New Zealand by Bike, Sort of

The wind was hurtling up and over the tussock choked pass, each gust stealing away the myriad ‘konnichiwa’s from smiling, elderly tourists. The sweat had dried, etching salty Rorschach designs all across my shirt; below, the road twisted down the way I had come- steep enough to make me glad it was a memory. Rising from my perch, I grinned at the busload of Japanese tourists invading my triumphant siesta, throwing a v-sign before getting back in the saddle for the descent towards Tarras.


Ninety-nine years ago today, Roald Ammundsen was the first man to reach the South Pole. He arrived at the Pole in good form, and quite ahead of his rival Scott.

Ammundsen said about his achievement;

I may say that this is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

Too true. I spend the majority of my time on structured, goal-oriented expeditions, and know of what Ammundsen speaks. So, for my holiday I am avoiding structure at all costs and following my gut and the wind as much as my structure-starved brain can handle.

After a brief search on Trade Me — a Kiwi amalgamation of Ebay and Craigslist — I bought an old American touring bike for a few hundred dollars from a bloke in Woolston. I left Christchurch on sheep-flanked backroads, my boots wrapped in old gaiters and bungied to a crushed down backpack on the rear rack. Meet Optimus Climb: it transforms from bicycle touring to full-on backpacking in 3 minutes flat. No assembly required.

The first adventure went well. From the desolate and windblasted Mackenzie Country, Optimus charged past the turquoise waters of Lake

Tekapo and up the access road to Mt. Cook Village. Here, Aoraki/ Mt. Cook (12,300ft) looms over the valley and glaciers hang from the higer slopes and pour melt water off seventy degree slopes in an endless cycle. Alone on the trail due to heavy winds and downpouring rain (the tourists were inside), I climbed 3000 feet up to the rock and ice of the Mueller Range and checked in at the alpine hut in the shadow of Mt. Olivier. This is a day route- nothing to be proud of really, but I was walking in the footsteps of the Great One, and I knew it. Sir Edmund Hillary, Conqueror of Everest, had climbed Olivier in the 1930’s- it was his first peak. I was in one of the world’s temples of mountaineering, and alone on the rain and wind blasted ridge, I felt it.

I’ve been out over a week now, and have been enjoying exploring the bicycle-friendly South Island of New Zealand. I am not alone — I’ve met and cycled for a day or an hour with dozens of others, Germans, Canadians, Israelis, Dutch and so on. I knew I was on the right track when I abandoned a big day to coast into the town of Twizel just because a beautiful Bavarian named Marina said I should — no plans, no structure. Vacation.

What’s next? Queenstown, and the hyper-commericalized ‘Adventure Captial of the World.’ With luck, I’ll be able to stash Optimus and dash for mountains before getting sucked into the pubs by Lake Wakatipu. That is for after the climb.

Awkward self-portraits and mountain vistas to come when I can track down the right cable in the next tourist town.

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