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CYCLING IN NEW ZEALAND: PART TWO

COMPLETE CIRCUIT OF THE SOUTH ISLAND

A Ride of 1,985 miles (3,176 km), the second part of a 4,641-mile (7,425 km), 5-month complete circuit of both Islands, from Cape Reinga in the North to Stewart Island in the South, starting and finishing in Auckland

Part Two. Riding a Circuit of the South Island (1,985 miles,  or 3,176 km)

Barry and Margaret Williamson

Here is an NZ2000_(23).jpgedited version of the diary we kept when we cycled round New Zealand in 2000/1. Starting from Auckland, we rode up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of North Island, then followed the east coast of North Island down to Wellington for the Inter-Islander ferry to Picton at the top of South Island. We followed the west coast route down to Bluff at the southernmost point of the South Island, then took a ferry to Stewart Island, a mile off-shore to the south.

Returning to the mainland, we cycled north up the east coast of NZ2000_(39).jpgSouth Island, making detours to the west coast and back in order to climb all of the road passes in the Southern Alps. After the ferry back to Wellington, we followed the west coast of North Island as far as Auckland, for a flight to Fiji.

After a week's NZ2000_(25).jpgcycling in Fiji we flew on to Los Angeles, to cycle across the States to Key West in Florida: the southernmost point of the Continental USA. All this was part of a one-year round-the-world journey totalling 12,000 miles (19,200 km), which included Singapore, the crossing of Australia (Perth to Brisbane), New Zealand, Fiji and the crossing of the USA.

Tables of distances and times for the ride in New Zealand and for the complete round-the-world bicycle ride are given at the end of this diary.

For the full account of the preceding ride south through the North Island, click: Cycling 3,025 km (1,891 miles) South through the North Island

For the full account of the succeeding ride north through the North Island, click: Cycling 1,224 km (765 miles) North through the North Island

For images of the ride across New Zealand, click: Cycling in New Zealand

For the ride across Australia, click: Australia Coast to Coast

For the ride across the USA, click: USA Coast to Coast

For images of the ride across Australia, click: Cycling across Australia

For images of the ride across the USA, click: Cycling across the USA

Here is a Map of the Route in the North Island of New Zealand

northisland_track_1[1].jpg

 

 

Outward Route is shown in yellow

 

Return Route is shown in blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a Map of the Route in the South Island of New Zealand

southisland_track_1[1].jpg

 

 

 

Outward Route is shown in yellow

 

Return Route is shown in blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day by Day Diary of the Ride round South Island

This part of the Travel Log describes the ride round the South Island of New Zealand, starting as we catch the ferry in Wellington. For the full account of the preceding ride south through the North Island, click: Cycling 3,025 km (1,891 miles) through the North Island

13 November 2000   Picton, South Island – Blue Anchor Holiday Park (TopTen)   19 km

With less than 10 miles to ride to the ferry terminal, we paused for hot chocolate in Petone on the way. Also had an intelligent conversation with an American cyclist, mending a puncture on his racing bike at the side of the cycle path.

The Interislander ferry 'Aratere' sailed smoothly across Cook Strait to South Island, taking 3 hours. The final hour through the inlets of Marlborough Sound was beautiful. Landing in Picton – 'Gateway to the Mainland' – it felt warmer and sunnier out of the wind.

There were plenty of motels and hotels, as well as a Top Ten campsite near the ferry terminal, where most of the motorhomes headed. We'd booked a Tourist Flat there, and also reserved it for our return on 23 January. See www.blueanchor.co.nz.

14 November 2000   Pelorus Bridge – DoC (Dept of Conservation) Camping Cabin   57 km

As we rode into Picton to book our return ferry to Wellington (for 10.30 am on 24 January), we met a lone cyclist from Kent, heading for the ferry after visiting relatives. She was the first of several riders we met today – South Island is clearly a more popular holiday destination than the North, where we saw very few bikes.

Climbing out of Picton, we were overtaken by a procession of rented campervans off the morning ferry. We did have (German) words with the driver of one motorhome that pushed dangerously past us before stopping to take photos. We made coffee at the water's edge overlooking Queen Charlotte's Sound, while talking to 2 old couples on holiday from Whakatane.

Then a quiet rolling road took us towards Havelock, the 'Green Mussel Capital of NZ'. Just before the descent to Havelock we met the Australian brothers, last seen in Cormandel on 9 October! They'd been delayed by problems (a dose of flu and the need to have a wheel respoked) and had made up time by taking a train from Napier to Wellington. Since then, they'd ridden right round South Island and were heading for Picton and tomorrow's ferry.

We had lunch (but not mussels) in a bakery/tearooms, before joining the SH6 from Blenheim on a warm sunny afternoon. This road was busier, with some trucks but no serious hills. We paused to talk to a younger pair of cyclists (she from Alaska, he from Toronto), also heading back to Picton.

The forest became denser, with lush fern trees, as we rode through the Gold Rush area of Canvastown until we reached the DoC Tearooms. We took the only accommodation here – one of the simple camping cabins in the woods, by a high narrow bridge over the River Pelorus - and bought some food, and post cards to send to our new friends at Glenross Lodge (Pauline & George and Harvey & Chrissy).

We are camped by the fourth of the bridges built over the river here since the 1880's, before which a ferry crossed. It was the main coach route from Nelson to Blenheim with a coaching inn here, long gone.

15 November 2000   Nelson – Nelson Cabins & Caravan Park   62 km

From Pelorus Bridge we rode along the Rai Valley, through the Gold Rush settlement of Rai village, before a steady climb over the Rai Saddle (247 m/815 ft).

On a level stretch before the steeper Whangamoa Saddle (357 m/1,200 ft), we were joined by a young German cycling couple from Karlsruhe, who had come out for 18 months (via Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia – now bound for South America). They left us to enjoy the climb at our own pace, stopping to lunch once we were over the top of the Saddle at the Graham Stream picnic area.

After these 2 long climbs, then a smaller one over Gentle Annie Saddle (105m/350 ft), the final 12 km was flat, alongside Tasman Bay and into Nelson – NZ's tenth largest (and supposedly sunniest) town. Here we caught up once more with the German cyclists, talking to a lone Dutch woman who had been riding in Canada and the USA before flying across from Los Angeles. This intrepid traveller, a fan of Josie Dew, gave us Josie's third book 'A Ride into the Sun' (689 pages of cycling in Japan). Barry responded with Ffiona Campbell's walk across Australia, as our new friend was bound for Oz and had read Ffiona's book about walking in Africa. After a long and interesting talk, we left the 3 cyclists (intending to camp in the YHA garden) and headed for the Cabins/Caravan Park, which didn't allow tents.

Dropping our mobile phone in at a Vodafone shop for recharging, we were delayed by talking to yet another pair of German cyclists, from Freiburg. Caught in a short but heavy downpour, we finally arrived at Nelson Cabins/CP feeling cold, wet and thirsty. A warm welcome from the owners (a gentle old chap and his aged mother) revived us and we walked down to the local Four-square Store once the rain stopped, to sample the recommended fish & chips.

It had been a heady day of hill-climbing and shared experiences, meeting 5 other cyclists (plus 4 yesterday). More than we met in 2 months on North Island!

16 November 2000   Kohatu – Kohatu Hotel   58 km

After collecting our phone (fully charged – no charge!), we crossed 10 miles (16 km) of flat suburban sprawl from Nelson to Richmond. A good sealed cycle path avoided much of the traffic into Richmond, along the Railway Reserve (an old track). The only problem was riding into a very strong south-west wind. After buying bread, a paper and mugs of coffee we pushed on, past the tempting Top Ten Holiday Park, through fruit farms, orchards and vineyards.

Just past Brightwater we stopped at an interesting modern memorial, near the birthplace of Lord Ernest Rutherford of Nelson. 'The Father of Modern Physics', Rutherford was one of 12 children of a poor farming family, his paternal grandparents having emigrated from Britain in the 19th C. He studied at Christchurch, here on South Island, then went on to Trinity College in Cambridge for postgraduate research, remaining to work in the UK.

Riding on, still with a strong head wind and climbing gradually, we stopped at the next village, Wakefield, to make lunch. Our next break, after 43 km, was for a pot of tea at a pub in Belgrove, the last place before the climb over Spooner's Saddle at 464 m/1,530 ft. There were a few logging trucks on the road but it was wide enough for safety. Our chief enemy was the wind: so strong at the top that we were both blown across the road, Margaret toppling over and breaking a rear pannier fixing. We were forced to walk a short stretch before the steep winding descent to Norris Stream.

At last we reached the shelter of a wide forested valley until we reached Kohatu. Luckily the hotel, recently taken over and refurbished, had one en-suite room available. It had seemed a long hard day, though in fact we arrived at 4.45 pm. Barry made a temporary repair to Margaret's broken pannier bag attachment.

Tea and coffee flowed freely in the bar, where we dined well on chicken schnitzel and salad, then slept soundly despite the music.

17 November 2000   Murchison – Penmans Motel   79 km

Away by 8.15 am, still into a head wind, we climbed gently at first through a wide valley with sheep, cattle and deer farms.

We made coffee in a sunny grassy clearing before tackling the steep Hope Saddle. At 634 m/2,100 ft, it's the highest we've climbed in NZ so far, reaching the summit 25 km after Kohatu. Coming down, we passed the Glenhope Bikepackers Hostel, then dropped to Kawatiri Junction at 360 m/1,200 ft. Heavy rain fell as we read the information board, about the ambitious Nelson-Westport Railway project, which ran from Westport to Kawatiri but was never finished. The tunnel remains open for a short walk.

Riding on through the showers, the wind got stronger. The road rolled downstream to Gowan Bridge, where it was too wet and windy to picnic. We lunched further along at Owen River Tavern, run by a Chinese family – soup and eggs on toast, with a distinct Chinese flavour! Continuing along the Buller River gorge (limestone, with steep bush-clad sides), we finally reached Murchison village, the site of a serious earthquake in 1929, when one side of the road was raised 14.75 ft (4.5 m) above the other. The inhabitants were evacuated to Nelson, with the loss of a few lives.

The Kiwi Group campsite had no cabins vacant (it's Friday) but we found a reasonable motel in the same street. The TV news described the present weather as a cold snap with snow on the tops and hail on the east coast. Cold south winds were forecast to continue. We took the precaution of phoning to book accommodation for the next week, taking us as far as Greymouth (west coast).

In the village shop we met a pair of tall young men who were out cycling for a couple of weeks – one from Boston, USA, but working in Auckland; the other from Birmingham, visiting his brother in Wellington. They had met at a cycle race in Australia, so we guess we'll not see them again!

18 November 2000   Inangahua Junction – Inwood Farm Backpackers Hostel   51 km

Still cold and showery, with a lighter wind from the south, as we continued to follow the Buller River through its gorge, past NZ's longest suspension bridge. Here the cafι charged 3 dollars to walk across the bridge – or more to perform various deviations in a harness! We didn't linger, making coffee at the roadside further along, just before steady rain set in.

We passed Lyell Historic Reserve (a ghost goldmining village), crossed the Buller on the old Iron Bridge, climbed uphill and swooped down until Inangahua village. It was hard to imagine that several thousand people once lived in the gorge, arriving on barges to prospect for gold. Inangahua boasted a single shop, doubling as a cafι, post office, bar and video hire place.

We were directed to the backpackers hostel (the only accommodation of any kind), in an old house next to a farm just over the railway line, which is still used by freight trains. The hostel had one twin-room (which we'd booked), one with 3 beds, and a 4-bedded bunk room. There was no-one to be found but our beds were made up, complete with electric blankets. As rain poured all afternoon, continuing to Westport was not an attractive alternative.

We shared the small kitchen and the toilet/shower with a single Canadian woman, who arrived later in a van. Our housemate proved to be quite a character, having cooked for oil-men in the far north of Canada, picked fruit in Tasmania, toured NZ 20 years ago by bicycle, worked on farms and at Youth Hostels, and spent a year with the women at Greenham Common. Quite a CV. Recently she had won some money on the Canadian lottery, which paid for this return visit to Australia and NZ!

When 3 noisy young men turned up in the evening, we withdrew to our room.

19 November 2000   Westport – Westport Holiday Park   53 km

After breakfast we found the hostel owners at the farmhouse, then made our escape as the rain stopped at last. After 10 miles along the 'Mighty Buller' river, we had coffee in the Berlins pub, named after a former owner. Chatting with the ex-seaman now runnig it, we were told that by volume the Buller is the biggest river in the Southern Hemisphere (forget the Amazon?)

Early photos in the bar showed the brief stretch of narrow overhung gorge, Hawks Crag, that lay ahead of us. A sepia stagecoach was perched perilously above the drop! We were relieved to find the precipice guarded by a handrail, at least, when we reached it. Continuing, past Fern Arch Half Bridge, we reached the river mouth about 25 miles/40 km from Inangahua, marked by the Buller Adventure Tours rafting centre.

Rather than turning south for Greymouth, we made a short detour northwards to Westport, where we met a lone Austrian cyclist on the bridge. An early riser, he had already ridden the 100 km from Murchison today! Westport once served the gold mines here – nowadays, it ships coal.

After checking into the campsite, where we had a wooden en-suite wigwam, we went to eat at the Do-Duck-Inn cafι. Lunch was enlivened by Rick, a wonderful cartoon-painter, who was decorating the cafι windows (from the outside) ready for Christmas. He insisted on buying us each a hot blackcurrant drink, while explaining the story of Renoir's 'Blue Umbrellas'.

We were joined by the Austrian cyclist, who talked in broken English and half-understood Austro-German. With just 8 weeks in NZ, he was riding from the top of North Island to the bottom of South Island – non-stop! (We took 5 months over a similar journey!) He had also cycled in Alaska and South America but appeared to have no maps or guide books, nor any idea of distances or towns here.

The afternoon was spent on laundry and shopping, finding Kodak film and a bank. Hoping to replace Margaret's worn rear panniers, we tried Westport's 2 cycle shops in vain. They stocked only one inferior and smaller set of bags, imported and expensive.

In the evening we watched a TV Special – the very last episode of 'Inspector Morse', a well-directed 2-hour drama in which the Chief Inspector dies of a heart attack.

20 November 2000   Punakaiki – Paparoa Park Motel   53 km

The day began with a 10-mile ride out to Cape Foulwind (another of Captain Cook's evocative names), past the cement works to Tauranga Bay's seal colony. These New Zealand Fur Seals, once eaten by Maori and hunted for fur, are now protected. At the end of a 4-km coastal track, we took a 10-minute walk to a viewing platform. There were no young yet but about 2 dozen adults were in the sea or lying, well camouflaged, on the rocks. Delicious coffee and cakes followed, round the bay at the Bay House Cafι & Art Gallery. It had won 'Best Cafι on the West Coast' for the last 2 years, due as much to its superb view as to its food.

We rejoined the main road SH6 south of Westport, after a detour through deer farms where we saw plenty of the flightless Weka birds (like a cross between a kiwi and a duck) and watched a light plane repeatedly landing to spray crops.

After riding 15 miles inland, in a cold dry wind, we regained the coast, stopping at the old gold mining settlement of Charleston, after Costello Hill. In the 1870's it was a booming town, spreading along the Nile River. Today, with a population of 285, it just has a motel, cafι and campsite. We bought lunch before continuing over the rugged coast road, into the Paparoa National Park.

Our route crossed several bluffs, climbing 3 steep hills. Pakihi Hill reached 200 m/660 ft before dropping to Fox River, where a historic bridge lay alongside a newer one. Then came Perpendicular Hill (lower, but steeper, with 2 km up and 2 km down), followed by 10 miles of undulations.

Our Lonely Planet guidebook compared this coast, with its splendid beaches and limestone rock formations sculpted by the Roaring 40's Winds, with California's Big Sur. As we passed the well-named Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, heavy rain began and we were glad to reach the excellent new motel about a mile beyond the rocks.

After supper (cooked in our room) we walked out to the Glow-worm Dell in the motel's moist and luxuriant garden. The world's most southerly palm trees flourish in this area and the worms glowed beautifully. It's a remote spot (no mobile phone signal and only one TV channel) but it's rapidly developing, with a new tourist complex under construction3 right on the beach.

21 November 2000   Greymouth – Seaside Holiday Park (Top Ten)   52 km

Starting early, NZ2000_(18).jpgwe rode back to the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki to see the Blowholes, but we'd missed the high tide at 5 am and they weren't blowing much! We took the tourist-safe walkway, affording 10 minutes of seascapes and a view of the limestone rocks at Dolomite Point, which have weathered into caverns and pancake stacks. Here is the world's only breeding colony of Black Petrel seabirds, though we didn't spot any (nor any dolphins).

We talked to a pair of Swiss lads, just out for 3 weeks' cycling, then returned to the motel for coffee. The superb coast road continued south through Barrytown (where we made tea outside the closed Barrytown Tavern), past Barkers Creek and on to Rapahoe. Several small climbs and descents followed, mostly with a back wind from the north, between steep bush-clad hillsides and the rock-studded sea. A couple from Melbourne overtook us on a tandem, allowing a brief conversation!

We came to the mining village of Runanga, from where it was 5 miles to the bridge over the wide Grey River, and so to Greymouth (pop 10,000). The largest town on the west coast of South Island, it is known for its gold mining history and the still- working Westland Brewery. Our mail (from England and Australia) safely awaited us at the post office.

We settled into a tourist flat at the Top Ten park by the beach, a mile or so south of the town past the airport. (See www.top10greymouth.co.nz)

22 November 2000   At Greymouth – Seaside Holiday Park (Top Ten)   9 km

After reading our post, we walked to the nearby New World Supermarket. Also phoned to arrange accommodation for the next 4 places along our route, rang Qantas in Christchurch to confirm flights and booked a hire care for a day.

Cycled into Greymouth on a very windy afternoon, to leave 6 films for developing and to get more business cards printed at the newspaper office. Dodging the rain showers, we admired Greymouth's flood wall along the harbour. We hope it holds – the current news is of serious flooding in New South Wales (Australia), round Tamworth and Warren. In Lancashire (England), too, the River Wyre has flooded Kneps Farm, a campsite we use in Margaret's native village of Thornton.

At 7 pm prompt the hire car was delivered to our door: a dark blue Nissan Pulsar, ours for 24 hours. We aimed to drive it to Christchurch (and back), to check the route over Arthur's and Porter's Passes - and the accommodation possibilities for cycling it.

23 November 2000   At Greymouth – Seaside Holiday Park (Top Ten)   (528 km – By car!)

We set off in the car at 7 am, with blue skies and sunshine glinting on the snow as we crossed Arthur's Pass to Christchurch – a 3.5 hour drive on a narrow slow road. Nearing the top there was a 5-minute delay for the road work, where a new viaduct is almost finished, and more beyond the summit, where the steepest section is being improved. The surface was 'rough as guts' (to quote an AA-man in the queue) and will be a challenge for cycling (or walking). Outside the air was thin.

The pass (924 m or 3,050 ft) is named after Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson, who found the route linking Christchurch with the gold fields of the west coast in 1864. A railway line followed in 1923, carrying coal and timber. We saw a goods train of coal wagons, and the TranzAlpine Express still takes passengers once a day in each direction, though 2 tickets cost more than the price of a day's car hire (we checked!)

The route passed several lakes (Pearson and Grassmere) and side roads to Craigieburn and other ski fields. Then came Porter's Pass (even higher at 945 m or 3,120 ft) before a swift descent to the village of Springfield. Crossing the alluvial Canterbury Plains, there were rural towns, leading to the suburbs of NZ's third largest city, Christchurch. The contrast between the rugged snowy mountains and the flattest driest area of the country was amazing.

Christchurch is an extremely 'English' city, with an Anglican Cathedral built in 1881 on the main square. Historic trams rattled round the centre and there was boating on the River Avon. We were ready for coffee and donuts before checking the several cycle shops for new tyres and panniers (nothing suitable). Also had to call at the Qantas office to collect amended tickets.

After a quick lunch (McDonad's), we watched a military parade in Cathedral Square. A United Nations battalion had just returned from peace-keeping duty in East Timor. With blue berets and wicked-looking rifles, the men stood to attention for inspection as a good brass band and big drums played. A pair of Maori soldiers held spears.

After they had fallen out, the square resumed normal life, with stalls, jugglers, buskers and The Wizard (a Christchurch regular, in black velvet robes and pointed hat) who ranted on against feminism, like a Hyde Park Corner eccentric.

At 3 pm we had to set off back, with a deadline for returning the car. As we drove across the flats, approaching the scenic snowcapped peaks, we tried to imagine cycling the route, as we plan to do in January. Distances and places to eat or sleep were all noted. We made one stop for refreshments at Springfield Store and Tearoom, run by a friendly Dutch couple. They told us about the nearby Hostel, also Dutch-run, which we hope to use.

Arriving at Greymouth on time at 7 pm, we filled the car (amazed at how little petrol it had used), left it at a house near our campsite (as instructed) and walked home. It had been a very strange day, travelling so far, so fast, so easily. After months of simply cycling, it seemed unreal.

24 November 2000   At Greymouth – Seaside Holiday Park (Top Ten)   16 km

Cycled into Greymouth to collect our photos (taken with the new Pentax and beautifully printed) and business cards. Also got birthday cards for M's mother and brother, a packet of NZ flower seeds (Chatham Island Blues) and a tea towel. It's hard to find gifts that are easy to post overseas!

At a street stall, run by a pair of Salvation Army stalwarts, we bought some home-baking and a calendar. We couldn't resist the delightful little old lady, originally from Liverpool, her lovely face framed by the Sally Army bonnet. Thanks to her, we lunched on delicious quiche and chocolate cake back at the campsite.

Looking through the photos, we were reminded just how different Australia had been. We could hardly believe what we'd ridden! Rather than carrying them round with us, we made up a parcel, sending most of them to M's family, along with cards, calendar, tea-towel and seeds.

Returning from our final ride to the post office and supermarket, we met 2 Canadian cyclists. These lads told us the good news that California's West Coast Cycleway runs right past Los Angeles airport – something to look forward to next year.

With more heavy rain and a strong wind from the north, the TV reported snow in Dunedin. And this is summer!

25 November 2000   Ross – Ross Motel   66 km

There was a strong side/head wind from the south-west, though no hills along our route. Riding by the grey sea, past grazing deer, sheep and Jersey cattle, we made coffee at the roadside. Two of the narrow bridges we crossed carried railway lines that shared our lane – a bit alarming!

Lunch in a cafι in Hokitika, which was busy with name-tagged American tourists fresh off the bus. The tea and sandwiches were excellent and Oscar, the enormous silver tabby, remained unmoved by the crowd. Hokitika is famous for its greenstone (jade) jewellery, with local factories supplying the souvenir shops.

More usefully, we found an excellent cycle shop with 2 tyres (Conti Top Touring 2000). They are a good fit: size 32, rather than 35. Sold! Hokitika proved to have the last cycle shop, bank or pharmacy until Wanaka, 450 km further on. From here the road turned slightly inland, through some native bush, giving a little shelter and the chance to brew up among the tall fern trees.

The small village of Ross lies just past a working gold mine. The motel (6 units) is run by the village store/petrol station (which must be another goldmine!) The owner kindly let us use the motel laundry free of charge.

26 November 2000   Harihari – Tomasi Motel   47 km

Today's ride was through rolling bush country, with a lighter side wind. We climbed off-road to a pioneer monument/trig point from which there was a view of the coast – mostly flat or undulating.

Reto Steiner,NZ2000_(19).jpg the Swiss cyclist we'd met earlier, caught up with us. Last seen in Greymouth, his friend had taken a train from there to Christchurch, leaving Reto to ride for another month. We cycled together to Pukekura and had coffee in the 'Sandfly' souvenir shop/cafι,NZ2000_(20).jpg where all the tourist coaches stop. (Sadly, the simpler place opposite was closed.) Reto had enjoyed NZ's lush rainforest (if not the lush rain) but was unimpressed by the Southern Alps – after all, he hails from Interlaken, with mountains and glaciers on his doorstep! As we left the cafι a slick pair of super-bikers from Colorado paused to talk. Each towing a trailer, they were touring the scenic bits of South Island, hopping on trains and buses in between.

Reto cycled on with them, leaving us to follow at our own pace. We passed Lake Ianthe and the 1,000-year-old giant Matai Tree, and on to Harihari. The name of this tiny farming village means 'A Song for Canoe-paddlers'. It comprised our motel (with simple rooms for backpackers and cyclists), a pub/hotel where we bought a take-away meal, and one store/tearooms that was closed.

With grey skies and rain showers, it was too cloudy to see the peaks of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman which lay ahead. Once again, there was no mobile phone signal.

27 November 2000   Franz Josef – Franz Josef Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   66 km

Still cool with showers threatening, though the wind had lightened. We soon climbed Mt Hercules (185 m or 610 ft) without problem (3 km up and 4 km down), before riding smaller hills through scenic reserves. Coffee was made sheltering under a bridge.

In the tearooms at Whataroa, half way to Franz Josef, we joined cyclists Franz and Caroline from Augsburg for lunch. They were making a bus-assisted tour round South Island for a month and had spotted us leaving Harihari as they got off the shuttle bus from Greymouth this morning! We are obviously on the tourist trail here. A convoy of hired Maui campervans rolled by, making side trips from Whataroa to the White Heron colony at Okarito Lagoon.

Continuing our ride, past Lakes Wahapo and Mapourika, we met our new Swiss friend Reto Steiner again. Last night he had camped at Okarito Lagoon. We rode the last few miles to Franz Josef together and shopped at its only store (between the souvenir shop and the Alpine Adventure Centre).

At the shabby campsite, just over the bridge, we booked into a Tourist Flat and Reto put his tent up. Later, the Germans we met at lunchtime arrived and took a cabin. As it poured with rain for the evening, we easily resisted their invitation to go back into the village for drinks after dark. Instead, we made some calls from the camp phone box, then enjoyed watching TV from a warm dry bed!

28 November 2000   At Franz Josef – Franz Josef Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)   10 km

As the rain had continued all night, the glacier and peaks lay below the mist, just occasionally shining through. We decided on a rest day.

Barry worked on our end-of-year newsletter and did some route-planning. M checked through our recent mail, dealt with the bank and wrote to Karrimor for a spare set of pannier clips.

Franz Josef was explored in 1865 by Julius Haast, who gave his name to the Haast Pass – and that of his Emperor to the glacier. Apparently, after retreating until 1985, the glacier is now advancing at about 70 cm per day!

After lunch the rain eased and we rode 4 km up the side-track to the Franz Josef Glacier car park. However, we couldn't continue on the 30-minute walk to a viewing platform, since cycles were forbidden. Guided tour buses were unloading mobs of intrepid travellers, armed with boots and ice picks for an afternoon glacier-walk. They could also have chosen a heli-hike, glacier flight, tandem sky-dive … you name it!

We continued into the village to shop, post letters and drink coffee in the Cheeky Kea Cafι (a Kea is an Alpine parrot, native to these parts – and cheeky). We bought a beautiful Paua (abalone) shell for Mum's Xmas present and a calendar for Uncle Harold, her brother.

29 November 2000   Fox Glacier – Fox Glacier Motor Park   26 km (+ 19 km)

After posting our Xmas presents, we continued on the short but strenuous ride to Fox Glacier (home of mints?)

After an initial 5 km of native forest came 3 major hills in 18 km! First was the Omoeroa Saddle (320 m or 1,050 ft), followed by Waikukupa (405 m or 1,340 ft). Then, brewing up by a rushing stream, we were joined by a younger man from Golden Bay (below Cape Farewell) who was cycling to Haast. Having set off with a bike-trailer, he had soon dumped it complete with tent, so he was now staying a backpacker hostels. Covered in tattoos, he looked mean and tough and we were glad to have him ride on ahead! He said Franz Josef had developed beyond recognition since his last visit, 8 years ago – tourism had gone mad.

The third climb, Cook Saddle at 410 m or 1,355 ft, was the steepest. We rested at the top, talking to a Dutch couple cycling the other way. Also early-retired, they too had cycled in Australia.

A long steep winding descent led to Fox Glacier, a lower-key version of Franz Josef. We headed straight for the campsite, which was much quieter and cleaner than the one we'd just left. Our wooden cabin was cheaper and better equipped – it even had a very welcome bath - with a view of snowy peaks from the windows: Mt Tasman (3,498m) and Mt Cook (NZ's highest at 3,754 m). Anything over 3,000 m or 10,000 ft is seriously alpine!

After lunch we cycled back to the village for the 10-mile-return ride to Glacier View, up a lovely track through the woods, emerging at a viewpoint. Then, in the single food shop, we met Henk and Karin Verouden: a young Dutch couple with a tandem and baggage trailer who had just arrived from Harihari in one day (well, tandems do go faster and they are 3 decades younger!) They'd seen us in Greymouth and assumed we were day-riders using a shuttle bus, so there was mutual admiration. They had used buses for some of their tour and told us they'd met several cyclists in NZ who had given up riding altogether, putting their bikes in store or trading them in for backpacks!

Henk and Karin put their tent up on our campsite and joined us in our cabin for dinner and an evening of great conversation. This enterprising couple had worked writing computer programs, currently lived in a motorhome around Europe and had taken a few months out to cycle in NZ. They had considered settling here, to start some kind of adventure-tourism business, until they saw that the potential clientele was mainly German or Japanese! We encouraged them to explore Greece and Turkey next winter, after hearing their horror stories of the Spanish Costas last year.

30 November 2000   At Fox Glacier – Fox Glacier Motor Park   12 km

WNZ2000_(21).jpge saw the Veroudens off after breakfast (aiming for Haast tonight – a 2-day ride for us). We all kept our promise to keep in touch: later they settled in France near Annecy, were blessed with 2 little sons and remained keen cyclists! (Click here to read Henk's later account of his preparation and attempt on the 1,200-km, 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris classic cycle ride). The morning was then spent on letter-writing, laundry and mending.

After lunch we cycled 5 miles return to Lake Matheson. However, only walking was allowed round the lake (a one-hour circuit) - NO CYCLING – so the 'View of Views' had to remain unviewed. There were so many helicopters and ski-planes buzzing in and out that we were reminded of watching 'Mash' (or any other programme about war in Korea orVietnam)!

In the village we shopped and posted letters but there was still no phone signal. Choice of 2 channels on TV for the evening.

1 December 2000   Lake Paringa – Paringa Lodge Motel   71 km

An easy 45-mile day with no serious climbs and no rain until just before the motel.

We crossed the Fox River on one of the many single-lane bridges that span the glacier-melt rivers along this part of the west coast, a narrow corridor between sea and mountains. At the start of the Copland Track (a mountain-walkers' pass over to Mt Cook), we found a bus shelter made a good place for brewing coffee. The 'Atomic Shuttle' bus passes once a day in each direction, complete with cycle trailer for those who have given up or run short of time.

Once over the Karangarua River, we climbed a short hill, then passed tiny settlements at Jacob's River and Bruce Bay, where the road briefly met the ocean. Here we had a picnic lunch under the verandah of the Community Hall before turning inland again, through dense lush rain-forest. We talked with a lone, very fit senior from Stuttgart, cycling towards us. He'd ridden from Haast today, has cycled widely in Europe (including St Petersburg and the Baltic Republics) and has motorhomed with his wife in Greece. So much to discuss!

At Lake Paringa our choice was the Lodge Motel/Cafι (right on the lake - overpriced for rich fishermen) or the very basic DoC campground. Heavy rain set in as we arrived at 2 pm, so the tent remained packed! We remained cosy, while it poured all night.

2 December 2000   Haast – Heritage Park Lodge (Motel)   57 km

Setting out between rain showers, we paused after 2 km near the DoC campground to talk to a pair of American cyclists coming the other way. Carrying numbers on their bikes and route plans (but no luggage), they proved to be the first of just 50 survivors of the 250-strong 'Odyssey 2000 Round the World Cycle Ride'. We had met them (in greater numbers) last March on a campsite in Sparta, Greece, when they seemed close to mutiny! We learnt that they were still riding very hard (Haast to Franz Josef today) and would soon return to the USA via Hawaii. The organiser (who follows in the sag-wagon) had charged them a further $3,000 each (in addition to the original $36,000) as he'd run out of money. There was talk of lawsuits. As we progressed towards Haast we passed a long staggered line of cyclists, very rarely riding in pairs. Perhaps none of them are speaking by now!

The rain grew heavier as we donned our new over-trousers and continued, past Lake Moeraki and its high-class Lodge. After 15 miles of forest and a break for lemonade and biscuits (too wet to brew up), there were 3 steep hills in 5 miles. The second climb, Knights Point at 200 m (660 ft), had a view of a watery seascape.

Descending past Ship Creek, we then had a level (if wet) ride across the wide Waita River. This was followed by NZ's longest one-lane bridge, over the Haast River: 730 m long, with 2 passing places. We passed the South Westland World Heritage Area Visitor Centre and a dead-end turn-off for historic Jackson Bay, a remote fishing village. Another 3 km brought us (dripping) to our motel, though the room was not ready – at 2 pm! Disappointed, we had a pot of tea in the adjacent Fantail Cafι.

At last we were able to change and wash out our wet clothes, before paddling across the flooded car park to a little supermarket behind the backpackers hostel. The surrounding hills had disappeared beneath clouds and behind sheets of rain. Haast is the wettest place in NZ, with about 9 m (30 ft) per year!

Later, we made a quick sortie to the nearby Smithy's Tavern for chicken & chips with a welcome cider. Tomorrow (Sunday)'s forecast is better.

3 December 2000    Makarora – Makarora Tourist Centre    80 km

An unbelievably sunny day, blue skies, with the rain all moved northwards.

A strong north-NZ2000_(22).jpgwest wind prevails from Haast to Wanaka, but we rode into an easterly across a few miles of flat open grazing land until the trees of the Haast Valley gave shelter. Following the river, we climbed gently as steep-sided bush-clad mountains loomed large, tumbling with streams and waterfalls, reminiscent of Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps. We stopped by the river at Roaring Billy Falls to make coffee and fixed a tall pennant onto the back of M's bike. It was one of a pair we found planted at the roadside, bearing the legend 'Vermont Bicycle Touring'. Perhaps they belonged to a couple who had given up riding here and caught the bus?

At Pleasant Flat, just after the confluence of the Haast and Landsborough Rivers, we made lunch at the DoC camping area, among the sandflies. Then we crossed the now wider Haast River to begin the climb over the famous Haast Pass, entering the Gates of Haast gorge after Thunder Creek Falls.

The first 4 km were very hard and very warm, drinking from our bottles, before another 5.5 km of gentler climbing and a final 1 km steep ascent to the summit. At 563 m (1,858 ft), Haast Pass is the lowest on the west coast and marks the border of Westland and Otago.

Resting at the top we talked with a serious cyclist from Dortmund, taking a few months out after completing his PhD in Electrical Engineering. Soon a pair of men from Sydney arrived, one riding a recumbent. They were all heading towards Haast and we advised the recumbent rider where he could find a pennant along the road!

The descent to Makaroa was through 18 km of beech forest and river flats, dropping gradually to 300 m (990 ft). Just past Cameron Flat (where there was more DoC camping) we met the young Canadian from Toronto, last seen riding near Havelock on 14 November (our first day on South Island). His Alaskan companion had now returned home, but he was still full of enthusiasm, especially to reach Wanaka.

At Makaroa Tourist Centre we got a nice A-frame wooden cabin, with cooking facilities and an outside toilet. Our neighbours, a young couple from Singapore taking a fortnight's holiday with a rented car, told us how hard they had to work.

A 6-seater plane awaited tourists taking the 'Siberia Experience': a 20-minute flight, a 3-hour bush-walk through the Siberia Valley and a 45-minute jet boat trip back. We settled for a good evening's rest, listening to bird song and trying to solve a fiendish wooden puzzle that someone had left in the cabin, made at Wanaka's 'Puzzling Place'.

4 December 2000    Wanaka – Lakeview Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)    68 km

From Makaroa (at 310 m or 1,020 ft) to Wanaka (275 m or 907 ft) was not downhill all the way and it became very hot, as the sun rose and the wind had fallen. The sandflies were out along the side of Lake Wanaka to our right.

At 405 m (1,337 ft) we crossed 'The Neck' linking to Lake Hawea, which is dammed at its southern end. More substantial climbs and descents took us over bluffs to Hawea Lookout (470 m or 1,550 ft). Here we had our first police warning about not wearing the helmets, which were on our rear carriers. We dutifully put them on, removing them again once the patrol car was out of sight – it was far too hot to don them for climbing!

Lake Hawea Village had a welcome tea & cake shop, before the final 16 km/10 miles past the old goldmining town of Albertville and into Wanaka, at the foot of Lake Wanaka, arriving early afternoon. As we passed the butcher's in town, we heard a call - "Hey, Round-theWorld-2000" (the words on our address cards). It was Rick, the shop window cartoonist met in Westport. We'd been admiring his work in various towns along the way, with Christmas-themed paintings appropriate to the business in question. Here he was finishing off a cartoon with sausage-men round the butcher's window. We stopped to talk and bought chicken breasts for supper.

The Holiday Park is right by the lake, 1 km west of the town centre. The only accommodation available (apart from our own tent – a last resort) was a superb 'tourist flat' at the entrance, formerly the owner's house. This was offered at the bargain price of NZ$ 59 per day, less 10% Kiwi Group members' discount. It had a huge bed-sitting room/kitchen, 2 other bedrooms (which were locked), a bathroom with bath, a private garden with washing line and a strawberry patch, the fruits already ripening in the summer sun - plus a wonderful view across the lake to the snowy peaks of the Mt Aspiring National Park (the eponymous Mt A reaching 3030 m or 9,999 ft). Hardly believing we had the place to ourselves, we booked 3 nights! See more at their website: Wanakalakeview.

5 December 2000    At Wanaka – Lakeview Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)

Even hotter, with no wind - we put sunscreen on for the 10-minute walk into town! At the 'Bits & Bytes' internet centre we typed the end-of-year newsletter we'd written, using Microsoft Word, and left with a disk and a printed copy, all for NZ$ 10.

After a snack at the Lakeside Bakery, we went shopping for food and a bike tyre (Top Touring 32). Also browsed a second-hand bookshop and found Freya Stark's 'Southern Gates of Arabia' for B, who has now passed Josie Dew's 689-page epic cycle tour of Japan 'Ride in the Neon Sun' to M.

Back at our new home, B replaced the brake blocks and rear tyre on his bike while M picked strawberries for tea. The newspaper crosswords then kept us busy until it was time for the weekly English Night on TV: Who wants to be a millionaire, Castaway, Blackadder, etc. Most afternoon programmes are actually British too: Emmerdale, Can't Cook – Won't Cook, Hetty Wainthrop, East Enders, and of course Coronation Street (known as 'Coro') every day. Luckily, we don't watch daytime TV!

Wanaka, a popular tourist resort with its spectacular lake and mountain views, was called Pembroke until 1940. It's still beautifully low-key (compared with Queenstown), allowing no boats on its peaceful 192-sq-km lake. Development has been blocked on the open green areas between the Holiday Park and the town (where the parachutists land). The main tourist presence was in the New World supermarket, where the Japanese were crowded round the meat and vegetable counters, amazed at the low prices!

6 December 2000    At Wanaka – Lakeview Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)    3 km

Still very sunny but with a strong north wind. A relaxing morning, doing laundry, strawberry picking and bicycle cleaning.

After lunch we cycled into town to shop and met a Swiss couple with tandem and trailer who had set out last May, riding through Canada and USA. They expressed disappointment with NZ, finding the scenery over-hyped (compared with Swiss Alps), the roads too busy and the tourists too numerous. They preferred the US, saying it was good for free-camping in public parks or church gardens. We shall see!

We packed ready to leave Wanaka (our favourite town so far) early tomorrow, when we ride NZ's highest road – the pass to Queenstown via the Crown Range.

7 December 2000    Queenstown – Lakeview Motor Park (Kiwi Group)    81 km

An excellent hard day's ride, with no problems except for wind gusting at the very top of the Crown Range road.

It began with a long gentle climb up the lovely quiet Cardrona Valley, past an old goldmining settlement. We were too early for coffee at the Cardrona Hotel (1865), which opened at 11 am. There was a tiny general store, a track leading up to the skifields and a cemetery. Looking round, a typical grave was that of an Italian-Swiss family, born in Switzerland in the 1870's, and buried with their only son, aged 16 months.

After 32 km/20 miles we made coffee by the stream; then the broad valley narrowed and climbed for another 8 km/5 miles to Crown Saddle. The last few km were very steep but at least the surface was newly sealed. Until recently, it had been gravel all the way from Cardrona. Gasping for breath, we rode slowly, content to be overtaken by a trio of young mountain-bikers. Oddly, one towed a trailer, one carried panniers and one had only a small backpack.

At the top NZ2000_(23).jpgwe had a splendid view of the snowy peaks of the Crown Range and a distant lake. What a wonderful sense of achievement – the country's highest through road, a highway indeed, at 1080 m (3.564 ft). We took a proud photograph before descending a much steeper narrower road, the first 4 km/2.5 miles still gravel. It was then undulating to Crown Terrace, including 3 km of very steep switchbacks. We had certainly climbed the gentler side, coming from Wanaka.

On meeting the busy SH6 (Queenstown–Cromwell) road, we turned right for Arrowtown, reaching it after a total of 60 km for a late picnic lunch in the lovely green park under tall beeches. Once the centre of a gold rush, the main street had a period atmosphere, the restored miners' cottages now turned into shops and cafes: very pleasant compared with Queenstown (a shock still to come). They sold good ice creams, too!

The final 20 km was across rolling country. We dropped down to cross the Shotover River on Edith Cavell Bridge at Arthur's Point (a centre for rafting and jet boats), then climbed again, joining busy traffic as we entered Queenstown. We'd booked accommodation at Creeksyde, the Top Ten Holiday Park, but it turned out to be a horrid little room above the noisy communal kitchen, with a toilet/basin along a corridor, so we rode on to check another of the Kiwi Group sites. At Lakeview Motor Park we found a motel unit with a balcony (plus view of Lake Wakatipu) and had excellent campsite fish & chips. It had been a superb day. For more details, visit www.holidaypark.net.nz.

8 December 2000    At Queenstown – Lakeview Motor Park (Kiwi Group)

Queenstown is, of course, named after Queen Victoria, who would not have been amused by the undisputed tourist mecca of NZ – the 'Adventure Capital'. It was a 5- minute walk from our wooded lakeside terrace into the brash and unplanned town centre. There was a good view of the Remarkables (mountains) across Lake Wakatipu but we much preferred the peace of Wanaka and our strawberry cottage.

We checked on the ferry across the lake to Walter Peak, which will be the route for our onward ride to Te Anau, then lunched at McDonalds. Shopping, we found every kind of trader chasing the tourist dollar. Jewellers sold local pearls and gold to tempt open the wallets of the wealthy Japanese, while the adrenalin junkies could buy bungee jumps, parachute drops and jet boat rides. Barry did succumb to a T-shirt with a kiwi on, and we bought envelopes (for the newsletters) and food.

9 December 2000    Mavora Lakes – DoC Camping Area    60 km

At 10 am we boarded the first cruise of the day on the vintage TSS (Twin Screw Steamer) Earnslaw, built in 1912 - the last survivor of a fleet of lake steamers. We landed at Walter Peak, on the western shore of Lake Wakatipu, 45 minutes later after a busy crossing. We had to eat good coffee and cakes, admire the gleaming brass and polished wood, listen to a large lady playing the piano and watch the stokers feed the boilers (1 ton of coal per hour). Jack, the Engineer, told us he dreamt of retirement and travel.

All the other passengers (with return tickets) disembarked for the NZ2000_(24).jpghorse-drawn wagon excursion to High Country Farm. They waved in puzzlement as we cycled off along the 2-day Back Track (a gravel road) to Te Anau. We were alone all the way, apart from cattle, sheep or an odd farm truck. It was a wonderful day, with warm sun and a back wind, on a short cut that avoided the traffic of SH6.

We rode along theNZ2000_(25).jpg lakeside to the next farm, Mt Nicolas Station, then climbed away from the lake up the Von Valley. Stopping to brew up by a stream fringed with pink and purple wild lupins, we were alone amidst the idyllic scenery of snow-tipped peaks and broad meadows. Then we crossed a saddle (or col) at about 700 m or 2,310 ft (Queenstown's lake lay at 310 m or 1,023 ft) and rode through a couple of streams. A wider river proved more difficult and we had to wade across, soaking our only shoes.

After 54 km/34 miles of good gravel road, we came to the turning for the NZ2000_(26).jpgMavora Lakes and DoC (Dept of Conservation) camping area, a rough 6-km detour to our right. As we were less than half way to Te Anau, the next known accommodation, we headed for the Lakes. An 'honesty box' requested NZ$ 10 for pitching a tent and we obeyed. We should have looked round first – we were robbed! The area was infested with sand flies, the only water supply was a stream (with a notice saying 'Treat before Drinking'), the only facility an earthen toilet (best avoided).

Undaunted, we put the tent up (for the first time since Australia), covered ourselves in insect repellent, dined on a tin of steak & kidney with instant mash and slept well. Our only neighbours were a couple arriving late in a car. There had been no sign of the (reputedly daily) Backtrack Bus.

10 December 2000    Te Anau – Mountain View Holiday Park (Top Ten)    73 km

Awoke to a cold overcast day, and the discovery that the new gas cylinder in our camp stove had leaked away. Breakfast was therefore washed down with cold squash, made with stream water that we couldn't boil! Luckily, we did have purifying tablets, which made it taste of chlorine.

By the time we rejoined the main track, after 6 km of rough lane, we were not in the best mood to appreciate the beauty of the Livingstone Mountains and the forest. After another 32 km/20 miles, we met a sealed road (SH94) for a long gradual descent to Te Anau.

The only village along the way, the Key, boasted nothing but a school, so we lunched on cold squash and a tin of sardines. Annoyingly, we soon passed a farm advertising Bed & Breakfast, which we might have ridden on to yesterday, had Queenstown's Tourist Office known of its existence!

In Te Anau the busy Top Ten campsite had every comfort we needed. Soon our dusty cycles were consigned to the garage, as we settled into a 'tourist flat' to rehydrate with plenty of tea and hot showers. This 5-star site (visit: www.teanautop10.co.nz) had won 'Best Camping in NZ: 1999' and the wardens were justifiably proud of the lovely gardens, with roses and honeysuckle right outside our door and fresh herbs growing by the kitchen.

11 December 2000    At Te Anau – Mountain View Holiday Park (Top Ten)

After cleaning and washing our kit, we walked to the nearby shopping centre to get food and camping gas cylinders. At the post office we made 65 photocopies of our 2-page end-of-year newsletter (one double-sided sheet, to save weight).

After lunch we looked through a pile of brochures from several car hire and coach tour companies, as well as the 3 boat operators sailing on Milford Sound. Deciding to rent a car for a day, we phoned to hire a Nissan Bluebird from Te Anau Rentals, and also booked 2 tickets for tomorrow's 3.30 pm Mitre Peak Cruises boat.

M prepared a supper of Spaghetti Bolognese and Trifle, and packed a picnic with chicken legs, crisps, fruit etc, for tomorrow's outing to Milford Sound.

12 December 2000    At Te Anau – Mountain View Holiday Park (Top Ten)    (275 km - By car)

At 8.40 am a 1993 slate-grey Nissan Bluebird automatic arrived, driven by a pony-tailed volunteer fireman. Running him back to the car hire office, we discovered he also had a leather workshop, a little dog and a Mrs (in that order!) This busy man dreamt of retirement on a round-the-world yacht.

We had a splendid day for 'The Milford Road Experience', driving gently along Lake Te Anau (NZ's second largest) to Te Anau Downs, then up the broad Eglinton Valley. We paused to make coffee at McKay Creek, then at Mirror Lakes for the obligatory photo of beech forest and reflected peaks. The next stop was at Knobs Flat for the display on the history of Homer Tunnel, which lay ahead. By now, over 20 coaches had roared and pushed their way past, leaving us the Fiordland National Park to ourselves.

After Lake Gunn at 480 m (1,585 ft) the road climbed in alpine style, past Lake Fergus to The Divide (watershed) and down to Pops View, overlooking the spectacular Hollyford Valley. We took a 10-mile side trip to the end of Hollyford Valley Road, in search of a good picnic spot. Along the way, Gunns Camp consisted of a store, petrol pump, rough cabins and a museum of 'things found in the area'! A pair of German lads with huge backpacks hitched a lift with us to the start of the Hollyford Track – a 4-day hike to Martin's Bay, sleeping in huts. These students, from Rostock and Hanover, expressed dismay at the number of German tourists here and the fact that the Milford Track walk is fully booked until May next year. The DoC has rigid control of numbers on these long-distance paths. Returning to the main road, we had a good picnic on the way to the Homer Tunnel.

This road had risen from 200 m (660 ft) at Te Anau to 520 m (1,716 ft) at The Divide, then dropped to 350 m (1,155 ft) at the Hollyford turning before climbing again to the tunnel entrance, up at 945 m (3,120 ft). There was still snow at the entrance – snow chains are compulsory here from 1st May to 30 November and the road is sometimes blocked by avalanches. We were very impressed to see a lone cyclist, with just a pair of rear pannier bags, who kept pace with us, passing whenever we stopped.

The formidableNZ2000_(27).jpg rock-hewn Homer Tunnel is 1.2 km (0.75 miles) long, narrow, unlit and wet, with a gradient of 1 in 10 downhill. Emerging from it, there is a short steep hair-pinning drop to Milford Sound. We feared for the cyclist as we drove slowly down, ears popping. Even Nigel Rushton (in 'Pedallers Paradise') did not recommend cycling to Milford Sound – not least, because the only way out is to ride back uphill through the tunnel! We'd decided it would be unsafe (and insane) to attempt it.

We parked in Milford Sound for a 10-minute walk through lush rainforest (Milford gets about 7 m – over 23 ft - of rain a year!) The voyage on the little Mitre Peak Cruises boat, leaving at 3.30 pm, was superb. The Sound was very peaceful, as expected, since most visitors come by coach and take the lunch-time cruises.

Taking 1 hour 45 mins, we sailed past Bowen Falls and out to Dale PoiNZ2000_(28).jpgnt, the entrance to the Milford Sound fiord from the Tasman Sea. The trip included free tea or coffee aplenty, a commentary from the captain, lots of grey fur seals basking on the rocks, dusky dolphins playing and riding along our bow and – most exciting of all – we spotted a lone Fiordland Crested Penguin that was rock-hopping opposite Dale Point. The world's rarest penguin, it was one of the last leaving for colder waters during the next 6 months.

We crossed theNZ2000_(29).jpg 45th parallel (halfway from Equator to S Pole), as we had on the road just south of Knobs Flat this morning. In the northern hemisphere, we've crossed it in Italy, with so much of Europe still to the north of it. Here, there is very little land to the south of the 45th, which puts the world into perspective.

How tiny our boat felt as we returned below the sheer cliffs, streaming with waterfalls that the wind tossed into a fairy-mist of spray. We almost used that overworked word 'Awesome'.

Rain fell as we regained the car, with excellent timing. We drove back on empty roads, the coaches long gone, parking briefly at The Divide (from where a track runs across to Key Summit and on towards Queenstown). At Lake Gunn we stopped for another picnic, staying inside the car to escape the sandflies brought out by the shower. We were home soon after 8 pm, having spent so little on petrol that hiring a car had actually saved a few dollars compared with taking a coach trip. More importantly, we'd had a much pleasanter experience, taking our own time to enjoy the journey.

13 December 2000    At Te Anau – Mountain View Holiday Park (Top Ten)

A very warm and humid day. The long school holidays, covering Xmas and New Year, start today and the campsite quickly filled up.

After returning the car, we signed and wrote envelopes for the 65 newsletters, enclosing photos with some of them.

M shopped and cooked while B cleaned and checked the bicycles. We realised that our time in NZ is more than half over – the 3 months have flown!

14 December 2000    At Te Anau – Mountain View Holiday Park    3 km

A final rest day at Te Anau. We cycled to the butcher's and on to the post office with the newsletters (sent individually to the USA, Canada, Australia, India, Greece and Holland, plus a package of 42 to a friend in England, for posting within the UK).

With the tent and sleeping bags laid out to air and our diary and accounts records up to date, we felt ready for the road again. Also watched 'Hetty Wainwright' (Patricia Routledge) for the first time. Shown on TV every afternoon here, it is set in Blackburn, Lancashire!

15 December 2000    Manapouri – Lakeview Motels and Motor Park    26 km

Starting with an easy ride south along the edge of Lake Te Anau, we visited the Te Anau Wildlife Centre run by the DoC (entry free). The birds include the rare Takahe (a flightless bird similar to, but larger than, the Tekapo), Kaka, Kea (the cheeky parrot), Red and Yellow-crowned Parakeets, a Morepork (the only native owl), Tui and NZ Pigeons, as well as various ducks, Canada geese, etc.

Then it was only 15 gently rolling miles (24 km) to Manapouri on its own lake (NZ's second deepest), with a backdrop of more bush-clad snow-tipped mountains. On arrival, we made coffee by Pearl Harbour, from where boats take visitors across the lake to the West Arm Power Station. An onward trip offers a coach link over the Wilmot Pass, then a voyage through Doubtful Sound. We checked out times and fares for the full-day adventure but Fiordland Travel Ltd (aka 'Real Journeys') had the monopoly and prices were high. Returning to NZ in 2002, we did take the Doubtful Sound trip, with a friendlier family business, Fiordland Explorer (Nigel & Paula Lamb - highly recommended).

As we sat by the harbour, a mother duck proudly led her 10 3-day-old ducklings round to be fed, while a boat captain hosed away the opportunist seagulls!

After calling at the general store (serving also as post office and cafι), we rode 1 km back to the Motor Park we'd passed on the lake front. The friendly American owner, Joelle, had firm views on everything we discussed: from US politics, religion and Israel through to the reason she'd left the Kiwi Group (didn't like the way they judged her place).

She complained about the Te Anau Top 10 campsite that we'd just left being awarded 5 stars when it's always packed full! We agreed that her wooded site is different, lovely and quiet and spacious, with a few eccentric house-buses (like a lorry collided with a shed), a collection of old Morris Oxford cars, a horse, a tree-house and a rare assortment of huts, cabins and rooms. We'd booked a simple 'tourist flat' for NZ$ 60 but she was generous, giving us a splendid motel room with lake view for the same price.

We wrote an aerogram letter to Endsleigh Insurance to extend our travel cover from January.

16 December 2000    Tuatapere – Tuatapere Motel    85 km

Setting out with a NZ2000_(30).jpggood back wind from the north, we lingered to take photos of beautiful Lake Manapouri, the surrounding mountains, the full yellow gorse. Coffe was made before tackling Jericho Hill: a climb (from 200 m/660 ft to 400 m/1,320 ft) out of one river valley before a steep descent to the next. After this, at about 30 miles (48 km), we stopped to talk with a lone Dutch cyclist coming from Tuatapere. When we rode on, the wind had completely turned, giving a strong head wind from the south - much cooler.

This is the Southern Scenic Route, leading to Invercargill and the Catlins, and there was scarcely any traffic as we made lunch by the Wairaki River. Further along we made a brief detour to ride over the historic wooden Clifden Suspension Bridge, built in 1902 and now closed to cars, which have a newer alternative bridge.

The final 10 miles (16 km) was very tiring, the head wind making hard work of the open rolling farm fields and what is left of the native forest in the Tuatapere Scenic Reserve. The small settlement known as Tuatap, once a timber milling town, has a single shop/pub/take-away, which turned out to own the small motel down the road. We took one of its 3 units, bought the obligatory Tuatap sausages ('this is the Sausage Capital of NZ, you know') and had a very quiet night.

The motel was old and dusty but there was a washer and drier for the laundry and bangers & mash for supper – great!

17 December 2000    Lorneville, nr Invercargill – Lorneville Holiday Park (Kiwi Group)    87 km

With a good back wind we began with an easy 10 km, then a climb to McCracken's Lookout, on the cliffs above Te Waewae Bay. From there the road rolled up and down, with coastal views, past the turning for Monkey Island and through Orepuke village. We made coffee at the roadside, cycled by the beach at Colac Bay and continued for another 20 km through the hills, descending to the sea at Riverton.

Here we met a lone Belgian cyclist heading the other way.NZ2000_(31).jpg Riverton, a pre-1820 European whaling station, is now a pleasant town with a campsite by the beach. We might have stayed there, had the wind been against us. Instead, we had lunch in a cafι and decided to make the most of the tail wind. The shopkeeper, dreaming of retirement and cycling round NZ himself, suggested a shortcut to Invercargill along the beach. We did go to the shore to look and met a very friendly retiree, gathering cockles and pippies (alive alive-oh!), his aged and beloved Morris Minor parked nearby. He pointed out other locals catching flounders, by netting or spearing them. As we left Riverton (by road, not beach!) we passed the 'Big Paua', a factory making and selling souvenirs and jewelry from paua (abalone) shell.

Now the highway crossed broad coastal plains, flat and windy, to the Lorneville Crossroads, 12 km short of Invercargill. Rather than turning right for the city, we rode straight across for another 4 km to the charming holiday park at Lorneville Lodge. This 17-acre sheep farm offers B & B, meals and a quiet campsite. We took a lovely 'tourist flat' and enjoyed a quiet evening with 'Dalziel & Pascoe' on TV.

18 December 2000    Bluff – Bay View Hotel    49 km

Cycled into Invercargill, mostly along the busier SH6. First stop was the Southland Museum at the Tourist Office, where we watched the Tuatara (rare and ancient reptiles), including 120-year-old Henry (in his own house since he recently turned aggressive) and several others that were hatched early last century! They are bred here for release in the Cook Islands and other remote places, safe from predators.

Wandering the grid pattern of streets and stores, we bought a map of the USA. M left her cycling shoes (Sidis) for repair at Bennets on Tay Street and got a pair of cheap pumps to wear till they were ready. As the admirable old clock chimed for 1 pm, we lunched at the KFC.

Then we cycled 27 km into a strong head wind to Bluff, Invercargill's port at the southern tip of highway SH1, which runs all the way to Cape Reinga at the top of North Island. It's not quite the southernmost point of South Island though: that title belongs to Slope Point, to be reached next week.

We watched the catamaran come in from off-shore Stewart Island, checked its timetable, then checked into the Bay View Hotel (pub) opposite the ferry terminal. We had an en-suite room with TV, kettle, feather pillows, sea view and a light breakfast, all for NZ$ 60 a night. A good night's sleep before the excursion to Stewart Island.

19 December 2000    Bluff – Bay View Hotel    18 km

The 9.30 am catamaran whisked us even further south, across the Fouveaux Strait to Stewart Island. The new 'Fouveaux Express' took an hour to cover the 35 km from Bluff's Old Wharf to Oban on Half Moon Bay – the island's port and only settlement.

Passengers' luggage was put in bins and hoisted on with a crane, though our bicycles (the only ones) were man-handled on board. The fare was low, with reduction for over-60's. Waiting to leave, we sheltered from the downpour in the Just Cafι with huge coffees and muffins.

Disembarking at Oban, we cycled up and down the (mostly gravel) road NZ2000_(34).jpgsouth, past Lonnekers Beach to Leask Bay and up to Ringaringa Beach. We left the bikes for a short walk to Rev Wohler's monument before continuing down Deep Bay Road (the furthest south we got), then returned to Oban. M's temporary footwear was sodden!

Riding north, we found the Moturau Moana Gardens, then climbed up and down to Horseshoe Bay and round to the end of the road. (Only 20 km of roads on the whole island.) On the way back to Oban we noticed a public phone and directory fixed to a Rimu tree (trunk calls only?)

In Oban we enjoyed blue cod & chips in the bar of the South Sea Hotel. The rain stopped just before we boarded the 3.30 pm boat back to Bluff. It sailed past the Mutton Bird Islands (the nesting place of Sooty Shearwater, named Mutton Bird by the Maori, who have ancestral rights to harvest them from March to May). We also saw oyster beds, Dog Island (with NZ's tallest lighthouse at 35 m/116 ft high) and the massive aluminium smelter on Bluff Harbour, operated from Lake Manapouri's West Arm power station, and producing 2% of the world's aluminium (with ore shipped from Australia).

We were back at the hotel by 5 pm, for a comfortable evening drying out.

20 December 2000    Invercargill – Coachman's Motel    48 km

Before leaving Bluff weNZ2000_(32).jpg rode 2 km to the Land's End Hotel at the end of State Highway SH1, and the much-photographed international signpost at Stirling Point, the site of William Stirling's 1836 whaling station. The sign records the latitude (46° 37' S), as well as the distance to various places including London 18,958 km (11,850 miles) and Cape Reinga 1,401 km (876 miles as the crows – but not our bikes – fly).

It was overcast (and surely still raining on Stewart Island) as we returned directly to Invercargill. After a picnic lunch in the lovely formal gardens of Queen's Park, we visited a second-hand bookshop on Tay Street and collected M's Sidi shoes, expertly soled and heeled.

We rode along to the end of Tay St, a busy crossroads opposite a cemetery, to find the motel we'd phoned: number 705, opposite a handy Four Square store. It cost NZ$ 20 less than the motels in the city centre and had cooking facilities. We rang to book B & B at Slope Point (NZ's most southerly point) for tomorrow, and made supper.

21 December 2000    At Invercargill – Coachman's Motel

Woken during the night by rain and severe gales, which lasted all day. We postponed our ride along the Southern Scenic Route to Slope Point, changed the B & B, and took a taxi into Invercargill.

With Christmas coming, we bought ourselves a Sony Walkman and 3 music tapes (Beatles No 1 Hits; Pavarotti & Friends; Harry Belafonte). Also found the washers and screws we needed for pannier repairs. Cartoonist Rick's artwork was displayed on the windows of the chemist and other stores, but no sign of the man himself.

After lunch in the Cakewalk Cafe, we revisited the Southland Museum/Tourist Office to watch the sub-Antarctic 'Roaring Forties' audio-visual and display. It continued to pour down and we sheltered briefly inside a house, invited in by the owner's father (an American from New England, over for his first visit to NZ). Eventually we took another taxi back to the motel.

A pity about tonight's candle-lit carol service in Queen's Park, which will be a wash-out.

22 December 2000   Slope Point – Nadir Outpost   69 km  (+ 10 km)

Sad news on the morning radio and in the 'Southland Times' of a school of Pilot Whales stranded on Stewart Island's Maori Beach after the storm. 12 were already dead, as rescuers tried to keep another 30 afloat. We remembered seeing a few fins from the ferry.

This is mid-summer: the Longest Day! It was not as gusty as yesterday so, with a strong back wind, we set off on the minor road running east. At the settlement of Gorge Road, overtaken by a sudden shower, we took shelter and made coffee in the entrance to the locked Community Centre/School. There was no sign of life.

Shortly before reaching Fortrose we met an amazing pair of old-timers (he from Yorkshire, she from Lancashire, like ourselves), cycle-camping their way round NZ on their sixth visit. They'd also ridden in Australia and the USA and still raced with the veterans in their home cycling club. Yesterday they had ridden 20 miles of rough gravel road, from Papatowai campsite to Waikawa backpackers, in the gale that had grounded us (and the pilot whales)!

At Fortrose, 30 miles/48 km from Invercargill, we had a lunch break in the Tourist Information kiosk (the size of a bus shelter, minus the seat). A choice of route from here – the sealed road to Tokanui (offering a pub, a shop/tearooms and an expensive farmstay B & B), or a part-gravel loop to Slope Point and Curio Bay, the southernmost point of South Island. The senior cyclists we'd just met didn't recommend the 'diabolical' loop road, which they'd ridden on a previous visit, but we stuck to our plan.

At first the route was newly sealed, through Otara (ignoring a turn to Waipapa Point and its 1881 shipwreck) to Haldane junction. The last 5 miles/8 km was gravel, down the Slope Point Road to Nadir Outpost. Here Duncan & Anne-Marie run 'The Little Shoppe' (South Island's southernmost), along with a backpackers lodge or B & B in their home, which we'd booked. They were surrounded by lovely gardens and pet sheep.

After a warm welcome with mugs of tea, we left our bags to ride a further NZ2000_(33).jpg5 km each way, over gravelly hills, to reach the southernmost tip of Slope Point. Access involved a final 20-minute walk from the road across private farmland (closed during the lambing season). At last we reached the signpost: 5,140 km (3,212 miles) from the Equator; 4,803 km (3,002 miles) to the South Pole. Surprising how much ocean lay between us and the Antarctic. The statistics: latitude 46° 40.5' S, longitude 169° E.

Returning to the Nadir Outpost, we made our own dinner in the kitchen. Anne-Marie (and her little Jack Russell dog, Susy) generously drove us a couple of miles in her 'Ute' to Waipohatu, for a half-hour twilight bush-walk through the rain forest. She knew all the flora, pointing out sphagnum moss, clematis flowers, lichens and ferns, with names like hen-&-chickens, mother-in-law's tongue, tree fern - a thousand shades of green. The last rays of the very late sun were filtered through the forest canopy like lace, as we crossed the saturated spongy ground on bridges, paths and boardwalks.

Back home, over coffee and gingernut biscuits, we got to know Duncan. An ex-naval man, keen on boating and fishing, he was now battling with bureaucracy and hostile neighbours who resented the incoming family (they have 11-year-old twin boys). The nearby Pope's Place backpackers had not welcomed competition.

It was a cold night but we slept well under a mountain of blankets.

23 December 2000    Papatowai – Scenic Highway Store & Motel   58 km

On a cold windy morning (mid-summer?) Duncan cooked us a full breakfast. He produced maps of the Catlins coast and Dunedin city for us, carefully marking the best cycling route, obviously keen to help. We decided that the best way to avoid the busy SH1 through Dunedin (a busy city, whose name – the old form of Edinburgh – betrays its Scottish heritage) was to bypass it on the train!

The 'Southland Times' carried the news of Stewart Island's stranded whales. Though 22 had died, about 80 had been successfully turned back from the shore by DoC staff and volunteers, working for hours in the freezing water and on inflatable dinghies.

We set off at 10.45 am in the rain, along 10 miles or so of hilly gravel road. After passing the exit for the Waipohatu Bush Walk, we took the turning for Curio and Porpoise Bays, to ride 1 km each way to Curio Bay. Here we looked down from the platform onto the Petrified Forest, visible for 4 hours each side of low tide. This 160 million year old Jurassic Forest, fossilised by volcanic action, is evidence of the prehistoric continent of Gondwanaland, with plant species similar to those in South America. There is a very basic campsite nearby.

Back on our route, we came to Waikawa, where the old church, opposite the backpackers, had been converted into 'Dolphin Magic': a cafι/shop that runs dolphin-spotting boat trips. We'd only ridden 18 km (11 miles) but it was lunch time, still raining and the last settlement before Papatowai, 40 km further. As we enjoyed coffee and pies by the fire, our hostess quizzed us about the Nadir Outpost and its owners, the accommodation and prices. We had found the local mafia HQ!

Continuing, the road was sealed for a happy 15 km, past Niagara and its 'Falls' (a brook). After rejoining the route from Tokanui, there was plenty of climbing through the Catlins Forest. The first ascent, to 200 m (660 ft), was on tarmac, after which we rode up and down on wet gravel, past Chaslands Lodge, then turnings for McLean Falls (a 20-minute walk) and Cathedral Caves (a bush and beach walk to caves at low tide). However, with Florence Hill and its Lookout to climb before the final descent to Papatowai, we didn't take any such side trips.

We reached the store/motel/campsite at 5 pm, after 4.5 hours of hard cycling, mostly on gravel. Our reward was a very nice room and excellent fish & chips. Just enough energy left to wash out some clothes and go to the phone box, to confirm our booking at Owaka for the next 4 days over Christmas, as promised. There is no Vodafone signal down here.

24 December 2000    Owaka – Owaka Lodge Motel    27 km

Christmas Eve dawned sunny and warm, at last. It was a short but hard ride to Owaka, climbing the long-drawn-out Table Hill (over 200 m), whilst taking turns to listen to Harry Belafonte on the Walkman.

After the descent to the Catlins River and a brew-up on its banks, the final 10 km was along its valley-estuary to the quiet village of Owaka, population 350. We reached the cosy motel by noon, just as the rain set in again. Pam McNutt, our friendly hostess, put fresh flowers in our room and warned us to buy all the food we might need at the Four Square Store before it closed at 4 pm (until 27 December). After duly shopping (including a chicken, Xmas pud and cake) we settled in, enjoying the room's mini-bath tub.

The TV showed last year's BBC programme 'Charlotte Church in the Holy Land', with views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both of which we'd visited when cycling round Israel last Easter.

It was sad to see on the evening news how deserted Manger Square is this year, with very muted celebrations, as Bethlehem remains almost cut off by checkpoints. The Latin Patriarch, who usually arrives for the Carol Service on horseback in a cavalcade, came by armed car.

25 December 2000    At Owaka – Owaka Lodge Motel

Happy Christmas! Using the microwave in our room, M produced stuffed roast chicken, veg and gravy, followed by Xmas pudding and custard. Otherwise, we read the papers, completed their many crosswords and watched TV (mostly nonsense, apart from the late night film 'Dances with Wolves').

M tried to phone her Mum (at Uncle Harold's) a couple of times but there were no lines to the UK. Must be all the Kiwis on OE (Overseas Experience) ringing home.

26 December 2000    At Owaka – Owaka Lodge Motel    5 km

Still no luck ringing England: 'number unobtainable'.

After yesterday's rest, we set off on a short ride to Nugget Point but were turned back by strong winds. B cleaned and greased the bikes, while M talked with Pam McNutt, who wants to sell the motel (after running it for 24 years).

TV showed 'Gone with the Wind' all afternoon, followed by Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn in 'Bird on a Wire' in the evening. Just the one channel, but much appreciated in this remote place.

27 December 2000    At Owaka – Owaka Lodge Motel

Finally phoned through to England (where it was still Boxing Day evening). We bought more food at the single store and did the laundry. Weather still windy and showery.

After lunch Pam and her daughter (19-yr-old Tania) took M out in their car to see the Purakaunui Falls (a 10-minute walk from the gravel road, half way back towards Papatowai). Also to Pounawea, at the estuary of the Catlins River, south of Owaka. Barry stayed home to read.

We also wrote letters and finished our backlog of crossword puzzles. It had been a wonderful Christmas break.

28 December 2000    Milton - Milton Motel    69 km

Back on the road, we cycled over MacDonalds Hill, past the entrance to an old railway tunnel, then round a loop via Kaka Point (the first 8 km being gravel). Taking coffee and scones at Kaka Point, we had a view of the beach, a paddling policeman and a couple of surfers. Decided against an extra 8 km each way of gravel road to Nugget Point to see the sea lions and lighthouse.

We returned along the coast of Molyneux Bay to the main road. On through rolling farm land, we reached Balclutha for lunch in the Mainstreet Cafι. Crossing a splendid bridge over the Clutha River, we continued in the rain on the much busier SH1, the old lorry-laden highway, now linking Invercargill and Dunedin. We look forward to a train ride past Dunedin tomorrow.

Milton (Mill Town) still has a working woollen mill and flour mill. The small town is strung along the highway, with one motel and a railway halt (the last before Mosgiel, on the outskirts of Dunedin). We checked out and booked the train.

Like so many others, the motel has new owners, busy refurbishing it. We liked the free laundry.

29 December 2000    Palmerston - Pioneer Motel    2 km (+ train ride)

Sampling the efficient 'Southlander' train (Invercargill to Christchurch), we boarded at 10.51 am in Milton, bound for Palmerston via Dunedin. This excellent service had 2 carriages plus guard's van, with 2 staff on board who were expecting us and helped to load the bikes. There is one train a day in each direction, with a change of crew at the halfway point. Offering a good buffet and a commentary along the way, it is nothing like trains in England! We passed Waihola Lake, stopped at Mosgiel and Dunedin, then rolled by Port Chalmers before arriving at Palmerston at 1.12 pm, smoothly on time.

This tiny town, once a gateway to the goldfields, is not to be confused with the much larger Palmerston North, on North Island. It is overlooked by Puketapu Hill, topped by the McKenzie monument (in memory of the MP who split large landowners' estates into smaller holdings for shepherds).

The only motel was pleasant and quiet, a short walk from the Four Square store and the main street. M cooked some tender local lamb for dinner. Heavy rain set in overnight.

30 December 2000    At Palmerston - Pioneer Motel

As it poured all day from a leaden sky, we postponed riding on to Oamaru and had a restful morning of reading and crosswords. Venturing out after lunch to buy more food, we found both shops had closed (Saturday afternoon), so supper will be fish & chips from the take-away!

Towards tea-time Andrew Hague appeared at our door – a Yorkshireman now living in Wales, he was spending a month cycling here with his younger Moroccan wife, Leila, on a pair of Brompton folding bikes. They had just arrived at the motel, riding from Oamaru in the rain, and spotted our cycles propped on the motel verandah.

Of course, we all ate fish & chips together and talked until late, finding plenty of common ground and crossed paths. Andrew is an engineer, who had once been a manufacturer of bicycle fittings and a CTC (Cyclists Touring Club) officer. Leila came from Fez (a city we also know) and has just finished an MA in Arabic-French-English translation. An interesting couple, they invited us to visit them back home in Brecon (which we subsequently did).

31 December 2000    Oamaru – Oamaru Gardens Holiday Park (TopTen)    65 km

After a mutualNZ2000_(35).jpg photo session with the Hagues and a wobbly trial ride on their folding bikes (which felt like they would do just that), we bade our new friends farewell and left in opposite directions.

We took the Horse Range Road, a splendid quiet route that climbed to 240 m (792 ft), with just a mile or so of gravel before the top. Descending through scenic Trotters Gorge, we joined the dreaded SH1 after about 20 km, just as it began to rain again.

Shortly past the turn-off for Moeraki village, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders beach and tea rooms for coffee and cakes, in a window overlooking the beach. We didn't join the two coach parties in walking down for a closer inspection of the Boulders, as it was still pouring down, but admired the seascape of thunder clouds and sheets of rain.

Back on the SH1 for another 10 miles/16 km, the traffic was reasonably quiet on this New Year's Eve Sunday afternoon. From Waianakarua we took the lovely, rolling, empty coastal road, all the way to Oamaru. At one point we paused to see the birds clustered on the low cliffs and rocks – Black Shags, probably – then stopped for lunch at Kakanui tea rooms by the beach.

Oamaru is a small port, famed for its historic white limestone architecture and also for its colonies of Little Blue Penguins and Yellow-eyed Penguins. On the edge of the vast public gardens, laid out in 1876, is a Top Ten campsite, where we'd booked a 'tourist flat' (tiny but well equipped) for 3 nights.

Once the rain stopped, we took a short walk to the Wallaby and Alpaca Park, spotting 2 alpaca and one of the 5 wallabies. Our path crossed the 'Janet Frame Trail' at the site of her house, 'Willowglen'. Known to every New Zealander, she wrote of childhood and life in the 1930's, in books such as 'Owls Do Cry'.

The Hogmanay TV was abysmal, the single channel offering a Cliff Richard concert recorded a year ago for the Millenium, ending with the nauseating 'Millenium Prayer'.

1 January 2001    At Oamaru – Oamaru Gardens Holiday Park    10 km

New Year's Day dawned cold and showery, the campsite very quiet.

After lunch we took a short ride into the deserted town centre. 'The Whitestone City' on Thames St and Harbour St comprises classical style hotels, banks, offices, grain and wool warehouses, though some art starting to crumble. We phoned England without difficulty and shopped in Woolworth's for food. Rain set in for the evening.

2 January 2001    At Oamaru – Oamaru Gardens Holiday Park    18 km

Still showery and cool. Did the laundry.

After lunch we cycled along the harbour side and out by the railway. The port actually closed a few years ago, leaving a colony of Little Blue (or Fairy) Penguins in residence – about 150 of them. They spend the day at sea, only returning to their burrows after dark.

After 6 pm we rode uphill and down, along Bushy Beach Road to the gravel path leading to the Yellow-eyed Penguin hide. They work to a different timetable, coming ashore before sunset to feed their young among the vegetation above the shore. We saw one standing alongside the path, while those with more patience waited in the cold wind to watch others cross the beach, where footprints were visible.

Returned home for dinner, via Lookout Point for a fine view of the town and harbour.

3 January 2001    Otematata – Otematata Country Inn (YHA)    115 km

We took a quiet back road inland from Oamaru to Ngapara, where we made coffee by the closed village hall, and on through lovely dry limestone valleys, past a pair of rock climbers practising on low overhangs.

At Duntroon, joining the main road SH83, an excellent tea rooms offered lunch outside. We had another pause 3 miles after Duntroon to admire the signposted Maori charcoal and red ochre rock drawings. Hardly prehistoric cave paintings though – these were childish outlines of boats and men on horseback, probably from the Victorian era.

We continued along the Waitaki River with an unexpected back wind from the SE, which hastened our arrival in Kurow (75 km) in the early afternoon. We'd planned to stop at the campsite there but decided to buy a pot of tea and press on to Otematata - our longest day in NZ so far.

From Kurow the road climbed gradually (past Mr & Mrs Hay, a curious haystack family!) up to the dam at the foot of Lake Waitakai, along the west side of the lake. We crossed the dam at the bottom of Lake Aviemore to follow a minor road up its eastern side. The tailwind pushed us along, past plenty of simple DoC camping at 8 separate sites, with plenty of tents, vans and boats (this being the long school holidays). It was a stiff climb at the top of Lake Aviemore to cross the Benmore Dam, at the foot of Lake Benmore, which extends due north to Twizel. The 3 lakes were all man-made for the Waitaki power project, building earthen dams with pick and shovel. Waitaki village is now deserted, the last dam having been completed in 1934, half way round Lake Aviemore. 'Meridian Energy' now run guided tours of Benmore Power Station.

We dropped down into Otematata, 28 km from Kurow by the main road but a little further on the quieter route we'd taken round Lake Aviemore. We had a choice of accommodation but the campsite cabins were all full and the Best Western hotel was charging NZ$ 75. Enquiring at the Country Inn (Youth Hostel), we found that no-one else was staying there, so we had a double bedroom with the use of a good TV lounge and a kitchen all to ourselves, like a private guesthouse. We slept soundly after riding 72 miles!

4 January 2001    Twizel – Parklands Tourist Park    57 km

Over breakfast we talked to other Hostellers who were just arriving – an English couple, over for 3 weeks with a hired car and hoping to do some 'tramping', and an old chap from NZ whose extended family were camping by the lake (all 50-odd of them!). He preferred a bed! The wind had turned, so we no longer had the benefit of the 'Waitaki Doctor' blowing up the valley. Lucky we did such a good distance yesterday.

We climbed the Ahuriri Pass (from 300 m/990 ft to 505 m/1,667 ft at the top), then dropped to Sailor's Cutting for a picnic lunch. Riding along part of Lake Benmore we came to Omarama (430 m/1,419 ft) at the junction with SH8, the road from Lake Tekapo and Queenstown. After tea and cakes in a crowded cafι, we followed the highway, suddenly busy with tourist buses, for the final 30 km to Twizel village.NZ2000_(36).jpg

Here the Tourist Info Centre directed us to Parklands: now in its second season as a small campsite/backpackers/motel in the former Twizel Maternity Hospital, set in lovely gardens opposite the public park. The larger cottages were all taken but we had a little studio-breakfast unit, with use of the hostel kitchen.

We shopped in Twizel (2 stores and a chemist) and booked a one-way ride on the bus up to Mount Cook Village for tomorrow morning (us and the bikes).

5 January 2001    Twizel – Parklands Tourist Park    86 km

The High CountryNZ2000_(37).jpg Shuttle Company's green Bedford bus (1960's vintage), known as the 'Mt Cook Explorer', was due to collect us and our bikes at 8 am. It arrived at 8.20, just as we were giving up hope. We were the only passengers for the journey to Mt Cook Village, 40 miles (64 km) away. The 2 drivers shared their knowledge of the area, as we climbed from 470 m/1,550 ft to 745 m/2,460 ft through rolling Merino sheep country, then glacial moraine up the west side of Lake Pukaki and along the Tasman River, draining the Tasman Glacier into the lake. The Southern Alps loomed slowly nearer, free of cloud, Mt Cook proud and snowy at 3,755 m/12,391 ft – the highest peak in Australasia, despite its recent reduction by 10 m in an avalanche!

Leaving the bus at its terminus in Mt Cook Village, we had coffee and cakes on the veranda of the exclusive Hermitage Hotel. Newly built and aimed at rich Japanese tourists, it had all the charm of Colditz, though the views made up for that.

It was very hot as we cycNZ2000_(38).jpgled up the gravel Tasman Valley Road foNZ2000_(39).jpgr 10 km to the Blue Lakes Shelter car park, from where we walked up the stony footpath to the Blue Lake. Here we had to leave the bikes, securely locked and without any luggage, to climb up to Tasman Glacier View (a total 20 minutes' walk from the car park). Up on the moraine wall there was an excellent view of Mt Cook. The Tasman Glacier, NZ's largest, spilt down into the eerie lake, dotted with little icebergs and even smaller inflatable dinghies run by 'Glacier Explorers'. Scenic flights passed overhead, with helicopters offering snowfield landings! The overused word 'awesome' was for once appropriate.

Returning to Mt Cook Village, we had a picnic lunch in the well equipped public shelter, provided for hikers and climbers. It had indoor and outdoor tables, a kitchen with Zip boiler for hot drinks, toilets and coin-operated showers: the only alternative to the Hermitage Hotel.

Cycling back to Twizel was lovely: mostly downhill with a back wind, and the superb view of a sunlit Mt Cook behind us. We paused for tea and cakes half way back, at the Glentanner Park Centre, watching the Heli-Hike Adventures and Air Safaris taking off and landing!

As we left, we found we each had a flat tyre (M front, B rear), caused by the hot sun or the rough road. As we were travelling light today (just one spare tube), Barry replaced one and patched the other and we finally got back at about 6 pm, just as it began to rain lightly. We rounded off an excellent adventure with the NZ$ 10-a-head roast dinner of the day (beef) at the pub in Twizel.

6 January 2001    At Twizel – Parklands Tourist Park

Leaving the bikes to rest, we spent our time on laundry, mending, reading and writing, with a short walk to the village shops. It's very warm.

Twizel is named after the River Twizel in Northumberland (with the famous old bridge we know, near Norham). It's a new town, built in 1968 to house the workers for the Upper Waitaki Power development, which reached completion in 1986. The peak population was 5,800 (our tourist park was a maternity hospital), but it's now a tourist base where just 1,500 live.

The village of Pukaki was lost behind Pukaki High Dam and the residents of Twizel had to fight to save their village from the bulldozers, succeeding in 1984. Millions of trees have been planted to restore the ravaged area.

7 January 2001    Lake Tekapo – Tekapo Cottages    61 km

Another hot day, with no wind, as we left early on Sunday morning. After 12 km up the quiet SH8 to the Mt Cook turn-off, which the bus had taken, we turned east and rounded the foot of Lake Pukaki. At Mt Cook Lookout we paused for superb views and photographs of the range, which contains all NZ's highest (over 3,000 m/10,000 ft) peaks.

We soon left the SH8, taking an empty minor road recommended by both our bus driver and Nigel Rushton (in his thorough little guide 'Pedallers Paradise'). At first it followed part of the eastern shore of the lake, then climbed steeply to the Hydro Canal. Panting in full sun, we stopped to brew up in the shade of the waterworks where we met 2 cyclists coming the other way. A young man from Oregon, USA, and Hugh Smith, a retired lawyer from Timaru (we took his card, just in case!) They had met yesterday at Nigel Rushton's hostel (also called Pedallers' Paradise) in Lake Tekapo!

The final 20 miles (32 km) was glorious, along the private Canal Road (which is closed when strong NW winds blow), passing more cyclists. We ended with a short steep climb through woods to Lake Tekapo, up at 715 m/2,360 ft (from 470 m/1,550 ft at Twizel). Lake Tekapo is a very busy tourist town, on the Blue Ribbon Route from Christchurch to Queenstown. There were plenty of 4WD, helicopter and air safaris available, but we couldn't find anywhere for a hair cut and the campsite was absolutely full.

Luckily, we had an introduction to Jackie Hunter (a friend of Heather, at the Tourist Park in Twizel). Jackie lived just over the bridge, away from the throng of souvenir shops, and had a lovely cottage to rent, tucked away at the bottom of her secret garden. We had the whole house to ourselves, fully equipped, for NZ$70 a day: the same price as our tiny room at Twizel!

A thunderstorm broke in the evening.

8 January 2001    At Lake Tekapo – Tekapo Cottages

It was still very hot after the storm. While M used the washing machine, B was busy with bicycle maintenance, patching tubes and replacing brake blocks.

Later we walked into town to make phone calls and send postcards of Lake Tekapo, astonishingly blue from glacial melt. Also called on Nigel Rushton – the great Pedaller himself - to express our admiration of his books. Pedallers' Paradise is a simple hostel for cyclists, with accommodation or camping plus a workshop, but no phone or TV. Nigel proved surprisingly young, modest and unassuming.

9 January 2001    Geraldine – Geraldine Motel    92 km

From Lake Tekapo we rode east on SH8, expecting (but not getting) a back wind. The highway was busy with coaches on the Christchurch-Queenstown run, though it wasn't quite as bad as Nigel Rushton's comparison with 'rush hour in downtown Taipei'! We lost height before climbing Burke Pass, at 709 m (2,334 ft).

Down in Burke Pass Village we dodged the rain, over tea and scones at the tea rooms/motel. This tussock-strewn high country is the Mackenzie Basin, named after a sheep-rustling hero, one Jock Mackenzie. A copy of the 'Wanted' poster hung on the tea room wall and the manageress said he bore a strange resemblance to her uncle!

Leaving the backdrop of snowy Alps behind, we continued across rolling sheep country to Fairlie. Then we had a short steep climb up Mt Michael at Allandale, with another welcome tea room/gift shop at the top. Plenty of lovely merino woollies for sale, though we were more interested in the excellent chicken and brie pannini (toasted sandwiches).

The final 40 km (25 miles) was showery and windy, as we dropped down through the Opihi Gorge and over low hills to Geraldine, a pleasant little town on the Waihi River. The Motorcycle Centre on Peel Street also dealt in bicycles and we bought inner tubes, a puncture repair kit and grease. It was next door to a convenient supermarket.

We found a motel, run by a Swiss couple who moved here 6 years ago after farming Alpine cattle near Gstad. Once we'd got warm and dry, we returned to town for a haircut each before spending the evening at the motel, cooking and watching TV.

10 January 2001    Methven – The Bed Post (Hostel)    72 km

As it still drizzled with rain, we talked to our Swiss hosts about their new life in NZ and admired the cow-bell collection, hanging in their garage! We shopped in Geraldine (optimistically buying new sun glasses) and lingered in a cafι, finally setting off at midday, hoping for a drier afternoon.

In fact it poured down all day, with a cold wind, though at least it was behind us as we climbed very gradually across the Canterbury Plains. The landscape was of long straight roads through fields of wet sheep – some woolly, some shorn. Soon the Christchurch traffic turned off for the main highway SH1, leaving SH73 (our Inland Scenic Route) much quieter apart from the occasional logging truck.

It was too wet for a wayside picnic but the tiny village of Mayfield, half way to Methven, had a simple cafι. We continued along the unusually straight and level back roads through forest and fields, via Valletta and Ashburton Forks, to join the SH77 into Methven (also known as Mt Hutt Village). Cold and wet on arrival, we rode straight to the hostel. For half the year it must be busy with skiers from nearby Mt Hutt, but now (in midsummer) we are alone in an 8-bed self-contained hostel. We soon had our shoes drying by a log fire in the sitting room, made good use of the washing machine and fetched fish & chips for supper.

Our Lonely Planet says 'nearby Mt Hutt offers 6 months' skiing and snow-making facilities', which must be popular with the Japanese, judging by the bookshelf here.

11 January 2001    Springfield – Smylies (YHA)    73 km

After so much rain, Barry's jacket collar was turning sticky with mildew! He bought a new waterproof from the Farmers Outfitters in Methven, which ensured a dry day, with a light head wind, the sun breaking through later.

A straight road climbed gradually for 14 km until we met the slightly busier SH72/77, turning right for a 5 km descent to the Rakaia Gorge. The Rakaia River flows down from Lake Coleridge to its estuary, south of Canterbury. Just before the bridge over the mighty blue waters (the only bridge, apart from the one on highway SH1 at Rakaia village), there was a beautifully situated domain camping (with no cabins). Here we spotted the bike of the mysterious lone cyclist, who had passed us leaving Lake Tekapo, in Fairlie, in Geraldine, in Methven … but never stopped to speak!

Once across the bridge, we made coffee at a picnic table by the Jet Boat Tours shed before climbing 200 m (660 ft) out of the gorge: a nicely graded 1-in-10 with gorgeous views. Rolling hills led to Windwhistle, where we met a lone cyclist with an overweight trailer coming towards us. She came from New Mexico, was studying Law in Tasmania and had just set out, riding from Christchurch. We didn't envy her the climb out of the Rakaia Gorge and recommended a night on the riverside campsite first!

After a picnic in a field, we continued through Glentunnel village, pausing at the Coalgate a couple of miles along the road for a pot of tea. The old photos in this pub were of coal mining and brick kilns. At Homebush we turned north, along a road that looked flat but ran uphill, to join the SH73 from Christchurch – the road to Arthur's Pass, through Waddington and Sheffield - now on the route we'd explored in the hire-car from Greymouth.

At Sheffield, a tiny settlement with one hotel and simple camping, a local grey-bearded 'peasant' (his own word) in blue overalls approached on a very rusty farm bike to ask if we were selling our cycles when we'd finished the tour! It turned out that he was a sheep farmer with a flock of 1,000 merinos on a nearby station, producing the finest wool which fetches high prices in Italy for designer suits. He was very enthusiastic about his experiments to produce foot-rot-resistant animals. We politely declined his offer to visit the farm, or spend a night there, as we had to ride hard to reach Springfield before the store/tea rooms closed at 6 pm.

We'd booked in at Smylie's hostel/motel, opposite the store: all run by 2 Dutch couples who have been friends here for 20 years. The road, leading to Arthur's Pass, was very quiet, with just a few freight trains running behind the store. At Smylie's we were given a self-contained 'unit' in a house by the roadside, next to the Youth Hostel. We shopped, cooked a good fry-up and watched the weather forecast intently.

12 January 2001    At Springfield – Smylies (YHA)

A true rest day, with the usual mix of bicycle checking, mending, laundry, reading and crosswords. Weather sunny.

Smylies Hostel is full of Dutch character and has a huge library of books, videos and games (mainly in Japanese). There is even an old piano and some Stage One music, tempting M to try 'Greensleeves' and 'Ode to Joy' (very much out of practice!) Barry started reading the Booker-Prize-winning 'The Bone People', a Maori woman's first novel, but did not finish it.

Tomorrow we climb from 390 m/1,287 ft to 944 m/3,115 ft, over Porter's Pass.

13 January 2001    Arthur's Pass – Bealey Hotel & Moa Lodge    73 km

A complete (and unforecast) change in the weather, with steady grey rain, but at least we have a back wind. The Dutch woman at the store offered us 4 plastic bags as extra foot protection!

The traffic was heavier than usual, heading for the annual horse races in Kumara (over the Pass, near Greymouth). Lines of coaches, cars and minibuses rushed past, intent on arriving before the 12.30 pm start. We learnt later that a crowd of 6,000 (with over 70 buses from Christchurch) were disappointed, as the event was cancelled after the first race, for the first time in 114 years, due to sodden ground!

We rode into the mountains and up to Porter's Pass (944 m or 3,115 ft). The last bit was hardest, where the road climbs 400 m in 4 km, causing M to walk a little. Then the road dropped to Lake Lyndon, still raining. We made a drink in a graffiti-covered shelter, past the junction with a gravel road that Nigel Rushton (in Pedallers' Paradise) recommends. However, we didn't take his route, over Arthur's Pass via a night's camping at Lake Coleridge, preferring the sealed road.

On we rode, past the rocky outcrops of Castle Hill and the parked cars of a few wet walkers. Then came Porter's River, Cave Stream and some easy rolling country, with steeper climbs and descents when we crossed streams and saddles. At Craigieburn Forest & Scenic Reserve we turned off (left) to a shelter, with fireplace and tables, to enjoy lunch by a wood fire.

Eventually the rain stopped, but that meant the wind turned against us for the last 20 miles (32 km), past Lakes Pearson and Grasmere before a final steep climb to the Bealey Hotel, up the narrow Bealey River Valley.

The 'historic' hotel was noisy, packed with those who had won or lost at Kumara Races. The Moa Lodge motel units below the pub were cheaply furnished and over-priced but a very welcome haven in this high open wilderness. We had seen no accommodation since Springfield, apart from 2 very exclusive skiing lodges serving the Craigieburn Range ski fields: Mt Olympus, Mt Cheeseman, etc.

14 January 2001    Moana – Moana Hotel/Motel    77 km

With a tail wind and no rain, we started from 635 m/2,095 ft with a short climb through beech forest. Then we rode past Klondyke Corner (with a shelter and free camping area) and Greyneys Flat (ditto) to Arthur's Pass Village at 730 m/2,409 ft. Though we'd only covered 11 km (7 miles), we were happy to stop for coffee at the store/tea rooms opposite the Youth Hostel, watching the Sunday drivers go by.

The next 5 km was rNZ2000_(40).jpgough with road works, down and up again to the summit of Arthur's Pass at 922 m/3,043 ft. We photographed the monument of the eponymous Arthur Dobson, who discovered the route across the mountains from Greymouth to Christchurch at the time of the gold rush in 1864.

Then we rode down, across the new viaduct bridge, dropping fast, leaving the mountains and overheating our brakes. Pausing to let them cool, we talked to a friendly Kea parrot and photographed the rough avalanche shelter being added to the Otira Gorge section of the road.

The tea room/hotel by the railway station in Otira provided a pot of tea and the drama was all behind us, after 15 miles of amazing riding. Most of the hard work was done yesterday. Old photos in the tea rooms showed the Cobb & Co Stagecoaches on the Otira Gorge Road, deep in snow. The road, which leaps up and down, is still quite a challenge and still being worked on today. The railway bypasses this section through a 5-mile tunnel.

In Otira we joined a lone American cyclist from Oregon, riding with him for the next 20 km as far as Jackson's pub. His bike and trailer had been lost by United Airways and he was riding a machine hired in Christchurch. Jackson's is an old coaching inn, serving hardy travellers before the railway came through in 1923, but today the pub was crowded with motorbikers and we didn't stay.

Turning right, past Lake Punaroa, we stopped for a picnic lunch, watched by a Weka bird. We continued to Lake Brunner ('where the fish die of old age') and found a nice little motel room by the pub in Moana with a lake view.

In a simple shop at the campground, further along the road, we bought a pack of big fat sausages to cook for supper.

15 January 2001    Reefton – Dawson's Hotel/Motel    93 km

A fine day on lovely quiet roads. We rode north from Lake Brunner to meet SH7 (the Greymouth-Reefton road) after 15 miles at Stillwater. This village consisted of a saw mill, a smelly freezer works (a euphemism for an abattoir) and a pub/B&B. Over coffe, we talked to the pub owner – a huge man, recovering from a bad car crash in which he'd lost a leg.

The SH7 then followed the Grey River but we took a quieter (though more hilly) alternative road on the north bank, up the Grey Valley from Stillwater to Ikamatua. Turning off up a hill for a mile to Blackball, we lunched at the famous no-smoking pub known as the 'Formerly Blackball Hilton Hotel'. (Apparently, the Hilton Hotel chain had objected to the pub's name of Blackball Hilton!) The place had lots of character and served good home-made pies (we tried chicken & brie and steak & kidney) with home-made chutney and a dish of black balls (mint humbugs) for dessert. Here we met another lone grey-bearded Canadian cyclist, now living at Waihi Beach, who'd flown into Nelson for a short tour of South Island.

Blackball was a town that mined gold and then coal from the 1880's until 1964, when the mines closed. The trade union movement of NZ originated here, after miners' strikes in 1908 and 1931, and 2 leaders of the 1908 strike became the country's first Labour MP's. It's now a sleepy village, a world away from busy Greymouth just 25 km down the road. There is just the well-known pub, a store and a salami factory, which scents the air and provides the pub with its 'antepasta platters'.

After Ikamatua we made tea by the river, then continued to Reefton by 5 pm. The motel rooms behind the 'Dawsons of Broadway' pub and the 'Electric Light Cafι' were busy and lacked a kitchen (just a kettle), but the price was good at NZ$ 50. In fact we didn't need to cook, as the Cafι offered an all-you-can-eat roast beef dinner with 5 veg for NZ$ 6 each!

Reefton, at the centre of a rich gold mining area, was once called Quartzopolis and boasted the earliest town street lighting and electricity supply in the southern hemisphere (or in NZ or in the world, depending which booklet you read!) That was in 1888. Today it's another quiet place, with a simple campground and a few stores along Broadway.

16 January 2001    Springs Junction – Alpine Inn    45 km

Another sudden change in the weather, with strong winds and torrential rain. Tomorrow is the annual 'Reefton Gallops' race and there was much talk of a cancellation! Just before 10 am the rain eased to a light drizzle and we set out – a poor decision! It soon began to pour down again and there was no shelter at all for the 45 km (28 miles) to Springs Junction.

It was a long gradual climb through the Victoria State Forest Park, very cold and wet, though at least we were sheltered from the wind. From the top of Rahu Saddle (761 m or 2,511 ft – whatever Nigel Rushton said about 670 m) there was a steep 8-km (5-mile) descent, zigzagging down through beautiful rain forest to Springs Junction at 430 m or 1,419 ft.

As we were soaked through and fortified with nothing but biscuits and lemonade since breakfast, we were pleased to stop at the Alpine Inn, rather than ride another 10 miles to the (more expensive) Maruia Springs Thermal Resort. We soon recovered, with hot soup in a warm dry room. Free use of the laundry, a take-away for supper – it's not been a bad day after all!

17 January 2001    Hanmer Springs – Willowbank Motel    97 km

It was still raining steadily but with a back wind and less cold. Donning all our waterproofs, we climbed gradually over the next10 miles, from 430 m (1,419 ft) to 605 m (1,997 ft) at Maruia Springs. The Thermal Resort here proved to be an unfriendly Japanese-style bath house, with rooms at NZ$ 105, but it had the only cafι on today's 60-mile route. Reluctantly, we bought coffee, cakes and take-away sandwiches, annoyed at the charge of one dollar for a coffee refill (normally free). We were even forbidden to top up our water bottles at the cooler!

It was a steady climb for the next 6 km to the top of the Lewis Pass – an easy ascent, compared with Porter's or Arthur's – through beech forest with plenty of marked walks in the National Reserve. Nigel Rushton (Pedallers Paradise) gives its height at 905 m (2,987 ft), though the AA leaflet claims 940 m, the AA map 864 m and the actual sign on the summit says 681 m (2,247 ft)!!

Once over the Pass the scenery changed, being less forested and more open, with mountains and river flats. This would be the drier side (though not today!) We ate our lunch in a shelter soon below the top, at the start of the St James Walkway (a 5-day tramp). A pair of middle-aged male cyclists from Wellington stopped to shelter and talk. Heading the other way, into the gathering rain and wind, they were following the route taken by their parents in 1948, recorded in a diary! That epic ride had been mostly on gravel tracks, with no road at all beyond Franz Joseph. The brothers had taken a freight boat from Wellington to Nelson and were following their parents' wheel tracks as far as possible. A splendid story!

As we rode on the rain gradually stopped and we dried out, removing layers as we went, to arrive in Hanmer Springs at about 5 pm in bright sunshine. It was not an easy downhill, though, descending a 'stepped climb'. There were a couple of short steep hills to climb over bluffs, high above the Hope River, before dropping into the valley again. Very tiring. Gradually the valley gorge widened, following the shingle beds of the Hope and Waiau Rivers.

After almost 90 km (56 miles), we turned left onto road 7a for the last 9 km to Hanmer Springs, leaving SH7 to continue to Christchurch. We crossed the high Waiau Ferry Bridge (a bungee jumping and jet boating centre), pausing to view the river far below. Then came the shock of South Island's largest 'Alpine Thermal Resort' at Hanmer Springs.

The Top Ten campsite (Mountain View) only had small cabins available, with no TV and little privacy. However, our Lonely Planet guided us to an excellent peaceful motel just outside the 'main drag' on Argelins Road, next to the golf course. There were 2 very tame sheep in the adjacent field and even tamer birds: sparrows, chaffinches and a blackbird, gratefully feeding crumbs to their young on our patio. They seemed to like Weetabix!

18 January 2001    At Hanmer Springs – Willowbank Motel    4 km

After 5 days of hard riding, crossing the Southern Alps twice, we had earned a rest day! We just cycled into town to shop, read the papers, watched TV and phoned to book a cabin at the Top Ten campsite in Kaikoura (the whale watching centre on the east coast).

19 January 2001 Waiau – Waiau Hotel 49 km

A warm day of easy riding. From Hanmer we had to return along road 7a for 9 km, over the Waiau Ferry Bridge (and bungee jump), to the SH7. This took us south almost to Culverden, until we turned left onto the wonderfully quiet back road no 70. Riding north-east through cattle country, irrigated by a canal, we were now on the newly opened 'Alpine Pacific Triangle' scenic tourist route, whose final stretch (Waiau to Kaikoura) was only sealed last year.

Just before the village of Rotherham, we made coffee in the garden of an 1880's Cobb Cottage. Built by Irish immigrants and inhabited by one of their 7 children until the 1950's, it is now being restored as a little museum.

Arriving at Waiau, we had a picnic by the village green, in the heat of the afternoon sun. Knowing the next accommodation was in Kaikoura, over 50 miles further, we had an early finish. We opted for B & B at the old coaching inn, the alternatives being to put our tent up on the simple campsite or stay in a shared bunk-room at the Ramshead Cafι.

The Waiau Hotel proved very comfortable, with no-one else staying and the TV lounge to ourselves. The live-in cook was extremely friendly, bringing us chicken and chips on a tray and letting us make all the coffee we wanted in her kitchen. Much appreciated.

20 January 2001 Kaikoura – Searidge Holiday Park (Top Ten) 85 km

For over 50 miles/80 km we passed not a single shelter or rest area, with virtually no traffic. It was warm at first, so we stopped after 24 km to make coffee on a sunny riverbank, but soon the wind grew cold and variable in direction, with drizzle turning to heavy rain.

The road was hilly, constantly dipping down to cross rivers on narrow bridges before climbing over to the next valley, through the Amuri Range. The site of NZ's newest ski field, Mt Lyford, promised some services opening next winter. No use to us, riding non-stop for the next 60 km with nowhere to escape the rain.

At last we had a 12-km gradual descent to the coast, joining SH1 from Christchurch just 5 km before Kaikoura. We passed the limestone caves (offering guided tours) and arrived in the small town where the mountains meet the sea. The 'Why Not Cafι' provided some very welcome hot food and drink and we learnt that our seafood pizza was very appropriate: Kaikoura means 'eating crayfish' and the place is now a whale watching centre.

The Top Ten park is squeezed between Beach Road and the coastal railway line, opposite the station and the 'Whale Watch' office, offering a range of trips by helicopter, boat or plane. We had booked an en-suite 'breakfast cabin', where we had a good rest, did the laundry and watched TV.

21 January 2001 At Kaikoura – Searidge Holiday Park (Top Ten) 12 km

We cycled through the town, strung round the bay. Along the Esplanade, past the wharf, we came to the site of the whaling station established by Robert Fyffe in1842, which remained active until 1922. The house built by his cousin in 1860 still stands, open as a museum, across from a chimney, which is all that remains of the old Customs House.

We continued along Jimmy Harmer's Beach to see the seal colony at the end of the peninsula: a few New Zealand Fur Seals lying on the rocks. A cliff-top walk round to South Bay (or along the shore at low tide) takes 2.5 hours – cycles prohibited – so we returned to town, resisting the temptation to 'Snorkel with the Seals' (from the shore or by boat). We could also have booked 'Dolphin Swimming'.

We did investigate the whale watching trips, but the 3-hour boat trip (price NZ$ 95 each) was weather-dependant and the boats looked very small! Instead, we went for the audio-visual presentation of Kaikoura's marine life at the Visitor Centre – well worth the NZ$ 3 entry.

A good end to the day, with a cooked chicken from the 4-Square Store, a box of liquorice allsorts and a Taggert mystery on TV. And a southerly wind is forecast for tomorrow.

22 January 2001 Ward – A1 Ward Motel 84 km

Despite the forecast, we pushed into a strong north wind all day as we rode up highway SH1. Both road and railway run along the Kaikoura coastline between the rocky turquoise Pacific Ocean and the Kaikoura Mountains, which have lost their winter snow caps. It was very scenic, not too much traffic, but the head wind was very drying and wearying.

We paused to watch another seal colony, right below the road; then to make coffee near a waterfall; then to cross the railway line for lunch by the sea. At Kekerengu, after a hard 60 km, an up-market tearooms had excellent cakes, a sea view and a pair of Dutch cyclists to talk with. They'd also ridden from Kaikoura today, heading for the ferry to Wellington and a train back to Auckland.

After Wharanui (a solid stone church standing in glorious isolation), the road turned inland for Ward, climbing up from the Waima River. The ascent was only 100 m (330 ft) but made tiring by the wind. We passed the left turning for the Cyclists Hostel, Pedallers' Rest, which lay 1.5 km along the Ure Valley Road.

Continuing to Ward, we found it had a restaurant, a tearoom/store/petrol station and a motel: most welcome after 6 hours of riding into the wind. It seems the Christmas holidays are now over – it's Monday and the TV has resumed its normal schedules with the breakfast show and 'Holmes' at 7 pm, both absent for the past month.

23 January 2001 Picton – Blue Anchor Holiday Park (Top Ten) 77 km

A NW wind still blew against us and the day grew very hot and dry, reaching 32°C in the afternoon (NZ's highest temperature of the day, according to the 6 pm TV news). We rode north through very dry rolling country, the grass parched (the east coast having much lower rainfall than the west).

After 11 km/7 miles, by the solar-powered Lake Grassmere Salt Works (which turn the lake pink), we saw another Dutch cycling couple, complete with baggage and trailer, at the roadside. The surface was being re-tarred and we were only too glad to stop and talk. The man's aluminium tube bike frame had snapped and they were trying to hitch some kind of lift. We offered to ring for help but they didn't want any transport involving money, so we left them hoping for a friendly van driver. They had already cycled in Asia and Australia, so we guessed they'd survive!

After crossing 2 hills in the next 10 km/6 miles, we had coffee and cakes in Seddon village's tearooms. The track from Seddon via Molesworth to Hanmer Springs (160 km/100 miles of rough gravel) was closed due to fire risk – a total ban.

The 25 km/16 miles from Seddon to Blenheim crossed the Dashwood Pass (163 m/538 ft) then, after a short descent, the Weld Pass (196 m/647 ft). They weren't steep, just a long slog into the wind through fire-ravaged hillsides. The vineyards approaching Blenheim seem to have escaped the fire but were not picturesque.

Blenheim (pop 19,000) was a sudden transition to busy city traffic. We lunched at McDonald's in the company of a lone cyclist from Bavaria, who had ridden out via Asia and had also cycled in Alaska a year ago. The impressive Robert Klinger, trout fisherman and photographer, goes to some length to avoid his father sending him to study Law – or the German military calling him up!

The final 30 km/19 miles was flatter with a strong side wind – very thirsty work. We stopped at a fresh fruit place for long drinks of apple juice and met yet another cyclist (we've lost count today). Though hailing from Auckland, he had no advice on the best route up from Wellington as he always takes the train!

Our long hot ride ended after 6 pm in Picton, completing another circle. We ridden 2,000 miles round South Island, since setting out on 14 November. On the same busy Top Ten park (see www.blueanchor.co.nz ***) we had the same little shed (sorry, 'Tourist Flat'). We rehydrated on several gallons of tea and confirmed our booking at Wellington's Lower Hutt park for tomorrow.

24 January 2001 Wellington – Lower Hutt Holiday Park (TopTen) 27 km

The 10.30 am Interislander ferry 'Aratere' was running late, so we were put on the 11 am Lynx instead – a new twin-hull wave-piercing catamaran. Sitting right at the front in the Lookout Bar, we had a very smooth crossing, taking 2.25 hours rather than 3 on the normal ferry. It could have been much faster without the speed limits in the Sound, which put the rival 'Top Cat' out of business.

By 1.30 pm we were riding the 5 km/3 miles into Wellington, along the waterfront that was busy with boats moored for the Telecom Round the World Yacht Race.

We revalidated our air tickets to Fiji at the Qantas/Air Pacific office (for a fee of NZ$ 20), collected our mail from Manners Street Post Shop, bought a Lonely Planet guide for Fiji and found a wad of free NZ road maps at the AA office. After tea and cakes at the Information Centre, we were ready to ride the so-called cycle route, past the ferry terminal and up the Hutt Valley between the railway and the motorway, ending on the wrong side of the road to cross a bridge into Petone.

A meal at McDonalds, shopping at Pak & Save, then a few more miles to Hutt Park, where we'd reserved a tourist flat for 2 nights. (See www.huttpark.co.nz)

For the full account of the preceding ride south through the North Island, click: Cycling 3,025 km (1,891 miles) South through the North Island

For the full account of the succeeding ride north through the North Island, click: Cycling 1,224 km (765 miles) North through the North Island

Distances and Times of the Cycle Ride around New Zealand South Island

Day

Place

Distance

Local

Daily

Daily

Cumulative

Average

No

(km)

(km)

(km)

(miles)

(km)

(miles)

(km)

(miles)

1

In Auckland

0

0

0

0

0

0

45

In Wellington

3025

3025

1891

3025

1891

67

42

46

Pelorus Bridge

57

19

76

48

3101

1938

67

42

47

Nelson

62

62

39

3163

1977

67

42

48

Kohatu

58

58

36

3221

2013

67

42

49

Murchison

79

79

49

3300

2063

67

42

50

Inangahua Jnct

51

51

32

3351

2094

67

42

51

Westport

53

53

33

3404

2128

67

42

52

Punakaika

53

53

33

3457

2161

66

42

53

Greymouth

52

25

77

48

3534

2209

67

42

54

Ross

66

66

41

3600

2250

67

42

55

Harihari

47

47

29

3647

2279

66

41

56

Franz Josef

66

10

76

48

3723

2327

66

42

57

Fox Glacier

26

31

57

36

3780

2363

66

41

58

Lake Paringa

71

71

44

3851

2407

66

41

59

Haast

57

57

36

3908

2443

66

41

60

Makarora

80

80

50

3988

2493

66

42

61

Wanaka

68

3

71

44

4059

2537

67

42

62

Queenstown

81

81

51

4140

2588

67

42

63

Mavaro Lakes

60

60

38

4200

2625

67

42

64

Te Anau

73

3

76

48

4276

2673

67

42

65

Manapouri

26

26

16

4302

2689

66

41

66

Tuatapere

85

85

53

4387

2742

66

42

67

Lorneville

87

87

54

4474

2796

67

42

68

Bluff

49

49

31

4523

2827

67

42

69

Bluff

18

18

11

4541

2838

66

41

70

Invercargill

48

48

30

4589

2868

66

41

71

Slope Point

69

10

79

49

4668

2918

66

41

72

Papatowai

58

58

36

4726

2954

66

41

73

Owaka

27

5

32

20

4758

2974

65

41

74

Milton - Palmerston

69

2

71

44

4829

3018

65

41

75

Oamaru

65

28

93

58

4922

3076

66

41

76

Otematata

115

115

72

5037

3148

66

41

77

Twizel

57

57

36

5094

3184

66

41

78

Twizel

86

86

54

5180

3238

66

42

79

Lake Tekapo

61

61

38

5241

3276

66

41

80

Geraldine

92

92

58

5333

3333

67

42

81

Methven

72

72

45

5405

3378

67

42

82

Springfield

73

73

46

5478

3424

67

42

83

Arthur's Pass

73

73

46

5551

3469

67

42

84

Moana

77

77

48

5628

3518

67

42

85

Reefton

93

93

58

5721

3576

67

42

86

Springs Junction

45

45

28

5766

3604

67

42

87

Hammer Spring

97

4

101

63

5867

3667

67

42

88

Waiau

49

49

31

5916

3698

67

42

89

Kaikoura

85

12

97

61

6013

3758

68

42

90

Ward

84

84

53

6097

3811

68

42

91

Picton

77

77

48

6174

3859

68

42

92

Wellington

27

27

17

6201

3876

67

42



Distances and Times of the Round-the-World Journey

Country

Days

Days Cycling

Miles

Average

Singapore

4

2

60

30

Australia

88

65

3440

53

New Zealand

160

111

4641

42

Fiji

7

6

300

50

USA

82

65

3645

56

Totals

341

246

12070

49

 

Coast to Coast

 
 
 
 

Australia

68

55

3025

55

USA

60

52

3000

58

No time was lost during the whole round-the-worl journey through illness. Xmas and the New Year consumed a 7-day break in New Zealand and stormy weather kept us indoors for 4 days in total. Otherwise, non-cycling days were used for sight-seeing, maintenance, writing, repairs, cleaning, reading, shopping, planning ahead, telephoning, crosswords, listening to the BBC World Service on our short-wave radio, etc.