Rediscovering The Land of The Long White Cloud
June 30, 2017
Words & Photos: Lindsay Gault
A journey by bike shows a country in an inch by inch mode leaving no view missed, no roadside encounter lost. That was the lesson I learnt from riding across Africa and the reason for my subsequent addiction to the bike.
I have dedicated my remaining active years to living in adventure and providing contribution along the way, raising funds for worthy causes. Showing our little country to cycling friends from around the world also had its rewards. There is something special about seeing your own country through the eyes of others.
When you have cycled twelve thousand kilometres down the length of Africa, you bond with the people you ride with – as friends and fellow adventurers. They are the first to spring to mind when you are planning a new adventure. They are the people who will say “yes” in a flash.
A journey by bike shows a country in an inch by inch mode leaving no view missed, no roadside encounter lost.”
So when my great friend Vince put the idea of a New Zealand ‘reunion ride’ the response was 20 automatic ‘yeses’ from the team. And so it was born – a journey from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Equipped with our past experience and the familiarity of our home country we switched and morphed the planned route to avoid traffic, seek scenic landscapes and keep a reasonable timeframe. Every change required a reconnaissance ride. I took a job as a rental car return driver, each car packed with a bike to make the return journey on the new route.
After four months of sand-ingrained tents through Africa, another criteria was “no tents” which meant a race against peak season bookings to find motels, backpackers, motor camps and the odd hotel. All had to be evenly spaced at the end of a good day’s riding. The no tent rule led us to some interesting accommodation. The Hokitika Hotel, for example, lacked enough beds to host our party. This wasn’t an issue, though, as soon enough the locals were politely asked to drink up and leave the bar early and extra beds magically appeared in the bar, including one in the poker machine room. Pahiatua produced a retired hospital, with riders sleeping in all corners of the building — from the maternity ward to psychiatric ward. A definite qualifier for the psychiatric ward was Sam. Sam is a runner as well as a cyclist. His runner personality first appeared when we were heading into Opononi, where he finished a long day on the bike with a half-marathon on foot. The Rotorua “rest” day produced a sub four hour marathon around the Lake. His personality switches continued down the North Island.
“The rider comments were not about the toughness of the ride, but of the sheer enjoyment of the bush, the mountains, and the crystal clear streams.”
In February 2016, the riders assembled in Pahia – friends from Germany, Italy, USA, Canada, Israel, Australia and a few from New Zealand. Some were strangers to each other. Others enjoyed emotional reunions. The plan had become reality. We set off from Cape Reinga with sun on our skin and spectacular scenery surrounding us. The handicap of a fierce head wind was forgiven on the famous 90 Mile Beach. Hard packed sand and the sweeping seascape were just pure joy on a bicycle. The only one who suffered during this section was Alex from Canada who ignored our warnings of the harsh New Zealand sun. He finished the day crayfish red and bordering on heatstroke.
The journey weaved its way from Ahipara to Auckland. We stayed in small settlements such as Matakohe, and stopped at iconic spots like Tane Mahuta, the great kauri tree located in the Waipoua Forest. The beautiful ride down the coast from Auckland towards Miranda was rated by Peter from Australia as one of his best ever rides (and he has done a few around the world). Another gem was the Wanganui River Valley. This road all the way to Raetihi boasted scenery that started to hit the riders in a constant flow. Graceful punga and silver ferns framing deep creek valleys and plunging soft papa rock cliffs. A road devoid of traffic. Lunch that day at Matahiwi had the group scrambling to protect their sandwiches from an inquisitive (and hungry) kunekene pig. It took Roger with two feet firmly planted on the pig’s rear end to eject it firmly back into the paddock.
Down through the Wairarapa we hit screaming winds across the Rimutaka Trail, bikes flying horizontally with riders clinging to handlebars. Across the Cook Strait we arrived to another great day. The Rainbow Valley, a long, testing off-road day framed by the beauty of the northern alps. The rider comments were not about the toughness of the ride, but of the sheer enjoyment of the bush, the mountains, and the crystal clear streams. The West Coast delivered four days of classic West Coast rain, clearing across the Haast Pass to the magic of the southern lakes and a well-earned rest day at Wanaka. The rush to get on the road the next day saw the lead riders meet bitter icy rain that only that Cardrona pass can deliver. Within minutes the weather band passed and Arrowtown was bathed in delightful warm sun. Riders turned the courtyard of a local café into a Chinese laundry with saturated riding gear. Vince and I, as tail-end Charlies, missed the weather completely and arrived dry. We smugly claimed superior local knowledge to our shivering friends.
The Otago Rail trail and the Caitlin’s Coast completed the South Island ride, thirty four days and three thousand kilometres later. Perfect planning aligned our finish to the oyster season in Bluff. Fresh plump oysters, a celebration of new friendships and the question “where next?”. We’re already planning our next journey across Canada. Follow my blog for full stories of all my cycling expeditions, as well as updates from our upcoming Canadian journey.