Australia’s summer holidays seemed incredibly long – and there couldn’t be a bigger blessing for any exchange student than as much time off as possible. I finished late October and teaching recommenced in March. The first two and a half months were filled with full time work, the rest however was filled with discovering that foreign country of choice – and its smaller “surrounding” islands, such as New Zealand. I know, most Kiwis will take such belittlement as an insult, after all they’d rather think of Australia as “the West Island” – a part of New Zealand commonly known for its marsupials and lack of rugby trophies. But when you spend your time on an island more than thirty times bigger than the UK, New Zealand and the thousand miles of water separating it from OZ will seem negligible.
I have written before about microadventures. About making your weekends count and discover the country of your choice. As an avid cyclist, this usually includes a bike. Whenever I move it’s on the bike. In fact, I believe you should never be walking at all, unless you have to run away from something, and even then a bike would obviously be the smarter choice if available.
Then of course all those weekend trips make you think: what if I don’t spend a weekend in the saddle, but an entire month?
So a plan started to take shape in my head. The land of sheep and hobbits, one month, my bike and me.
The work as a bike messenger was plenty of training, but other factors were cause for concern: the past months in Australia had at times been excruciatingly hot and I had heard about New Zealand’s fluctuating weather conditions. It might well get too hot to ride, just as likely though would be days and days of rain or thunderstorm.
In the end I was very lucky in terms of weather. I saw less than five days of rain in total and most days weren’t too hot either.
I cycled 100-120 kilometres every day, slept in public parks, on beaches and in forests.
I met some great friends and people on the way but most days I spent completely on my own, cycling all day, and cooking pasta before crawling back into my tiny bivy.
It was an incredible, almost cathartic experience to be able to indulge myself into something so simple yet fulfilling as pedaling. At times I would reach an almost meditative state of blissful clarity, at others I got lost in my own thoughts, hardly paying attention to the beauties around me, daydreaming for hours on end. And then there were days where the headwinds were so strong, I hardly felt like moving forward. There were those few days when I was completely soaked. There were those hill where the only thing that got me up there was motivational cursing. But all those instances only make the warm food and sleeping bag at night more precious and once over seem like heroic challenges more than a mere pain.
And then there is the beauty of the place. New Zealand’s south island seems to boast all kinds of landscape and almost every view is rewarding. Cycling it allowed me to enjoy everything at a relaxed pace and still have the feeling of getting somewhere.
I could ramble on forever now about pushing westwards from the Catlins to Invercargill at only 14km/h at full force, because the winds were so strong they almost blew me back. Or about sleeping in the back of an old car in a back alley in Dunedin. About conquering Takaka Hill at breathtaking speed and about only just getting to the top of Haast Pass at only little more than walking pace. I could talk of moments of scaring loneliness or of meeting great soulmates. But instead I’ll spare you hours of tiring stories and just include a few photos that I took along the way.