Elisabeth Easther talks to Stuart Edwards of Green Jersey Explorer Tours, Wairarapa
I've always done things with bikes. I love the freedom and independence of cycling. It's so different from travelling by bus and every day you get stories to tell. One day, when I was working as an internal auditor in the public sector, I woke up at my desk and thought, I should be doing something that keeps me active and engaged. So that was the moment, and in 2011 we shifted to the Wairarapa and started Green Jersey.
Our two main cycle trips are Riding the Vines in Martinborough - there's no better way to enjoy the vineyards - and Riding the Rimutakas which starts in the Hutt, goes up over the Rimutakas, into Wairarapa, then back round to Eastbourne and Wellington. It's one of New Zealand's 22 Great Rides, it's got history, the rail
lines, rugged coast and the bucolic Wairarapa valley. I'm not from here. I was brought up in Hawke's Bay, Gisborne and Whangarei because my father was a freezing works manager.
Growing up, we had this little bach at a beach called Kairakau. It's 40km east of Waipawa and quite isolated and there was this little ecosystem of people - boating, swimming, surfing, fishing. It was pretty idyllic. I remember getting a phone call from my parents to say they were selling the bach and I felt like an arm had been cut off. I had such an emotional connection to it.
My first big trip was a cycling holiday through Spain, Italy and Greece. I loved my bike, a 1970s Carlton racer, an old steel-framed 10-speed with a leather Brooks saddle. Those seats are like tramping boots, they take a while to break in: this one had moulded to several other people's bottoms before mine.
You're so accessible on a bike and your chances of being asked in for cup of tea are quite high, but there was one scary moment. After my first big day in the saddle, heading for a town called Puerto-something, I spent the whole day climbing this huge hill, and it was getting dark and starting to snow. When I got there, I realised Puerto was just a mountain pass and it was actually 32km to the next inhabited area.
On that trip I met a guy who was designing a house for his parents in America. We got on really well and I ended up following Josh and his wife to the US for five months to help build this beautiful home in an area triangulated off New York and Philadelphia. It was there I had my Snow White moment when this little chipmunk crossed the road, followed by a squirrel, by a pheasant, followed by a deer, then a flock of birds. It was quite bizarre and really neat. I even cycled past a family of bears.
I was woofing I guess, they kept offering me things but it didn't feel right and eventually I said, maybe you can buy me a ticket to Puerto Rico. And I got out at the airport and cycled to this marina and went to the biggest boat, a 90ft yacht, and asked if they had any jobs and I ended up sailing and cycling in the Caribbean for a couple of months. I had absolutely no idea how long I'd be away or where I'd be going, I was just following my nose. From there I met up with another cyclist and headed for Venezuela, hitching on boats and cargo ships, I had a few adventures down the Amazon and made a beeline for Bolivia where I wasn't careful with drinking water and I was sitting by Lake Titicaca and realised I was sick - really sick. No one knows where I am and I book into a hotel and ask if they can check on me every few hours, to give me a shake and check I'm alive.
Half an hour later there's a knock on the door and it's the World Health Organisation and they say, "you're coming with us". Where am I going? "To hospital", they tell me. I ask why and they say, "you may have cholera". They walk me through town although I need the toilet every 20 minutes or so. Can I call my mum? "No". And I'm put in isolation; they replace the beds with an army camp stretcher but instead of canvas it has a blue tarpaulin with a hole stitched in it - the old cholera cot.
On the fourth day they said, "you can go now". Looking back I'm glad I wasn't able to call anyone: no one could've done anything but worry. You find yourself in these situations and you find your way out - and no, no one ever told me whether I had cholera.
Further information: see greenjersey.co.nz.