Thursday, May 1, 2008


Hokitika to Arthur’s Pass - The last day
We returned to the Café de Paris for breakfast today. They have great coffee and crepes that were stacked with apple slices and bacon between. They don’t use the maple syrup that we use but a Golden Syrup which is much lighter and less sweet. Yum, two cups of the most frothy cappuccino I’ve ever had and I was flying.

The morning’s ride was on a country road by a lake. There was very little traffic but many curves, and although the description was “undulating” - we felt that it was more “undulating up”. I felt cheated on the downhills, which seemed altogether way too short, given the amount of time needed to go up them.

Along the way we passed abandoned machinery - a boiler, cog wheel, and pistons that were left over from the gold mining days that the area was known for. Great excuse to stop for a water slurp and a sugar fix while admiring the plants growing out of the boiler. Picture time! (Every picture means I can stop to breathe deep, drink water, and give my thighs a chance to relax. Let’s see --- I have about 1,000 pictures. )

With some reluctance our ride ended and we headed off to lunch at an old time saloon with a great view of the mountains from the front porch. Even though it was a little cool, we sat outside and munched on whitebait sandwiches and soup. Whitebait is a little tiny fish that is scooped out of the sea in a net and mixed with an egg batter and sautéed like a pancake. It’s served on white bread and is rather bland. Could be an acquired taste.

Soon we were off in the van, headed to Arthur’s Pass and the Trans Alpine Train. The road made steep sharp turns as it climbed up and up. We were incredulous that Brooke was actually riding this road, which was very, very narrow with little or no shoulder. A car going too fast around one of those hairpin turns would take him out. Up over the pass we went and then down to the other side and the little town of Arthur’s Pass. There we spotted Brooke outside a cafe, just finishing lunch and looking fresh as a daisy in spite of the grueling ride. (Must be those thunder thighs.) He was suffering from post-ride high, that temporary euphoria one gets from an adrenaline infused rush of energy that gives you the final boost you need to make it to the top and then free-ride down the other side at speeds upwards of 70kph. His eyes were wide open as he described the ride, one of the best he’d ever experienced. (Caution: Don’t try this at home. This ride is for experienced professionals only. Consult your local bike tour guide for professional advice.)

The Trans Alpine Train is a scenic journey through the heart of the South Island, starting in Greymouth and ending in Christchurch, a four hour ride. Arthur’s Pass is midway in the route, but the views from the train were nonstop panoramas, first of mountains, snow, tunnels, and gorges and then leaving that behind to traverse the plains dotted with sheep and cows. Even though the constant motion of the train was soporific and we were all a bit tired, we chattered the entire way to Christchurch (no doubt to the annoyance of the other passengers who were all very quiet). The train has a “viewing platform”, basically an empty car with no windows where you can stand and take pictures. The wind rushes by making it very cold and very noisy. And there didn’t seem to be any shock absorbers on that car, so just maintaining balance was a real trick. Taking pictures? Ha! Just try to focus on a target moving at 100kph while you’re bouncing up and down. And yet the car was full of us crazies trying to immortalize the fleeting view as we jockeyed for position. Honestly, paparazzi to the mountains!

If taking pictures in the freezing air isn’t your thing, there is a bar car serving light fare, beer, wine and bubbly. And although you could pass the time reading or playing cards (there are booths in some of the cars), you will end up distracted by the scenery outside. On our trip, there was a gorgeous sunset and an almost full moon to mark the end of a challenging adventure that forged thighs of steel and relationships and memories to last a lifetime.

We pulled into Christchurch where we were met by Tim, the operations guru, who handed me a DHL envelope containing the needed proof of my existence. Behind the scenes, Tim had been corresponding with my husband to receive the courier package I needed to get a new passport in Auckland. I was instantly relieved but at the same time wary. If something were to happen to this envelope’s contents (my birth certificate, prior passport, photocopy of another passport and much needed money) I might not only truly be without a country, but I may cease to exist as well! From that moment on it never left me. I even slept with it under my pillow at the X Base Hostel in Christchurch, which was crowded for the Anzac weekend holiday.

Once I checked in at X Base I headed out to dinner with a young attorney from Sydney, Katie. From her I learned that all of the new hires at her firm work for about 6 months and then leave for about 6 months for an overseas experience (O/E) of their choosing. Some go to the firms overseas branches to work, others just travel overseas, but they all go back to the firm having had a travel experience. Brilliant idea! They bring back new perspectives, a more mature outlook and a less restless demeanor. This is a very common pathway in Europe and Australasia I have found from talking to so many recent graduates.

Of course we also talked about girl stuff. She was going to visit an old school chum who was engaged to a guy that she didn’t like and thought was manipulative. We explored all the possibilities of that relationship and the visit, and an entire soap opera unfolded before me. I admit I was hooked. I wanted to hear how the story ended and whether the girl married the guy in the end. Katie? Are you listening? What happened? I like happy endings!

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors………..
This is the commercial where I’m going to tell you about these various tour companies so you can book your own unforgettable adventure.

Ultimate Hikes New Zealand
Guided hikes of the Milford Track or the Routeburn Track
Phone: +64 3-442-8200

Adventure South Ltd.
Guided hiking or biking tours of New Zealand or Viet Nam
Phone: +64 3-942-1222

And Brooke and Pam also have their own tour company in Colorado
Dream Cycle Tours
Phone: 719-473-3110

But don’t go away………..Mrs. Q isn’t home yet and there are more adventures to come.

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