"Tēnā koutou e ngā manuhiri o te ao whānui. Greetings to you, our visitors."
It is Januari 2001 and finally I am off to New Zealand. It was a plan which originated somewhere in the year 2000. I was going to cycle somewhere far away, preferably Australia. After reading the book 'Cold beer and crocodiles' I realised that the land of Oz was a bit too big for me. It's neighbour would do just fine. And to be honest, I never regretted my change of plans (apart from the moments I was cycling uphil).
So, we packed our bicycles and left for Auckland. A long, long flight starting in the Dutch Winter and ending in the NZ Summer. Lovely. With the bikes heavily packed we take the train from Auckland to Wellington, followed by the ferry to Picton. First we cycle on Te Wai-pounamu, the South Island. Little did we know about the steep hills we would encounter in the first days already. Dutchies cannot train for this in the land of flatness! I had no clue I had it in me to swear so much going uphill. But hey, going downhill was fun.
My bicycle is a Koga and it gives me headaches at times. I rode it a bit at home, but with 20 kgs on it, it feels somewhat unstable. Soon I decide to send a package back home with stuff I surely would not need. That makes cycling more fun. We roughly cycle between 40 to 80 kms a day in the first 3 weeks. Via Havelock and Nelson we head to St. Arnaud. I start having knee problems soon enough. The mountains kill me for sure. I decide to take the bus to Christchurch to give them some rest. I spend time in this lovely city, walking around, enjoying the people, the atmosphere, everything. After reuniting, we spend a day around Christchurch, visiting the Sign of the Takahe and Kiwi and enjoying the views on Lyttleton Harbour and Banks Peninsula.
Via Darfield, Rakaia Gorge, somtimes with heavy headwinds and superb tailwinds (going from 5 km to 45 km/h), Mt. Somers and Geraldine we arrive in Lake Tekapo. Along the way we enjoyed the landscape with many, many sheep in the fields and snowy mountains in the background. We cross Burke's Pass and it looks like my knee is holding. Great! With Mt. Cook (3724 m) in the distance we proceed to Lake Pukaki. We conqer Lyndis Pass, manage to go downhill with app. 60 km/h and cover days with over 100 kms. It is magnificent down here. We can camp at a school, using their showers, eat carrot cakes and scones, enjoy the scenery along the way. This is the place where I can see the milky way for the first time in my life. Lovely!
Even though the heavy headwinds try to keep us from making progress we manage to reach Queenstown. Time for a change. We decide to go hike the Kepler track for a few days and kayak in the Milford Sound. We leave for Te Anau and start the 75 km hike the day after. Through fern forrests, with splendid views, eat noodle soup brewed with water from the lake, are eaten by many sandflies and finally reach Mt. Luxmore hut. The second day the hike is interesting and leads between some rain showers to the Iris Burn hut. The next day we follow the Iris Burn river, attacked by sandflies, all the way to the Moturau hut, Our muscles hurt from the hike. This is nice for a change. The Country cuisine meals we brought are disgusting, but Pam's pudding keeps us going strong! Exhausted and very satisfied we get back to Te Anau, take a shower (the first in 5 days), change into clean clothes and eat a lovely meal.
After the hike we go for a kayak tour in the Milford Sound. Paddling between the fjords, with a few fur seals playing around, gives me the utmost outdoor feeling. Even though the sandflies are really annoying, nature is overwhelming.
Enough of 'other' activities, our bicycles get annoyed. We head back to Queenstown, decide this many people is not what we like and we drive off. Up north this time. We pass Crown Saddle (the highest pass in NZ with 1080 m) and drive to Wanaka. I check my 1000th km along the way. We ride on, passing The Neck, enjoy lovely views over Lake Hawea and Wanaka and manage to set our speed record at 69 km/h. We have tailwinds, helping us to climb Haast Pass. The Southern Alps have no mercy. I need to walk part of the steep roads. Sometimes we exceed the maximum speed limits and wonder if they also apply to cyclists.
The westcoast is flat(ter), but my knee is bothering me again. I take the bus to Fox glacier. We hike to the glacier. Again, nature is at its best here. The glacier almost stops at sea level, so we can see both in one day. Amazing. We decide to hike the Copeland track. A two day hike, where we leave our bikes on the campsite again. We just take tent and some food. A lovely path brings us to Welcome Flat, where we pitch our tent for the night and take a bath in the hot pool.
Via Hokitika we go to Arthur's Pass. We see the blossoming rātā and pōhutukawa trees, colouring the pass, After a misty and rainy visit we drive back to the Westcoast. Via Moana and Greymouth, we pass the pancake rocks at Punakaiki and keep cycling along the coast. It is beautiful and the sunsets are stunning!
We visit the seal colony at Cape Foulwind and head inland, back to Picton. The road leads through the amazing Buller Gorge (I pass the 1500 km), we stay in Murchison and St. Arnauds and enjoy the views over Marlborough Sound. After 7 weeks we finish our tour on the South Island. We have seen so many nice things that it takes time to process. Another 5 weeks remain for the North Island.