New Zealand (known in Māori as Aotearoa) is often referred to as ‘the Land of the Long White Cloud’ and for good reason. The mountains and hills that run the length of New Zealand (and predominately perpendicular to the prevailing weather systems), causes cloud to often form and a diverse range of climates and environments to exist within a short distance of each other. This in combination to the New Zealand Governments recent efforts to develop a series of cycle paths and trails (known as The New Zealand Cycle Trail) up and down the country, with the eventual aim of linking the trails up, means New Zealand is the perfect destination for cycle tourist.
The relatively safe roads and network of cycle routes throughout the country, coupled with the dense and diverse world class scenery, rewards those who want to experience the passing sights from the seat of a bike. This allows you the time to absorb the environment and gives you a sense of achievement at the end of each day.
It was the beginning of January when I was about to undertake my latest intrepid adventure; a three week, 1,300km cycle tour of New Zealand’s South Island. I would ride through some of the most breath taking scenery as I cycled from Christchurch to Clyde via the West Coast, followed by the incredible Otago Rail Trail before continuing on from Wanaka to Te Anau in the New Zealand’s iconic Fiordland National Park. I was rather anxious about it as it was my first cycle touring experience, however it was too late to back out as I had prepared my bike and equipment and travelled from my home in the North Island to Christchurch.
My first stop after crossing the agricultural fields of the Canterbury Plains was a longtime friends place near Geraldine. I would enjoy their hospitality, as I always do, and reluctantly departed and hit the road heading towards Arthurs Pass, taking the gravel road shortcut (Lyndon Road) via Lake Coleridge. The weather and scenery through the mountains quickly cured my anxiety as it was stunning and at cycling pace you have the time to absorb it and enjoy it. Of course no cycle trip is without incident, I would need to stop and repair punctures and a pannier bag failure enroute; teething problems I guess.
I would setup my tent discreetly out of sight of the road, but besides private campground (of which there are many around New Zealand) there is also a network of Department of Conservation campsites which are simple but inexpensive for the intrepid budget traveller. In the morning I awoke to another bright day and with a tail wind I would snake my way through the Southern Alps, eventually crossing the 920m (3020ft) Arthurs Pass (be sure to stop at the view point to look down on the Otira Viaduct) before a fast decent down through the spectacular bush to the West Coast highway. Despite receiving some of the highest amounts of rainfall in New Zealand, the West Coast was kind to me as my stop in Hokitika put on some magic weather. I spent a memorable time with an old University friend of mine who lived there, I especially loved the evening at the beach eating ‘fush and chups’; a quintessential Kiwi experience you must all enjoy!
Further south from Hokitika, along the coast road, you eventually come across the Franz Joseph Glacier which is a popular attraction for tourist travelling through the area. The glacier is just off the highway up a side road, but the ride through the beautiful flowering Rata trees is a sight worth seeing in itself. A great place to camp, or visit, when in this area is Gillespie’s Beach which looks like it’s straight from a 100% Pure New Zealand advert as the sunset from the beach was stunning and relatively untouched.
As I mentioned early the West Coast didn’t live up to its reputation for having grey wet weather as I experienced great day after another except for the last day I rode from Haast up over the 564m Haast Pass to Lake Wanaka. At least 80% of the traffic between Hokitika and Wanaka were tourist vehicles; the West Coast nature surely is stunning and the stream water unbelievably clear. There are a few attractions and short walks enroute you would be remiss not to visit along the Hasst Pass road such as the Fantail Falls, The Blue Pools Walk and Gates of Hasst.
On account of the sand flies much of my time on the West Coast was spend ‘indoors’ to avoid the little buggers, but as I approached the stunning Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea where there’s another DOC campsite they became less of a problem as the environment is drier on the eastern side of the Southern Alps. So you’ve been warned, if you’re cycling along the West Coast keep moving or they’ll get you!