Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Posts tagged ‘NewZealand’


Day 5

With another 100 miles to go but no deadline on my final day, I allowed myself a little extra sleep after the previous day’s effort.  Starting around 7, I headed east from Cromwell to ride a stretch of the Otago Central Rail Trail.  It is New Zealand’s longest rail trail at 150km (a little less than 100 miles) and is part of the fabulous new New Zealand Cycle Trail network, which will include about 1500 miles of trails when completed this year.  Although mostly a packed gravel surface (not ideal for a road bike), I wanted to try a section.

As I headed to the trail, the terrain changed again, becoming arid and rocky.  This is gold rush country, much of the area being settled in the 1860s.

Approaching Clyde, in the area where gold was first discovered in Otago

The trailhead is in Clyde, yet another quaint little New Zealand town. 

the main road through Clyde- full of B&B’s, bakeries and coffee shops, and even a bike shop for riders on the rail trail

the Muttontown Viaduct on the Central Otago Rail Trail, with beautiful Fall colors

After a few miles on the rail trail, which is a popular family ride at a casual pace over a few days (great idea for a return trip to New Zealand!), I turned back west towards Queenstown, my thoughts turning to the finish of the tour. 

This part of New Zealand is a popular wine growing region, and there are dozens of wineries in the area.

the vineyards were beautiful in the fall, these were a couple of the many that I passed

The road entered the Kawarau River Gorge, yet another new landscape.  Climbing the hills that wind along the gorge was no longer a hard effort, after several days of climbing mountain passes.

The Kawarau River gorge, that winds for about 20 miles

The winding road along the river

One of the best parts of bicycle touring- the ability to stop anywhere for a photo, no parking space required

Continuing past Queenstown, the last road to ride was to Glenorchy.  Unfortunately, I ran out of time to ride the entire distance, a shame since it is another road of amazing scenery, featured in many TV ads and movies- including James Bond chase scenes.

Like the first day’s ride, the road was nestled amongst trees between The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu, but is much less traveled.

The road to Glenorchy- notice the steamship on Lake Wakatipu

As I turned around and pedaled the last few miles back into Queenstown, finishing up a 4th straight day over 100 miles, I was left with a sense of accomplishment, looking forward to seeing my girls the next morning back in Sydney, and the thrill of having experienced such an amazing place. 

I cannot think of a better 4 days of my life that weren’t spent with my family.

map and elevation profile of Day 5 ride from Cromwell to Clyde to Queenstown and road to Glenorchy

Even before I left, I long to come back to New Zealand.   The world is full of places I have never seen.  Given a choice, I rarely visit the same place twice, preferring the unknown.  Even after 450 miles of riding, there is so much more to see just on the South Island.  There is Doubtful Sound, which is much larger than Milford Sound, and requires driving, then a boat ride across a lake, and then a hike to reach.  I’d love to go hiking on a glacier, ride some of the new Cycle Trails, and explore more of the coasts and historic small towns.  It is a beautiful country, definitely one of my favorites of the 30+ I have visited.

Do I have to leave?

And I need more goals to continually be challenged- such as longer rides and more of them.  Above all, I want to do a cross-country ride, and I hope I can find the right purpose and motivation for it.



Day 3

After a short overnight stop in Queenstown, I headed out early Friday morning for 3 more days of touring solely by bicycle.  After about 15 miles, I reached what would be my toughest climb– of the tour and of my life.  The Crown Range Road is a legend, for both cyclists and car enthusiasts.  Cresting at 1076m, it is New Zealand’s highest public road, with spectacular views along the way. 

The “zig-zags” on the lower section of the Crown Range Road.

Beginning the ascent with zig-zag hairpin curves, I spent most of the next hour and a half in my lowest “granny gear”.  After the zig-zags, the climb temporarily relents but then gets steeper, so much so that I had to weave across both lanes to lessen the grade and keep moving: at 3-4mph much of the way up! 

I got a close-up view of the Crown Range Road as I flew in to Queenstown.

Near the top, I came across a road construction crew, and the flagman called out “almost there, mate!”  “Almost there?  Awesome!” was my panted reply. Unfortunately, “almost there” to him was relative to being in a car.  It was probably another mile, which doesn’t seem like much, but that’s 15 more minutes of riding at 4 mph with the steep grade. 

The view makes the climb worth the effort!  (my camera battery was dead, so this photo was borrowed from the NZ Tourism website)

Cresting the Crown Range pass, I headed down.  Fast.  My Bike Friday is very convenient, but the short wheelbase makes for twitchy handling and I had to limit descents to under 30mph.  With a full-size road bike and nerves stronger than mine, it would have been easy to hit 40-50mph or more.  I never stopped on the ascent, but was forced to on the descent in order to cool my brakes.  A couple times I hit a bump and thought I might go down, which can get very scary, very fast on a road like this.  I did make it through the entire tour with only 1 minor crash, when I dropped the chain on a steep hill, but it was nothing serious as no cars were around. 

Sidebar: please ALWAYS allow at least 3 feet/1 meter when passing a cyclist.  This is already required by law in many US states and foreign countries, to create public awareness. Having space to maneuver around those bumps and potholes is even scarier when motorists pass with inches to spare.  I know it is frustrating to wait for room to pass behind a slow moving bike, but a minor crash or swerving around obstacles can become a deadly event if a car is passing too close.  And NEVER honk to “let the cyclist know you are there”.  While very well intentioned, it startles the cyclist and can cause a crash.  THANK YOU!!

Enjoying the morning sun and a descent that gradually turned rolling, I came to Wanaka, a gorgeous and active lakeside community.  I could live here; Wanaka was my favorite town I visited. 

the shores of Lake Wanaka

You have to love a town where 3 coffee shops side-by-side are all doing a brisk business, as everyone takes in the lake and mountain views.  

I stopped in one café for a rare break, for some strong coffee and a snack of real food (energy bars get very tiring), but more importantly to borrow an outlet to charge my camera battery.

Tearing myself away from Wanaka, I headed out for a few hills as the road wound along between Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. 

Lake Hawea

The hills slowly gave way to the Makarora River valley, another lush, scenic, and thankfully relatively flat terrain, and into Mount Aspiring National Park.  If I had one more day, I would have continued on this road to the west coast of New Zealand where there are several glaciers.

It was hard not to keep stopping for photos!  When I did stop, my bike made for a great conversation starter. 

At this scenic overlook, I chatted with a young couple- he was from Germany and she from Holland- who were driving through. Even though they had spent several months in New Zealand, they were just as mesmerized by the breathtaking scenery.

Topping 100 miles again, my Friday night stop was in the village of Makarora (population 30).  This was my favorite overnight, I stayed in a spartan but comfortable private cabin that can sleep 4, that cost me 33 New Zealand dollars (less than 25 US dollars).  It might have been the first time in my life that my hotel room cost about the same as my dinner.

My cabin in Makarora (front 1/2 of the one on the left), where my bike is parked

The view from the front porch of my cabin.

Dinner in the adjoining café was simple but perfect for a bike tour, a tasty vegetable pasta accompanied by one of New Zealand’s great local beers.  Searching for healthy, hearty, and convenient food was a minor challenge each evening, since riding 100 miles at a relatively moderate pace burns an extra ~4000 calories per day.

Many cycle tourists bring their own food (and often camp out), but I packed light, with just a change of clothes, bike tools, and a load of energy bars to get me through each day.  That doesn’t seem like much, but with temperatures ranging from the upper 30s to the mid 60s (F), I had to carry a wide variety of cycling attire and my panniers (saddlebags) were stuffed full.

map and elevation profile of Day 3 ride, from Queenstown to Makarora via the Crown Range Road

Day 4

Saturday was another pre-dawn start, having turned around at Makarora and taking advantage of what was now a tailwind that I had fought for much of the previous afternoon.  I aimed for my longest ride on Saturday, so I needed an early start.

Early Saturday morning, I came across a mountain bike event- passing hundreds of cyclists, most of whom smiled and waved as we passed in opposite directions.

Mountain bikers on the road at dawn.

The hills and mountains were gorgeous (I’m out of adjectives) at sunrise-

Lake Hawea at dawn.

Skirting Lake Hawea, I started the long climb up the Lindis Pass, one of the highest in New Zealand at 971m, but with a much more gradual slope. 

The grassy slopes along the way to the Lindis Pass.

A common sight in New Zealand- herds of sheep.

The terrain varied again, from the mountain lakes, to valleys of scrub brush and trees, and as I climbed the pass, mostly grass covered slopes with few trees- but always sheep! 

Look closely at lower right.

Turning around at the Lindis Pass, I headed back down the mountain, and encountered another cycle tourist.  Rich, an older gentleman who lives on the North Island, stopped as he came the other direction.  We had a very nice chat on the side of the road for at least 20 minutes, talking about New Zealand and cycle touring.  As I raved about how much I loved New Zealand and want to come back with my family, he gave me some encouraging tips on family friendly multi-day hiking routes (or tramping as they call it here), with cabins for overnight stops- no camping required.  I only wish I had thought to take his picture.

A great viewpoint for the day.

Approaching the Lindis Pass.

The descent is always worth the climbing effort!

The story of today’s ride was a lack of water.  Most of the New Zealand state highways have many rest areas where I could refill my water bottles.  Today, however, I found none so I started to ration water early in the day.  Finally, with about 15 miles to go, I came across a rest area.  Hallelujah I thought!  This will make the last bit of the ride easier, having already gone about 115 miles under mostly sunny skies.  Pouring Gatorade powder into my bottles, I turned the corner into the men’s room, relief just seconds away.  Then I stopped at the sign on the door “non potable water (do not drink)”.  I was not happy!  The long driveway into the rest area had done nothing but add another mile to my ride.

Back on the bike, I toughed out the last few miles.  Reaching my room in a camping park in Cromwell, I quickly filled my water bottles, immediately downed about 40oz of Gatorade, and took a 20-minute nap to recover.  Total for the day: 129.1 miles, my longest day ever, goal #1 accomplished!

The lack of guardrails on some of the hilly, twisty roads were a bit scary:

I rode in the middle of the lane on this road, otherwise one slip and it would have been a very long fall.

The only negative aspect of long days of cycling in New Zealand was the rough surface of the chip and seal roads.  As I rode, my arms were oscillating like a banjo string, which beat up my shoulders and neck, by far the toughest aspect of the tour.

Map and elevation profile of Day 4 ride from Makarora to Cromwell via the Lindis Pass

Next up: the tour finish with rail trails, river gorges, and movie scenes


Map of my planned bike tour

One of the places I (Dave) have always wanted to visit is New Zealand, its remote location and reputation for natural beauty have long enticed me. The girls (my wife and 2 daughters) decided they would rather relax with some beach time and see more of Australia than add another destination, so for the first time ever, we split up our vacation time. After reading about the great cycling in NZ, I mapped out a 4 ½ day visit, bicycling several routes centered around Queenstown, on the South Island.

Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown is a town of about 15,000 where bungee jumping was invented, and bills itself as “The Adrenalin Capital of the World”. Other popular activities include skydiving, skiing, mountain biking, heli-ski or biking (a helicopter drops you off on trails inaccessible by road, then you ski or mountain bike down), whitewater rafting, jet skiing, and many others. If you need adventure in any season, this is the place for it!

The suspension bridge that was the site of the world’s first commercial bungee jumping operation in 1988. I rode past it on the last day of my tour and watched one person jump– and one person chicken out.

New Zealand also abounds with nature trails for hikes that can vary in length from a half hour to several days.

Queenstown has the feel of a college and ski town combined. I only saw a few fellow middle-aged people, it is mostly frequented by college students- many from Europe on their gap year- on backpacking trips, and well-off retirees.  Queenstown is filled with pubs and restaurants, backpacking hostels, and outdoors shops, in a compact downtown surrounded by hillside homes on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Wakatipu is a Maori name (the Maori are the indigenous people of NZ, like the Aborigines of Australia), and legend says it was formed from the depression of a giant sleeping on his side.

I set several cycling goals for myself every year, and decided to use this trip to attempt 2: my longest ride ever (longer than 200km/124 miles) and 4 consecutive “century” (100 mile) rides. Why? To challenge myself of course, but also as training for the US cross-country ride that I want to do. A cross-country ride must be more than just a personal challenge; however, I want to use it for a charitable purpose of some sort.  I just don’t which of many noble causes yet (and am open to ideas. . .)

As I flew into Queenstown, crossing the South Island from Auckland on the North Island, it was easy to get excited about the days ahead, with views of snow-capped mountain peaks, beautiful lakes in the valleys, and very little development (there are only about 1 million residents of the South Island, which is 50% larger in area than the entire state of Indiana).

Almost there!

As I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, I breathed what has to be the freshest air of my life, on a sunny and crisp Autumn day in April.

Queenstown Airport is often ranked among the world’s top 10 airports to get a window seat when flying into (am I glad I did). It is easy to see why.

As beautiful as New Zealand is, if a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing it in person must be worth 10,000 pictures. Words and photos are so insufficient!

Arriving on Wednesday afternoon after a layover in Auckland, I quickly rented a car, assembled my bike, and headed out. Driving and riding on the left (“wrong”) side of the road in Australia and New Zealand was enough of an adjustment, especially after not driving a car at all for several months while we’ve lived in Shanghai.  Shifting the manual transmission rental with my left hand definitely took some getting used to.

My first taste of New Zealand cycling was a short 30-mile warm up ride on the gently rolling road between the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the mountain range named appropriately, The Remarkables.

Welcome to New Zealand! The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

The road along Lake Wakatipu was a thrill both to drive and ride.

In awe of the beautiful surroundings, I wish I had time to ride longer, but had to reach my stop for the night in Te Anau.  Traveling fast and light into remote towns and villages, I stayed in mostly backpacker type hostels that close at 8 or 9.

For my cycling buddies, I was riding my folding travel bike that I originally purchased to use while living in Shanghai.  There are a surprising number of companies that build folding bikes, and after much research I settled on a Bike Friday.  It is built in Oregon with standard components (Shimano drivetrain, etc.) making it easy to service and is equipped with eyelets for mounting racks and panniers (saddlebags).  I chose a model with drop-bar road bike handlebars.

Bike Fridays are known for being ridden all over the world by bicycle tourists.  I love mine; it has a similar riding position to my Specialized road bike, though is a bit lower with different handling characteristics.  Since it has a steel frame vs. aluminum or carbon, it is heavier.  With its small 20-inch wheels, it can be mistaken for a kid’s bike and gets many strange looks.  But those characteristics allow it to be disassembled and folded into a standard-size hard shell suitcase in about 20 minutes, so I will use it for years to come as I travel.

There are more sheep than people in New Zealand- this one eyed me as if to say “what are you doing here?”

Day 2
I was on the bike by 5am so that I could ride 100 miles to reach Milford Sound by lunchtime for a cruise of the fjords. I always like to watch the sunrise from the saddle, but this was especially the case in New Zealand.  The mountains create a prolonged dawn, as the sun rises behind the peaks, so the sky lightens for a couple hours before you actually see the sun.

I took this picture during the slow sunrise, as I rode through valleys and past lakes into Fjordland National Park, and flat grassland gave way to hilly rainforest.

As I climbed my first of 3 mountain passes on the trip to 1000 meters of elevation, I entered what appeared to be a cul-de-sac of mountains, with a semi-circular ridge of solid rock at least a couple of thousand feet above the road.  Finally, I arrived at the Homer Tunnel, which was hand hewn from 1936 until finally being completed in 1954 (you can see the rough interior from the picks).

climbing up to the Homer Tunnel

The mountains here are the southern Alps- and in Australia also.  I have always considered the Alps in Switzerland, Austria, southern Germany, and Slovenia as perhaps my favorite destination anywhere in the world.  I never knew that there were mountains named the Alps outside of Europe!

Having read about cycling through the Homer Tunnel, I can’t say that I looked forward to the experience, facing a slick descent in a dark narrow tunnel with traffic.  Fortunately, I reached the entrance to follow several other cars through, as lights alternated the direction of traffic, and did not get passed as I gingerly rode through the 1.3km long tunnel.

The entrance to the Homer Tunnel- a bit intimidating for a cyclist.

I took a minute for a picture at the exit and was rewarded with a view of a snaking descent that was the most exhilarating road I have ever bicycled.  It reminded me of a smaller version of the Stelvio Pass in Italy (a bucket list item to ride or drive).  What a thrill it was to twist and turn towards the ocean, down the forest covered mountain road that was not as steep or treacherous as later descents, reaping the benefits of the effort uphill.  For several miles, I only pedaled occasionally and took in the surroundings (one of the advantages of bicycle touring: time to enjoy the scenery).

The descent from the Homer Tunnel- spectacular! (click the linked photo for a better image of the panoramic).

I made it to Milford Sound with time to spare, and headed out on a cruise to see the Sound (technically a fjord) up close. The pictures speak for themselves, what incredible natural beauty!

As beautiful a scene as I have ever witnessed in my life. (click the linked photo for a better view of the panoramic).

I was there!

Looking back towards Milford Sound.

Have you ever seen such blue sky?

An hour and a half on the water flew by much too fast.

On the way back, I met 2 college interns, one from Chicago and one from Norway. The one from Norway commented that the mountains in New Zealand’s Fjordland were much higher and more majestic than Norway’s, and he seemed very impressed.  This is a relatively remote place, 175 miles from the nearest major airport with only one road in, so anyone who visits is making a concerted effort to see this picturesque and unspoiled place.

Days 1 & 2: Queenstown to Milford Sound (partly via car to Te Anau)

Next up: Day 3, starting with the big climb

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