We are having a brilliant time here in New Zealand. It really is a pedallers paradise! Our destination was chosen as a result of the Tour de France coming to the UK. When the TdF fever hit England we cycled north with my brother to stay with his friends (Fred and Sara), who live near Sheffield, just a short cycle ride away from the tour route. The dinner conversation inevitably covered all things bicycle related, including cycle-touring. I have always wanted to visit New Zealand, so when I learned that Sara’s brother and his wife (Mark and Jan) had recently spent several months cycling around NZ on a tandem, I was really keen to hear their travel tales. During that evening in June 2014 the ‘seed of desire’ to cycle-tour in NZ was planted. By September I had secured time off work and by October we had booked our flights.
I arrived in Christchurch on 18 December, flying from Birmingham via Dubai, Melbourne and Auckland. Barry had left the UK a week earlier so he could visit friends in Brisbane on his way to NZ. On arrival I was quite jet lagged and full of cold, so starting our trip with 4 days relaxing in Christchurch was a perfect plan (well done Mr G x).
We assembled the bikes and pottered around Christchurch. The devastation from the earthquake is still pretty bad. So many damaged and condemned buildings and empty spaces. Eerie! The lovely old tram is now running its whole circuit around the city centre again and there are various pop-up shops and cafes, some of which are in converted shipping containers. The food, coffee and wine – our favourite travelling accessories! – were all fabulous! 🙂
One of our Christchurch days was spent with a local cycle touring enthusiast and WarmShowers host (Ed) who helped us plan our route options and took us out for the afternoon – hiking as opposed to cycling! – to Lyttelton Harbour.
We headed off on our cycle tour proper on 23 December. Our route out of Christchurch was, by design, relatively easy and we had an lovely ride to Glentunnel on day one. The Canterbury Plains were pretty flat but we were challenged by the heat – as temperatures were in the 30s, the roads had little shade and we are out of practice at cycling in the heat. We stayed with lovely Surinam/Dutch Couchsurfing hosts (Jane & Yerry) and their hospitality, shower and comfy bed were very welcome at the end of our first day.
In Glenntunnel we put on our reindeer antlers, visited Santa in the local store before heading off to Mount Somer, which entailed a steep descent into Rakaia Gorge and an equally steep climb out the other side …. with the hot sun and strong winds it was quite a shock to the system!
On Christmas day we had an easy flat / downhill trip to the town of Geraldine, where we spent two nights staying with another lovely Couchsurfing host (Wendy), with a day off the bikes to relax and explore the town (and take lots of photos of ‘Geraldine’ signs for my old mate Geraldine).
After Geraldine we headed to Pleasant Point, home to the world’s oldest working Model T Rail Car and railway wagon turntable, plus the infamously yummy ‘custard squares’ at Legends Cafe.
From there we went on to the town of Fairlie for an overnight stay, then to the stunningly gorgeous Lake Tepako, via a lunch stop on route at Burkes Pass with more Couchsurfer hosts (John & Heather).
We camped for 2 nights on the shores of the Lake Tekapo (next door/tent to Gary & Margaret from Christchurch) where we soaked up the fantastic views of the lake and surrounding snow capped mountains and hiked up St Johns Mount for the spectacular 360 degree vistas.
We had our first proper NZ ‘wind experience’ as we cycled along the canal that links Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki. I had never cycled in such strong winds before and had to learn the knack of leaning, rather then steering, against the cross-wind. It was pretty exhausting … but hey, this is NZ and strong winds are a key feature of NZ weather.
We camped in Twizel, where we recharged our wind-beaten batteries with generous offerings of delicious home-made cakes from our Kiwi caravan neighbours (thank you Alan & Margaret & friends).
We had our first rain – plus more wind – from Twizel to Lake Ohau. On this trip we joined the fantastic Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and enjoyed great off road tracks around the southern end of the lake and up to Lake Ohau Lodge.
We had only planned on staying at the lodge for one night but the location was so stunning and the coffee/tea and cake was so good that we decided within a hour of arriving that we should stay for two nights. This mean that we could party properly on New Years Eve and we had a very entertaining evening drinking too many shots of Patron Xo Cafe and demonstating some dodgy disco moves! Lake Ohau Lodge was the perfect location to nurse our well-deserved hangovers and we enjoyed a lazy day soaking in the hot tubs on the deck, going for a gentle walk and enjoying glorious sunshine, clear skies and perfect views of Mount Cook.
We continued on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail from Lake Ohau and had a brilliant day riding on a mountain bike path across the hills to Omarama and then on to Dunstan Downs Farmstay at the base of the Lindis Pass.
We set out early the next day to avoid the traffic and heat for the 850 metres climb over the Lindis pass. The 7.30am start paid off; it was really chilly when we set out and still a nice cycling temperature when we reached the summit at 9.15am. It was a fantastic steep descent down the other side, before a second climb over the smaller but steeper Cluden Hill and into the little township of Tarras for lunch.
Here we met a retired English couple who were on the final day of their 3-month cycle-tour and about to spend a month staying with their son near Lake Hawea. They had started in Perth, cycled across the Nullabor (!!) and on to Melbourne, before flying to Christchurch and then cycling roughly the same route as us to Tarras. When I hear of challenges like that, it makes me realise how relaxed and easy our cycle-tours are …… and that’s the way I like it!
We have been blessed with fantastic weather. We have only cycled in the rain once and had a couple of overcast days – other than that it has been bright and sunny. The lupins are glorious – in shades of purple and pink in Canterbury and now pale yellow in Otago – and we are accommpanied by singing skylarks nearly all day, everyday.
The scenery is amazing and the routes are great – thanks to the provision of some excellent Dept of Conservation cycle tracks and diligent research and planning by Mr G (tour guide, map-man, muffin the mule, front-wheel wind-shield and bike mechanic :))
The people and hospitality has been wonderful – from Couchsurfing hosts (thank you Jane and Wendy) to farmstays (thank you Geva & Tim), B&Bs (thank you Heather & Graeme) and campsites. All topped off with great food and delicious wine! New Zealand has already exceeds all my expectations – and we are only half way through our trip.
Our photos are on Flickr – pictures
Our track, so far: map
Join us again soon for news of Wanaka, the ascent over the Crown range, Queenstown and an overnight cruise on Milford Sound.
Until next time……