New Zealand bike ride
Gap years are a great idea. It’s my ambition to have one.
So in the absence of my own, I gate-crashed part of my son Richard’s. Well, he had told me that he planned on a cycle tour of New Zealand, and how could I resist that?
So here’s what I learned – or at least a small part of it.
New Zealand is a beautiful country, with a friendly people and excellent cycling. Four weeks was long enough to get a flavour of the country, north and south islands, but an extra couple of weeks (or months?) would be better!
I can recommend the following as good cycling places from personal experience: the Bay of Islands, Coromandel Peninsula, Giant Redwoods Mountain Bike Centre at Rotorua, the 42 Traverse at the Tongariro National Park, the West coast from Fox Glacier to Wanaka via the Haast Pass. The following were recommended to us while we were there, but we ran out of time: the Queen Charlotte Track, and Wanaka to Queenstown via the Crown Range. We didn’t cycle in Aukland itself, but we were pleased not to. It seemed very busy, very hilly, seemingly not at all cycle friendly.
We stayed in excellent quality official Youth Hostels (http://www.yha.co.nz), and there is also a variety of private ones, though the official ones are usually more geared up for cyclists.
Guide books: Cycline New Zealand Cycling Guide has the best maps, and though they don’t cover all of New Zealand, they covered most of the areas we wanted to visit. It has limited other information, and some descriptions not entirely clear. Lonely Planet‘s Cycling New Zealand has the best information by far on places to stay and to visit, but the maps are not very clear. As a recommendation – use the Lonely Planet guide to plan roughly where to go, and take the Cycline guide with you – the maps are good enough to use on the ground.
When to go: late October was OK for north island, but would have been a bit cold in south island. The south gets cold again around March/April. Roads are busiest in the school holidays – Christmas to mid January.
We hired bikes in New Zealand, rather than take our own. Generally that was fine, though at two places the bikes on offer were of a poor standard. Highly recommended though is Natural High Bicycle Rentals of Christchurch: we were able to pick up bikes at Nelson (arranged over the internet) and drop them off in Queenstown, using a bus to take us as far as Fox Glacier. I don’t know if Natural High have been badly affected by the earthquake; if so, my heart goes out to them, and I’d encourage cyclists to use them, so as to help Christchurch back on to its feet.
And if (when?) you go, don’t just cycle – walk and kayak at Abel Tasman National Park, and walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Would I go again? Oh yes. Bring on that gap year.