Cycling New Zealand.
After a fair bit of research I settled on a Kona Dew as my new touring bike. A reputable name but by no means anything flash. My view being that any bike would be better than that god damn rusty piece of shit named Sheila, which I happily sold close to her purchase price of $20 to an old guy in Delhi.
The mothership flew in from London. I was rather impressed by her ability to travel across the world alone I must admit. Contrary to this I rewarded her with a Patagonia Ice Cream Coffee upon her arrival, which was to be the first of many on this trip. After a day seeing the sights of my current hometown Lumsden we set off on our month long cycle tour. Those who know us won’t be surprised to hear that we stopped for our first cake and coffee just 15km up the road in Mossburn. This was at 86 year old Irene’s house who is my new friend that I met while giving a cycling-related talk at the local Lion’s club.
That day we battled 75km of nor’westerly headwinds to reach our camp for the evening at Lake Manapouri. I was stoked to find some raspberries at the side of the road so I popped my $5 in the honesty box and looked for some shelter that would give me a moment of relief from the horrendous wind. No luck on that front, so we perched on a super-safe speed barrier located on a bend along the highway. Funny thing was, as soon as we turned the next corner there happened to be a secluded picnic spot with benches and everything. Just our luck.
Setting the tent up for the first time was an absolute joke. Luckily some Kiwi’s saw us struggling and came to the rescue. I think setting up a tent is one of the first things every Kiwi child is taught, maybe even before the alphabet. The word two in our “two man tent” is somewhat questionable. Two midgets maybe. The next morning we pedaled a leisurely 25km to Te Anau where we enjoyed a rest day walking around some of the lake, watching a short docu’ at the local cinema and enjoying a fancy pancy meal. We had researched absolutely nothing prior to setting off as where’s the fun in that? Little did I know it would take us around 2 days to reach Milford Sounds, one day to explore by boat and another two days back cycling the same road we had cycled in on. We couldn’t afford to spend five days of our trip in one place so decided to go on our way and leave Milford Sounds for the end of our trip when we have access to my car.
Unfortunately this meant we had to cycle 50km back in the same direction we had just came, an absolute blower for any cyclist. We made good progress thanks to the wind dying, and shot past the only campsite in the area at Mavora Lakes. It was a stunning cycle past the lakes towards Mt Nicolas Station and a fantastic opportunity to wild camp. Now I know Freedom Camping is a sensitive topic with Kiwis and I totally understand why, but for cycle tourists like us, who leave absolutely nothing but footprints, I see no harm. Just saying.
It was here I encountered my first sandfly. For those of you that have never come across a sandfly before, let me tell you, these are the worst things known to mankind. Ten times worse than mosquitoes, these little buggers followed us round the whole of the South Island causing me many sleepless nights. The strongest of Deet couldn’t deter them from my fresh foreign skin and I suffered. Bad.
After an incredible freeze-dried Thai curry and a hot chocolate made on our own little camp stove it was time to get some rest under the stars. We woke up to snow on the mountains around us which was a nice surprise and made the cycle past Mt Nicolas Station through to Walter Peak highly enjoyable. Even on a bad day this part of the Around The Mountains Cycle Trail is one not to be missed. After loosing my beloved beanie the night before, I then went on to loose my brand new Merino gloves which were by no means cheap. No matter how careful one may be, loosing stuff on any trip is inevitable. It’s going to happen. Mum got into the habit of loosing multiple items throughout the day which always seemed to turn up a few days later. After a while I stopped helping her look for things.
A ride on the expensive-but-worth-it TSS Earnslaw Steam Boat across Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown was fab. The weather turned to shit as soon as we reached shore and we spent the next couple of hours trying to find somewhere to sleep that night. Queenstown is an absolute nightmare for accommodation – especially on Valentine’s Day – as is Wanaka, and we ended up forking out nearly $300 for a basic hotel room after watching the cheaper ones disappear every time the webpage refreshed. The stress of it all brought a right damper on our day so we cheered ourselves up with a three course fine-dining meal at the very cosy Bunker.
Air BnB came to our rescue in our next stop, Arrowtown, where we stayed at Margaret’s beautiful house. Arrowtown was to be our “rest day” so a Patagonia Ice Cream at 11am was more than justified. Our rest day didn’t really turn out to be a rest day as we ended up cycling 50km of the Queenstown Trail and Lake Hayes Circuit. We did enjoy a fabulous cheese platter at Gibston Valley Cheesery, wine from Gibston Valley and an extraordinary cocktail from Amisfield Winery. Note to others: do not follow any New Zealand cycle trail if you just want to get from A to B. We spent hours going what could have been just a few KM if we had stuck to the road! Onwards and upwards…