The Lallys literally drove the road from Pureora Forest Park at the end of the Timber Trail, to Wellington - New Zealand’s capital city - in a strange state of ecstasy. Never had the family known such a high.
It was strange to be so happy because really we only completed the first leg of the track. As cyclists, the Timber Trail had defeated us (see part 1 and part 2 of this challenging adventure) – and we were all disappointed not to continue. Especially as that second section is meant to be much easier than the first, so we basically had put most of the hard work behind us.
But we had learned a lot about cycling off road in New Zealand on that first day. There really is a reason why the bike packing market exists. The gear is awesome and maybe even lifesaving. It allows you to go for miles and miles across deep bush lands and survive for weeks at a time. Next visit we would definitely invest in this capacity to hole up and create home at any point. Especially with a child, to be honest. But even with fit adults, accidents can happen out there on the trail, and its good to have back up for what might go wrong.
Also, we saw that a whole industry exists that transports cycle tourists and their gear from point to point along the trail. So for example, had we had the foresight we could have booked passage back to our car and tent from a trail taxi company set up to do just this. We would have pre-arranged a pick up point and not needed Martin from Taranaki to come to our rescue. These cycle taxi companies will also transport all your gear too if you want them to, meeting you at points along the trail that you have pre-booked with them. It all costs of course. (And everything costs a lot in New Zealand.)
But we decided we had done enough and learned enough at this point. We resolved that we would have to come back and cover the whole trail at some point in the future. And next time we would have done some training beforehand, and also have much better bikes – suspension of some sort would have made a massive difference to us. As would tyres that actually gripped, of course. The whole thing, really, we would do differently. Well, we will do differently. Timber Trail we ain’t over with you yet!
But as we drove South, as a family we realised the whole experience had brought us very close. We’d got through something major together – and all the normal bickering and fights had fallen away. We all three of us had had moments where we’d needed support. We’d all three of us had to show leadership – even our nine year old.
And so we drove into Wellington in a state of heightened awareness. You could say it was one of the best days of our family life to date. We crossed huge and rapidly changing landscapes. Mount Ruapeho loomed large in the distance with its snow covered peaks. “Is that a live volcano?” asked Oak. We ate ice creams and blueberries, and baskets of fresh avocadoes. Oak whinged for a Big Mac and, much to Sean’s horror, Julia actually bought him one. And then everyone was relieved when Oak threw it up and told us he would never, ever eat a Big Mac again because it tasted like crap.
When we finally reached Wellington the sun was high in the sky, and so was the wind. A unique and compelling city awaited us. A city with an enthusiastic cycling scene – both road and mountain bike.
Wellington is amazing. It’s arty, it’s funky, it has plenty of artisan coffee shops, lots of raw cacao bars with edible flowers, and masses of street art.
Wellington Street Art
The museum Te Papa is truly wonderful and we spent days and days revisiting and wandering around its exhibitions for free. Most notably the earthquake room in which we were subjected to the feeling of a massive quake. We were right on the fault line now, and the possibility of earthquake was real, as were the conversations about earthquakes which took place frequently.
Our hosts in Wellington introduced us to the earthquake website Geonet – and for a moment when you realise that there is literally an earthquake of varying intensity happening in New Zealand virtually all the time, well then the paranoia can set in. Our hosts had told us how the recent earthquake in Kaikoura had woken them up and the strength of it had made it impossible for them to walk across the room, even at 500km away. When you think about that, approximately the distance between Devon and London, you realise what an enormous and traumatic event it must have been to have lived through such a thing in Kaikoura itself.
Wellington remains, as ever it will do, right band slap in the middle of a fault line. It’s only a matter of time until a severe earthquake hits the city. And the sense of this does lend a certain “live for today” feel to the place. It’s a city on the edge. On the edge of the North Island. And on the edge of possibly falling down.
Much like our tent to be honest. Which had by now be subject to Wellington weather and did not have the heart to stand against it. Plus, it turned out that our son Oak had not thrown up because of the Big Mac. He had some kind of nasty bug. Which we realised when he woke up in the middle of the night and threw up violently all over his sleeping bag. Blimey. Have you ever tried to clean such a sleeping bag?
The challenges were coming thick and fast.
Perhaps because of this, we really didn’t have the heart to take on any cycling in a big way. Wellington is known for it’s wind. And wind, let’s face it, is never the friend of a cyclist. Unless it’s behind them.
We did take a few hikes up into the trails in the mountains around the city, however. You can see how this is a great city for a mountain biker. It doesn’t take long to get up into the hills with some great, sweeping vistas across the city and the Cook Strait beyond. Shame about the weather then, is all we can say about Wellington. Shame about the weather.