New Zealand 2017
Starting on Coromandel and then down to South Island
Landed in Auckland on Feb. 1. Mark picked me up the next day and we took the scenic route through Thames and Coromandel. I spent a couple of weeks with Mark on Coromandel surfing and doing day rides. This included parts of the Hauraki Rail Trail, and a 3 day ride around the northern tip of Coromandel.
I then took the train from Hamilton to Wellington, and met Jelle (pronounced Yella, he's Dutch). Then the ferry to Picton.
From Picton I rode on solo to Nelson and then to visit Harmony in the Motueke Valley. I then rejoined Jelle in St. Arnaud and we rode the Rainbow Trail to Hamner Springs. After a rest day in Hamner Springs we took a shuttle to Christchurch to avoid a busy highway, and then rode for 5 days on the Canterbury Plains to reach the start of the Alps2Ocean Trail at Lake Tekapo.
We spent another 5 days riding the Alps2Ocean Trail which was probably the highlight of the trip, especially the first few days in the mountains. From the end of the trail at Oamaru we took another shuttle to Dunedin to position us to ride the Otago Central Rail Trail.
From Dunedin we took the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway to the start of the trail in Middlemarch. Then 4 rainy days on the Otago Central Rail Trail to Clyde. I parted with Jelle in Clyde and rode back on the Otago Central Rail Trail, this time in 3 sunny days. This time I got a shuttle ride back to Dunedin. I took one more day ride out the Ortago Peninsula, sold my bike to Tony, and flew home.
One thing a little differnt on this tour is that I avoided highways and took a few shuttles to get to the places I really wanted to ride. Highways in NZ are narrow with little or no shoulder and a 100 kph speed limit. Not at all bike friendly. But the back roads and trails are great, and there are lots of shuttles (usually large vans with bike trailers) to get you from place to place. So avoiding the busy highways was not difficult.
Looking at the map I guess what stands out is all of the places I didn't get. There is much more to see on the North Island, and the West Coast of the South Island is very lush and scenic. Perhaps I'll get to go back and see the places I missed.
Below is my log for each day of the tour. Use the navigation controls to scroll through the days .
First short ride in New Zealand. Up over a steep bluff on Blackjack road. Part gravel, part paved. Warm and sunny. Looking forward to more.
Another short ride after a morning of surfing. Another gorgeous day. Two more big hills. Bluff road turned to gravel but wasn't too steep. Then it was closed due to land slide, but I snuck through. Then down to the beach where we surfed yesterday and around to the beach where we surfed this morning. Then back out on the highway north trying to get to Wangapoa. Over a big hill, across a valley, then turned around short of my goal when I got to another hill. Two big hills on the way back to Mark's house. Had to stop in the shade for a breather on the second one.
Out and back on a lovely rail-to-trail. Smooth gravel following the Karangahake Gorge. Lots of people out mostly on mountain bikes. Part of the trail was not on the rail bed and offered some nice swoops and turns. The country was very interesting. Sometimes it looked like Oregon, other times California, and then you come smack into a forest of tree ferns.
Mark and Nedilka dropped me off in Colville and they continued on to Little Bay. My plan was to ride for 3 days around the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula and meet them in Little Bay. The road does not go through, so day 2 would include 5 Km of hiking trail.
It was well into the afternoon by the time I got riding, but I didn't have far to go. Altough I had bought some groceries earlier in the day, I could not pass the store in Colville without getting more, knowing it would be the last one I would see for 3 days. Like all of the roads on Coromandel there was a big hill leaving Colville, but not as steep as some. Soon the road turned to gravel and was very plesant the rest of the way, with little traffic. The campground at Fantail was nothing special but I had a nice meadow to myself. Since I was now on the west coast of the peninsula I was treated to a nice sunset over Hauraki Gulf.
The day started out with a hard climb, maybe as a forewarning of things to come.The views of the gulf were spectacular however. After a few miles of climbing it was downhill to Port Jackson. There was a fancier campground there, but little else. As the road was nearing it's end there was virtually no traffic. One more climb before droping down to Fletcher Bay. Some folks stopped to talk at the top of the hill nd took a picture of me.
At Fletcher Bay was another nice Department of Conservation campground. These are quite large compared to US campgrounds and quite sprawling. I found the office and enquired about the trail. I was relieved to find it was 5 Km long not 10 Km as I first thought. As I got to the trailhead I ran into the same people who had taken my picture a bit earlier. At the trail enterance was a step ladder they helped me struggle my bike up and over. From there the very narrow trail went straight up over bumpy sod, completely unridable. Undeterred I pushed. The folks at the bottom were watching and I waved when I stopped for my first breater, amazed at how high up I was already.
Then the trail entered a cow pasture and was barely discernable in places. I had to dodge the cow pies. I tried riding a little, but mostly walked. I ran into some hikers coming the other way which assured me I was not lost. Eventually it was up and over another step ladder, still steady uphill, some ridable, most not. The hills here looked mostly like California or Oregon in summer. Every now and then I'd come around a bend and get a view of the coast behind me.
After what must have been a couple of hours of mostly pushing the trail started downhill. At first I could ride but soon it became very steep with ruts, rocks, and roots. This would have been challenging even on a full suspension mountain bike. All I could do was hold on to the brakes and fast walk along side the bike. I meet some hikers at this point who were seriously struggling just to walk up the trail. At the bottom was Poley bay. I rested for a bit before even thinking about what was next. The climb out of Poley Bay was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was litteraly push the bike a couple of feet, clamp the brakes, step up and rest until I caught my breath. At one point I had to take the panniers off, push the bike up, and come back for the panniers. It went on like this for the entire 580 feet from seal level to the highest point. That doesn't sound like a lot of vertical, but when you do it in less than about 300 meters , over very rough terrain, it is brutal.
By the time it started letting up I was pretty well done for. If I had come to a decent place to camp I may have stopped right then and there, but there was nothing flat. Everything was vertical and the bush was getting thicker and thicker. About then the trail came out it the open right on the edge of the bluff. It was starting to look ridable were it not for the 500 foot dropoff on one side. There was a nice bench to sit and enjoy the view, which I did for a while. Just beyond that the trail turned away from the bluff and looked very ridable. I started riding thinking it would only last a few hundred feet and I'd have to get off again, but instead it kept getting better and I was treated to some of the best single track of my life for at least 2 Km on down to Stoney Bay. The trail swooped around all of the little gorges with creek crossings, most of which I could ride though but a few were rocky enough that I got off. I could almost forget the pain I had just experienced with the joy of riding this beautiful trail through the lush jungle. Too soon I was down and riding into the campground at Stoney Bay.
The first person I encountered at the campground was Tom, originally from Portland but a Kiwi for the past 21 years. He knew of Mark whom he considered a legend due to his work protesting and shutting down mining in the 1980's. I talked to Tom for a while and then setup camp in a lovely spot behind a huge Pōhutukawa tree overlooking the bay. Very nice. Later that evening I was treated to a spectacular moonrise over the bay.
Once again it was straight uphill from the campground. Tom caught up to me when I was on the first downhill. He was riding a Bike Friday. He said he was a New Zealand dealer for them. I lost Tom when the road turned upward once again. Basically the same steep gravel riad climbing that I have become acustom to. There were a few places where I got off and pushed.
Eventually the road took a dive down to Port Charles. Not much there except some vacation houses. When I got to the south end of Port Charles I saw a sign for the Tangiaro Resort and Coffee LaLa. Just what I needed before tackling the nect big climb. I was then back on the road and heading upward, but not as steep as the last grade. Here I was able to stay in the saddle and keep cranking. Pretty soon Tom came along in the opposite direction. He turned around and rode with me for a while. He still has family in Oregon. Then Tom and I parted ways and it was over some more hills and then down to Waikawau and then Little Bay. Mark and Nedilka had made a sign so I could easily find the place. They were at the beach so I relaxed and had a shower before they returned.
We had some excitement on the drive home. After an hour and a half drive we stopped at Coromandel Town and I got out. I looked at my bike and something was not right. It took me a minute to realize my rear wheel was gone. It had fallen off somewhere along the way. How could this happen? There was quite a bit of rough gravel so I guessed it just shook loose. Mark did not hesitate to turn around and drive back. We had our eyes glued to the road all the way back to Waiklawau when there it was in the grass on the side of the road, completely undamaged. We took another, more scenic road back to Coromadel through Kennedy Bay. Total detour time, 2 hours and 15 minutes.
That wasn't the end of the excitement. When we got home my front tire was completely flat. Further examination reveled that it had been rubbing on the bike rack and had worn a big gash in the tire and through the tube. I would have to purchase a new tire. Bummer because I really like the Big Ben's I have on.
Hauraki Rail Trail to Te Aroha, then highway with decent shoulder. Warm but not too hot. Headwind that continued to pickup during the day.
I made my first costly mistake today. I lost my helmet. At some point I stopped for a break and took it off, and then somehow rode off again without putting it back on. Is this age related forgetfulness?
Wonderful Warm Showers host Heather in Hamilton. Tomorrow the train to Wellington.
WS host to train station. Train to Wellington. Train station to hostel.
It was a gray day, but not quite raining. Got to the train station in plenty of time. Got my bike loaded fine. The ride was scenic, and would have been more so on a sunny day.
Collecting my bags after getting off the train I spotted another touring cyclist. This is when I met Jelle (he's Dutch, it's pronounced Yella). I asked if he knew where he was stayig and he said he had this app called WikiCamp that listed a hostel with the only camping in town, not far from where we were. So I followd him along the waterfront and up the hill, and sure enough we were set. Later we went out for pizza and beer. Wellington is a big city. It was a real city vibe where we ate.
It was raining when I woke so no choice but to pack the tent wet. Jelle joined me as I rode downtown in search for a bike show to replace the helmet that I lost on the way to Hamilton. Bike Barn had decent helmets. Then a stop at a cafe for second breakfast before heading to the ferry terminal.
The ferry ride was long. We met a couple from the states that was also bike touring. The gray skies soon turned to rain, making the ride less scenic than it could have been. Once again this would have been spectacular on a sunny day.
We got off the ferry in a squall. The wind had picked up in proportion to the rain. The couple from the states rode off into it, but Jelle and I started looking for shelter. At first our prospects looked grim, but with some help from a lady at a backpackers hostel we found a room and another hostel. It was tiny, and I slept on the floor, but at least we were dry.
By morning it had stopped raining and it was looking like a nice day. Jelle had made arrangements to go kayaking this day so I headed out Queen Charlotte Drive by myself. I wasn't sure if we'd meet again but we exchanged contact info so that we could.
Queen Charlotte Drive started climbing immediately, but it was up and down as it stayed close to the which which was of course Queen Charlotte Sound. It was all very scenic, with lush growth and views out the sound. This is a very large body of water and the road followed it for quite some time through a couple of little towns.
The first of these tiny towns was Ngakuta Bay which had a wonderful and unique "give cyclists space" sign. This road is a popular route for locals as well as tourists. I stopped for a coffee at the only place in town, which was a converted camper trailer. I noticed they were also selling Sand Flea Repellent. This was my first warning, which of course I ignored and didn't buy any.
Queen Charlotte Drive ended in Havelock, which bills itself as the Greenshell Mussel Capital of the world. I didn't have any, but I did find a fishing supply/sporting goods/hardware store where I found a gas canister that would work with my Jetboil. After Havelock the route is on highway 6 to Pelorus Bridge. Although NZ highways have no shoulder, traffic was not a problem.
The Pelorus Bridge Cafe was a stop on the tour bus route and the place was hopping when I got there. The campground was quiet though and right on the river. Very nice. The water was crystal clear and fast flowing. Camping next to me was Camille from California who was on a tour herself with her bike and a camper van. She was nice enough to give me her contact info and said to call her if I ran into and problems and needed a ride. Meanwhile the sand fleas had discovered me. Fresh meat. They went straight for my ankles and feet and I had lots of bites before I covered up and put on some bug juice. That night I played my shakuhachi by the river.
Leaving Pelorus Bridge I had a choice. The more direct route is a rugged 4 wheel drive road which is not recommended for loaded touring bikes. Instead I took the longer route on highway 6 through the Rai Valley and then over the Whangamoa Mountains. At first there wasn't much traffic, but it picked up on the climbs. I had lined up a Warm Showers host in Nelson who said he was going to ride out and meet me. But first I had to get over one pass and start climbing another.
The first pass was Rai Saddle, which seemed like it must have been the big climb of the day, but Whangamoa Saddle is higher at 466 meters. As usual the downhill was over too soon and the road began climbing once again at an and easy but steady grade. I had already gained back a lot of the elevation when Andrew arrived from the other side. "Perfect timing" he said "we can get off the road here". Sure enough he led me over some rocks and through some trees to the "old road" which paralleled the highway but was not accessible to cars. It was great to get off the highway but soon we came to a place where they had bulldozed a big mound over the old road. This required some serious grunt work to get over. Since we still had more uphill to go Andrew offered to carry my rear panniers as he was on an unladen touring bike.
The old road ended too soon and we were back on the highway for the final push to the top. We stopped for a snack at the top where I made another costly mistake. My food was in a front pannier underneath my rain gear, which was wrapped in a neat bundle inside my helmet cover. I took out the rain gear bundle and set it on the front rack. After the snack I closed up the front pannier but left the rain gear unsecured on the rack, and then proceeded to speed off down the hill. Andrew is very fast on the downhill and was soon out of sight. I soon heard a car beeping at me so I pulled over. "Looks like you dropped something a couple of kilometers back up the road." @!%@#! First my helmet and now my rain gear. I could go back, but it was a long climb, and Andrew would think something happened to me. So I said goodby to my rain gear and kept going, feeling really stupid and depressed.
Andrew was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill and we continued on together. It was a long way to his place as he lives on the other side of Nelson. I was ready for a break but we kept going. We did stop at an interesting bike shop that sold a lot of Velo Orange and other vintage style stuff. I was amazed to see so much VO stuff in one tiny shop on the other side of the world. Very cool. We also stopped at the beer store. Craft beer on tap. You fill your own bottles. Never saw that before.
Andrew has a small house distinguished by 2 things. He has a garden on all 4 sides growing a wide range of vegetables and some fruits. He also has a small garage jammed full of vintage bikes he has or is restoring. Very interesting person. Thanks Andrew.
I knew Harmony for a short time in the early 80's. We played music together back then so when I found out he was close to my route on the South Island I wanted to stop by and say hi. He gave me directions to his place. It may have not been the easiest route by bike, but it was scenic and a great ride. There were a couple of good climbs including Moutere Saddle and Dovedale, the later of which I had to walk some. The route started on the Great Taste Trail out of Richmond and then went through Upper Moutere, Redwood Valley. Dovedale, Woodstock Junction, Graham Creek.
The climb to Moutere Saddle was a bit disturbing as there was a lot of logging activity, as well as bulldozing down the native bush in preparation for pine plantations. I certainly get that people need lumber, but those native forests can never be replaced once they're gone.
Redwood Valley was true to it's name as I saw Sequoia and Eucalyptus trees. Really felt like California. There was also a lot of fruit, including some citrus. I passed by a strawberry farm where the plants were grown in containers on benches so that the berries could be picked without bending over. The nice lady working there gave me a few berries to eat on my way. Yummy!
Neudorf Road started off very scenic and then pushed skyward as it became Dovedale Rd (or something like that). It was steep and I had to walk some but then the downhill went on forever. I didn't know where it would lead me and it looked like it was heading into a deep dark valley that I'd never be able to get out off. In reality I was heading into the Mokueke River Valley. The Motueke River empties into Tasman Bay at the town of Motueke, but I would not go that far. Instead I followed a nice small road on the west bank of the river to Harmony's place.
Through Facebook Messenger I had been communicating with Jelle and I decided I would meet up with him in St. Arnaud to ride the Rainbow Trail. I had two days of riding to get there.
I left Harmony's place as early as I could get going and back tracked up the West side road on the Motueka River to Woodstock Junction and then got on the main road. I followed the river upstream most of the day. Traffic was not bad on this road, and the climbing was gradual for the most part, with just one really steep hill I had to stop and rest on a couple of times.
I enjoyed the town of Tapawera. They had shaded picnic tables next to a store and cafe. So I sat and ate and rested a while before heading on. There was also a little "Vege" stand as they call them where I got some kale for dinner and some plums. Less than 10 miles later was the junction with highway 6 where I stopped at the Flat Rock Cafe and ate and rested some more. The riding hasn't been that hard, but I have been tired. I stopped at the first campground I saw after that which was a good choice.
Quinney's Bush was a holiday park right out of 1950's America. It had lot's of room for camping and all kinds of family activities including a great swimming hole with a slide, a go-cart track, miniature golf, a big play ground and more. I had a large field all to myself for camping as the holiday season was now over.
Left Quinney's Bush Camp at 9:00 with the sand fleas chasing me the whole way. First stretch was on the highway which was busy but not too bad. Then the turnoff on Korere - Tophouse road. This was great. No traffic at all. Steady climbing into a slight headwind. First farms and then forests. Lots of Doug Fir. When the road joined Kerr Hill road, and the main Golden Downs route, it got busier. Still climbing until the mountains came in view. After Tophouse it was a quick downhill to St. Arnaud.
Once again I was exhaused by the time I got there. Fortunately the store and cafe had nice shaded picnic tables, and plenty of food. I expected Jelle would catch me here but I got a message from him that he was at a Warm Showers host so I headed off for the campground. Didn't get very far as right across from the cafe is the Alpine Loge and Backpackers. I needed to sleep so I got a room aned immediatly lied down for a nap. Jelle ended up here as well so we had a nice reunion and then some dinner. Tomorrow we head out on the Rainbow Trail.
Epic ride up the Wairau River into the mountains.
It was longer than I thought it would be on the highway to the start of the Rainbow Trail, but eventually we turned off on a lovely fast downhill into the Wairau Valley. The clouds were putting on a show and the whole thing was amazingly picturesque. The road was still sealed at first but soon turned to a kind of chip seal which continued to where the road to the ski area forked off. From there in it was rough dirt, rock, and gravel, but still very ridable. This is why I brought a bike with 2" tires. This trail would take me well beyond my comfort zone and stretch my limits of endurance, strength, and bike control. I loved every minute of it!
It wasn't long before we came to our first creek ford. The water was low and we rode right through it. Okay, if they're all like that I've got it licked. Not a chance. They kept getting deeper, wider, and rockier. Pretty soon I wasn't even trying to ride through them but just dismounting and walking. Glad it was summer time and my shoes would dry out.
It was a steady climb now with a lot of short steep sections that I could not ride. Jelle managed most of them and I noticed he had a much lower gear than I did. He could spin very fast and get up the really steep stuff. He also had excellent bike control in the loose and rocky stuff. I played it safe. This was not a good place to get hurt.
We were getting further and further into the mountains, which were mostly stark, bare, and rugged. This is not the lush jungly part of New Zealand. I guess that would be the West Coast. There was a lot of green along all of the creeks and rivers which were numerous. There was a lot of water coming off of those mountains, even if there was not much growing on them.
We got to Coldwater Creek and setup camp. We both tried to wash in the creek and it was indeed cold water. Very cold. This was what I came for. Camping in the wilderness far from roads, lights, and people. We took a walk to preview what we'd see tomorrow and took some pictures in the fading light. It was plenty cold over night but I slept warm enough.
It was cold when we woke up at Cold Creek, but we could see the sun would soon be upon us. We knew we had a hard morning of climbing ahead of us before the long downhill. At once the road got a lot rougher than it had been the day before. There were some places where slides had fallen over the road and the rubble just bulldozed aside, leaving a lot of rock to navigate. Then there was a lot of loose gravel on some of the steep climbs which made it had to keep traction. Then there was a long section of decent road and a manageable grade when I got into my stride and felt like I was really making progress. Of course we were still following the Wairau River so after every bit of climbing the road would dive back down to the valley bottom.
We then came to the boundary between the Rainbow Station and the Molesworth Station. These are the two huge cattle stations that the trail crosses. At this point we were still in the Upper Wairau Valley, and still climbing. We new there would be 200 meters in 2 km at the top. Metric makes it really easy to determine that would be a 10% grade. Soon enough we came to it and I started pushing/pulling my bike along. A few times it looked ridable and I tried to get on but could not get traction. Starting on a steep grade is hard. Finally I made it back on and was able to ride the final stretch to the top, where Jelle had already been waiting for some time.
From Island Saddle we could actually see some lingering snow in the far off mountains. We were now at 1,347 m (4,419 ft), not as high as our Cascade passes but plenty high none the less, and it was some effort to get up here. In fact it may have been the hardest thing I've ever done. From here we had views back down the Wairau Valley, and ahead to the Clarence River Valley which we would be descending. The first couple of kilometers of the downhill was very steep, and the road was now badly corrugated (washboard) so we had to keep our speed way down until it leveled out. After that it was a good, wide gravel road, but still quite corrugated so it was a pretty jarring ride.
We got to the turnoff for Tennyson Lake but we both felt more like pressing on then camping again at high altitude. We stopped at the turnoff for lunch, but did not ride the 1.5k in to see the lake. Instead we continued on until the old Saint James homestead where we again rested and ate. It was now getting hot and we were happy to find some shade. The rode continued steady and corrugated. We did not have to ford any creeks on this side as they all had bridges and the road was better maintained. There was some scenic stuff in this section that I did not get any pictures of.
Eventually we got to the junction at Jacks Pass and had to start climbing again. Another 2k climb, and now there was traffic as well as loose gravel. After that 6 k fast downhill to Hanmer Springs.
Layover day in Hanmer Springs. We went to the hot pools, which were relaxing even though it was a hot day. Mostly hung out. I took advantage of the free Spark Wifi to upload some pictures.
We ran into another touring cyclist Joost, whom Jelle had met previously. She is also from The Netherlands and has had quite an extensive tour here. While we were talking we were joined by Mariska, also from The Netherlands. She was not bicycle touring but has done so previously. There was also a young man from Switzerland who's name I don't recall.
After a rest day at Hanmer Springs, which was nice and hot, we woke up to rain. We had a shuttle to catch so there was no time to try and dry the tents. The shuttle kept us from riding the busy highway which now had all of the traffic to Christchurch since the coast route was closed due to the recent earthquake. The driver was kind enough to take us all the way through Christchurch and let us off on the bike route heading out of town. It was still raining on and off but we got started.
We soon came upon the Bicycle Thief Cafe and decided that it would probably stop raining soon if we stopped for a coffee. Nice place, and they promised our bikes would be safe.
Sure enough the rain let up and we were off riding the Canterbury Plains, which we would be for the next 4 days. There were farms and fields but it was such a grey day that nothing stood out. The campground at Glentunnel was nice though.
It was starting to show signs of clearing as we left, and as the day progressed it got nicer and nicer. We were riding quiet back roads with very few cars on them. As the sun came out we could now see the foothills and mountains to the west. As we approached the Rakaia Gorge we did have to get on the main highway as this was the only road across. There was not much traffic though.
It was mostly flat until a fast decent into Rakaia Gorge. The rivers the flow across the Canterbury Plains form very wide beds. It was obvious that a whole lot more water comes down in the rainy season. Here the Rakaia formed two distinct channels as it fed into a large reservoir. The water was a bright aqua color typical of glacial runoff. I don't known if this river is glacier fed, but many of the rivers here were this color. After crossing the river we of course had a big climb. The steepest part was right at the start, and I did have to get off and walk a little. I didn't mind because it gave me a chance to soak in the scenery.
After the gorge we were back up on the plain. We crossed a couple more rivers but none quite as spectacular. We weren't quite sure where we could end up, we were just following the route in Jelle's Kennett Bros guide book, which was keeping us off the main highways for the most part. When we saw the sign for Mount Sommers we were ready for a break as there had been no towns in quite some time.
We pulled into Mount Sommers and there was a small store. We got a few refreshments and sat around for a bit. Yelle had to make a phone call so I told him I was going to find the public toilets and rode off following the signs. It turned out the toilets were at a very nice Domain Campground, and directly across the street was a tavern. I sent Jelle a text saying to come over. His phone call was to confirm that he had gotten a bonus after being laid off from his job. We went straight to the tavern and celebrated.
Another easy day. A bit longer than we had been riding, which was good. We debated the route a bit as the route we were following from the Kennet Bros was quite a bit longer than the main highway, but ended up following it pretty closely.
Midway we passed through the town of Geraldine, which would be the biggest town we'd see for a while. The I-Site had a nice cafe attached so we had some lunch. Jelle picked up a new dry bag to keep his sleeping bag dry when packed with a wet tent. I tried to get a hold of the only bike mechanic in town to see about getting a smaller small chainring. No luck there. We could have stayed longer in Geraldine, but that was not our destination for the day.
We were back on back roads from Geraldine to Pleasant Point. At one point we got on this road that climbed up a big hill through some farms, then dove down and up again, and continued with really nice rollers. It was fun to be on rolling hills where you have enough momentum from the downhill to almost make it back up the next climb. After this the route took a narrow gravel farm lane. The variety kept it interesting.
By the time we got to Pleasant Point we were as close to the ocean as we had been in Christchurch. Our route through the Canterbury Plains formed an arc, and the coastline also curved back towards us. I was tempted to take another day and go see the ocean at Timaru, but the Alps were calling. We stayed at the Domain Campground in Pleasant Point.
This was a very pleasant ride on highway 8. Light traffic and very gradual grade, although we were climbing the whole way. Jelle was having bike issues this day. His fairly new Schwalbe Marathon was bulging and also had a big gash in the tread. Then when we removed it to put in a boot, which I cut from my Tyvex ground cloth, the hub came a bit loose and started making noise. After many stops he finally decided to swap the bad tire to the front where he had much less weight. This allowed us to continue on to Fairly without incident. In town we found a mechanic who took care of the hub problem very easily.
It was a cloudy day so we couldn't see the mountains that are visible from Fairlie. It was starting to drizzle when we setup out tents, but we were under a big tree which offered some protection. We met a bunch of riders who were doing a supported tour all of the way from Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the North Island, to Bluff on the southern tip of the South Island. They were doing about 100k a day and had several support vehicles, which their wives were driving, and had accommodations booked the whole way. They were staying in the motel rooms which are an integral part of any New Zealand Holiday Park. Latter we meet a bunch of them at the restaurant and had beer and pizza.
Didn't sleep well after a late night with our new friends doing a road bike tour. So another late start. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and now we could see some of the mountains that were obscured by clouds yesterday.
It was a gradual climb to the "town" of Burkes Pass. I was going very slow not wanting to exert much effort until I knew just what the climb would be like. The road headed straight towards the highest mountains, but then veered south and somehow found a way through the pass. Burkes Pass was a quaint place full of 50's memorabilia from the states. I caught up with Jelle there as well as Leon from the afore mentioned group. Leon was riding a classic Colnagno and was wearing the Italian kit to match. I had a coffee and was ready to go.
After the town of Burkes Pass came the actual climb up Burkes Pass. It was a grunt for sure, but not that bad. I felt really good about it. There was a short fast downhill after the summit but for the most part we were on a plateau now with mountains on all sides of us.
Lake Tekapo is very scenic with aqua marine glacial looking water. It's only at 2,300' elevation but feels and looks like it's much higher. Lots of tourists. Some tour buses stop here. The campground is crowded as well. We booked for 2 nights. Rest day tomorrow and then the Alps2Ocean trail.
We took a rest day at Lake Tekapo before starting on the A2O trail. It was the perfect place to do so. I rode into town and back to the campground and around the lake a little. Very windy day. There is a larch forest growing on the side of the lake. They are not native but have naturalized very well.
I am very impressed with New Zealand Holiday Parks. They have shared kitchens, that are very convenient for bike tourists that don't want to carry much. But the nice thing is that it forces people together instead of isolated at their own campsites. Many of them also have a shared lounge/TV/internet room with comfy couches and reading material. These were really welcome on the cold nights where otherwise we'd be in our tents by 8:00. They aren't cheap, but then nothing in NZ is.
A2O day 1. Awesome! We started along the canal road from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki. These lakes are all connected by canals and feed into a huge hydro-electric system. This canal road alternated between sealed road and gravel. The gravel sections were pretty loose but had a nice single track worn down the middle.
The road followed the valley where there would have been a river were the water not all diverted into the canal. As we went along the mountains started coming into view. There was a salmon farm on the canal which did not impress me, but there were a lot of fisher people on the banks. After that there was a dam and then a big climb, then it was downhill to Lake Pukaki.
At Lake Pukaki we joined the main route coming down the north side from Aoraki. We road back up that direction for a short way and then stopped for lunch. It was a great spot and I would have loved to camp there. Instead we continued on to Twizel and stayed at a holiday park.
We left the campground at Twizel on a quiet back road. After a few miles it crossed the highway and led us to a canal road similar to the one we took from Lake Tekapo. Once again the road alternated from sealed to gravel. After we reached Lake Oahu and crossed a dam our path became a nice gravel track along the lake, and after the Oahu weir the trail turned into well groomed single track for 7km along the lake. This was a great ride.
From the lake we once again had views of the mountains. After the trail we were back on a sealed road and starting to fight a strong wind. This went on for 6 or 7km as we wound around the southwest side of the lake. I became very dispirited fighting the wind, especially because I knew the direction we wanted to go was behind us but the route had been built to funnel people to the Lake Oahu lodge. I wanted nothing to do with the lodge, but Jelle wanted to have lunch, so I went on alone, knowing he would catch up to me at the top of the 10km climb we had ahead of us.
Back on the trail the surface was good, the grade was gentle, and the wind was at my back. The trail climbed the side of a big ridge, never going over it. It was built as a mountain bike trail, and for that it was a very good one. For a loaded touring cyclist it was very enjoyable for about 7km at which point it started getting really rocky. I could handle the grade, or I could handle the rocks, but not both at the same time, so I started getting of and walking when it got too bad. Soon I started getting passed by mountain bikers. I caught up with more of them at the top. They were part of a big group of friends that were riding the whole A2O fully supported by a tour shuttle. I reached the top at 900 meters and stopped to rest and wait for Jelle.
As expected Jelle caught up to me at the top and we started back down. It was still very rocky so it was a difficult descent until it finally smoothed out. It was a long way down and kept winding around, and then when you though it would join a road it cut back up a little valley, once agin into the wind. I was thoroughly beat by then. The trail finally came to an end at an old sheep shearers shack where the tour bus was waiting for the mountain biking group. It was just for support as they were all riding on into Omarama. We could have camped there, there was an outhouse and a stream for water, but we were assured Omarama was an easy 23km downhill with the wind at our backs.
So off we went on a nice gravel road. At first it wasn't all downhill, but soon the few little hills ended and then it was. The problem was deep loose gravel. There was a well worn track in most places but sometimes it funneled you into the gravel. Sure enough I got caught on the edge of the road and plowed into a deep pile which brought me down. Fortunately there was a bit of a bank and I just got a few scratches. I jumped up and continued riding, but at a slower more cautious pace. It was a long 23km and I fell pretty far behind. By the time I caught up with Jelle in town he had already polished off a beer, so I didn't waste any time getting one myself. That was followed with some fish & chips before heading out to the holiday park for the night.
Also met a Scottish cyclist name Christine. I can hardly understand a word she says but I love the sound of it. She is traveling self supported but caught a ride with the tour bus as she had a very difficult time riding the trail with her narrower tires. We caught back up with her at the campground.
Today was all about hydro electric plants. In fact each day had been leading up to this. The canals we had followed from lake to lake had all the water flowing this way, and today is where it all came through the Benmore Dam and hydro plant.
But before we got there we were treated to a nice section of purpose built bike track along a very pastoral upper arm of Lake Benmore. Alas the trail didn't last long and we were soon on the highway and climbing a hill, followed by a nice downhill into Otematata. Otematata had a nice cafe which was the perfect place for our second breakfast. It is a very scenic spot with great views of Lake Aviemore, which we would soon ride around one side of.
But first we had to get across Benmore Dam. The trail led out of Otematata at almost a right angle to the road we took in, as it followed a finger of the lake up to the dam. We were then on a nice gravel road which even had some trees, before getting on the sealed road for the big climb up the dam. It was steep and I may have had to stop and catch my breath part way up. This was the second largest hydro plant in New Zealand. I don't know about the largest. This one was certainly impressive enough.
After the dam there was a nice downhill and we were then on a quiet sealed road around the back side of Lake Aviemore. The map showed a couple of campgrounds on route and we considered staying at one if we liked it. What we saw was really interesting. Hundreds of caravans and campers parked all along the lake, with no people around. Evidently people just leave them there and come out on holidays or weekends. There was nothing all that inviting for tent campers so we continued on.
Eventually we got beyond the lake to Aviemore Dam, and then back on the highway for the last bit into Kurow. The wind was now howling a bit in our faces. There was a short climb to yet another hydro plant at Waitaki Dam, and then finally downhill into Kurow. There we found the Kurow Holiday Park and our home for the night.
Logistically it was too far to get to Oamaru so today would be a short ride, mostly along the Waitaki River. Leaving Kurow we immediately came to the winery which of course required a stop. The trail then led through the vineyard, which was nice. This was part purpose made bike track and part repurposed gravel road.
There would be 3 dry riverbed crossings today, which were pretty rough to ride. I walked most of it. The biggest was quite wide. We had a hard time finding the path through it and on the other side. We it wasn't crossing river beds it was a smooth gravel path trough farm fields and long the river. Although we were close to the river we could never get down to it, or even get a good view.
One thing that disturbed me on this ride was the amount of invasive weeds. Thistles, mullen, and most other common weeds were in abundance here. None of thee things are native here but once here they thrive.
Approaching Duntroon you got the feeling you were in for a treat. Much care had gone into building the path through the Duntroon Wetlands. There were lots of interpretive signs along the way. It was really nice to approach and enter a town on a trail rather than the highway. When we got to town there were direction signs pointing to the Flying Pig Cafe, the hotel, tavern, etc. How disappointed we were to find that they were all closed down. With the exception of the Museum/Visitor center it was a ghost town. Why was this town not able to thrive on the tourist economy of the A2O trail as other towns had? Hopefully this is a temporary setback and the town will bounce back. There was at least a domain campground where we settled in for the night.
Increadible trails today. First a bit of road and next-to-road path to Elephant Rocks. Then things got really interesting as the purpose made bike trail wandered down a canyon and then across and switched back up the other side. The geology of this region is very interesting with ancient worn rock formations.
The path then meandered through, not around, a bunch of farm fields with cows, sheep, and pastures. It didn't just go straight either but wound around with dips and swoops, making it fun riding. The perfect mix of smooth gravel and fun stuff, that would be boring on a mountain bike, but just right for a touring bike.
It went on like this most of the way to Oamaru. There were a couple of old railroad grades and even a tunnel. There were some places where they were building new sections of trail while the current route took a gravel road.
Eventually we hit old bike path heading into town. The route took us through the public gardens, past a lot of Victorian buildings, and dumped us off at the waterfront and the end of the line. And that was it, Alps2Ocean is done. Couldn't ask for a better cycle adventure. The Brewery now beckoned and we headed the call.
Got up early to catch the shuttle from Oamaru to Dunedin. Cold but not as cold as yesterday and very sunny. Shuttle took us to the Holiday Park. After getting settled we rode back into town to see where we catch the train tomorrow to the start of the Otago Rail Trail. Dunedin is a big city, with lots of old Victorian architecture. Bike infrastructure seems adequate. The Holiday Park is far enough south of town that it is close to the beach. The town itself sits on a big harbor formed by the Otago Peninsula. The Holiday Park is at the very bottom of the peninsula.
Otogo Central Rail Trail day one. The trail was great but first was the train ride.
We left the Dunedin Holiday Park by 8:30 to get to the train station by 9:00. We knew the route after riding it the day before. The Taieri Gorge Railway train ride was very scenic but short of spectacular. There was a man doing a constant commentary which was entertaining as well as informative. Most people ride this as a scenic out and back, but there were a number of people heading to Middlemarch to ride the trail.
Middlemarch is a tiny town but was buzzing with activity. Many tour vans and bike rental companies were picking up or dropping off people and bikes. We stopped at the SheBikesHeBikes office to ask some questions and fill up our water bottles and started out on the trail.
It was nice to be starting out on another trail, especially a smooth flat one. The scenery was not particularly inspiring but the easy riding made up for it. There was not much on the trail except for the "Ganger's Sheds" which were now information booths. These could also serve as emergency shelters should the weather get harsh, as it does in the winter here.
Eventually we got to Hyde. Almost a ghost town the only thing left is the Hyde Hotel, which is shut down but still has a self serve "honesty" store with ice cream, snacks, and drinks. It was warm so an ice cream hit the spot. I hope someone revitalizes this place. It is in a really good location on the trail.
We soon came to our campsite which was listed in the guide as an "informal" campsite. There was a good composting toilet and room for tents. Good enough for me. There was also the Taieri River which was warm enough for a rinse off. We had settled in and were just starting to get into dinner when a Dansih couple with two girls aged 4 and 6 months showed up. Very inspiring to see people touring with their young kids. We shared the one picnic table and talked over dinner.
At dusk I climbed a hill and played my Shakuhachi. I haven't had much opportunity to play it lately as we've been staying mostly at holiday parks.
Otago Central Rail Trail day 2. Cool day, easy riding.
I slept in knowing we had a short easy ride that day. Jelle got up early as did the Danish couple with their children. Hard to believe they could get their kids fed, their stuff packed and make it out of camp before me, but they did. Jelle didn't wait either as he needed to ride to warm up. So I lallygagged around and eventually got going.
I soon met Daniel coming the other direction. We had first met him on the Alps2Ocean way back near Omarama. He had gone over Lindis Pass to Wanaka and had been riding this trail from the start in Clyde. I gave him my URL and said good bye. He only had a few days left before returning to the states.
Next up I met a couple from the Bay Area who were just leaving camp. I would have liked to talk more but we soon ran in to Jelle and we stopped at Waipiata for second breakfast.
Not long after that was Ranfurly, the biggest town we would see until Alexandra. We spent a good amount of time here at the cafe and the info station. Lots of other cyclists around, none of them self supported. People come from all over, contract with a tour company, and book accommodations ahead of time. This trail is probably the most popular cycling destination in NZ.
Our destination for the night was the historic Wedderburn Tavern. It was cold and threatening rain when we got there. We had a warm reception and were soon settled in and having a beer. The owners work really hard and do a good job. The tavern was packed for dinner, although we were the only overnight guest. I hope they can stay in business, as there is not much else out here.
Had my tea at the fancy hotel and was ready to go. Then had a light breakfast it the bike shed, where it was at least dry. It was misting out, but not raining.
The trail seemed to be climbing which helped warm me up. We were coming up the back side of Tiger Hill, which from the other side was the steepest grade on the trail.
First break came early at Chatto Creek. Just coffee. We would have stopped again but there was nothing the rest of the way in to Alexandra.
We ckecked out the holiday parks in Alexandra thinking maybe we'd ride to Clyde and then back, but agreed we'd probably camp in Clyde.
The final stretch to Clyde was probably the least inspiring of the whole ride, but Clyde itself looked really nice, nestled against the mountain foothills. The Clutha River also goes by it, which is a mighty river.
And so we reached the end of the trail, a mere 150km from the start. We found the holiday park, setup camp, found the pub and had a beer.
Tomorrow Jelle and I will part company as he follows the Roxborough trail and I double back on the Otago. It's been great riding with him. He's a great guy and really helped me out a lot on this trip.
Day 3 on the Otago Central Rail Trail. Wet and cold just like a winter ride at home. Wind was at our backs for the most part and there were two cafes on the route.
We hung out as long as we could at the Wedderburn Hotel not wanting to go out in the cold rain. Eventually we had to go. Of course it wasn't as bad once we got going. The first 3 miles was the last part of the climb. It was an easy grade but enough to get warmed up. Then it was downhill, still on railroad grade. We started passing riders going the other way who were having a much harder time than us, with the wind in their faces. We soon came to Oturehua where there is a wonderful cafe. It was packed with riders, especially around the wood stove, which we quickly gravitated towards. Nothing like a wood fire to dry you out when you're cold and wet. We could have stayed there all day, but after some coffee and biscuits it was time to start riding again.
We met some other touring cyclists going the other way on the next stretch. First some folks from Australia, and then a German couple Jelle had been riding with on the North Island. We wished we had more time to talk but standing around in the rain and wind was not much fun. So we rode on, but it was only another 20km to the next cafe in Lauder. So we stopped again for more hot coffee and some lunch. I really hope the bike tourism is enough to keep these places alive. The towns along this trail are tiny, and there us not much local economy except farming.
After lunch it was only another 7km to our hotel in Omakau. Another historic hotel modernized for the bike tourism. This one is quite fancy though.
When I got up I knew I wouldn't be riding on with Jelle. The tentative plan was to ride the first part of the Roxburgh trail with him, and then double back to the Otago trail. I woke up tired and way behind Jelle who was soon ready to go. So we said our goodbyes and he was off. So now I was on my own. It had been great having someone to ride with, and Jelle and I were pretty well matched and got on well. So I was sorry to part but looking forward to some time alone. I figured I would slow down and stop more often. Of course I also wanted to put in some longer days as we had done very short rides each day on the Otago trail.
The River Track from Clyde to Alexandra is a much more attractive alternative to the Otago Trail. It's a pretty easy 10k trail, but not flat like a rail trail. Like any good river trail it rises and falls and swoops and curves. A nice way to start the day.
Right away on the river trail I ran into a large group of riders. I didn't know it at the time but I'd be seeing a lot of them over the next three days. They were on a tour with the Adventure South company. They were all riding rental bikes and the whole thing was planned for them.
As the day wore on the sun came out and it was lovely. I had lunch at the Muddy Creek Cafe in Omakau. This was on the opposite side of the street from the Commercial Hotel where we stayed just two nights ago. It all looked different now that the rain had stopped. I also made a quick stop at the Lauder cafe and the lady there remembered me from the other day. She thought I looked just like someone they had on TV doing a commercial at Christmas time.
I rode on and made camp just before the tunnels. I found an open spot just around the bend from the outhouse I would need in the morning. I was very exposed by I had a great view of the valley below the gorge. At dusk I took a walk with my shakuhachi and played it in the first tunnel. Wonderful echo. Sounded great.
Woke early at my not-so-stealth camping spot on the trail. I wanted to get going before too many riders came along. It was a beautiful morning and I was looking forward to a nice long day of riding. The Tunnels were the first thing up, followed by a long bridge. These were nice tunnels to ride through. No dripping water or puddles. Fairly smooth as well, and fairly short. The landscape changes pretty dramatically on the east side of the gorge. Very dry.
First break was at Oturehua, then on over the top. Some of the tour group were getting to the top about the time I was so I took pictures for them. Then on past Wedderburn and into Ranfurly for lunch. Once again I was hanging out with part of the tour group. I got on the phone to arrange a shuttle from Middlemarch tomorrow, but as soon as I hung up the tour guide Bas offered to give me a ride to Dunedin. So I called back the shuttle and canceled. I was really glad I met these folks on the morning out of Clyde.
When I got to the camp spot it looked deserted, but then I walked down to the river and there were some people camping. John & ? from Australia were on touring bikes There was also another fellow camping further upstream, who I never met. And while I was talking to ?, Sarah also from Australia showed up with a loaded backpack. She is hiking the trail and came all the way from Middlemarch today. That was as long as our first day on the trail when I was riding with Jelle. The river seemed even warmer. I got fully submerged and got a good bath.
It was a lovely warm night. I took a long walk and played my Shakuhachi.
My plan was to hang out as long as I could at camp. It was a beautiful spot but the sun hit it really late and it was cold. I still took it as slow as I could. Sarah the backpacker was packed up and ready to go before I even got up. She was the first one out. The Australian couple dallied a bit but still left way before me. By the time I was ready riders were already coming by heading for Middlemarch.
The only stop along the way was the Hyde Hotel. By now the Adventure South group was catching up with me. I was ready to blow by Hyde when they showed up so I stopped and had some coffee with a few of them. Really nice to be socializing with this tour group. Most of them are from Australia except for the couple from Washington.
By now it was getting hot. Wonderfully hot. I just wanted to soak it all in. Although I was trying to ride slow I still had a tailwind and was making good time. Bas and Fiona had modified the plan several times, but my instructions were to meet the bus in Middlemarch about 4 on their way back from dropping the riders off at the Pukeragi train station. The end of the line came too soon as felt like I could have kept riding on and on. But I had now ridden this trail in both directions, got to know it quite well, and met some great people along the way.
I stopped at the picnic tables at the trailhead to dry my tent. It didn't take long in the heat and lite wind. Fiona said the plans had changed again and I should head over to the Kissing Gate Cafe and join them for lunch. I did and we then loaded my bike on the back of their trailer with all of the tour bikes. We hung out quite a while before leaving. The road to the Pukerangi station is rough gravel and Bas does not like taking the trailer on it, so he unhitched the trailer at the head of the road and I stayed to guard it. If I wasn't there they just would have left it anyhow. But now I had a "role" to play. I said goodbye to the group and thanked them.>
The road from there to Dunedin was amazing. Up and down and around some very steep hills. I would not have been able to ride it. Mostly harsh and bare country until we approached Mosgiel. Now it was green with lots of farms. Very nice. Lots of traffic now as we approached Dunedin. Bas dropped me of at an intersection I was familiar with and I easily found my way back to the Holiday Park where I payed up for 3 nights. Looking forward to a nice beach day tomorrow.
Last ride in New Zealand and last ride on the Trucker, which I sold here.
Took Highcliff Road, which is very well named, out the peninsula. It starts up the middle with great views of Otago Bay and Dunedin, and then bends east towards the ocean, before diving fast downhill back to Portobello on the bay. Pretty steep in places, glad I wasn't carrying a load.
It was very windy and cool. On the ocean side and on top. I went to checkout the castle but they wanted money and I was not about to pay to see a castle. I might have paid to see the Albatros or Penguins but they were at the far end of the peninsula and I was not going to get that far.
I didn't bring much to eat which I was beginning to regret when I got to Portobello and the Penguin Cafe. I could get used to touring with nice little towns with cafes every 20 miles or so. Portobello even had Spark wifi (which was available free in many small and mid-sized towns all across New Zealand).
I took Portobello Road back which follows right along the bay and is pretty much flat. There was a headwind but it was not bad compared to the winds up on Highcliff. It was a lovely ride.