The trip was great. We felt like we could just keep going if we weren't due back at work.
The scenery is spectacular and probably would be even better a bit later in the year once the high peaks all have snow (only a few showed their snow to us).
It took a while to get used to the weight (about 30-35kg of luggage for me, about 25-30kg for naomi) but after a few days it felt great to get back on the bike each morning. It was all pretty low intensity riding, I'd say equivalent exertion to hiking.
We had initially intended to ride from Christchurch to Queenstown to Wellington. I had calculated that would be all we’d have time for in about 25 ride-days at about 70km a day. After the first day of loaded riding we thought we’d be lucky to complete 500km after suffering a bit on terrain which was easy on paper, flat with a slight tailwind.
Halfway through Day 2, we changed our tune, now thinking we’d landed in cycling paradise with a day full of slight downhill false flats, a tailwind, quite roads, considerate drivers and magical scenery inspiring us. The next day we pulled up fresh and each day we got stronger.
Camping, eating, riding became a simple routine. We ended up doing 1850km, making it as far south as mossburn, and making it all the way back to Christchurch. This extra section past the wellington ferry at picton was excellent because some of the best sights were between there and Christchurch along the Kaikoura coast.
We had 29 days there with only 4 days not riding. On two of those 'rest days' we still did more than 4 hours of hiking. We did a long hike at mt cook on a day off and another on the franz joseph glacier which was pretty challenging.
We would have rested a little more if we'd had more time but was it ok for just a month to just keep pushing. I actually usually feel more run down in my normal schedule when I'm working, sitting at a desk all day. I tended to be more positive and energetic after riding 80km than after a long day at the office.
We were both very healthy throughout. We ate a lot of pies, cakes and hot cross buns, drank a lot of beer and whiskey but it didn't touch the sides. We had some short days (25-60km) as well which were like resting, although probably the hardest day was a 48km ride (lots of hills then a headwind). Most days were about 75-90km. The greatest distance was the last day at 110km which seemed like it was going to be a very long one but at around 50km a sudden wind reversal changed our average speed from 16km/hr to 27km/hr and it was over before we knew it.
Generally we couldn’t really push the pace much because the sheer size of the panniers makes the bikes very un-aerodynamic. Anything more than about 23km/hr and the effort to benefit ratio of pedalling harder was pretty low. I'd say most of the time our heart rates would have been between 90 and 150 [my max = 194, naomi’s = 199 for anyone to whom that means something]. We became very powerful in the ‘fat burning’ heart rate zones but we discovered at centennial park after getting back that we almost had a cardiac arrest trying to push ourselves over 160bpm. Our bodies have forgotten how to function in the aerobic mode.
[NB: only took a few rides to get it back though]
All said, it was a great experience. A good adventure. We met lots of interesting and friendly people, ate half of the south island's food. Saw lots of amazing countryside, and felt good doing exercise everyday.
Below I’ve included quite a lot of detail on routes, gear, etc. This is mainly for anyone interested in touring the south island themselves. It’s also under headings so you can skip to any bits you’re interested in. (Photos down
We had maybe 5 days with some rain, 1 with 5 hours of light rain then 2 hours of torrential which tested our resolve a bit! Most of the rain was on the west coast. There was only about 2 hours all up riding with any rain at all aside from that west coast week.
We had a few days between 25 and 30 degrees at the start near Christchurch that were quite sweaty. Otherwise the weather was generally between 14 and 20 degress – quite good for cycling. Was always cold at night, some nights worse than others. Probably about 2 degrees for the coldest night, and might have gotten even lower than that on our hike day in Mt Cook.
We studied up on the prevailing winds after a previous traumatic experience on the west coast of Tasmania. This preparation was very worthwhile as there are definitely better ways to do certain sections. The west coast has an almost perpetual north-westerly. Westerly on the north and south coasts, and usually a north easterly near the east coast. Also it is very common for big southerly fronts to make their way across the whole island bringing rain with them. We mostly managed it well. Carefully checking www.metvuw.co.nz whenever we had internet access. Much better than Australian weather websites.
But, we still had three consecutive horrendous days with the wind between Omarama and Queenstown. The first of theses days saw us riding into a southerly change. As it strengthened we had to pedal hard to do 20km/hr down a 6% gradient hill, let alone when the road turned uphill. The next day started with a tailwind but the 50km gorge between Cromwell and Queenstown channelled the wind straight down the road. It didn't matter which way the road wound there was no relief. At one point it was so strong we had to get off and push our bikes to go downhill. We had to stop during gusts to cling to the guard rail on the side of the road so we weren't blown onto the highway. Some of those gusts must have been around 100km/hr. I think this section would always be windy.
We decided to stop and camp about 15 minutes after that. To our dismay the situation wasn't much better the next morning. I had a few tantrums in the remaining 40km of that stretch! A few days later we had another couple of hours of bad wind near lake Wanaka and just decided to stop and camp then too. That section is also notorious according to our guidebook. Apart from that all were pretty good riding conditions.
The hills everywhere south of Christchurch are quite weird. Very Tasmania-like if you’ve ridden there. It's almost like they can't afford to put any bends in the road so they won't twist up a pass they'll just build the road straight over it and if that means gradients of 10-15% that's fine. There was nothing in between - it was either 1-4% slight uphill or 10-15% steep.
In the northern half of the south island it was a bit more normal with the whole spectrum of gradients appearing. These engineers seemed to build nice graded 5-6% roads with hairpins like we’re used to around sydney. Our gear ratios (easiest = 24t front - 32t rear for me) were comfortable up to about 10% but above that was quite hard - similar to the situation on a road bike I guess. Naomi only had to walk once for about 150m over the crown range on a stretch that was 18%-21%.
The road surfaces were generally pretty dead. It's extremely well maintained with no potholes but it's that cheap stuff made from sealed gravel, like the old Akuna Bay road. Our fat tires made the riding smooth enough but it was sluggish and I think you would get your ass pulverized on a stiff road bike. There was also road work before every town. It was the end of their financial year and apparently all of the councils endeavour to spend whatever’s left of their year's budget for roadworks lest it be taken away from them the following year. So the grating sounds of little bits of gravel hitting our mudguards became very familiar. One stretch of works was so bad the stones ripped my front mudguard straight off. Luckily we were close to a hardware store and I just needed a new nut. It was never a problem like that again – it must have been something peculiar about the exact size of those particular stones.
The bikes and panniers worked well. We had no punctures. Our worst mechanical issue was that Naomi broke a drive-side rear wheel spoke which took me an hour to replace with the meager tools I had - but all was ok as I had a beer to sip from the town's general store while doing it. Naomi’s bottom bracket also became a bit loose on the non-drive side, but a nice fella at the Avanti bikestore in Frankston tightened it for free. Had some fender issues with them rubbing and coming loose, etc. I would highly recommend knowing how to fix and adjust most of the common things that might go wrong on your bikes. And of course to carry tools and spare parts.
Here’s a link to our route in 3 parts:
Part 1: Christchurch to Mossburn (8 days, 630km).
<then got bus from Mossburn to Milford Sound then back to Queenstown>
Part 2: Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier (7 days, 360km).
<then got bus from Franz Josef to Punakaiki>
Part 3: Punakaiki to Christchurch (10 days, 790km).
Unpacking the bikes at the hotel
First night's camp at rakiai gorge.
NZ's considerate drivers - the signs dd make a difference. Hwys without signs were where we had the least amount of courtesy.
bum-break near kimble
first site of mountains over Burke's Pass
Morning cuppa at Lake Tekapo
Tekapo Canal road - an excellent short cut!
First chance to break out the rain gear
Tasman glacier valley at mt cook
Mt Cook Tasman glacier walk
Top of a very windy Lindis Pass
Beautiful lakeside rd from Queenstown to Kingston - travels the entire length of the lake.
Keeping the bike out of the rain in the barn at Mossburn motor camp
The twisting climb to the homer tunnel from Milford Sound. we did it on the bus but would have loved to have ridden it. The homer tunnel is a bit daunting though, 1.5km of one-way blackness at about a 15%+ gradient. hmmm..
The first slopes of the crown range - our hardest hill, 700m ascent in 10km, with 4.5km in the middle as undulating. so the first 3 and last 3km are brutal averaging above 10%.
View from the first third of the climb.
Struggling near the top of the crown saddle, this section exceeds 20% in places. It was a very strong side wind too - which does not help at 5.5km/hr!
The good news when you cross New Zealands highest paved road... (see sign)
Boundary Creek DOC campsite at the other end of Lake Wanaka - beautiful
Haast Pass descent - the West Coast begins (as does it's weathe)!
Between Pancake Rocks and Westport
The Hu Ha 'Bikepackers' near Glenhope
Abel Tasman National Park
Charlotte Sounds up north
More awesome campsites - one of the favourites just outside of Picton
Marlborough wine country
Naomi cresting the 400m wald pass - our most enjoyable descent
Another bike-packers! Pedallers Rest. Can't say how lovely it was to stay there. I'm wearing a merino cycle top i bought from them.
The Kaikoura coast. Snow capped mountains meet the sea. A deep canyon 5km offshore also means whales, dolphins, seals and albatrosses are easily found.
Back into the rolling plains of Canterbury
NZ love the cyclists. A bike assembly area at the airport - how considerate!
Surly Long Haul Trucker with Mavic 719 – Shimano XT Wheelset built by cheeky monkey. Stronglight 24/26/46 crankset. HG61 11-32 cassette. SRAM chain with powerlink. Powerlink chain was great, had to remove both
our chains a few times. Bike was wonderful. 3 waterbottle cages ++. Marathon Supreme 35mm tires – no punctures, brilliant ride quality. ‘Clickstand’ – these gadgets are awesome – ours were the envy of all the cyclists we encountered. Tubus racks. Ortlieb Waterproof panniers and handlebar bag. Ortlieb backpack attachment was super-useful for day trips/hikes. Brooks B17 saddle – I found I needed to tape it up (equivalent to lacing) to make it comfortable. Was too wide, flaring out on the sides. Honjo fenders, some trouble with loose rocks, but after replacing some of the nuts with ones that don’t work themselves undone had no further problems, they were good in the rain.Naomi’s Bike.
Europa custom steel frame. Same wheels and tires, racks, panniers, crankset, chain and clickstand. SRAM 11-34 cassette. One broken spoke on the rear drive side, but I think this may have been caused by some mishandling by a bus driver, not by regular riding. Brooks B67 saddle. Naomi found the saddle didn’t make her sore anywhere – which is great. But, she did wish it could slide back further – which it couldn’t as we’d already reached the limits of a layback seatpost and the short brooks rails. Honjo fenders, some trouble with rubbing on the tires, but fine once we became masters of adjusting them.Camping Gear:
Vango Spirit 300+ Tent: Brilliant. Luxurious space for us and generous section for our gear all at around 3kg. Also kept us warm and kept the rain out (5000mm waterproof whatever that means). Took up 75% of the space in one ortlieb rear pannier bag.
Blackwolf and Thermarest airbeds + Blackwolf pillows– all great. Warm, cushy and pack very small and light.
We had silk liners in our sleeping bags which were excellent for keeping them clean, and kept us noticibly warmer too.
Trangia cooking set – methlyated spirits burner (can get metho at every store in NZ) with Teflon pots, frypan, kettle and handle. It all packs to the size of a 3L icecream tub and is fairly light.Clothing:
NB: this is for March to April. Packed 3 pairs of bike shorts each. 2 could have done it but 3 was good. Had excellent rain protection: rain jackets, rain pants (with Velcro ankle straps), and most importantly rain-shoe covers by GORE. These are the only ones I’ve used, that properly fitted keep ALL the rain out of your feet. Even after hours and hours of torrential downpour. These kept us sane on the westcoast. Had a lot of cold gear. We needed beanies most nights. Scarves were good too. I needed my ski gloves on about 5 occasions. We wore thermals most nights and a couple of days. Polar fleece and cargo pants convertible to shorts. We both took jeans and some presentable clothes, which were good some days when we wanted to look like regular people. I used arm warmers half the time. We used leg warmers on one cold day but could have done without them and worn thermals.Miscellaneous
Good pocket knife very useful. Hemp twine. Roll of electrical tape, one of the most useful things on the trip, serving to hold all sorts of things together before proper mechanical work could be done. Paw Paw
and Savlon cream for saddle redness (nothing bad). Sandfly specific repellent a must – they are out of control in the western half of new Zealand. Very aggressive, itchy and painful if you react badly to them.Tools/Bike spares:
took 8 spare spokes of different sizes, cassette tool, spare chain, bottom bracket tool (would need a large wrench to turn it, but if worst happened could borrow/buy from any town). Small shifter, two sockets for our fenders, a small spanner for same. A multitool with allen keys and screwdriver. Scissors. Cableties. A large L-shape allen key for our pedals. Spare brake pads, spare cleat. Some assorted nut’n’bolt spares. Spare brake and gear cable. Tyre levers. Patches. No chainwhip, but I managed to use the spare chain (naomi stood on it) instead when having to remove the
cassette to replace a spoke. Most of this I used, or in the case of the BB-tool almost used. took a tiny container of lube. You’re not supposed to take it on aeroplanes we discovered on the way back. Bought some simple green degreasing wipes over there which were useful.NAVIGATION
There aren't too many alternative roads on the south island. Especially the west coast which just has a single road (SH6) so you can't get lost!
The meagre navigation required was usually done via our peddaller's paradise (PP) guidebook and our 500,000:1 kiwi maps, which split the south island between 2 maps (about $8 each). We didn't need to make many turns, but when we did this map had sufficient detail to work it out. I mounted the map (folded to display the area relevant to each day) on top of my ortlieb handlebar bag. It has a map-holder add-on which is really useful.
The guidebook (PP) had directions for most routes, things like 'turn left at the katawiri junction then continue along highway 6 for 30km until town X', etc.
Each night we'd generally plan out where the next day might take us. We'd look at the difficulty of the terrain (PP had altitude profiles), consider the wind (if we'd had internet) and how energetic we were feeling, and whether we were happy to 'free camp' (no services), or whether we craved a real bed. Then we'd look at which towns along our route had services or accomodation. Sometimes there are long stretches without shops or water so you need to stock up. We had about a week without any cash too as there are no ATMs between wanaka and franz josef. We'd try to plan so we could ride 70-80km, but mitigating factors already mentioned might reduce or increase this.TRANSPORT of Bikes and gear:Flights:
Taking them on the plane was kinda annoying but we had no MAJOR problems. Our bike boxes both weighed 25-30kg which is a bit naughty according to the airline official rules, but we were not hassled or charged at either end by the virgin blue counter staff. We couldn’t have logistically caught any other airline than virgin blue as we had nowhere to store our bike boxes. Virgin have good allowances for bikes, but also, they are the ones who’ll sell you bike boxes, and you must have a fare booked to obtain one. Our bikes are too big for standard boxes from a shop (60 & 61cm frames respectively).
Our most traumatic moment was a grumpy customs guy violently tipping one our boxes upside down at Brisbane airport. No damage luckily. You’ll need to pay for a trolley to move around the airport with them.
With our panniers, we took one big one each on as hand luggage, and put one big one each in as check-in luggage (you are allowed 1 item each in addition to the bike). On the way over we packed the front lowrider pannier bags into the bike boxes. On the way back I packed one and took the other as additional handluggage which was fine too.
My checked in pannier bag got lost for two days, but luckily the airline found it and couriered it to my hotel nice n’ quick. It didn’t end up affecting our schedule.Buses
We caught buses twice with the bikes. Once on a milford sound tour, and once between franz Josef town and punakaiki. It was great on the tour bus because we were the only ones with luggage in the hold so there was plenty of room for gentle handling. The second bus was a bit more cramped and the packing was a bit rough, I think denting a couple of spokes on naomi’s bike. But nothing major. It’s only an extra $10 to take bikes on most buses and trains in NZ. No disassembly was necessary. We weren’t charged anything to take them on the tour. The bus from franz Josef to punakaiki was an excellent decision because the weather was crap and there was nothing to see. It freed up two or three days so we had more time to explore the north and north-east of the island. It’s anice option to have up your sleeve if you fall behind schedule or can’t ride anymore. One of our bus drivers said they are sometimes waived down by desperate cyclists in the middle of nowhere. Just ‘hold up your wallet and wave’ he told us!NZ Drivers
New Zealanders and some guide books tell us they are really bad and say that many people quit their holiday due to distress. Us sydney cyclists are made of sterner stuff I think. The drivers seemed great compared to what we're used to at home. That being said the southern half of the south island the drivers seemed to be nicer - they'd leave usually 2 metres or more to pass us. In the northern parts it was more frequent for cars to pass too close for our liking. We were told by locals that they were probably from the north island where cyclist hatred is stronger! But close-passing traffic wasn't a huge concern except for one afternoon where we had no choice but to ride on highway 1 (picton to kaikoura section). It got on our nerves a bit. In general though, I think the locals hate the Winnebagos ('road maggots') so much that cyclists seem harmless in comparison.What we’d do Next Time
Our route was amazing and I don’t think we’d change much, but we saw certain roads that we would love to have taken with more time to spare. We’d loved to have ridden further south from mossburn, going to te anau, then Invercargill, then eastward through the caitlins coast (this is the way to do it due to prevailing winds). Then we could have made our way to Dunedin and ridden tho 300km otago rail trail from there almost to queenstown. We probably would have needed to buy some more knobbly tires but that would have been doable, we could have chucked them afterwards. This would have been a good option if we’d had about another 10 days or more. We also regretted not being able to ride as far north as Collingwood to see golden bay. We also missed out on St Arnaud, Arthurs Pass, Hanmer Springs and Lewis pass in the centre. And of course we would loved to have been able to also ride in the north island. There are also many great dirt roads in new Zealand, almost free of traffic that we could have explored with more time, plastic mudguards and knobblier tires. Perhaps also less luggage! These include a road from queenstown to te anua via mavora lakes. A road connecting Westport and golden bay (not possible by car). The Charlotte sounds track. And also a number of great roads on the eastern slopes through molesworth and so forth. See pedallers paradise guide book for details.
*We have all the gradient/altitude data for each day of riding if anyone is interested let me know.
*If anyone’s planning on doing a similar trip I’d highly recommend our guidebook – Pedaller’s Paradise :www.paradise-press.co.nz/ppguides.html
*And also route recommendations from ‘Crazy Guy on a Bike’: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=RrzKj&page_id=126092...