Just shy of two months since rushing through Sydney International on my way to New Zealand, I was back in the building for my connecting flight to Brisbane. Having left my bike in Hamilton after an incredible 6 weeks of trail riding from Invercargill up north, I was taking two weeks off the bike to catch family who were over this side of the world for a wedding, before getting stuck into a 10-day silent meditation retreat back in Auckland. I’d heard about the Vipassana meditation course from various travelling friends I’d met whilst riding through India, Nepal and Myanmar, and had finally decided to book ahead when in Adelaide to give it a whirl in New Zealand. I’d been told to expect some rough times, but to come out feeling incredible.
Before the impending enlightenment however, it was nice to actually see some light. Up in Queensland they had these amazing things called sun and warmth, both of which had been missing from my riding for the past few weeks on the north island. It was refreshing to just hang out at a hostel in the evenings and read on the aptly named ‘Sunshine Beach’ in Noosa. After they’d finished up with the wedding, I managed to catch my aunt and uncle for a few days of catch up before flying back to rainy NZ. If only it was that easy…
Keeping up my reputation of being involved in airport drama each time I try fly anywhere on this trip, I quickly ran into a problem. In the 4 days that I’d been out of the country, New Zealand had implemented an ESTA electronic pass system to enter the country. The first day of implementation was of course, the day I flew. ‘It will take between 5 minutes and 72 hours to come through sir… and check-in closes in 45 minutes… The flight’s delayed two hours but check-in isn’t.’ Brilliant. I applied for my ESTA and could only hope.
Time flew by, the check-in time came and went, yet still no ESTA came through. One of the guys behind the desk beckoned me over, saying he’d just try put my name in their in-flight passenger system and see if I was flagged up. I wasn’t. Even though my request hadn’t been granted their computer said I was eligible to get on the plane. Everyone was confused but I was raring to run through before anyone could change their mind. To be sure, they called the Auckland office who seemed to think it should be alright – I’d scraped through by the skin of my teeth. The ESTA it turned out came through 20 minutes later, but that was 20 minutes after check-in close. I’d dodged a bullet there and I knew it. Now the 10 days of no speaking an intense meditation seemed like a small thing.
I won’t talk too much about the Vipassana because I could go on forever about the nuances of the monastic life it throws you in. Tucked away in a beautiful valley an hour north of Auckland, you rise at 4am each morning as the gong is hit, you meditate for 11 hours each day whilst remaining completely silent for the whole 10 days. No eye contact with each other, no gesturing, just attempting to focus whilst your mind has other ideas. The whole thing is not affiliated with any religion or sect, it is simply a course to teach you the technique of Vipassana meditation – a universal method that is designed to make you a less miserable person. I’m sceptical of all this stuff, but I really clicked with the ethos and teaching of the course. The whole thing is run on donations and there’s really no pressure to give away lots of money, in short, it’s all done really well. Some days were real tough and others I felt euphoric. Those 10 days were a real journey in themselves and I barely moved.
Being allowed to talk again on the 10th day was a little overwhelming at first, my voice sounded too loud and I couldn’t control what I was saying. After a quick walk around the garden that I come to know every inch of during the lunch breaks, I was back to a relatively normal level and could communicate again. It was a real amazing thing to have gone through such a unique experience with all these people who you sit with, side by side, yet haven’t uttered a word. That guy who started walking in circles on day 7 who you thought was a nutcase, turns out to be a cyclist from the UK, that guy who seemed to be staring at the sky one afternoon explains how he was watching these birds dancing. One guy went for a walk one night around the forest track and found a huge colony of glow worms lighting up the rock, but couldn’t tell anyone until now…
One thing that I really loved besides the teachings themselves, was how my mind became much more imaginative when it was free from huge amount of stimuli from our hyperactive technological filled world. I found I began dreaming vividly like I did as a kid; I could could come up with lyrics and poems in my head that were far better than anything I’d thought up for years.
After coming off on a real high from the meditation, I hitched a lift back to Hamilton before setting back off on the bike again. Riding off into a horrible storm, I’d decided to change my route at the last minute. Instead of smashing out 5 huge days in the saddle up to Cape Reinga and the northern tip of the country, I opted to do a loop around the Coromandel peninsular on the north-east of the island. Not only would it give me a little breathing space to make the flight, I’d been told the area was a real gem and well worth exploring. Kicking things off by riding into a day of wind and rain across open fields, the highlight of which, was listening to a podcast about people’s dream meals where Scroobius Pip (the guest) described how he used to steal pizza from Pizza Hut – yes it really was that kind of day. I’d heard back from a couple who lived close to Thames who’d kindly accepted my couchsurfing request to stay the night.
Geoff and Maria live in a real cosy house surrounded by fields and farm animals. Geoff, a proud eater, whilst Maria, a vegan, made for a real interesting evening. From the get-go their cockatoo immediately took a disliking to me, hissing threateningly in my direction whenever I got close to it. The thing was bonkers, with the crazy head feathers bobbing up and down as it adjusted its dominant position atop the headrest on Geoff’s chair, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Clearly the head of the household, I felt that we were all subservient creatures to the almighty bird. I kept my distance, preferring to listen to Maria explaining the new book that she was writing, before coming out with a howler in complementing the name ‘watch this space’ for a book on minimalism, when in fact she’d just written that as to show it wasn’t yet published… Still, I stand by ‘watch this space’ being a great name for a minimalism book…
On that bombshell, I left their pretty house to follow a gorgeous coastline north-wards towards Coromandel. It really was stunning. For the next three days I rode quiet gravel roads the hugged the coast. Passing through the occasional small village as I went until there were no more, and no more road for that matter. Once again I was reduced to a real tough hike a bike for a few hours to make up the 10 km walking path that connects the two dead-end gravel roads – probably wouldn’t recommend the push, but to complete the whole loop it’s worth it. I camped on deserted beaches in the sunshine and lapped up the gorgeous miles on the roads. As I woke up at my final beach view campsite, just 70 km’s from Auckland, I could reflect on what a great mini-adventure those days had been. Many, many hills and tough riding for the legs was definitely necessary to get me back in semi-decent condition after two weeks off. After all, what was to come would be a lot tougher…
Before then however, I set about packing up my bike and belongings into another box, before going out to meet friends. Tane and Anneke – aka WorldSpokesPeople as they’re known on Instagram – are a Kiwi couple who I had followed for the past year, as they cycled back to NZ after 6 years living in London. We’d cycled through lots of the same places, stayed with the same hosts but had never actually met. They invited me to join them and their friends for a pub quiz down the local. It was amazing to chat about life on the road, their adventures but also what life after cycling was like for them. It was the perfect way to round off a great few weeks that had been unlike anything I had encountered on the trip before. After wishing two people I felt I’d befriended through a screen, all the best, my thoughts turned to what was to come. Next stop, just ‘a little hop’ over the water…over to South America and Peru.
2 comments on “Last Leg in NZ”
You have a most engaging style….congratulations! When I did Reinga to Bluff back in 2012, I escaped from Auckland by catching the ferry to Coromandel….a truly stunning peninsula……and well worth the detour.
Cheers Frank! I will have to come back to see what it’s like riding up to Cape Reinga! But I loved Coromandel – what a place