The Inaugural Tour Aotearoa saw 250 cyclists pedal 3000 km along the NZ Cycle Trails, from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Ground Effect sponsored rider Ollie Whalley, along with Seb Dunn, were the first to arrive in Bluff after just 10 days. That's a daunting 300 km per day. Here's Ollie's story...
Rather than bore with a day-by-day analysis of the 'TA', I’ve chosen to share some of the highlights of this marvelous adventure. These tales combined to produce one my most enjoyable riding experiences ever, and left me stoked that I get to call this beautiful country of Aotearoa home.
... To here
You see a lot of things on a 3000km bike ride, many of them fading into a blur with a precious few remaining distinct in one’s memory as a lasting record of the experience. One especially memorable moment was at close to midnight on the Great Taste trail just outside Nelson. Weaving along the smooth asphalt path of the Coastal route I turned my head lamp at a noise and saw a naked man clutching a bicycle and clambering under a bush. Who was more startled is up for debate. Choosing to ride on, my thoughts were filled with the many possible explanations for this person being out here on a Friday night. Training for the World Naked Bicycle ride is a leading theory, but I’ll never know for sure.
Random night 'cow'
Tane Mahuta at night
Big adventures like the Tour Aotearoa always throw up great tests of adversity and given the relatively smooth run I’d had till Whanganui I was well overdue for a good one. After the thrill of the jet boat our merry bunch of five rolled into town and chose to doss at a motel, with a shower for reeking bodies and takeaway pizza for empty stomachs. Not surprisingly, the odour from my riding shoes was so offensive that it was insisted I put them outside for the night next to four other pairs. Mine were singled out and stolen. My only hope is that my old shoes' new owner managed to de-stink them to a publicly usable state!
Looking back at my card statements, I’m flabbergasted at the amount I managed to spend on food of dubious nutritional quality over my 10 days of riding. $1735.23 bought a Tour Aotearoa worth of Snickers, Snakes, Powerade and oh so many pies - seven was my daily record! It got me thinking about how much of an economic shot in the arm an event like this must be for the towns on route. Something that really brought this home to me was the reaction of a takeaway caravan owner at the Rangiora ferry terminal. He’d bought the caravan as a going concern for his wife to operate, and on hearing that 300 hungry cyclists were bearing down on his small establishment he beamed, stating “We can bloody retire!” What made it better is that he seemed to have arranged a deal with the ferry operator whereby services would be delayed till riders were restocked with calories. The entrepreneurial spirit is clearly alive and well in Aotearoa and it was great to be supporting it one (or three) pies at a time.
Ollie at the tail end of a pastry binge in Mangakino
Cliff supports the Taumarunui McD’s
Another highlight for me was the aquatic thrill and logistical challenge of stringing together the ferries for this adventure. These commenced with the unique car ferry crossing to Rawene which we reached 15 minutes before the final 8PM crossing. Next, the salty captain of the boat from Pouto Point across the Kaipara Harbour beached his boat with gusto, providing a comprehensive safety briefing that consisted of him pointing at the life jackets. Grabbing a carbon monoxide enhanced kip on the warm engine hatch made for great recovery for the long night ahead!
Clambering aboard the Pouto ferry
Smooth sailing on the Kaipara Harbour!
To reach the Whanganui River jet boat pickup at the Bridge to Nowhere required some serious pedaling, and unsure of trail conditions we erred on the fast side, making it to the pickup with 45 minutes to spare, ample time for a swim and for one of our party to lose their jersey.
Captain safety boards the jet boat soon after losing his jersey
By comparison the Bluebridge Cook Straight crossing was uneventful, a shower and copious food in a sleeper cabin left us refreshed for another long night.
Land ahoy on the Bluebridge ferry
The final ferry trip on the Earnslaw was a fitting experience to top it off an awesome section of the ride, and showcased the beautiful scenery in the Queenstown Lakes area which were a highlight for me.
Natural beauty abound on Lake Wakatipu
One of the best parts of the Tour was the opportunity it presented to ride with other interesting and like-minded people. The tour commenced with a slog into a block headwind down 90 mile beach, where Jonathan Kennett had tasked me with coaching the rabble of hairy legged bikepackers into a smoothly rotating peloton. Despite our best efforts this ended up being more akin to herding cats, but we must have been leopards or at least tigers as we many of us made the key ferry crossings in the nick of time.
Herding leopards on 90 mile beach
Tour Aotearoa TTT champions
After the first Rawene ferry made a selection we were left with an awesome crew from various backgrounds: a gruff Southlander, a softly spoken Irishman, a Nelson-based superwoman, a brash American as well as two token Australians. We worked together with such seamless efficiency that I reckon we’d be a shoe in for the 2017 Tour de France team time trial. While some bike packing purists may argue that this cooperation undermines the self-supported ethic of these pursuits, the tight ferry logistics made working together a necessity and in my view made the tour a much more social and enjoyable experience. I was fortunate enough to avoid the long and lonely nights with only a pink GPS line for company, a sad realty which is typical of these events. With the exception of a fruitless attack along the length of the West Coast wilderness trail I spent the majority of the South Island riding with Seb from Australia, and after sharing many tailwinds, corrugated roads, dodgy bivy spots and bodily odours, I finished the event with a great person who I’m happy to call a very good friend.
Breakfast with my good friend Seb
Friends share the highs and lows - including punctures
These are but a few of my lasting memories of the Tour Aotearoa and if anything it has only strengthened my resolve to encourage others to get out there and enjoy our beautiful country, an activity best undertaken from the saddle of a bicycle!
Yet another compulsory NZ pint n' pie stop