New Zealand post 29: CONCLUSION
Our trip has effectively come to an end and we are slowly making our way back to Wellington for the long haul home.
On the many busses, trains and ferries we have to toggle together to get there, we pass through quite a few of the places we traversed on our bikes and it sparks many memories as we recognize landmarks particularly meaningful to us – ” That’s where we had our sarmies, huddling out of the wind; this stretch is where we got drenched to the bone; there’s the batty parking lot; here’s where we turned off to the Maungutapa track” …
We also have plenty of time to reflect on the experience in general and on New Zealand in particular.
It’s really hard to fault the place. In general everything operates like clockwork. Every establishment we stayed at, from the cheapest campsite to the most expensive lodge (with the very notable exception of The Royal Hotel in Nelson, which was a total dive), was spotlessly clean & had plenty of hot water with great pressure – of utmost importance to any cyclist!
We never felt under threat to either ourselves or our possessions. In communal-living situations no-one ever touched our stores in the fridge and everyone respected the shared spaces and left them as they would like to find them. There was no raucous behaviour, no loud displays of drunkenness, no aggressiveness, no obnoxious music pounding into the night, no littering, no revelry around the fire, in fact, no fires at all! The campsites were eerily quiet and subdued, with people taking amongst themsleves in hushed tones, but generally avoiding eye contact or interaction with fellow campers. We chatted more to foreign travellers that we did to Kiwis!
Staff were polite and friendly on the whole, though we did find the whole restaurant system most disconcerting. Beyond bringing your order to the table ( if it’s not self serve from a display cabinet), there is effectively very little service at all. In fact, from our experience, there is a definite mediocracy in the service industry. Everyone does their jobs OK and everything works OK, the food’s sort of OK (though no-one asks if you enjoyed it and if you didn’t, and send back a plate still 90% full, they really don’t care). Everyone earns a relatively OK living, as proscribed by law. Tipping is not practiced or encouraged, which in some ways is great, but it means there’s little drive or incentive to do any more than the bare minimum. OK is the name of the game, but any drive towards excellence is markedly missing (with the odd exception, of course). Most places open pretty late and close really early. You’ll be lucky to get dinner after 20h30 even in the bigger towns on a Saturday night! Maybe that’s a good thing – less stress, less fuss, more time to Live? As fairly driven individuals though, schooled in going the extra mile, we found it decidedly odd. Of course, this was only OUR experience. If you are travelling at the very high end of the market, you may well find otherwise, but for your average middle-of-the-roader, we found it just that, average!
Most countries have a signature of sorts, something that stereotypically defines the heart of their collective consciousness. The Italians for example, have passion on a grand scale and are a nation of great appetite and explosiveness. The French are known for their romance, style and superb cuisine. The British are either ridiculously snobby on the one end or thuggishly yobby on the other. The Indians are wildly bright, glittery, jingly and spicy. The Japanese, polite, subdued, refined and delicate. The Ozzies are bawdy, brash and totally un-PC. South Africans are lively, lawless, resilient, expressive, hospitable and full of humour, etc, etc ,etc.
But I struggle to find the pulse of New Zealand. When I ask Steve to put his overall impression of the country into one word, he comes up with “Pretty”. He means it in a good way, but that’s his word. I ask our friends Steve & Dahlene, who’ve been travelling by car for a month. He says
” Sterile”, she says “Wet”. My word is “Bland”. It’s lacking in Gees ( as the Afrikaners would say). It’s hard to put my finger on, because everything’s so perfect, but it’s kind of robotic. I can’t feel the vibe, the heartbeat, the special something that makes it unique and enticing.
(The one exception that comes to mind is the little town of Blackball, which we dubbed Oddball, where all the hand painted anti-poison signs were and we watched the dog races. Here we had some great laughs, some real interaction with the quirky locals and our best meal by far. Funnily, when we mentioned this town to others, we always got a similar reaction, ” Oh yea, those hippies. They’re just anti government!”). An interesting statistic is the suicide rate, which is very high, especially amongst teens. The incidence of family violence is also surprisingly high for a country so seemingly calm on the surface. Makes you wonder about the effects of so much regulation…
As far as bike-packing goes, there is a huge general cycling culture, including commuting, which is great, but we would not really recommend it as a point-to-point destination. The roads are far too treacherous, with little or no shoulder, heavy traffic, including loads of big trucks, busses and RVs and very speedy drivers, who on the whole, are quite hostile towards cyclists. We are not sorry we did what we did, but with hindsight, we may have done it differently – renting a car or camper van and driving to the many awesome mountain bike tracks that abound. They have begun to string these together in places and where they exist, they are phenomenal, safe and well marked, but there are still too many treacherous connectors that cannot be avoided. We managed to get through unscathed, but had some calls that were far too close for comfort. It just takes one…Splat! Game over!
Hopefully they’ll continue expanding the
current bike-packing trail network. If this ran all the way from Picton to Bluff, it would be truly extraordinary.
Last, but not least. I have harped on enough in my blog about the use of 1080 poison placed in traps and spread far and wide by airdrop across the wilderness to kill animals that are considered pests, but I do feel that New Zealanders collectively will have a huge karmic debt to pay for this wholesale cruelty and that it will come back to bite them in the form of long-term damage to the environment it purports to be protecting.
There are 2 very contradictory reports on this from the NZ National Conservation authority on the one hand and animal rights activists on the other. See links below and make up your own mind:
Thanks for following our adventures. Hope you are inspired to undertake some of your own very soon. Until next time…
Carpe Diem, Seize the day!