Tag Archives: new zealand

Part 1 NZ cycle – The Molesworth Road

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.

Putting bikes together at Christchurch airport.
Putting bikes together at Christchurch airport

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.

Molesworth country
Molesworth country

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.

Our first ever night in New Zealand
Our first ever night in New Zealand

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.

Camping at Culverden
Camping at Culverden

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!

Looking back towards Hanmer from Jacks Pass climb
Looking back towards Hanmer from Jacks Pass climb
Very happy to be finished Jacks Pass climb
Very happy to be finished the climb
Matt rides off as a speck in the distance just after Jacks Pass
Matt rides off as a speck in the distance just after Jacks Pass

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.

The farm homestead
The farm homestead and Mt Chisholm

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”.

Camping next to the original Molesworth cob cottage
Camping next to the original Molesworth cob cottage

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.

Molesworth mountains
Molesworth mountains
Nearing Blenheim and looking back towards the Inland Kaikoura mountain range.
Nearing Blenheim and looking back towards the Inland Kaikoura mountain range.

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!

The joy that food can bring. Refueling at Hanmer Springs.
The joy of food…
And again.
And again. Thankyou Blenheim.
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The next adventure – cycling New Zealand!

This one’s been in the works for a while but now it’s official! My brother, Matt, and I are going cycle touring in New Zealand at the end of this year for around 8 weeks. Interestingly this whole idea started way back on 19 July 2013, when I posed the idea to Matt on Skype from a McDonald’s in Paris! He was as keen as a bean from day dot.

Why cycle touring though? Well, both of us are right into bikes (as Mum would confirm by the growing number of bikes finding homes in every nook and cranny), cycle touring gives so much freedom and independency, it’s a physical and mental challenge, and it works for uni students on a budget. It also gets us out into the outdoors and the elements.

First the grand idea was to ride from the northern tip of the north island to the southern tip of the south island, and call it the “Tip to Tup”, the “Tup” being a play on words of how a Kiwi says “Tip”.

When I came home in November 2013, we delved further into research and decided to focus our energy on the more interesting places rather than just ride “Tip to Tup” because of two points on a map. So for a few months we thought we’d fly into Auckland on the north island and ride south to Queenstown, and across to Dunedin or Christchurch and fly home.

Only in the last couple of weeks have we had another change of heart and finally (I think) decided to spend our entire time on the picturesque south island. That way we can ride a big loop of the south instead of just one way, see impressive landscapes the whole time, plus the added bonus of quieter roads – considering only 1/4 of New Zealanders live on the south there’s bound to be less traffic.

I’ve also found hundreds of km’s of dirt road sections that will really make this trip unique and only doable on bike.

The fun so far
Maps, lists and books. All valuable information.

After we realised this was actually happening we quickly turned our attention to gear – specifically, what bikes were we taking? A pretty important subject for a cycle tour. I already had a mountain bike that could work, but Matt was in desperate need of a bike that fit his growing frame!

In January we hadn’t spoken about the trip for a month, when I said, “Hurry up and sort out your bike, time’s ticking.” To which he replied, “Are we still going? I thought because you hadn’t said anything lately we weren’t going anymore.”

“Are you kidding me!?!? Of course we are!” We couldn’t believe how fast communication can fall down even when you’re living together!

So with that anomaly resolved he got to work researching bikes. A process that lasted months, and convinced him at various stages on a cyclocross, road bike and 29er mountain bike. Finally though he got a 29er, which will be good for the dirt roads, and I stuck with my 26er.

The bike so far
My bike in the works
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Tyres, bar ends, top tube bag, pannier rack and bags the additions so far

The preliminary gear list we put together is slowly but surely being ticked off. Tent – check, sleeping bag – check, bike spares and repair kit – partly checked. It’s taking a while to acquire gear because we are trying to get it second hand or at reduced prices. So far so good.

Our next step towards preparing for New Zealand is a practice 4 day ride on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in a few weeks. It’s the only way to properly test our gear out and see what’s needed, what can be left at home, and see what we are getting ourselves into!

Not long ago Matt said, “The idea of touring seemed so much better when you were in Canada.” Now that the realities of keeping warm, keeping the stomach satisfied, and riding on roads with no shoulders have hit home everything isn’t as rosy as first imagined. We’ve already resigned ourselves to the fact that we are going to lose several kilos, but it will all be worth it no doubt.