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New Zealand Flashback

It is icky and grey out, and I have a non BPA Nalgene bottle in my lap with tea inside, so first it’s a hot water bottle, and then a cozy drink. So let’s all think back to this southern summer, when long sleeves seemed like overkill and surprise beaches cropped up out of nowhere, and made a pretty good day even better.

Hunts Beach, South Island, New Zealand (north of Bruce Bay)
hunts beach

I had plans. Well, to say I had plans is an overstatement. I had a generalized idea that I would follow a messy U shape roughly from Greymouth back down and around up to Oamaru on my cycling trip in New Zealand. I would pedal until I couldn’t pedal anymore, until I saw something beautiful, or until night fell.

What I didn’t count on was the scarcity of lodging. It’s not so much that lodging is scarce (boy, I’m just a study in contradictions today!) so much as it is that the weather is at its loveliest on the South Island (by which I mean the winds are not strong enough to knock over your campervan, and the rains are just intermittent, not constant) during a very short period of time, much of which is during January and February, so everyone and their brother is out and about in the South Island during that time. Loads of Kiwis, Europeans of every stripe, more Chinese people than I would have expected, people from India, the occasional American, etc. And these people? Apparently they like to sleep! In places! Which made my life a teensy bit more complicated than I would have anticipated.

I had spent a couple of days at Franz Josef, because it’s got this giant glacier you might have heard of, a whole lot of birdsong, nice walks, a Whistler-like feel to the town, a very overpriced but decent supermarket, and also because I just needed some rest. And I sat down with the hostel manager to have him look at the map with me, and announced my desire to stop at Lake Paringa the next day. (Lake Paringa is said without the hard G sound, paring-a, not par-inga, if you were wondering. Troublingly, Tonga is also pronounced this way Tong-a, not T onga. Tune in tomorrow for more stuff I didn’t know)

After pointing out where the really bad uphills were (everywhere, it turns out, including the three spires of doom between Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers), he asked me if I’d called ahead to Lake Paringa to see if they had space. Call a lake? Sounded kooky, but if he told me it had to be done, well, then, it had to be done. He took care of calling the lake for me, and despite his adorable Kiwi accent, there was no space to be found. Continuing past the lake was going to make my day too long, and so instead he offered to see if they had a spot for me someplace along the way.

I was annoyed about having to cut short a day, thinking of the almighty kilometer, and how much I enjoyed watching those numbers go up and up, and how dejected and tiny I would feel at having a low-kilometer day because long-distance cycling is largely psychological, and I was just rested enough with two days of hiking instead of biking to view a short day as a punishment, rather than a reward.

But cycling being what it is, I was able to pull out a smile for the ride, even though the viewpoint to Fox Glacier was a five km surprise uphill (not the kind of surprise anyone likes), and the spires of doom were quite doomy. And then the ride rolled out before me, a giant ribbon of asphalt, the painted dividing lines shimmering in the bright sun. Sun! on the South Island! It was spectacular.

Fox Glacier
surprise! 5km uphill through a subtropical rainforest. Sweaty!

And I arrived, to the place the hostel manager had recommended (Pine Grove Motel, population, three) and it was early, maybe 4 PM, and I’d have happily pedaled out to Lake Paringa, but then I’d have to pedal back again, and it seemed not all was well in the sitting portion, and I decided to shower, eat and wander.

Which is how I ended up on this beach, which I had nearly completely to myself, except for a woman who approached me and said, “You the lady on the pushbike?” Which I had to think about for a minute, because truth be told, I’m not much of a lady, and pushbike is something we don’t say in my neck of the woods. And also, there must not be much news about if someone finds me worthy of gossiping about.

But in the meantime I just had to sit. And to walk. And to take pictures and enjoy the occasional dog that showed up and chased my birds away. And it was exactly what I needed, to take some time to be awake and not on the bike, so thanks hostel guy, and thanks motel owners and thanks ornithologists who listened to my poor-quality birdsong recordings and told me what they were over breakfast the next morning.

and here’s the happy dog:

dog on hunts beach

and the bird it was chasing (not quite so happy):

escaping bird

And I saw this rock and its squiggly lines:

use your imagination

and this crazy, oversized, gilligan’s island-esque mussel

giant mussel, hunts beach

And I stood in the water and looked back to where I’d come from:

view from hunts beach

and wondered where the troll who this hair belonged to had run off to:

strange troll hair on hunts beach

and mused at the mysterious lack of apostrophe in this place name.

hunts beach

and I got back and had dinner, and still had time to catch this:

Pine grove motel

I may have missed Lake Paringa, but I found a new secret spot in New Zealand just for me, a dog and a woman who asked me if I was the lady with the pushbike. And a hundred million sandflies, some of whom may no longer be with us, if you get my drift.