So how did it start? Imagine the question:
“If you could cycle anywhere in the world where would it be?”
And the answer – “New Zealand”
“But it’s the other side of the world” – despondency.
“But look at these flights; and it includes transporting our bikes.”
“OK, let’s think about it seriously.”
Long pause…several months. Can we do it? Yes we can, to coin a phrase.
It turns out Mike knew indirectly, through his local cycling club in Yorkshire, someone in Christchurch AND Auckland. Well, that makes it do-able – fly into Christchurch, cycle around South Island and then North Island ending up in Auckland. What could possibly go wrong?
The first obstacle was boxing up the bikes – never done it before and they are going in the hold of an aircraft halfway around the world (See hints and tips at the end). Turns out no problem and spent a lovely night with our host overlooking Christchurch.
In planning the trip we started looking at the route of where we would like to go, accommodation and distances and realised NZ is a large country, hilly and sparsely populated. So the answer was threefold:
- Use long distance buses to eat up the miles where the scenery wasn’t amazing (that’s relative of course);
- Book all the accommodation. The latter had the security of knowing where you were going to stay (backpacker hostels and sheep farms) but the problem that your accommodation was 70-110km away, like it or not! ;
- It’s a hill – get over it or Rule 5, Velominati Rules ( https://www.velominati.com/)
By a combination of buses, cycling up and down hills and staying on sheep farms we found our way to Queenstown, the self-styled adventure capital of the world. But by the time we got there we were literally frozen – it snowed going over the mountain pass over the Crown Range – New Zealand’s highest paved road. Was this not summer? Yes, but the locals tried to console us by saying things like “This is worse summer for twenty years”. It didn’t console us – we just headed for the clothing shop and layered up (yes, most places in the world have shops)
After a couple of days RnR in Queenstown (no bungee jumping) we decided that, as it was so good cycling over New Zealand’s highest mountain pass (Crown Range), we would cycle it again as a means to getting over to the west coast. The weather didn’t improve until we got over the Haast Pass and into Haast village and the pesky sand flies (Advice here – take plenty of killer insect repellent). The plan then was to cycle up to Franz Josef for a couple of days and take a hike/helicopter onto the glacier. That would have been after what would be 5 successive days of tough cycling
How was the glacier, I hear you ask? Don’t know, didn’t see it. It rained as we cycled into Franz Josef and didn’t stop till we left 48 hours later. Windy too so no helicopters flying (We managed to fly in a helicopter later).
We got out of Franz Josef on a long-distance bus – had a great time all day and felt like a proper tourist stopping off at sights – it does depend on your driver as some were grumpy at our bikes and others a joy to spend time with – like all of us? After more buses and our longest but very beautiful cycling day from Nelson to Picton we took the ferry to North Island and a bus to Whanganui. Our next day was to prove one of the most eventful and exciting up to the “Bridge to Nowhere”( www.bridgetonowhere.co.nz)
We set off and soon came up to some road resurfacing and after we were waved through got some stones in Fiona’s drivetrain and shuddered to a halt. The first vehicle flagged down was a cattle truck, no room in the back; then some kind road workers stopped and took us 15km back to a mate, sorted the issue and took us back to where they picked us up – what great guys and an example of some of the kind people you meet on the road. Anyway, the Bridge to Nowhere turned out to be 17km from the end of the road, so how to get there? The owners had the solution – a jet boat ride on the Whanganui river. OK, up for that. Same on the way back in the morning.
Onwards and up North Island through the National Park (never saw the famous volcanoes – low cloud) and to Lake Taupo and a noisy night due to being above a late-night disco (advice here -you may be staying in backpacker hostels but check if the young folk are partying) and Rotarua. The highlight at Rotarua, in addition to the amazing volcanic parks, was a helicopter trip to White Island – yes, the White Island where so many people like us died not long ago when the volcano exploded. A great experience tinged with some sadness.
At this point as we were entering our final week we were feeling pretty fit but with half an eye on going home. Not homesick but aware that it was soon to come to an end. We cycled over the Coromandel Peninsular on a gravel road and celebrated NZ national day with some locals grateful for their liquid generosity. We ended up with some Yorkshire friends in Auckland for a couple of days with some beautiful and generous people.
A final note to sum up the spirit of Kiwis – Fiona lost her phone on the penultimate day with all the trips photos on it (fell out of bag) and after a sleepless night Mike got a call from the finder, whilst we were in Auckland, saying he had it about 30km south of Auckland. On return to our hosts they drove us to collect the phone with no thought for their own schedule. What hosts, what strangers…what a country.
• Boxing your bike – get the local bike shop to do it for you and make sure you watch them so you can put it back together at the other end!
• Weather forecasts – do not believe the long-range weather forecasts and prepare for anything
• How many days to cycle in a row – be careful how many successive days you plan; we found 5 days was too many in hilly country but (lack of) places to stay may be the key factor
• What to do if you cannot or plan not to cycle – have a plan B as what you can do on a rainy rest day. We went to a spa followed by a bar crawl
• Study the maps well – check the map to make sure there are actually roads
• Other road users – come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Kiwi drivers are self- confessed bad drivers! Check out our flag sticks.
PS Its now 2020 and guess what, I want to go back in 2021. Planning already.