Pedallers paradise?

A trip to New Zealand had been on my “bucket list” for some time. Lush green scenery surrounding a slightly hippy, laid back approach  – the outdoor adventurers idyll. Everyone I knew who lived here/ had been here raved about their trip and told me I would love mine. Expectations were high and as I read through guidebooks and holiday brochures I was really struggling to see what to leave out knowing that to try and see everything would be an impossible task.

I had been told about the cycle route books “Pedallers Paradise” by both Inga and Bas, two Dutch riders from our Africa ride, and so I ordered them from a book store in Wellington. So far  -  so good.

Whether you think something is paradise is of course subject to one’s own definition. For me it would entail rolling hills, stunning views, calorie free ice-cream and great ale to finish the day. We would chat to great folk, do a few touristy things and pedal. While some days may still be tougher from a physical perspective the payback for the additional effort would always be worth it. While predominantly sunny, given the time of year we had arrived, a few short showers would still be expected given that while I may be a complete optimist I am also a realist.

What I hadn’t accounted for were aggressive drivers, headwinds and sandflies!

Drivers, particularly on the busier North island are not so keen on our two wheeled machines and it’s unfortunate that, despite riding well on the left and in single file, we still found ourselves subject to abuse hurled from windows and as trucks passed it was obvious which ones had drivers that also rode bikes.  Most roads have a small shoulder and while other European riders have felt too much in the traffic, as Brits, where finding a shoulder to ride in is rare, we have found it ok in the most part. Conversly, as soon as we stop the hospitality is overwhelming – on a par with Malaysia – and we even found ourselves staying at the home of complete strangers, Martyn and Kathy, in Nelson. Incredible. Fortunately, the South Island is much quieter and so we hope that as holidays end, roads too will quieten…there’s that optimist again!

Despite the above we have still had some amazing rides, taking the old rail trail over the Rimitukas, following Queen Charlotte Drive out of Picton and more recently I enjoyed our back road from Tapawera to Glenhope then onto the main highway towards Merchison. The wind on our last ride was fiercesome again and although cold and tired I still loved the feeling of isolation and desolation the gravel track though old barren woodlands provided – reminding me of the final days of my Lands End to John O’Groats trip back in 2005.

I’m aware there is little one can do about sandflies but they don’t carry malaria so we are finally off tablets. The roads are getting quieter and while I hate riding into headwind but at least it seems that the stronger it is the more amusing I find it – for now at least. We’ve found some good ale and ice-cream (though sadly not calorie free) and the scenery is always good.  I’m not sure I would cycle tour here again though. Given a lack of roads means sharing with the bigger vehicles I too would hire a camper. With mountain bikes to hand I would ride the rougher tracks and roads I’ve loved more but without the panniers. Being outside is the key thing to do here and I must say I’m missing history in terms of architecture and buildings. New Zealand really is a stunning country and while this blog has perhaps considered whether it is really a paradise for cycle touring there is no doubt that it is an outdoor one.

New year. New Zealand. New friends.

After a long flight we finally arrived at our hotel in Auckland around 330pm on NewYears Eve. It seemed our bike, tent and shoe cleaning regime had been up to scratch so we passed through bio-control at the airport without too much difficulty. It was strange leaving so quickly after Christmas especially after my ma’s hospital appointment on Christmas eve and without getting to really see friends and family much again after the main seasonal activities. However, despite some apprehension I was still excited to finally get to land in a country I have wanted to visit for some time. Deemed the land of adventure it was also now a country of new friends too.

We managed to stay awake long enough to watch midnight fireworks from the Skytower though it’s fair to say I’m not a fan of busy new year bars and felt particularly unglamorous so we soon headed back to catch up on sleep. Fully charged the next day we set about sightseeing, going up the skytower and walking around the harbour. This city has a great feel, a fantastic sense of space and fabulous arty industrial areas. A brilliant start to this new adventure.

The following day we would prepare to leave – final shopping (I needed a new camping mug for this tea-aholic Brit), bike building and dinner and beers with Darragh, our first meet up with newish friends here since meeting on the Africa trip. Smiles and ales later we said goodbye. Unfortunately I had not been quite so lucky to meet other older friends from Bristol but we had to get moving.

We made our way round the coast with a plan to reach Miranda. However, with very steep climbs, up and down all day after a month without riding we eventually stopped after 90km at Orere Point. Relieved to reach a camp site we were sore, tired and early to rest. We had made a plan to meet fellow rider, Vince, from our Africa trip too in a few days and wanted to make good Southerly progress. Fortunately roads were flat and after a great lunch stop in a very friendly, quirky cafe and our first hokey pokey ice-cream we were 107km down the road in Te Aroha. Vince would pick us up the next day in Tirau and take us and our bikes to Rotarua.

All went as planned and soon we were in the town known for being geo-thermal and therefore also a little stinky. We visited bubbling mud pools, hot springs, lakes, coffee shops and scenery a-plenty. On our way we passed through a trout farm where we met guy called Red who invited us back for smoked fresh trout the following day. We were really getting a kiwi welcome. Vince had driven up from Wellington to show us round and now a complete stranger was preparing food for us all. Amazing.

The route we planned should then have taken us to Taupo but just a few days into our trip we were changing plans. Given Vince had now shown us around here he would now drop us in art-deco town, Napier. However, before leaving Rotarua there was just time to squeeze in another spa, known as DeBretts and ….a bit of biking!

While obviously keen riders it’s fair to say John and I generally prefer tarmac. Yes, I have a mountain bike, have ridden trails and we rode rough sections through Africa and Nepal but when it comes to technical riding I am a wuss though I will have a go. Vince, being more a downhill rider was determined to show us the technical trails through the redwoods in Rotaura and had brought two spare mountain bikes for us to use. After a steep, gravelly climb we would follow the intermediate route downhill. Known as “corners” the route twisted through the trees, jumping, screeching and whooshing until we reached the bottom. It was the slowest time Vince had ever recorded, John had taken a wee tumble and I had certainly walked significant sections yet despite this we had smiles on our faces and not just because we were now safe at the car!

Another hot spa and a drive across to the coast we’re now in Napier. John and I will be back on the road bikes soon enough to continue our journey. We’ve had such a welcoming start and stunning scenery so far and look forward to meeting Vince again and other newly made friends as we make our way through the next few months.

Gutted only to have missed my old pals it’s great to be able to consolidate new friendships.