November 1, 2009 - January 10, 2010
We spent a very pleasent ten weeks in a suburb of Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand's South Island. We rented a house from an American family who were going back to the States for a semester. At the end of our stay in Christchurch we were two bikes and a van richer and ready to set off and explore the rest of the South Island before finally crossing the narrows between North and South islands to stay with our friend Virginia in North Island before driving on up to Auckland, selling the van, selling the bikes, and flying off to Japan.
The house we rented was in a beach town 12 kms south of Christchurch called Sumner. It had a village feel to it although of course it was in reality just one part of metropolitan Christchurch. The beach was not much to write home about, but the ocean was wonderful, always atmospheric and moody with lots of waves and wind. It was very popular therefore with wind- and kite-surfers. There was a great coast-hugging road that took you from Sumner north into the city and it made a very bracing bike ride with the wind either knocking you sideways off your bike, urging you on to great forward speed, or blowing like a solid wall in front of you making you work double hard to make any progress at all. The real tough Kiwi cyclists, of course, thought nothing of the wind. They were more interested in the hills, which really separated the men from the boys -- or the women from the girls. My dentist in Sumner was a 20-something woman, who told me she liked nothing better in the morning than getting up at six to go ride her bike over the hill to Lyttleton Harbor and back before starting work. You'll perhaps understand what that means when I tell you that our Nissan Serena Van had trouble getting up and over that hill!!
Since we arrived in Christchurch in November, it wasn't surprising that as Thanksgiving approached we tried to find out if there was an American club around. There was, and it was very active, and we attended three different club-sponsored events and best of all made good friends of the club's secretary. With the American Club, we spent a very nice pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner and a farewell pot-luck picnic for an American family moving back to the States from a four-year stint in New Zealand, and last but not least, we got to visit the base of operations in Christchurch for the American flyers that supply the Antarctic research base. We got to climb aboard their supply plane and chat to various crew members about their work. Gerry came away with the T-shirt to prove it.
We acquired our first bike in mid-December when we bought the Serena. It had to be Jan's bike, because Gerry had injured his right knee at the end of our stay in Paris and the darned thing was taking an age to heal. For that reason, we were very happy to be able to sit in the Sumner house and while away the days. The temperature was a bit cooler than we would have preferred, but as there was lots of sunshine, we didn't really mind at all. Gerry was just starting to get on the bike again as Christmas rolled around and so he picked up a cheap new bike in the pre-Christmas sales at K-mart. We added bike racks to both bikes at the second-hand bike shop on the main road into Christchurch. We had already ruled out biking around the South Island. Given Gerry's injury, the hilly terrain that pre- dominates, and the distances between places to stay, we didn't think we were in the kind of shape you needed to be and we didn't want to have to carry a tent. But we still thought we might do a multi-day ride, perhaps on the old railway right-of-way near Alexandra that is known as the Rail Trail. The racks would make that possible.
Jan had been working fairly hard to get back into shape on the bike. By the time we left, she was fit enough to ride the 12kms into town and back with no difficulty. Nothing compared to what real bikers do, but with months of inactivity behind her, she was pleased with her progress. Sadly that was not to continue, because we didn't find too many opportunities to ride the bikes during our trip. We carried the bikes inside the van, which necessitated removing the front wheel from each bike. That in turn meant of course that it wasn't easy to decide to take a ride on the spur of the moment. In the end, we only rode the bike in places where we stayed for at least three days, to make the effort of unpacking and repacking worthwhile.