The Family Adventure Project and Family on a Bike e-newsletter
Welcome to our December 2004 update
Hello and a warm welcome from Family on a Bike on the
road in New Zealand.
We're now resting up in Te Anau, gateway
to the Fjordlands of South Island after three weeks and three hundred
wind-blown kilometres on Kiwi roads and gravel tracks, camping
out and living the wild life.
We don't really see what we're doing as anything extraordinary,
we're just a family touring by bicycle. But somehow travelling
this way we are a travelling curiosity that stands out from the
crowd and attracts attention. Blending in is hard to do when you're
hauling 70kg of singing toddler and accessories, in bright blue
and yellow trailers with fluorescent orange flags flapping noisily
in the wind.
In this, our first newsletter from the road, we tell
a story of how our new found celebrity status, whilst not actively
sought, is shaping our adventures together; we bring you news
of where we've been and where we're heading next; and fill you
in on other snippets we've picked up about adventuring as a family.
No autographs please, we're British.
It started before we even got on a bike. The six German
cyclists picked up their tiny bike boxes and disappeared through
Customs without any fuss. The Family on a Bike filled the Customs
Hall with three giant, torn and tattered mattress boxes trailing
lumps of sheared off clingfilm, balanced unsteadily on three hopelessly inadequate
baggage trolleys. We'd
arrived in Christchurch,
but our final destination was Invercargill.
Our 3 giant mattress boxes
"A straightforward transfer through Customs
to domestic departures," said the Customs officer as he hassled us to move on and clear his hall of our debris. Behind us, three staff were
flustering about, busy rearranging the elastic queuing gates we
demolished on the way to his desk.
We'd heard how strict New Zealand Customs were about bringing
in bikes, tents and walking boots, keen to prevent travellers
importing unwanted organisms. So after thirty hours travelling,
we were praying we wouldn't have to undergo a full inspection
of all our outdoor gear.
"Do you have a tent in there?" the official
"Yes, tents, bikes, buggies and boots"
we volunteered. "I got my Lamby Mummy"
added Cameron. "What about Puppy The Wuppy?
He's got his passport stamped." Matthew cried from behind a tottering
The officer sighed. "Please, please tell me you've steam cleaned
everything" he begged, "or we'll have to open all of this up."
We knew we had to answer carefully. We had just half a roll of
packing tape and no cling film left following a surprise early
morning repack at Manchester
airport two days earlier. Check-in staff had insisted we stick
to the well known (to everyone but us)
'32kg maximum weight' rule. Right now, weight was
not a problem but the contents were.
"Everything is really clean and we've
not used the tent for ages" we said, avoiding the fact that the
boxes had travelled to the airport in a
well fertilised horse box.
"And you definitely have no fruit in
your bags, it's a $200 fine if we find any in X-ray," said the
"Stuart, where's Cameron's apple?" The
look in our youngest son's eye and apple sauce down his T-shirt
made us jumpy. We emptied Cameron's 'pack pack' to avoid a fine,
and scattered a hundred tiny plastic toys across the shiny floor.
There was no apple. "It's
in my brudders pack pack mum" said the cheeky one. One more bag search and we
were ready for X-ray.
"Is it OK to import a lamb into New
Zealand?" Stuart asked as a shadowy
Lamby figure appeared on the X-ray monitor.
Cameron threw a tantrum at the thought of his furry friend in
the 'microwave.' Then all that stood between us and the Arrivals
Hall was a set of frosted sliding doors marked Exit.
Daddy trolley was the first to tackle the doors. With
ten metres to go, the doors zipped open to reveal a small crowd
of expectant faces waiting for that first glimpse of their loved
ones. The German cyclists swept through without a hitch and blended
into the crowd. There was no-one waiting for us but we still had
to navigate the doors. Crunch.
The very ends of the giant mattress box slammed against the sides
as the doors opened as wide as they could. The crowd smirked.
Stuart retreated to regroup. No exit.
Baby trolley was next; Matthew and Cameron
piloting. When the doors opened, the crowd saw only Puppy and
Lamby steering; the boys navigating blindly from behind their
towering load. Carving a random path, the trolley made its final
approach side-on. It looked promising but the timing was poor.
Half way through and the doors had waited long enough. "OOoohhhhh,"
the crowd winced as Puppy The Wuppy
toppled off dragging Lamby with him while the box was pinched tightly by the closing
doors. No exit.
Mummy trolley was last, sliding gracefully
through the carnage. The doors swished open. The crowd drew breath
in anticipation. Kirstie appeared and
slid one end of the box elegantly through the open doors. Then
a pirouette, and her lumbering partner
twirled 180 degrees to glide effortlessly into the Arrivals Hall.
With a glance behind, Kirstie signalled
to Daddy and the boys to do the same, then
waltzed off to the domestic terminal, acknowledging her audience
with a grin. There was no way Family On A Bike could enter New
Zealand unnoticed. Before the first
pedal was turned we were already something of a spectacle.
On arrival in Invercargill, 'the friendly city', we were
warmly welcomed by our homestay hosts,
Marion and Russell. To avoid creating a scene at a city hotel,
we had chosen to rest, unpack, repack and prepare for the start
of our biking in a traditional New
Zealand family home. Within hours mounds of cling film, cardboard
and cycling debris transformed their pretty patio into a junkyard.
Yet they remained friendly throughout as the bikes were painstakingly
reassembled in the warm Kiwi sun, to the accompanying squeals
of two jetlagged yet excitable toddlers. "It's my buggy Daddy.in
Zealand," Cameron shouted with surprise
as the cheerfully coloured carriage emerged from it's
bubble wrapped cocoon. Knowing a news story when it lay on his
patio, Russell was straight on the phone to his friends in the
media. "I reckon you want to come down and take a look at what's
just landed in my back garden."
Transforming the patio into a junkyard
"Wake up Mummy and Daddy. I'm four and Puppy The Wuppy's
in the paper." Matthew bounced on our bed in glow in the dark
pyjamas, waving a copy of the Southland Times. The story of Family
on a Bike had bagged page two, with Puppy The Wuppy centre stage. "Would you like to come to my birthday breakfast?"
Matthew dragged us into the living room where Marion
had laid out a birthday feast. Scooping puppy's head out of a
large bowl of water, he placed the dripping dog on the table next
to his portrait, presenting everyone
with a party hat and face mask.
"You'd better eat up quickly," said Russell,
from behind his Musketeer mask with false nose, and stripy pink
crepe hat. "I've set you up with a TV crew at ten. They're going
to film you leaving Invercargill."
In his clapped out BMW, Russell drove
the lead vehicle as we cycled down Invercargill's
rain swept main street; cars hooting, and people pointing and
staring at the English family from
the paper. Outside the southern most city's
television station, the cameraman opened Matthew's buggy, and
stuck a camera in his face. Matthew, unimpressed by his celebrity
status, looked away. "Puppy The Wuppy
is tired." The cameraman then turned his attention to us, and
the smartly dressed reporter stepped forward to conduct her interview.
"Right then. Please look at me, not at
the camera. Are you ready? Great. We're
rolling. 'So why have Family on a Bike come to New
Zealand?' " There was a long silence
as each of us waited for the other to answer. Then we both looked at each other, looked at the camera, looked back
at each other and burst out laughing. Despite Kirstie
having spent most of her career behind a camera or a microphone,
and Stuart having trained hundreds in television skills, we weren't
quite ready for our five minutes of fame.
With the television cameras at our back,
we took New Zealand's
famous winds head on to make our way to Bluff to catch a ferry
Island, as far South as we could get with our bikes and the
starting point for our long journey North. According to the morning
paper Southland was entering a prolonged period of unseasonably
bad weather. The paper hadn't got it wrong. The rain soaked us
from above, the lorries from the side, and the wind pushed us
back. By the time we reached Bluff, Kirstie had been blown off her bike, Stuart had mended the
first puncture and the boys had had a lovely sleep. We cycled down to Stirling Point, the start of
end to end highway. "Would you mind taking a photo of us?" we
asked the owner of the only other car in the car park. "Oh my
goodness, it would be an honour. I've just read about you in the
paper," said the excited old lady. "Can I take a picture too?"
By the time we left the car park, it had filled with camper vans,
and we had done a full round of photo calls.
Family on a Bike at the end of the
road (or is it the beginning?)
Wherever we go, people stop us to chat
or take a photo. "That's awesome", "You are so brave", or "You
are truly mad."
they tell us. But while
we like the attention we don't see it that way. What we are doing
seems quite ordinary most of the time. We're on an extended cycling
and camping holiday with the kids. It's not awesome or brave or mad, much of our
life on the road is the same as ever. We get the kids up, fight
with Cameron to put his clothes on, "No nappy, no want nappy or
trousers." We cook, wash up, and just like at home, there are
the ups and downs that come with having kids. Sometimes the children
are prepared to help, embracing
the novelty of washing up in a river, or trying to get a tent
peg into solid ground; and sometimes they are tired, grizzly and
unwilling to comply with anything. And despite all our efforts
with toilet training, Cameron is back in nappies and poos
himself on a regular basis, afraid to go the toilet in case he
falls down it. He also refuses to go to bed or clean his teeth
without a fight, defiantly maintaining his bedtime routine.
Some people seem to think this way of
life is hard but many things are simpler and easier on the road.
Cosy in their own buggies, Matthew and Cameron watch the world
go by, take a quick nap, play with their toys or count the shells
and sticks they have picked up along the route. There is no fighting
over TV, which video to watch or which toy to bash each other
over the head with. We
use the buggies to divide and rule for a few hours peace each
day. But it's not always peaceful.
Cameron soon realised how to earn himself a silencing lollipop
by heckling Mummy from behind on the hills, and Matthew provides
a running commentary and question time on the various environments
we travel through. They shout with delight and call for time out
whenever they see a beach or playground. And wherever we go, thanks
to our publicity in the paper, people invite us in for tea and
"Oh no, if I'd known you were coming,
I'd have baked a chocolate cake," mourned Trudi,
at her hillstation near Blackmount,
site of the next world sheep shearing record attempt.
"We saw you on TV. You must come in and
tell us about your trip" said a resident of Riverton, the oldest
European settlement in the country.
"Really?" said Kirstie
in alarm. "We hoped we might have hit the cutting room floor."
"Oh you weren't that bad," the woman
replied, "although Anthony Hopkins was better." The man most famous
for being Hannibal Lecter is following us around new
Zealand, filming his latest movie.about
a biker from Invercargill. We have become convinced the mysterious
limousine we keep seeing darting about is the movie star himself.
Suddenly thrust into the public eye,
the issue of celebrity has never been very far from our consciousness.
While we have tried to play down our fame, we've met others who've
gone to great lengths to encounter a star. At
Tuatapere, sausage capital of New
Zealand, we met trampers finishing
a three day celebrity trek. Many were knackered and disgruntled
that the main celebrity, a relative of Sir Edmund Hilary strode
out of their lives three days earlier. Those less star struck
were scathing of their fellow hikers. "They have blisters on their
feet and need their heads examined. Fancy tackling a walk of this magnitude just to hang out with someone
famous. That's just stupid. Hey, aren't you the cycling
guys that were in the paper? Can we have a photo with you?"
After three weeks on the road, we gave
our bikes a rest to spend a day as Family in a Car, visiting one
Zealand's iconic attractions, Milford
Sound. From the moment
we picked up car keys we gave up our celebrity status and became
just another holidaying family, prey for predatory tourist operators.
Resisting the temptation of a "magical wilderness
coach and cruise", we instead drove each other crazy on a day
long journey to independently experience this allegedly "grand,
brooding, serene and wild place."
But one day cocooned in a tiny hire car, insulated from
the sounds, smells and elements, squabbling with each other reminded
us why we prefer to travel by bike.
If the marketing folk are to be believed,
is "the jewel in the crown" of Kiwi natural wonders and an experience
that "will change your life forever."
As many leaflets remind you, Rudyard Kipling described
it as "the eighth wonder of the world" but
more than a few locals warned us that its' charm was being eroded
by its' own hype. We were keen to see it for ourselves, and gauge
the long term effects of fame. Milford Sound is one of many fjords
in the Fjordland
Park, part of a World Heritage
Area of international significance for its geology, flora and
fauna. Technically it's not actually a Sound at all
but a fjord; sculpted by glaciers, its long arms and fingers of
water reaching many miles inland, made inaccessible by towering,
forest smothered peaks laced with thundering ribbons of waterfall.
In many respects it is similar to the 13 other Sounds in
the Park, yet it gets all the attention. We felt a certain affinity
for its predicament.
You approach Milford
after an extraordinary 90 mile drive that many people see as an
inconvenience and ignore in a rush to get there.
This "jewel in the crown" has become a massive car, bus
and coach park leading to a busy ferry terminal that buzzes with
international tourists. You can't help watching with awe and wonder,
not the magnificent Mitre
reflected in tannin-stained waters, but the precision with which
250 Japanese tourists can be disembarked from a ferry and loaded
onto coaches with full cameras and empty pockets. In some respects
is a success story, bringing alternative employment and tourist
bucks to the predominantly agricultural local economy.
For the moment it's also
a kind of sacrificial lamb, offered up to the tourist industry
in an effort to protect other equally precious areas from exploitation.
But its' fame may also be its downfall; no longer a wilderness,
its' natural beauty is spoilt by the very people that come to
experience it. We left Milford
to return to our bikes with quite mixed feelings about the value
of fame and celebrity.
And as we continue our journey, leaving
the catchment area of the Southland
Times, we are unsure whether we will become unrecognised. While
being anonymous for a while would be a novelty and allow us to
cycle without interruption; a part of us would miss all the attention,
the constant interest, and more importantly the invites for tea
and cake. And although we're aware that fame isn't all it's cracked
up to be, we're also bearing in mind that the Queenstown Mountain
Leader is always looking for good copy. But if it all appears
to be going to our heads, then please feel free to tell us to
get on our bike.
What's new on the website?
As we travel around we're doing what
we can to find out about, experience and write about different
ways of adventuring as a family.
As well as our Family in a Car day, we've been on a family
wilderness cruise and had an eventful tour of a horse trekking
enterprise happy to work with families. We'll be posting photo-diaries about these and
other observations about family adventure on our web site on a
You can access all these from our postings
from the road page at: http://www.familyonabike.org/familyonabike/InSearchofTour/FOAB2004Storyindex.htm.
a few postings there already and more in the pipeline so check
back regularly and keep up with what we're up to.
You can keep us going
Although we're on the road, you can get
in touch with us as we travel. We still welcome any contributions
you have and ideas for things we might research, experience or
write about. Tell us what you'd like to know about adventuring
as a family, about your own adventures or thoughts, reflections
on our writing.
You can send us a message by replying
to this email newsletter, by mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or even by calling
us on our mobile +64 (0)21 203 2392! Our technology pannier means
we'll be contactable throughout our travels. We'd love to hear
Well that's it from us for now as we
continue to adapt to life on the road and our new found fame.
We're heading off tomorrow towards the madness of Queenstown,
on a wild back-country road. While it's not that far (120km) it
will probably take us four days as we deal with a gravel surface, numerous water crossings and our heavy loads.
Travelling this way you experience the country
in a very physical way, feel every gradient in your legs, the
wind in your hair, the rain on every patch of exposed skin and
just occasionally the sun on your back. We look forward to these
wilderness roads where we can stop when we're tired, often in
places where few others stop, and meet and talk with people who
may see us as a curiousity
but treat us as people, a family not walking dollars. It's all an adventure to us, and after three
weeks of being battered by the rain and bruised by the wind, we
are keen to see more of the country, hopefully experience more
of the sun and perhaps one day meet Anthony Hopkins in person.
So, for the moment, we continue our family adventure
Stuart, Kirstie, Matthew and Cameron
The Family on a Bike
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