Cycling in New Zealand

by Susan Otcenas

I recently spent two and a half weeks cycling in New Zealand and would like to tell you a bit about my trip.

I have to say that my most lasting impression of New Zealand will be the friendliness and generosity of the people I met.

**Somewhere north of Taumarunui, a farmer pulled off just to see if I wanted a lift through some monotonous country-side. I took him up on it and we had a wonderful conversation on the way to National Park. He even extended an invitation for Christmas dinner with his family, but, alas, I had to decline.

**On Christmas day, I arrived at the Youth Hostel in Havelock, unannounced, tired and hungry. The hostel mom had a HUGE feast laid out for the guests, free to all takers. Amazing.

** In Nelson, I spent three days with the family of someone I met in the Auckland train station. They treated me, a perfect stranger, like part of their family. I'll never forget them.

** A train conductor didn't bother to charge me for my bike, saying "Merry Christmas" and smiling.

Over 16 days, I spent 8 days cycling (about 750 K). I used 2 trains, one bus, and the friendly farmer to help me cover some ground. On my "rest" days, I visited Waitomo Caves where I had a fabulous Black Water Rafting adventure, Tongariro National Park, Wellington (the capital), Nelson (oh, did I love Sunny Nelson! Beautiful beaches, great pottery shops, and an active night life), Kaikoura (where you can swim with the dolphins), Christchurch and Akaroa (a village on the Banks Peninsula with beautifully maintained, old French buildings).

Unfortunately, time did not allow me to see nearly as much of the South Island as I would have liked. Oh well, next trip....

Observations?

** If you're not accustomed to climbing hills, you'd best do some training before you go. I bought Bruce Ringers book "New Zealand by Bike" which makes a big deal out of the hills. Luckily though, I live in Japan, which has terrain much like New Zealand (lots of fairly steep hills) and therefore didn't have many problems.

**New Zealand is very rural and stores can be few and far between. Make sure you've got food in your panniers and plenty of water. I have 3 bottle cages on my bike and I'd say that's would be the minimum you should carry, especially in hot weather.

** As a woman travelling alone, I decided not to camp, both for safety reasons and because I think its easier to meet new people in the hostels. Over all I found the hostels to be clean and friendly, though I didn't really care for the hostels in big cities like Auckland and Wellington. Hard to explain, but I found the staff and many of the guests to be just "too cool". Well, maybe I'm just a square. :)

** I also found the weather to be HIGHLY changeable. One day I had my rain gear on and off half a dozen times. One minute it would be blazing sunshine, and the next it was HAILING. I'm not kidding!

I met lots of other cyclists, particularly on the South Island. Lots of couples and a surprising number of people travelling alone. They were a great resource for information on good places to stay, eat or visit. Out of 8 days, I spent 3 cycling with other people. One day with two couples - we battled a FIERCE headwind for 7 hours the day after Cyclone Fergus. Viktor (sp?) from Holland pulled into the wind for 50K. What a trooper! Two other days I cycled with a Japanese guy studying English in Auckland (ironic, really, because I promised myself a much needed two week vacation from speaking Japanese. Oh well!) The variety of people cycling was amazing, from a 55 year old woman cycling alone on a bike with the widest, most cushy seat I have EVER seen, to buff, spandex-clad guys with panniers bursting at the seams. I met people from America, Canada, Holland, Germany, Australia, Japan, Korea, Scotland, France and so many other places. Even a few Kiwis! :)

Overall, it was an amazing trip, but WAY too short. You can be sure that I'll be back!