Newsletter - January 2005
Inspiring families to live adventurously, promoting independent family adventure

The Family Adventure Project and Family on a Bike e-newsletter

Welcome to our January 2005 update

Hello and welcome to 2005. We're writing to you from Christchurch, New Zealand's 'English City,' having spent New Year getting a fix of TV while celebrating the end of one year and contemplating the next.

On the road it's easy to get out of touch with what's happening in the world and we had little idea about the magnitude of the Asian tsunami disaster until we stopped and caught up with the news. What a shocking end to the year and a reminder of just how fragile and transient everything in our lives really is in the face of natures' awesome power. Permanence is such an illusion. And watching pictures of the destruction, we've been keenly aware how a different choice of journey could have put us in the path of tragedy, reminding us how impossible it is to predict the consequences of the decisions we make.

With such tragedy in the air, our family journeying seems rather trite, privileged and self indulgent. But since we're powerless to change the course of nature and unable to help out in Asia other than by giving money, perhaps the best thing we can do is carry on. We figure living simply and by your wits day to day is a good training for dealing with impermanence and uncertainty in life. And it's a fine way to build a strong family group and perhaps that is important enough.

In this newsletter we tell a story about our journey to the world's self proclaimed adventure capital, offer a selection of ideas for thrill-seeking families, highlight a few of our recent web-postings and say some thank you's.

If you prefer you can read this newsletter online where we've included a few pictures to accompany the story at: http://www.familyonabike.org/Newsletters/Current.htm

Coffee at the Colonel's

There are moments that unite a family and others that divide. This one did both. "What's that Dad? Can we play it?" asked Matthew pointing to the table football sitting idly in the camp common room. We were making final preparations for four days of wilderness cycling and were happy to indulge the boys, knowing there would be no more playgrounds for a while. Besides, the game appealed to our competitive instincts. Kirstie took the excited novices to one side, stood them on stools and introduced them to their red players. Stuart took control of the blues, flicked the first ball in and the match began. Cameron shoved his stick aggressively back and forth, Matthew twirled his round and round with glee, the ball ricocheted back and forth as we all screamed and cheered our way through ten minutes of intense competition, togetherness and fun. Until the final whistle when Kirstie and the boys declared victory for the reds and Stuart declared it beginners' luck.

We left the table with adrenaline pumping, hungry for more, looking forward to the thrills and spills of Queenstown at the end of our wild ride. Queenstown is a mecca for thrill-seekers, the spiritual home of bungy jumping and the self proclaimed 'adventure capital of the world'. But it was still 120km away, down a remote and little used gravel road through mountainous terrain, without any services or facilities along the way.

New Zealand has turned adventure and its promotion into an art form. Tourist information centres push every conceivable kind of adventure on shelves packed with glossy promotional leaflets. If you like it that way you can get your experiences packaged into convenient two hour, half day or full day chunks, with pick-up from your hotel, all equipment provided and souvenir photos to take home. But our adventure is of another kind; unadvertised, independently organised, and off the tourist route.

We read about the possibilities for our back road ride to Queenstown in a cyclists' guide, checked out the viability with knowledgeable locals and planned and shopped accordingly. The road was a dead end with a difference; it finished at the Walter Peak Tourist Resort. It's a remote high country station run as a tourist attraction, serviced by the vintage steamer TSS Earnslaw which ferries tourists back and forth from Queenstown to experience 'the Colonel's homestead and hospitality.' We planned to sample his hospitality then cadge a lift on the ferry. We reckoned it would take us four days to cover the distance, camping wild, carrying all our food, gathering water on the way and improvising playgrounds and entertainment. We're no strangers to wilderness riding but this was the first time with the kids and that was the challenge for us - to keep them safe and ensure it was enjoyable for everyone.

Our first challenge was to deal with the locals. There weren't many campers at the Mavora Lakes; at least not of the human variety. We set up camp at a designated Department of Conservation camp spot; a wide empty plateau without facilities, view or lake. The kids didn't care and set off to enjoy the biggest, emptiest playground they'd ever seen. It was a rewarding sight to see two tiny figures, and Puppy the Wuppy, happily exploring the vast grassy plains. While they played, Stuart set off down a steep bank of shingle to get some water from the river. He scrabbled back sooner than expected, arms flapping at a cloud of sandflies, "Get off me, bloody pests. Arrggggghhhh, we need to cover up.. quickly." We ate our dinner baking in the late afternoon sun, smothered in insect repellent and dressed from head to toe in wet weather gear. "There's flies in my noodles," moaned Cameron. "Eat your dinner sweetheart, it's all we've got." replied Stuart as he tried to light a fire to smoke the flies away. A box of matches later he gave up, "Let's go and find this stupid lake."


The boys investigate their new adventure playground

After five minutes ride we came to a beautiful lakeside forest camp, insect free, with water on tap, toilet, barbecue and picnic benches. The kids were delighted; the parents annoyed about camping in the wrong place but too tired to move. "Can we go paddling?" asked Matthew. Cameron was already naked and heading for the water's edge. They waded in up to their knees, unbothered by the freezing water. "It's really cold Mum" said Matthew as he squatted down suddenly and dipped his bottom in the lake. "Mum, mum, look. Bum paddling" he shouted excitedly. Cameron as usual copied his brother shouting, "Bum pebbling Mummy" and a new family sport was born.

The water sports continued the next day at a picnic stop by the side of the road. "A stream, a stream. But what can we do Dad?" asked Matthew leading his brother on a splashing spree. "You can get your feet out of the stream, they're the only shoes you've got," snapped Kirstie. Scolding over we decided to channel their energies to create a water playground. Once more in two teams we set about a dam building competition. Together we trapped and tamed the stream with an assortment of stones; Matthew learnt first hand what a dam was, Stuart talked bollocks about hydro electric power schemes, Kirstie built the biggest dam and Cameron threw rocks at his brother. Matthew's experiential learning continued when he stumbled across an electric cattle fence whilst searching for 'really big rocks'. "Ouuchhh that fence stung me Mum," he cried before trying to persuade his brother to try the electric shock therapy. A happy family picnic.


"...and the water pressure will drive the turbine..."

The gravel road was uninhabited and unspoilt, climbing and descending against a backdrop of snow covered mountains towards the Southern Lakes. Our companions were sheep and cattle, new born spring calves lolloping alongside the buggies, attracted by our brightly coloured procession. All lolloping stopped when we arrived at the first of three river crossings. Shoes and socks came off again as we hatched a plan to get everyone across safely.

The river was wide and mostly shallow, with a few deeper pools and faster currents. While there was little danger we had to pick a path carefully to avoid getting the bikes, baggage and trailers too wet. Stuart crossed first to find a route while the boys played on the shingle banks. Matthew wanted to make his own way and stumbled clumsily into a deep pool. The flow knocked him off balance and he was bum paddling again before he knew it. It took seconds for the icy glacier water to penetrate his clothes, "It's freezing," he said with a gasp, "Get me out of here." "My brudder bum pebbling Mummy," said Cameron as Stuart ran to pluck the freezing one from his early bath. It was a sharp lesson for a four year old in rivers and currents, and a reminder of the need to be continually assessing risks when adventuring outdoors with children. The outdoor environment has many hazards which may be obvious to an adult but look like good 'bum pebbling' to a kid.


Stuart contemplates a little "bum pebbling"

The approach to Walter Peak is an exhilarating and welcome downhill after two and a half days of gentle climbing. As the strain on our knees eased, it was good to feel the wind in our hair and cries of "whheeeeeee" from the buggies once more. We zig-zagged down, rubber scorching on overheated rims, wheels spitting gravel, rivers rushing past, cattle chasing our fluttering flags. Bright blue stretches of Lake Wakatipu beckoned us while Queenstown glittered magically across the lake in the evening sun. Despite the late hour, we decided to ride on; the sheer number of cows and sheep on nearby hills making it too risky to wild camp without fear of being trampled overnight. Besides, after three days in the wild we welcomed the thought of fresh milk, coffee and freshening up. We put the children in pyjamas, snuggled them into sleeping bags and tucked them up in their buggies, "And when you wake up we'll be at the Colonel's place, Walter Peak Farm."

It was growing dark with five kilometres still to cover when the nightriders came to a unexpected standstill. Rounding a corner on a downhill stretch, we braked hard to avoid ploughing into a small flock of sheep. Our sudden arrival on this quiet country track was the undoing of a young shepherd's hard work. We waited apologetically while the patient shepherd and his five dogs gradually coaxed the flock back together. While he whistled to his dogs, we enquired sheepishly about the possibilities for camping. He pointed to a small settlement a couple of kilometres away, "You see those wooden huts over there, you'll be alright in one of those. I'll clear it with the boss when I get back and you'll be good as gold." His simple act of kindness made our day complete and set us up for a night to remember. We joined his flock for a slow procession along the final few kilometres to the shepherds' hut, a most basic of cabins with two bunk beds and an electric lightbulb, but a welcome sanctuary from the cold, dark night and munching livestock outside. We lifted the boys into their bed and lay down in ours to await the onset of sleep, unaware we were sharing the cabin that night. While the boys slept like babies do, we slept fitfully as small creatures taking sanctuary in the walls and ceilings of the cabin scratched out an evil lullaby. We never found out whether it was rats, birds or something worse that was trying so desperately to reach us, but we were sure up early for the final few kilometres to the end of the road to meet the Colonel, see Walter Peak High Country Station and catch our boat to Queenstown.

Cameron rose with the sun, "Mummy, I want some milk, I want some milk, milky, milky, Mummy," he whinged over and over. Our dried milk was all gone so it was a relief Walter Peak was so close. In its' promotional literature, Walter Peak High Country Station promises all the delights of a working farm and Victorian homestead: sheep shearing displays, a chance to see milking time, horse trekking, colonial style afternoon teas, and a ride on a vintage steamer. "Maybe you can have milk straight from the cow," Kirstie reassured Cameron. Sweaty and thirsty, we drew up at a series of imposing clean white wooden buildings with red tin roofs too hot for a cat. Set in perfectly manicured English country gardens, the perfume of the roses was almost as overpowering as the silence. In the early morning heat nothing moved or stirred. Walter Peak was a ghost-farm. Kirstie searched the grounds for human life. On the patio, standing by a huge barbeque amid wooden tables and paraffin patio heaters was a waitress. "Hi, can we get a cup of coffee and some milk for the kids?" Kirstie asked. "Not till the first boat comes in," said the waitress walking away. "What time's that?" Kirstie asked after her. She was gone. Stuart tried in the bar. "We're not open until 11.45 and we don't take cash," explained the barman, "No tour ticket, no coffee."


Stuart gives up on the Colonel's hospitality and has his own muesli

Two hours later the first steamer arrival brought the usual mixed bag of Japanese and European tourists to see 'the Colonels' homestead.' A gardener approached us, her wheelbarrow full of pruned rose stems. "If you want out of here, you'd better get on the ferry straight away, it doesn't hang around you know." "We were hoping to get a coffee," said Stuart. "Sure it's 50 dollars and you'll need to take the full tour, sheep shearing and milking first, then the gift shop and after that at 11.45 you'll get coffee and cake with the others. The barbeque is optional." In front of us, three people stood behind a sign marked barbeque. "But we just want a coffee," said Stuart, "and milk" wailed Cameron, "and Puppy The Wuppy wants a bone" chimed Matthew. "Like I said, it's fifty dollars each for the tour. Cake and coffee included. We could do juice for the kids," said the gardener firmly. It was clear who was in charge here.

It was Cameron that finally got us our coffee; by bursting into tears, "Want milky milk, now. Want it mummy." Relenting, the woman offered us a special; ferry and a coffee, as long as we drank it at 11.45 with the others. We bought this package, joined the crowd and scoffed all the cakes to bring our own little independent adventure to a close. A family united by our bonding in the wilderness, divided over who should have the last piece of banana loaf and disappointed that the Colonel was nowhere to be seen.


At last, the great escape

Our arrival in Queenstown, the 'adventure capital of the world' marked the end of our independent journeying. As we were soon to find out, in Queenstown thrills have to be packaged, priced and purchased along with the crowd; barbeque and video optional. But for four exhausted adventurers that was just fine. At least for a while.

Family thrillseeking

One particular kind of adventure experience is the big thrill; something that raises your pulse, gets a little adrenalin flowing, and feels a little scary (even if it's perfectly safe). Out here in New Zealand there's a whole industry of operators offering all kinds of adventure experiences to thrill-seekers. Many of these take place in extraordinary outdoor settings which add to the novelty, drama and intensity of the whole escapade and help make for very powerful and memorable experiences. What's more a lot require no previous skill or experience to take part, making them accessible to anyone with the nerve and the money.

While in Queenstown, we tried to unearth some options for thrill-seeking families and it was quite a surprise to us just what you could get up to. Some are well suited to whole family participation while others are more individually based, but even those often cater for family spectators. When Mum, Dad or big brother does a bungy jump, it's quite an adventure for the whole family. And age is not necessarily a barrier, while some of the riskier activities have strict age limits, others are open to anyone from 3 upwards.

So here are some of the ideas that Queenstown has come up with that could help you spice up your family life in 2005 or do a little family bonding. And of course many of these are available at other locations around the globe. Let us know how you get on.

Bouncing back to earth

Bungy jumping
High wire bungy
Slingshot bungy
Parabungy
Canyon Swing
Rock jumps

Riding the rapids

White water rafting
River surfing
Jet boating
Jet ski
Canyoning
Luge
Glacier Trekking

High flying

Skydiving
Gliding
Hang-gliding
Aerobatic flying
Fly by wire
Paragliding
Heli anything
Hot air ballooning

What's new on the website?

We've been blogging away and uploading to the website when we can. Our aim is to post something about twice a week, writing in snatched moments between the cycling, child-minding, tent-hold chores, sightseeing and the odd moments of chilling.

For example, you can find out: why sunset is such a relief (The Hardest of Times), what the boys really think about their big trip (The Happy Half and The Unhappy half), and how we lost a soft and cuddly member of the Family on a Bike (Band of Brothers).

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

Check back regularly and keep up with what we're up to.

Virtual adventures

We've been touched by the many small gestures people we've met on the road have made to help us out. If you're reading this and you've helped us out then a big thanks. Thanks especially to Marion and Russell for their hospitality, Chaunia and Robin for the coffee, Ruth and Donna at Fjordland Ecology Holidays who helped in many ways, Ken the Canvas Specialist in Timaru who repaired a buggy for free; and Iria Molyneux who cooked a magnificent Finnish Christmas dinner.

One of the many strange things about using a web site to post our travel tales is how virtual strangers have also been able to get in touch and help us out. We're grateful to the people at Burley trailers who organised a new trailer cover to keep Matthew dry in this miserable New Zealand summer. And Brian and Eline from Dunedin have been sending us route suggestions and ideas for great campspots and things to visit. It's added a little extra interest to have them as virtual guides.

If anyone else has any suggestions for things for us to see and do, or you'd like us to personally deliver a message to friends or relatives, drop us a line and we'll see if we can follow it up. It's always nice to hear from people so don't hesitate to e mail or give us a call, even if it's just to say you've nothing to say! We still welcome any contributions you have for the web site and your ideas for things we might write about. Tell us what you'd like to know about adventuring as a family, about your own adventures, or your thoughts about our writing and postings.

You can send us a message by replying to this email newsletter, by mailing us at mail@familyonabike.org or by calling us on our mobile +64 (0)21 203 2392! Our technology pannier means we're contactable throughout our travels. We'd love to hear from you.

For now we're heading up to the top of South Island, then across the water to Wellington to take part in the Big Coast Ride, a 2 day mountain bike event taking place mid February.

And that's it from us for now as we pedal our way into 2005

Until next time,

Stuart, Kirstie, Matthew, Cameron, Puppy The Wuppy, New Lamby
The Family on a Bike

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The Family Adventure Project
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