Zen On Dirt

Hamner Hot Springs and into the mountains

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Three things I learned about New Zealand today:

1) Denatured alcohol is called methylated spirits here.
2) Sheep are born with tails. Long ones. I think they just crop them.
3) When a New Zealander says that a road is steep, they aren’t kidding.

We started our morning off with fresh eggs from the local chickens, oat bran taken from the spare food box from the previous place we stayed, and tea from the previous place we stayed. Free breakfast number two.

We got to eat breakfast with Garth, an early 20-something year old from Anchorage. When we’d first met, he’d put on a pretty convincing Aussie accent, and with said accent told us that he was from AK. As it turned out, he’d been in Oz for a year, but his American-ness was pretty apparent in a classic case of linguistic code-switching where he’d revert back to standard American when he was talking about certain things, like riding fat bikes in Alaska.

We pedaled away from camp by 7:30, a feat only accomplished by still suffering from a little bit of jet lag. The road, Hwy 7, wasn’t the best road we’ve ever ridden…but it wasn’t the worst. We kept getting passed by trucked that looked like oil tankers, with double tanks. I’m 90% certain they were transporting milk from one of the major dairy areas of the country.


Sheep pretending to be mountain goats

It was 50 miles of pavement to get to Hamner Hot Springs, which was our goal for the afternoon. We could have taken a shuttle from Christchurch, and many arguments could be made for that being a good idea, but I sort of liked getting to see something different…and I have a much higher tolerance for cars than Scott does.

Our first stop in town was at a cafe, where I paid entirely too much for an Americano and still only got a small cup of coffee. I miss American drip coffee…and diners with bottomless cups of it. Before food had even come, a Chinese guy who we’d seen at the previous town walked in. He and his two friends had insisted on posing and taking picture with us on the road side, and now he was here to eat while his friends were at the hot springs.

We got to talking and found out that he moved to NZ from China 35 years ago, opened a restaurant, and was now happily retired. He was hilarious to talked to, and took pictures of ‘anything different’ that he saw. We promptly became FaceBook friends.
The hot springs were expensive. We were debating not going. Anyhow, we were already going to be late for our meeting with Kait and Kurt in Blenheim, we probably shouldn’t spend an entire afternoon soaking.


sheep pretending to be mountain goats

So instead, we got a handful of errands done in Hamner, including finding fuel, which was big because no one knew what denatured alcohol was, and we finally had to go to an outdoor store and explain our stove. Methylated spirits. Who knew. The internet probably knew, but this was more fun. We also got the beta on the hippy hot springs in the area, but they were in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go. Next time..

All throughout, rain spit from the sky. And by the time we got our groceries loaded, I was solidly cold.

We made it exactly 200 yards out of town when Scott declared, ‘I feel sort of silly not going to the hot springs.

By 205 yards, we were arcing back, headed straight to the hot water.

It was the best decision we’ve made so far this trip.

We had a good chat with a guy from Vietnam who made it to NZ via a Singapore refugee camp and ran a fish ‘n chips take-out joint in Christchurch, and a talk with a teenager from Singapore who wanted to know if America was dangerous.

They both wanted to know if we voted.


The election is front page news every day here. And we thought we could get away from it…

Eventually, we decided to pedal up Jollies Pass road (which we were told not to take because it was steep and rough – it was steep, but we would have taken the Sportsvan up it, so it wasn’t that rough…though we take the Sportsvan some pretty stupid places.) The rain started near the top and pretty much didn’t let up until we made it to the Department of Conservation campsite 10 miles later just as the last of the light was leaving for the day.


The campsite had been our goal for the night regardless of when we left town (there was no camping allowed for 35 miles after it), so in the end, we got to soak in hot pools for three hours instead of sitting in a tent listening to it rain. I’d call that winning.

Skipping a hot spring…that’s against my moral code. I’m glad we camp to our senses in time.


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