I learnt three major things whilst traveling in NZ last summer.
Never underestimate the determination of a child (when bribed with food).
No obstacle (mountain) is too large when you have the right frame of mind.
Our reactions (mind and body) to all things are the initial cause or foundations to how we live our lives. With happiness or in suffering.
When planning holidays, most dream of sunshine, good food, happy kids and a chance to rest or unwind. For us, the idea of slow travels appealed most of all. After a year abroad in 2016 moving through 30 something countries, we wanted to use our own bodies instead of fossil fuels to power an adventure and flow through the day and landscapes as we felt. We wanted to love the earth and feel respectful of our resources, each other and the animals that reside here with us. Minimal tourist impact. OK. So we did fly but maybe next time we may include the sail over.
Our final plan was agreed upon – to carry all we needed on bikes for 3 months around New Zealand. We, being my two daughters aged 12 and 14 and myself. None of us bike fit and with minimal experience of touring.
It took 4 days to re-assemble 3 bikes once we landed and another 2 days to gain enough confidence to ride with all our gear. Certain pleasures like eating off tables, smelling good and soft beds were the first comforts to be missed and we hadn’t even hit the road yet. Our tent, bedding, clothing, biking equipment and personal effects weighed in at 12-15 kg but food and water carried by the leader of the pack (me) weighed in at a staggering 18kg.
Day 7, we were fully loaded and ready for action. As we made our way along a coastal stretch of the south island not far from Christchurch we were waved down by a very large tattooed Maori dude and his daughter. With a high pitched voice he spoke softly, “Hey, hey, you cycling round En Zed on bikes hey, woah, hard core man”.
Smilingly my mind conjured up images of hard core iron thighed men, ragged from the extremes of solid riding in the elements, burnt lips, frost bitten fingers and clothes that clung to dirt laden hairs. We continued on our way, oblivious to the potential dangers that we would have to face.
Before I get any further into the depths of our journey I just want to call out the NZ tourism industry, or at least what we receive here in Australia. Biking round NZ is amazing but only if you are prepared to stick to trails and sleep the night in hotels, backpackers or private accommodation. Camping as we know it for Australians is not real big in NZ. The distance between campsites is too large, with about %90 of these sites being for campervans only, certified with waste disposal systems. A little bucket marked ‘POO’ and a tent does not count. Because of this we found ourselves hiding out in carcass ridden state forests, concrete blocks of state schools and gravel access roads to rivers. Cycling or at least touring was not for the faint-hearted. NZ suits off road riders who come back to the comforts of a warm bed at night and hikers who camp at designated huts – closed to cyclists during summer (something they dont always tell you on the brochures). As friendly as the locals are, they were not for free camping and understandably, so many free places were littered with human waste and toilet paper.
Our biggest disappointment and most costly was the fact that the well known and beautifully scenic Alpine Trans train link from east to west coast only takes 2 bikes at a time (not three) and with plans to meet friends for a month of riding on the West Coast we paid an obscenely enormous amount of money to transport the bikes and ourselves over to meet the deadline.
West Coast south island – quiet, long stretches of coast – great for rides north of Westport before the winds kick in. You live and learn. Anything south of Westport becomes life threateningly dangerous, with roads that felt as wide as my little finger and tour buses wanting ALL of it. No place for kids on bikes. We changed our plans and turned around already knowing the road ahead was flat, long and wet with sea salt. This was the day the girls showed me what they were made of. They never faulted. Four hours of heart pumping slog into the wind, rain and salt. My youngest led the way, urged on with loving admiration, followed not so closely by her sister. Not one complaint. They knew there was nothing left to do but ride. Pizza was on offer and they’d do almost anything for it.
After a month on the road, 5kg in body weight lighter and gut full of dhal and lentils we caught a bus to Nelson, the land of sun and orchards. I was tired, emotionally drained from supporting 2 children who preferred reading and minecraft to riding and we were spending money way too quick. Food is expensive in NZ but gluten free vegan food for physically challenged peoples even more so. I cried for 3 days on the phone to my husband and hid my anxiety from the girls as best I could.
With verbal support from my love, I decided to continue and headed out on the Great Taste Trail. A partly finished trail of 157km meandering through townships and countryside (so the lady at the tourist information center said). It was 6 days before Christmas, plenty of time to complete the distance I thought as we carried about 5 days of food and water if I stretched it out. Second day on the trail after hiding out in the scrub we got two punctures, several broken spokes from a recent collision with a rock wall, rain, mountainous terrain and a strong aversion to dhal. It steered us into a 2 day break. This decision subsequently landed us in the middle of a state forest, with little food and even less drinkable water. Its amazing how much food you consume when your stuck inside a 1 man tent with 2 others playing cards all day.
Hoping to refill our supplies at the next town we set off early to finish one last major ascent and roll into our next destination. AARH – Christmas eve – how could I be so thoughtless. No shops were open and everyone in town seemed to be out of town. We headed off again and found camp just before the skies dumped a deluge of water upon us. Every possible container was out, collecting water. At least we wouldnt die of dehydration but dinner was lean, a piece of fruit and some lickings of an old dried coconut packet.
Christmas lunch consisted of our last dhal with coconut and cashews. Dinner was a dhal soup made on the back of lunch left overs scraped from the pot. Merry Christmas girls. I had already stopped eating from the food we carried and survived on a backpack of plums we had found 3 days earlier. Lets just say I wasnt blocked up. The day was spent laughing, farting an playing cards (again) inside the largest of our one man tents – mine. I loved every minute.
Next morning as we thought about the Boxing Day celebrations occurring back home in Australia the girls shared their last nut bar and saved an apple for the 58km ride into town. It felt like we carried the weight of the world that morning on our bikes but slowly the land started to provide and our moods lifted. We scavenged hazelnuts from the side of the road and cracked them with rocks and shortly after we found a little abandoned orchard that gave us some subsistence. The river we followed meant a multitude of birds sang to us as we coasted into a sleepy town just south of Nelson. One sole cafe was open and there was no limit to the food we could order. We take for granted just about everything in our western world. Today we were grateful for toasties and soft chairs but mostly for each other. New bonds had been formed from the secrets that we shared as women, old and young. A new sense of friendship forged at a time when many teenagers become distant, confused and wanting to rebel. What more could a parent want than happy, connected and aware individuals wanting to be a part of the world.
The next couple of weeks were dedicated to riding up Mt Takaka. I left the best till last hoping our bodies and minds had become tougher. With bikes serviced and my mother in support (vehicle) we left Nelson to begin the arduous 13.9km ascent that would lead us to the site of the Luminate festival. Apart from being just plain crazy this idea was beyond anything any local had ever seen. The man at the bike shop was worried. Kids on bikes up that Hill. For 2 days we rode, but mostly pushed our bikes up a mountain so steep and windy that it makes the cut for one of the worst roads in the world. With a history of landslides, steep cliffs and tiresome bends, I would’nt recommend this road to be ridden by anyone. We passed about 5 cyclists who looked like Amazonian athletes on wheels, all of whom just stared as we continued on our snail like way. By early afternoon we had made it half way. Camp that night was literally on the side of the road, on a very unlevel surface, taking safety behind my mothers vehicle in case a motorist veered a little left.
We did make it to the top of the hill on the second day but I swore to not leave the summit for the duration of the holiday. Apart from a couple of beautiful day trips in mums car we made Takaka Hill our home.
Lucky for us Luminate festival was here on Takaka Hill so the next month was spent volunteering and playing. It was the highlight of our trip. The tribe we met felt like family. We sang, danced, ate and explored most of the forest surrounds and grassy plains. The girls new found strengths and confidence spilled over into their daily lives at the festival, connecting and communicating with people of all ages. I became aware of how much they had grown as people in the last few months and I allowed them the freedom to wonder, explore and experience all they encountered but all they wanted to do was hang together….and we did.
I wanted to show the girls that if they set their minds to something then it can be done but what I taught them (or what they taught me) is that if something gets in your way while on any journey in life then change your plans, lovingly change course and smile as you do so.
Life is amazing and anything is possible – but you have more fun with others.