New Zealand

  • Winter in Wanaka

    Although the snow is rarely phenomenal, the scenery makes up for it in New Zealand. The picture below was a good 20cm powder day in the Cardrona backcountry.  I was given a promo Rome board so we posed for a catalogue shot with it! We had season passes at Cardrona ski resort where we enjoyed mellow off piste and playing in the park. Nothing epic or huge, the length of run depends on the snow line. In warm years the resort accesses very short runs as you can’t drop any lower than the lifts. The mellow (aka flat) snow capped hills set against the brown grass lower hillside earns the resort the nickname ‘Flat White’ after the NZ coffee with a touch of white foam on top.

    Treble Cone near Wanaka was the pick of the ski resorts on south islands for me personally. During our season there, we visited it on a few good powder days. Treble Cone is still a small resort with 3 lifts but has such cool terrain to ski or snowboard. All the fun stuff is easily accessed from some well thought out lift locations.
    The even smaller club fields dotted around the South Island add fun options too. For me New Zealand is worth another trip, but not just for the snowboarding. The huge snow parks aside, it is a long way to travel for some summer snow that might be worse than glacier skiing in Europe. It depends hugely on the snowfall, more so than European or N. American areas, as the often grassy slopes don’t need much snow to allow riding on them and this opens many more touring options that can extend lower down the mountains if the snow is plentiful. It is more about the all round experience and we certainly enjoyed our year there.

    Cardrona back country - Catalogue shot  for the sponsors.

    Lake Wanaka is rarely snowbound in winter meaning you can mountain bike all year or go for a swim if so inclined. My feeble back flip in the picture resulted in significant back slappage and I narrowly missed a gigantic eel big enough to eat my arm!
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    In the picture below we mountain biked the crown range through a couple of inches of snow, for some reason I only took a gillet and it was freezing cold. After the ride we were to cold to pedal up the road to the car so I hitched, it was dusk so few cars were about but finally a minivan pulled over and a group of fairly drunk Kiwis welcomed me in all enjoying a drink, even the driver, up the twisty mountain road!IMG_4329

    As winter was arriving we entered a long distance cycle race around lake Tekapo near Christchurch, at about 100km it’s quite a long MTB race. The beutiful landscape is on private land so it’s a one off chance to see some amazing countryside, it also involves a few deep river crossings as well!
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    After cycle touring for so long I was in pretty good shape for this race, it was therefore a shame I was late to the start and ended up having to overtake about 400 competitors just to get near the leading group! I also did a 12 hour MTB race and a multisport peak to peak race, this was a ski from The remarkables, then MTB down the steep gravel access road, a kayak across the lake, a run through Queenstown and I did the final road ride up to coronet peak ski area! The kiwis like a challenge.
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  • Cycle touring New Zealand

    The first trip I wanted to write about on this blog  was our cycle tour the length of New Zealand. This is a very popular trip due to the relatively compact size and vast variation in landscapes that the country holds. There is hardly a single day of dull riding to get to the most spectacular parts, as would be the case in most other counties.

    We spent 3 months cycling from the northern most point to the far south. It is a deceptively long way and took the full 3 months to complete, saying that we didn’t take the most direct but rather the most scenic route.IMG_4300

    North Island

    We started by heading north west towards the originally named Northlands. The first stop was the west coast with its black volcanic sand beaches providing a dramatic backdrop to the stormy weather that was rolling in.

    Further north, we camped in various places, enjoying the beaches and being awoken by loud and varied bird song. One night I was opening the inner tent to be startled by a high pitch screech that shook me to the bone, next to my face was some freaky animal that was impossibly loud and had huge green eyes glaring at me. That was my first possum encounter, most of the future encounters involved the possum being road kill as we cycled past! A particular favourite campspot as we headed north was in the remote and beautiful MimiWhangata bay which is down a one way road shortly before the Bay of Islands ‘urban’ sprawl began. On a bike tour one way roads heading downhill have to have something pretty amazing at the end and this one didn’t disappoint, we had the stunning beach and park to our selves. 

    We then headed north to the famous bay of islands area. We camped next to a bay on an island with a name that is pretty hard to beat – Uruphukphuka, translates as yourcoolcool I think. 

    We next approached 60 mile beach which is a beach but isn’t 60 miles we did a bit of beach riding before reaching the Northern end of new Zealand, technically this was now our start point! The weather was a bit dire so no symbolic photo was taken, just sheltering from the rain!

    Next we made a bee line back down to Auckland. A short ferry ride took us to the quiet and rustic Coromandel Peninsula. We did a complete loop by taking the off-road section at the very top. The track at the top has a super steep hill and is hard work but worth the effort if just to prevent you retracing your steps.

     The route then took as down towards the Volcanoes and Lake Taupo. A scenic ride with loads of hot springs and flumes of steam in the fields all around. The roads in the centre were noticeably busier and we would probably stick further east next time. We cycled to National Park the town next to Tongariro Park, the Tongariro crossing is the famous trek which we did despite less than ideal weather. We climbed the peak Ngauguhoe (Mt Doom in lord of the rings!) after much sliding on loose volcanic rock we reached the top in time for the clouds to clear allowing a perfect inversion. We could see all the way across to Taranaki in the South West.

    After leaving the parks we rode over to the Wanganui River which we followed all the way to the coast. A quiet and scenic ride, a bit further out of the way.

    Next was a quick detour to Palmerston North to visit friends, the place is a bit of a hole and not a scenic hotspot. Unfortunately we we had car crash near Palmerston North enroute to some hiking (in a car not on a bike, there’s a lesson to be learnt there!) which delayed our journey by a few weeks. We stayed in Picton on the South Island while we recovered.

    South Island

    A far more wild and remote part of the country. We set off along the Queen Charlotte track which weaves in and out of the stunning bays and inlets that line the top of South Island. Then we carried on to Takkaka Hill a fearsomely steep and high prospect for any cycle tourer. However the other side rewarded us with a long downhill and the remote and funky town of Nelson. From here we cycled up to the most northern point via a few beaches and Takaka Bay, all of which were spectacular and totally deserted. We tried to make it to a remote light house on the west coast. This section was probably my favourite of the entire tour, check out some of the pictures below. It was on hard sand and involved a few river crossings that meant bikes unloaded and bag by bag walked across the water! The tides had to be timed correctly so the depth was manageable too!

    From the West coast, we rode almost all the way across to the east. The next section was probably my favourite route, we cycled the Rainbow road all the way down into Hamner Springs. This off road route passes some amazing view points. Best of all no smelly cars and camper vans. Well the odd ambitious camper van that was getting in trouble but that’s another story!
    From the Rainbow road we headed West again passing Lewis Pass. We called into some wild hot springs near the pass. First we were bombarded by sand flies then a group of sweaty smelly work men jumped in to join us. Kinda took the shine off them! Still worth a stop! One of the most eccentric stops was the visit to Black Ball and its ‘Hilton’ and the Croeseus track. In Black Ball we camped next to the most huanted house in NZ, it creaked all night and admittedly it’s remote setting made it feeling a little uncomfortable. Black Ball is a remote ghost town from an earlier mining era and pretty unusual place. http://www.blackballhilton.co.nz/

    We were now on the west coast proper, and true to form it started raining.  Strangely I didn’t mind, the scenery is more dramatic with the damp, green temperate rainforest obscured by wisps of mist and cloud.

    After a week or so it was time to head East and away from the spectacularly wild west coast. We climbed Haast pass, struggled to the top only to be met by a chap in victorian clothing who doth-ed his cap at us and rode on astride his penny farthing. Yes a fixed wheel penny farthing up and down possible the steepest pass on south island! The only indication this was the 21st century was his multiple plastic bottle mounts on the handle bars so he didn’t have to dismount at all! 

    Next stop Wanaka, then Queenstown and the far south. We stopped in Wanaka and lived in the town for the next 9 months, I worked at a cool bike shop called Good Sports and Marion in a cafe. It is such a cool town.