In February and March of 2016 I completed the inaugural Tour Aotearoa, a 3000km self-supported cycling adventure across the whole length of New Zealand, from north to south. You can read about the details and the route on the official website. It’s going to be hard to condense 24 days and 3000km of riding into a short report, especially when my full 6-part diary comes in at nearly 14,000 words, but I’ll do my best. Here are my 8 favourite parts. 90 Mile Beach – Day 1IMG_20160223_100909-01-Edit Saying 90 Mile Beach was a ‘favourite’ section might not be the truth, but it sure was memorable. 2pm and low tide came eventually and about 100 riders assembled in the carpark for the mass start. The fast 20km down the highway ended abruptly at the Giant Te Paki sand dunes, where we rode through a sandy stream down to the beach. While riding for 85km on nearly perfectly flat terrain would normally be a dream, we were hit with a punishing combination of wind, sand and heat. By now the contingent had split into many small groups, each one splayed across the beach in echelon by the crosswind. The horizon retreated as quickly as we progressed, and monotony, dehydration and hunger set in quickly. Just as I was starting to seriously fade, the road to a little holiday park appeared, for which we headed with struggling smiles. We raided the park’s little shop, taking the last two soft drinks and inhaling ice creams. Feeling much refreshed, we set off for the last 15km to Ahipara while the sun set over the ocean.IMG_20160223_192129-01-Edit   Waikato River Trail – Day 5 After an easy morning on quiet roads between towns, Tom, Paul (who was riding a fixed-gear AWOL) and I reached the northern trailhead for the Waikato River Trail a little before lunch. The trail starts with gentle, well-graded gravel the whole family could ride. After following the Waikato River for an hour or so we arrived at Arapuni in time for lunch at the wonderful Rhubarb Café. I made the most of the grass under an oak tree and napped in the shade. From there the trail led us down quiet country roads before the gravel restarted near a cliff face. Proving that you can still have fun on a fully loaded bike, we raced down the countless switchbacks, letting our back wheels slide around each corner. The trail followed then crossed the river at Waipapa Dam. What came next totally stunned us. The trail took us into jungle-like forest and turned into a rollercoaster ride. While the trail was wide and not technical by singletrack standards, there was not a single metre that was flat or straight. I had an absolute blast chasing Tom around every berm. In retrospect I should have slowed down and enjoyed the lush forest, and maybe taken a photo or two, but for that short time I forgot I was riding a fully loaded bike and just embraced the joy of the moment.DSC09561 Timber Trail – Day 6 The Timber Trail is the most incredibly lush trail you’re likely to ever ride. It astounded me from the first moment I entered. The bright green moss and ferns, the bird calls and the soft loamy soil all made it more like riding a magic carpet in a dream than riding a bike. It’s a special place. The trail climbs up and around the side of Mount Pureora, in which lives a dense forest of 1,000 year old podocarp trees. It quickly became one of the most remote and isolated sections of the Tour. The trails weren’t overly technical, but they weren’t easy. I was able to enjoy the scenery but could never relax. The trail demanded constant turning and dodging of mud puddles, tree roots and rocks. At the peak of the trail I stopped for water at one of the pure streams flowing down the mountain and across the trail. I’d ridden around a good portion of the mountain when the trail turned southwest along the range and I encountered the first of the many famous large suspension bridge crossings. These bridges afforded spectacular views of the massive expanse of rainforest below, stretching to the horizon.DSC09596-Edit-2 DSC09605-Edit-2 Kaiwhakauka Track – Day 8 The Kaiwhakauka Track is a tramping trail that was recently upgraded and opened for cyclists. Along with the Timber Trail, it’s probably one of the most remote sections of the Tour, heading deep into some very steep and jungled terrain. It’s so remote that the only way out at the other end is by boat down the Whanganui River. I had a spot booked on a 10am jet boat, so I set my alarm for 5.00am, hoping that gave me enough time to make it through 40 gruelling kilometres.DSC09634-Edit Within the first 100m Paul and I realised the gravity of the challenge ahead of us. The trail was thick and sticky with mud from the days of rain before. It completely covered our wheels and quickly clogged our drivetrains. We slowly weaved up through the misty mountains, passing through pockets of grassy farmland and ferny forests. It felt not unlike the Timber Trail, only more dangerous, with steep drops off the side of the narrow path. I came close falling several times after slipping while attempting to jump over puddles of mud.DSC09675-Edit We eventually reached the end of the trail and got onto a gravel road that climbed up to Mangapurua Trig. From the top we raced down, enjoying both being able to move faster than walking pace and the spectacular views of the mountains poking through the clouds. Our delightful descent came to an end but the awe continued as the path narrowed again, this time cut into the side of several sheer cliffs. It was literally mountain goat territory, with several herds watching us pass.DSC09636-Edit DSC09635 We eventually reached the Bridge to Nowhere, one of the only remnants of a failed attempt to settle the remote, inhospitable terrain, then headed on for the last few kilometres to the boat landing. We reached the landing about 15 minutes before the boat arrived. We loaded up the boat to capacity and enjoyed the 30km ride down the river. Maruia Saddle and Victoria Forest Park – Day 15 A lovely quiet gravel road led Harry, a friend from my home town of Canberra, and I to another one of my favourite places; the small bridge over the vibrantly blue Matakitaki River. I stopped on the bridge for about five minutes and watched the raging water pour through the rock it has carved over the centuries. Anyone driving over the bridge in a car is likely to not even notice the wonder below them. The intensity of the colour and character captivated me. A kilometre from there the climb up Maruia Saddle starts, and it instantly astounded me. There was an understated majesty about the muted greens of the beech forest, the crunch of the fine orange gravel and the gentle trickle of the countless small water falls. The magical place exudes calmness. It’s the kind of road I could ride up and down all day. There was every shade of green, from the bright mosses kept moist by the trickles down the hillside, to the deep, dark greens of the beech leaves. The climb was over too soon but we enjoyed the smooth winding gravel and raced downhill. At the bottom we were held up by a herd of cattle being moved by an old farmer on a smoky 2-stroke motorbike. Matakitaki DSC00299 After lunch we arrived at the final climb of the day, up into Victoria Forest Park. Harry’s description of the road as ‘one of the best road rides you’ll ever do’ was right on the money. The smooth highway wound through even more lush beech forest. We crossed over mountain streams and waterfalls every few hundred mountains. I was so captivated I didn’t even mind the climb up. The last 30km to Reefton was mostly downhill. I raced ahead of Harry and had the long, straight road to myself, surrounded by deep green forest all the way to town.MAH00302-2-Edit-2 DSC00290 Westcoast Wilderness Trail – Day 17 The Westcoast Wilderness Trail takes riders out of Greymouth down the coast, inland past Kapitea Reservoir and through a circular valley between the mountains Turiwhate and Tuhua, then down past Lake Kaniere and into Hokitika. It’s quite a detour from what is otherwise a rather simple trip straight down the highway, but it’s well worth it.DSC00333 It started raining just as I started riding, and didn’t end until well into the afternoon, after a serious cold front dumped buckets on Harry, Dan and I. The trail gradually took us deeper towards the mountains and closer to the low clouds. At the peak of the trail, and in the middle of a solid downpour, we arrived at Cowboy Paradise. Cowboy Paradise is a partially built, gimmicky, faux-western town that caters mainly to cyclists passing through. We desperately crowded around their diesel powered fan heater as we gobbled up the most generously sized servings of chips we’ve ever seen. When we were ready to leave the rain was still hanging around so we pushed on despite it, blazing around the downhill switchbacks. We made it out of the mountains and onto a sealed road just as the worst of the cold front hit. Buckets of sideways rain smashed us in the face. We got relief from the wind but not the rain once we got back on a trail and into more forest. Our stoke levels were high as we teared along the winding trail; we couldn’t get any more wet so we just enjoyed it. With water hitting us from the sky and rushing beside us, and water racing down each side of the trail, there was no point in dodging the puddles. Haast to Camerons Flat – Day 20 I arrived in the town of Haast around 2pm, with over five hours of light left. With nothing to do in Haast except get sucked dry by sandflies and put up with tourists, I decided to make the most of feeling good and press on over Haast Pass. The highway headed inland and gently upwards, following the Haast River into the mountains. I was surrounded on each side by walls of earth, covered in dense green forest and pierced with countless waterfalls.DSC00812 The gentle and even imperceptible climb started to pick up in gradient as I approached the spectacular Gates of Haast. The wide, gentle giant of the valley floor is replaced by a narrow and fast-flowing bright-blue torrent.DSC00883 Wanting to get to camp before dark, I set off up towards Haast Pass. However, I was once again distracted by a waterfall, and stopped at the magnificent Fantail Falls. The floor of the river there is largely exposed during summer, so tourists have made a tradition of stacking some of the thousands of flat and rounded rocks into stacks. The collection of piles gave the place the aura of a religious or cultural site. Only one or two kilometres down the road I came across the structure signifying Haast Pass. From there I flew down the other side and cruised for the last few kilometres to the Camerons Flat campsite just before sunset.DSC00889-Edit-2 DSC00888 Von Rd – Day 23/24 I disembarked from the last boat of the tour, on the other side of Lake Wakatipu. I followed the one and only road out of Walter Peak Station, eerily feeling the same anxiety of ‘can I do this?’ as when I rolled out of Cape Reinga. Also like the start from the Cape, it began in the most familiar way possible; just pushing off and pedalling. Really, that’s what this whole journey consisted of, one pedal stroke after another. Some easy, some hard.DSC00938-Edit-2 I enjoyed views of snow-capped mountains over the other side of the lake just as the remoteness of the Station slowly revealed itself to me. I passed the last farm building and continued on the lonely road. Fences disappeared and were replaced on both sides just by mountains. A small herd of cows wandered freely, only mildly disturbed by my presence. The sunset slowly crept into being over a matter of hours; a product of the southern latitude and the wall-like mountain range to the west. Golden rays of light started beaming over Mount Turnbull like fairy dust sprinkles. The glacial speed of the sunset seemed appropriate for the landscape and my own pace through it. I really couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The temperature was in the low 20s, the air was still, and my only company, besides the cows, was a few wispy clouds.DSC00952 DSC00954 After 50km the sunset colours peaked just before I reached the end/start of Walter Peak Station, which is also right near the turn off for Mavora Lakes, where I originally planned to spend the night. Instead, I took my friend Alex’s advice and rode on through the freezing night and arrived at my final destination, Bluff, just as the sun rose over the ocean, after 14 hours and 242km of riding that night, and 3000km overall. DSC00991For more beautiful photography from Adam, head over to his website Endless Cycle, or check out his Instagram or Facebook Page.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *