Day 84: Te Anau, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 18, 2014

Day 84: Te Anau, NZ

After making her breakfast and tea, Kristen sits in the lounge area next to the reception desk at the disappointing holiday park in which we've grabbed a room for two nights. As she eats her oatmeal, she watches a series of people scramble around the parking lot outside as they make their way toward the tour buses that leave town at 8 a.m., headed toward expensive sightseeing cruises and inane shopping in Milford Sound, about seventy miles north from Te Anau.

Just then a younger German guy walks in, in no hurry. He tells the man behind the desk that he'd like to book a tour to go see Milford Sound today. The man explains in kind of an agitated way that the buses leave at 8:00, which is in less than ten minutes. When he gets to the part about how much it's going to cost, the German responds that he doesn't have his wallet, that he needs to go back to his room or his rented RV to get it. Man-Behind-Desk can no longer maintain the patience that he's just barely been holding on to.

"You gotta run!" the man says. "You have six minutes! You've gotta get to the car park in six minutes!"

After the German guy takes off at a sprint, the lounge is quiet for a couple of minutes. But then another guy walks in and says, "Where's the bus?"

The man at the reception desk, ever the image of calm and restraint, raises his voice again and says, "It's over there! You have four minutes! You should have left ages ago! You gotta get to the car park; the bus is gonna leave without you!"

New Guy does as he's told. He walks out the front doors of the lobby, and shouts in an Asian language toward the other end of the building. A moment later his poor wife or girlfriend comes running through the parking lot, wearing a backpack bobbing wildly from side to side because it's filled with eight times more crap than a day trip on a tour bus should ever require, and then together they tear off toward the car park like sheep being herded by one of those ATV-riding farmers we always see.

This is Te Anau: a series of tourists running frantically to catch a bus that will take them to a boat for a tour of Milford Sound, a beautiful body of water that today is so socked in with clouds dumping huge amounts of rain that they won't even be able to see the tops of the fjords above them. And for this privilege they have each paid at least $250.

The herd at rest.
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When people ask what we eat, it only takes about twenty seconds for me to inject pies into the conversation. Following on from this, several people have mentioned that once we reached the Southland we needed to try cheese rolls. They are a popular local snack that are famous or infamous, depending on who's telling the story. To make them, you bring together chunks of cheese, brown onions, evaporated milk, cream, and onion soup mix, roll everything up in white bread slathered with butter, and then toast them on the top and bottom in a sandwich press. It's like a dream, except you can eat it. And so, because we have a day off, and because we're in the Southland, we dub ourselves Team Cheese Rolls and vow to visit every cafe, takeaways, mini-mart, and restaurant in Te Anau until we find at least two of them.

Not off to a great start.
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Mainly not cheese rolls.
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It took five minutes to figure out that the answer here is no.
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Nope, but the deep-fried banana is intriguing.
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Not even close.
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Disgusting nachos, workshop for repairing cars, and gourment pies — the holy trinity.
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"What if we can't find them?" Kristen asks me after we walk past like the tenth restaurant or cafe or takeaways that doesn't have cheese rolls listed on the menu or sweating under a heating lamp behind sliding glass doors.

I turn to her with a serious look and say, "I need you to be positive. We need a united front. We are Team Cheese Rolls."

Does that translate to "cheese rolls?"
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Cold? The heck?
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Rain streams sideways across the sky as we head back to our room. In only fifteen minutes of unsuccessful hunting for cheese rolls, our hands and toes and faces have turned numb. Hordes of Chinese tourists in parkas and ponchos stand in the middle of the sidewalks and block our path, and groups of half a dozen people huddle in front of every fireplace we see. And here's the crazy thing: it's the middle of spring. We're only thirty-two days from the start of summer; that's less than five weeks! And yet on the highway that connects Te Anau to Milford Sound it's currently snowing enough that there's a better than even chance the road will close at some point in the afternoon.

Probably better than a cheese roll, to be honest.
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We'd like to ride tomorrow. We're less excited about how that ride is forecast to look, with temperatures in the mid-forties, strong and cold winds from the northwest, and rain for most of the day. Given the choice between pedaling out of town and feeling like a couple of shivering idiots within the first hour, or farting around in Te Anau until the situation improves a bit, it looks more and more like Team Cheese Rolls will live to fight another day.

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