Day 26-28: Lollygagging in Sydney

That’s right.  I’m slacking off on my writing, which was really by design (I swear).  I’m in Sydney now, which is the one part of my trip where I have no particular agenda.  I’ve been here many times over the past 20 years, and frankly it’s one of my very favorite places on Earth.  I say this not because the temperature outside is a nice 85 F with pretty blue skies while it snows away in the US.  I say it because Sydney is a rare bird of being a very big happening city that’s perched on some of the absolutely best natural real estate on Earth.  

So to lap up all that is Sydney’s glory, I spent Saturday on the walk that never ended (or so it felt).  I’m staying in the Central Business District (CBD), which is close to the Rocks and the Harbor/Opera House/Bridge.  I had done the following death march before, and I was eager to do it again.  Around 11 AM, I marched out the door of my hotel and proceeded to a place on the harbor called Circular Quay.  From there, I basically hugged the harbor into an area known as the Eastern Suburbs, which consists of a bunch of high rising inlets that form bays around the harbor.  There are Potts Point, Double Bay, Rose Bay, etc.  I stuck to the coastline all the way to Watson’s Point, which is on the tip of the entrance to Sydney Harbor.  From there, it was a long walk, alongside monumental cliffs down to the famous Bondi Beach.  The whole trip was about 18 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain, and took me about five hours and change.  I defy anyone to do this walk and not constantly pose hypothetical questions about how they might steal $10 million, move to Sydney, and set up a new life somewhere on this route.  

Having fun with my new MapMyWalk app.  Love it!!!

Having fun with my new MapMyWalk app.  Love it!!!

Why subject myself to such horrifying walking agony?  It is true that by the time I reached Bondi, my feet were on fire despite wearing proper trail shoes. Every time I go on one of these endless hikes, I develop all new respect for infantrymen who must getting really sick of walking places.  Despite the physical toil, this particular walk was so incredibly beautiful that I was again inspired to start weeping at the magnificence of it all.  OK, I didn’t really cry, but if I was more of a crier, I would have.  It was five hours of one amazing vista followed by the next.  Here’s a sampling of the parts of Sydney that I hold most dear…

The justifiably famous Sydney Habour Bridge

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View of Bridge, Opera House and Harbor from Rose Bay/Heritage Trail

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Entrance to Sydney Harbour

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Sydney-Vaucluse Cliff Walk

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Impressive cliffs...

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And impressive, crashing surf...

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And finally, Bondi Beach in all of its teeming glory!  

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I heard once that the reason Australia has so many species of wildlife that can kill you instantly (sharks, spiders, snakes, octopi, jellyfish, and even shells!) is to make up for the fact that it is just that much more beautiful than most other places.  As far as I'm concerned, it's worth the risk!  

Love this place.

Cheers,

Dave

Day 25: Now in Sydney and contemplating why I think New Zealand is so very groovy

Woke up early this morning for my flight from Queenstown to Sydney.  It was nice to have a last drive along the lake on the way to the airport to see New Zealand in all its splendor.  The last nine days in this country were wonderful, even when I was getting rained on and chewed up by irritating sand flies (they really are a brutal bug — ask any seal).  For years, I had heard from friends who had been to New Zealand how much they loved it.  I had a passing notion of what the attraction might be, but to be honest, I mostly thought of sheep on green fields.  Of course, I had also heard about bungie jumping and crazy action sports stuff, but I had no sense really about what all the hubbub was about.  

Now having been there, let me do my best to articulate why I loved it so much…

  1. She’s a hottie:  it’s a really, really, really beautiful country.  You can find examples of the natural environment of NZ in lots of places from the Rockies to jungles to Norway to Big Sur.  What makes NZ particularly wild is that they seem to have it all in a very concentrated place.  The fact that you can walk out of a rain forest onto a beach and look at a snow capped glacier mountain while contemplating fjords just a 100 miles away is pretty unique.  The country has smoldering good looks when it rains, and it’s smoking hot when the sun comes out.  It’s hard to imagine how anyone could just get used to seeing it and take it for granted, but I suppose some people do.  
  2. She begs you to move:  Granted I didn’t have a choice given that I went on an active trip that had me biking my way down the country with a group of like-minded compulsive exercise people.  That said, everywhere I looked people were outside.  These people live to hike, bike, sail, you name it.  Some of the lodges we stayed at didn’t have TV, and the others that did seemed to have a grand total of five stations.  Sedentary endeavors just don’t seem to be the thing in this country, at least in the parts that I saw.  
  3. Really nice people:  Hobbits weren’t known for being particularly welcoming to strangers, but the Kiwi’s most certainly are.  The impression you get from the people you encounter is that they are simply psyched that you chose to fly all over creation to come visit their country.  
  4. Nice wine:  They make quite the tasty Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  
  5. Isolated but connected:  It’s wonderful to be able to visit a place that is so far from everyplace else, yet it all seems familiar.  
  6. Time zones:  This was a funny realization.  NZ is so far ahead of the US on time zones that it’s as though they were running behind.  For example, during the right side of Daylight Savings (i.e., during the NZ summer), you can fly from California to New Zealand and only have to adjust your biological clock by three hours.  Of course, you need to remember that NZ is a day ahead, but that has nothing to do with jet lag.  

Was there anything I didn’t love?

  1. I didn’t see enough.  I didn’t even get to the North Island, and frankly I didn’t see much, if at all, of the east coast.  
  2. Christchurch is still in bad shape.  It’s such a shame the effect that the earthquake had on that storybook city, and it’s still not close to being fully back on its feet.
  3. Internet.  Depending on your point of view, this is a good one or a bad one.  There was squat for connectivity for most of the time on the west coast with spotty cell service. WiFi bandwidth was treated like a precious commodity at every lodge and hotel where they would meter it out 300 MB at a time.  Seriously?  What year is it? 
  4. As noted, sand flies are nasty little bugs.  Get used to wearing Deet.  
  5. It does rain and you are outside.  If you are made of sugar, stay away from the west coast.  You will get wet.  

That’s not much in the negative column.  I would come back here in a NY minute.  

They don't have snow for Christmas, but the Kiwi's make do on spirit...

They don't have snow for Christmas, but the Kiwi's make do on spirit...

Now I’m back in one of my most very favorite cities on planet Earth, Sydney.  

More on that later.

Cheers,

Dave

Day 24: Last full day in New Zealand -- Queenstown

I’m finishing day 9 of the New Zealand bike trip, and I’m on a flight to Sydney tomorrow.  I will reflect more on my overall NZ visit tomorrow (spoiler alert — this country most definitely does not suck).  

Today’s bike trip took us from Wanaka to Cromwell, about 40-50 km short of Queenstown, which Backroads avoids in their itinerary due to heinous traffic on the narrow road into town.  The ride was a lovely 73 km (45 miles) with pretty gentle rollers compared to other days and little to no wind.  The sun was out in full force, and it was a pleasant 75 F.  I really couldn’t ask for a better way to wrap up the trip, particularly as I had my parting shots of…

Yet another beautiful green field disappearing into a backdrop of gorgeous mountains (I’m really going to miss seeing this every day)...

Goodbye pretty mountains!  

Goodbye pretty mountains!  

Plus today’s bonus was getting to ride through a series of NZ vineyards…

Young New Zealand vineyard...

Young New Zealand vineyard...

The ride felt fantastic.  My dogged cycling buddy helped me keep pace throughout the ride.  I may not have mentioned that her day job is a federal law enforcement agent, so she’s pretty much of a bad a$$.  Observing her frightening, single minded focus on completing tasks has convinced me once and for all to avoid a life of crime (or at least in her case, arson).  We made great time, our fastest pace yet, and I felt totally great at the end of the quick 2 1/2 hour ride. Our entire group was rewarded for our last big effort with a lovely lunch at a lovely vineyard (Carrick — nice pinot noir, btw).  

Carrick Winery -- the last lunch

Carrick Winery -- the last lunch

From here it was off to Queenstown where I now type this note.  If the west coast of New Zealand is undeveloped, sparsely inhabited and incredibly rustic/simple, Queenstown is a spitting image of Park City, UT.  During the winter it’s a ski town, and during the warmer months it’s a crazy-person sports town — bungee jumping, hang gliding, sky diving and wide range of other suicidal activities along with trekking and mountain biking.  It is beautifully seated on a very large lake, and it has the vibe that one would expect from a ski town in summer.  While I didn’t see any hackey sack, I suspect there is plenty along with a frightening concentration of places from which to buy a beer.  It is truly a young, outdoors person paradise (or old men and women suffering midlife tremors).  

Queenstown, New Zealand (a fine place to live!)

Queenstown, New Zealand (a fine place to live!)

Here is the full route.  The total route is roughly 692km or about 430 miles.  To be fair, there were a couple of shuttles in here, probably totally about 100 or so km, leading to a total cycling trip of about 575 km give or take.  More important than the distance was the fact that I was able to see very up close and personal so much of the South Island of this beautiful country.  

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I’m looking forward to Sydney, but quite sad to see NZ go.  

Farewell excellent Kiwi people!  

Cheers,

Dave

Day 23: Views from sky and water

Today was a much appreciated break from the cycling action.  There was an option to go on a quick ride this afternoon, but not a single person in our group raised their hands.  Yesterday was plenty for two days.  

Rather, today would be a fairly sedentary, yet extraordinarily beautiful and fun tour of a new part of the South Island, the fjord district on the southwestern coast, more specifically Milford Sound.  Today’s activity took place from morning to early afternoon, consisting of a plane ride, followed by a boat ride followed by a plane ride.  

Flight of the Concords (sorry, couldn’t resist)  

We started in Wanaka aboard a seven seat Cessna at 8:30 AM.  The ably piloted plane (I think!) took us over Lake Wanaka toward the mountain range.  From there, we passed over the Mt. Aspire national park, which is basically a large acreage of mountains, glaciers and trails.  As one could imagine, the view of the snow capped mountains and glaciers from a plane flying at 7K to 8K feet was pretty amazing.  The pilot then took us across and south to the fjord area of the south west coast and nicely tucked us into a tiny, tiny landing strip, ensconced by the high cliffs of the fjord. My vocabulary is not nearly wide or imaginative enough to do the visual impact of the flight justice.  A sampling of photos will have to do…

Our little plane.  Everyone got a window seat.  I got to sit next to the pilot 'cuz I'm a good boy!  

Our little plane.  Everyone got a window seat.  I got to sit next to the pilot 'cuz I'm a good boy!  

View of Lake Wanaka from the sky

View of Lake Wanaka from the sky

Beginning our approach into the fjord

Beginning our approach into the fjord

Navigating through the cliffs...

Navigating through the cliffs...

Two if by sea

As the views flying weren’t enough, we got a second show of the fjord aboard a boat resembling a cross between a party board and a D-Day suitable landing craft.  We started at the most inward point of the fjord and made our way out to the Tasmin sea, hugging the coast line one way and hugging the other side on the way back.  The majesty of these glacier-formed cliffs was pretty humbling aboard our little vessel.  There were waterfalls, seals, penguins and even a couple of dolphins.  We pretty much won the lottery on weather this morning allowing even an artistically impaired person such as myself to shoot some pretty slick snaps…

Pushing off by boat into the fjord toward the sea

Pushing off by boat into the fjord toward the sea

Imposing cliffs...

Imposing cliffs...

with even more imposing cliffs...

with even more imposing cliffs...

Safe for penguins...

Safe for penguins...

and seals too...

and seals too...

Where they can shower in a big waterfall...

Where they can shower in a big waterfall...

or two...

or two...

We had a nice little return trip by plane back to Wanaka, passing over a slightly different part of the New Zealand.  At this point, I had reached visual saturation and could not seem to find the heart to take another 60 pictures.  All-in-all, it was another fine display of the intense beauty of this country.  

Tomorrow is our last day on the bike as we head to Queenstown…

Cheers,

Dave

Day 22: The longest, bestest day

90 miles, 4,700 feet elevation gain, 6 hours and change in the saddle.  

Today (day 7) was designed to be the longest, toughest day of the bike trip.  Backroads had four different options from least painful to most horrific in endurance and climb.  After riding in rain, headwinds and fighting off sand flies, I was getting used to torture.  

The Backroads Leaders painted a picture of a day that could be as challenging as you wanted it to be.  One of them (Dana), possibly the most enthusiastic person on Earth, then exclaimed this morning that “You must feel so lucky to know that you are going to have the best day of your life!!!”  Seriously, this is her world view.  You have to be wired this way to be a Backroads Leader.  They are some of the most competent people I have ever met as well as being among the most optimistic.  It’s kind of their secret sauce.  I on the other hand am most certainly not cut from their rarified cloth.  What was I to do in the face of the boundless positivity?  I was too tired to look for a gun so I put on my big boy pants instead on got on the road.  

In fairness, no one said I had to do the full monty of bicycling pain.  There were numerous options that were much less intense.  I had originally thought that I would do what many do and drop a leg, making the trip only 70 miles.  Some would inevitably (and smartly) opt for even less than that.  Instead, I decided to adopt a strategy where I would simply see how I felt at the end of each of the four legs and go from there.  While I have spent much time on a bike saddle in my life, it has generally been for 45 minute workouts, 50 minute spin classes, and 90 minute quick/fast road rides.  I have never ridden this far or this long, nor have I ever thought of myself as an endurance athlete, hence my trepidation on what would be a very big day for me.  

The four phases of the ride would start in Haast on the West Coast and end at Wanaka, over the mountain range and at the southern tip of a large interior lake, not too terribly far from Queenstown.  Total potential travel distance would be 146 km.  The phases were broken down as follows:

1.  Haast to Pleasant Flat:  46 km with flat terrain with periodic rollers.  We started at 8:30 AM and were off to the races.  It was still a little chilly on the coast, but there was much more to focus on than the temperature.  We were still on the west of the mountain range close to the West Coast and Tasmin Sea.  I was reminded one last time of the uniqueness of this part of New Zealand where you can see rain forest and snow capped mountains all at the same time.  

Morning view from the road to Haast Pass

Morning view from the road to Haast Pass

2.  Pleasant Flat to Makarora:  34 km including a 10 km climb over the Southern Alps pass known as Haast Pass.  This pass has a long history as a trading route for the Maori coming from the coast to trade with the interior towns.  It is now known as a very, very steep hill for cyclists and for good reasons, particularly a 2 km 15 degree climb.  Ouch.  I knew I would do this leg because I would consider myself a big wimp if I didn’t.  The pass itself is a little anticlimactic as it is in the midst of a bunch of trees, however, they do have a fairly tiny celebratory sign to mark the victory of the climb.  Better than the sign was the way-fast downhill that barreled me into the town of Makarora.  

Haast Pass in all of its glory!

Haast Pass in all of its glory!

3.  Makarora to Lake Hawea Lookout:  36 km with many, many, many hills.  I kind of had to do this one as the scenery was supposed to be mind blowing, and I was feeling pretty good even after the big mountain pass climb.  In truth, the scenery was indeed disturbingly beautiful.  It gave the first view of Lake Wanaka followed by Lake Hawea, both large, freaky blue lakes that sandwich the road.  Rose bushes, sheep, mountain flowers, and beautiful vistas abounded.  At one point, I was so overloaded by the beauty of it all that I seriously considered stopping my bike and weeping.  Ride-wise, there were two particularly nasty climbs at the end, and I would have been justified throwing the towel.  Oddly, I was starting to feel more energetic, not less.  Weird.  

Lake Hawea, first big view

Lake Hawea, first big view

Lake Wanaka, first sighting....

Lake Wanaka, first sighting....

4.  Lake Hawea Lookout to Wanaka (destination):  30 km with rollers including a couple that just bugged me to no end.  At this point, I had to go the full distance.  I still had juice in my legs and my body was much less sore than I thought would be the case.  My cycling buddy and I arrived just before 4 PM.  I don’t think either one of us had much left, but we were both in a surprisingly good shape.  

Destination Wanaka!

Destination Wanaka!

So, what got me through?  Honestly, today was the most perfect of cycling days:  

  • Beautiful, sunny skies
  • Dry temps in the 60’s/70’s
  • Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen
  • Not insignificantly, we finally got a nice little tail wind

And yes, Dana, it was one of the best days of my life.  It was certainly the best cycling day.  

Cheers,

Dave