My year in Australia ended as it began: With a flight, even though I don’t like flying at all. Not that I’m scared of it, but it’s a too fast way of travelling for me. Not to mention it’s absolutely not environmentally friendly. For the 2000 kilometer a plane needs just three hours. On my bike I would have needed a few weeks for the same distance. Taking a boat over the Tasman Sea would have made much more sense to me, but there aren’t many possibilities. Joining a containership would have been a way to expensive and for a private yacht you need to be very lucky. So I had no other choice to pack my bike into a cardboard box and to pray that it will survive the flight.
My plane arrived late at night in Auckland. The visa stamp was easy to get, but afterwards everybody had to line up for the bio screening. New Zealand is probably one of the countries with the highest bio security, due to avoid bringing new pests and diseases into the local ecosystem. Especially the agriculture is afraid of it. Just recently some queensland fruit flies made it to New Zealand and they could have serious consequences for the farmers. All groceries as well as camping and other outdoor equipment must be declared. I scrubbed my bike as well as never before, but the officers weren’t really interest in controlling it anyway. Just my tent got inspected in a lab, after waiting 20 minutes I got it back and could leave the airport with all my gear.
It was after midnight and too late to show up at my Warmshowers host. As I was too tired to assemble my bike and ride 20 km into the city anyway, I decided to try to sleep on bench for a couple of hours. I slept much better than expected. I just got up, when the airport was getting crowded and loud again at 6am.
I knew that New Zealand is a popular destination for touring cyclists, though I haven’t expected to meet a few cyclists already on the airport. I bumped into Jason from England, when I started assembling my bike. But before finishing that we kept talking for over an hour about our trips. In Asia and Australia we’ve ridden basically the same route and it was awesome to talk about this experience with another cyclist. After a while Katherine, another cyclist, joined us and we started riding into town together.
We didn’t come far though. A bang interrupted us. First I thought it’s from a truck behind us, but then I saw Katherine’s flat tyre. The tube had exploded and damaged the tyre as well. A bike shop wasn’t too far away luckily. Later that day I arrived at my hosts Ben and Emilie and got a first impression of the great hospitality in New Zealand. They’ve even lived in Bonn for a while, maybe I’ve even seen them there. What a small world.
I was more than keen to start riding. Jason had same plans, so we decided to start together. We both haven’t been riding with someone else for a long time. We were used to do what we wanted to do, to our own pace without doing any compromises. I think if you travel alone for a longer time you getting a bit selfish. So we had no idea for how long it will last. However, I was looking forward not to ride alone for a while.
In Australia I was used to ride till sunset and then just camping somewhere in the bush. Here it seemed to be a bit more difficult. There’s lots of farmland and it’s all fenced, even the forests are fenced and not easily accessible. A few years back they had big problems mainly with tourists in campervans, who thought they don’t need toilets and don’t have to dig a hole either. That’s the reason why wild camping is not allowed anymore in many places
After riding out of Auckland and finally reaching rural area at the sea, we saw an awesome spot for our tents, but of course there were ‘no camping’ signs. We stopped and a local approached. While chatting about cycle touring, he mentioned that nobody would care, if we are camping there. Still unsure we asked two more people there and everyone said the same. Apparently New Zealander don’t take those signs too serious.
From the northern coast we headed inland towards the center of the North Island. It became hillier and the weather was as unpredictable as possible. Rain and sun changed nearly every hour. The same for the wind, sometimes a strong tailwind pushed us and a bit later an annoying headwind slowed us down.
We passed the film location for ‘Hobbiton’ from the Lord of the Rings movies. A tour through the old set was ridiculous expensive though, but the landscape looked really like Tolkien had described it in his books. Green hills everywhere.
Finding places to sleep was easy. Usually we just asked if we can pitch our tents, as we didn’t want to just jump over fences. One day we asked a local teacher and he unlocked us straight away a storage room in his school for the night. Luckily for us, as the night was really stormy.
After a few days we reached Taupo in the middle of the North Island. Lake Taupo is largest lake in New Zealand and was formed through a huge volcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. Unfortunately we couldn’t see much from the lake as it foggy and raining the whole time. However, we enjoyed Taupo, thanks to the free hot springs, where we spent a couple of hours. A dream for cyclists.
From the lake it was going uphill towards the Tongariro range. Just as we finished climbing the sky cleared and we had a fantastic view on the volcanoes. It was nearly dark and an icy wind blew down from the snowy mountains. We asked at one of the few houses up there if it would be alright to camp on the other site of the road at the edge of a forest. Of course it wasn’t a problem and Matthew, who was living with his wife in that house, even invited us to camp on his property. Despite the cold he joined us while we were cooking and started telling fabulous stories about his Maori tribe. How they arrived in New Zealand centuries ago, about the meaning of volcanoes and about the conflicts with the first British settlers. He spoke partly in Maori and partly in English, mixes facts with Legends, what made listening very fascinating. It was without any doubt a special night.
On the next morning he woke us up at 6 o’clock, so we could join him fishing at the nearby river. He didn’t use a fishing rod though, but just a net. While Jason and I had to throw rocks into the deeper sections of the river he was standing in the water waiting for the trouts to swim into the net. And it worked. After a few tries he caught two rainbow trouts. Matthew gave us one, so I had to use my gut fish gutting skills for a long time again. Luckily my grandfather taught me that years ago. Jason made a fire and we had great breakfast.
Just as we wanted to ride on, Chigusa from Japan cycled past us. We joined her and the next 30 kilometers the road leaded us along the volcanoes, what was definitely the best road in New Zealand so far. Especially the Ngauruhoe stands out of the range with its conic shape. It’s not surprising that Peter Jackson chose this mountain as Mount Doom for the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s still quite young and one of the most active volcanoes in New Zealand. In the 20th century there were more than 40 eruptions. A bit further south is the 2797 high Ruapehu, who is the highest mountain on the North Island.
Unfortunately due to the bad weather on the previous days, it was too much snow on the range and it was too windy as well to go hiking. Hopefully I’m luckier when I pass this area again on my way back to Auckland.
From the plateau it was long descend towards the west coast. The road to Whanganui was affected by a large flood a couple of months ago. Several landslides destroyed the road and there were still plenty of constructions going on. Good for us cause there was not much traffic going on.
On the way to Wellington we were blown away again by the overwhelming hospitality. Just before sunset we were descending from hill. The wind was icy and we were desperately looking for a place to camp. But even though there weren’t any house for a while, all the land was fenced or just not suitable for our tents. At the first house we’ve seen Jason asked if could camp on their lawn for a night, but they literally dragged us into their house, offered us a room to sleep in and made a hot cup tea. Instead of sitting in a cold tent, we spent the night next to a comfy fireplace with wonderful people.
Before we got into Wellington, we had to climb some hills again. We chose the Rimutaka Rail Trail over the busy road. As it was an old railway track, we thought it couldn’t be too steep. We were wrong though and the wind was blowing as hell around us, but it was still a great track. A couple of times we had to pass some old tunnel, the longest one was a few hundred meters long and you could just see a little light in the distance. Once we reach the top, it was long descend down to Wellington.