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06.12.2019 Challenging crossings.  Maybe it was in reaction to our quick departure from the capital that on our way to the ferry terminal the winds and rains blew us through Wellington's streets with full force and put our waterproof gear to the test. We could definitely have spent more time in this city, but there will probably be more occasions in the future and we were simply eager to move on to the South Island. Taking the ferry on a stormy day is perhaps a bit risky, and the waves were quite impressive indeed on the high seas of Cook Strait, which did not agree with all passengers' stomachs. Luckily we were fine and could fully enjoy the 3.5-hours crossing to Picton, which offered stunning views once our ship reached the much calmer sounds and bays in the northeast of the South Island. We spent the night in Picton, treating ourselves to an evening bath in our hostel's open air jacuzzi, and then cycled on to a charming DoC campsite in the green forests of Marlborough, a region known for its wines. Unfortunately, we had to take a longer detour, as the scenic route we had wanted to take was closed due to a landslide. At the campsite, we got to know David from Switzerland, who cycles the world on a hybrid trike powered by solar panels mounted on an aluminum trailer. Meeting him in person was a bit like coming across a mythical creature out in the wild, as some of our Warmshowers hosts had accommodated him before and already told us about him and his unique way of travelling. The next day a real challenge was waiting for us, when we set out on the conquest of Mangatapu Saddle via a steep and difficult gravel track of the same name. With rough trails, demanding climbs, steep downhill sections and streams to wade through, this crossing was quite an adventure, and getting both of us and our heavily loaded bikes to Nelson on this route required a real team effort. #scoutbound #neuseeland #nz #newzealand #nelson #bluebridge #ferry #picton #jacuzzi #mangatapu #solarbikes #vineyard #trees #landslide #sunbeam #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #worldbycycling

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03.12.2019 Trains and rains. We left Eketahuna, the town with the giant kiwi, and cycled south, via pleasant flat roads, first gravelly and later sealed. We stopped in Masterton to spend the night and were quite amused when we saw that a Lonely Planet travel guidebook described it as 'a town without any sights, where people simply go to work every day'. So there was no need for an extended stay, and the next day we carried on towards Featherston. When we arrived, there was just enough time to visit the local Fell Locomotive Museum. In the 19th century Mr Fell invented special steam locomotives that could climb up and travel down steep and formerly insurmountable hills by holding on to a raised middle rail. Six Fell engines were once deployed to safely pull heavy passenger and freight trains up and down the Rimutaka Incline just outside Featherston. In 1955, a new railway tunnel put an end to the locos' services, the tracks were removed, and about 30 years later the former track bed was given a new purpose: It is now an attractive cycle and hiking trail. And of course the following day saw us pedal up the historic route. Having passed the summit, we went downhill and right into Greater Wellington, approaching the capital via densely wooded hills, a flat path along a river and then the seaside. This could have been very scenic and enjoyable, if it had not been for heavy and persistent afternoon rain. Luckily, our hosts Fiona and Barry, their snug home, hot showers and five baby kittens were waiting for us in Wellington.  New Zealand's capital is a coastal city surrounded by residential areas on green hills, and Barry often bikes down into the city centre for work and then takes the train on his way back home. We did so too on today's rest day and enjoyed the short train ride and of course our first visit to the capital in general. This morning we are having a look at the national museum Te Papa, while outside the rain is coming down in buckets again. And this afternoon we are going to leave the city and the North Island – not by train, but on a ferry! #scoutbound #neuseeland #nz #wellington #featherston #kitten #rimutaka #warmshowers #scouts #dpsg #worldbycycling

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28.11.2019 Birds galore. It seems to be all about birds in New Zealand. They are on the money, people call themselves Kiwis, beer brands bear their names, and in the great outdoors we hear them sing all day long. In the past few days, the Three Rivers ride and the Manawatu Cycleway took us from Whanganui to Palmerston North via two simple DoC campsites in the middle of nowhere, and there we got complimentary birdsong concerts every morning and evening. Some songs, such as that of the tui, sound very exotic to our ears. In Palmerston North, or Palmy, we stayed with Josh and Meriam, who are very much into cycling, running and all kinds of outdoor activities. Together we went to the cinema to see this year's Reel Rock compilation of climbing films, and we had a great time talking to them and their housemates about cycling and travelling. It is always amazing to reach a new place and find like-minded people, or 'birds of the same feather'. Upon Meriam's recommendation, we visited the bird recovery centre of Palmy's Massey university, where wild birds that have undergone surgery or some other kind of treatment stay for a while before they can be returned into the wild. We saw a little penguin, a kea parrot, and more. They also have a kiwi there at the moment, but at the time of our visit the patient was probably asleep.  So unfortunately we have not seen a live kiwi bird so far, and the chances that we ever will are rather low. They are nocturnal birds, quite shy, and unfortunately not very numerous anymore, as predators – intentionally brought to New Zealand to combat a rabbit infestation – have diminished the population numbers of these flightless birds. However, New Zealand's most iconic animal has kept popping up in the form of stuffed birds, preserved skeletons and original eggs as well as drawings and larger-than-life representations all along our route – for example in Eketahuna, where we will camp tonight. #scoutbound #neuseeland #newzealand #palmerstonnorth #eketahuna #palmy #kiwi #tui #birds #money #departmentofconservation #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #worldbycycling

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24.11.2019 Another day in paradise. We cannot buy and carry along many souvenirs on this journey, but luckily we can take home an unlimited number of good memories. Two days ago, the wind and State Highway 3 took us to Whanganui, where we were accommodated by Ann and John. They are in their late seventies and live on the local Quaker Settlement – a spacious property with a community centre, private housing for about 25 people, gardens and orchards as well as sheep pastures. The first night we accompanied John to a community meal and met some of the residents, who are not all Quakers but share certain values and look after the property together. Both mornings, when we were having breakfast in the sunny garden, John merrily announced 'another day in paradise', and we really enjoyed every minute with him and Ann. They are incredibly joyful, warm-hearted and humorous people and full of life experience and stories. In the past they somehow managed to run several farms, raise three daughters and run marathons while travelling quite a bit and making friends all over the world. Curiously enough, Ann has had a pen pal in our neighbouring town, Niederstetten, for almost all of her life, and showed us photos of a trip to our home region. Ann also showed us the town centre, the market and a historic riverboat that once went up and down the region's aorta, Whanganui River. She had us try Hokey Pokey ice cream and took us to the Regional Museum, which offers a good glimpse at Maori culture. To her mild disappointment, we did not buy much at the market, but the time spent with her and get husband has filled our imaginary backpack with unforgettable impressions, many happy memories and valuable bits of life advice. #scoutbound #neuseeland #newzealand #whanganui #wanganui #whanganuiriver #quaker #paradise #icecream #streetart #maori #waimarie #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #worldbycycling

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21.11.2019 Kia Ora Taranaki. Pronouncing and remembering placenames of Maori origin correctly is quite a challenge to us, but what helps us is learning about the meaning of syllables like 'wai' (water) or 'whanga' (bay), in addition to expressions like 'kia ora' (hello). Interestingly, Aotearoa (the island of the long white cloud) once got its other name, New Zealand, from a Dutch explorer, who named it after the province Zeeland back in the Netherlands. Other placenames came with British settlers, like that of New Plymouth, where we arrived a few days ago, just in time to hide from heavy rain and strong winds. After a long period of good weather it was getting cooler and wetter, and it was amazing to stay a couple of days at Anne's place during the worst bit. Anne is a very well-travelled and knowledgeable lady who passionately defies the stereotype of a typical grandma. She is a backpacker, camper, hiker and cyclist, and it was fascinating and enriching to talk to her over the meals we shared. Coming into New Plymouth felt like finally reaching the seaside, although we had technically been to the NZ coast before. And the special thing about this town is that its black beach is at a stone's throw from the mountains. One afternoon we climbed Paritutu Rock, and with the weather getting better, we caught a glimpse of beautiful Mount Taranaki. It presides over the region with the same name and seemed to look down on us when we cycled on along the coastline. In Opunake, the neat vintage cinema caught our attention, and we got to know Andrew, one of the volunteers running it. He gave us the chance to have a look behind the scenes of this intriguing old but newly refurbished place. Today we ended our day with a beach stroll in Patea, and tomorrow we will leave Taranaki and cycle on to Whanganui. #scoutbound #neuseeland #newzealand #newplymouth #opunake #patea #taranaki #whanganui #helmet #coast #cinema #driftwood #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #worldbycycling

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15.11.2019 Tiny places, huge stories. Yesterday we left Taumarunui and carried on via State Highway 43. The speed limit on NZ highways is 100 km/h, and not all of them are as busy as the name suggests. SH 43 is a special case: It is so extremely quiet and runs through such a rural piece of land that it has been given the byname 'Forgotten World Highway'. Cycling through hilly farmland and forests, past remote farms and along abandoned railway tracks, we really felt that this road lives up to its name. In the evening, we reached Ohura, and at first glance it seemed like a ghost town with its abandoned houses, empty shops and deserted places up and down the main street. Closing mines and mills as well as a flood once caused a huge drop in the town's population numbers, but when we met John, Ohura resident and our host for the night, we learned that there is still life in this place. John is a 79-year-old retired oil rig worker, adventurer and bicycle lover who lives on a property full of small huts and sheds, and just like his home, he is full of stories. He owns an entire fleet of vehicles, with ten bikes, a DIY house truck, and our place for the night: a purple bus fully equipped with a kitchen, sofa, heating stove, shower, double bed and sun deck – a 'tiny living' dream come true! Today, John accompanied us on one of his triple hybrid bikes (equipped with a battery and a German Sachs motor) to our next destination, a town called Whangamomona. Faced with similar problems as Ohura, and a highly unpopular reorganisation of administrative zones, one day the inhabitants of this town met in the only pub to declare themselves an independent republic. Although it is politically irrelevant, 30 years later this republic still exists and we can now proudly show the official entry stamps in our passports. Its citizens celebrate Republic Day and elect a new president every other year – with the list of past and present presidents comprising several men, a goat, a poodle and a woman. Crazy Kiwis! #scoutbound #newzealand #neuseeland #whangamomona #ohura #forgottenworldhighway #vanlife #tinyliving #camping #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #cyclinglife #biketouring

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13.11.2019 Out of reach. On the day of our arrival, we bought a New Zealand SIM card for one of our phones, so we can go online, text and call people whenever it is necessary. In the past three days, however, we have been quite disconnected from the world out there. From Waitomo, we cycled to Te Kuiti, where we refuelled our stove, filled our bags with food and supplies for several days, and then went on to a campsite at the beginning of the Timber Trail. This trail is one of the country's Great Rides cycle paths and it leads cyclists and walkers through an area so remote that there are actual signs indicating in which spot phones will capture a signal. The following two days, we would see about two of these signs a day, and virtually no cars. The Timber Trail is mostly a narrow gravel or dirt road leading through hilly forests. It dates back to the time when New Zealand's woodlands were cleared on a massive scale to gain timber. One half of the trail mostly follows an ancient railway line that was once built to transport the logs down to the flatlands. It was extremely interesting to read the information boards and learn about the woodcutting process, to see some remains of these old times, and to pedal through endless, lush green forests for days – which have luckily grown back, although they now consist of different, faster-growing types of trees. This afternoon we finished the trail and reached Taumarunui, where we can now refresh our low stocks and check our inboxes. #scoutbound #newzealand #neuseeland #timbertrail #piropiro #departmentofconservation #caterpillar #benneydale #suspensionbridge #bridge #camping #warmshowers #couchsurfing #scouts #dpsg #cycling #biketouring #cyclinglife #adventure #lessborderslessvisa

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10.11.2019 Good conditions. Today has been a very rainy day, but we decided beforehand that we would make it a day of rest. So instead of cycling, we relaxed at the cosy hostel and later went on a three-hour guided tour to two caves near Waitomo. In one of them, a boat took us up and down an underground river so we could admire thousands of stunning glowworms, whose fishing threads only appear in torchlight. Down there, we were not affected by the rain at all. Before, we had ten days of sunny spring weather, with mild or even hot temperatures – just perfect for cycling, outdoor meals and camping. Admittedly, the roads here can be a little challenging. They zigzag up and down the rolling hills and often come as bumpy, slippery gravel roads. Coarse gravel makes our tail-heavy bikes serve, so we have to concentrate well, shift our weight and keep the speed low. Unfortunately, the gravel has already claimed a victim: We have lost Addy's speedometer, which must have fallen off its bracket on one of the rough roads. But these roads take us to fantastic places, with green pastures and grazing sheep and cattle everywhere, and now and then a waterfall, cave or natural stone bridge just off the road.  Navigation is also rather easy, as there is often only one main road leading somewhere, while most turn-offs are marked as dead ends. Inhabited places are rare out here, but when we stop to ask for water or directions at remote homes, people will readily help us out and chat a bit. One evening we arrived all dusty, sweaty and tired at Oparau Roadhouse and were welcomed by the owners, Brenda and Bill, who run a filling station, general store and freedom campsite there. Their bicycle fence scared us for about a second, as we wondered what might have happened to all those cyclists. But Brenda and Bill are just the sweetest and most hospitable kind of people who have simply found a way to make their place in the middle of nowhere a bit more interesting and attractive. So if you ever pass by, make sure to pay them a visit. #scoutbound #newzealand #neuseeland #waterfall #bridalveilfalls #waitomo #glowworms #cave #naturalbridge #gravelroad #warmshowers #scouts #dpsg #biketouring

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07.11.2019 Planning ahead. We tend to keep the planning stage before a trip extremely short, feeling that things will only really start to develop and probably be quite different once we get to the places and see them with our own eyes plus have the chance to discuss ideas with locals. We mostly agree on a distant destination and then make rough plans for one or two days in advance as we go, and sometimes we cycle for most of the day without knowing where we will eventually spend the night. This way of travelling leaves enough room for adventure and positive surprises. On Tuesday, for example, we could finally load our bikes (… with ALL our luggage, yay!) and cycle out of Auckland. In fact, it took us more than 40 km to really leave the city and its suburbs behind us. In the evening we reached Pukekohe, where there was no campground or hostel available, and we were more or less aimlessly riding through the streets when we suddenly came across a group of local scouts having a race with little wooden toy cars they had built together. We talked to their leaders and were spontaneously invited to spend the night in their scout home – which we happily did. Thanks again to the Pukekohe scouts, who were so extremely kind and helpful. And yesterday, the plan we had made shortly before became futile when we realised that a missing ferry connection, the demanding elevation profile and some challenging gravel roads would make it impossible to reach the hostel we had wanted to stay at within one day. This time a friendly lady at a cafe offered us to pitch our tent on their extensive property, where two more cyclists had already taken refuge. So we went on a great little bush walk near the cafe in the evening, and this morning we woke up in its splendid garden – an experience we could not have planned from home. In the next few weeks, we will cycle further south, towards Wellington, eager to see how our route will unfold, and what else is in store for us.

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03.11.2019 On hold in Auckland. We are in New Zealand, and we are just so excited to start pedalling the islands! However, the Kiwi cycling adventure is taking some time to begin. We will only be able to hit the road after our parcel with 20 kg of luggage will have arrived. It had not made it to the Auckland post office by Friday and the place is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we are now obliged to extend our stay to five or six nights – or maybe even more!? At the moment our bikes are still in their boxes, as we were thinking about travelling a little further south by bus first, but we will probably scrap that idea, reassemble them in the next few days and start from here as soon as we have our sleeping bags and stove. Passing unexpected extra days in Auckland is not hard though, as there are many things to see and do. In the past three days we have been roaming about in the streets and visited the waterfront, participated in a guided tour, climbed the dead volcano Mount Eden, walked along a beach and taken a ferry across Shoal Bay to look at Auckland's skyline from the water. We have talked to local cyclists to pick up some tips and had a chance encounter with a Girl Guiding group – 'guide' being the official term for a female scout. We have also had the chance to meet up with two people Addy got to know during his journey through South America: Auckland local Lynda as well as Gato from Argentina, who is currently working here. Lynda is a very experienced and passionate long-distance cyclist and provided us with plenty of expert advice on which routes to take in NZ. And our little chat with her has made us even more eager to finally get going! #scoutbound #auckland #heartofthecity #wynyard #takapuna #takapunabeach #beach #skyline #newzealand #neuseeland #warmshowers #couchsurfing #camping #scouts #dpsg #velo #tour #cycling #biketouring #cyclinglife #adventure #lessborderslessvisa

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