We’d been hearing about New Zealand’s charms for years.  One of the best cycling destinations in the world we were told.  Rugged mountain passes, spectacular coastal roads, stunningly beautiful countryside and  miles and miles of unpaved backroads where the sheep far outnumber the motorists.

In short, a pedaller’s paradise.

As long, that is, as you don’t mind raging headwinds, pounding rain and drivers who think cycling is something that should be practiced on a stationary machine in the privacy of your own home.

A (minor) Hurdle to Clear

Before you can pedal out into paradise, you’ve got to get your gear past the stringent eye of the bio-security authorities at the airport.  New Zealand, quite logically, wants to keep all sorts of foreign pests and destructive vegetation from reaching its shores.

Which means bikes and gear must be spic and span ready for inspection upon arrival.  Items showing traces of soil or seeds can be held for disinfection or even refused entry into the country.  A nightmare scenario you’ll surely agree.

Our inspector greeted us with a smile.  “I’ll just have to have a look at the bikes,” he instructed.  We busted open our carefully packed bike boxes and bags.  Brand-new tires I boasted.  Not a speck of dirt on ‘em.  Tent’s been thoroughly washed as have the bags.

“Bikes look pretty good,” conceded the officer, “but I’ll have to take the tent back to our lab for inspection.”

Uh-oh I thought.  More trouble on the way.  Things hadn’t been going well since we’d heaved our bikes and gear on to the scale at check-in back in Melbourne.  Also with a smile, the JetStar agent informed us our bags and bikes came to 91 kilos—11 kilos over our allotted 80..

We’d have to cough up an extra $275!  That’s half a month’s travel budget for us.

We snapped into action, ripping open bags, stuffing ourselves into so many layers of extra clothing that even rail-thin Eric began resembling the Michelin Man.   I stuffed my pockets with spare bike parts and gear and even considered the possibility of wearing the heavy bike lock around my neck as an article of jewelry.  Finally, 30 minutes before take-off we’d got it right. Not a gram over 80 kilos we’d calculated.    With a heavy sigh, the agent informed us we were still 3 kilos too heavy.   But, having observed our valiant efforts at weight reduction, she’d let it slip.  No extra charges but we’d better sprint through passport control or risk missing the flight.

Now we were trying to finagle our way through customs with a questionably clean tent.    Perhaps the microscope would pick up some exotic plant material left over from the highlands of Laos or the Borneo jungle and our precious Big Agnes shelter would be confiscated and burned.  The government website stated that items would not be returned upon inspection unless deemed safe.

We were braced for bad news.    But what we got was a courteous, “Here you are.  Enjoy your stay in New Zealand.”

Woo-hoo!  We’d made it. Admitted to new Zealand for a three month stay. Tent and all.

Now it was time to search out those rugged mountain passes, spectacular coastal roads, stunningly beautiful countryside and deserted rural roads.

Prepped for Paradise

On the South Island of New Zealand it doesn’t take much to uncover such spots.  The country has been blessed with far more than its fair share of natural beauty.

Some seriously beautiful scenery on the South Island.

On the advice of John, a helpful blog follower who’s now hosting us in Invercargill, we headed inland from Christchurch.  The road was deliciously flat, but headwinds hampered our progress on day one.  It seems there’s always something conspiring against us.  If it’s not headwinds it’s heat.  If not heat then it’s rain.  If not rain then a band of crazed drivers are on the loose.

After so many years on the road, you might think we’d get used to such climatic headaches and simply carry on.  Not the case.  I find myself having less and less patience for such annoyances.  After 50 kilometers of dueling with mother nature, we plopped down by the side of the road.  The whistling wind was causing such a racket we couldn’t even listen to podcasts while pedaling.

Within a few moments a passing farmer rolled up to see if we were all right.  New Zealanders have a well-deserved reputation for friendliness and hospitality.

One of the many local sheep farmers who slowed down to chat with us.

“We’re fine, it’s just the wind,” we assured him.   “Just carry on 5 more kilometers, “directed the farmer.  “You’ll come to Hororata.  Plenty of room to pitch your tent at the domain.  Got toilets there too and drinking water.”

Sounded good to us.  A DOMAIN, we were to discover, is just the name given to a town’s recreational areas, a kind of park with playing fields.

We set up camp in the domain.  Nobody stopped by to hassle us or ask us to leave, for which we were quite relieved.  So-called  “Freedom Camping” is frowned upon in New Zealand.  Touristic areas are slathered with signs forbidding you to camp.  Those caught can be fined up to $500 on the spot.

Freedom Camping…dare to do it!

So far, things have worked out to us on the camping front.  Farm families are warm and welcoming when we ask to camp on their land.  We’ve been invited in to shower, wash clothes, check our emails and sent off with chocolates for the road.  In other cases we’ve employed the arrive late, depart  early, leave no trace behind  method of stealth camping.

It is possible to freedom camp in New Zealand, but you’ve definitely got to use a bit of stealth.

Nothing beats a night under the stars in the wild open spaces of New Zealand.

Hills Ahead!

On day 2 we got our first taste of the hills everyone had been warning us about.  A terrific time free-wheeling it down to the Rakai Gorge and a bit of huffing and puffing on the way back up.  I fear those first fifty pancake flat kilometers out of Christchurch may be the only ones we’ll experience in this country.

After the torturous climbs in Indonesia, these hardly feel demanding.  There’s no heat and humidity to contend with and certainly not a constant stream of logging trucks or über-friendly folks on motorbikes attempting conversation as we pedal in pain.

There is indeed much truth in the notion that New Zealand is a pedaller’s paradise.  Adventure is there if you want it, but if comfort is more your style, you can easily stick to the main roads hoppingp from one comfortable acoommodation to the next.

Our first taste of advenuture came on the rough ride to Cattle Creek where we got our feet wet more than once as we forded some minor creeks on the way up Hakataramea Pass.  The ride over Danseys Pass lead us deep into sheep country and the lush emerald-green grazing grounds of the high country.

Proud to reach the top of Hakataramea Pass. It’s not high, but rough patches of gravel make it a challenge in spots.

OKAY, not exactly a raging river but this is about as adventurous as it gets in NZ
Much more fun going down the other side!

After biking  through the thick Naseby forest, we were spit out onto the famous Otago Central Rail Trail.

Sure, it’s touristy.  You’ll come across those who’ve allotted 5 days for the 150 kilometer track, are checking into a cosy B&B each night and are having their gear transported by mini-van.  But the trail is beautiful and shouldn’t be missed.  And, if you need a break from the drizzle and mist, Central Otago is known as one of the driest spots in the country.

Even if you normally steer clear of touristy spots, don’t miss the Central Otago Rail Trail.

The Ceantral Otago Rail Trail..probably the most popular ride in all of New Zealand.

Finding quiet backroads is fairly easy and we’re rarely bothered by traffic.  We got our desired dose of stunning coastal scenery on the ride through the little-visited Catlins region.  That’s the place to head to for pristine waterfalls, windswept hills and precarious sections of road hugging the wild coastline of the deep south.

Christmas Eve saw us conquering the final hills around stunning Curio Bay before we cruised into Invercargill for some much needed rest.

Soon it will be back to the bikes and time to see if the rest of the country lives up to its reputation as a pedaller’s paradise.  I’m betting it will.

The spectacular Catlins coast in New Zealand’s deep south.

The rugged coast of the Catlins near Curio Bay–looking forward to more days like this as we continue to explore the South Island.

Check out more New Nealand South Island Photos on Flickr.

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Pedaling through Paradise

10 thoughts on “Pedaling through Paradise

  • December 27, 2012 at 1:40 AM

    Thanks for the tips and lowdown the on customs bits.
    Those pictures are so inviting.
    Enjoy . 🙂

  • December 27, 2012 at 3:00 AM

    Awesome post. I am a student and heading down to a NZ Uni this upcoming spring. I fell in love with cycling about a year ago and have been training for a tour of the south island (by myself) before school starts. I have allotted approximately 3 weeks to make it down from Wellington to Dunedin by bicycle.

    I’m in great shape, at the moment, and am extremely excited at the prospect of cycling the island and going on an adventure by myself.

    Are there any tips that you can give to someone who is a beginner like me, though?

    I am debating renting a touring bicycle in Wellington, taking it across the ferry to Picton and doing a tour from there. I have almost all of the logistics planned out, so I am not worried about that, but I do wonder: should I rent a bike there or buy one in the USA and bring it overseas with me? I would like to continue cycling when I come home, and possibly use this bicycle for trips elsewhere in the world in the future. I am looking at renting a bike for around $700 NZD for 21 days (pickup/dropoff about anywhere on either island- very accommodating). Would it be more worth it to just purchase one though?

    Safe travels, and I hope I get to see you guys on the road!

    • December 27, 2012 at 3:09 AM

      I think you’d probably be better off purchasing a bike in the states and bringing it over. $700 sounds quite expensive and it certainly couldn’t cost that much to have your own bike shipped or taken over as excess luggage. You might even re-sell the bike in NZ before leavig and make a profit (touring bikes are rather costly here).
      Just a quick question…when you say spring, are you referring to the North American spring? I only ask because the South Island might be getting quite cold by April or May and there could be snow on the higher passes. Even now–at the height of summer– it’s down to the mid 50’s on the coast.

      You’ll love New Zealand and are sure to have a great time on a solo cycle tour.

    • December 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM

      I would buy the best quality touring bike that you can get and bring it with you. You will wind up using the bike to

      a) commute around Dunedin (at least the flat bits, and PLEASE make contact with the SPOKES Dunedin crowd who can give you pointers on which roads you need to take care with) and

      b) to do some long weekend touring i.e. cycle to Invercargill or up to Timaru and catch a bus back.

      You will have a wonderful time in the South Island. You might never leave!

  • December 27, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    Hi Guys, great to read of your progress, and so glad you are enjoying the country.

  • December 28, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Hi guys hope this finds you well, strong, in joyful spirits and in a perfectionist spot for a campsite. May the view take the breath away. The photos you put on surely did mine. Keep them coming. I know you planning on going around the coastline of Australia next and I cannot wait to read every morsel you so desire to share. One day I may be able to follow in your long washed out tracks in my landie if clearing customs is successful but for now I will just have to be jealous. I know you have a way to go before that is completedso I wait in slow long working days day after day week after week growing older by the hour while you are having the time your lives. Keep it up. Just in cAse anyone who reads this knows me, they know I love my job and I reAlly do get out although not by bike. We recently two days ago to be precise just spent a week travelling Cornwall. It is lovely too. Not a high coastline but beautiful nonetheless. I did not see one cyclist. Oh it’s winter. Mmm. Well enjoy the day have a good one and look forward to the next installment. Stay strong.

  • December 28, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    Hi Guys. As always, love the updates. Your shots are gorgeous. Happy travels for the new year!

  • December 28, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    Welcome to Aotearoa NZ.

    Glad you like the South Island (Te Wai Ponamu). Will be interested in seeing what you have to say about the North Island (Te Ika a Maui) when you get here.

    The ban on freedom camping came about because of the actions of a few selfish tourists in years past that left their crap (literal and other) behind when staying at some choice locations.

    Looking forward to your upcoming posts…

  • January 3, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    Wow! What amazingly gorgeous and inspiring pictures! Nice to look at while I’m stuck at work in front of a computer in the winter. So pretty down there.

  • March 9, 2013 at 2:53 AM

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the kind words about our country. Scenery is awesome , we always appreciate the landscape on a return ride after an overseas tour. Anita and I ride a tandem and have done a few countries. Just returned from Western Australia , very hot so had to cut the mileage and take it easy by starting at five a m. Then stopping at 11ish. The drivers here are not that curtiuos to cyclists. The cycle ways that are going and the future ones to be built will improve things for us who travel by bike. Enjoy your travels
    Cheers Ian


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