Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New ZealandSouth Island, Christchurch, As far away as possible, End of Vegi

I'm looking out of a window of a campsite cabin in a town called Reefton, famed for being the 1st town in New Zealand to have electric universally available in 1888. It was able to do this because it had a great deal of gold deposits all around. That is still the case today and the local goldmine produces about $1 million (New Zealand dollars that is, about £500,000) everyday. Instead of fishing, locals go out panning for gold and gold fever is a condition commonly suffered/enjoyed. One chap I met yesterday had developed this motorised panning machine using a garden mowing machine engine rigged up to a sort of pump and filtration system. He finds a bend in the river that has a lot of silt and sets up the contraption, floating on an inner tube, above the silt and leaves it to do it's stuff. The day before he got in one hour about £200 worth of gold. He said that was very lucky, and normally the returns are much more modest, but it is enough to have all his friends asking where he went….which he felt was private…

The reason I am here for 3 nights so far I will reveal later.

In the last post I explained the need to go to Christchurch to get my computer fix. Rosie and Zed's neighbour, Leicester, had recommended a service centre for Macs there. It was going to take a couple of days so I pitch my tent in a local campsite and spent the next day doing what I haven't done before, which is to employ the services of an open top double decker red London bus, equipped with cheeky chappie commentator to take half a dozen tourists around the city. The tour was called “the earthquake tour" which would have normally had me running, but as that is essentially the same as a city tour, and it was the title other companies used, I signed up.
RC Cathedral after...
The clock stopped exactly as the quake struck. note the cross/compass on top
Of course it was horrible to see what happened, and I wish I had seen it before. However the overall feeling of determination and conviction by the residents to re-build seems to be pretty unshakeable. The vast majority of the buildings are pretty much fine, those that are not are either being pulled down or restored in a much more robust way. The feeling is that nature has made her adjustment for the time being, and rebuilding a city at a low level and using quake proof techniques will make it a safe and thriving community again. If I was to tell you that property prices in some parts of the city have been rising strongly, you may be as shocked as I was, but it is the case and probably gives as strong a hint as any to the state of mind of those who live there.

The earth has moved for me twice on this trip so far, the 1st time was in the Van, East Turkey, when I woke to this funny sensation in a room on the 1st floor of a six-storey hotel. It wasn't many months later that that city was very heavily hit and many tall buildings lost. The 2nd time was in Christchurch as I lay in my tent. Both of course were minor, but I did feel a lot safer in my tent.

I did go and have tea with Matt and Debs, who had moved from England to Christchurch 7ish years ago. I knew Matt through his sister Rebecca and it was very good to catch up, learning how to suck tea through chocolate biscuits whilst hearing where they were at the time of the quake and consequences to them personally. Luckily nothing too terrible but fascinating to hear their witness. Matt kindly constructed a side stand wooden prop, Batty had been leaning over at an increasingly ridiculous angle, so it was very kind. In fact this tendency only increase and I had to get an engineer to re-weld and straighten the stand at a few days later.

There are quite a few towns and villages in the South Island named after Devon and the West Country places. In Ashburton I was just driving through on my way south with no intention to stop, however when you've been away from England for 10 months and a sign comes up in front of you that advertises Cornish Pasties, I would defy anyone not to screech to a halt, perform a risky U-turn and muster every rev to see if there was truth in the claim. True enough Neil (I think his name was) had moved from Camelford in Cornwall some years before as a sign-writer, unfortunately he had lost his job but using a recipe his grandmother had taught him, he and his wife started making pasties for local shows etc. This enterprise has grown steadily and I'm not surprised because they were both absolutely delicious....

I headed on down south, staying on campsites or in youth hostel lodgings enjoying a general feeling of what I can almost describe as a 'home from home'. This was the 1st country where English had been the 1st language which is a great relief and very normalising, albeit not so exciting and intriguing from a cultural point of view. One of the interesting differences is that I have not looked in a guidebook once, everywhere I have been has been through word-of-mouth and recommendation. I'm sure I've missed a few things, but I would also bet that I have seen more than any guidebook could offer.
I just stopped for coffee at a sign advertising free wifi (about the only place in NZ, otherwise everyone charges a fortune for it) and I found this amazing Aladdin cave of handmade toys. On the Catlin road.

Near Curio Bay
One night was spent in a place called Curio Bay, a beautiful spot in the Catlin Forest Park. I was walking down a huge open beach and by chance asked this couple some directional question only for them to reply in a delicious soft Scottish accent. It turns out that Mark and Jenny have moved here and were just having a weekend away from their home in Wanaka. Later that evening I join them for some yellow eyed penguin spotting followed by a campsite whiskey drop. They are both doctors and both work in Wanaka. “You must come and stay when you come to Wanaka, it is a great place" this kind offer only grew when it was clear that they would be away when I would be there, “no problem, the door will be open just make yourself at home". I was already a fan of theirs, but this kindness to a stranger was gobsmacking.
Mark and Jenny

The one yellow eyed Penguin brave enough to face the crowds
As far as I could get away from home. Bluff is the honest name of that point. It is a town famed for its oysters and being the last stop to the South Pole that you can go by road. An important milestone in the journey and I suppose it sort of symbols half time. Because it feels more like home than anywhere I have been so far, it is rather confusing knowing that you are the furthest away one can be.
It says 18958KM to London. The mileage on Batty's clock was just under 20,000 miles from home
 In Invercargill, near Bluff, is this hardware store called E Hayes & Sons (, which I had been tipped off about by practically all of the hoards of people who seem to surround Batty here. They have a collection of fine bikes and cars mixed in with all the kit they sell. The most famous is the "Worlds' Fastest Indian" of Burt Munro fame that was made into film of that name with Antony Hopkins starring...a great watch.

A Vincent Black dream
If you get the weather right Milford Sound is really worth going to see. That is what I kept hearing. I had been blessed by a spell of fine weather and this was set so I made haste for Te Anau, which is a sort of feed town to Milford Sound. I had given up camping as it was getting very cold at night, which despite buying a new sleeping bag wasn't enough. In fact I had played around with putting my bike cover over the tent as an extra layer of material for both warmth and waterproofing. It worked to a degree, but would not win many prizes for ascetics. Most campsites have an option to use cabins, which are very simple and the amenities shared, but generally warm, so that has been my choice where possible.

Because of the sheer drop of the cliffs from thousands of feet above the sea to thousands of feet below, they take these huge tourist boats right under the waterfalls.

I have been meeting a lot of all sorts of people here, one day I stopped counting after 15 different friendly folk came up and chatted, mostly drawn by Batty, but also it just seems to be a very friendly place. A lot have been British either living here, or holidaying. It is a great place that is very well set up for just hiring a camper van and disappearing off into a beautiful wilderness.

Mark and Jenny live in a beautiful house, in a beautiful town, surrounded by staggeringly wonderful mountains, lakes and pastures. True to their word the door was open, a bottle of wine and copious notes on what to do and see, were on the table. I had thought I would only stay a night, maybe 2, but in fact I had to prise myself away after 3. It was lovely being in a home with a fantastic film collection, a comfortable bed and all the amenities of a modern home.
A valley between Queenstown and Wanaka

Wanaka from the hill behind M&J's house

Hill top posing
As luck would have it it was also the weekend of Warbirds over Wanaka. Held every 2 years it has become a world famous airshow that is prized by enthusiasts because the planes are really flown hard, and the re-enactments of dogfights are held quite close to hand and very enthusiastically portrayed. On speaking to one guy, who had come over from Australia to see it, he explained that New Zealand still had a spirit and wasn't nannified by health and safety like much of the West.

The best my camera could do in this duel between a Sopwith Camel and a Fokker
At this point I had about 3 weeks left before heading to Australia. I plan to crossover to the North Island, which was to take about 2 or 3 days driving, and then have a week or so touring around leaving me a week, approximately, to see friends and arrange shipping in Auckland. I set off from Wanaka and on that day's journey a couple of times the engine started over revving whilst the throttle was closed. I knew diesels could do this after an unfortunate occasion when I had just learn to drive and was thrashing my poor parents ancient diesel Land Rover on a motorway when it started doing this. I can't remember how peace was made once the bill came in for the new gasket and injectors, but it would have probably involved extended duties mucking out cow sheds and the like. Anyway, I digress. This was of course worrying. I had switched to a mixture of 50-50 veg oil and diesel and it was heartbreaking to think that this new engine was going to stop as well. The next day the power seemed to be down a bit, but not convincingly. I pulled up in Reefton in the mid-afternoon to ask about campsites, only not to be able to start her again with the old symptoms of little compression.
Mount Cook at sunset

Rob and Jo on their modern Triumph Thunderbird, Batty and Mirjam, my hostel and dinner companions at Fox Glacier
Mirjam is a 5 year round the world cycling veteran. is her very excellent blog of her adventures.

As I write I am awaiting a new set of rings which should hopefully arrive today. I was put onto this chap called Tony who has an engineering workshop, and he kindly let me do the work there. I was rather pleased with myself when I managed to get the piston out in 2 hours 20 min, but then this unfortunate practice has helped. Tony is proving to be a star locating the piston rings and cleaning things up.
Batty in Reefton Engineering. Tony on the right
He is also of the opinion that modern diesel engines are so much more finely engineered than those of a few years ago, that running fuels that is not very close to the specification that they were designed to use, will cause these sorts of problems....view I have to agree with. It is therefore, heavy heartedly, that I must draw a line under the use of pure vegetable oil in this engine. I'm sure using bio diesel will be fine, and I will try to do that where possible, but for all intents and purposes this is the end of the “vegi” part of the trip. Lots has been learnt and in hindsight there are approaches that could have been made successful, but not ones I can adjust to now. The 1st engine seem to work successfully (15000 miles), the 2nd and now the 3rd are not. It has caused too much delay and anxiety, let alone the cost, to do other than stick to a diluted trip that is at least using one of the most economical vehicles available. Of course it may be that a solution is found, and a contemporary fuel source can be resumed beyond bio diesel, but for the time being I will assume not.