March 18, 2004, 19:40: Christchurch, New Zealand - Base Backpackers
Oh, so New Zealand is actually pretty nice. I got up and walked out to the shop that I was renting the bike from. Surely enough, my transaction for the deposit was declined, and I spent a good half an hour on the phone with Visa, and finally got things straightened out. I got on the bike and I was directed to head towards Akaroa. I had no idea what was in store with this ride. The bike I rented, a Suzuki Bandit 600, felt a bit odd to drive on. There were a few things I wasn't used to. The bike felt a bit taller initially - although I'm sure this is just the seating position, it's far more upright than most bikes I've been on. I started off riding through the city, which quickly became suburbs, and I began up a hill. It wasn't too long before I was well up the hill and got a pretty good view of the city. At this point, my view of the country began to change. This is really a beautiful place, with a green hilly landscape. Lots of hills. LOTS of hills.
Hey, I'm in New Zealand. Oh, that's cool. It appeared I've been admiring the scenery too much when I wound up at an intersection that I had no business being at. The sealed (paved) road I just came from split into two dirt roads. I saw a sign that said a town I was supposed to go to, little river, was only 20 kms away. I had no idea what I was undertaking when I got on this road. New Zealand roads can and will kick your ass. The road started off as just a regular gravel road. After a couple of kilometres, it got reduced to one lane. Neat. After a kilometre or two more, it started getting really windy and going uphill. This was getting a little precarious. At this point, the road conditions started getting marginal, alternating between turns with loads of gravel, and blind corners with huge drop-offs at the edge of the road. I spent a good 15 minutes going around like this, when I began to approach the summit of the hill. This was particularly memorable, as I was in the clouds, and it was awesome watching them blow over the mountain, being just at the level where they began. I took a few photos, but they don't convey what the experience was like.
At this point, I set over the summit, and it dawned on me pretty quickly that for all this crazy uphill stuff, there was bound to be some pretty crazy downhill stuff. I set my eyes up, way up, and got on the brakes. I held the clutch in for a good 5 minutes, and I realized it was futile to have the engine on. I was particularly nervous going down this pitch; it must have been about 20-25 degrees, with patches of loose gravel, and bumps here and there, followed by a crazy blind turn after a few short straight stretches. A few cars passed me going the other way. I saw sheep, and cows, and they saw me as I went ever so slowly by, constantly watching me. "Stupid animals" I thought. My engine had been off for 20 minutes easy by now, just coasting, constantly modulating pressure on the brakes, trying not to go fast at all. I could just imagine what they were thinking - "you stupid animal, what are you doing?”. It was at this point where the road conditions really started sucking, with rows upon rows of bumps alternating with loose gravel and sketchy turns. I thought to myself "stick to the sealed roads", and kept on looking up, in the hopes of not dropping the bike.
I made it down to the sealed road at the bottom, and little river was just a couple of kilometres away. My nerves sufficiently wrecked, I looked for an excuse to get off the bike and walk around for a couple of minutes. Ah, a petrol station, perfect! 120 cents a litre. This was actually a good price, considering this was a rural station. I topped up with $7.50 of gas, and got back on the bike. Alright, stay on the sealed roads. I set off, and within about 45 seconds, a car was approaching directly in my lane... or is it my lane? ARRRGH! I swerved to the left lane, and began repeating to myself "left lane, you idiot!” I wasn't doing so well with the driving today. Awkward bike, crazy roads, fried nerves... This all began to melt away with the road to Akaroa. The conditions on this road were very good, and it had lots of nice twisties alternating between very tight turns, some practically 180-270 degrees and I got a bit better throwing this bike around. It wasn't as bad as it initially seemed, just took some getting used to.
I arrived in Akaroa about 4pm, and much to my chagrin, the restaurants don't usually begin serving food until 5pm. This is bizarre, I'm used to restaurants that serve food when you order it, but nope, it has to be within designated hours here, as the kitchen is closed down for a while. I thought about this for a while... what do the cooks and servers do during the "off" hours? Take some time off to do something for themselves? This concept seemed foreign to me, from my go all the time North American perspective. It was rather refreshing, but I was damn hungry, I hadn't eaten anything all day. I sat down on a bench at the shore and absorbed the sun for a while; it was quite pleasant, very relaxing. I took a quick stroll up and down the main road, and it was 5. I went to a pub and ordered some food, which happened to be worse for you than what I've grown used to over here. Thick garlic bread, a small steak, loads of bacon (bacon is different here - much thicker, and longer strips), onions, an egg, fries, and more garlic bread. Fantastic.
Content all my stress was gone, and realizing the sun would be down quite soon, I took off back for Christchurch. I really began to have fun on the bike at this point, and I've been getting quite comfortable with it. It has roughly the same power as my bike, just delivered in a different way. This was fun. I got back, parked my bike, and here I am at the hostel again. Tomorrow, I will be setting off for Arthur's Pass, which is set in the mountains, and is supposed to have some quite gorgeous scenery. I'm excited to see what further surprises this place has in store.