Our Tour Aotearoa: The Final Chapter

All good things must come to an end or so the saying goes and I have to admit it was with a heavy heart that I rode into Bluff on April 23.  When we started our ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff, I truly wondered what I was thinking. Was my fitness level up to it? What if I couldn’t complete the ride? But as I rode on, it started to get easier, I slowly became stronger and as we peddled the last 30 km towards Bluff, I really wanted to keep riding. During the last week of our TA ride, we started adding new detours, ultimately delaying our arrival at Bluff. Subconsciously I think we both wanted to extend the journey.

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Thinking back over the 10 weeks we spent travelling the TA (revised route) it was an incredible way to experience New Zealand and has left me dreaming about more cycling adventures in the years ahead. New Zealand really is all about the outdoors with absolutely stunning vistas around every corner and a huge amount of “goodness” packed into a small country. While travelling last year we met a young backpacker from the USA at a hostel in Bosnia. He had recently been to New Zealand and we excitedly asked about his experience. His response was pretty “meh” and something like “Well sure it has some amazing scenery but compared to the Rockies and what we have in North America, it’s not really that impressive”. Say what? I think you missed the point or perhaps riding a bicycle across this beautiful country leaves you with a different impression. Beauty aside, what really makes New Zealand a unique and special place is the people. Humble, kind, polite, down to earth and fun loving are adjectives that describe the many Kiwis we met during our journey. The people of New Zealand along with the many adventurous cyclists we befriended on our trip has made this trip unforgettable and filled with so many great memories. New Zealand hospitality has truly blown us away and we are flattered when our thanks is met with comments like “It was nothing. You Canadians are just like us. I am sure you’d do the same”.  Would we? Would we take in a stranded stranger and give them a bed for the night? Would we say hello to a tourist at the local restaurant and invite them to eat with us? Would we offer to pick up and store a parcel for someone while they travelled through our province? I would like to think the answer is yes but if I am honest I am not so sure. Certainly my time in New Zealand has made me want to pay it forward and be more “Kiwi” when I return home.

Obviously a lot happened after the last blog.  Our bedbug bites eventually healed (scratching lasted a week and scars are just now fading), we had to re-route and skip the West Coast Wilderness Trail, Franz Joseph/Fox Glacier and Haas when a huge storm hit the West Coast and we added in a few extra trails including the Alps to Ocean, Otago Rail and Lake to Lake trails. Blah, blah, blah.  Rather than bore you with long winded details of our journey, lets try something different. Here is a map of our route and a photo blog of the last few weeks of our revised TA ride. We are currently heading north to ride the Old Ghost Road starting tomorrow and I have become a lazy blogger! So, enjoy the photos, then get off your butt and onto your bike.  It’s always a great day for a ride and who knows what adventure is waiting around the next corner!

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Map of our South Island Journey
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Short section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail. After a huge storm on the West Coast we were forced to re-route our TA journey and headed over Arthurs Pass towards Christchurch.
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Climbing over Arthurs Pass.  Not our favourite kind of touring! Check out the tunnel, traffic and those small shoulders to ride on.
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Lyndon Lake Road. After climbing over Arthurs Pass we headed south east towards Methven on this beautiful back road.  So nice to be off the highway and away from traffic!
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I wasn’t feeling so great by the time we hit Methven. Splurged on a cute cabin and headed to the doctor. Turned out I was fighting a bladder infection. Felt much better after a few days on antibiotics.
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Lake Tekapo – on the way to stay with new friends in Twizel and ride the Alps to Oceans Trail.
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Hydroelectric dams along the start of the Alps to Oceans Trail. Beautiful fall weather and stunning views (not just this hunk of man but also the vistas!)
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Elephant Rocks – side trip enroute to Oamaru.
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Oamaru on the East Coast and end of Alps To Oceans trail.

 

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Otago Central Rail Trail.
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Our back road route over the Thomson Gorge Road and Thomson Saddle towards Wanaka. We only passed 3 cars on this road!
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Thomson Gorge Road
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Beautiful Clutha River Trails on the way into Wanaka
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The historic Cardrona Hotel on the way to Queenstown. Stopped for a coffee to fuel us up the Crown range!
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Top of the Crown Range and highest point on the TA route
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Rode through Queenstown early in the morning to catch a ride across the lake on the TSS Earnslaw Steamship.
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Feeling “fierce” after peddling to the top of the Von Hill without stopping or walking!
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Spent a beautiful but cold night in our tent at Mavora Lakes on the way to Te Anau
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Spent a couple days sitting out nasty weather in Te Anau.  Made a side trip to Milford sound and discovered my rain coat is really just a coat!
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Rode the Lakes to Lakes trail to Manapouri and then headed along the south coast on the Scenic Southern Route.  Arrived in Invercargill on April 23 in the late afternoon and decided to push on to Bluff that night, officially finishing our TA ride.

 

 

 

I like to Ride my Bicycle

Considering my training for the Tour Aotearoa involved floating in the Caribbean Sea drinking considerable amounts of rum, followed by baking all the favourite Christmas cookies with my daughter Hannah (and eating all said cookies) and then enjoying 3 weeks of delicious Mexican food washed down with large volumes of beer, at 800km into my journey I am doing okay. As we peddle, Rob wishes for bigger legs to carry him up New Zealand’s significant hills while I wish for a smaller ass to carry up those hills!

I guess I have always loved bicycles but my love affair with the bicycle was not the typical “love at first site” kind of romance. It started slowly, kind of like that guy who was just a friend. You know the one. The guy who your friends would ask you about and with a laugh, you’d say, “What, Bob? No, no we’re just pals.” A get a beer after work and have a few laughs kinda guy.  A solid friend who was there when you needed him until suddenly you realized, he’d become something more. Bicycles for me were kinda like that guy. A way to release some teenage angst and sadness, a break from my studies in university, an escape to forget about the stress at work and then suddenly in my middle age the realization hit that being on my bicycle was one of my happy places.

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Hauraki Rail Trail

 

Through the fog of time, I recall my first bicycle. A two wheeled beauty with a banana seat, high bars and (I think) tassels coming off the handle bars that fluttered in the wind. I recall my older sister and I using cardboard and clothespins on the spokes to make a our bicycles sound like a motorcycle. The faster you rode, the more impressive the sound. Growing up on the farm I also had a horse. A beautiful pinto quarter horse creatively named Patches. For a period I forgot my bicycle as my mother created elaborate matching outfits complete with embellished saddle pads for my sister and I to ride in the local summer parades. It was great fun, but I do recall being a little jealous of my cousins who decorated their bicycles and donned costumes to ride with the other town kids during those same parades.

Eventually I graduated to a big kid bike. A old school 10 speed, yellowish beige in colour with classic drop bars and skinny tires. I likely bought it with money saved from babysitting or raising pail hunters (dairy calves I would buy and feed until they were old enough to go on pasture). In my teenage years I rode it regularly, around the block, a 6 mile trip on the grid like gravel roads in rural Alberta. It was an escape, a place where no one could find me and where I had a good 30 minutes to work through all the “stuff” my teenage brain was dealing with. Occasionally I would make the 10 mile trek to town enjoying 4 miles of paved roads and a soft serve at the local creamery as a reward.

After my acceptance into veterinary school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan I decided it was time for a new bike.  This would be daily transportation to campus (until winter arrived) and needed to be a solid bike which could also transport me on regular escapes along the Saskatchewan river trails running through the city.  The Trek Antelope 520 was my first steel frame, old school mountain bike. With state of the art Shimano shifters and high end caliber brakes, in 1987, it was a sweet ride and one that set me back $550. A huge purchase for a broke student but in the end supplied me with a cycle that travelled with me for 25 years!

As I cover the miles through New Zealand I daydream my days away. Passing the time thinking about a great number of meaningless things. It is a great way to travel. On a bicycle you slow down and are forced to not just see the country you travel through but to also experience it. You take the good with the bad. The first warm sun that hits your face as it rises over the hills on those early morning starts along with the brutal headwinds that slow your progress and cause you to curse. The delicious smells coming from the local bakery as you pass through a small town along with the nasty road kill odor that lingers long after you pass by. People talk to you when you are on a bicycle and are quick to offer help or to join you for a coffee. But perhaps best of all is the satisfaction that comes from propelling yourself by your own determination and with the strength of your legs.

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Suspension Bridges along Timber Trail

Since my last blog Kiwis are Cool: Bikepacking New Zealand, we reached Dargaville and have made our way south passing back through Auckland, east through Hunua towards the Bay of Plenty, South along the Hauraki Rail trail, through Matamata, the Waikato River Trails and have just finished riding the Timber Trail arriving in Taumaruni last night.  I think we have travelled about 800 Km of the Tour Aotearoa route as well as several hundred km of extra riding on the way to Cape Regina. Tomorrow we continue on to a challenging ride on some paved roads and gravel but mostly single track in a remote area that ends at the Whanganui River and involves an hour journey by boat to reach Pipiriki.  Sounds challenging but super fun. Here is a map of our journey so far.

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So far the Tour Aotearoa has been a great adventure and I am so grateful to be able to experience New Zealand by bicycle.  Highlights (for me) from this portion of the journey include:

-sleeping in Dave’s old caravan (trailer) outside Auckland

-finding a handlebar riser to bring my bars up and back a little.  I now look like I should carry a bottle of wine and baguette in a cute little basket on the front of my bike.  Come to think of it that is a GREAT idea!

-Staying at the Bike Bunker in Hunua. A real bed, an ensuite shower and great conversation.

-Arriving at Miranda Hot Springs Holiday Park with no food and no groceries and having the park manager offer to drive us to town, over 20km away to pick up supplies.

-Morning coffee at the Bugger Cafe. So tasty after several days of instant coffee!

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-Almost free camping at Brock’s Place (aka some farmers field).

-Hobbiton. Okay, call me a nerd but it was super cool.

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-Arriving at Arapuni and finding an amazing backpackers with a warm, dry room to sit out the rain that night. Steve the host at Arapuni backpackers is a gem.

-The ride from Arapuni to Taumaruni.  Waikato River Trails, Ride to Timber trail and Timber Trail. Good to be back on mountain biking trails, even with overloaded bikes.

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-Scoring free camping at Piropiro DOC site but enjoying a delicious hot meal at the Timber Lodge.

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-Sending 10 kg of crap we don’t need to our new friend Rod, (who we met on the street one day while looking lost). Rod lives in Auckland and we will pick it up when we exit New Zealand. Oh and Rod and his lovely wife Lynn (who we’ve never met) have offered us a bed the night before we leave New Zealand. These Kiwis are the BEST!

And finally what makes an adventure truly memorable is the people who join you on the journey. Hanging out with my partner in life and best friend has been pretty great too. He would probably travel faster and lighter if he ditched the wife, but thankfully it hasn’t come to that…yet.

Kiwis are cool: Bikepacking New Zealand

I believe it is better not knowing what lies ahead. For one thing, knowing takes away the fun and makes the journey a long, predictable slog to the finish line. For another, if we knew how hard something was going to be our instinct for preservation would likely kick in, causing us to steer clear of anything to difficult or painful. Marriage, parenthood, building a small business are all examples from my own life of things I thought I understood until reality stepped up and slapped me in the face. Life is hard, let’s be honest. Life is effort and work but once you accept this, quit complaining about it and just get on with it, it suddenly becomes a little less hard.

So, while I am feeling philosophical about the struggle called living, let me just say this. What the flying f@#k was I thinking when I decided to it would be “fun” to bicycle the length of New Zealand. 3000km from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island plus additional side trips along the way. This land is not flat people! After grunting my way up one hill, I find another waiting to be scaled. I’ve been eating my way through the Caribbean, Christmas holidays and Mexico (oh Mexico, how I love all your delicious foods, especially your churros) for the last 3 months and am woefully out of shape. This is gonna be hard. But here I am, about 400km in and too stubborn to turn back. When I question whether I can do this, my patient husband reminds me to focus on today and then reassures me, we will get stronger. It is fun to have an adventure, it is rewarding to propel myself forward by my own power and it feels good to know I will survive and be (hopefully) more fit by the end. Come to think of it, that pretty much sums up my philosophy on life. Don’t be afraid to try something new (have an adventure), how you choose to live and the life you build is up to you (you have to be the one to propel yourself forward) and  we need struggle to develop resiliency (you will survive and be stronger for it).

Back to the bicycle journey. We have always wanted to visit New Zealand but the long distance from Canada and limited holiday times in years past, made it a trip we kept putting off. Having enjoyed cycle touring in Cuba and Montenegro we started researching cycling in New Zealand. A trip into the google-o-sphere led us to so many great websites on bikepacking (essentially a combination of mountain biking, cycle touring and camping) in general and in New Zealand in particular. Check out bikepacking.com and bikepackingnewzealand.com. During this research we also came across the Tour Aotearoa (TA), one of the worlds great bikepacking trips stretching the entire length of both islands and linking together cycle trails, paths and lanes connected by the most enjoyable back roads availabe/ Jonathan Kennett, a cycle guidebook writer in New Zealand, originally organized the ride as a Brevet event in 2016. As the popularity of bikepacking grows within the cycle community, so does the popularity of this ride which continues to run as an organized event every 2 years in February/March. 2019 is an “off” year however like us, many people are riding the TA simply to experience New Zealand from the seat of a bicycle.

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Auckland, Bay of Islands, Twin Coast Trail and Start of the TA

Arriving in Auckland January 27, 2019, we spent the first few days with a wonderful Warm Showers host building our bicycles, replacing a damaged rear derailleur and warming up our legs with a 40km ride around the city.

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Taking the passenger ferry into Auckland Harbour
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Our transport and home for the next 4 months

Having discovered the joys of mooching off complete strangers, we then hopped an Intercity bus north to Whangerei to stay with Mac and Jennifer Lawrence, the sister and brother-in-law of our good friends Mick and Michelle Skuce. After 2 days exploring the area with our wonderful hosts we remembered that “guests, like fish, start to smell after 3 days” and decided to start our journey North. Jennifer and Marc were kind enough to transport us to our starting point so we could avoid the busy SH1 and ride towards the Bay of Islands on quiet back roads. We wound our way along the East coast to arrive in Russel 2 days later.

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Hiking Trail near Whangerei with Jennifer and Marc

 

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Beautiful beach near Whangerei

Warm rain followed us from Russel, across the passenger ferry and most of the way to Kaikohe as we started our 3 day loop to Horeke and back to Kerikeri on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail, one of the so called “Great Rides” of New Zealand.

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Bridge on Twin Coast Trail

 

 

After an amazing meal at the Mint, a restaurant in an old Bank in Kaikohe we set up camp first for our first night at the Cow Shed Campground. Pretty much an old Dairy farm outside Kaikohe which has converted a cow shed into a basic kitchen, toilet and makeshift lounge area. It was a peaceful spot with a level grassy field to pitch a tent.

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Camping at the Cow Shed

Day two found us enjoying our first of many New Zealand pies for breakfast at Len’s Pies and cycling on towards Horeke. A little research over our breakfast pie suggested there were few camping options near Horeke so we called the Rail Stay, a B&B outside Okaihau to see if they might have a tent spot available that night. We were in luck and despite the owner being away in Auckland, she said she would return that afternoon.  We were welcome to drop our bags and continue out to Horeke and back without our gear, lightening our bikes significantly and increasing our enjoyment of this more hilly portion of the trail ten-fold! 

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Twin Coast Trail on the way to Horeke

Following our return ride to the east coast we stayed in Waipapa just outside Kerikeri with another wonderful Warm Showers host before heading North to Kaitaia and finally on to start our ride from Cape Reinga. We were feeling anxious to get started on the TA route but were forced to determine our start date based on when we could get a transfer across Kaipara Harbour as well as the tide table for our ride down 90 mile beach.  On February 8 we took a shuttle to Cape Reinga and after walking to the lighthouse decided to head to 90 mile beach and start that afternoon.

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View at Cape Reinga looking West
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Cape Reinga lighthouse
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The starting point for the Tour Aotearoa

There is approximately a 6 hour window starting 3 hours before until 3 hours after low tide, where the sand is hard enough for easy cycling.  Easy, however, is a relative term. Yes the beach is flat but…it is flat! No challenging climbs but no zippy downhills to rest our tired legs or butts. I am now intimately acquainted with Butt Butter (and in case you are wondering slathering your bottom in a greasy lube to prevent chaffing of your tender bits, isn’t as sexy as it might sound). Last year, on our ride around Cuba’s Orient, we would set off each morning into a headwind and so it felt like deja vu when we hit 90 mile beach beach and were buffeted by strong winds from the south east at 30 to 50km/hour. The wind slowed our already slow pace to a crawl, taking 2.5 days to ride the 103 km instead of our anticipated 1.5 days.

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The never ending beach – hard to appreciate the winds in a photo

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After our second night camping along the beach and fighting the wind, it was a relief to spot Aihapara in the distance.

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Early morning ride towards Ahipara and the end of 90 mile beach

After a big breakfast we headed off towards Broadwood and a camping area on our map.  Beautiful rolling countryside, big climbs with long fun downhill rewards was a welcome change from the beach. 

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Beautiful ride between Broadwood and Kohukohu

We arrived at our destination mid afternoon to discover everything in town closed due to it being Sunday. We decided to push on to Rawene and look for a camp spot there. Big hills, bigger hills and amazing landscapes kept us entertained as we worked our way deeper into Hokianga district, arriving at an amazing little hostel, The Treehouse.

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The Treehouse Hostel and Campground
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We stayed in this funky old bus instead of setting up our tent.  Super cosy inside and full use of kitchen, showers etc inside at the hostel.  Wonderful hosts! Highly recommended!

Tomorrow it is off to the Waipou Forest and then Dargaville… to be continued. 

Just read through this and realized it is quite a boring read. Apologies! To liven it up a bit, here are a few things I’ve learned about New Zealand:

-A cooler is a chilly bag.

-Your swim suit and towel is your togs.

-Sweet as means, ok good, cool.

-A Bach is a holiday house.

-A gravel road is a metal road.

-When I get bored riding the metal, I entertain myself counting the number of dead possums and hedgehogs I cycle by.

-A Dave is a dick.

-Kumara is a sweet potato and they make them into yummy fries.

-Motorists call cyclists Hoha’s (which I discovered pretty much means pain in the ass).

-Tramping is hiking.

-Kiwis (the birds) are little weirdos but pretty cool birds (no I have not seen one yet)! Kiwis lay one (or occasionally two) huge eggs compared to the size of the bird. When they hatch baby kiwis come out fully feathered and by 5 days are venturing out of the burrow and in some varieties leaving home by 6 weeks of age. This makes them very susceptible to predators. The Department of conservation (DOC) is working to reduce predators and will collect young kiwi and relocate them to predator free islands until they reach maturity at 4 or 5 years after which they are returned to the mainland. 

-Kiwis (the humans) are generally fun loving, humble and kind. One host compared Canadians and Kiwis as being similar. Saying that having a big, brash brother living next door (Australia and America) has made us try harder to be friendly, polite and kind to make up for our brother’s behaviour.  No offence to all my amazing American or Australian friends. I didn’t say it, just repeated it here …. but I will admit it made me smile and kinda made sense. 

Cheers mates, more to come!