New Zealand Tour
The Route, at a Glance…
Auckland, Orere Point, Tauranga, Rotorua, Eastland, Gisborne via bus to Wellington, Wellington via ferry to Picton, Kaikoura, Rangiora, Geraldine, Lake Tekapo, Queenstown via bus to Fox Glacier, Greymouth, Arthur’s Pass, Christchurch via train to Picton,
Picton via ferry to Wellington, Wellington via train to Hamilton, Auckland
February 17th to March 23rd, 2004 – 2,289 kms by bike
– and a whole lot more by bus, rail and foot!
Over many years of bicycle touring, I had determined from information both heard and read, that New Zealand would be an interesting country to visit. And not just for cycling, but also as a venue to sample a little different culture and geography. I’m not on my own with that assessment, and the immense popularity of the “Lord of the Rings” movies has certainly boosted tourism in a country already well versed in catering for the traveller and tourist.
Subsequently, after reading many trip reports of other cycle tourists, Lonely Planet’s guide to Cycling New Zealand and (the bible) Pedallers’ Paradise, I set some plans in motion. I concluded that February and March would be late summer and early autumn in New Zealand, and from all accounts the best time to cycle tour for both North and South Islands. December and January are mid-summer/high season down-under; campground and hostel space is at a premium then and perhaps it would be hard to find a vacancy in certain places. And, I was informed, that the weather would be just perfect then. Oh how gullible I am! Regardless, after packing up the bike in a large plastic bag, I shoehorned the panniers and contents into a large duffel bag and armed with my copies of Pedallers’ Paradise and some AA maps kindly sent to me by an acquaintance in New Zealand, I set off for my (very) long flight to the land of hills and sheep, courtesy of Cathay Pacific Airlines.
I’ll mention here that I have only added a few photos throughout this blog post of my Bicycle Tour through New Zealand, but all my images from this trip are available for viewing by clicking this link.
At the end of the trip reports is a summary with some personal conclusions of my visit to New Zealand.
I took along my Pocketmail device again, and what follows here are basically the edited e-mail messages
that I sent home to family and friends…
Day ? – 0 kms
Day one, or is it day two? – Who knows, I’m not even sure of the date!
Anyway, here I am in Hong Kong airport, waiting for the next flight to actually take me to Auckland, New Zealand. The time change to here from the west coast of Canada was sixteen hours, and then, I think, another three hours when I reach New Zealand. So I guess that it’s tomorrow here, if you get what I mean!
With the bike packed in its plastic bag (courtesy of Air Canada), all my other cargo is in a large duffel bag and a fair sized disposable carry-on bag, I checked into Victoria, BC airport for the short half-hour flight to Vancouver, BC. Sixty-five dollars for the bike for that short hop! But a lot easier than struggling with all that gear onto a ferry and then taxi to Vancouver Airport. Funnily enough, the bike was free on the following international flights – go figure! Unfortunately, I couldn’t check my baggage through to New Zealand from Victoria, so I was doomed to hang around Vancouver airport – avec les heavy/awkward baggage – for quite a few hours before I could check-in again. Eventually, my flight to Hong Kong left Vancouver at 2:00 a.m. the next morning.
So now I know what a red-eye flight is – I just looked in the mirror and my eyes are like pee-holes in the snow. I had a row of three seats to myself, almost until take-off, then they gave out one of the spare ones – bummer! That would have been nice to stretch out for the thirteen hour flight, but my luck wasn’t in. Instead I did the two-step fandango trying to get my legs comfy. I think that I did doze for a couple of hours though – it certainly only feels like a couple too. So a seven hour layover here, and an eleven hour flight to go – it will be morning again! Confused yet? You should try looking at it from my end of the clock. Basil’s totally out of it, he refuses to leave the confines of the carry-on bag until absolutely necessary.
Well, it’s smoggy/misty/foggy here in Hong Kong, and I’m pretty beat, so I didn’t do the quick two or three hour visit to downtown Hong Kong – I might have fallen asleep on the subway and ended up who knows where?
This is huge airport though, with lots of stuff to rubberneck at. I had a great rice noodle and veggie stir-fry for breakfast – or was it lunch? Anyhow it was $50.00 – sounds like a lot eh? But that’s Hong Kong dollars – HK$50.00 is only about C$8.00. Fortunately, lots of people here speak English, and all the signs have English subtitles, so it’s easy to find/eat my way around.
Anyhow, I’m off to find the next gate, I think that I have to take a short train ride for that – wish me luck!
Day 1 – Auckland to Orere Point – 71 kms
OK, so now here it’s February 19th, so I’m saying that this is officially day one of riding, I know that you guys are a day behind, but really, that’s not my concern! Get over it!
Anyhow, after yet another red-eye flight, I arrived in Auckland this morning at 7:30 a.m. The plane to here was smaller than the 747 from Vancouver though, and it was packed. Leg room left a lot to be be desired, especially as how my right leg seems to ache constantly when flying. I sometimes wish that I could screw the damn thing off and reattach at my destination – not to be though!
I declared all my camping gear, and bike of course, on the provided form and expected the New Zealand agriculture inspectors to give it a going over to see if it was clean etc. – I’ve heard that they’re very picky over here and don’t want any other country’s farm problems, read… diseases etc. Another no-no is bringing any food in – I had a couple of things!
Regardless, the guy that I saw must have been at the end of his shift, because after presenting my card to him, I said, “I guess that I better continue in the red lane eh?” He says, “If your tent and the rest of your gear is as clean as your bike then you’re good to go.” He then asked what foods I was smuggling in. So I began to recite, “a packet of noodles, two sesame snaps, a Mrs Dash seasoning pepper…” “Stop,” he cried, then he marked my card and said “get out of here!” I guess I was boring him to death with details – it worked though! Then the next step was a big X-ray machine, the lady there says, “you’ve got camping gear and he doesn’t want it checked?” “Guess not,” I said, “he’s marked my card as OK.” She looked very surprised, but had to let me go.
Just outside of the terminal there is a bike assembly area, complete with bike stands to clamp the top tube while one gets on with the job – very civilised! So by the time I cleared Customs, reassembled my bike and repacked all my gear it was about 10:30 a.m. The sun was quite hot by then, so I slapped some sunscreen onto my lily white parts and rode off straight into my first roundabout – in New Zealand anyway! – No worries!
With the help of a large scale map of the Greater Auckland area (thanks Hoogie!), I found my way to the Skyway Motor Lodge which was very close to the airport. The Skyway is actually more of a hostel than a motel, so it is very reasonably priced. I proceeded to book a room for my last two nights here; conveniently, they will store my extra bag and packing materials until then. Then I was off to find food and also fuel for my stove and something to scoff, other than airline/airport food – kinda like ferry food, you know!
First impressions – they drive like lunatics here – I was very glad to escape the busy suburbs of Auckland and ride onto some quieter roads. Once again the large scale map helped me immensely to avoid the Motorway (no bikes allowed) and navigate my way to The Great North Road. Not too far out from the airport, I stopped in Manukau City for a quick lunch/brunch or whatever the hell the time it was and also picked up the supplies I needed. Then I paid a visit to the local AA office there for some more maps. I’m a member of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), so maps were free for me. In fact, on the basis of my CAA membership, I was given a free six month temporary membership card for the New Zealand AA – that was a real benefit for easy pick-up of maps at other AA locations during my trip. There were different types of maps available, but I found that the AA “District” maps were the best for cycle touring. They were 1:350,000 scale and very detailed indicating motor camps, road surfaces, distances etc.
After my stop there I found my way onto some relatively minor roads and continued on to ride through some smaller towns including Clevedon and Kawakawa Bay, thus arriving at today’s destination of Orere Point.
Nevertheless, the back roads were narrow, hilly and winding, something akin to “B” roads in Britain, or Gulf Island roadways in BC, and the speed limits are still 100 kms/hr! – Slow down to 70 kms/hr when entering a village! Everyone afforded me lots of space though, so I can’t complain too much. The small towns are very small – quaint though, and with the hot sunny dry heat and tanned bodies all around, they reminded me of being in Hawaii. Funnily enough, when I first exited the airport, the smell outside reminded me of Hawaii.
I’m not having too much of a hard time riding on the left side of the road – but there again I learnt to ride and drive in Britain. I am having a tough time looking to my right to see my rear view mirror though, but I’m sure that I’ll be OK after a couple of days – and I’ve negotiated scads of roundabouts today, with no problems I might add! All in all though, it was a tough 70 Kms today, as tired as I was after all that sky travel, so it’s early to bed, where I can finally lie down to sleep!
Orere point is a bluff looking out onto the South Pacific Ocean via the Firth of Thames. Beautiful seascape, and now that the winds have picked up, there’s some huge rollers out there. If the other campgrounds turn out like this one, I’ll be very pleased. This camp has cabins, hot showers, kitchen facilities, common room etc. In North America, I’m used to a piece of dirt in the bush to pitch my tent and possibly flush toilets! I think that New Zealand will spoil me! [The motor camp at Orere Point was a member of the “Top 10 Holiday park Group.” There’s actually many more than “10,” on both the North and South Islands. Had I known that I would be staying at quite a few more camps of this group, I should have purchased their discount card for NZ$20.00, which would have realised me a saving of 10% at all affiliated camps, for both tent sites and cabins. By the time I figured all this out, I was too far into the trip to make much difference! Regardless, I found camping costs very reasonable in New Zealand].
Lots of great hilly scenery today and sheep farms galore. Basil’s learning to say, “baa, baa,” as we ride past, it must be working as we seem to get quite a few responses – Ah, life on the road eh? – Simple pleasures! We were held up by a bunch of cows crossing the road at one point too – highly exciting!
Anyway, I’m tired and I’m rambling, so I’d better get some kip. Today, was sunny, warm with some cloudy periods, but now the wind’s really picked up, and it’s kind of grey – that could be nightfall though as it is 8:15 p.m. already. Off I go.
Day 2 – Orere Point to Waihi – 101 kms
What a night! The wind that I wrote about yesterday steadily increased overnight and was joined by torrential rains – it was tough to try and sleep with that combo going on. I’m sure glad that I pegged the tent down really well before crawling in! The rain stopped by morning, but the wind was still very strong – it was a real challenge putting the tent away without turning myself into flying debris!
Luckily, I didn’t have to fire my stove up either, as I mentioned before, a lot of the campgrounds here in New Zealand have kitchen facilities, so at least a quick breaky wasn’t too much of a windswept chore!
I set off down the quiet coast road (signed as the East Coast Road and Pacific Coast Highway), but I was really struggling trying to stay upright in the wind. I had heard that overnight it had touched 100 Kms/hr and it was still gusting somewhere around 60 Kms/hr. Additionally, every so often a rain squall would give me dousing – I must have changed in and out of rain gear a dozen times today! There was no shelter anywhere to take a rest from the onslaught. So I considered myself very fortunate at one point on the road to Miranda, where I passed by a bird sanctuary facility (Naturalist’s Trust Centre), and just managed to dive out of the worst rain of the day – which absolutely poured and was blown about in sheets for at least fifteen minutes on that occasion. Otherwise, the road was pretty desolate – it really was too bad about the weather, as I couldn’t enjoy the seascapes anywhere without either getting drenched, or blown to distraction!
Map-wise, it looked like I would pass through a few towns – second breaky, you know – but a lot of the places are just dots on the map, literally! Second breaky didn’t happen until Waitakaruru, and that was at 11:00 a.m. After that, I started to head south-east towards Paeroa; thankfully the wind was to my benefit then, except for twists and turns that would still give me a crosswind. After Waitakaruru, the road was considerably busier, as I had joined the main route, S(tate) H(ighway)2, for the rest of the way here – I even saw some logging trucks on this road – all flying along at 100 plus Kms/hr, on a narrow two lane road. I figured out that the British influence here has extended to the driving habits of the New Zealanders – lead-foots! I mentioned dots on the map, sometimes there was just a pub there – just like in the British countryside!
As I pointed out yesterday, some of the small towns and villages are very quaint – quite a bit of art deco architecture, mixed in with shops clustered together in rows. Also today, I cycled through Karangahake Gorge, lots of relics from the gold mining days along the gorge and even a tourist railway line running on the old tracks built in the mining days.
So far, I’ve found New Zealanders to be very friendly in general, and polite. Why today, in their lingo, the weather was “unseasonable.” I personally would not have ventured above “crappy!”
Well, here I am in Waihi – after riding along a very pleasant palm tree lined entrance to the town. It’s looks and feels like I’m in for another windy night by all accounts – let’s just hope for NO rain!
I was going to ride another 10 kms to Waihi Beach for the night, but for sure the wind would have been even stronger by the ocean. I also heard that yesterday there has been major flooding in many areas north of Wellington (where I’m heading, of course!) including many areas east of Wanganui. Let’s hope that dries up quick! I’m going to try for Rotorua tomorrow, but who knows what the wind gods will deliver?
Day 3 – Waihi to Rotorua – 127 kms
More strong winds last night, but at least I was in my tent and not battling them – I did need my ear plugs to lessen the howl of the gusts around me and the constant flapping of the tent.
But mild winds this morning when I set off – even the sun was trying to poke it’s face out! More of busy SH 2 while I rode through Waimata and then stopped at Katikati for second breaky – just in time, as a rain shower was just developing – nothing too serious though, by the time I ate breaky it was almost over. I hung around town and enjoyed some of the many murals that this town is known for.
On to Tauranga, a much bigger town than any of the others that I have passed through – this one even had a Subway sandwich shop – good place for a fresh lunch.
So after a hearty lunch and a quick ride around town, I figured that I’d be OK for the challenging ride to Rotorua. Although only 60 Kms to my destination, there was a gradual climb to Pyes Pa, after which the road became steep and undulating reaching an elevation of 500 metres. The rain started again and wind picked up too, so it was a very tiring afternoon’s ride that took much longer than expected due to the steepness of some of the grades. The last 15 Kms into Rotorua were, thankfully, for the most part downhill, so that helped a bit to recoup my energy.
Once in town, I tried for a hostel bed for the night, but no chance, no way, especially as late as I was. This is a very popular destination for many backpackers and tourists, so even though there are many hostels, there was “no room at the Inn.” Motels were just about full, and all that was left were the pricier ones, so tenting it was to be! Even the campground is crowded too! One bonus though, the ground is heated here; Rotorua is a thermal area, so there are vents, boiling mud holes and thermal springs everywhere – even the storm drains in town are steaming! And there’s a rotten egg smell at every turn!
I figure this to be a good place for a day off tomorrow to play tourist and take in some of the “steamier” sights.
I had fish & chips for dinner with a couple of beers – that sure perked me up!
In my tent here, the wind is starting to really howl again – even worse than last night. I just heard on the radio that the Wellington area had winds of 180 Kms/hr today – lots of damage to power lines etc. Here we can expect winds up to 80 Kms/hr tonight – batten down the hatches Basil!
More the day after tomorrow, whatever that is!
Day 4 -Rotorua – Rest Day – 0 kms
Hey, I survived the wind storm last night – what a howler! But I’m pleased to say that the sun is out today; it’s still breezy, and as long as the clouds don’t block the sun it is quite hot – should be a good day for tourism!
I’m finding New Zealand quite expensive in the food department. One reason is the very strong New Zealand dollar – when I first started planning this trip, their dollar was worth about 70 cents Canadian, now it’s up to 92 cents! Quite a difference, and their prices would be on par with Canada if their dollar was still 70 cents – but it ain’t, so right now a lot of things, food especially, seem very pricey to me. One caveat – tips are not expected here, so that helps a little when restauranting.
There are hedgehogs here, which surprises me, as I thought that they were natives of Britain – maybe the Brit émigrés transplanted some here? Unfortunately, most of the ones I have seen were flat! – Just not quick enough for that Kiwi traffic.
Lots of different types of birds here too, but I wish the damn things would sit still for a photo though! Haven’t actually seen a Kiwi bird yet though – when I do, I’ll get a picture of those buggers, they can’t fly away!
Not bad for biting bugs here either, I’ve only had a couple of bites in the last few days, from midges – mind you, it’s probably too windy for the many of the little devils to fly! – They’ll get me later, I’m sure – at least no sign of mozzies – yet!
Hard to get a real coffee here – most of the cafes have espresso etc. But filter coffee has proved a bit more of a search. The bigger towns have McDonalds and Starbucks, so I’ve figured out where to head for a fix.
I made the mistake in one cafe of ordering coffee without asking what type they had – out came the waitress with the thimble of espresso – $3.00 thank you very much!
I haven’t met too many other cyclists – saw a couple on the road yesterday, they were heading for whence I came. And I met a German couple at the campsite in Waihi. There are lots of Brits and Europeans here in Rotorua – it’s funny, the Brits are the older crowd and the younger backpackers all seem to be from elsewhere.
Canadian tourism could learn a lot from New Zealand though – especially as far as camping is concerned – campsites have kitchens, showers, flush toilets and some have TV lounges and swimming pools! All at very reasonable rates – the most I’ve paid for a tent site is NZ$12.00 per night, so I’m not complaining about that part of the economics. [In fact, the NZ$12.00 that I paid at that site was the most that I paid for a campsite on the whole tour]
Oh, the campsite that I’m at has three big hot tubs, all use the natural mineral hot spring water – guess where I’m going later?
One last thing, the ice creams are great here and they have Mars bars!
OK, Im off to rubberneck around…
Lots to see and do in Rotorua – very touristy! First thing that I saw on the way to town was some collateral damage from last night’s high winds. Quite a few big trees were blown down and there was other large bits of debris lying all over the place.
I spent the whole day wandering around – it felt good to just take in the sights, eat, people watch, eat some more – get the picture? I had to do a quick museum tour, of course – the museum is in a grand old building facing the cricket pitch in the local town park. Rotorua Lake is adjacent to the park and much of the shoreline that I saw had cautionary signs regarding the thermal activity that abounds in this area.