I brace myself and walk into the room where Eric Cartman and Winston Churchill have been patiently waiting for my arrival. They come at me both at once, heads down and aiming for my legs… This is not some weird dream; I’m about to be ‘pugged.’ Cartman (a.k.a Baxter) is the heavyweight senior pup and has first strike, shuffling up to my shin and rubbing his nose right in, snuffling and making little whimpering noises that can be roughly translated as ‘get your bitch-ass into the kitchen and get me some pie!’ Churchill (a.k.a Benny) is not far behind, rounding on my other leg for a good cuddle in what has become our usual morning greeting. It is the end of our days in New Zealand and we are spending them in a newfound vocation as professional pet-minders and house sitters…
It is now more than 1000 days since we left home, fast approaching three years on the road. Back home folk are looking forward to the arrival of spring but here in New Zealand it is a weird sort of autumn. While imported deciduous trees play the game, gloriously transforming through their traffic-light green-yellow-red-thru-naked routine, native tree ferns and cycads remain profusely evergreen. The hillsides are festooned with impressive stands of invasive Pampas Grass, looking like quivers of arrows stood ready for some South Seas Agincourt. An abundance of jelly-tot flowers line the grass verges making it feel more like spring but nighttime temperatures say otherwise. Luckily in these chillier days we have no more camping for a while in our new occupation.
In a journey of this magnitude, traveling around the world, the journey itself has a certain ‘fixed price’ element. To see all of the highlights along the way, we need to ride a certain distance through each country, which requires petrol, accommodation and food. There are servicing costs for the bikes to cover consumables such as tyres, oil, chains etc and administration costs to cover visas, health insurance and vehicle insurance (where required). Finally there are several major sea crossings that require packing, shipment and flights. Add some contingency for emergencies and you can derive a budget for the trip. Work hard, save your pennies, load-up the bikes and off you go! However the duration of any trip can be greatly extended by ‘punctuating’ the schedule; halts where expenses are reduced to food and accommodation and if you can get free accommodation then these costs become very low indeed. We already spent four-months in Malaysia and Singapore, waiting for weather to clear up ahead in Indonesia / Northern Australia, doing ‘Workaways’, where we were given a free bed and some free food in return for doing 5-hours work, 5 days a week. Our personal expenditure over this period was negligible and we obtained a fantastic travel experience living with local people and gaining beautiful insights into their culture, cuisine and way of life. Another option is ‘House-Sitting’: looking after someone’s home and sometimes their pets while they are off travelling themselves. There are a number of websites marrying hosts and would be house-sitters or, if you are lucky, you might even have some family or friends in far-away places offering the same opportunity. Such was our first experience in New Zealand when fellow travellers, Ruth and Ian who we met in Laos, offered us their home in Wellington for a month while they holidayed in the UK.
‘Windy Welly’ proved to be one of our favourite cities in all of New Zealand. From our cosy home-sit we spent a couple of weeks mooching the winding, hilly streets that led down to a delightful waterfront area where we visited the spectacular Gallipoli exhibition at the Te Papa Museum. Having visited the Turkish battlefield earlier in this trip and read quite a few books on the battle, our expectations were no more than a mildly different view of the campaign based on the Kiwi perspective. But ‘Gallipoli – The Scale of Our War’ was quite something else. Focused on six differing Kiwi stories from the campaign, each participant was represented by a vignette of one or more figurines frozen at a specific moment in the campaign. Each of the exhibits was exquisitely rendered, fully lifelike in expression and countenance down to hairs and freckles, sweat and grime. The detail of the uniforms, webbing and brass buttons was outstanding and the environment for each setting, be it mud and dirt, the chaos of action and battle or reflection afterwards at what had just happened fully captured your attention and drew you in to what really happened during those dreadful times. What was most spectacular of all was that each of the figurines was rendered on a scale of 2.4 : 1 so that they appeared as giants. It was all executed by the people at Weta Workshops, who specialise in models and effects for films such as ‘Lord of the Rings’. I will never forget entering the exhibit not knowing any of this and being greeted by the giant representation of Captain Westmacott as he was on the day of the landings… shot in the right arm not long after disembarking, clutching his service Webley revolver in his left hand as he crawled up the track that led to the front, determined to do his duty and take as many enemy soldiers with him to the grave. His war lasted only one day. He was evacuated but eventually lost his right arm and spent the rest of his life reflecting on that one day. He was a watercolour painter and eventually taught himself to paint all over again with his remaining (left) hand. This and the other images from the exhibit have affected and moved both of us like no other narrative of those dreadful times. I hope the exhibition will eventually tour, as it is outstanding both in execution and in communicating a message that we really need to pay attention to these days.
The Te Papa Museum is next to Chaffers Marina on the waterfront, which turned out to be the home of Chris and Ina, a couple of fellow round-the-world motorcyclists (Kiwi and German) who we met by pure chance in a gas station in the South Island. We had exchanged contact details and joined them on their boat for a breezy day sailing around the harbour and chewing the fat about life on the road. Once again it is amazing, looking back, at how quickly you can make great friendships on the road and we both hope our paths will cross again someday.
Our days in the land of the Kiwi are now numbered and we are indeed in the autumn of our days on the road. From our cosy home we began to organise the final leg of our trip. We arranged shipping the bikes on to Canada and tidied them up for departure. We also booked our final homebound flights to the UK (it is a condition of travel to Canada that tourists must have an onward / return ticket) so we even have an end date now of 10thSeptember. We also made some of our last motorcycle trips in New Zealand, with a spectacular day ride out and over the Rimutaka Crossing and on to Wairarapa and a short mooch around the little vino-centric town of Martinborough. Bidding farewell to Wellington we rode to Auckland, decent weather allowing a very scenic ride over the Tongariro Crossing to Lake Taupo. The town planners of Lake Taupo need a good boot up the backside as they have allowed the foreshore of a pretty lakeside town to be spoiled by a frontage of horrid fast-food joints – Subway, KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut – none of whom strike me as being particularly Kiwi and not what I want to see when I visit a pretty place. Still it was a good base to hike out to the thunderous chute known as the Huka Falls. And so on to Auckland, where the bikes were crated for shipment to Vancouver, a journey that will take 25 days. Thanks again to everyone at GT Logistics (the shipper we used to bring the bikes over from Australia) for making the process simple and smooth.
We rented a car and explored the delights of the Coromandel peninsular, definitely one of the highlights of the North Island and not to be missed. Calm autumn days, strolling delectable beaches culminating in a visit to another of New Zealand’s highlights; the beautiful rock formations and islands of Cathedral Cove. But we needed an additional ‘punctuation’ in our schedule to mark time while the bikes are at sea so we signed up to www.kiwihousesitters.co.nzwhere we were accepted to take care of a 5-bedroom beach house on the Bay of Plenty in the role of house-sitters looking after the pair of aforementioned octogenarian Pugs, not a role either of us ever envisioned as part of a round the world motorcycle ride…
Now I’ll be honest, the notion of looking after a dog in someone’s home while they are away is not a bad one to entertain. Maybe look after a nice collie dog or a Labrador or even a scruffy mutt that will chase sticks and add delight to any walk… but a pair of Pugs? We called Paora, the homeowner and chatted. The dogs, Baxter and Benny were both twelve years old, so 84 in human years. They didn’t need walked as Benny was on heart tablets and also taking antibiotics for a chest infection he’d picked up. Baxter was just horribly overweight and both suffered from poor eyesight. All we had to do was feed them twice a day, let them out on the lawn to do their business and then clean up after. We didn’t even have to walk them! We did a little homework… Pugs are a brachycephalicbreed, where the shape of the skull is shorter than typical for other dogs, a feature that has been exaggerated over the years by breeders. Pugs have some level of elongated palate, which interferes with breathing. Brachycephalic dogs also have shallow eye sockets and can suffer from proptosis, where their bulging eyes can pop out without much force. We read with horror that this can even happen during normal play or horsing around. Apparently if you’re quick you can pop the eye back in but… this was starting to sound like an awful lot of responsibility! In the end we decided that if we just did as Paora asked, we’d probably be safe enough but none of what we read was really doing anything to endear the breed to us.
We turned up at the house on Pukehina Beach to find a gracious home in a beautiful location. Paora was taking his grandkids to Disneyworld in LA and he quickly showed us the ropes around the house and gave us a run down on the doggy maintenance. Next morning he was gone and we were home alone with Baxter and Benny for the next two weeks… Benny looked decidedly under the weather and we were a little concerned that he might fret once Paora had gone but, dogs being dogs, once they realised who was putting the chow down every day they soon warmed to us. One other thing I knew about Pugs is that they are lap dogs; a small breed suited to plonking themselves on your lap. What I didn’t appreciate is that they really do love this and the first time I sat on the sofa Benny ran over to me like a small child demanding to be picked up. I lifted him onto the sofa where he snuggled up on my legs and demanded to be stroked. This and the early morning greetings soon won our hearts and we’d been well and truly ‘pugged’.
The house faced directly onto the beach and the Pugs were used to being left alone during the day (when Paora went to work) so we had lovely long walks on the golden sands, returning for idyllic dinners in this little corner of paradise. We visited nearby Taranga and ascended Mount Manganui, a rump of a volcano, while out to sea we could see clouds of steam rise from the very active volcano on nearby White Island. We made a short hike to visit the waterfalls at Kaiata and in the evening tracked the progress of our bikes online as their ship made its way to Vancouver via Fiji and Honolulu. All too soon we were tidying up and packing for Paora’s return and our own flights to Canada. Our first stint at House-Sitting was a grand success. It was hugely rewarding to leave two very happy little Pugs (breathing normally, with all eyes intact) and a tidy home and our eternal gratitude for this wonderful opportunity to Paora (who also had a great time in LA).
Our final day in New Zealand was a 150-mile drive back to Auckland for the evening flights to Vancouver undertaken in some of the filthiest wet weather of the entire trip to date as it lashed down for most of the journey. The grey dank day reflected our mood a little as we are genuinely sad to be leaving these islands. We met a lot of great people here and saw a lot of amazing sights but the road must go on and we are also looking forward to that final leg; the ride across Canada and then home.
The photogallery for this post may be accessed by clicking the following link: Dog Days of Autumn