New Zealand is a mountain biker’s mecca. Notice I said “mountain bike” not touring bike. As a matter of fact, in spite of the fact that there are lots of cycle tourists here, the reality, as we’ve recently learned, is that there are many more beautiful mountain bike cycle tracks than actual cycle touring lanes or shoulders on the roads. It took the meeting of two cycling friends, Paull and Elizabeth, to give us the extra boost that we needed.
Before meeting them I had been afraid of:
1. breaking down and having to walk hundreds of hilly kilometers for help.
2. falling off my loaded bicycle in the slippery gravel or hitting a tree root or rock and hurting myself.
A friendly text message from Paul, a guy I’d never met but had offered us a place to stay in Queenstown and who was friends with Liz, a cycle tourist who we’d met way back in Malaysia, suggested we take the beautiful Glendhu Bay cycle track while we were in Wanaka. Since we were camping and had a place to leave our panniers, this track seemed like a good first mountain biking attempt. Not only was the track beautiful, it was also lots of fun. We didn’t break down. We didn’t get hurt.
Then, several days later we spent several amazing days with Paul and Elizabeth in Queenstown. Paul, a dead ringer for Liam Nieson, a great conversationalist, and an exceptional host kept us in stitches with his stories of work and kept us in comfort by moving to the attic so we could rest us in a real bed for the first time in several weeks. He also organized the iconic Queenstown ferry ride/ gourmet lunch, a game of bowls, a drive to Glenorchy with the best blue cod fish and chips, and a game of billiards. In other words, he gave us a taste of “normal” after weeks on the road.
Liz, the most interesting, awe-inspiring, cycle tourist/dart and billiards champ/should-be novelist, that I’ve ever met was our other host. Her relaxed attitude about situations that she has experienced and would have brought out the worst in me such as missing her first flight in London, cycling on the fly-over, one-lane road car freeway in Bangkok, or riding in the 10% grade, 1.5 km long, Homer Tunnel near Milford sound, made me think that 150 km of dirt and gravel couldn’t be that bad.
The wonderful days the four of us spent together gave us knowledge and experience of the area. The days also boosted our energy not realizing how starved we were for some relaxation after over five months on the road.
The dirt track cycle trip went as follows:
We again took the coal-fired steamer ferry from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station followed by a 58 kilometer ride on a dirt/gravel road along the coast of Lake Wakatipu and inland uphill through some beautiful sheep stations continually climbing, steep at times, until we were above tree line was not too bad.
We enjoyed the descent to Malvora Lakes National Park where the primitive camping (no kitchen/no showers/no heat) along South Lake Malvora was beautiful and peaceful.
The following morning we woke to almost freezing temperatures, had a quick breakfast of cold leftovers of spaghetti-rice and a few crumbs from the almost empty bag of Musli followed by a strong cup of coffee. We peddled in the cold and wind for another 35 kilometers along gravel roads, through herds of sheep and downhill towards highway 94.
Another 20 kilometers or so of freezing cold, windy roads and beautiful scenery brought us to Lake Te Anau where we sprang for a dormitory room (with heat) in a large campground.
Exhausted but happy that we took the chance to go “off-road” and experience the best of New Zealand cycling was made possible because of the inspiration of two fellow cyclists. Thank you, Paul and Elizabeth.