Wednesday, 27 February 2013

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Antarctica Starts here

The ride took me beside the bleak southern coast. I imagine Antarctica a thousand miles or so across the ocean. The trees here were twisted by the prevailing winds into sculptures; the tree in the photograph is a Podocarp an ancient type of Pine tree.

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Whilst I was stopped I was overtaken by a cowman and a couple of young hands driving a herd along the road. They were doing this on small motor-bikes. I chatted to the ruddy-faced old man for about half-an-hour, mostly about the bleakness of the winters down here.

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Later on I arrived in the small town of Riverton and managed to locate Jo's Uncle Graham. I had the temerity to knock on his door and explain who I was. He kindly invited me in for a cup of tea and some bread and jam. I stayed chatting for an hour or so, about his family and England and about Rugby too.

After this the traffic gradually got worse as I approached Invercargill. I was shocked after riding riding a couple of weeks along the quietest roads. The town was also remarkably flat and featureless; it was also Americanised to the extent of fast-food places and car-dealerships on the edge of town. I treated myself to a meal in a restaurant and found a rather tacky motel to stay the night in. The only consolation was that a group of vintage car enthusiasts were staying at the same place. The cars from the US and of a 30's and 40's vintage. They were all immaculately preserved and yet were being driven around the back-roads and even on some dirt roads that I would have been reluctant to take my bike on.

Dunedin with Albatross and Penguins

The bleakness of the town, the business of the main road to Dunedin and the description of the road - unmade and lonely - made the decision to catch the train an easy one. So I had to get up early to catch the 'Southerner'; a train that runs once a day to Christchurch. At the station, a fabulous building, I met another cyclist, from Alaska, who was also keen to leave Invercargill. It was a three hour ride to Dunedin on a tiny three carriage train with comfortable sheepskin covers on the seats. It reminded me of the Cross-Pennine train from Sheffield to Manchester.

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Passenger trains no longer run from Invercargill via Dunedin to Christchurch though the line is still used for freight.

Dunedin is a town with far more character than Invercargill. After finding the tourist information place I found a vegetarian cafe and another cyclist to chat to. I planned to cycle out to the Otago Peninsular and visit the wild-life colonies out there, but was struck by ferocious headwinds as I circled the bay and estimated I wouldn't have time to get there and back before nightfall. I therefore found myself somewhere to stay, a smart little motel, and rode back into town, without my panniers of course, to try and get on one of the afternoon minibus tours that go out.

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I just managed this by the kindness of the staff at the tourist place telephoning a tour that had already left but who were spending the first hour at a local museum. They came and picked me up. About eight of us were then driven out to visit the seal colony. We watched these for a while and then went to see the Albatrosses. These are the only Albatrosses to next n the mainland anywhere in the world and we watched them from a specially built study-centre and hide. Only one nesting chick and mother remained (it was the end of the season), though we did manage to get a good close view of these giant birds. The wing-span is about 11 feet!

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After that we were taken to a bay where the Yellow-eyed Penguin come ashore every night to roost in the sand-dunes. We had to stay a fair distance from them but we could see them surfing in, hopping out of the waves, and then waddling up the beach. One actually walked about six feet from Us! We then moved down to the nesting area and walked through a maze of trenches (like the First World War ones) to observe various individuals. One had stood motionless for a month or so to moult. Apparently these birds like to nest under small bushes and several A shaped constructions had been prepared for them. The biggest problem is feral cats stealing the chicks and surfers using the bay; this makes the birds apprehensive about entering and leaving the water to feed.

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When we returned to town I found that someone had stolen my bicycle pump! My fault for leaving it exposed I suppose; luckily this was the only item that was ever stolen from me on the whole trip. In the evening I ordered some take-away pizza and watched some television.

A Walk around Town

I spent the next day wandering around town, bought a new telescopic pump that fits into my handlebar bag. I also bought a new T-shirt. I finally posted all the stuff I'd bought in Te Anau and other stuff that I didn't need I sent back to Jo in Wellington; including my Walkman and Tapes. In the afternoon I walked through the Botanical Gardens and the University. It seemed to be freshers week. I was disappointed that I would be unable to go to the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory for a tour as it was fully booked.

In the evening I strolled along the wide empty St. Kilda's beach.