As first grader at school, my sister likes to teach me too, and explaines to me, that our planet is round: dig a whole into the earth right here, and you will come out at the other end in - New Zealand. Wow! This was visualized with a globe model, and I got afraid, people would fall down from the planet there. Ok, gravity works, no problem. But they have to walk upside down the whole day, this must be very stressful for them. Anyway, it is the furthermost point on earth from here one can go, no matter if you dig through the middle of the earth, or go around outside. So, my childhood dream was born: I wanted to go there.
During my student time I read and heard many reports about this country. Nearly all of them were effusive of exaltation. In particular I was impressed by the pictures from there, and I got it quickly: this is not only the furthermost, this is also one of the most beautiful countries, which offers nearly everything I could imagine. And some facts were not told to me, when I was a child: the seasons are upside down - summer at christmas time, beach party at new years eve - and again it came up in me: I have to go there!
It took a long time, but it was never in doubt: finally I had the ticket in my hands. Flight Korean Air from Frankfurt to Auckland, nicely the airline accepted to carry my bike without any fees. What a pleasant anticipation, what an excitement, as I lifted off in early December for the first time in a big Jumbo jet. The first leg Frankfurt - Seoul was very pleasant, all three window seats only for me. Most impressing: flying over the mongolian desert - snow as far as the eyes can reach. Automatically I had to think of the T-shirts and shorts in my bags - is it really summer there? Will it really work?
After changing the aircraft it wasn't comfortable anymore. The leg Seoul - Auckland is even longer, and the Jumbo jet was packed, every seat was occupied, I felt like a fish in the can. Furthermore, the first signs of fatigue came up in me.
When dawn arrived, we had just reached the southern hemisphere - bright sunshine, deep blue sea, no land in sight for many hours. Somewhere along the way, a long white cloud came in sight - I got awake. Exactly as it was written in the reports I read: Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. Kia Ora - the childhood dream came true.
This is a travelogue about my four bike tours in New Zealand from the north of North Island to the south of South Island. It gets more detailed in the descriptions of each bike leg, which always includes a note about the length of a route and the campsites I visited or alternatives. Have fun reading.
Seven weeks New Zealand ahead of me, solo on the bike. In my exhausted state after 24 hours on the aircraft I was oddly hyperactive after arrival. This was necessary as well in that moment, immigration formalities were hard work - in particular the luggage control. No fresh groceries like fruits, the bike has to be very clean, and then ... I had a used tent - so I was sure of the officers special attention. Authoritative and polite, everything was checked, and found good - even the bike check with the officers finger inside the mudguard. I relieved my freedom, because I read it in my bike guidebook upfront and was prepared for that ;-)
I stepped out of the big airport building into the december air - and it was warm. The sun was shining, the blossoms flavour was immediately in my nose, I could smell the summer. Such an intense experience only in the first few hours. Next point of the agenda was finding a campground, very easy in Auckland, it's about 4-5 kms to the east along the Puhinui Road direction Manukau. Starting to ride the bike for the first time in this jetlaged state means: be very aware of rolling on the LEFT side! After reaching the Great South Road turn right and immediately there's the first camp, some kms later the next. I checked in, was invited to find a nice tent side by my own, built up my "home", and felt like home from the first moment.
I read in my guidebook, best way to fight the jetlag and the heavy time difference of 12 hours (I'm exactly at the opposite side of the planet) is to sleep not too early, if you could stand it, and go to bed in the early evening. Really not easy to follow this advise, at 5 p.m. no chance anymore. I woke up at 4 a.m. in the darkness and was fit like a monkey - as we say in germany. Surprisingly for me, the jetlag disappeared very quickly, from the start of the second day I had no more problems at all. When dawn arrived, I opened my tent and watched across the very accurately mowed green to a duck family, when just in this moment a shower came down. This is strange, I thought, combined this picture with the left-side traffic and was in doubt for a moment, the aircraft captain may have lost the way - I have seen all this before in Britain ;-)
The tour leads me to nearly all the major scenic highlights of North Island, along Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty, the thermal areas and volcanic plateau down to Wellington at the half time. I couldn't imagine there would be something more beautiful left on South Island - and got instantly teached to be wrong while passing the Cook Strait into the Marlborough Sounds. Continuing to Nelson and inland I turned to the east coast for Blenheim - I was not well equiped for the rainy West Coast. Along Kaikoura and Christchurch the route leads me down to Dunedin, where biking ends after 2340 km on Otago Peninsula, a paradise for wildlife animals. Lucky me, in 7 weeks I had only just 2 rainy days, one on North Island, one on South Island. The Kiwis told me, it was an exceptional warm and dry summer. At the end of January I entered my aircraft back home at Christchurch.
It was a dream, it still remains a dream - and one thing is for sure: I will come back!
I'm back, this time with a friend, which I convinced to spend his holidays on the bike. I have to add, New Zealand is not easy to bike, or to say it in the words of a Kiwi I met on the last trip: "New Zealand is not a flat country". But everyone will get his rewards for this effort, more than expected, this I can promise. This time we go with Garuda Indonesia via Denpasar/Bali, bike transport was for free there as well. But my exaltation was very limited. Even before starting in Frankfurt, we were confronted with the fact, that our aircraft stands damaged in Jakarta and flight was cancelled - congratulations! We got more of these "little jokes" which we were not amused about, no aircraft of this airline was in time.
Arrived in New Zealand, the pleasure was tremendous, all stresses and strains of the flight were instantly forgotten. This time it is the smell of fresh strawberries, which meet our noses on the way to the campground very promising. My wish was, to see North Island again unhurried and in detail, and spent much time at the scenic highlights. Only the little turn to Whakatane was new to me. The route goes along Maraetai, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Taupo to Tongariro National Park - the highest and at the same time the end point of our trip. After not even 1000 km in 4 weeks it was over. But it was not to beat, and the promise was true: we will come back, next time for South Island..
On the way back we indulged ourselves in a Bali stopover - Garuda even gave us no other choice. Again here we got a big hassle during the journey: the passport of my friend was not valid for complete 6 months anymore (at immigration in New Zealand it was). We could enter Indonesia only with paying a penalty of 50 US$ - nobody told us this before. So we learned to look at the expiring date of the passport, it is important to have 6 months left even at the end of the trip. The stopover as such was well worth it. In germany we booked the Legian Beach hotel at Kuta about 15 km from the airport. It was very good, quiet and relaxing, and not expensive. I was very impressed by the asian smiles ot the friendly people, and the bombastic breakfast buffet with all sorts of freshest and most juicy fruits one can imagine. In january and february it's rainy season in Bali. Mixed with temperatures beyond 30 degrees, it's very different to the refreshing Kiwi-climate, and now I know what "tropical" means. Anyway, in my opinion, Bali makes appetite for more asia.
This year it should be more innovative and adventurous, we resolved. South Island is just right for that. Equiped with water proofed Ortlieb-bags and appropriate clothings, we decided to do the yet undiscovered part of South Island. And we got it managed to start in Dunedin, where my first trip terminates, because there was a 737 jet connection from Auckland which could carry our bikes - in opposite to the usually used turboprops for travellings to smaller airports. This gots more surprising to us, when we looked at the runway after arrival at Dunedin: the aircraft makes full brake application and even needs the full length of the runway to come to a stand - ooops. In regulation-fury germany this wouldn't be permitted.
As it was early evening and we could not really estimate how long it takes us to bike to the next campground at Lake Waihola, we asked the last taxi-van for taking us with our bikes there - although some people were sitting inside. But same as for the 737-captain the short runway was no problem, so it was here. The Kiwis are friendly and very cooperative folks, this appears to us again and again from the beginning.
The first test run on the bikes - still without the big bags - from Lake Waihola to the Pacific coast, brought us back to reality and showed us very clearly, what was ahead of us: heavy climbings, partly gravel roads, strong wind and by far not that comfortable temperatures as in the north. At start up it was cold, in particular when it was shady, so we drag on some warm clothes. At the first climb, often in the blazing sun, sweat starts running, so we took off the warm clothes. With wet T-shirt in the cold wind you won't bike very long, so we drag on the warm clothes again ... etc. etc. That's the way of biking in southern South Island - similar to the scottish climate. By the way, Dunedin is the old keltic name for Edinburgh.
But again it's proved to be true: the beauty of the country is more than compensating any efforts of biking. South Island has scenically very much to offer, it's more wild, rough and empty. And although it's even more mountainous as North Island, the climbings are nor worse, neither easier, it's not a big difference. There are more wide alpine valleys with long ramps, whereas North Island has this bothering up-and-down permanently.
At Lake Waihola we were south of Dunedin, and we kept on going in this direction. Along Milton, the Catlins and Curio Bay we continue - partly on unsealed roads - to Invercargill, the southernmost city of New Zealand. Then we were on target for Fjordland. Te Anau and Milford Sound were definetely the highlights of the tour. From there to the West Coast no other choice as to go in a big bow through the inland, along Mossburn, Kingston, Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown, further to Chromwell, Wanaka and Lake Hawea. There the ascent to Haast Pass starts, the gateway to the West Coast, the most rain-laden area of New Zealand, which we "enjoyed" in full extend. Going north to Hokitika and Greymouth, where we finished this bike tour after nearly 4 weeks and 1300 km. We took the bus along Arthurs Pass to Christchurch, spending a few days there, before we took flight Korean Air back home. A little stopover in southeast asia for warming up would be indicated after cold South Island.
After two years apart from New Zealand we got extreme withdrawal symptoms. The winters were bloody cold, so what better to do as to dig out the bikes, make them ready, put them into a Jumbo jet - and off we go. According to the cavorting weather at last trip, my friend placed his veto for South Island. So we decided to explore North Island on two not connected routes - we had 5 weeks for that.
First part leads us to the Northland, the area between Auckland and Cape Reinga, which was completely unknown to us at that time. This is one of the sections, the bike guidebooks warn the unexperienced bikers about. You won't assume it by far, but this hilly route demands for greater effort as South Island. Instantly on the first leg, ups and downs nearly all the time, and in no way moderate. Nearly no flat kms to relax a bit. At the end of the day, still before we reached the campground, I was completely powered out. But, let's be honest, it was nearly the same like on the tours before - we simply didnt expect it here this way.
But look at the panoramic pictures on this page, all except the second one are from Northland. No question, it's phantastic! Incidentally, it's the northernmost and warmest region of New Zealand - upside down this way too. In several other things as well. For example, I always wondered, why the shadows around our tent move exactly contrary as we thought. Answer is very simple: sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, like in europe, but she moves along north, you will never see her in the south.
The second part should lead us to the East Cape, likewise new territory for us. Gets the highest praises by the locals, so surely we have to go there. But we were in a complete different region. That means, going from Kaitaia, the northernmost city of New Zealand, back to Auckland by bus. There we visited our favourite area around Maraetai again, it was a must, and biked to Thames. From there we took a bus again to Tauranga - this was complicated and not very pleasant, we wouldn't do that again. The bus driver didn't want to take our bikes, although we had declared them, he said, bus is full. After long discussions he agreed reluctantly. We were informed later, there is no guarantee for bike transport in busses, even they were declared. At arrival, my airbed with the wonderful air-pillow was gone, stolen. We better should have biked this section.
On the bike again, we rolled from Tauranga to Whakatane, we remembered this leg well. The next day we reached East Cape at Opotiki and celebrated new years eve some km further in Opape. At new years day we biked along the most beautiful road of East Cape, peppered with many climbings - good to have the training from Northland. The complete road around East Cape is not easy to bike, so we planned 4 days for it. Arrived at Gisborne we had nearly 1500 km on the bike. So we decided to indulge ourselves and rented a car for the trip back to Auckland. In Gisborne there is a short golf site and also a very recommended restaurant for wine tasting - we found them both in the industrial area. We go back by car along Napier, Taupo, Rotorua to Auckland, for the last night we made a side trip to Clarks Beach.
We had thought about it before: having seen so much of New Zealand, it's time to explore some other countries in the next years. But only the imagination, never being to New Zealnd again - no no no, can't be. And as if somebody heared that, we got to see one stunning sunset after the other in the last 5 days - it was breathtaking. This time it was the hardest goodbye from New Zealand for me.