Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Are pies square? The Blokes bike Wanaka.

Generally I find air travel pretty reliable, almost as reliable as biking. But in the last month I seem to have had a run of aborted landings. First a Auckland-Wellington flight that turned into a return when the pilot couldn't distinguish a foggy Cook Strait from a foggy runway.  Now we we're into our second go at landing at Queenstown.  The wingtips were brushing the matagauri and spaniard on the mountain slopes as we glided down valley. There was a collective holding of breath as we approached the Remarkables corner, where we'd be exposed to the full southerly cross wind coming up Lake Wakatipu. Would it be another aborted landing? For a second time there was a roar as the pilot applied full throttle and climbed. "Sorry folks, we're going  to Christchurch and waiting for a better weather window". The "weather window" turned out to be a six hour bus ride, so it was late in the evening when Kevin and Bill picked me up at Tarras.
Steve and Anthony take in the sunset at the Wanaka house
The Blokes had borrowed a friends house in Wanaka for a week of mountain biking. We regularly ride on Sunday mornings, and it looked like we could cope with a week together without danger to our health - but little did we know. I'd been delayed by a medical appointment, at which a skeletal survey, blood test and CT scan indicated I was OK "so long as you don't do the sort of mountain biking where you fall off" my specialist said. 

But the real threat appeared when I got to the house - in the kitchen the fridge and every surface seemed to be laden with gourmet (i.e. high calorie, supersaturated fat) foodstuffs. Apparently the food budget had got to the point where the manager of the local supermarket had taken to personally escorting the the group around on their twice daily spending sprees, before slipping off to phone his sharebroker.

Next morning we made some inroads as Bill rustled up bacon and eggs "we could do some salmon steaks as well if you feel hungry..." then headed off to Queenstown, taking the long way, partly since there was still snow on the Cardrona, but mainly so we could identify vineyards to visit on the way back.

The days objective was the mountain bike park accessed by the Queenstown Skyline Gondola. We bought tickets, figured out the loading system, and headed up.
The Blokes at the top of the Gondola - no calories were harmed in the making of this ascent
Hammy's track looked like a good start, graded as easy. Nice flowing lines through the pines taking us out to the back near Ben Lomond, then down for another gondola ride.

Ben Lomond assesses Bill's riding style
How about Vertigo, an intermediate run? This seemed to be a family route - families. that is, of identically Lycra clad parents and kids, some as young as five (the kids, not the parents!) with full suspension rigs, incredible track holding skills, and a complete lack of fear. After a few spills, Bill and I decided not to intrude on their enjoyment, and that Hammy's was so good it could cope with a few more runs, particulary if leavened with a dose of the curiously named Thundergoat.

Around lunchtime we all met up at the top of the Gondola. The stress of riding downhill seemed to have burned off the breakfast, and we felt sure that Russell, waiting to be picked up at the airport, would not want us to picking him up in a calorie depleted state, so we trooped into the cafe. This was the start of the Pies. We all ordered them, and they were delicious, and perfectly healthy if combined with the low calorie tomato sauce.
Pies at the top of the Gondola: Steve attempts to distract Kevin from his supersaturated temptation, while Bill documents the occasion for the coroner
We picked up Russell, and headed back down the wine trail towards Wanaka, purchasing sufficient supplies to ensure that that our resveratrol levels remained healthy.
Bill and Steve consider the health benefits of  Peregrine wines
That night we heard about the Wanaka super pie. Kevin's nephew and his partner came around for dinner - the memories have faded, but perfectly cooked $70/kg merino lamb was involved - "you haven't been to the Golf Club? You've got to try the Lamb Shank Pie!". Apparently the Golf Club serves lamb shank pies that are mouth watering, generously sized, and world famous on Trip Advisor. "The best pies in New Zealand, especially the lamb shank!". You can also play golf there.

So next day we were on a tight schedule - after a light pancake breakfast (with bacon, whipped full cream, bananas, and pears) we'd whip around the Millenium track to Glendu Bay, and back to the Golf Club for the first pie sitting.
Wanaka foreshore
It was a blue bird day, and despite being on a camera diet - I'd been banned from taking my 2kg DSLR on bike trips - there was enough fun to be had photographing the reflections and autumn colours on my compact  Olympus TG-820 that I fell behind the group.
According to Tourism New Zealand, 2,893,564 copies of this image are exported from NZ in an average autumn, leading to an international balance of scenic beauty deficit; fortunately this is reversed 6 months later when New Zealand tourists hit the cherry blossoms of Japan, and the US fall colours.

In fact I fell so far behind that my next meeting with the Blokes was as they retreated from the Millenium track, racing back towards the Golf Course and Pie Nirvana.

Millenium Track to Golf Course and Lamb Shank Pies
I find it difficult to give up a track once I'm started on it, and continued on, stopping occasionally to try and remind myself which of the peaks visible up the Matukituki was the real Mt Aspiring/Tititea
Approaching Glendhu Bay on the Millenium Track; a ridge of bogus Aspirings in the background
The real Aspiring stands out from Glendhu Bay
I returned to Wanaka, and decided that since the Blokes had probably swept the Golf Club clean of pies, I'd content myself with a goat pie from the foreshore bakery. Later on the outlet trail to Deans Bank I caught up with the Blokes and heard the sad tale - the Golf Club had run out of Lamb Shank Pies! However as we spoke the cook was specially preparing a delivery of pies, and that evening we dined on the rotund wonders - and very fine they were too.

Next morning the question arose of whether all this food was exactly healthy. The choice of margarine, naturally, came under the spotlight. Fortunately, after a close reading of the ingredients on the container, and an exhaustive literature search, our medical advisor, Russell, was able to assure us that it was. We returned to our healthy bacon and eggs, and eased up on the nasty statins.
Good news - 90% of Cochrane reviewers eat our margarine
Then we headed off to sample the Luggate pub lunch. The Wanaka trail network offers a round trip: the Newcastle Track, a slightly mountain bike option down the true left, and an easier trail option. the Upper Clutha River Track, up the true right. As usual, I got entranced by the photo opportunities and fell a bit behind.
Clutha from the Newcastle Track
Just as I reached the end, I got an urgent call from the pub - a busload of tourists were about to descend, and we had to get our order in quickly! A random pick from the menu, and  sufficient battered cod was ordered to prevent starvation on the way back.

We made our way back along the terraces of Upper Clutha River Track, with Russell keeping an anglers eye out for trout in the river below.

Kevin, Steve and Russell check out the Clutha
Kevin shreds the Upper Clutha trail..
...but couldn't resist the lure of a permanent hammock
 The last night and morning were devoted to tidying the house, and using up the last of the supplies ("hey guys, I've just found a bunch of salmon steaks in the bottom of the fridge"). What healthy delicacies we couldn't consume, we distributed about Kevin's relatives, playing Blokes Bountiful before heading north over the Lindis. I, as a "Gentleman of Leisure", as my business card says, didn't have a Monday deadline luring me back to Wellington. I swapped my knobblies for road tyres, and got the Blokes to drop me at the Pukaki start of the Alps2Ocean trail to the sea.
Retired person's business card, courtesy of Martin
But that's the next blog...

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