A week ago I returned home having solo cycled the South Island leg of the Tour Aotearoa. I started the trip in Wellington, caught the ferry to Picton and then following the tour route all the way to Bluff. From Bluff, I traveled to Stewart Island for a few days and then cycled to Dunedin airport to fly back to Melbourne. In total the whole trip took 22 days (including rest days) and I covered 1,500km on my trusty Jamis Renegade, pictured above. It was my first-time cycle touring anything longer than an overnighter. I loved every moment of it.
I loved the physical challenge of riding hour after hour and day after day. Over hills, against the wind, and into the rain. As humans, I believe that our natural state is to be outdoors and active. When we’re fit, healthy and giving our bodies the exercise that it needs then we feel great about it. Touring conspires to create a positive feedback loop where we quickly adjust to the demands placed on our body, become strong, enjoy being strong and thus keep pushing further. I finished this trip feeling fitter then I’ve ever been and mentally in a very good place.
Much like long-distance hiking, I loved the minimalist constraints imposed by the necessity to travel light. I made one gear mistake in that my sleeping bag was too heavy and took up almost all of one pannier. Otherwise, I was able to travel the length of the South Island with an $80 tent, travel mattress, a few changes of clothes, some bike repair gear, a small stove, and some electronic gadgets. It’s liberating to be able to let go of all the extra clutter we carry with us through life and get back to the basics. When preparing for this trip I made the conscious decision not to buy new stuff, even if the gear that I owned was less then ideal. I’m happy I did this as it not only taught me about how little I really need to get by on but also that I already own most of those necessities already.
Finally, I really loved New Zealand. Since moving to Australia three years ago I haven’t seen much of NZ beyond Wellington so this was a great chance to explore the country, without sitting in a car. I also got to see NZ from a tourists perspective. On the trail, the vast majority of cyclists were from overseas. I only met 3 other kiwis doing the ride. I learned that the locals really are as friendly as everyone says. The scenery was fabulous. There are lots of other beautiful places in the world but New Zealand still lacks the crowds and associated development that have overrun most other tourism hotspots. The work that the Department of Conservation has done in the national parks, camping grounds, walks and scenic reserves is outstanding. The variety of landscape and the excellent infrastructure made NZ a great place for me to have my first try at bike touring. With this amazing experience, I feel I’m now ready to take on Australia and much longer tours.