“If you live in North Wales, why do you want to come here?”. That an airport customs officer would engage in friendly banter confirmed New Zealand as a welcoming country but we’d come for rain forests, glaciers, lakes, mountains, waterfalls and quiet roads. Our daughter Sarah was away at university and our parents agreed to share looking after our son Rowan while we took off on a three week trip. Our expectations were sky high and we weren’t disappointed.
We chose BA and Qantas as they allowed us to leave Manchester late afternoon and arrive Christchurch early afternoon, with equally civilised return times. Christine would remain in Christchurch for a couple of days after I flew out then travel on to visit her aunt in Brisbane, Australia before arriving home two weeks after me.
Three weeks isn’t long so we confined ourselves to South Island, making a clockwise loop south-west to Te Anau then across, up the west coast and back to Christchurch. We decided to take the bus to Lake Tekapo to avoid the Christchurch suburbs and the Canterbury plain, cycle round to Greymouth and return via the TranzAlpine, rated one of the top five rail journeys in the world. We compiled a draft itinerary and booked the first two nights at Christchurch central YHA hostel. This was to give us a full weekday to sort out any problems with panniers or bikes or to recover from the long flight.
Preparing the bikes
Christine splashed out on a fancy hand-built job from Roberts of Croydon. I stuck with my two year old Dawes World Tour, veteran of two Sustrans routes, and took it in to Beics Castell of Caernarfon, our local dealer which has sadly now closed down. I’ve never had a puncture on this bike but the tyres were looking worn so it seemed prudent to replace them. Luke and Kevin recommended Schwalbe Marathon XR and gave it a thorough service. I took one of the old tyres as a spare while Christine bought a folding tyre. Both bikes behaved faultlessly and we suffered no punctures. We met two people who’d wrecked their tyres so taking spares was probably a good precaution.
Preparing the bikes for the air
Bag or box? We decided on bags, the argument being that the bike is recognisable as such and less likely to be thrown around or a heavy item stacked on it. Christine bought some foam pipe lagging, cut it to fit the bike tubes and labelled each section. She checked that BA in Manchester had bike bags and we took bubble wrap to protect those vulnerable parts that are not easily removed.
From home to Tekapo
Friday 25th February 2000 arrived and we took the train to Manchester Airport, removed pedals and bottle cages, turned the handlebars, taped on the bubblewrap then found BA had no bike bags after all. We took their advice to check our panniers all the way to Christchurch but our bikes only to Heathrow – there we’d get the bags and check them in to Christchurch. This worked out fine and our bikes were handled so carefully that my chain wasn’t even dislodged! The flight was on time and as comfortable as economy class long haul can be – as we reached the coast the mist suddenly cleared to reveal stunning views of the treeless southern alps then the fertile Canterbury plain on the approach to Christchurch.
We cycled the 11km from the airport to the youth hostel, where they agreed to store our bike packaging until our return. After cleaning ourselves up we repaired to the Mainstreet Café at 840 Colombo Street, vegetarian like us and so good we ate there on each of our three nights in the city. The Emerson’s organic pils from Dunedin was an impressive introduction to New Zealand beer, a match for the best German lagers.
After an early night we felt fine and used the YHA’s booking facilities to arrange our exit and return transport before spending a relaxing day exploring this spacious green city. The cafés are great – good coffee, imaginative fresh fruit cocktails, sweet and savoury muffins.
The Atomic Shuttle leaves at 07:00 so once again we hit the sack early.
We loaded our bikes – this bus takes only two so we were lucky to be able to book it at such short notice – and sat back as our driver took us through the endless suburbs and flat farmland before rising through undulating partially forested country to Lake Tekapo. This had been a very good move, saving us precious time on first dull then hilly terrain. At the Information Centre we booked accommodation and bus trip for tomorrow, had a long chat with some Canadian cyclists, ate our sandwiches and were ready to go.
29 Feb Lake Tekapo to Twizel 54km
1 Mar Omerama via Mount Cook Bus to Mount Cook then 38km
2 Mar Over the Lindis Pass to Cromwell 113km
3 Mar Queenstown 64km
4 Mar Mavora Lakes via paddle steamer 51km
5 Mar Te Anau 68km
6 Mar Bus and Boat to Doubtful Sound
7 Mar Glow worms 32km
8 Mar Bus to Crown Peak, bike to Wanaka 40km
9 Mar Makarora 64km
10 Mar The Haast Pass 81km
11 Mar Jacobs River 80km
12 Mar Fox Glacier 30km
13 Mar Glacier Walk
14 Mar Hari Hari 87km
15 Mar Greymouth 116km
16 Mar Punakaiki 45km
17 Mar Rain Forest Walk
18 Mar Elizabeth Point 35km
19 Mar Greymouth then train to Christchurch 10km
20 Mar Cycle to airport then fly home 11km