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
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.
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
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
Stuart contemplates a little "bum
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.
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.
back to earth
High wire bungy
White water rafting
Fly by wire
Hot air ballooning
What's new on
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
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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