New Zealand (Part 2)

A couple of weeks before Christmas I headed out from the holiday park in Omarama on a 'mini adventure', with a plan to cycle due East towards Oamaru and then South down to Dunedin. During this I ended up biking part of the Alps to Ocean Trail, which was awesome! Most of the trails in New Zealand are awesome to be honest, with some of them truly world class.

Unfortunately when I try to ride this trail parts were on gravel and I ended up sliding all over the place, due to small tread tyres and carrying a lot of weight on the bike. The views were fantastic and it's only when you get off the highways and onto trails like this that you really get to know a country.

New Zealanders love the outdoors and as a result you’re never far from a campground which made camping very easy. Just about every town and village in New Zealand has a domain – a grassy patch of land for recreation. For the passing cyclist, this is somewhere you can often pitch your tent and it only cost about $5.

Camping in New Zealand

Just before arriving in Oamaru I decided to try a hostel and using the app I saw there was still one bed left at the Swaggers hostel. However when I turned up I found the lady who ran the place was trying to stop people from staying at the hostel for the night as her son was having his birthday party. Initially she was, to put it politely, a little annoyed that I was staying but she eventually cooled off and brought me some chocolate birthday cake and a coffee by way of an apology, and later I was treated to some food and beers from some of the other guests.

After a short time in Oamaru I decided to board a bus as I had planned a meeting with a friend in Dunedin and wanted to get there in time. Luckily I was able to convince the driver to let me on board with my bicycle as is always the case now. With the buses you can’t pre-book with a bicycle so all I could do was turn up and hope there was space and politely convince the driver to allow me on with it!.

Once I arrived I stayed in the 'chilly' city of Dunedin for 3 days with my friend Brooke. She was a great hosts and we went on a few little adventures, racing around the city on our bikes. Dùn Èideann (Dunedin) is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh and very much like Scotland the weather was unpredictable. It is also the furthest city in the world from London!

After a great few days I made my way from Dunedin over the rolling hills and through the rain towards the Catlins. The Catlins is an area of outstanding natural beauty with some really great beaches. I was only in the Catlins for around three days before I got to my next city, Invercargill, battling against 60km headwinds to get there. I had been interested in going to Invercargill after seeing it in the film, 'The World’s Fastest Indian'.

After Invercargill I tried to head further South to a coastal town called Bluff (previously known as Campbell town) and a place within Bluff called Stirling Point (the most Southern point of the South Island). However I only managed to get within 10km as I found cycling the narrow roads to be too dangerous in the strong winds. At this point I had to just turn round and start the long bike back to Omarama in time for Christmas.

On the way back I made it to a place called Lumsden. To reach Lumsden I had to cycle up a long climb and when I got there I found a great setup for camping. It used to be an old railway town and, as a reminder of its past as a major train destination, it had 2 old trains that you could explore next to a disused platform. The platform had facilities for campers, including running water and toilets. There were campers from many countries there and it had a chilled out feel to the place. I made the most of the relaxed setup and relaxed there the next day before continuing on to Omarama. I arrived back in Omarama 2 days later with the most scenic part of the ride cycling through the awesome Otago valley with Vineyards either side of me.

Christmas at the holiday park was great and on Christmas day I enjoyed a beer with Tony and his family and then a very nice Christmas dinner with my friends Callum, Charlotte and Tessa. We all contributed to the meal, stuffing ourselves with roast pork, pigs in blankets, potato, gravy and all the trimmings. It was a great day and I loved the company. I decided to stay on till the 2nd Jan as I thought I would struggle knowing I could have been with friends instead of on my bike. It ended up being a great way to end the year and round off my time in Omarama.

On the 2nd January I found myself heading South West towards Lake Wanaka, via the Lindis pass, for the 2nd time. While there I stayed with Roger and Donella for 2 nights. I had met Donella at the holiday park and she knew I was passing through and invited me to stay with them while I was there, which I gratefully accepted. Getting up at 3am the following morning I made my way to Roy's Peak to get a sunrise photo (which some of you might remember that I mentioned in my previous blog post!). I was unsuccessful in seeing a sunrise as it was misty at the top so to take advantage of the mist, and the fact that no one else is stupid enough to appear on a misty summit at 5am, I posed naked for a laugh and for the hell of it. I then headed down and back to my hosts house where I chilled out before going to explore the town of Wanaka. I find that if I sit around all day and do nothing on a ‘rest day’ my legs simply go stiff so the key is active recovery and to still move around. Wanaka has lots going for it, like most parts of New Zealand. Snowboarding, hiking, water skiing and many other activities are the norm here.

I carried on for the West coast the following day and on the way I stopped at Isthmus Peak (1,385m), hiding my bicycle in the long grass when no one was looking, and then set off on the 10 mile round trip to the summit. I made it up and back again in 3 ½ hours, having enjoyed the stunning panoramic views at the top, and was pleased to find the bike still safely hidden where I had left it. I continued heading West, travelling over the Haast Pass, and then slowly making my way up the coast, camping by rivers along the way where I washed and cooked each evening.

I eventually reached Fox Glacier where I suddenly fancied a nice cup of coffee! I hadn’t seen much in the way of coffee for at least 200km and I knew there wouldn’t be much after leaving here for another 100km or more. While there I could help but notice all the tourists and wonder how many others had traveled by bicycle like I had. I then noticed 2 other bikes had appeared and shortly after I meet Coonla and Fredrika, a couple from Ireland and Sweden. They had decided to use their holiday time to cycle from Queenstown to Auckland.

After saying goodbye it wasn’t long before I saw them again while I was summiting a hill North of Fox. Fredrika had a problem with his bike so I offered assistance. This was the start of a mini adventure together that took us further up the West coast towards the town of Hokitika.

While my cooking isn’t bad it is certainly very basic, and it felt even more basic compared to the food Fredrika and Coonla cooked one evening in Hokitika at our host Kevin’s home. An awesome curry with a variety of veg, which is generally good cycling fuel. Kevin gave us some advice about a glow worm cave where, if viewed after 10pm, you could see the worms glowing at their best. It was still raining but only ten minutes after leaving Kevin’s house we reached the cave and were wide eyed staring at the star like views of the glow worms around us. I’ve seen them before but never this bright!

Another few wet days later had the three of us checking into the Global village hostel in Greymouth. While there we took the time to dry out everything and have a little time off the bikes to explore, read and catch up on messages from home. Coonla’s pannier rack cracked on the way out of the Greymouth but luckily a guy called Dominic took him and his bike 50km back into the city and paid for a new one. I thought such generosity was hard find these days but it’s still out there and can happen when you’re in dire need of it.

A little while later we reached the town of Reefton which had a little gem of a campsite next to a river, which was very quiet with not many other campers around. Coonla spotted 2 touring bikes and we took the opportunity to speak with their owners, Ewan and Katie, over a nice cup of coffee. They are from the U.K and are currently on their own world adventure, heading West, and they have so far cycled through America and are planning on heading through Asia and Europe on their way back home. Hearing others talk about their own adventurers always gives me a renewed sense of energy and renews the focus on my own journey.

Reefton has had its glory days in the past, being the first town in New Zealand to receive electricity from a renewable power station, but it is now just a quiet little town with a couple of coffee shops and hardware stores. Speaking to people in these close-knit communities is enlightening as they are often very knowledgeably about the area and can point you in the right direction if you need anything.

We left Reefton and headed towards an area of New Zealand called Abel Tasman, which is filled with golden beaches and excellent vineyards. You can take the Abel Tasman trail which winds past vineyards on quiet tracks sampling what these lucrative little wine business have to offer. On my last day with Coonla and Fredrika we stopped in a pub in Motueka, where they very kindly paid for a couple of beers and we enjoyed a farewell drink together, before I made my way solo towards a place called Collingwood. It was nice to have had company and to share the experiences of cycling up the West coast with them.

It was now the middle of February and, as I rode late into the evening, I found a little campsite not too far from the Abel Tasman area of Sandy Bay. This place has its own temperate climate and as I sat there that evening writing my diary I took a moment to look at the simple splendor of tractors towing boats on to the beach and kayaks heading out to sea.

I thought I had about a 30-minute climb up Takaka hill on the way to Collingwood the next day, which should have been fairly easy. How wrong I was as it became a 2 hour climb instead! I was tired when I reached the top but I knew I would get a decent downhill after summiting and that bit certainly didn’t disappoint. It was a bittersweet moment however as I knew I would have to climb back up that hill again in a couple of days’ time.

Collingwood was its own mini adventure as I had to cycling through strong winds and rain and I ended up stopping in large bus stop on the way there to try and avoid the rain. Once I got to my destination I could help but notice how quiet it was. It wasn’t the best weather to be fair so I can only imagine how much busier the place would be on a good day. It was almost made the capital city after gold was discovered in Aorere Valley in the 1850’s, however it has been ravaged by fire several times since then and was almost destroyed in 1904.

After a brief stay in Collingwood I set off on my bike again, this time heading back in the direction I had come to get here. I ended up stopping in the same bus stop I had stopped at on the way, this time late in the evening, and staying there over night to avoid the thunderstorm and heavy rain.

My sleep in the bus stop that night was intermittent as the heavy rain rattled off the tin roof, however the next day was clear and warm and, after a little detour via Pohara, I rode back up Takaka hill and cycled towards Motueka, the town where I’d enjoyed my farewell beer with Coonla and Fredrika. After waiting for the blanket of night to fall I rolled out my mat on a nearby bus stop bench with my sleeping bag and had a blissful night’s sleep. I was feeling rejuvenated as I cooked my breakfast the next morning and, while the sun was coming up I meet a young woman walking a dog. It turns out she worked on a farm not 5 miles from my home! What are the odds?!

Next on my agenda was Nelson, the oldest city on the South Island and the second oldest in New Zealand. After riding an excellent cycle path along the coast I was met by my host Marilyn. She put me up in her lovely home up on a hill, with a really interesting design like many of the homes in the area. I had my own room where I stashed my bags and had a welcomed shower, after which I willingly re-joining civilization for a day by wandering round the town’s busy local farmer’s market.

I’ve come to realise during my travels how much I appreciate a good farmers market and how much I neglected them back home. I walked around looking at all the quality local stalls from works of art to local honey. There was a busker called AJ who makes music under the banner ‘evolving rhythms’ and many people listened with acute interest. I watched while sharing a table with some locals. I walked round the local park enjoying the contrast of quiet and open space taking photos with my camera of the buzzing market.

The following day was a reluctant but enjoyable ‘sofa day’ as the weather deteriorated. I made a compromise with Marilyn in which if I bought the lamb she would cook a roast and that was fine by me! The food at Marilyn’s was excellent and I relished being with good people sharing good food.

After the recovery days in Nelson I headed for the Rainbow Road, which runs between St Arnaud and Hammer Springs. It’s a 112km gravel road famed for the landscape it winds through, from wide tussock lands and screes along the craggy river to beech-covered mountains in the Wairau catchment. However, it wasn't to be. I arrived just as a German mountain biker was passing me in the other direction and he informed me that the road is closed due to high rivers from recent heavy rainfall. Therefore, I had to detour from my original route and head, via Muchinson, over Lewis pass. The pass wasn't as bad as I expected, the rain was light and the wind calm, but after the summit where you start to descend I started to become really cold. My t shirt wasn't breathable and stuck to my skin, chilling me to the bone. I stopped at the first campsite and, struggling to use my hands, managed to get the tent up and some hot food on the stove.

The next day the weather had cleared and sunlight was slowly diffusing through the clouds. It was to take 3 days from the campsite to reach my next big destination of Christchurch, which ended up being mostly downhill or flat as I passed through the Canterbury Plains. I wanted to smash the miles on the last day before reaching the city so I was up and had left the campsite before sunrise and, when I reached Christchurch, I was greeted by hosts Kiri, Peter (what a great name!) and their daughter Katherine, who are relatives of one of my friends back home. While I was there I enjoyed the comforts of a lovely family home and great company while exploring in and around Christchurch.

I had been here before while travelling around New Zealand back in 2010 but, never tiring of this city, I again went exploring on my bike, visiting the botanical gardens and various museums. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to aviation, especially since my earlier days in the 7th Abingdon Air Scouts, and relished the chance to look around Air New Zealand exhibition in the Canterbury Museum. The highlight was a 5 minute Virtual Reality experience which showed the future of plane travel, where I sat in in a mock plane with a set of VR goggles on.

After thanking Kiri, Pete and Kathryn for their hospitality I left Christchurch and headed in the direction of Mount Sunday, the location for Edroas in Lord of the Rings. I quickly became disappointed, after travelling 25km, to find that the rest of the route was very loose gravel and too difficult to bike so I had to unfortunately turn back. The scenery had become was mostly agricultural and provided a calming ride as the roads became quieter the further I got away from the city.

I met another cyclist at this point, called Joe, at a free camp in Geraldine. Joe was from Manchester and had the real positive, banter style attitude that I really fed off. Joe’s has been on the road almost as long as me and we joined forces, heading South, and collecting 2 more cyclist by the name of Camille and Adam along the way. Camille was 19 and from Quebec and was on her first bike tour and Adam was 35 from hungry, who had been on the road for about 20 months. (This is the total time I will be travelling for during trip.) So a diverse bunch we were and it was refreshing to have the company, even though it was slow going at times. I was fascinated by Adams KTM bicycle as it had the pinion gear system. An internal system like mine, but where the gear unit it incorporated with the bottom bracket in the frame, which allows you to replace the wheels at a local shop, whereas I would have to send mine off and wait for new ones. Pinion was formed when 2 gearbox engineers met while working at Porsche.

We all cycled together all the way to Omarama (where we lost Adam!) but we all met up again on the Otago Rail Trail, which runs from Clyde to Middlemarch. If you ever get the chance to ride the ORT do it! It follows the old train route and has fantastic scenery and facilities along the way.

I left my companions at the end of the trail in Middlemarch, where I headed back to the start of the trail and then traveled along the highways to Queenstown, which was the culmination of a whole circumnavigation on the South Island.

It had been a fantastic experience and I had a couple of days in Queenstown again with Mark, a friend I’d met here previously. Mark kindly put me up and let me sort myself out for the flight to my next county, America! I was a chilled two days before I rode to the airport with a prearranged bike box sorted. It was the first time I dissembled my bike at the airport. Usually I did it the day before and taxied to the airport on the day of the flight. I was a little anxious if I'm honest and I really struggled to get everything in my two panniers, but after a little stressing it was job done and I checked onto the plane and flew to my next country and the next stage of my trip - San Francisco, California.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for future updates.

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