and Kurt – cycling south and raving about the quality of milk and butter. Tim and Marie – regaling us with tales of UK horticulture. Colin – with the house he built and showed us. Malai – and her four hundred head of beef cattle. Lyn – studying Japanese calligraphy. Angus – with his amazing shed. And there are so many others choosing to see and inhabit this world differently.
We’re lucky to be doing this prolonged cycle travel, even if caught momentarily in Queenstown and realise this more and more as we pedal, climbing another hill or turning a distant corner. What next will the road and ride bring us?