Tuesday, 5 November 2013
The Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - South Island Route
New Zealand. Why does this country hold such a spell over me? Even before New Zealand was transformed into a living, breathing, version of Tolkien's Middle Earth, it already held great allure for me. As a child, I avidly watched Hunter's Gold and Children Of Fire Mountain, two TV serials that were filmed in New Zealand, and that were shown on the BBC during school holidays. New Zealand, a country of two islands on the other side of the world from England, about as far away as it was possible to be without leaving this planet. A country of such contrasting geological landscapes and the tattooed faces of the Maori.
After vacationing in New Zealand three weeks in 2004 and enrolling as a full time university student in 2007, I now find myself soon to return once more, this time on my first grand cycle tour. The prospect feels me with excitement, trepidation and some anxiety. How will it feel to return to this land that I love so much? A land on which I turned my back in 2010, to leave in search of other adventures. Will it feel like a home coming, or will I feel alien, the place and the people that I know having moved on and changed? The very thought of going back fills me with emotion. The thought that came to me, as I type this post was one of home. Home. There is a concept that is wholly unfamiliar to me.
With my cycle tour, I am not just cycling south to north, nor north to south. It is my aim to visit all places, to criss-cross each of the islands, discovering as much of New Zealand as is possible from on the back of a bicycle saddle. There are many places that I am yet to visit, many sights that my eyes yearn to see, and here is my chance, once and for all, to know this country intimately.
This afternoon, I was able to complete my route planning for the South Island section of my tour. My plan is to travel from Auckland by train down to Wellington, and then travel across the Cook Strait by ferry to Picton. It is in Picton that my cycle tour will commence. There are two main reasons for beginning in the South island rather than the North Island. The first is that my cycle tour will start at the beginning of February, which is towards the end of the summer in New Zealand. The South Island will be affected by falling temperatures and a deterioration in the weather more quickly than further north. It makes a lot of sense therefore, to begin in the south and head north as summer fades to autumn. The second reason is that the South Island is far less populated than the North Island (1 million vs. 3 million inhabitants) and is much more rural in nature. This means that the roads will be far less busy and will offer me the chance to become acquainted not only with my bike, panniers and tent, but also with the practicalities of cycle touring away from busy and dangerous roads.
My South Island route complete, I estimate 38 days of cycling to cover a combined distance of around 3,650km or 2,268 miles. I cannot work out whether I view this as aggressive or too easy. I am prone to cycle fast wherever I go and push as hard as I am able for as long as I am able. Recently, I cycled a round trip of 48kms in a time of around 1 hour 45 minutes, under the heat and humidity of the Costa Rican sun, and on a heavy mountain bike. It would seem reasonable to me, to be able to cycle around 100kms per day, with a heavily laden touring bike. I want to take it at a leisurely pace and I also know that my trusty friend Google Maps, does not take into account changes in elevation, which I know will be of considerable importance in the mountainous South Island. I plan on stopping regularly for coffee (trim flat white) and to take photographs of the scenery and other interesting objects and people. If I find I have miscalculated, then it is fairly easy to adjust the timings, and keep to the same route.
This is my route map for the South Island. My route is marked in blue, and I added each of the 38 legs of the journey with red numbering.
Andy's Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - South Island Route Map
For the most part, the route is generally clockwise in nature. After Hokitika, I plan to cut across from west to east, back to Christchurch, and then cut across again to the west. This allows me to take in some of the spectacular scenery of the South Alps mountain ranges and traverse some of the passes. Looking at this route map gets me rather excited, I have to tell you.
So, there we have it. South Island is planned out and now I have to begin planning the route around the North Island. Oh, and there's also that one very small and incidental matter to organise as well, the bike!