Rethinking New Zealand: Cramped and Crowded and Not For Cycle Touring –  At Least Not in Summer

  

I haven’t written in a while because I haven’t been taking pictures. And I haven’t been taking pictures because it didn’t feel as if I would be telling the whole story. A week along the west coast of New Zealand represented an accumulation of frustrations that we have experienced throughout the country – a lack of dirt roads or alternatives to busy highways, crowded camping, and the sheer numbers of tourists absolutely everywhere – and though the region was geologically fascinating, with glacier covered mountains just meters away from the sea, we had a hard time enjoying it. 
New Zealand is busy, busy in a touristic way I couldn’t have even imaged possible. There are camper vans parked on every street corner, hundreds in every campsite, and thousands every single day on the road going every which way. It can be hard to even meet a local in so many towns (at least down here in the South Island) as the number of tourists and people with working visas far exceeds the number of locals during the summer. And we too are tourists, adding to those numbers.

Freedom camping is illegal in most areas of New Zealand as the sheer numbers of campers would quite literally destroy the place, and though this is perfectly understandable, is does take away our favorite part of cycle touring; finding a totally isolated place high on a mountain or down by a river to cook dinner, watch the sunset, and fall asleep as the day turns to night. Instead, we find ourselves camping among dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of others all crammed together, sometimes literally only a foot or two away.

After speaking with multiple other cyclists who cycled throughout the country ten or twenty years ago they all say the same thing – it didn’t use to be like this, and they won’t be coming back again anytime soon. We have also spoken with many who find this place “empty” compared to other countries, notably those who have cycled Western Europe or live in the UK, so, it’s definitely  a matter of perspective. 

We are disappointed by the lack of dirt roads or highway alternatives as we had been lead to believe that we could do much of the country following a route – the Tour Aotearoa – described as “similar to the American Great Divide.” What we hadn’t realized is while this route incorporates a lot of really wonderful single track riding, it also uses highways between them meaning that if you are simply going straight down the country, you end up on a lot of pavement.  The Kenneth brother routes have many more options if you are ready to do loops around different regions, which we wished we had done rather than trying to cross country cycle through the country as we have been use to in the past. We aren’t the only ones who feel mislead either. We have met a dozen or so full suspension mountain bike/fat bike bikepackers expecting mostly dirt roads/single track who are thoroughly unimpressed, as, like us, they tried to just head straight down the country.

We are spoiled. After cycling through the Andes and the Himalayas we have high standards, especially when it comes to free camping in beautiful places and high difficult passes on quiet roads through the mountains. And it certainly hasn’t all been negative, in fact, we have had a really lovely trip yet want to share some of the realities of our tour as well. New Zealand does have some really amazing multi-day mountain bike routes as well as 4X4 roads which lead to huts in beautiful places. New Zealand has worked hard to increase cycle tourism by creating these routes throughout the country and we can see how in the off season, when the in between roads aren’t so busy and the campgrounds aren’t so full, New Zealand would be a really enjoyable place to ride – especially if you go into it ready to do squiggles in the various areas with the most trails. 

We loved the Molesworth station and St. James route in the northern part of the South Island, the Wilderness Trail in the middle, and the Around the Mountains trail down south, as well as many different sections of the North Island (which we now realize is much less busy in general). And the country is visited by over three million people every year for good reason; it really is beautiful, the kiwis really are incredibly friendly, and there really is a lot to do in terms of outdoor adventures. And the rivers. The rivers are stunning. I have never seen so many clear, clean, colorful rivers in my life. 

If someone was to ask, we wouldn’t recommend cycle touring New Zealand, not in the traditional road cycling way anyways, but with a self-contained camper van (self-contained vans can camp for free whereas nobody else can), packrafts, a backpacking backpack, and mountain bikes with a bikepacking set up we think New Zealand would be a great country to visit during the off-season. From April – December (weather wise, we would suggest March-May, and November, December) there are two other trekking routes which open up to mountain bikes, plus, all of the other trekking routes see a huge decrease in users meaning you would  be able to find yourself  solitude pretty easily.  With a self-contained camper van you would be able to pull off and camp in a whole lot more places (for free), plus, you would be able to drive between the mountain biking loops through highway sections where the riding isn’t all that great. And with packrafts you could explore (and fish!) all of the breathtaking rivers throughout the country. Or, if you are keen to simply cycle (and not add to the overwhelming camper van situation) then cycling the country during the off season would be lovely.

Since we are lucky enough to be here, spending time together on an extended vacation doing what we love, we are most certainly going to make the most of it even if it isn’t always what we had expected. Along the west coast we figured out that by waking up at six we were able to enjoy the ride for a few hours before the herds of camper vans began their daily migration, and I have begun trail running before or after our rides which has allowed me to explore trails without a single other person on them, and watch sunrises or sunsets from various scenic locations. We are also planning out our next month to include some of the notorious mountain biking routes, as well as some other adventures that should take us much farther away from the traffic (there will be packrafts involved)!
The only three pictures I took this week: us at sunrise enjoying the mountains and momentarily quiet roads (at the top of the page), a photo (no added color) which shows one of the amazing sunsets we got to witness, and a random mountain who happened to get his photo taken.
*As this post has gotten controversial I would like to remind those reading that these are our personal experiences and in no way negate or alter whatever you may have or will experience here, and we are open to (politely shared) suggestions or routes that you loved on your own tour here.

   

 

Mountain Biking the St James Trail: NZ Honeymoon 

  
The St James Trail is an 100km mountain bike loop that New Zealand opened in 2010 in order to allow cyclists, hikers, and horseback riders a chance to experience the beauty of the old St James Station (farm). “With no roads, no shops, and no cell phone coverage, this trail is all about the basic desire to get away from it all,” the route description said, and that’s exactly what we were able to do.

  
Though we could have completed this route faster, we decided to bring an extra day of food with us in order to spend some time fishing and hanging out away from any towns or people. Since the first day was extremely windy (and, of course, coming straight at us as headwinds) we decided to cycle the first fifteen kilometers and then hide out in one of the many basic backcountry huts New Zealand has spread all around the country.

   
    
    
   
The next day proved to be more difficult as we spent the morning pushing our bikes – sometimes double teaming one bike at a time – up steep rocky single track. We also walked down most of the downhills as we didn’t trust ourselves next to the drop off, or because it was simply too rocky and steep. Needless to say a simple twenty kilometers took us a ridiculous amount of time and we were so grateful to actually ride once the terrain became easier.

   
    
    
    
    
    
   
We finished up the “mountain bike” section of the loop, which by the way we were doing the “wrong” (hard) way, by pushing our bikes up a very steep pass that gained over 500m of elevation in only four or five kilometers. It was tough, but thankfully short.

  
Kevin fashioned himself a pushing pole with his stick so he could push his bike from the back.

  
After a night along the Clarence river – where we caught multiple fish (and I caught a fifteen inch trout for dinner) – in a “historic” hut at the side of the road we headed back into town along the rainbow route, a dirt road very similar to the Molesworth road we were on last week.

  

   
    
 
Though it was physically hard, all the pushing was well worth the reward of being away from cars. Before arriving to New Zealand we had excepted more of our routes to look like this – totally away from civilization with few or no cars a day passing us – and though as a whole we have found New Zealand busier than we had anticipated, these last few routes have been truly wonderful.

Dirt Roads and Happy Hearts: NZ Honeymoon

  

  

We have had an amazing first week in the South Island. After the ferry ride we started out on a 60km detour along the coast which included four steep climbs (half of which were on gravel) along a very quiet road – the sort of road with only a car or two an hour. It also included our first penguin sighting, an afternoon sipping tea with two kiwis in their amazing 1950’s bus, and an evening exploring little bays and beaches.

   
    
    
    
   

  

We stocked up on food and then headed out through Molesworth Station which is a 210km gravel road that runs through the largest farm in New Zealand. The farm, which was started in the 1860’s, is still in use today with over 10,000 cattle, fifty or sixty horses, and up to forty working dogs. They employ five seasonal ranglers who ride throughout the mountains finding the cows and bringing them to their next grazing area, while the overseer of the ranch (along with his family), the cook, and a few other full time employees live on the ranch full time. During the summer months they have opened up the area for recreational use (there is a 60km section you have to get through during daylight as they lock the gates at night) and it proved to be our kind of cycling, complete with clear beautiful rivers, gravel climbs on a quiet road, and jagged peaks all around. The photos really don’t do this place justice; the valleys and peaks were so much more all encompassing than a simple photo can show.

   
    
    
    
  
         
        

Something else we enjoyed along this route (and something we have enjoyed in general here) are the kiwis who, when they pass, roll down their window for a chat. More often than not they are middle aged or retired kiwis on a “gap year,” meaning they have taken a few months or a year off of work, or semi-retired, in order to travel around in their camper for an extended period of time (often with bikes and kayaks attached!). We had always heard that kiwis were friendly but that is a serious understatement.

After stocking up on food in the resort town of Hanmer Springs we spent a rest day by the Clarence river fishing, reading, and swimming, before beginning a true mountain bike trip along the St James Loop (which will be the next blog post). 

        

And, for those who are interested, here is a link to our wedding photos from the blog of our photographer.

Moments after we got married we jumped on this sled and went down the hill!

  

Feel free to follow us on Facebook (The Wandering Nomads) and Instagram (@awanderingphoto) for photos and stories throughout our journey.

Green Furry Hills and the Forgotten Highway: NZ Honeymoon

  

After two rainy days at a campsite with a lovely cycling couple from the UK (who are also on their honeymoon!) we spent two days along the “forgotten highway,” a quiet road which ceased to be a main road years ago and is now one of the most popular cycling routes in the country. The route went up and down these small furry hills and passed through a small republic which has “claimed” independence, before ending on the coast.
   

  

  

  

  

  

   

   

 We spent a night in a cabin which had a wonderful view!
         
   
We arrived in New Plymouth just ahead of a storm and were lucky enough to stay with a warmshowers couple in town who cooked us a delicious dinner and let us escape the rain and wind by sleeping in a beautiful room. We then set off around the mountain, and then down the coast until we made it to Wellington!

   
   

Headed South: NZ Honeymoon

  

We arrived in Auckland with one less bag; a pannier with our stove and potset, my rain pants and jacket, as well as items such as our travel towel and my running shoes and light jacket. After two days with our warmshowers kiwi hosts, the airline still had no idea where the bag was so we decided to replace the essentials and start pedaling on anyways. Though over the years we have collected some of the highest end gear for cycling touring (such as our brand new Primus stove we bought after we finished our last trip), to replace our lost gear, we went to second hand shops. It was a good reminder that you don’t have to have the highest dollar items in order to make a tour work.

Our kiwi hosts have lent us a stove for this trip. They had picked it up for four dollars at a second hand shop during their last tour in Europe.  
To replace my lost rain gear I bought an eight dollar poncho and fashioned a bungee cord around the waist to keep it on as I pedaled.

  
We did buy a new pannier (we think the guy marked it wrong because it was incredibly cheap!) – and if our old pannier ever does turn up, we plan to send it back to our wonderful kiwi hosts as a thank-you for helping us replace our lost gear.

  
One of the most practical things we ended up buying was a container (with a lid) instead of a bowl. So far we have eaten our dinner left overs for lunch everyday and it has been amazing!
After cycling out of Auckland we spent the night on the coast before connecting up with a “rail trail,” a gravel biking route that followed old train tracks and proved to be very boring as it was completely flat and went through field, after field, after field of cows.

  

  

We then met up with a mountain bike trail which followed a river for 100km which made for some exciting biking and wonderful camping.

   
    
    
    
    
   

This video doesn’t capture how steep up (and down) this trail was in some sections… We are glad to be relatively lightweight this trip!

The highlight of our trip was far was an evening we spent wadding through a small perfect fly fishing river where we caught at least a dozen fish.

   
    
    
 
 
  
And, because the farm animals along this route (most notably the horses, cows, and sheep) have been hilariously entertaining, here is a quick video of me feeding a horse who was poking his head towards us in curiosity.

  
For more frequent updates and photos with stories feel free to find us on Facebook at The Wandering Nomdas.

Gear, Routes, and Rings: Honeymooning in New Zealand 

“Let the dream devour your life so that the life does not devour your dream.”

  
Kevin and I are currently sitting at the airport in Sydney waiting for our final flight of the day which will bring us to Auckland, New Zealand, where we will begin our three month cycle touring honeymoon. We left straight from our two-day wedding campout – which took place around a huge campfire in a ranch at Silver Falls State Park – and can’t wait to begin life as a married couple on our bikes enjoying the absolute freedom that cycle touring brings.

I got the snow I had been dreaming of, and though the recent ice storm made it impossible for some of our guests to arrive, for those who made it it was absolutely beautiful! There will be more photos in the coming weeks once our photographer has a chance to go through them all.

  
Our plan these next three months is to cycle through the mountains partially using New Zealand’s new  bikepacking “Great Divide” route – Aotearoa – and partially following whatever mountains and rivers seem most appealing as we make our way south. We are setting out with our typical overarching goals as well; to find beautiful small rivers to fish, peaceful and breathtaking places to camp, and small rough mountains roads to climb. 

  
Though I still have a comprehensive gear post from our last big trip, I figured I would give an update for this one-season summer trip as we have been able to reduce our gear to just our back panniers. For information about packing for a multi-season world tour or for more about our bikes feel free to check out our previous post about gear

Clothes (for one person)

 

1 light down jacket

1 rainpants + rainjacket 

1 warm hat

1 sunglasses

1 buff

1 cycling gloves

1 neoprene gloves (going downhill in the rain = very unhappy frozen hands)

1 neoprene socks (so that I can wear Keens when it’s raining)

3 small bags (to sort and hold clothes)

1 thin fleece jacket 

1 pair track-pants 

1 Icebreaker 200 merino wool base layer

1 thin (silk/merino wool) leggings base layer

1 pair keens (I wear these in all seasons with different layers of socks)

1 running shoes

2 cycling shirts (not cotton)

1 spandex shorts

1 knee length shorts (cycling or around town)

2 thin socks/ 1 longer thing sock/ 1 big socks

2 sports bras/ 8 underwear

1 dress (for around town and rest days)

1 running shorts (swimming/sleeping/hanging out)

1 tanktop (swimming/sleeping/hanging out) 
Electronics (for both of us)

  

1 Garmin GPS etrek 30 – open source maps of New Zealand

2 back lights (small rechargable)

2 headlamps

1 solar powered lantern (if you haven’t seen these, check them out they are under 20$ and awesome!)

1 Go pro (thanks to Kevin’s brother for letting us borrow his)

1 camera (both my old cameras broke so now I have a canon G5X)

1 Gorilla pod

1 Ipad

1 Kindle

1 power bank

Bike stuff (for both of us)

1 Pump

1 knipex (extra small) channel locks 

1 leatherman

1 hub wrench

1 bicycle multi-tool

1 cassette remover

1 break cable

1 shifting cable

1 Patch kit

10+ zip ties

Assortment of bolts/ miscellaneous small parts

4 BB7 brake pads

1 roll electrical tape

Chain oil

Cooking/Water stuff (for both of us)

1 Katadyn water filter

2 Fuel bottles

4 water bottles on the bike

2 nalgene water bottles (1L)

1 Primus stove

1 flint lighter (no more running out of lighter fluid)

1 six liter MSR bladder

1 pot/ handle

2 bowls

2 long spoon

1 Victorinox knife (we love these, they are very sharp)

1 can opener (p38)

1 small cheese grater 

Other (for both of us)

50 feet p-core

1 first aid kid (plus waterproof matches)

1 sewing kit (needle, dental floss, patch kit for Thermarest/tent/waders)

soap

toothbrushes

Contact solution/mirror

1 quick-dry towel 

 

Down sleeping bags, sleeping pads (Therm-a-Rest Neoair), and our three person Big Agnes tent.

 
 

We are trying out a waterproof backpack this time around which will sit on our back rack and be used for day trips without our bikes.

 
  
  
One additional thing I’ve brought with me this time around is a small handheld running water bottle, my running shoes, and my running watch in the hopes that I will find some time (and energy) to run semi-regularly along this trip. 

 

Photo taken just before my first 50km trail race a few weeks ago!

 
Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@awanderingphoto) for photos and stories throughout our journey!

New Jobs, New Adventures, and A New Last Name

 

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Bend, Oregon – just minutes away from our house (Dec 2016).

 

It has been a while, and now that we are just three weeks away from our next cycle tour (a three-month honeymoon through New Zealand!) I’ve decided to catch those of you who are interested up as we have received quite a few emails asking why its been so quiet on our end.

This past year – in particular, these past six months – have turned into some of the best times for us as we have both been able to pursue our dream jobs. Kevin got on with a Forest Service repel crew (in Eastern Oregon) so he spent the summer repelling out of helicopters all over the US in order to fight wildland forest fires.

I got a job working in wilderness therapy which means that for eight days and nights at a time (with six days off in between) I get to live outside with teenagers who are sent to the program to learn healthy communication and coping skills after substantial self-harm, drug/alcohol abuse, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms that they have used to deal with underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD.  I absolutely love the job; I love the people I work with, the environment we create out there, the six-day off shifts that leave enough time for my own personal adventures, and the fact that I get to cook over a real fire, poop in the woods, and sleep under a tarp more days than I have to sleep in a bed.

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Finding, and Then Making Home: Bend, OR

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
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It’s been a while since I’ve check in, partially because I’ve hardly been on my bike except for my daily commute, and being a bike touring blog, I haven’t had much to say, and partially because I have been waiting with anticipation these last few months to move back to Bend. Now that I am here, I am ready to share. Though it was great to be near family in Astoria, Kevin and I both realized that we had left a part of ourselves in Bend, a part of ourselves that we weren’t going to be able to proceed without, so a few months ago Kevin applied for repel jobs with the forest service, and I applied to OSU-Cascades in order to move in time for spring semester.
 
So now we are here. Like many people moving to this booming town, we moved here for the lifestyle; for the hundreds of miles of running and mountain bike trails in and around town, for the six months of skiing just twenty miles down the road, for the river (Deschutes) that runs right through town, and for the hiking, rock-climbing, mountaineering, backpacking and snowshoeing all within a half hour drive. We moved here for the thousands of outdoor possibilities and for a community of people who love all of these things at least as much as we do.

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Favorite Cycling Routes: South Yungas (Bolivia)

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This green and very hilly route will take you up and over two 4,700m passes as well as over smaller ones in the almost jungle-like vegetation for a total of 10,000m of elevation gain. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the villages are picturesque as they sit atop hills for as far as the eye can see all over the various valleys. We found this route to be difficult due to the heat and humidity, though it was a nice change from the high altitude cold nights.

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Favorite Cycling Routes: Double Salars (Bolivian Altiplano)

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Though I visited the Salar de Uyuni by jeep on a trip years ago, cycling across was a whole different incredible expedience. The first eighty kilometers were busy with tourists, but after that, we had the other half and the whole other Salar completely to ourselves. It’s really easy cycling across the salars as its flat and hard-packed, though the forty kilometers of sand in between was much slower going. This is definitely a must do route for anyone cycling Bolivia as its just so unique to spend days cycling across pure white salt.

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