After very little sleep, my flight from Melbourne to Christchurch touched down as the first light of day began to push away the darkness of the previous star filled night. By 7am the sun was up and I had rebuilt my bike, ready to ride into the city.
Having my feet back on New Zealand soil came with a variety of mixed emotions. On the one hand I was incredibly excited about being back in my beloved homeland after so many years away. On the other I felt unsettled and nervous. The finish line is just up the road now. There is no other country to cycle after this.
A sheep sheering shed at Menzies Bay, Banks Peninsular
The first week I spent in or around Christchurch catching up with friends. It felt so good to catch up with and stay with so many wonderful people. It gave me an incredibly warm feeling to see some friends I had not seen in such a long time. Stacey, Scott and Carla. Thanks so much for having me and Lili, it was awesome to see you again as well 🙂
Kids going for pony rides on Waitangi Day
Young kids checking out the horse in the pen at Okains Bay, Banks Peninsular
While in Christchurch I got to see how devastating the February 2011 earthquake was. It is not until you see the destruction personally that you really come to appreciate how badly the city was affected. The city centre still looks like a huge construction site 3 years after that terrible day. So many of the old landmarks that made Christchurch the city it was have vanished. There were desperate attempts to save the facades of certain buildings to help restore as much of the old Christchurch charm as possible.
The stunning Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsular
Entire suburbs so badly damaged have simply been vacated and remain merely as ghost towns. No cars on the roads, no kids playing in the parks, no bbq’s cooking in the back yards, no signs of life. There is simply street after street of abandoned homes and shattered memories. It was incredibly eerie and quite emotional to drive through these ghostly suburbs. It felt like everyone had simply vanished into thin air. No wonder so many of the locals cannot bring themselves to come here. It would hurt too much to see their beloved city so badly damaged and lifeless where happiness and joy once thrived.
Flowers on display in front of the severely damaged Cathedral in Christchurch City
On the bright side were places like the Container City. Shops, cafes, banks and kiosks have been made from shipping containers to help get retailers trading again. It was great to see these places alive and vibrant. Art works and interesting spaces were created from the rubble and debris of the earthquake.
Hay Bails under moody skies
My first little jaunt on the bike was out to Banks Peninsular to visit Shane and Becs at Pigeon Bay. This is a peninsular of volcanic origin and as a consequence there were a few VERY cheeky hills to climb. None steeper than the gravel road Shane and Becs lived on. I did not really roll down their road but descended in a semi controlled skid.
Waitangi Day was enjoyed at the Okains Bay Marae. A huge waka (Maori canoe) rested on the river bank, children played on the bouncy castle or took Shetland Pony rides while the parents kicked back on the lush green grass and ate hangi (traditional Maori food) or drunk coffee from the little caravan stall. It was a very chilled and enjoyable day. This was kiwiana at its roots. I was home 🙂
The time had come to leave my friends and hit the road and start smashing out the kilometres. From Christchurch I took the Inland Scenic Route past Mt Hutt and on towards Lake Tekapo. I knew New Zealand was going to be stunning but Lake Tekapo blew me away. The colours of the lake, skies and mountains simply took my breath away. What surprised me more was that it was no way near as touristy as I had envisaged. What a bonus.
The beautiful little stone church on the shores of Lake Tekapo
I headed south with no intention of visiting Aoraki Mt Cook as it was a 120km detour to get there and back. As I rode past the southern end of Lake Pukaki the mountain towered over the far end of the lake. As the highest mountain in the country she stood there incredibly beautiful but it was plain to see she demanded respect. This was a harsh mountain not to be messed with. Like a moth to a light I was drawn to the mountain. How could I not ride to the mountain when I was this close? Afterall, what is an extra 120km of cycling at this stage of the game?
Up until this particular day I could comfortably say I had been lucky on the road and not had any serious close calls with vehicles. This changed dramatically on my way up the side of Lake Pukaki.
I stopped on the side of the relatively quiet road to take a photo of the lake. The lake was on the other side of the road so I crossed to get a slightly better view. It was only slightly better so I wondered why I bothered.
Just after taking the photo I looked back to see three cars heading in the same direction as me so I waited for them to pass before crossing back over and cycling onwards towards the mountain. The first car past as expected. As I looked out to the lake I heard the second car approach. I then heard a quick toot on a car horn and the harsh skidding of tyres on the road very close to me. My stomach suddenly felt sick. I turned to see a car skidding around in circles towards me. It then veered off and flipped 3-4 times down the bank on the other side of the road, exactly where I had just crossed over from.
When the weather it is as beautiful as any place on earth. When the wind blows…….hold on!!
I dropped my bike and raced down the bank expecting to find a pretty horrible mess inside the smashed up car. It rested on its side in swampy wet grass. I tried to get a door open (which was facing the sky) but it did not budge but at least I could see movement inside. They were alive. By some complete miracle the young Thai couple were completely unscathed and I was able to help them out of the rear window which had exploded. Having seen this car flip so many times down a bank it was incredible to see them escape completely unscathed
Some young German tourists were following this car and also stopped. They explained how lucky I was. The car had been swerving a bit over the last five minutes. The Thai driver was falling asleep at the wheel. The German girls told me that the car driven by the Thai man had veered across the wrong side of the road straight towards me at about 100km per hour. I was totally unaware as I was looking out to the lake. At the last second (literally) the driver must have half woken up, seen me directly in front of him then swerved into a skid before flipping down the bank on the opposite side of the road.
To this day I am not sure who tooted the horn. Maybe it was the Thai driver when he suddenly woke to see me in front of him (yay for my bright red shirt being a stark contrast to the turquoise coloured lake and dark grey skies) or if it was the German girls who tooted their horn which woke the driver just in time. If that was the case, those young German girls saved my life.
Colourful Paua shells
From what the young Germans told me, if that Thai man had have remained asleep for another 1-2 seconds his car would have ploughed straight into me at about 100km per hour as he veered across the wrong side of the road.
If I did not cross the road to take the photo (which I did not often do) I would have been standing exactly where the car flipped down the bank to its resting place in the swampy grass. Either way I had an incredibly lucky escape.
The remaining ride out to Aoraki Mt Cook hideous. Wind gusted at around 100km per hour. Campervans were swerving all over the road in the wind. This was a real hazard as the gusting wind meant I could not hear them coming while I struggled to stay on the road. I got blown off the road many times and had to push the bike. When I could stay on the road I had to stand up and really push hard to cycle at 5km per hour on a perfectly flat surface. Tents were getting flattened all over the place at the DOC Camp site which sat at base of the mountain. Luckily I found a spot to put my tent in the shelter of a hill and some trees.
After such an insane afternoon it was nice to crawl into my wind battered tent and simply slip into my sleeping bag. My mind raced…….yet again, I have been a very lucky boy………..
Thankfully the next morning was perfect. The mountains looked awesome. Small avalanches slipped off the mountains reverberating in the valleys. The wind was at my back when I hit the road. Happy days……
The isolated Lindis Pass. An awesome place to cycle.
It is encouraging to see how cycle tracks like The Otago Central Rail Trail are breathing new life back into small rural communities
I cycled over the wild Lindis Pass then around the Otago Central Rail Trail before going to visit me ol’ buddy James Clark in Dunedin, a work colleague from London. James was generously giving some time each week to work with a group of Special Needs people. I popped along and had a talk with these great people. It was a really fun afternoon which I think we all thoroughly enjoyed.
The little town of Clyde……like stepping back in time.
The Catlins in the far south of the South Island could be described as beautiful, isolated, quiet and rugged. It was my kind of scenery. As I ate my dinner in front of my tent one evening, Hector Dolphins swam in the quiet Curio Bay just in front of where I sat. Beautiful.
Nugget Point in The Catlins Conservation Area. Rugged natural beauty
Camping at Purakaunui Bay in The Catlins Conservation Area. Not too bad 🙂
In the tropical city of Invercargill I stopped to see Zane Moss and his family where I was fed up on loads of sensational paua, crayfish and other delicious food. Man, these guys eat well!! Revitalised, I started heading north after visiting a cousin I had not seen in 17 years. It felt so wrong not to have seen my cousin Zane Scott and his family in such a long time.
The far south did live up to its reputation with a few days spent on the bike being battered by hail, rain and strong winds. It is such a lovely feeling to wake, listen the cold rain and hail pounding your tent knowing the first thing you will do when you crawl out of the sleeping bag is to slip into soaking wet clothes and shoes. JOY!!
Baaaaaaaaa. Our wooly friends grazing with huge mountains beyond
The next few weeks could well prove to be the most incredible 2 weeks of my journey. I spent my days exploring incredible lakes, rivers, snow capped mountains and vast open spaces. It is not every day that you can cycle over 60km on a road and not see a single vehicle. The scenery was simply mindblowing. Sheep and cattle roamed freely around the incredible Mavora Lakes. These animals were not restricted by fences. Mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes controlled their movements.
Camping at North Mavora Lakes. Oh yeah baby you wee Mama!!!!!!
What a place to ride. WOOHOO!!!!!!!
Cycling towards Walter Peak Station, Lake Whakatipu. Photo courtesy of Boris Mauny
In Queenstown I was joined by a really good mate from my school days. Brett decided he wanted to cycle with me from Queenstown to the top of the South Island, not at all phased that he had never done something like this before.
With practically no training at all under his belt, I took him straight over The Crown Range on his very first day. For those who do not know, this is the highest sealed road in the country so therefore no small feat on a bike with all his food, clothes and camping gear. Following that nasty Baptism of Fire, Brett began to dislike me less and settled into the groove.
Brett and I were blessed with some stunning weather as we rode past Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka then on towards the Haast Past and The West Coast. Every single day we were blown away by the sheer beauty of the country we call home.
Brett cycling around the incredible Lake Hawea
It was not all lovely warm days and clear blue skies, Cyclone Lusi kindly blessed us with her presence as we approached the top of the West Coast. This cyclone was hyped up in the news for over a week as a monster storm that was to wreak havoc on our country. What a load of rubbish. Some gusts blew Brett and I off the road and there was some rain but nothing to be worried about.
About 15km south of Greymouth we approached the Taramakau Rail and Road Bridge. Before riding onto the bridge was a sign warning cyclists (VERY CLEARLY) of the hazards presented by the recessed rail tracks. I took a photo of the sign thinking it would be funny to tag Brett in the photo on Facebook as if that was him flying over the handlebars.
Warning signs as we approached the notorious Taramakau Bridge
OOPS!!!! I jinxed the boy.
Exactly 19 seconds after riding past the warning sign Brett’s front wheel got caught in the recessed rail track and down he went. I still believe Brett was feeling a little tired and wanted like a lift into Greymouth. It seemed a little extreme but he did get his lift into town. An ambulance took him to the local hospital where the very efficient Doctor Singh inserted three stitches to close up a very ugly looking hole in his stomach.
Brett in an ambulance about to be taken to Greymouth Hospital for some repairs
I had ridden for almost 900 days without a serious injury (touch wood) Brett almost lasted a week before he was heading for hospital. Nice work Kippa 😉
How did I know it was exactly 19 seconds? Brett filmed his hideous crash and moan fest on his Go-Pro camera.
Sadly our time together came to an end as we reached the top of the South Island. Despite doing practically no training what so ever, Brett managed to ride over 900km without a single rest day. This included some very cheeky hills and a crash which put him in hospital and smashed him around a bit both physically and mentally. I could see he was very tired and incredibly sore but still he pushed on. Even when we became mates around 25 years ago Brett was a tough cookie with fierce determination. Some things do not change.
West Coast South Island at its isolated rugged best
Brett, it was an absolute pleasure to ride with you my Brother. It was great to catch up and share hundreds of laughs. Not only was it a huge amount of fun, I was incredibly happy to share one of the most incredible sections of my journey with one of the boys. I was happy you got a little taste and understanding of what my life has been about over the last 2 ½ years. Thanks so much for coming mate!! Just keep a look out for those train tracks in the future 😉
Copious piles of fresh blackberries collected along the road side made breakfasts an absolute pleasure
My last week or so in the South Island was spent chilling with family and awesome friends. My cousin Michelle and I went hiking in the stunning Kahurangi National Park. At times it felt like we were the only people hiking through the isolated mountains and forests.
My cousin Michelle teaches Pilates in Motueka. She could not even go on a hike without bringing her work with her 😉
When I nervously set off from London I was 38 years of age. While in Nelson I celebrated my 41st birthday. It was absolutely brilliant to spend part of the day with Fi (whom I met travelling in Africa) then later with Lauren (who I travelled with in Borneo, Vietnam and Switzerland) It was so cool to spend a few days with these awesome girls and their young families. It was so nice to see how life moves on. One day we were tracking black rhinos in Zimbabwe or climbing Mt Kinabalu in Borneo then now we find ourselves entertained by their gorgeous wee girls. Lauren and Fi, you two are awesome and I was so pleased to spend time with you both on my birthday 🙂
My last evening on the South Island was spent camping in a small bay within the incredible Marlborough Sounds. As the sun set on a beautiful warm day, seals frolicked in the mirror like waters just off shore. While photographing the stunning sunrise the following morning, a cheeky weka (native bird) stole my breakfast the moment my back was turned. It made me smile. I was home and my home has to be one of the most beautiful countries on earth.
My last morning on the South Island turned out to be an absolute stunner. Thank you South Island for being so incredibly beautiful
My expectations for the South Island were outrageously high but the reality of cycling around this incredible isolated jewel of an island simply blew me away. It was infinitely better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Every single day I was left speechless by the natural beauty that dwarfs and engulfs you. It was hard not to spend your days smiling when admiring such natural beauty.
This is me. I am a Kiwi and this is where I am from. This natural beauty is where I call home. We are incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful country to call home. Not a single New Zealander should take this for granted no matter where we live on earth. This is a place to be treasured and if you get the chance, share our beautiful country with those you care about.
As I caught the ferry from Picton to Wellington at the bottom of the North Island it dawned on me just how close I am to finishing this journey. The end is so very close now. My future remains uncertain but this is exciting all the same.
With just the North Island remaining to cycle on my wee journey, it will not be long before I lay down my bike and ask myself “what next…………”
for more photos from the incredible South Island, please have a look at my flickr page: