On Tiki Tour through Aotearoa

Wind-Blown TreesGranted, the lush, green headlands and wind-tossed cliffs along the coastline of Catlins Region are stunning, but when the wind reaches a velocity of 100kph and the gusts literally blow you of the bike, even the most determined cyclist has to accept his inevitable defeat and make use of some motorized help. Our lifesavers on this horrible day came in the form of Dave and Diane, who created an artistic masterpiece by tying our bikes to the saw blade sculpture on their trailer to Invercargill 🙂

Henry, the 111-years-old Tuatara
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Invercargill is a flat and somehow featureless town that hasn’t much more to offer than satisfying all key requirements as a pit stop between the Catlins and Fiordland, although it does boast a handful of historic buildings and the undoubted star in town is patriarch Henry, a 111-years-old-and-counting but still lusty tuatara, New Zealand’s unique miniature dragons.

Enjoying the Sea Breeze

Accompanied by some hungry seagulls and our old, ever-present enemy – the wind – we followed the rugged coastline to Riverton, where we became world famous thanks to a delightful old lady who interviewed us for the Western Star, New Zealand’s newspaper with the widest circulation – in this tiny area 😉

Fiordland

Wilderness..

Passing boggy tops and stunted trees we silently crossed the boundary to Fiordland National Park, a jagged, mountainous, densely forested landmass ribbed with deeply recessed fiords reaching inland like crooked fingers, appealing its few visitors with a special end-of-the-world feeling. With an average of 200 rain-days per year, we too weren’t spared from the permanent fine yet ice cold drizzle and even though it doesn’t seem much at the beginning, after some hours you are completely drenched despite all the super sophisticated high-tech fabrics and even our beloved merino shirts develop this unique “wet dog fragrance”.

On the Kepler Track

So we were all the more relieved when reaching Manapouri and finding an affordable little cabin with a fireplace that thanks to Gui’s industrious efforts quickly turned the hut into a sauna like dream that quickly dried all our gear and our frozen toes. A rain free window allowed us to stroll on the first kilometers of the Kepler Track, on of NZ’s Great Walks, that leads through a magically moss-draped forest and surprisingly colorful marshland. We shared the little cabin with another couple and confined to the cramped inside for some days by the constant rain and due to outstanding French Cuisine, we became friends fast and they gave us a lift for the scenic route from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

Gertrud Saddle

This road meanders through rolling farmland atop the lateral moraine of the glacier that once gouged out Lake Te Anau and heads up into the high-country valley, at first pocketed with sheepy pasture, then reaching deeper wilderness immersion as it crosses the Divide, the lowest east-west pass in the Southern Alps. The road then climbs further through the cascade-tastic valley to the Homer Tunnel, framed by a spectacular, high-walled ice-carved amphitheater of Gertrud Saddle. One way, dark, magnificently rough-hewn and dripping with water, the 1270m long tunnel emerges at the other end at the head of the spectacular Cleddau Valley that finds its climax at the photogenic 1692m high Mitre Peak, the gate to Milford Sound.

Mitre Peak

Sheer rock cliffs rise out of still, dark waters, forests cling to ridiculously steep slopes and an average annual rainfall of 7m (in words: seven meters!) fuels innumerable cascading waterfalls. Half a million tourists raid this stunning fiord per year but out on the water all this humanity seems tiny compared to nature’s vastness. The unique ocean environment replicates deep-ocean conditions, encouraging the activity of marine life such as dolphins, seals and even penguins, though the latter might be a tourist myth as we haven’t seen one all over the South Island 😉

Around the Mountains

Fly Amanita TentAfter three warm, cozy nights close to the fireplace and in a real bed (the first one since we left Christchurch) we were heading back to heartland New Zealand and followed the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail that circumnavigates the Eyre Mountains. The bumpy gravel road led us to the isolated area around the Mavora Lakes, two remote stretches of water that are deep blue and clear enough to see trout cruising the many bush clad bays and inlets. Thick beech forests ringing with bird calls fringe the lakes and mirrored in the glassy surface you see the distant snow-capped peaks of the Livingstone Mountains.

Around the Mountains

As the road is winding further over the golden valley floor along a meandering stream with a perfect backdrop of tussock-covered ridgelines, towering mountains and rugged hinterland, the resemblance to the secluded high plateau of Tajikistan was stunning. The closer we got to the enormous Lake Wakatipu, the more the landscape turned back into the typical NZ stereotype of lush green meadows with grazing sheep flocks and towering peaks until we reached Walter’s Peak, an early settlement and nowadays the jetty for the TSS Earnslaw, a restored, coal-fired steamship with all the brass-work and varnished timber you associate with a vintage ship nearly a century old. The engine room is visible and you can watch the pistons and valves chugging away amidships and the passage to the harbour of Queenstown passed in no time.

Queenstown & the Wakatipi Basin

View on the Remarkables Mountain RangeSurrounded by the soaring indigo peaks of the Remarkables and framed by the meandering coves of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is undeniably a marvelous place to live. But famous as New Zealand’s ‘Global Adventure Capital’, it is bristling with young, mostly German adrenaline junkies that spend hundreds of dollars for jumping off a bridge or out of a plane and queue up by the dozens to grab one of the giant, famed-by-Lonely-Planet Fergburgers.

Palm Sunday Lunch

Despite this unappealing tourist crowds, we had a great time in Queenstown which is the sole merit of David, a warm-hearted fellow cyclist that invited us into his home – and what a home that was! We were literally speechless when we finally reached his address and found ourselves in front of the luxury Rees Hotel, a five-star holiday complex featuring astonishing views on the lake and the mountain range. It turned out that we didn’t get lost and David indeed owned a flat in this glamorous complex and forthrightly and welcomingly opened his doors for two filthy and stinky cyclists 🙂 It was also him that took us on a tiki tour to show us the jewels of the Wakatipu Basin, gave us the opportunity for a family Sunday lunch – something we didn’t have since months – including self-made Pevalova cake and the best coffee we hat in whole New Zealand and organised a reunion with the world’s most ambitious dart team ^^ Thanks a million for your generosity and kindness!

To the Southernmost Point

Bec and her lovely KidsThanks to Bec and Pascal’s hospitality, we had a lovely place to stay a couple of days in Christchurch amidst their exceptional family, a lively neighborhood and a beautiful scenery that shows striking resemblance with the French Cap Ferré peninsula, where Gui used to work with them as photographer 10 years ago.

Christchurch turned out to be a city in transition that is coping creatively with the aftermath of the severs earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. In empty lots and abandoned buildings left in the wake of the earthquakes, creative art projects have sprung up and despite the heartache, Bec is unhesitatingly sharing moving stories about this hard time, showing clearly that confronted with New Zealand’s second worst natural disaster, Christchurch’s residents have shown genuine solidarity with the personal tragedy of each neighbor and have proven well, why Kiwis are known for their remarkable solidarity and generous camaraderie.

Canterbury

Is there a Hobbit behind the HillHeavily loaded with “metropolis” amenities, we were setting out for our South Island adventure a couple of days later. Fortunately, Canterbury’s Plain welcomed us with vast flat terrain – ideal training conditions for our weak thighs that completely got out of shape over the last weeks. On the other hand, the nasty gusts howling across the plain and the speeding traffic – especially frightening after the laid-back Asian driving style – caught us somehow off-guard and soon we found ourselves going zigzag along farm lanes between the omnipresent barb wire fences that guard New Zealand’s most numerous woolly habitants. But this brought with it, that we had the chance to once find shelter in a surprisingly well equipped sheep shed and share a delicious dinner with hospitable stockbreeder Dave, who gave us a profound insight in New Zealand’s dairy farm disaster.

Brilliant Colors in unexpteced PlacesThe more we were heading West towards the central mountain range, the more the landscape morphed from well-ordered farmland into the dramatic wilderness of the Southern Alps that found its climax at the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki and the imposing Mount Cook, standing sentinel over this diverse region.

Otago

View at Dansey Pass's Top

From here on we followed the Alps2Ocean Trail, a 300km traffic free cycle trail that leads on gravel road from New Zealand’s highest peak all the way to the Pacific Ocean, past glacial-fed lakes, giant hydro dams, golden grasslands, rugged limestone cliffs and Maori rock art, vivid testimonials of a human habitation dating back hundreds of years.

Tranquil Mountian Creek

Before reaching the coastline, we turned further south crossing Danseys Pass. With more than 1200m total elevation gain, this pass with its extremely steep gravel road sucker punched us twice just when we thought it possibly can’t get any higher 🙂 But nevertheless we didn’t regret our choice as we spend two peaceful days in one of New Zealand’s most gorgeous campgrounds situated directly at a tranquil mountain creek half the way up the pass (or what we mistook as the half, a misjudgment that should hit us hard as things turned out later ^^)

Old Post Office

The cute little village of Naseby right after the pass with its mixture of saloon styled bars and 19th century brick buildings, came as a pleasant surprise (that the town is obsessed with the fairly insignificant world of New Zealand’s curling scene, indicates that life is still moving slowly here) and the chilled cider at the local, lost-in-time pub did the rest to pay off for our hurting legs.

Sunrise in Otago

Following our good experiences with the Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail, we continued our journey south along the Otago Central Rail Trail. Named after the old railway line, built at the end of the 19th century to link tiny, charming goldrush towns, the Otago Central Rail Trail travels through big-sky country traversing dry and rocky landscapes, high-country sheep stations, spectacular river gorges, pitch-dark tunnels, old wooden rail bridges, tiny villages with still-present pioneering spirit and provides gobsmacking scenery and profound remoteness.

This Trail is not made for heavy loaded Touring Bikes

This trail connects seamlessly with the Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the Clutha Gold Trail showcasing the area’s history of early Maori Moa hunters, Chinese gold miners and European pastoral farming. Despite the fact that these cycle trails with their steep grades, deep gravel sections and tight sandy curves are really not made for heavy loaded touring bikes – but are rather trafficked by all spruced up, city slicker mountain bikers, we enjoyed following the mighty Clutha Mata-au River as it weaves through cooling pine forests, past abandoned sawmills and lonely graves and traverses the spectacular Hidden Valley, before it joins its waters with the Roxburgh reservoir, an inviting place for a quick dip into the freezing cold waters. This trail ride found a glorious ending in Beaumount, where we extensively celebrated Otago as one of the country’s top wine regions with some fellow cyclists 🙂

Southland

Named after Gold NuggetsFrom this point on, less than 200km were lying between us and the country’s southernmost point. To reach this special spot, we followed the Southern Scenic Route and this road really lives up to its name! Weaving through the Catlins Region it traverses green rolling hills dotted with white spots of freshly sheared sheep searching shelter under wind-bent trees, crossing mystique, mist-shrouded pine forests, passing spectacular rugged coastline, wind-tossed headlands, lonely lighthouses with only a family of seals as neighbors, and wide-stretched, empty beaches where you can watch dolphins playing in the waves or step back in time in a half-sunken petrified forest.

Southernmost Point!Facing the severest wind and weather conditions we were confronted with since the beginning of our journey – with Antarctic Southerly gusts up to 90km/h and regular showers – kilometer for kilometer, we slowly fought our way south until we reached the southernmost point we’ve ever been! It was a truly unique feeling to stand at this wind-swept cliff after thousands of hard-earned kilometers and look out to the ocean, knowing that there are only white crested waves between you and the endless vastness of the Antarctica.