77 miles14 Dec 12Day 1
Bluff and The Catlins


The Maori name for New Zealand is 'Aotearoa'. It means "the land of the long white cloud". Today the clouds were gathering ominously on the horizon. Deep and dark and rich and being pushed towards me by the characteristic westerly wind of the roaring forties. At first a gentle rain spotted through broken cloud, a very English rain I thought, but the wind veered southwards, picked up its skirts and blew in a very New Zealand rain of icy horizontal sheets flooding the road. The locals are used to the rain and simply call it 'weather'. Weather they are prepared for and accustomed to. In New Zealand even the dollar notes are waterproof.

The clouds parted briefly as I struggled into Bluff which is New Zealand's Land's End and even has an international signpost at the tip of Stirling Point similar to that near home in Cornwall, so this seemed the right place to embark on a tour of the country setting out on Highway 1. The sign suddenly reminded me of home and how, standing here, I was as far from home as it's possible to be on dry land without leaving the planet and heading into space. From here, about twenty degrees north of the Antarctic Circle, head south and the next upright animal you are likely to meet will be an emperor penguin. Homesick on day one, I thought to myself. Time to man-up and turn those pedals.

Into the ferocious headwind, made worse by the buffeting of the trucks on Highway 1, I felt as though I must have been the slowest moving thing on the island, but when I crawled into Invercargill I stopped to pay my respects to New Zealand's fastest man on two wheels, Burt Munro. He is famous here because in 1967 at the age of 68, battling angina and the onset of deafness, he took a 47 year-old Indian motorcycle, that he'd rebuilt in his garden shed, to the Bonneville Speed Trails and broke a record that still stands today.




New Zealand
89 miles15 Dec 12Day 2
The Catlins to Balcutha


I got off Highway 1 as soon as possible and rode on peaceful gravel tracks past hedgerows ablaze with flowering gorse and lupins, both considered by conservationists as predatory invaders, but where else in the world are you likely to see an Aberdeen Angus grazing beside palms and yuccas whilst taking shelter from that chill wind beneath Scot's pine?

New Zealand is renowned for its natural beauty and this scenic treasure of the south western corner was a delightful start to my journey, especially as the wind had dropped and the sun peeked out between the clouds. I followed the varied coastline as closely as possible and stopped off to see the 160 million year old fossilized trees at Curio Bay, and on past waterfalls, golden beaches, high cliffs and secret caves where I spotted penguins, seals and sea lions. Ancient forests of rimu, matai, totara, beech and miro reached down to the sea whilst the air was filled with the sounds of native birds - black oyster catchers, shags, shearwaters and gannets.





New Zealand
87 miles16 Dec 12Day 3
Balcutha to Dunedin


Weatherboard houses ranging from stately to ramshackle pepper Dunedin's hilly suburbs, and nicely preserved bluestone Victorian buildings are dotted throughout the centre some dating back to its expansion following the 1860's gold rush. Then the city was the country's commercial centre, with the Octagon still the focal point with this and much of the old city designed by architects from Edinburgh. Perhaps the most famous of these was Robert Lawson who originally emigrated to Melbourne and worked as journalist and part time gold miner as the Australians had little call on his talents, but when he finally settled in New Zealand and won a competition to design First Church he could make his mark going on to oversee the construction of many Dunedin landmarks.

The links with Scotland abound. One Reverend Thomas Burns became the first cleric to lead early settlers to righteousness - if the name sounds familiar that's because he was the nephew of Rabbie Burn's himself. Streets named after the Tay and Dee lined up beside those with more exotic Maori names like Mokotake, Kapuka and Tokanui.

After the empty country roads negotiating the city's traffic was a shock, so as soon as I could I checked into the Law Courts Hotel. Really just a pub, defining itself in a world of Formica tables, fluorescent lighting, slot machines and canned veggies with dinner. A far cry from its hey-day in 1954 when Queen Elizabeth II stayed in a room just down the corridor from mine, but in some ways all the better for its lack of renovation, especially as it was cheaper than a shared room at the backpacker hostel. Rooms above pubs are a bit of a secret bargain down here.





New Zealand
52 miles17 Dec 12Day 4
Dunedin to Middlemarch


The road out of Dunedin passed some of the country's prime horse racing stables, that supplement their income giving rides on plaited ponies to mummy's little darlings who trot and canter gaily through the meadow. Beside the wrought iron gates of a grand entrance to one such estate stood a wheelie bin, attached to which was a cardboard sign that read:

"Horse shit. Help Yourself"

Quite.

That's New Zealand. Blunt, straightforward and run on an oily rag.

Unlike the aboriginal tribes of Australia who have been in occupation for 50,000 years, the Maori first populated New Zealand from the islands of Polynesia less than 1,000 years ago, having been forced to leave their native homes due to overpopulation and inter-tribal wars. 500 years later whaling gangs came from Europe, devastating not only the cetacean population but carrying diseases like measles and small pox to which the Maori had no resistance. Then the traders traded guns - which the war-like Maori loved as much as they hated their neighbouring tribes and by the 1820's their population had diminished by a quarter.

Meanwhile Mother Nature was having a knife fight in a phone box. Some bright spark, let's call him Noah, thought that a pair of breeding rabbits would suit the scene. The rabbits brought their own special form of chaos destroying indigenous vegetation whilst the stoats and weasels that were introduced to keep them in check ate flightless birds and their eggs instead, leaving the rabbits to breed like.err...rabbits. Our man Noah also brought red deer which were an even greater threat to vegetation, (they can now be tracked and hunted by helicopter if you please), whilst their mantle has been toppled by the humble possum, introduced to create a fur trade, it's now running riot all over the country and if you see one crossing the road you are actively encouraged to run it down (Possum - Squash-um). Meanwhile sentimental and homesick Scots planted gorse, broom and Douglas fir all of which are now regarded as ugly weeds dominating weaker indigenous flora.

Much of the uncultivated ground of Otago's rolling hills is covered in tussock grassland, but in its native state would have been forest or scrub before early Maori settlers burnt it whilst hunting for moa. The moa was a passive, flightless (wingless even) bird standing up to 12 feet tall and a perfect Sunday roast for the whole tribe. As a result they were hunted to extinction. Before humans arrived, bats were NZ's only native mammal, so the islands had an absence of natural predators such as the non-native rabbits, cats, dogs and rats, and as a result the local avians lost their sense of danger and along with it the need and ability to fly. Thankfully many other species have survived and now unique to New Zealand are birds such as kakapo, takahe, the kea (mountain parrots) and the kiwi (of course!).




New Zealand
55 miles18 Dec 12Day 5
Middlemarch to Oturehua


Central Otago is a fascinating landscape of schist outcrops and long, hazy distances. A semi-desert that, on hot, clear days, carries a magic quality of its own. Artists, writers and poets have been magnetised to this country and those such as the painter Grahame Sydney (www.grahamesydney.co.nz/paintings) have based much of their work on this area. Otago's grassy paddocks and succession of charming little gold-rush towns, is a place where the brown pastoral hills and jagged rock formations look familiar, because these hills were the setting for several scenes of Rohan in The Lord of The Rings films.

In 1865 the area was overrun by gold-miners. They dug for gold, formed small shanty towns, and departed within twenty years leaving most of the settlements to wax briefly and then fade gently into the wilderness. Some miners who couldn't afford the ticket home became sheep farmers, and some prospered so that nowadays the occasional grand settler homestead still graced the hills as I cycled past enjoying the wide open spaces.

That gold rush brought the need for transport to and from the gold fields and it took hundreds of men 15 years to lay one-hundred miles of railway track through the mountainous terrain from Dunedin to Clyde necessitating the use of 97 bridges and 13 tunnels. Since that time its use steadily declined, but today it's been brought back to life as a cyclist's dream rail-trail and known as one of the finest of its kind in the world.




New Zealand
70 miles19 Dec 12Day 6
Oturehua to Cromwell


The Rail-trail was fabulous, riding on a flat grit path, alongside views of the far hills with their frosting of snow, and closer outcrops of isolate schist rock breaking jaggedly through the tussock, all lit by bright sun on a glorious summer's day.

In contrast to Australia there are no snakes and no venomous creepy crawlies in the whole of NZ, very few people and lots of sheep. The country's human population swells by 30% in peak season, but there are twelve sheep to every resident human and out here the ratio is higher still. Nice if you like sheep. Of the 43 million sheep here, 2 million are Merinos for which I have a particular fondness as their wool is fashioned into the finest outdoors clothing - warm, light, water repellent and even resisting the bacteria that make synthetic kit stink after a few days on the road. It's the only breed that can survive the rugged high country, a prime ewe growing up to 5 kilos of wool each year with prize animals fetching the equivalent of £6,000 each. Talk about the Golden Fleece!

Contrary to their reputation for stupidity, sheep are relatively intelligent and said to have excellent memories, but of more concern to the shepherds is that some smarter sheep have recently learnt how to cross cattle grids by taking a run-up, curling into a ball and rolling over Commando style. At one point the trail was blocked with sheep being herded by a wise old collie-dog who seemed to know exactly what to do whilst the shepherd watched over from the comfort of his Land Rover.

Coming off the trail briefly I found Alexandra to be a pleasant town full of old pubs and historic buildings. Sadly little remains of the great suspension bridge that once crossed the Clutha River here, but the stone pillars remain to give an idea of the endeavour of engineers in what must have been one of the globe's more inaccessible places in the late nineteenth century. Having already enjoyed 140 km of traffic free bliss, I took the riverside path to Clyde for a grand finale of near perfect riding beside the opaque turquoise glacial melt water.

The little village of Clyde on the bank of the Clutha River looks more like a cute 19th-century gold-rush film set than a real town. Despite a recent influx of retirees (or perhaps because of them) Clyde retains a friendly, small-town feel and the pleasant community has survived its roots as a rough and boisterous gold town from the 1860's. However, its principle present-day feature is the presence of the Clyde Hydro Dam, a massive wall of concrete just outside the township. Since the construction it's been discovered that the dam, somewhat worryingly lies directly on top of a geological fault line.

The wind picked up in the afternoon and I struggled against it and the gradients of the Southern Alp's foothills. By bedtime the wind had gained such force that I had to pin my tent down with rocks and I fell asleep to the rhythm of the nylon mesh inner slapping my face on alternate sides.





New Zealand
51 miles20 Dec 12Day 7
Cromwell to Queenstown


Cromwell also survived the gold era progressing to become the hub of one of New Zealand's leading areas for growing apples, cherries and pinot noir grapes, but many of its historic buildings had to be relocated when in the 1980's the building of the hydro-electric dam downstream at Clyde submerged the main street.

Later in the day, I crossed the 45th Parallel i.e. the line of latitude equidistant between the South Pole and the equator, although New Zealand is a place that usually feels colder than you might expect as the islands are chilled by cold Antarctic currents. But today the hot sun reflected in the lake and added a sense of occasion for me personally having cycled across the same line of latitude in the northern hemisphere at Piacenza in Italy some time ago.

The road climbed up through the dramatic gorge of the Kawarau River, down which the wind whistled and by the time I'd turned out of the gorge to head up to the pretty but very touristic Arrowtown I'd had enough, so I set up my camp stove and heated up some beans in the manicured gardens of the town's park and watched the world go by. Fully fuelled and rested I drifted down into Queenstown nestled on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. Maori legend has it that Lake Wakatipu was formed by the imprint of a sleeping demon burnt to death by the lover of a pretty Maori girl captured by the demon. The demon's heart did not perish and its beats cause the level of the lake to rise and fall three inches every five minutes. It's really glacial in origin and the water levels are affected by varying atmospheric pressures.





New Zealand
21 Dec 12Day 8
Queenstown (Rest day)


Queenstown hails itself as the extreme sports capital of the world, with bungee jumping heading the bill. For the last twenty or so years folk suffering various states of mental illness have been hurling themselves off bridges, gorges and platforms, freefalling and about to a make a squidgy mess of themselves only to be plucked from death's jaws by elastic ropes designed to take you as close to an impact as possible. It's not such a new concept though, as the idea was copied from the land divers of Vanuatu in Polynesia who used vines as bungees and plummeted from wooden platforms in displays of manhood and as a ritual said to promote fertility in the soil.

Of the infinite means of kick starting the adrenal glands on offer, I opted for white water rafting. The rapids are graded from one to six, with one being a gentle bob downstream and six meaning instant death. My ride was to include rapids mainly between three and five. 'Mainly', what the hell was that supposed to mean? After half an hour's intense briefing that included all the usual wind-ups about hypothermia, drowning and making wills, our jagged-jawed he-man guides separated us into groups of six and led us to our floating (for now anyway) coffins. At this point the capable looking he-men took the first five rafts whilst myself and my canyon-fodder colleagues were directed to a beaten and patched tub which had perched on its stern a pip-squeak of a girl so slim you could cover her in Vegemite and call her a Twiglet. Hang-on, was I expected to believe this wisp of a lass was going to be able to hoist me to safety? I'm not afraid of dying but I'd like to narrow my odds if possible and I'm certainly somewhat averse to paying $120 to perish in a watery grave.

The first mile or so downstream was quite pleasant as we bobbed along gaining confidence in Ginny our impish captain. "Left paddle!" "Right paddle!" "Get down!" "Hold on!" Four simple orders that would save our souls, the tiny Tinkerbelle reassured us. We practised these and our man-over-board exercises as we floated over the grade twos and splashed our way down the first three. Grade four meant getting down and holding on at the same time. Our confidence was soaring - multitasking! We were first though a tricky three-four-three and Ginny pulled the raft over to face upstream so we could have a laugh at the following crews, the first of which whooped and hollered getting a good soaking and emerging from the foam all smiles. The next bunch weren't as lucky as their raft turned sideways to the flow (a school-boy error) and they were tossed like soppy pancakes into the firmament. In a flash the guides were on the case, communicating using hand signals (the crashing of the water would drown out any voice), casting rescue lines and pulling the human flotsam to safety. Ginny yanked out a tattooed man from Cork three times her size and ordered him to sit in our boat. I'd overheard the Irishman chatting away like he'd been to bed with the Blarney Stone earlier, but right now he sat silently and just shivered. "Just think," I quipped "If you didn't make it, the papers would read 'Cork man fails to float'!", but he didn't crack a smile. I don't think he was looking forward to the rest of the trip.

A quick head count confirmed all were aboard and a terse word exchanged between Ginny and the muscular guide that had let his boat flip, revealed that our little girl was clearly in charge and commanded a respect out of all proportion to her diminutive size. A few more grade fours passed without serious incident when we entered a tunnel dug by gold miners and now providing a place of inky respite. We glided along watching the light at the end grow larger then blinking as the bright light made it hard to focus. The raft accelerated. The light grew brighter and the water louder. Why could we only see sky at the end of the tunnel? The why was soon answered. We couldn't see the river anymore as it had dropped ten feet when over the grade FIVE and out the end of the tunnel we were ejected. "Get down and hold on!" We responded automatically hitting the deck and holding on for dear life as the water engulfed us, the raft smashing left and right against massive granite boulders.

As the waters flattened out I turned to see Ginny reapplying her lip gloss, still perched calmly on the stern. We had all lived, but we agreed that had we died, it would have been the best $120 we had ever spent.





New Zealand
101 miles22 Dec 12Day 9
Queenstown to Makarora


I was up before the dawn with one purpose in mind. The Crown Range and New Zealand's highest paved road. I was soon up over the first set of switchbacks where the chilly air was keeping a layer of cloud hanging in the valley above Arrowtown, but I had a good sweat on labouring up to the 1076M pass with its awesome views.

My limbs shivered, and my legs were spinning like a sewing machine in a power surge on the descent that was over all too soon, but I was in the ski resort of Cardrona by second breakfast time and ready for morning coffee by Wanaka. There can be few towns with such scenic location nestled between the mountains at the foot of the lake, and as if to embellish its beauty further there is bike trail around the southern shore.

With clear skies and temperatures moving into the high twenties I was in paradise and by the time I reached Lake Hawea I was ready for a cooling dip in its crystal clear waters, sitting out the midday sun on its pebbly beach, before riding its surprisingly hilly west bank and traversing the climb that links back over to the northern end of Lake Wanaka.







New Zealand
92 miles23 Dec 12Day 10
Makarora to Lake Paringa


I was now amongst what the Maori called Te Tapu Nui - the Peaks of Intense Sacredness. The day began with a steady climb to the ominously named 'Gates of Haast', a narrow pass on the winding road through bush clad hills and over box girder bridges that cross fast running rocky streams and rivers. After The Gates, the road fell in a fantastic downhill stage that rolled me the next forty miles of easy cycling into the Haast Township.

Those bridges look over-engineered, but they need to be, a few days after I passed, a rain storm washed one away leaving the west coast cut off from the south for a week. Not that being cut off would make much difference to the amount of traffic on this glorious rolling coastal road, sweeping through native rainforest and over towering cliffs revealing tantalising glimpses of golden sands stretching into an azure ocean.

I'd been prepared for a day of total isolation as the west coast is famously unpopulated, and those that live here now are still regarded as pioneers. By the time NASA was preparing to send a man to the Moon in a rocket, it had only just become possible to make a circuit of South Island by car.

Ken met me with a firm handshake and a welcoming smile that revealed a mouthful of teeth like a badly damaged graveyard. A cabin by his motel, that had been built with the road in 1965, could be mine for NZ$35 (about £20), so the prospect of hot water and an escape from a million sandflies sealed the deal. I'd not had an opportunity to stock up on food and the thought of another boy-scout dinner of baked beans didn't hold much appeal, so I asked Ken if he had anything for sale. He didn't but said that he'd sort something out for me and would only take another $5. I was led to the kitchen where there was a man-sized portion of venison pie, potatoes sautéed in cream and honey with almond coleslaw on the side, almost certainly all home grown and home cooked. Mrs Ken, who remained invisible, had done me proud, and judging Mr Ken's display of firepower on the sitting room wall, the venison had been roaming the forests not too long ago.





New Zealand
61 miles24 Dec 12Day 11
Lake Paringa to Fox Glacier


It's easy to get the impression that South Island is one big National Park, as I moved seamlessly from the natural wonders of Mount Aspiring to the equally stunning Westland NP and New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki - Mount Cook. 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary (and Tenzing Norgay's) ascent of Everest and it would have been in these mountains that he would have first acquired the skills and appetite for climbing. Typical of antipodean candour, my favourite Hillary quote is, "Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it." A bit like bicycle touring then, although it did strike me, examining Hillary's climbing gear on display in the museum at Dunedin, that the modern cycle-tourist can be better equipped, especially when it comes to weight and thermal insulation, than a mountaineer was 60 years ago.

For the last 25 million years New Zealand has stood astride two tectonic plates - in the north the Pacific Continental Plate pushes under the Indo-Australian Plate pulling the land apart permitting volcanoes to erupt through the thin crust, whilst here in the south the Indo Australian Plate pushes under the Pacific Continental Plate bunching up ridges in the surface i.e. forming the Southern Alpine fault line. And that, folks, is why the two islands are geologically so very different.





New Zealand
25 Dec 12Day 12
Fox Glacier (Rest day)


Christmas day, a day when everything closes, and folks stay at home for a traditional family day. It was pushing thirty degrees in the valley but I was actually having a white Christmas, having taken a helicopter ride to land on the top of the Fox Glacier. The glacier is a massive lump of compressed snow that slowly (about 5ft per day) eases its way downhill under its own weight. As it moves it collects lumps of rock (moraine) that grind away at the valley floor eroding a classic U-shape valley, and creating the rock flour that give glacial rivers their opacity. Both the Fox and Franz Josef are unique in that they originate above the perpetual snow line, falling 7 or 8 miles to the warmth of the rainforest below.

The early Maori knew Franz Joseph as Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere (Tears of the Avalanche Girl) as legend tells of a girl who, having lost her lover fell from the local peaks, and her flood of tears freezing to form the glacier.




New Zealand
106 miles26 Dec 12Day 13
Fox Glacier to Hokitika


Nephrite Jade, also known as Greenstone, is a hard opaque semi-precious stone that forms in Alpine fault lines under intense heat and pressure. It can get flushed downstream in the rivers of the west coast from the eroding mountains above Hokitika, where it was once gathered by the Maori, being the hardest substance known to them and used in tools, weapons and jewellery.

The greenstone was of more use to the Maori than the gold that was often found in the same fault lines, and so tribesmen often led gold prospectors to their rich pickings only to be cut out of any profits - typical of the treatment of Maori even following the Treaty of Waitangi that should have granted them a fair share. However, these days they have some hot shot layers on side and are working towards some compensation. For instance, if the Treaty had given back barren mountainsides and the bottom of a lake - thought fairly useless to the Brits at the time - to the Maori, now these mountains and lakes are used to generate hydro-electricity, so the tribesmen are claiming a share in the profit. The Pakeha (white settlers) are not happy and the case continues.




New Zealand
100 miles27 Dec 12Day 14
Hokitika to Springs Junction


After a thousand miles of cycling, at Greymouth I finally encountered something ugly in New Zealand. After so many miles of perfection, it came as quite a shock to find a grey town, backing onto a grey beach where a grey river tumbled into a grey sea under a grey sky. Even the McDonalds looked drab and dreary, its golden arches seeming somewhat apologetic, embarrassed by their blatant affront to the natural splendours that South Island had offered up. As if to complete the scene, there was a solitary post-apocalyptic plastic bottle, stranded in the gutter. The horror.

Within a couple of miles I was back out in the glorious countryside, grinding up the long drag along the Mawheranui valley to Reefton. The town takes its name from the gold bearing quartz 'reefs' discovered in the 1870's, and miners from the exhausted Otago gold fields moved north. There was no road through the mountains at that time and so most arrived at Greymouth by sea after a perilous journey and made their way on foot following a similar route to that which I had ridden. The town flourished and the wealth from the mines allowed Reefton to be the first in the Southern Hemisphere to benefit from electric street lights.

I wheeled my bike into the i-site tourist centre and was met by Cindy who, when asked, told me that Springs Junction (the next nearest town) was half an hour away and that the road there was flat. I already knew that to get there I'd have to ride over a 600m mountain pass, but I didn't know that distance was measured in minutes, so I asked if that was half an hour by piggy back or by just hopping. She gave me a look that suggested she thought I was as dumb as a box of boulders, so I took my chances and pressed on.



New Zealand
70 miles28 Dec 12Day 15
Springs Junction to Hanmer Springs


The native shrubs that cloak the rolling foothills of the Sothern Alps in emerald foliage are dense, beautiful and varied, but there was one plant I was particularly keen to see. The leptospermum scoparium is better known as the manuka tree or tea tree. The nectar of its white blossom is harvested by bees to make what is the world's finest (and most expensive) honey. Most honeys contain a naturally occurring active agent, which is thought to support good health but is easily destroyed when exposed to heat and light. Manuka honey contains an extra, naturally occurring active ingredient, which makes it distinct from other honeys. This additional component is stable and doesn't lose its potency when exposed to heat, light or dilution. Its special quality is known as UMF and the higher the UMF, the more potent the honey and its powers. It has antiviral and antibacterial actions - a good excuse for scoffing the stuff neat at the first sign of a cold or sore throat, but where it really comes into its own is in treating wounds. In New Zealand, it has long been used in this way, as Manuka honey's high sugar content creates a waterless environment in which the bacteria that are infecting a wound are unable to survive. Also, thanks to the presence of an enzyme called glucose oxidase, it is acidic, which apparently adds to its unique antibacterial properties.

After climbing over the 864M Lewis Pass and working my way into the wind (again) along the Hope River Valley, the Alpine village of Hanmer Springs was a welcome sight because, as its name suggests, it's known for its thermal baths.




New Zealand
82 miles29 Dec 12Day 16
Hanmer Springs to St Arnaud


Heading north off the tarmac I picked up what I was looking for; the long, beautiful and isolated Rainbow Road. The gravel road through stunning semi-alpine country, clear rivers, bluffs and flat valleys, is one of New Zealand's great rides climbing over the 1370M Island Saddle - New Zealand highest unpaved road. About three quarters the way up to the pass the way became more precarious and the few 4X4's that passed me thinned out, so I had the road to myself until Derek came hurtling down toward me. Sporty Kiwi's love the outdoors and hold the honour for the highest number of Olympic gold's per capita in the world, and Derek looked the very archetype of the NZ outdoorsman. The kind of guy who could wheelie a penny farthing, he was with two blonde German girls that he was guiding through the mountains and he carried all their gear in a bob along trailer behind his bike. Seemed like a perfectly acceptable way to make a living I thought to myself as we passed tips on the condition of the road ahead and what treats we each had in store. I only have a one man tent, so Derek's treats may have been slightly better than mine that night.

Once over the pass, the riding treats unwound before me as the road ducked and swooped through the fabulous mountains, over axle deep fords and along deep, sinuous gorges where native pine clung to the bear, bald rock. The region is one massive sheep station in reality, but in my mind I was lost in a wonderful wilderness.





New Zealand
88 miles30 Dec 12Day 17
St Arnaud to Motueka


St Arnaud sits relatively high in the mountains so even though it was a damp start to the day, I sailed downhill along the almost devoid of traffic Korere Tophouse Road past scenes that reminded me of Swiss Alpine pastures and further down on the Motueka Valley Highway, the vineyards and avocado orchards seemed to replicate Tuscany.

Motueka itself was a bustling port town, but even so sported a gravel cycle track along its coast and it was along here that I bumped into Alex. I say bumped into, when really he pretty much crashed into me. Twenty year old Alex, a tiny Frenchman, shorter than a dachshund with rickets, was enjoying a year off from his studies, had been on the road for four months but looked as rough as a thirty year old sheepdog, whilst his ancient bike made a noise like the whole of the industrial revolution inside an oil drum. I never cease to wonder at how some cycle tourists get by on their miniscule budgets and scrap yard steeds, so I gave him a packet of Anzac biscuits and a bar of soap as I thought he needed both in equal measure.

Sometimes, when you do a good deed, you're really mocking the misfortune of others and to be able to give without a degree of self satisfaction is rare gift indeed. I knew that my bike was better than Alex's and I wanted him to know it, and as surely as Karma punishes the smug, at the next hill my top-of-the-range XTR crank sheared off from its titanium housing.




New Zealand
15 miles31 Dec 12Day 18
Motueka to Abel Tasman National Park


Having walked back to Motueka with my broken crank, I bagged another bargain room-over-the pub for the night and spent half of the next day getting a new crank fixed up. The bike was as good as new even if my pride wasn't, but that didn't stop me enjoying the hilly coast ride north to a campsite at the very edge of the Abel Tasman National Park.

The Park was named after a Dutchman and the first European to visit New Zealand in 1642 - a whole 127 years prior to Captain James Cook's more famous explorations, although there is some controversy over whether Abel Tasman was the first to 'discover' New Zealand as Chinese sailors almost certainly traded with the Maori and there are theories about Greek and even Egyptian mariners passing centuries before.




New Zealand
1 Jan 13Day 19
Abel Tasman National Park (Rest day)


"I see the sun rise up into a cloudless sky of blue
Coaxing the shadows back to let the sun's light shine on through
I feel it touch my skin, its warmth glows through right to my bones
Drifts softly through my body, heats my flesh then stirs my soul"

Morning. It was early. Earlier than just about anywhere else, and just off the 180th meridian of longitude, the world's day begins and today 2013 began with that sun rising up into a cloudless sky of blue. I had all day to nothing too, and being New Year's Day there wasn't much to do, except relax, hike the trails and watch the birdies.




New Zealand
41 miles2 Jan 13Day 20
Marahau to Nelson


Under thunderous grey skies I wrestled against a wind that gained in ferocity all morning, such that there wasn't much point in riding on past Nelson, especially as torrential rain was forecast. Nelson is one of New Zealand's earliest colonial settlements, but whilst its streets are dotted with beautiful Victorian houses, I came across a glut of bars, betting shops and sleazy dives when I'd been expecting a vibrant arts & crafts centre - Buddhist centres, naturopaths, yoga studios and galleries, poetry readings in bookshops, that kind of thing. But all I found was half price beer. I quite liked Nelson.

In a lovely ironic twist, Nelson was birthplace and home to Nobel Prize Winner, the brilliant Ernest Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics for his orbital theory of the atom. Today though the country has no nuclear power facilities and over 75% of its power is derived from renewable means. Rutherford was so smart his IQ suffered permanent altitude sickness, but he's fondly remembered for famously blundering, "The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine."




New Zealand
62 miles3 Jan 13Day 21
Nelson to Picton


Heading inland and back on gravel roads I rode up to the peak of the Maungatapu Road where there is a plaque marking Murderer's Rock. In 1866, the Burgess Gang lay in wait to waylay and kill five local men for the cash and gold dust they were carrying. Two of the victims were buried in shallow graves close by; the others were thrown into the stream. All four of the gang were later captured, but one, Sullivan, turned Queen's evidence and only three of the murderers went to the gallows in Nelson goal.

On the eastern flank of the mountains and renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, the Wairau valley is New Zealand's largest and most celebrated wine region. The climate - an average summer temperature of 24 degrees to ripen the fruit but cool nights to help retain its acidity, and the terroir - free draining shingle in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps that helps produce a lush aromatic grape whilst reducing the vine's vigour. The distinctive pungency and zesty fruit flavours make it my favourite white wine.

To be able to say that you've circumnavigated the world by bike, there is an understanding that you should pass through two antipodal points. That is two places that lie directly opposite one another on the globe such as the north and south poles. Such places that qualify and are accessible by bicycle are in fact quite hard to find, but it was with a smile of satisfaction that I rolled into Picton as it lies antipodal to Salamanca in Spain. Box ticked.

I'd arrived an hour early for the ferry to North Island, picking up a tailwind along the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Drive that overlooks the Marlborough Sounds and had time to reflect on my journey. Time to reflect on this land of milk and honey and a bike ride that would be hard to beat, with its empty roads, scenic perfection and friendly folk.

New Zealand. So good it has to be fattening.





© 2008 site by mjrcreative
Back to top