New Zealand Cycle Tour, Leg 1: Picton to Westport

Once again my sadly neglected review blog becomes a platform for travel musings, and it’s probably for the better. This time my wanderlustful imagination has goaded me into a mode of transport less comfortable than any I might have previously encountered, even more dismal and unpleasant, at times, than the traditional twelve hours in the back of a pickup through African scrub.

Cycle touring around New Zealand’s South Island – what could possibly be more beautiful, more romantic, more … painful, that’s what. If you work at a desk, breaks are enforced; if you sit for ten hours on a plane you’re supposed to wear special socks. And yet here I am taking weeks off work to sit on a lumpy, triangular piece of foam while I pump my legs a squillion times. Strange behaviour indeed. Another thing – it’s December, just days from the summer equinox, supposedly the best weather of the year. But that’s not how NZ weather works, oh goodness me no <insert good-natured chuckle here>. Suffice it to say that there has only been one day so far that we have not needed to don our waterproofs.

When I say ‘we’ I am referring to my partner in crime Paul, with whom I embark on many of my madcap schemes. I am fortunate in that he has done this before: three years ago he rode from Sydney to Perth, over 7500km. This meant two things: cycle touring can’t have been as bad as all that if he was willing to do it again, and also I could borrow all his spare cycling gear – result! Thirdly, he already knows everything about cycling lark so I just have to do everything the way he tells me. No thinking! Could this be any better?

So, as soon as we’d decided to postpone our road trip through West Africa (thank you ebola, civil war and the usual African hospitality) we set about planning this little sojourn. We’d fly into Wellington, get the ferry across to Picton and start cycling: across to west coast, down to Bluff, the southernmost point, and back up the east coast to Picton. Six weeks, and hopefully we’d fit in a bit of hiking along the way. Since then Paul’s time has been shortened to five weeks, and averaging over 100km per day was an ambitious plan to start with, so we might need a rethink a bit further down the line.

Anyway, after five days we’ve reached the bleak outpost of Westport, high up on the west coast. It’s surprising how many hills there are over here. Who’d have thought crossing the Southern Alps could be so strenuous? We take it as it comes though: when the road goes up, we go up; when the road goes down, we go down; when the sun comes out, we put on sunscreen; when it rains, we put on waterproofs. Or did I mention that already? Perpetual dampness is a thought that tends to stick in your head, like these damn sand flies stick in our ears as I type this. God damn bastard sand flies. Sorry.

There are some upsides though, of course. The scenery of the Lower Buller Gorge was spectacular, at least what we could see through the sheeting rain. And then there's the masochistic pleasure and the sheer bloody-minded sense of achievement. Oh yes, upsides abound.

We’ve timed our New Year’s Eve to coincide with a large town and a half day enables us to do some grocery shopping, clothes washing, rest my dodgy knee, have a shower(!) and go out for dinner as a break from the established pasta/sauce routine (although the way we make it is pretty tasty). No doubt tomorrow, with hangovers to see us on our way, we’ll find out what the west coast really has to throw at us.

Total distance travelled so far: 336km

PS You’ll no doubt be keen to hear the latest news from the (Identifiable) Road Kill Cup. Currently in the lead is Team Hedgehog with seven; Team Bumblebee were doing well but were disqualified for having all died of natural causes.

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