Category Archives: event

Mega Grind 2017

Erik and Pete are the masterminds behind the Geyserland Gravel Grinds. The GGG was the only bikepacking event I did last year, and was full of relaxed days of riding followed by social evenings at shared campsites. Familiar with the calibre of route-planning, I was excited to learn this year that they had expanded their suite of events to three: an overnight Mini Grind, the GGG and the 800 km Mega Grind. As soon as it was announced, I signed up for the Mega Grind, as it was the longest and would take me to parts of the North Island I’d never been to.

Very much in a touring mindset, eager to see new places and spend some time biking, my preparation was suitably low-key. I figured I could finish in four and a half days, 160 km per day not being too much with my base level of fitness. Maybe I’d finish closer to four days if I pushed it. Up to Rotorua after work on Thursday it was a relaxed trip to the night-before gathering.

Close to fifty of us gathered Friday morning near the museum in fair weather; after a short briefing we were off through the early traffic – not much to deal with as we were soon on cycle paths and then heading up the Mamakus. I was familiar with the first few hours from the last day of last year’s GGG – up on to the Mamakus, lovely gravel riding along the ridge before descending to Tokoroa. There was plenty of group riding to be had as people chatted away and it was all very leisurely. Only stopping for a short pit stop and to grab a pie (the first of quite a few), I was soon on the road again leaving town.

Gravel roads and bunches of bikepackers atop the Mamakus.

Shortly after I was caught by a couple of riders. It was great to ride with Pete, whose brainchild this route was, and chat away; Pete had a fantastic top-ten finish in this year’s Tour Divide, so to chat as we rode a similar pace (I think he’s a fair bit faster than me, but was being nice) was most helpful. I’d planned to get to the start of the Timber Trail (~175 km) that day and sleep there; with Pete’s knowledge of the trail I was beginning to think I could maybe do a little more.

I was familiar with this section of the Waikato River Trail from last year’s Tour Aotearoa – so was not surprised by the relentless number of pinch climbs appearing each time we got close to the mighty river. It was warm, but not hot, as we made reasonable pace. There was a big group of riders in Mangakino, refuelling and restocking for the remote Timber Trail ahead – I stocked up for potentially more than 250 km between shops.

Six hundred metres of ascent was slowed on the road by the southerly we were riding into. There were a few riders around, just ahead or behind me. Back to the infamous wire swing bridge after the road petered out to an overgrown double track, there was a fair queue of riders waiting to get across. Somehow it was more manageable than on the TA and I was soon over and making slow process up the bush track before eventually joining gravel forest roads again. I passed a few people before Pete caught up to me, again, and it was about now I was easily convinced I’d have enough time to summit the Timber Trail (the highest point on the course, just under 1000 m) – unfortunately my dynamo light had showed itself to be faulty the previous week, so I had borrowed a headlight and was unsure just how much run-time I’d get out of it.

Pausing to eat at the historic Caterpillar tractor (which I slept next to the previous year), another group gathered. Some decided to call it a day while a fair few pressed. The climb is steady and my legs were still reasonably good, to my surprise, and it only took us an hour and we managed to descend a fair bit before it was finally too dark to go on without lights. Crossing a couple of the massive swing bridges (my photos were better last year on a misty morning) we were soon at the shelter Pete had told me about. Pleased with almost two hundred kilometres, I thought it sensible to get some rest and I bedded down for the night on a bench in the shelter. The rest carried on into the night, aiming to finish the trail that night (another sixty kilometres of slow-going bike trail).

Up at dawn, I’d slept OK – but not great as I had been in a constant state of peril of falling off the bench. The Timber Trail was as good as last time – I’m determined to return and ride it with a more fun bike (suspension please) in far more than six hours to appreciate the scenery, the forest, the native bird calls, and the extensive history. As it was, I loved it – especially the lovely chorus of native birds. The trail is in pretty ordinary condition from kilometres fifty to sixty and again around the seventy kilometre marker – I was not the only one to have a very sore back from the section just before the Ongarue Spiral.

Off the trail at the planned time of ten o’clock, I was now on completely new-to-me roads. Excited to say the least.

I think the Ongarue Rugby Club has seen better days – I like to imagine what those may have been like when riding through such places.

I spotted another rider! So I pulled in, slightly off route at the Flashpackers – and somehow ended up with fried eggs, toast and a big pot of tea. Luxury, I didn’t even have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper. Enough faffing (stops can really extend themselves easily) I said goodbye to Les, and that was the last I’ve seen of a Mega Grind rider.

Turning south off a short stretch of highway, I saw this sign and knew it to be a very good sign:

Gentle valley floor riding, overall descending, ensued surrounded by hills, hills and more hills. It was stunningly beautiful and I was loving it – also very happy at how I was getting along and wondering if I might make it past Mokau and 175 km that day. Suddenly, a railway line. I wasn’t expecting that; clearly disused I clearly hadn’t paid enough attention to where we were heading. Soon in Ohura, yet another place I’d not heard of, it was clear that this was the old line that used to go through Whangamomona (of this trip last year) to Taranaki. With a bit of refuelling to be had, from my own supplies as the Cossie Club was not open yet, I gave a couple of local youths on bikes a crash course in bikepacking before leaving town and straight into a big climb and wonderful gravel.

A bit of descent had us on a the farming plateau of Waitaanga before a huge plunge through a beautiful native-bush clad gorge of upper reaches of the Tongaporutu River, which we then followed out to the coast at a more gentle gradient. Thirty kilometres of highway was not too tedious as there was sometimes a shoulder and the wind was now, apparently, at my back – it did not always seem so.

Baches at Tongaporutu.

I made Mokau, my provisional goal for the day and almost halfway around the course, around five o’clock – still many hours of daylight left to get a bit further. So after a huge burger, I was fuelled up again and rolling into the evening. Leaving the highway behind it was a very pleasant, gentle, gravelled climb up one river valley before cresting the watershed and plunging down into the next catchment area. I hadn’t really come prepared for much night riding – my fingers getting the coldest (I had enough other layers) once the sun had gone.

The last two climbs were steeper, but surmountable – I still seemed to have energy left in my legs. Only four kilometres out of Marokopa, where I would sleep, there was another climb – hot work going up, cold whizzing down. Well over halfway now, I found a verandah to sleep under and laid my head for the night – pleased with my first 200 km+ day since the TA, and surprised with how “easy” it was (easy in inverted commas because obviously it was still a fair bit of work propelling a laden bike, but my body seemed far stronger than it should be, had been before; especially considering the amount of riding I’ve been doing recently – few long or hard rides). In part this was because I’d lost over six hundred metres of altitude that day, but there was still a fair bit of climbing – I went to sleep happy, and slept well.

For a change, actually managing to get riding before six o’clock, there was a fair bit of flat riding on Sunday deserted roads – this didn’t help in warming up any. But as the next two hundred kilometres showed plainly, you can’t go far around here without finding a hill. Climbing to the highest point of the day (a staggering 250 m!) there were still no more cars, but the hills were still stunning. Then, there’s Kawhia Harbour in the distance:

Riding around here, on the flat for a bit, was very pleasant as the day warmed.

Stopping for bacon & eggs after three and a half hours, I’d been feeling a little more sluggish than the previous day. Still I was nowhere near wanting to leave my bike on this fence.

Leaving Kawhia Harbour we headed for Raglan. If anything, the hills became more numerous – but not bigger. With more fuel in me and the day warming, I was getting my legs back to normal. By my estimate, I’d be in Raglan by three; as the route got near to Raglan it turned off west for the coast, a definite long-cut around Mt Karioi. Immediately the road turned to gravel and one could see why it was sign-posted as closed during the upcoming NZ Rally – it was utterly sublime. Full of twists and turns, snaking down valleys to sea level and then rising back up – this section was the highlight of the route for me. The sea crashing into the rugged coast, the trees long since succumbing to the prevailing wind and bending away from the coast and there were wonderful, large stands of native forest.

I stopped here a bit to take in the trees forming not merely a canopy, but a blanket of purest green. Mesmerising.

Closer to Raglan, the view opened up north and the traffic increased a little – which wasn’t hard, for an hour or so I’d seen next to none.

I did make Raglan by three o’clock, my plan was coming together as I tried to estimate just how far I’d get that night. I was bemused to see I’d, without getting more than 250 m above sea level, already climbed 2000 m that day – there were many, many little hills. Two pies devoured I hit the highway out of town.

It was awful. A sunny Sunday afternoon seemed to have brought most of Hamilton to town, and they were now leaving. Thankfully the course looped off the highway and onto a gravel back road for a bit. I was displeased to have to join it again, mercifully for less than two kilometres. Turning left at the T-junction, I watched in disbelief as a van just in front of me, at speed, locked up its wheels to avoid another car, started fishtailing, went out of control and barrel-rolled down the highway eventually coming to rest on its now crumpled roof.

There were plenty of people around the gas station rushing to the aid of the driver, so I turned around and did a spot of traffic management before deciding it was time to get off this mad road. Rather subdued when I realised that if I’d been a few seconds faster I’d have been occupying the same time & space that a crappy old Ford Econovan seemed intent on rolling through, I slowed a bit rather keen on messaging loved ones. I was surprised to see an ambulance already heading towards the scene from a back road. Then I came across a recently wrecked road bike (of the motorcycle kind) in a ditch and understood the ambulance’s apparent promptness. Suddenly, I wasn’t so keen on riding a bike on roads – especially remembering some of the tragedies in the international bikepacking community earlier in the year.

After that drama, the roads to Ngaruwahia turned out to be very pleasant and I soon got my head back in a good place and pedaled on. I was surprised to be informed by a sign that I got as close as seventy-five kilometres from my old home of Pukekohe – which is Auckland now. I’d come all this way to get so close to the big smoke?! Unimpressed. But at least I now know where Glen Massey is. We turned away from Auckland.

Stopping to snack as the route joined the cycle trail beside the Waikato River, I set off into the evening through Hamilton to Cambridge. I had been wondering why I’d not bothered to remove the bell from my bike – it turned out to be mighty useful along the busy pathway that evening. The section through the Hamilton Gardens was tedious and poorly signposted for all its twists and turns, but I was soon on back roads in the failing light.

I was having dinner in Cambridge at nine o’clock still rather keen on the plan I’d been formulating to all day to push on and finish this thing that night. It was just over a hundred kilometres and involved the decent climb over the Mamakus. I figured I could be in Rotorua around three in the morning. Just as I was about to leave, I witnessed yet another car crash – I’d recommend not going anywhere near a road in the Waikato!

Having already ridden two hundred and forty kilometres, getting to the finish would be by far my biggest day ever on a bike. Alas, in my effort to try to conserve what light I did have for the Mamakus, I made it too difficult for me to see and I just wore myself out more. I probably wasn’t mentally prepared for more hills near Arapuni Dam and for the first time in seven hundred kilometres I got really slow. It just wasn’t fun (Pete’s words of Friday ringing in my ear), so I realised a bit of sleep would be best and I gave up on my plan of finishing within three days. It was a little disappointing, but as I’d planned on a four day finish the pill wasn’t too bitter.

On back roads through dairy farms at that time, there was little night time traffic so when I saw a strange little (shorter than me) two and a half sided corrugated iron shed, I’d found my resting place for the night. Only after I’d set up my bed did I realise all the grass was making my eyes a little puffy & my nose run, and I had invaded a small bird’s home.

We stared at each other a lot; I slept well and woke to find I still had both my eyes. Success.

An earlier start (five-thirty) and I was off to Putaruru for breakfast. I wore extra layers as it was chilly and as it was relatively flat (compared to the previous morning anyway) I never really warmed up. I was feeling average, but with only seventy kilometres to go it was easy to keep on going. With a full English breakfast in me from the Crazy Cow Cafe (I was too tired to appreciate all the amoosing puns), I was away again and heading for the hills – well, the last hill. Ascending four hundred and fifty metres it’s pretty steady, with a few little pinches; Leslie Rd does seem to be one of those hills that just keeps on giving. Finally I was at the top riding into a stiff easterly and negotiating the huge puddles that form the end of the paper road.

All downhill from here! Or not, the wind was strong enough to necessitate pedaling down hill. Height of rudeness. Still, at least it had nothing on my Invercargill to Bluff TA experience. But that couldn’t come close to dampening my spirits as I turned the pedals around all the way to the finish.

Time to lie on the grass, too tired to ask the small guided tour group to move so I could get a better photo.

I was, and still am, so thrilled to have ridden far stronger and longer than I ever have, or imagined I might. At three days and three hours, that’s an average of 250 km/day – compare that with 180-odd/day I did on TA. I had the same bike and carried the same gear, and had done even less preparation this time around – not to mention entering this event with less of a deadline and firmly just wanting to have a look around a different part of NZ. (Admittedly, this was only three days in a row, not two weeks – and the weather was amazing too.)

So I’m a little taken aback, how did this suddenly happen with no plan or desire? In part, taking a bit more care of what I’ve been eating in the previous six weeks has meant that I am currently carrying significantly less weight on me than for the last ten or so years. As has been usefully pointed out – how much money would one pay to get fancy gear to lose so much mass from one’s bike and gear? The answer would be thousands and involve titanium and fancy composites. After mentally spending these thousands in my mind, sense prevailed remembering what some guru said a few years ago: “Ride what you have”. Another component of this step-change I guess is more in my mind – and that comes from talking to, reading about other people that perform absolutely amazing feats of endurance. Obviously, I’m nowhere near that – but it does open one’s eyes to what is possible, and maybe just rubs off a little, eventually.

Now I’m looking around for more events and routes I can challenge myself on. The cool thing is I can see many areas to improve and with a bit more discipline I should be able to push my boundaries far more (I did after all carry a tent the whole way around and not use it, oops – which is what I did for all but the first night of TA; I think I may be learning slowly!).

Thanks to Pete and Erik for such a great route and well organised event – the hours and days that go into planning such a thing are immense, and all for the love of it. I certainly got to see parts of this country that I’d not before, and probably wouldn’t have otherwise. More importantly, I’ve suddenly seen other things I did not see before.

Apologies for shortage of good photos, I was having too much fun riding my bike. But I suspect if you’ve managed to read this far, you might not mind so much.

Geyserland Gravel Grind: Day One

Some months ago, I noticed talk online of a bikepacking event around Rotorua. As the plans developed and a date was set, I was excited for this – and not only because it would be my first bikepacking for the 16/17 summer. Having grown up and spent much time around the area, I was keen to get back and explore it a bit more from the different vantage point of a bike. Also, many of the place names were familiar to me only because Dad used to mention them in passing as places he would visit farms in the course of his work. It was only some time later that I realised the similarities between the route and that taken on my first cycle-touring experiences (two week-long school holiday camps named “Rotorua Lakes Cycle Tour” that I did aged fourteen and fifteen).

Erik had worked diligently to compile what looked a very interesting route, starting in the centre of Rotorua before heading to the coast past many lakes, then returning to the many hills south of Rotorua. A key difference for this event was that the daily distances were set – this meant that we all camped in the same campgrounds. This sounded a good idea in two ways: it would be much more social in the evening compared with wildcamping alone and with the distance set, there was no obligation to try and ride as much as possible. Interest was stronger Erik expected; twenty-six of us assembled Saturday morning, keen to see what the long-weekend would bring. Erik had even gone to the trouble of organising three courses: two, three and four days. Somehow I’d persuaded Steve that stepping up from the brace of two-day trips I’d dragged him on previously (Waikaremoana and a local one) to the full four days was a good idea.

Waiting for the off; once again Steve, as the accomplished & strong triathlete, had the pleasure of carrying our tent. I travelled lighter than in Tour Aotearoa.

With a group photo taken and last minute details explained, we were off into the sun with a brisk southerly chasing us to the shores of Lake Rotorua.

For an event called the Geyserland Gravel Grind, appropriately our first bit of off-road trail was through thermal flats beside the lake. One of my favourite smells, the rotten-eggs of hydrogen sulphide, hung heavy in the air – we must be in Rotovegas!

With over forty kilometres of fun mountain-biking the previous day making their presence known in my legs, I was happy to dawdle at the back as we made our way south through the forest where I’d been riding but twenty hours before. This time the gravel roads and singletrack were there to be enjoyed by taking in the atmosphere, rather than by attacking them. I was surprised to catch up to Steve. It turned out he’d had quite a luggage malfunction resulting in some apparently superficial to the rack he was using. As we attempted to satisfactorily rearrange the constituent parts the situation became all rather hilarious; eventually I managed to stop laughing and a solution was found (those were independent events).

Past Green Lake we were next on the new-to-me highline trail around Blue Lake – that was cool & much better than the road option. Out of the forest and a bit of seal had us whizzing down to and around Lake Okareka.

I stopped to snap a different perspective of Mt Tarawera.

Said perspective, looking across Okareka.

Back onto gravel we soon found the start of the Western Okataina Walkway – which has been opened to bikes since I used to ride regularly around the area. Skirting the western edge of the lake, the seventeen kilometre trail through native bush fair owned us. It was fantastic, even if it took almost two and a half hours. Heavily rutted out in places, there was a fair bit of hike-a-bike and with the rough surface, a few stops were made to readjust Steve’s sleeping bag on the rack. Mercifully it was reasonably dry; the forest was lush and we stopped in a small clearing for a relaxed lunch and doze in the sun. Yet another trail discovered bikepacking that I’ve earmarked for returning to with an unladen (swallow) bike – such fun.

A nice smooth section of trail.

That done, we were on the shore of yet another lake – Rotoiti.

Passing many maraes, we joined a large contingent of GGG riders at the first store in ages – time to stock up on snacks and reapply sunscreen.  Refueled we followed the highway around the shore for a while, before turning off down Manawahe Rd – this road starts off between two more lakes, Rotoehu & Rotoma.  As we passed the top of Pongakawa Valley Rd I was really feeling close to growing up in Te Puke – I used to have classmates that lived up this way.  After having gravel crunching under the wheels for a while longer we were looking for unmarked track off the side of the road.  We managed to take a track fifty metres too early, quickly realising my mistake after a large puddle and a fun, but rough, descent.  Here we were joined by Colin, who I recognised from the Kiwi Brevet last year – I sure hope I’m still bikepacking while drawing a pension, what a guy.

It turns out that the turn was marked, somewhat; although the trail is not immediately apparent.

The two kilometres of overgrown and unmaintained paper road was much more rideable than expected. Soon we were at the top of Pikowai Rd, with three-hundred metres of elevation to lose to get to sea-level and twenty-five kilometres to get to the campsite at Matata. Needless to say, that quick blast downhill was most fun – even spooking a large deer along the way.

The buildings were about the only things watching us up here.

Looking west towards childhood homes – if you squint I’m sure you can see Te Puke there somewhere.

Snaking down to the coast between the cliffs that I was rather familiar with having driven past here many times when younger, we joined State Highway Two for the last ten kilometres of the day. As I had spent so much time on and around this highway growing up, it was weird to be riding along it – especially so as now I regularly ride to and from work on a completely different stretch of the same highway hundreds of kilometres away.

Naturally there was a fair crowd of us stopped outside a store scoffing food and ice creams, so we stopped in before making camp just behind the dunes.

We fair took over three or so sites (this being about half of our tents) – the campsite was busy with the long-weekend and the popularity of the spot.

Back on a Bay of Plenty beach with proper sand & all! There’s even Whale Island over there too.

Plenty of people out enjoying the late-afternoon sun and fishing.

While only a shade over a hundred kilometres, there was a fair bit of riding involved in a fantastic day. It was excellent that all the riders were in the same place at the end of the day sharing stories of the day, beers and copious amounts of fish and chips. But we’re hardly a rowdy bunch – I think most were tucked up in tents by half-eight.

Footnote: It is with some sadness that I know definitely that my uncle will not take this post with him on one of his regular visits to share with Granddad the cycling stories and pictures of his only grandson. Rather than writing stories of my own little rides, I should be preparing what I’m going to say at the funeral of the man whose cycling feats continually inspire and surpass my own. Cycling to Wales of a Friday night to escape the bleakness of London during WWII and then big tours of post-war Europe are some stories I’ll not hear firsthand again. Perhaps I got into this bikepacking/(off-road) cycle touring thing a little late – but hopefully he was able to appreciate and take a bit of pleasure in the fact that I was off seeing many places from the saddle of a bike.

Tour Aotearoa – My Day Seventeen – Mossburn to Bluff, just!

My choice of verandah was almost too good – I woke with a start and realised it was half-past seven and I’d overslept. This was somewhat understandable as the storm had come through and it was still very dark for the time of day, and now also very wet. At least everything I had was dry as I hurriedly packed, scoffed some food and headed out into the rain for the last leg of the journey.

Heading south, it was to be a hundred-odd kilometres to Invercargill on mostly-quiet rural roads. The wind had swung around towards the south from last night’s wonderful nor-west tailwind, so was a bit of a hindrance. I steeled myself to be riding into the heavy rain for the remainder of my Tour. For some reason, the route left the sealed road and turned away from the river it had been following, just to climb a hundred vertical metres steeply and then return to the same river valley it had just left. But in coming down that seemingly-inexplicable hill (I now think it was to put us on the quieter side of the river), a wonderful thing happened – the sky cleared and we were without heavy rain, basking in sunlight.

It was also around this time that another rider, Steve, caught me – we would ride most of the rest of the Tour together. Steve was very pleased to learn that Dad was coming to pick me up and we could probably give him a ride back to Dunedin – definitely better than riding there. We worked out we’d been on the same boat from Pouto Point way back on my Day Three and Steve had just caught up to me. For one last time, I had a farmer in a pick-up pull up beside me as I was riding enquiring as to why there were so many cyclists on his quiet back road. I tried to get across the outline of what we were doing over the noise of the wind. We followed the straight Southland roads down to Winton for the last food stop, always pleased when the wind was more help than hindrance.

For some reason, they don’t seem to bale their hay around here – just make little stacks.

Second to last photo checkpoint – photo with an enthusiastic Southland local. Fascinated as she was by our journey, we also heard a lot of the Wanaka A&P show that was coming up that weekend.

With only seventy kilometres to go, it was a straight run south to Invercargill battling what was now becoming a gale of a sou-wester. Passing through the outskirts of the city, any time we turned east speed was quickly gained with no effort. Unfortunately, the route was still south and on a cycle path on the edge of the estuary – which afforded absolutely no wind protection. It’s a lovely wide trail, smooth and flat for ten miles; well, it normally would be – we struggled to stay on it as we were repeatedly sprayed with water from the estuary and blown into the grass.

How could it be so hard to stay on such an easy trail?

Steve leaning into the wind and fighting his way back onto the path.

The trail looped around a bit and only a few times did we almost get blown into the estuary. Aware of the ridiculousness of this, there wasn’t much to do but laugh at the absurdity of having come so far only to find the flattest part and the last one percent was to be the most difficult.

Finally we reached State Highway One – that which we began our journey on and on which we would ride the last twenty kilometres. This really wasn’t a good thing – for two reasons: one, the road, while flat and straight, was heading straight into the gale for eight kilometres; and two, unlike the far-north this part of SH1 is very busy and largely used by big trucks going to and from the port at Bluff. Sigh. I rode with Steve a little way as our pace dropped to that of walking. We were constantly blown off the hard shoulder, rolling down the grass verge and then fighting back onto the highway only to be almost sucked out into the traffic lane by the pressure drop after each passing behemoth. Once again, my slight frame was no use as I just didn’t have the strength to continually muscle into the wind. Steve gradually pulled away and I was left battling into the wind alone.

On my commute, I ride on a busy highway with even bigger trucks rattling past – but here, for the first time, did I actually start to fear I might get hit by one. After only a mile or so of this madness I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort of riding to just to increase my chance of becoming a hood ornament for a big Kenworth; I got off and walked. After almost three thousand kilometres of riding, I was reduced to walking along a flat, straight highway – it still sounds outrageous. At least I found out the next day that I was trying to ride into an eighty kilometre per hour gale, that was gusting to a hundred and twenty!

I cut a pretty pathetic sight pushing my bike alongside the highway – which in itself was no mean feat and took all the strength and willpower I had to go on and not just give up and lie in the grass. Such a wretched figure I must have looked that three drivers at different times pulled up besides me offering to put my bike on the tray/trailer and drive me the last kilometres. I felt ridiculous having to turn such kind offers down. Then the rain blew in…

Putting a raincoat on in such conditions is remarkably difficult. After taking ninety minutes to mostly-push my bike eight flat kilometres (!), the road finally turned south. Now I only had a big crosswind to deal with – if you don’t know, frame-bags make very good sails. Tentatively I tried to get back on my bike; it was only after a few attempts at riding a few metres that it was actually worth it. But then a skinny, elevated rail bridge with no shoulder had me walking again. Finally, I could ride again; as the road approached Bluff it turned south-east. The struggle was over, I had survived; suddenly I had the wind at my back and was flying through town. With the last twenty kilometres taking over two hours, the toughest part and indeed my whole Tour Aotearoa was over! Such satisfaction.

There was no fanfare, or anything external really to mark my finish – just a sign post at the bottom of New Zealand that meant I’d ridden the length of the country. A month later (it sure has taken me a while to write this up) I’m not sure I can convey the wonderfulness of it all – what a great route, what a diverse and beautiful little country, what fantastic people I met along the way, what a lot of tasty food I ate and just generally: how good was that?!

Dad arrived a few minutes after I did after buying tea (due to the wind, I was somewhat later finishing than expected). Photos (above) taken, it was to the adjacent cafe to eat and drink. Somehow I managed to drink a pot of tea, a deserved porter (of the beer variety, not an actual porter) and a water concurrently – I think that was excusable after 3000 km in 16.1 days. That was two days quicker than I’d dared hope – wow, I can actually do these events and I’m pretty sure I could do them better. With two extra days up my sleeve, I had rebooked my flight home so I could rest at Mum & Dad’s before a more relaxed return home.

Tour Aotearoa – My Day Sixteen – Wanaka to Mossburn

There was no real rush to get going on what would be the second-to-last departure – my Tour was drawing to a close. Which was just as well, as the two most challenging stretches were still in store. The roads were relatively benign, the conditions not.

It was a cool, crisp morning as I set off shortly before sunrise. It was chillier than I initially thought as I climbed up out of Wanaka to the bottom of the Cardrona Valley – this wouldn’t have been a problem, but it was over an hour before the sunlight made it over the hills and onto the road. This was more than enough time for me to get very cold – my extremities were the worst. As I tried to put more layers on, my hands were in such pain and so stiff I couldn’t even grip a zipper. There was much rejoicing as the sun finally hit me and the worst pain I had for the whole route disappeared with the shade.

Having driven past it a fair few times, I’d never actually been in the iconic Cardrona Hotel. The kitchen was just opening, so I clunked in with my bike shoes on the old wooden floorboards and got another cooked breakfast and rested awhile to recover from the previous two hours.

The route was heading up the Crown Range Road to the highest point of the Tour – only a shade over a thousand metres above sea level. It was a steady climb and only kicked into a ten percent gradient for the last couple of kilometres. There was plenty of traffic going between Queenstown and Wanaka – but it was no problem as the road got tighter and steeper.

The Cardrona Valley narrows.

From the top – that road was a lot of fun blasting down in the sun.

The other side, being even steeper than most of the climb, was proper fast – there was a big organised group riding up not looking like they were having much fun. I made sure they knew I was having a great time – constantly ringing my bell whenever I passed some of the multitudes. I’m sure that wasn’t really appreciated, but I was having a grand time.

Queenstown off in the distance.

Arrowtown a fair bit closer.

The road flattened for a while and we missed the series of big hairpins by turning off and taking an off-road track that plummeted to Arrowtown. From there I was back on the familiar & excellent cruisy Queenstown cycle trail network. The rider I’d glimpsed leaving Arrowtown as I was also doing so, turned out to be Evan – so it was good to ride with him a bit more into the craziness that is Queenstown.

Cousins David and Mary (more like third-cousins-once-removed, but cousins will do) were waiting for me at the Earnslaw terminal. The weather forecast didn’t look good for the next day, so I booked a ticket in two hours’ time to make the most of the current fine weather. A very enjoyable lunch was spent discussing the Tour and family news, before stocking up for the evening’s ride and lazing on the grass while David looked at new cars. It was time to say goodbye and I was excited to be going on the Earnslaw for the first time.

Another quintessential New Zealand tourist experience I was doing for the first time on this trip, the TSS Earnslaw has been sailing the waters of Lake Wakatipu for over a century. In days gone by it was an important transportation link around the lake – particularly to the remote stations. Nowadays it mostly ferries tourists, and occasionally cyclists, to Walter Peak Station and back.

Nonetheless, it is one of the oldest working steam ships in the world and with all the interesting history and engineering involved, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip over. I was a little concerned when the captain broadcast that we were heading into a sou-westerly as that would mean a headwind for me later on. The voyage was calm enough and having appreciated the scenery on the trip over, it was time to get amongst it as I rode off from the tourist-chaos just after four-thirty. I hoped to get at least to Mavora Lakes and camp before the rain rolled in. Apparently beautiful, this was another part of the country I’d neglected.

Goodbye mad Queenstown.

Original Bourdon instrumentation!

It turned out the wind was really whipping down the lake from the north and following the lay of the land – so the undulating section of gravel road west was into a fair breeze. But turning south away from the lake to up the Von River, I suddenly had a very helpful tailwind. Following the river there was a lot of large roaming stock; when they ran across the road as a herd, it was a little unnerving.

Looking up the northern section of Wakatipu towards Glenorchy.

There was a reasonably steep climb to get out of the valley and onto a large grassy plateau – but I hardly noticed its severity as the wind had really picked up and pushed me up. A storm was brewing as clouds rolled in while I made good time across the flats. It was beautiful riding with the plains and mountains contrasting against the evening sky.

About the only spot of sunlight I saw that evening.

Crossing into Southland, I was over the watershed and the road descended. It descended a lot really – for most of sixty kilometres. I reached the turn off to Mavora Lakes and it was decision time. I really wanted to see them, but I knew a storm was coming and I’d have to camp in it; on the other hand, it wasn’t raining at that time and the wind was kind – I chose to ride on, after a very light dinner.

The wind really picked up as darkness fell and I was getting fair blown along – this was excellent! After some rather chunky gravel roads and a bit of undulation, I missed a turn in the route off the road. Thankfully, I didn’t miss it by much; but finding the correct route was very difficult in the dark. There were no roads to go down – it turned out it was a very new cycle trail all the way to Mossburn, that was very poorly signed (I don’t think it was marked at all).

Quickly reaching the Oreti River, the cycle trail followed it, more or less, all the way to Mossburn. By now the wind was bordering on gale force; the route twisted around various fields and other features. Whenever it turned into the wind I was almost brought to a standstill. However, upon turning south-east again I’d suddenly be up to a great speed without even pedaling. It was mad, but as quite a lot of the trail was past large trees swaying all over the place, it started to get a bit scary!

Eventually I rolled into Mossburn at eleven o’clock and the storm was not letting up. There’s not much of anything in Mossburn and with nothing organised, I would have to sleep outside arriving at that hour. I thought I had the legs to keep going to Winton, but with the storm strengthening I didn’t think it wise. Concerned my tent would not go up easily or stay in one piece once erected, I found a balcony of some rugby clubrooms that was sheltered from the wind and decided to sleep there. It was a good decision; I lay my head knowing I’d only a hundred and forty kilometres to ride the following day to complete this fantastic journey. Little did I know…