Back on track

Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010. 9:26 PM
Daisybank, Otago, New Zealand

Yay, I’m cycling again! And writing, two days in a row for once, from outside a village that’s actually called Daisybank, and I’m happy to report banks lined with red growth, but these fresh water plants aren’t daisies. I’m at perhaps the sweetest camping spot EVER, and it all feels so right.

I did do a ride last week out to the albatross colony at the tip of the Otago Peninsula, but it was only a day ride, hailed by Lonely Planet’s Cycling NZ book (Nov’09) as the best ride in the country, AND I cheated, taking a lift up with some friends and skipping at the “spirit-crushing” 13km uphill, and enjoying the sweeeeeeet views and wind in my dreads for long downhill return into Dunedin. I also saw THE coolest sheep yet: about 25 black and white calico in one field, then THE biggest flusters in the next field, so close-up that I got to see these microwaved marshmallow boundin’ away (as the all do, scaredy-sheep!) in magnificent detail. I rather like cheating when the occasion is right, and it was, not to mention I did clock over 65k anyhow. After two months without a serious ride, it was a superb ice-breaker.

The Central Otago Rail Trail IS awesome, as I’ve heard from SO many people. It’s a popular ride, and I did see many cyclists today, but really it wasn’t bad at all. Surprisingly, most of them are pretty old, which made me feel pretty young! They’d say things like “oh you’re young and fit and can easily reach Hyde today”, which I did and then some. While it’s pretty flat, (as it was a railway track not too long ago), it reaches it highest altitude 1/2 way through the four-day ride, so the first two days are an easy uphill, the second an easier downhill. But as I say, there’s never an easy day on the bike, and the rail trail has its challenging conditions as well: It’s a gravel path, so it’s slow-going (I averaged only 12km/hr) and a little dangerous (I heard many people fall and get all scraped up); there’s often a mean head-wind, which is often the case most anywhere in New Zealand; and finally it’s blazing hot with little or no shade, so you bake. It’s a dry heat though, and after cold and damp Dunedin (only an hour’s drive away), it really feels like summer again.

When I found this campground, I exercised my favorite new pastime, which is stripping naked and jumping in the stream. All clean, I rinsed out my clothes and put them out to dry in the sun, which they did in a matter of 30 minutes. Luckily, I hung my clothes on a fallen tree which was none other than that magic juicy red wood (… I forget …) that you buy for fire-starting, so I snapped off a couple dead branches and made a fire in a small rock circle by the river. I was starving, so a big pasta dinner was in order, with a little salad of freshly-picked chard mixed-in, which I picked some ‘samples’ of in the fields alongside the trail. It took me a record 1 minute to get a good fire going, and I was chowing 1st dinner in no time. (I made enough to eat again 2 hours later, as I knew I’d want to!) Exploring the region a little, I found the sweetest place to pitch my tent, an embankment just beside the gurgling river, lined with moss and pretty red algae, opposite the craggy rock faces, which someone had set-up like a camouflage bunker, surrounded by a wall of fallen tree branches and brush. So happy to camp without the rain-fly for once, I was excited for bedtime. (I can see the stars above, and for 10pm it’s still warm enough to wear shorts and tee :) I took a walk and found some sheep just over the hill, which I watched for a while, along with the sun setting in one direction and the moon rising in the other. The light is really brilliant here, so soft and pastel after the daytime blaze. I ran out of water, so I got a chance to use my new methylated gas stove (which is sort of like a refillable sterno can) which is, in my opinion, more eco-friendly than the propane cookers with the canister waste, albeit a slower option. It uses this purple gas which is like rubbing alcohol, which you can buy in any hardware or general store.) As I write from my rock and railway steel desk (it’s quite perfectly set-up here eh!) my quiet little boiler is flickering away, and I just heard a rustling, so I went over and petted a timid little hedgehog, playing dead with not-so-sharp quills alert. Yes it’s all quite neat.

I love camping!! It really feels like I’m on vacation, which is funny for obvious reasons. I want to write about Dunedin, but I think it’s sleepy time now. I want an early start, to beat the heat so I can hopefully find a great camp spot again to while away the afternoon. I feel like reading my Australian book… perhaps that’ll be the next jump. Although there are many possibilities marinating. This is too fun, goodnight!

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