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Stage 3: New Year’s Eve and Lake Tekapo

We’re slowly getting in shape and after starting to feel like cyclists. We leave Christchurch and the east coast of the south island and head inland to Lake Tekapo. Distance 367km in five days.

map-stage3

route-signDecember 29, 2004 We arrived in Christchurch and decided to take a rest-day. We had been cycling five days and I needed a rest. I could have gone on for another day, but our schedule called for another four days of cycling, which seemed a bit much. Besides, Christchurch is a decent size city, so it seemed appropriate to spend a day here and explore the town.

We managed to find a hostel for the extra night and to rearrange our reservations for the next few days. Since Christmas is the height of holiday season in New Zealand, we had made sure to book accommodation for the first 10 days or so before we left Canada. In Christchurch we enjoyed sleeping in, did some sightseeing, visited the Art Gallery and ate some great Indian food.

December 31, 2004 we left Christchurch and headed out to Methven. Methven is not an exciting town this time of year, since it is primarily a ski town and there is little skiing to be done in the middle of summer, so it was almost deserted. However, we had to stay somewhere enroute to Lake Tekapo, and Methven it was.

The road was pretty easy in that it didn’t contain any major climbs. However, it did have what the book described as ‘an almost imperceptible ascent’. Well, our eyes may not have perceived the ascent, but our legs sure did. Most of the time the road was long and straight and we just kept cycling to the horizon. We didn’t realize how much we had ‘imperceptibly’ climbed until we reached the Rakaia Gorge near the end of the day. It was a beautiful spot. Unfortunately, it had rained hard as we approached the gorge, so there was no good opportunity to take pictures.

Of course the problem with going down into a gorge (great!) is that we had to go up again on the other side after we crossed the bridge. The first 150 meters were so steep that we had to walk. Then it was only another twelve easy kilometers into Methven. This time the road had an almost imperceptible descent. That means, you think you’re on a flat road but the cycling is easy and you go very fast. You feel like superman or superwoman, but deep down you know that it is because the road goes slightly down hill. But we loved it and it made up for the steady slog earlier that day.

methven-catDecember 31, 2005 In Methven we were booked at a backpackers, the Alpenhaus. When making the reservations the owners had mentioned they would be away and someone would be looking after the place. That seemed fine and we didn’t give it much thought. As it turned out, the backpackers was officially closed and the owners had left us the key under the ‘Welcome’ sign and we were to make ourselves at home. That was different. The only living creature around was the cat, who seemed hungry and starved for company. Being a backpacker’s cat I’m sure it is used to having lots of people around and it must have felt lonely with everyone gone. Supposedly someone came by every day to feed it, but we had our doubts about that, so we filled its food dish that night and again the next morning before we left. While we were home the cat stayed with us and slept with us on our bed.

We had New Year’s Eve dinner at one of the two pubs. Basic food, but not bad. We chose a red wine, Roy’s Hill. With a name like that, we had to try it of course. It was o.k., but not great. Sorry Roy. Around 8 p.m. we left the restaurant (it closed at 8.30) and decided to buy our own bottle of bubbly and head back to the hostel. The atmosphere in the pub was depressing, especially when a family of about 10 people showed up, including four young children. As soon as they walked in, the adults decided to skip the dinner part and just head for the pub instead, leaving the kids to themselves. It was a sad sight. So home we went. We watched a review of 2004 in New Zealand on tv while sipping our bubbly and enjoying the company of the cat.

January 1, 2005 New Year’s day we cycled to Geraldine. It stayed dry and although cooler than it ought to be, the weather was nice. However, clouds piled up and during the night we could hear the rain. By the time we got up, it was raining hard
Fortunately we were staying in a motor camp where we had our own cabin, with bathroom, and a heater. So we were snug as a bug.

road-to-geraldineJanuary 2, 2005 However, heading out from Geraldine, it was cold and very wet. Until now the temperatures had been pretty good, so that even if it was overcast or raining, we stayed warm. But this morning it was cold! We were looking forward to warmer weather and sincerely hoped that everyone’s assurance that it would be sunny in Lake Tekapo would hold true for us.

burke-passWe had one or two good climbs enroute. One of our last stops was in Burke Pass, just before the last climb to Lake Tekapo. We could see blue sky just at the other side of the mountains, so things looked promising. We steadily cycled up the hill and indeed, there was a different world on the other side of the pass.

lupines-burke-passAs soon as we got to the top, the clouds disappeared, it was warm, and a flat road stretched ahead of us, reaching into the Southern Alps. The road was lined with lupines in all shades of pink and purple. The rain and cold was soon forgotten. Cycling this stretch felt like cycling in God’s country; it more than made up for the struggles of the last two days.

lake-tekapo

The sun and warmth in Lake Tekapo felt wonderful. The contrast in landscape was amazing too and not unlike that of the Okanagan in BC. One minute you’re in mountains with trees and suddenly you are in a completely different, much warmer and more barren landscape.

churck-lake-tekapoThe little church has a great view because  it looks out over the lake. A service was just about to start when we got there, so no opportunity for a picture. But as one of the members of the congregation confided: with a view like that, you never worry about a dull sermon.

canal-lake-pukakiJanuary 3, 2005 The next day we started heading towards Queenstown, via Omarama and Cromwell. The clouds from the previous day had followed us, but it wasn’t raining and the shade from the clouds was welcome.

Since New Zealand is not very densely populated, there generally are few choices of roads to get somewhere. This can be tricky when cycling, because you often end up on the main highway.

Fortunately, we found a road that runs along a canal for a power dam at Lake Pukaki, which meant it had a steady grade and was going down. We opted for this road rather than the highway for the first part of our trip. 050103_d70_0507Once we joined the highway 8 again, we head due south and stopped in Twizel, one of the few towns on our route, for some lunch. There we met two fellow cyclist, a couple from Holland, who were touring New Zealand for a couple of months and were also enroute to Omarama. They had done several trips already, including a few months in South America a couple of years ago.

Stage 2: East Coast of the South Island

Second stage of the entire trip, but the first stage where we really cycled. We started in Picton, where we arrived by ferry and carried on to Blenheim, and from there to Christchurch. It was 346km and took us 5 days. In Christchurch we added a rest day before starting the next stretch.map-stage2

enroute-to-wardDecember 26, 2004 Just completed our second day of cycling: 50 km to the tiny town of Ward (population about 50) on the State Highway 1 (SH1). An easy day, and a nice way to ease into the trip. The weather certainly had improved!!

roy-at-motelHere is Roy, sitting on the doorstep of our home for the night, basking in the sun and enjoying the warm weather. The sheep were bleating in the field behind the motel and we would hear them on and off throughout the night.
dinner-with-johnWe’re not the only crazy ones! John, a veterinarian-turned-school teacher from Australia, was cycling through New Zealand for six weeks during his summer holidays. He showed up at the motel that afternoon and we got talking, of course, so we decided to have dinner together.
coastal-roadseaweedThe weather was good for the next few days. Not as hot as it was ‘supposed’ to be, but that suited us fine. The SH1 runs along the east coast of the south island to Christchurch. It is not as famous as the west coast, which is more moutainous, but it is very pretty nonetheless. In some places the road ran quite close to the beaches and the endless webs of seaweed were fabulous. We also saw, and heard, numerous seals and sea lions along this stretch. Cycling so close to the water also means very few hills!
roy-carrot-cakeOne of our mid-morning breaks for a flat white (a NZ espresso drink that’s somewhere between a cappuccino and a latte), and Roy doing his due diligence by sampling the local carrot cake. Yes, it is a tough life being a bike tourist.
kaikoura-wharfOur third night we spent in Kaikoura, a rather touristy town but in a beautiful location. Fortunately, part of the town stretches out onto a point that juts out into the ocean, which means you can get away from the noise of the bars and tourist crowds in the centre of town.
view-to-kaikouraBy coincidence, our hotel (Pier Hotel), which we had booked from Canada, was out on the point and from there we had a great view looking back the ‘mainland’ and its mountains. It was good we had reserved, because every place in town showed no vacancies!
seagull-on-signStill in Kaikoura, from the balcony of the hotel, Roy got a great kick out of this seagull, who finally managed to find his balance sitting on top of a round beer sign. The gull seems a bit insulted though, don’t you think?

From Kaikoura we continued on SH1 via Cheviot, where we spent the night, and then on to Christchurch.

pipo-cabinDecember 27, 2004 In Cheviot we stayed in our first motor camp, where we rented this little cabin with shared facilities. I had heard about the motor camps and their cabins, and this one sure was very quaint. It reminded me of a gypsy wagon or, for those of you who are Dutch, a woonwagen; I expected Pipo or Mama-Lou or Klukje to appear around the corner at any moment.

Stage 1: Auckland to Wellington and on to Blenheim

This is the first stage of our trip, but we didn’t cycle. The maps shows our route by train (in red) from Auckland to Wellington, the ferry (blue) to Picton and a very short ride (green) to Blenheim.map-stage1 ready-to-goDecember 19, 2004, packed and ready to go: two bikes, two duffel bags, and two day packs. It was an early start and it would be long day: three flights, 25 hours of travel in total. We had rented a van to get to the airport. It seemed the easiest option, since not many of our friends have a car that can accommodate two bikes.

katie-dinnerThe first two days in Auckland we spent with our friends Mike and Liz and their two dogs, Katie and Phoebe. Katie closely supervises as Liz prepares her dinner. phoebe-dinner  Phoebe tries to supervise as well, but still has a few inches to go.

inge-and-royI had always wondered what Christmas in the summer would feel like. I’m still wondering.

Here we are in Auckland, the day of our arrival. Summer  really wasn’t all that different from Vancouver…in the winter. The cool weather made transitioning to a different climate easier though. On many occasions over the next few weeks we would be quite happy with the cloud cover and less than perfect summer weather, because when the sun comes out, it gets very hot, very quickly.

national-park-train

December 23, 2004 we set off for Wellington on the “Overlander” train, run by the Tranz Scenic rail service. It was a long ride, about 13 hours, but relaxing. The train wasn’t full; the seats were comfortable and spacious. The weather was grey and rainy for most of the trip, but we had some brighter patches as well.

overland-train-rainThe train stopped in many small towns. Sometimes you couldn’t even see a town, just a small platform with a small station building. The station at National Park (shown in the picture above) was actually large compared to some. This station also housed a nice cafe and we had a long enough stop here to get some lunch. Although the train had a cafe car, its choices were limited. Having access to fresh made chicken & brie sandwiches and flat whites was a nice surprise.

National Park is a popular place. Several backpackers, including a Dutch contingent of six, got on the train here. National Park provides easy access to the Tongoriro National Park, which offers one-day and multi-day hikes, including the Tongoriro Crossing, which we planned to do in the second half of our trip.

arrival-wellingtonWellington, 8 p.m. Before we could be on our way, we (Roy) had to unwrap the bikes and do some minor assembly (put the peddles on, turn the handle bars). Showing up with our bikes and our many colourful paniers got us some strange and skeptical looks from locals at times.
wellington-te-papaThe next day we stayed in Wellington; it’s an enjoyable town and well worth a visit. It has a busy and active downtown and nice residential communities going up the hill. We visited the Te Papa museum, walked around the downtown, wellington-hill-trainand took the cable car up to the botanical gardens.
From the hill you get a good view over the city. We walked back down to the centre again through the botanical gardens.

Arrival-PictonDecember 25, 2004  Yes, this is a summer holiday, don’t let the weather fool you!

Christmas Day was the first official day of cycling, not counting the 2 km in Wellington from the station to the hostel and ferry. We had opted for a morning ferry out of Wellington, which would put us in Picton, on the South Island, around 1 p.m. After waiting about half an hour to let the ferry traffic die down, we were on our bikes. This would be an easy day, only 25 kilometers to Blenheim, where we would spend the first night.

Being Christmas day, most stores and restaurants were closed. We had very little in the way of food with us. I figured we could eat on the ferry and if need be we could buy food at a gas station to get us through the day. Riding into Blenheim, we kept out eyes peeled for any place that might offer food. The only one I spotted was a KFC and I figured if push came to shove we could have that for dinner. However, when we got to the hostel, Roy mentioned that the KFC would close at 3 p.m. By this time it was already 2 p.m.

blenheim-bellaficoWe couldn’t check into the hostel yet, the office wouldn’t open till 4 p.m., so we decided to explore Blenheim. Like most towns on Christmas day, the place was deserted. It was only about 700 meters into the town and there, like an oasis in the desert…we found Bellafico, a restaurant that was open and served delicious food! And flat whites!

Inside the place was packed, but by this time the rain had stopped and it was warm enough to sit outside. Although the restaurant had officially closed for lunch, they were happy to feed us. While enjoying our lunch we noticed the restaurant was serving a ‘gala’ Christmas dinner that evening: a seven-course dinner with live entertainment! And they had two spots left!

It didn’t take long to decide, since there were no alternatives. We reserved the last two spots and promised to be back at 6.30 p.m. It felt a strange going for a ‘gala’ dinner dressed in zip-off pants, quick-dry shirt, and Tevas. But hey, that was how it was going to be for the next little while, I might as well get used to it. At least my pants were a kaki-green and my shirt had red in it, so I maintained a Christmas theme. Fortunately, like in Canada, the dress code is pretty relaxed in New Zealand. And although some people did dress up for the event, several others showed up dressed quite casually.

bellafico-entertainmentThe live entertainment was provided by an older couple who sang, played a synthesizer and bongo drums. They did a great job. I loved her haircut and her bright red outfit. She sure pulled it off. At the end of the evening, when paying our bill, we got chatting with them. It turned out the guy is originally from The Hague and a civil engineer by trade. She was Kiwi but had lived in Holland for several years a long time ago; she even still spoke Dutch, which I thought was quite impressive after all this time.

Cycling New Zealand 2004-2005

This was our first long trip together and my (Inge’s) first cycling trip. Although I’d grown up cycling every day in the Netherlands, it had usually been short distances. The idea of  cycling 80 – 100km a day seemed impossible to me. But, after some training rides, gradually increasing the distances, I felt ready and looked forward to the trip.

I  remember talking to someone shortly before our departure and telling her about our upcoming trip. She looked astonished and asked: “You’ve never bike toured before and you’re committing to a 2-month tour? What if, after a few days, you discover you don’t like it?”.

Hmmm. Good question. That thought had never crossed my mind; I’d simply assumed I would enjoy the bike touring. Fortunately, I was right.

We previously published this trip a blog that no longer exists. For completeness sake, we have added the trip to our current travel blog. If you’ve followed our travels since the early days, the photos and stories might seem familiar; if you started reading our blog more recently, the stories will be new. Either way, we thought you might enjoy some sunny stories and pictures during this grey time of year.

Trip facts

The trip was from Dec. 19, 2004 until February 19, 2005 and included two bike tours: first the South Island (1,310km), then the North Island (1,256km). In between, and at the start and end of the trip, we spend time with friends in Auckland and did a short car road trip to North Point of New Zealand.

Here you can find a maps of our South Island route and North Island route.

For anyone interested in bike touring New Zealand, here is our log of dates and distances.