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Sunday, 30 July 2017

Chapter 27 ~ The Circuits of Cambridge

This second-to-last place I'd stay at should bring something old yet new, and elevate it to a much more prominent status. Let me tell you about what transpired here in...

With an area of 23,900km², and a population of almost half a million, Waikato is both the fourth-largest and the forth-most-populous region of New Zealand. The central-most region of the North Island, Waikato is named after the Waikato river, which at 425km length is the longest river in New Zealand, rising in the eastern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, flowing into and out of Lake Taupo, and eventually emptying into the Tasman Sea about 30km south of Auckland after a journey taking it through nine hydroelectric power plants.

I am staying in Cambridge, with a population of about 20,000 people the largest town of the Waipa District, and third-largest town of the Waikato Region. Once the site of several Maori pā, missionaries and farmers from Britain settled in the area in the 1850s and introduced modern farming practices to local Maori, helping them set up two flour mills and importing grinding wheels from England and France. Nowadays Cambridge is mostly known for its many racing-circuits, which I already observed on my flight from Auckland to Lake Taupo (see Chapter 13 ~ The Trip to Taupo).

Here in this place, I should engage in some...

Catering Craziness

This time around, I'm helping out Craig and Viki, a couple living in the suburb of Leamington. They've both got day jobs too keep them busy, so they're happy to host a helper like me every once and so often to take care of all the work that has piled up, as well as perform other tasks of convenience.

Their kids, 15-year-old Tobias and 17-year-old Lilyrose, also live here. Well, more or less. Tobias departs on a vacation in Northland at his Grandmother's place the day after I arrive, so I barely have any chance to interact with him at all, and Lilyrose should unfortunately catch the flu, and subsequently be forced to spend most of her time in bed. Nonetheless, I get to see her significantly more often than her brother.

Apart from the Retafilij, there is also a number of Einalij to be introduced. First, we have Smidge the tomcat, who - unlike some of the other cats I've interacted with - is quite independent and for the most part either strays around the neighbourhood, or hides in his favourite spot behind the TV-utility cabinet.

And then there's the dogs: Nala, the young female black poodle, and boxer, the old male black terrier mix. Both of them are quite affectionate, and can often be found either romping around with one another, or seeking pettings and nuzzles from people around the house.

And with that, let's go straight ahead to...

The Place

Viki and Craig live in a small but comfortable house in the suburb of Leamington. Actually,calling it a suburb is a bit of a misnomer, since Leamington is effectively as big as the rest of Cambridge. Once divided by the mighty Waikato River, Cambridge and Leamington have since been joined into a single settlement, connected by a pair of bridges.

Since this once again is a house-sized place, I can easily give you a quick tour of the place.

As for the weather here... since it is winter, we get quite a number of showers, and even though Cambridge is almost directly opposite of Cordoba in Spain, the temperatures regularly drop into the lower single digits at night. One day, we even get a massive rain/thunder/hailstorm that floods the neighbourhood, and leaves the lawns and parks soaked for days to come. Fortunately we have an emergency backup vehicle, although we didn't have to use it in the end.

And that's pretty much all there's to say about this comfortable little place, apart maybe from the nice fact that the wooden oven keeps the place nice and warm despite the thin walls and cool outside temperatures. In fact, one of my major tasks here is directly related to this, which brings us directly to...

The Job

My first task here in Cambridge is to re-organize the firewood shelter, which includes bringing the old and dry firewood from the back to the front, and subsequently bringing new and wet firewood from behind the garage up around and launching it to the back of the shelter, where it has ample opportunity to dry out.

And once again, I am tasked with splitting some of the bigger logs into more handy pieces using what is most certainly not an axe.

Another part of the job description entails making sure that the firewood basket is always nice and full, so we can keep the nightly cold at bay.

Staying on the hot topic, eventually Craig and I also eventually go fetch his brother's hydraulic log-splitter to take care of the more challenging pieces of firewood.

A trivial task, which involves only minor amounts of lockpicking on my part. Yay for vulpine class skills!

With this new acquisition, the days of the bigger logs are numbered.

And after having the apparatus thoroughly checked by our feline inspector...

...I go about splitting the logs into more manageable fractions - this time without squashing a finger in the process.

As our supplies of dry wood gradually dwindle with the winter stretching on, Craig also purchases a whole trailer load of sawmill by-product wood, which I get to efficiently stack into a giant game of Jenga behind the fireplace.

But enough about firewood. Part of my duties also include handling the household, such as sorting and storing away the weekly delivery of groceries and related articles, which conveniently get shipped directly to our doorstep.

I also help with the laundry on several occasions, and at this latitude, on sunny days the sunlight get so strong, that you can literally watch the clothes dry outside.

And on those rainy days, it's the lounge which gets transformed into a Chinese washhouse.

Leaving the precincts of the house, another of my tasks is taking Nala and Boxer on daily walks, and while Nala is more goal-oriented and usually drags both Boxer and me behind her, Boxer stops along the way more often to investigate curious scents. Finally, more often than not, Smidge is waiting for us when we return, and follows us inside.

Being the completionist that I am, I systematically take Nala and Boxer around the blocks of Leamington, and after my almost two weeks at this place, I have effectively patrolled the entire southern half of Leamington with them.

It is also worth to be added that the streets here in Cambridge are not to be compared with how streets look in most German towns. Rather, they are almost little parks in their own right - perfect for doggie walks such as these.

But coming back to what I first mentioned all the way back in the very first sentence of this chapter: One task which I enjoy very much, and which should be elevated to a status of unparalleled prominence. That task is none other than...! With both Craig and Viki regularly working late, they dread the prospect of coming home at night, exhausted from work, and then still having to cook for the entire family. I, on the other hand, enjoy cooking very much, and so I soon get promoted to Viki & Craig's personal chef, tasked with whipping up a delicious dinner every evening. I certainly don't complain about this, whipping up one tasty European Meal after the next, including (but not limited to) Gamm Ligeral, Rahmschwammerlngeschnetzeltes, Fleischpflanzerln and Naleiayafero (okay, so it's one Cealian speciality, but hey).

The most satisfying part of it is the appreciative reactions of Craig and Viki as they savour the rich taste of my dishes, and I myself am also quite happy to get a chance to taste my own cooking on such a frequent basis.

Now, before I continue to the rest of the food, let us intercede with...

Circuit 1: The Leamington Lap

This time around, I get to ride a road-bike, and it even got some of my favourite colours too!

Using this convenient contraption, I start small by going on a little loop around Leamington one afternoon.

At barely 15km, this is definitely the shortest of the circuits, taking me past one of Leamington's park-blocks...

...and a little bit out of town along an extremely busy cycleway.

I also cross an intersection of extraordinary magnitude...

...and pass by some smaller racing tracks - these ones are for mountain bikes and all-terrain buggies.

Next, I proceed through the Wetlands Walk, which is a boardwalk across the marshland covering the little vale west of Leamington...

...and later proceed through the Meadow Walk, a renaturated piece of land at the southern bank of the Waikato River.

Continuing up along the river, the path gradually gets less and less navigable...

...until I eventually reach an obstacle which makes me suspect that this path was not originally laid out for bikes.

However, in the end, this. too, is no obstacle which a fox can't overcome with a bit of determination, and soon after, I get a marvellous view of the Cambridge... sorry, the Victoria Bridge. Constructed in the year 1907, this bridge is the oldest surviving bridge across the Waikato River, and remains open for traffic up to this day - which is all the more impressive considering that New Zealand regularly gets shaken by earthquakes.

Soon afterwards, I get caught by a rain shower, and have to hustle back home before I get completely drenched. Fortunately, it's not that far away, so I manage to return mostly dry, looking forward to...

The Food

Apart from the dishes I prepare at this place, there is also quite a number of other dishes at this place, such as breakfast, which consists of tea with either Müsli or cereals.

Lunch, on the other hand, is usually made of toast with jam, honey, or mayonnaise and mustard (at least unless we have leftovers from fox-cooked meals).

Dinners which are not prepared by me, on the other hand, include chicken with salad, stew, roast with potatoes and kumara, as well as mushrooms, kumara, carrots, onions and tuna in cheese sauce.

And ice cream! Let us not forget this typical New Zealand tradition of having regular ice cream desserts.

Naturally, there is one more dish which I prepared and did not mention before, and that is my legendary tri-Tail pizza, which once again left my hosts absolutely floating in savoury bliss.

Revitalized by all this calorie-rich food, I soon feel ready for...

Circuit 2: Halfway to Hamilton

My second ride should take me in the direction of Hamilton, and although I would not quite reach the big city, I'd still cross the border from the to the Waipa District to the Waikato District, and spend almost half of this 34km long side-trip cycling through it.

I start with a stop by Leamington Domain, which has model railroad tracks leading through it, not unlike Halswell Domain in Christchurch. I figure it must be a New Zealand thing: Since they have only very few railroad lines leading through the country, that makes trains more of a curiosity, and as thus spectacular enough to install in local parks.

One park further down (or up) the line - Te Koutou Domain - which overlooks Te Koutou Lake...

...I discover a curious array of outdoor fitness apparatuses. That's most certainly not something I've ever seen anywhere else.

My next stop is the village of Hautapu just north of Cambridge, which among other things serves as the absolutely final stop for a local railway line.

After that, it's west along the entire length of the loooooooong Hautapu Road, which amounts to a straight stretch that is over 6km long.

Eventually, the road terminates as it hits the Waikato Expressway, and with it the Te Koopuu Maania Bridge.

Going along a cycleway parallel to the expressway, I have to continue north for quite a bit before I find a way to cross the mighty road, and after I do, I find myself observed by a small herd of alpacas grazing in the nearby gardens.

With the sun mercilessly descending towards the western horizon, I figure I'd better make haste to get back to Cambridge...

...and only stop to bear witness to a colony of birds competing quite successfully with the noise of traffic from the nearby roadway.

Not long after, I arrive back in Cambridge...

...where I not only pass by the highly asymmetrical St. Andrews Church...

...but also the Good Union Bar, which was converted from a former church.

And after that, it's back home to Leamington again, just in time before night falls! And now, let us continue with...

The Flair

There's quite a number of curiosities to be discovered, such as the junk mail box…

…and somewhere along the line the road workers here apparently realized that they can’t build the path straight because there’s a wooden sign in the way.

Next up, there’s the slight important difference between Thompson St and THOMPSON ST, which might trip up people like me who routinely address their letters in capitals for better legibility…

…and I suppose this particular road sign composition means something like “drive your car against the fence right here”.

Now, am I the only one who finds this combination a bit odd?

Also, here’s a curious fence design for people who have too many bicycle tires.

By the way, what would you do if you were a city planner and had just built a street, only to realize you need to branch another street of it? Sure, you could go through all the trouble and pick a new name for the new street, or you could go funky like…

…resulting in totally not confusing addresses like “2 Grace Ave 2/2”. Just imagine coming to the post office and saying: “I’d like to send a letter to Two Grace Ave two/two.

Staying at the topic of funny road names, apparently the only thing you can do if you reach luck at last is to turn around at the end…

…and this tiny little chainsaw certainly has style.

But now, let us wrap this section up with a few pet antics, for even though they get along just fine most of the time…

…they do have a number of quirks, such as Smidge doing morning pushups atop the TV utility cabinet.

And I’m going to let you guess what’s wrong with the following picture:
  1. The bottom one is a male.
  2. The top one is a female.
  3. Dog x Cat WTF?!?!?
  4. All of the above.

If you picked answer 4, then congratulations! You're absolutely correct. But now enough of this. Let us continue to the grand finale of this section, namely…

Circuit 3: The Tirau Triad Tor-Tour

Well, I suppose it must run in the family. With a grandfather who used to cycle all the way to Switzerland and back, and a father who does annual cycling tours through the Alps, I appear to have a genetic predisposition for crazy bicycle tours like this.

This one in particular should indeed trump the Collingwood Challenge (see Chapter 20 ~ The Golden Getaround) in both distance and duration. Whereas the Collingwood Challenge covered “only” 72km and took me ten hours, the Tirau Triad Tor-Tour should span a total of 77km in only 6.75 hours – and with 442 meters of altitude to boot!

The first circuit covered only a single district, and the second covered two. So it should come to no surprise that this third tour takes me through a total of three districts. Starting by cycling to the shore of the long Lake Karapiro and the highlands south of it, I should eventually cross the lake and head north into the Matamata-Piako District. From there, I’d take a turn east and south to reach Tirau in the South Waikato District, and eventually head back west to Cambridge along State Highway 1. An endeavour that should not be without problems, but let us start at the beginning.

Once again, I set out along the eastern cycleway – only this time I don’t turn back, and instead keep on going…

…until I reach the shores of Lake Karapiro, which is one of the nine hydroelectric lakes along the Waikato River.

The cycleway continues for some while here, but it is not without its difficulties. For one, there are steep slopes. And while the downhill part is already quite tricky due to tight turns, the real challenge is cycling that same gradient up again on the opposing side…

…and then, there is also this scenic but slippery boardwalk. Fortunately this one has guardrails on either side.

Lake Karapiro, which was formed in 1947, is officially 11km long before it is considered to be an extension of the Waikato River. However, looking at it on the map, I’d say the lake itself is at least 20km long, and goes around a corner – although looking at it, I guess you could easily confuse it with a really wide river.

Eventually, the road leads me into the foothills of Maungatautari, an eroded andesitic volcano, and as a result gradually climbs uphill quite a bit, until it reaches a peak height of 171m above sea level, and 111m above the level of Lake Karapiro.

Once again I stand in awe of the idyllic scenery around here, and can totally understand why this place was used as the set for the Lord of the Rings movies.

Eventually, I return to the lake shore again, where I get the rare opportunity to cross the lake not on a boat, but rather a bridge.

Not far from the bridge, I witness what I figure must be a flock of submarine ducks going about their business...

…and then I’m off into the Matamata-Piako District, which owes its curious name to the township of Matamata and the Piako River.

Here, I pass by the famous national HNS Monument (whatever that stands for)…

…and pass through a wide valley of spectacular rock formations.

Also, people kept telling me about how I could not come to New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton. Well...

In your face! Not only did I come to New Zealand without visiting Hobbiton, I got within 4km of the place without actually going there, and I still had a great time. Take that, tourism industry!

Instead, I cycle past a cow going after the grass on the other side of the other side of the fence…

…and finally reach the town of Tirau.

Now, those of you who have a better memory than this scatter-brained fox may remember that I already passed through here on one occasion. I for my part am quite surprised to find that I ended up here of all places again.

Although I never should find out what’s the deal with these curious constructions this time around either, I notice a number of other creative signage all around the place – be it on garages, cafés or even churches – and eventually come to the conclusion that Tirau is simply full of it!

Now, “all” that’s left is the way back to Cambridge.

It’s more or less a straight road, and I only stop a single time to observe the weird evil alien eye of sustainability.

The way back leads me along the extremely busy State Highway 1, which connects Cape Reinga with Wellington, traversing the entirety of the North Island from north to south, and cutting right through every mountain in its path.

However, I should soon run into another problem related to a cyclically recurring pattern of luminosity fluctuations directly related to the apparent orbital path of the skyborne photon blaster.

Now, the good news is: This bike actually has an itty-bitty tiny-winy LED lamp equipped.

The bad news – and naturally, I only realize as much at the most inopportune time – is: The battery is dead. And so begins a race against time, with me trying to close the remaining distance as quick as possible before night overtakes me. It doesn’t exactly help that now during rush-hour, traffic actually picks up along the highway.

But it’s no use. Despite me forcing my legs to their limit, I only reach Cambridge long after night has already fallen, and in fact have to answer a phone call of Craig, who is starting to get worried about me. Where's daylight saving time when you really need it?

But I manage to return safely in the end, well after 6pm, and without being stopped by the police. Exhausted but accomplished, and most importantly of all, unharmed. This really was the mother of all bike rides for me, and I rest well tonight, desperately hoping that my future self is not going to force me on another crazy tour like this.

But now, let us continue on to…

The Retrospective

Once again, I had the pleasure of staying at a wonderful place. The accommodation was good, and the food was (with some help from my side, admittedly) absolutely fantastic. The work was varied and interesting, and the atmosphere was great, featuring nice pets. The facilities left nothing to be desired, including even a bathtub, and I had a bike to explore the place with (although my legs protest that that was the closest thing to assisted suicide). And on top of all of that comes the fact that Craig and Viki barely expected me to do any work at all – which only motivated me to work all the harder and exceed their wildest expectations to a point where they were afraid they’d run out of work for me to do.

Add it all together, and you get the sixth place on my journey to which I award the high honour of ★★★★★. I certainly don’t mind running into these places, but it makes leaving them behind all the harder. All the more reason to leave behind a piece of my soul in the form of a gift artwork, which – as usual – is truly appreciated by both Viki and Craig. This one features Craig as a mongoose, Viki as an otter, and Lilyrose as a narwhal, together with their pets.

But the winds of time blow again to carry me away with them, and so it is time for me to face…

The Road Ahead

My next destination would be Northland. However, before that I should make a short stop in Auckland to visit a certain somebody. Whom would I see? What would I experience? That is too much to fit into one short section, and so I shall dedicate a whole chapter to it. So stay tuned for more Tales from the Travelling Fox!