New Zealand cycle trek, Chapter 2: Land of sheep, paintball and doughnuts

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 1, 2016 23:06
Ben and Chris, ready to roll

Ben and Chris, ready to roll

Bateman’s Blog

Journalist Chris Bateman, 69, and son Ben begin their 500-mile ride across New Zealand, from Christchurch to Queenstown.


Monday, Feb. 1: Christchurch to Springfield

Distance:  39 miles

Elevation gain: 1,312 feet

The first day on a bike tour is like switching jobs.

Before a tour, you cycle maybe an hour every two or three days to stay fit and feel better. Once the tour starts, pedaling becomes your life. For the next 10 days, it will be what my son Ben and I do.

The transition began when we dumped two suitcases full of clothes and gear on the floor of Natural High, the New Zealand outfitter renting us touring bikes.

Our job: packing what we really need – like rain jackets, sunscreen, insect repellant, cycling gloves, layers to ward off the cold and clean shirts, shorts and underwear to change into after each day’s ride.

I forgot my underwear, of course.

But on the plus side I remembered a whole lot of riding gear I’ll likely never use.  More on this later  – but not a lot more, I promise!

The next transition was leaving Christchurch – which although the South Island’s largest city is pretty rural. Its airport looks more like Columbia’s than Sacramento’s (although direct flights from China land there).

Within 30 minutes of pedaling, stoplights, multiple lanes and most of the traffic had disappeared.

It was replaced by wildlife parks, golf courses, antique car and steam-engine displays and, mostly, paintball ranges. Signs for Kamikaze Paintball, Delta Force Paintball and two or three more galleries sprung up within 10 miles of Christchurch. “PAINTBALL,” proclaimed a yellow, government-issue sign, as if designating some sort of official latex or acrylic free-fire zone.

Then, within another five miles, this was replaced by pastures and sheep. On this island nation, sheep (30 million) outnumber humans (4 million) by more than seven to one – which I think would speak well for any country.

No, we didn’t take on photos of sheep today. But look for some in future chapters, as we will have many, many more chances.

Paintball's popular

Matching colors

Meanwhile, we began to realize, our Day 1 ride was going pretty well. We were climbing, but very gradually. And, although carrying maybe 30 pounds of gear each, the pedaling was not difficult.

By 3 p.m., we glided into the tiny town of Sheffield, home to  “The World Famous” Sheffield Pie Shop.

You’ve never heard of it?  Well, its reputation is totally warranted.

I had the steak-and-onion, Ben had the boysenberry, and both pies were delicious. The friendly ladies who run the place filled our water bottles, the sky outside was cloudless, the mountains in the distance gorgeous, the temperature in the near-perfect lower 70s, and our day’s destination just six miles away.

At 4 p.m., we pulled into Springfield – a small (Pop. 219) but very beautiful spot on the New Zealand’s West Coast Highway.  That’s when we realized we’d probably been suckered by those shady Natural High people.

Ahead loomed the towering Southern Alps, which we will be climbing tomorrow morning. It will be all mountains all the time, and there will be no pie shops or even convenience stores for more than 50 miles.

But, yes, we’ll likely be very happy when it’s over.

Meanwhile, back to my forgotten underwear: Ben brought three pairs of his own, I brought an unrealistic three sets of  riding gloves, and we worked out a trade.

So goes life on the road.

Kiwi Notes IMG_1261.JPG

Tiny Springfield is a stop for New Zealand’s spectacular Tranzalpine train, has a beautiful gothic-revival church and a memorial to Rewi Alley, a noted Kiwi author born in the town.  But none of that put it on the map.

“You’ve go to see the Simpsons Doughnut,” said the cab driver who took us to Natural High this morning and learned of our day’s destination.

Choosing the New Zealand Springfield from more than 1,000 towns worldwide with the same name, 20th Century Fox in 2007 presented the town with a huge frosted-and-sprinkled doughnut, It was a publicity stunt marking  the release of  “The Simpsons Movie” – set,  of course,  in the TV family’s fictional hometown of Springfield – and paying tribute to star Homer’s favorite food.

But that was not the end of the story: An unknown local resident – perhaps upset that his Springfield was now associated with an American cartoon show about a hopelessly dysfunctional family – burned the doughnut to the ground in 2009.

It has since been replaced by a concrete and fireproof  version at the town’s playground.  Alas, it is inedible, but the nearby Yellow Café serves up “Homer’s Doughnuts” – which just might be the perfect fuel for climbing the Southern Alps.

Read the first chapter, and check back for cycling updates in the coming days, at Bateman’s Blog.


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 1, 2016 23:06
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