In May 2016 I cycled the loop of the South Island of NZ. This awesome adventure started and finished in Nelson at the top, and I left my bike in storage there for six months while working and travelling.
It seemed pretty obvious that I had to continue the NZ bike tour, so I flew back to the starting place of everything. However, one thing has changed. I convinced someone to come with me on the up and down cycle of touring.
I met Mary in a cute hostel in Nelson with her new touring bike Shep. We hadn’t seen each other for a month, which gave us both some time to regroup after a nine week Australia and New Zealand trip together. She’s a finance graduate from Washington State who is keen to work in outdoor education. We planned to set off after coffee with friends, but found last minute things to do like adding drink bottle holders and purple balloons.
We picked up a free NZ map and scoured it on the sidewalk before starting the ride.
At midday on the 8th of December we set off in the misty rain toward the Picton ferry. It was a brutal assault of a first day, with huge mountains begging us upwards. There were two major mountains and we just kept riding up and up, with legs going into shock after an Aussie holiday filled with sunshine and Christmas cake. We couldn’t even be bothered to get out the tarp, and sat in the soaked grass for pre made sandwiches. It cleared up at the end of the day, and we got offered a hitch from a Maori guy who did a U turn when we were just chilling on the side of the road. It is one of the many challenges of bike touring, because whenever you don’t need help it seems people just want to get you off your bike and into the warmth and relaxation of their house or car. We said no thankyou and pedalled the last few kilometres to the mussel capitol of Havelock. We could hardly stay standing to check in, then collapsed into a glass of red. We made new friends from Czech and Argentina then went to go find food and kept putting each restaurant off to search for a better option. By the time we came back around everything was closed. Classic. We headed back to the hostel and our new friends made us pasta with sauce in classic backpacker style. I stayed up way too late talking, while Mary crashed early for a job interview in the morning. A man came into the room late at night drunk (the bosses friend) and said he was sleeping there. He started climbing into my bed but Mary told him that one was taken. Boise was his name. He scared the beejesus out of Mary and continued to snore uncontrollably. We almost went and slept on the couch it was so bad. In the morning I found out he didn’t even pay and wished I had poked him in the eye.
We cycled in sunny weather to Picton through the jaw dropping sounds roads. It was really tough after little sleep and very hot, but amazing. With burned skin and hungry tummies we sped through Picton down to the ferry terminal to catch our ride. In true Jess style, I had booked the wrong ferry by mistake so we changed it for the fifth time to the next morning and slept at a gorgeous hostel in Picton. Went out for mussels (1kg for $20) and had our final sleep in a bed before our hardcore camping north island povo future. (Or so we thought). We caught the ferry in the morning and used the time to plan our trip, booking our tents into the backyards of friends of friends with dubious arrival dates. We were even offered an empty house for Christmas, and it’s got a Christmas tree! The weather is looking a bit scary but everything else is promising, and we are all ready for the beginning of our north island cycle. The sandfly bites and sunburn have already begun. As we poured over the map, a group of kiwis next to us offered us their hotel in Taumaranui for free when we get up there. We haven’t even touched our camping gear yet, but tonight is the night!
We didn’t. Got off the ferry and it started pouring rain. The sort of rain that makes your brain soggy. We rode along the highway to a satellite suburb called Petone and sat absolutely drenched in a cafe for three hours warming up with soup and hiding from torrential rain. The sun doesn’t set until nine, so late afternoon we rode the Rimutaka rail trail to Upper Hutt in the rain by the river.
We ended up staying with the mother of a cyclo tourist I met in Aus. Her mum Olga moved to NZ from Russia 13 years ago. We slept in her bed and she slept in her daughters. She made us so much yummy breakfast food and sent us off with bliss balls.
Mary and I tried to find the rail Rimutaka Rail Trail the next morning and found a lot of gravel, but we decided to push through. It turned out to be such a fun decision, and runners and dogs and mountain bikers waved as we climbed gradually to the summit.
We met cyclist Paul who is riding the length of both islands, then zoomed down the other side with incredible views of green mountains. The path turned into a single track mountain bike trail to the road and we met Paul again for lunch in a cosy cafe in Featherston.
Cycled with the wind the last half of the day to Masterton and rocked up at 6pm to a farmhouse I found on Warmshowers. Helen and Jeff welcomed us into their newly renovated home with loving licks from the German pointer crosses. We were invited to watch the family open their Chrissy presents with cold beer in hand. Then came the Christmas dinner and lots of laughter. Helen and Jeff headed to bed, and the seven of us youngins jumped in the spa til 2am, replacing half the spa contents with alcohol. Headed off in the sunshine which quickly transformed into a steel grey southerly monster that let us tear up the roads before it showered freezing pellets all over us. We trusted in google maps cycling man and the rain hit us just as we hit a gate that halted us in our tracks. We turned around and retraced our path before coming to a man mowing his lawn. We stopped for a chat and it turns out he is a super cyclist who goes for 4 or 5 months every NZ winter to bike the northern hemisphere. He told us he wouldn’t like to be riding today and we squelched onwards. A woman in a black family car pulled up in front of us and asked if we had anywhere to stay tonight. We replied no, trying to sound strong and she said that we should follow her home for showers and a place to stay in her sleep out. We cried tears of joy and when we turned up at her house, three year old Henry clung to our legs kissing them. Within minutes we were showered and drinking tea, getting on with Bec and her husband Mark like old friends. The three kids made us Christmas decorations and we spent the night chatting and making fun of TV shows.
It was so sad to leave in the morning that Henry cried. Off we rode toward pahiatua on a gorgeous, crisp summer day. We stopped in at a bike shop and discovered Mary’s second hand bike needed some serious TLC and decided to hot tail it over to Palmerston North, stopping to make nachos and die a little from a huge mountain along the way. Once there we submitted Mary’s bike to the surgery room and called a few Warmshowers numbers to see if we could organise a place to stay. Pamela and Andrew answered the phone and I explained that we were in need of a place to rest our heads on a dreary night. We walked my bike half an hour to their house and were shown to our little outside house with ensuite (of course!!). We passed over a bottle of red and some banana cake and were absolutely spoilt rotten by this couple. Craft beer, homemade broad bean dip with parmesan, mint and anchovies, Mexican hotpot and the best vege salad of all time. We listened to Irish music in the dining room and spoke of travel, terrorism, New Zealand sports racing electronic timing and the national library. That was only the second time I’ve used Warmshowers, which is a website where cycling tourists help one another out. Normally I just use couch surfing, but the Warmshowers website understand that you are going to turn up wet and stinky and probably fall asleep before ten and leave before eight.
We woke up this morning to more rain and checked out the hardcore westerlies over the next two days. It’s snowing north on the hilly road we were planning to take to Taunaranui and raining everywhere. Riding into consistent 35km/h headwinds in dreary weather doesn’t sound like our idea of a fun adventure so we’ve jumped on a bus over to New Plymouth and will ride the old forgotten highway east tomorrow. Tonight we are staying with a friends family in Lepperton and are just loving the social aspect of our travels. Let’s not talk about our wind blown hair.