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Ups and Downs on the Banks Peninsula

01 April 2014

by Nicole Lynch

Although a seasoned commuter and mountain biker, this was to be my first real experience cycle touring. Perhaps not geographically the easiest of cycle tours, Banks Peninsula rewards you with spectacular views, exhilarating downhills, gruelling uphills, and - once off the main roads - relatively stress free riding.

The intention wasn’t to conform to a regimented schedule but rather to enjoy the long weekend, take the road less travelled, and indulge in the unexpected, all under our own steam. The beauty of Banks Peninsula is that it allows just this. Your cycle route can be easily adjusted to fit with an evolving plan, prevailing winds, an extra shot of coffee, the local AMP show, or a hunt for sunglasses. I’ll divulge later.

So, after tentatively planning a basic route in a clockwise direction, it became imminently clear that we wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favours, with forecast gale force northwesterlies for most of the long weekend. We very quicklyadapted our plan to set off in the opposite direction, leaving from Dyers Pass, heading via the Summit and Gebbies Pass Road to join the Little River Rail Trail that would take us out towards Little River.

Following a frantic last minute food and supply shop, converting my mountain bike into a touring-compatible machine using a freeload rack to carry tent and sleeping mats, and, well, let’s face it, a significant amount of ‘faff’, we set off at the leisurely hour of 4pm – thank goodness for daylight saving. Fellow riding buddy, Lee Howell, decided to resurrect his 1996 Cannondale, which sports not only the longest stem in the world but also the narrowest handlebars! Lee also acted as Sherpa and used a Bob Trailer, which held our freeze dried dinners, sleeping bags, cooking equipment and essential layers.

With the first hill nearly under our wheels, both legs and lungs burning, we caught a glimpse of what it must feel like cycling in the Tour de France. As we slowly passed a tour bus parked up on the Summit Road, and received a round of applause serenaded with well wishes, our heavy legs suddenly felt light and we powered on up the road with grins from ear to ear. The grins continued as we reached Gebbies Pass and looked down at what was to be our first descent. After a quick test of the brakes, we were off. I was secretly happy that I didn’t have Bob in tow, but this didn’t seem to faze Lee as he took off, sporting a boyish grin, and within a few seconds was out of sight! The Rail Trail guided us the remainder of the route, offering a more peaceful alternative to the main road while passing through wetland inhabited by diverse birdlife.

After a rather chilly night in the tent and a detour to the Little River Cafe for a much needed morning coffee, we set off on day two up the steep ascent that would lead us onto Bossu Road. As we neared the top we were faced with the forecast gale-force winds, which, although weren’t head on, provided an additional challenge as we battled our way through. This section of the journey was not without incident as my sunglasses were torn from my face and flew off into oblivion. After the astonishment wore off we continued on towards French Farm where we were to spend the second night. Squinting through the persistent dust storm and bright light made my gaze appear more feline than human.

The next day in Duvauchelle, a small town situated at the head of Akaroa Harbour, I was grateful to be gifteda pair of replacement sunglasses courtesy of lost property from a small dairy. Flaunting them, I was ready to hit the local AMP show, which happened to be on in town. With our bellies full of sausages, and another coffee, we were fired up for yet another climb. With the chilled beats of Fat Freddy’s Drop in my earphones, I was able to keepmy breathing even and relaxed, get into the hill climbing zone and maintain continuous uphillmovement. We actually came to enjoy the effort and fulfilment of hill climbing, so much sothat we diverted from our original plan and decided to power on through to Port Levy. The gravel road that leads from Pigeon Bay to Port Levy (Port Levy Pigeon Bay Road) is the steepest ascent we faced on the short tour.The ultimate fight was on the home straight (with the hill saddle in sight) where we were faced, yet again, with head on, galeforce winds. The showdown began. Happily, both riders were victorious!

With Christchurch getting ever closer, the realisation hit us that soon enough it would all be over. With mixed emotions we headed off from Port Levy, where we spent our third and final night, towards DiamondHarbour and after another coffeestop, decided to finish our ride ‘pure’ and cycle via the road (rather than take the ferry across to Lyttelton) and finally, Dyers Pass to finish. The sense of elation and personal satisfaction, mixed with a slight sadness that it had come to an end, was surpassed by the excitement and anticipation of where to next!

First published in Licence To Ride Manual #04

Nitty Gritty

Day 1: Christchurch to Little River, 53 km (via Summit Rd & Gebbies Pass) 
Day 2: Little River to French Farm, 30 km (via Bossu Rd & Jubilee Rd) 
Day 3: French Farm to Port Levy, 37 km (via Pigeon Bay Rd & Pigeon Bay Port Levy Rd) 
Day 4: Port Levy to Christchurch, 36 km (via Diamond Harbour & Dyers Pass) 
Total distance: 156 km 
Total height climbed: 3701 m 
Total time taken: 4 days / 3 nights 
6 strong coffees, 1 breakdown, bags of smiles! 

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