Newsletter - December 2004
Inspiring families to live adventurously, promoting independent family adventure

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, New Zealand 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 asked.

"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 trolley load.

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 officer.

"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 New 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 to Stewart 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 New Zealand's 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 biscuits.

"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 of New 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, Milford 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 National 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 Peak 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 Milford 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 regular basis.

You can access all these from our postings from the road page at: http://www.familyonabike.org/familyonabike/InSearchofTour/FOAB2004Storyindex.htm.

There's 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 mail@familyonabike.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 from you.

 

And finally

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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