After a lot of gear acquisition and ticking off checklists in the months previous here we were at last – Christchurch. Two fresh faces stood at the baggage carousel and pondered what the next 56 days would bring. The time was 2:30pm Friday 21st November 2014.
We unpacked our bikes at the airport and began building them. For future cycle tourists, Christchurch airport has an excellent bike assembly area. You can simply set up bikes and ride away.
This first section of the ride took us 360km from Christchurch to Blenheim, the highlight obviously being the unsealed Molesworth Road through New Zealand’s stunning high country. More on this a bit later.
There were a few big surprises that New Zealand dished out pretty smartly.
1. Just about every town had a campground which made ‘winging’ our camping spots much easier.
2. It was so quiet. Like the whole country was in hibernation.
3. The road roading was no problem at all – it was like the place was made for cycle touring. Our practice ride of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail had made us a little apprehensive.
A note for cyclists, Highway 1 from Christchurch to the turn off to Highway 7 near Waipara felt really safe. The vehicle lanes were wide and there was a sealed shoulder 2m wide.
The day after we arrived the real riding began. What was supposed to be a 40km ride turned into 55km after we accidentally veered off course. Day 2 also taught us our first lesson. Don’t ride through the midday heat.
We arrived at Amberley Beach pretty fatigued, mostly because of the sun! Even though we were in New Zealand, the days certainly got hot, even if the nights were cool. From then on, when the mercury was up we rode for a few hours, lazed in the shade for a couple around 1pm, and then finished off the day.
Day 3 took us up to Culverden where we stayed in one of the best camping spots of the whole trip. Don’t think scenic surrounds though, it was just beside the local cricket field but we did have access to a great big building (the scouts den) with hot showers and kitchen! Getting there wasn’t so easy though for my untrained body in such heat – Weka Pass was a killer! It’s laughable now though just how gentle it really was.
Day 4 we hit the scenic barren mountains of the Molesworth after a steep 6km climb up Jacks Pass from Hanmer Springs. One of the toughest climbs of the whole trip. We were advised from another touring cyclist that this was easier than the 4WD Jollies Pass though!
The Molesworth station is New Zealand’s largest farm in land area (almost half a million acres), and at 900m it’s also the highest year round occupied homestead in New Zealand. There is a smooth unsealed public road that runs all the way through from Hanmer Springs to Blenheim, a distance of 180km, that opens in summer.
It was awesome to be off the road and onto the quiet Molesworth Road. Quiet for now at least in late November – the ranger at Acheron campground told us in the Christmas holidays over 200 cars travel through each day.
The Molesworth was a great ride and I highly recommend it to anyone considering the option. Just take plenty of water. Our hardtail mountain bikes with slick tyres worked brilliantly.
Kilometre wise, the first week we averaged 60km per day. Clearly I’d been slack and opted to build up my fitness in New Zealand rather than back home. In hindsight this philosophy wasn’t the best. Yes, after 2 weeks a 100km day felt like a 60km day, however there was one concern. My knee.
From Day 4 to Day 10 the inside of my left knee was in a bad way, it had developed a dull but constant pain from the repetitive pedalling motion which peaked on Day 5. The pain forced me off my bike and after walking for 15km I thankfully got a lift from a volunteer ranger the last 30km to Molesworth cob cottage. He fixed me up with Voltaren cream and a compression bandage which helped me make the remaining 120km to Blenheim. What a top bloke. We always referred to him by his catchphrase, “Good as Gold”.
I’m still not sure of the exact cause of the knee pain, however I believe it was a combination of too much riding too soon as well as the cleat on my shoe being slightly misaligned. After I realigned the cleat my knee slowly began feeling better. Strange though given that the cleat had been positioned the same way for years.
Matt experienced no such dramas and was physically great. In the first week he was however often wondering what he would be doing if he was home, rather than living in the here and now. Once he got more involved in planning out where we were headed next he started enjoying it a lot more.
On Day 6 after we had been riding for many hours in hot sun, we reached a small quiet bridge. Even though it was 4pm the sun was at its greatest strength. Note that the sun only went down after 9pm! We both didn’t feel like talking but I finally said “How about we go sit under the bridge? We’re both so dehydrated”. It was a good lesson for us both – when we feel like that we should find shade and refuel even if we don’t feel like it. Matt didn’t even realise he was dehydrated.
Reaching Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park was satisfying. It marked the end of the first leg of this journey and a place where we could rest, cook with more than a burner and pot – and shower!