As New Zealand's Level 4 lockdown rolled along, it became increasingly clear that overseas travel was going to be off the cards for a long while to come. While Sarah and I had two trips booked (Northern Italy, and Japan), it was easy to keep things in perspective, given the hell much of the world was going through, and it was nice that the cancellations were out of our hands.
Having travelled our guts out over the last couple of years, we were nonetheless motivated to travel domestically when we could. One evening on a whim, I spent a bit of time on Air Chathams' website, and while it would be a few months before we'd pull the trigger on tickets, the seed had been well and truly sown.
Mum and Dad had been booked to go to Italy with us, and having gauged their response to our booking news, another couple of tickets were immediately secured. In all, we'd spend 5 nights on the island, and by virtue of these straddling Labour weekend, Sarah and I only had to take a couple of days off work.
By the time our dates rolled around, we had not one, but two Open U.P.s in the family. I'd first used mine to explore Niue, before doing a 200km road gran fondo on it, and am so in love with it, that I've barely ridden another bike since. Securing one for Sarah both enabled her to see what all my fuss was about, and would ensure we'd be completely compatible on the unbeaten path.
On travel day, I dropped Sarah and the bike bags at the airport, then drove to Mum and Dad's before returning with them to the airport in a cab. At check in, Sarah had been informed that the plane was full of freight, but we were promised our bikes would arrive at lunchtime the next day.
|Travel day is always exciting!
The flight path out of Wellington was awesome - we took off to the north, and then headed east over Wainuiomata, and South Wairarapa. We were on the right-hand side of the plane, so were able to look down the various valleys towards the south coast. The islands are about 800km east of the mainland, so for a long while it was just ocean out the window, until we started our descent, and the view out the window started getting interesting again.
|Given how the queue had grown behind us, it was very tough not to go berserk...
|Low lying farm land and a massive patch of gorse!!! (Told you so)
Every 5 minutes or so, we'd pass a farm house, and were surprised to see a radome off in the distance.
|You're not on Hawkins Hill now, Dr Randal
Even more surprising, was that the landscape looked more and more like Mongolia (ignoring the ocean, of course) - in particular, the lush green pastures, absence of fences, and free-range cows and sheep. It was very cool indeed, and not at all what we were expecting.
|Many of the trees betrayed the battering they get from the wind
Ma and Pa were either pretending to be relaxed about our lateness, or they actually were, and after a quick shower, we joined them down at the hotel for dinner. Afterwards, we drove up the nearest hill, and went for a short walk to a lookout giving a view of the fairly new wharf.
|Heading north, on ... North Road
We had a pretty big day ahead of us, so we didn't add in the dead end road to the airport, and we similarly ignored the next day's turnoff towards Port Hutt. We'd discovered that our presence got any nearby cattle in a tizz, and so were often spending minutes at a time with a herd stampeding just ahead of us. Invariably, they'd go crashing over a fence at some point, causing us to cringe even more.
|The Aster Walk, Ocean Mail Scenic Reserve
Soon after, we entered Kaingaroa Station, and turned right at the first intersection, down a road terminating at the JM Barker (Hāpūpū) National Historic Reserve. There was a tour group just inside the reserve, but between them and us was a sign indicating we shouldn't enter without a guide. Had we been a bit more prepared, we might have been able to see ancient Moriori dendroglyphs (tree carvings).
|A spot of R&R
Back on the bikes, we had a stiff headwind to tackle through to the intersection, before continuing past the turnoff to Kaingaroa village, and on to the gate of Muirson Station, through which we'd pass to reach Point Munning. At the gate, it suggested that we should stop at the farm house, since we hadn't pre-arranged access. No-one answered the door, so we rode on.
|Admiring the Point Munning seal colony
We tried again at the farm house on the way back, but still no answer. We then tried a second home, and were told it was no problem to go visit the seal colony (phew). Unfortunately, I didn't ask about the Sunderland Flying Boat remains, which unbeknownst to me were inside a massive shed not 50 metres away, but we did see the remains of a Fokker Friendship lying in the garden.
|Deep in the Nikau Bush
|The older stalwarts of the fleet
"Weka" had passed me early in the ride, bound for a beach along North Road, where its passengers hoped to find some fossilised shark teeth. My progress since I'd seen them had felt slow, yet I wasn't sure who'd be waiting for whom. As it turned out, they'd had time to find a couple of teeth, and get back to our designated meeting point a few minutes before I arrived.
|Chatham Island Forget-me-nots. In situ.
Over the span of about 20 years, the Croons had transformed a paddock into a very lovely home and garden, and it was a treat to be shown around.
|Wind battered akeake (Chatham Island tree daisy)
After 10km or so, and a bunch of farm gates, we joined the main road between Owenga and Waitangi, just up the road from the power station.
|Island's power station
|Site of Tommy Solomon's statue
As tempting as it was to make a beeline for a shower, we rode a couple of side roads, including one down to the Owenga jetty. It was much quieter than it had been on our first visit.
|Family holiday, great success!