The Northern Island of NZ: Hospitality with a capital H

Feeling a bit sorry we had to leave the Southern Island behind after all those good moments and memories… we just couldn’t believe that it could get any better than that. Impossible we thought! But we both had a very good reason for this departure: we had to catch our plane in Auckland. In the end. It was all based on one big coincidence; but we were leaving this country in exactly the same weekend. For now, we had two weeks left and I can tell you: a hell of a lot kilometers to go. And besides looking forward to this big bikeride, I guess I didn’t have any expectations for the Norhern Island, so far. There were several people on the way that told me that the beauty of the Northern Island is nothing compared to the Southern Island. They tell you: the nature in the Southern Island is so much more impressive and overwhelming that you must be prepared for a bit of a disappointment arriving in this Northern part.
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But I can tell you: they were wrong!

It was the 14th of January when we managed to cycle all the way up to Picton, just right in time to catch the last ferry to Wellington. 10 o’clock in the evening it was, and with a view like this, all I can say; after all, it’s not so bad! We waved the Southern Island goodbye and without any idea of what was there waiting for us, we arrived in Wellington just in the middle of the night. Yes, in the MIDDLE of the night. Picture this: two sleepy cyclist in the heart of this big city. And then what? Well just what everybody should do in the middle of a night; find a place to sleep. And the good news was: this big city was already a bit asleep itself. No people, no traffic. Excellent! We took a look around, and pitched our sleepingbags in this perfect hidden spot next to he road. Just like that? Just like that!

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And a new chapter of this adventure was born.

Normally I would show you the pictures of a country and they would tell you the story. This time I decided to tell you two stories so you can picture the country… Just because this time I believe that only the pictures of the most beautiful parts of the Northern Island weren’t able to show you the true beauty of this place: the people that live in there.

But maybe just one, to give you an impression of how beautiful is was:

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Or two: just to show you how BEAUTIFUL it was:

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Cycling is this magical surrounding made me feel like cycling in a little ferry tale. I felt so lucky that we’ve found this little road to get us from Masterton up to Napier, so we were able to avoid the big roads for the next couple of days. No big trucks, no huge amount of cars. Just two happy cyclist surrounded by the best parts of nature which were without a doubt absolutely stunning. Like it should be. The hills looked like they were covered with gold. With their shapes that looked like a piece of art, designed by the best sculptors. And then there were this tiny little rivers, with those old trees, a lot of colorful flowers, some cows and some sheep. I take that back: a lot of sheep. And then like once in a while a little house or a farm. Like really once in a while. Like, once in….. a while.

So we decided: better safe then sorry, let’s keep our eyes open, and see if there’s a place where we can fill our water bottles, just before it gets dark. Finding a place to camp wouldn’t be a problem in an area like this. But finding some water could be a bit more challenging. So at the first house we noticed: we stopped. And that’s where this first story begins.

STORY ONE: HOW I ENDED UP CYCLING WITH THIS MASSIVE FLOWER ON MY BIKE

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Just this one question changed our journey: “Could we maybe fill our water bottles?”. We looked at this lady with the eyes of two thirsty cyclist, so who would say no to that? “Why don’t you just stay here tonight?” was her answer to this question. Come in she said, and she showed us the room. Sightly hesitating and a bit confused, we entered the house. These two cyclist felt commited to cycle some more kilometers, as we were on this mission to get to Auckland, remember? But this lady was very convinced. “So where were you heading to?'”, she asked. “Alfredton”, we said. “Well” , she said, “there’s absolutely nothing to find in Alfredton!”. “You better stay with us”. And so we did.

Tomorrow we will make a very early start and have a full-on day on our bicycles, we told ourselves.

Rosemary was her name. She is the kind of lady that is very straightforward and very friendly at the same time. She loves to ride a moter bike. And so does Bill. Her husband. Bill is the kind of man that might look like this tough-moter-bike-man at first side, but if you take a closer look you can see his eyes that are just full of kindness. In the end; he was the one that climbed up this big tree to get me a flower! So now we all know: this Bill is a good man.

Rosemary showed us around, we got ourselves a quick shower, a beer, and a very nice meal in the end. At least that’s what we thought, being two hungry cyclist, we fully appreciated our diner together. But Rosemary wasn’t so sure about that. She kept telling us what a shame it was that she didn’t know about our visit. Otherwise she would have made us a real roasted lamb. One of the most traditional NZ dishes.

Well, what we all didn’t know this evening is that we would have this very nice meal just the very next day.

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Just like that! So Bill is not only into moter bikes and flowers, he is also very good in cooking meat: our roasted lamb.

So what happened?

Well. Just when we arrived, Rosemary told us, that it would be a bit of a shame to leave this place without a visit to this magical beach that was just half an hour drive from their home. Keith and I just looked at each other, and it didn’t take so much time to decide that we should all go to this magical place just before we would continue cycling. Both believing that you must stay open for any good suggestions on the way. So we thought; let’s go to this beach in the early morning and then take of after lunchtime and all will be fine. “No worries”, said Rosemary, “we will wake you up in the early morning, then go to the beach, have a very nice lunch together and you’ll be back on your bike at lunchtime”.

But then this just one tiny thing changed this story.

It was Saturday morning, I opened my eyes and immediately felt that something was wrong. I felt way to rested… We didn’t set up any alarm because normally we wake up when the sun rises and the birds start to sing. Especially Keith being this early bird that he is. Only one tiny detail was different from all other times waking up: we were in this massive bed that felt like heaven so soft…

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… and we closed our windows for the mosquito’s. No sunlight and way to tired to mention the birds… And Rosemary? She just decided not to wake us up. “If they are still sleeping, it means that they need their rest”  she thought… Well, I thought, I could sleep for a week if I would listen to that! So we woke up at 10 o’ clock in the morning. Not exactly what we had in mind with an early start…

What to do?

Decide to skip the beach and leave in a hurry? Or now just enjoy the fact that we are really rested? I guess the only wise thing to do: we choose the second option and we went to the beach:

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And it was beautiful!

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So Rosemary and Bill showed us around.What a day! As you can see; even on this picture: we still look a bit sleepy! What a rest we had!

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But after a fresh splash in the ocean we felt a bit more alive and kicking. See; the energy is getting back!

And to finish this morning we celebrated the day the only right way: with an ice cream. At least we thought it was the end of the morning, in reality (of course) it was already halfway the day.. Riding back home we made a little stop at the supermarket. Are you sure you don’t want to stay for diner, Rosemary asked with a big smile on her face? We looked at each other, again, and we realized, getting back on our bike in the middle of the day wouldn’t be a very good idea. So again, we already knew, there was only one right thing to do: let’s stay and just enjoy this day.

And so we did.

Not even we enjoyed this perfect meal together. Bill also showed us around at the farm. So this little farm girl felt really like home: feeding the pigs!

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And the sheep, yes also this little black one.

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And the fish:

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Anybody getting curious what I was looking at?

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It’s a chicken! Because that’s what you can feed to the fish. Sure we didn’t knew about that in Holland!

And we even had time to play outside. I guess we had to get rid of some energy, since we didn’t cycle today. So we climbed a tree:  or at least, I made a tiny beginning.

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And Keith really did climb a tree:

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And we ended this day with a fire in the garden, right under the stars and a cup of thee. What more can you wish for? Keith would say. Well my friend, it was just a very perfect day!

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Just a little family-picture before we would take of. Yes, believe it or not; this next day, the 17th of January, we really did take of, like really early in the morning. (We set an alarm!)
A very big thank you for Bill and Rosemary! Thanks to you guys we felt more than welcome in the Northern Island. It was just the very best beginning of a very good time.

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AND….. BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN!

So we cycled a couple of days in this ferry-tale-environment with the best vibes possible, and the most friendly people on the way (even some more people that invited us to stay) and then the moment was there: back to reality. Back on the big road again, and that wasn’t the whole story: back on the big road with this full-on traffic, and this full-on-sun: men; it was hot! It was the kind of sunshine that shines straight thru your bones. You can feel the heat in your body, just like there’s nothing that’s able to cover you from this powerful sun. No sunscreen, no hat or no whatever can cope with that. So we’d better be carefulll and make sure we drink enought water; we thought. And of course the good thing about cycling together is that you can take care of each other; and so we did.

“Keith, I think I really need to stop a minute”. It was the very first time I told him that after cycling together for three weeks. “I feel a bit light in my head. Actually, I don’t think I feel so well”... And just when I told him that out loud, I realized I really didn’t feel so well. So we took a little break, we had some crackers with some tuna, and I added some extra salt and drank some extra water. That will work, I told myself. But to be honest, I wasn’t really sure about that. But hey, what could we do? We were just on our way to Napier, in the middle of nowhere on this big fat road of asphalt (that made me feel like riding in an oven) and we had at least 40 km more to go, to reach the next town. That was the story. This was the reality. So we’d better stay positive, there’s nothing we can do about it now…. I tried to tell myself.

And then at exactly the same moment, this car made a tiny turn on the road and this uber-friendly lady opens her window. And that’s when this second story begins.

STORY TWO: BEING SAVED FROM THE ROAD, JUST RIGHT IN TIME

“Are you ok?” she asked? “Do you need a ride?”. I didn’t even see this car passing by, can you imagine how tired I was? But I sure heard this lady and I heard her very well:“Do you need a ride?”. Those were the magical words that turned this story into a very good one.

I took a look inside the car and I saw this very energetic couple, Rex and Alys. They were just on their way back home with this empty trailer behind their car that had just the perfect size to transport two bicycles. “Well, where are you heading to?”, I asked, hoping they would go the right direction. “Napier”, they said. Wel isn’t that just magical! We didn’t know how fast we could get our bikes on this trailer and we fully accepted and appreciated this ride.

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Just like that.

Sitting in the back of this car I noticed two things. First of all the incredible positive energy of this women Alys and this men Rex, because that was their name. They were cousins, and they sure had a very good vibe together. And second; I realized that mine was lower then it had ever been! I felt exhausted, just because of this terrible sun. And I was not the only one that noticed this. “Men… you look really dehydrated girl” she said, “here, have some lemonade”. It was cold, it had sugar and it just brought me back to life. Ohhh and third: when I looked to the right I kind of realized that I was not the only one being very happy and feeling rescued: my friend Keith looked very released as well. And of course, we did share the lemonade!

The next day they would tell me that they were really impressed by the fact that I really didn’t look so good. Girl, you had no color at all! And then they referred to Keith: You didn’t look any better my friend. You looked like you were almost about to collapse, holding on to your bicycle. And we could all smile about that.

So what just started with this very nice ride and a lemonade would end up in a very nice time together for the next two days. Who would have expected that? So riding back home, Rex told us about his perfect little house and invited us to stay.

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So that’s what we did. It was another magical camper van in this chapter of traveling together that turned into our house for the next two days.

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And we had a very nice together, just the for of us. We all went for a swim in the ocean:

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Of course, we had an ice cream:

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We shared some great stories and some good food:

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Because as my friend Keith would say:

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We got to know a big part of their family. Including their fathers. En in the end we even took this beauty out and enjoyed a very nice ride in the streets of Napier. Just like a movie!

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So how did this all happen?

Well there was an perfect explanation. When Rex found out that I was heading up to Gisborne he gave me the perfect opportunity for another ride, while he was going there in two days to visit his stepson. Knowing that Keith and I would have to go our own way after arriving in Napier (Keith was going West to visit some friends) he kind of felt that it would be just the very best to celebrate our friendship and enjoy each others company. And so we did, the four of us. We got to know half of their family in this short amount of time, and I can tell you it was just the perfect introduction in their Maori-culture. And last but not least, we truly appreciated our stay in his little camper van. It was just a massive upgrade for two cyclist traveling with a tent.

Inviting people in and sharing a room in your house, that’s very kind. Sharing your house and sleeping on a couch yourself, that’s something else. Hospitality with a capital H, as I would say. Those Kiwi’s they sure know how to embrace complete strangers into their lives. And better than that, how to make them feel like your best friends in only two days of time.

Dear Rex and Alys, if you read this; thanks a lot for being part of our journey! And thank you for this magical twist in our story.

With love,
Janneke