Way back in the mid-70's, I discovered bicycle touring in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin. The extensive network of quiet, paved, farm roads makes the area a true cyclist's paradise. With a little camping gear lashed on the bike, I spent weeks at a time just following my nose. No plan or route was necessary, just some county road maps and a list of potential campsites. Aside from the handful of milk trucks, for which the roads were built, traffic was practically nonexistent. It's still my favorite area for bicycle touring, and it makes for high standards.
In March of 1986, I did my first bicycle tour in New Zealand. The place was already very popular with cyclists, for good reason. The scenery is spectacular, the people are extremely friendly, and there's an excellent road system with minimal traffic. It doesn't hurt, of course, that it's summer there when it's winter in the northern hemisphere.
My first tour, with a couple friends, lasted five weeks, most of which we spent on the South Island. We took some backpacking gear, which we shipped around the country, and spent about a week hiking the Milford Track and around the Nelson Lakes. It was a great trip, but far too short. While the hiking was excellent, dealing with the gear was a big hassle, and overall I felt trying to do too much detracted from the bicycle touring. (I'll admit I'm a real purist here.) While there are a lot of places that offer excellent hiking and backpacking closer to home, the bicycle touring in New Zealand is really unique. So, when I decided to go back in 1989, I planned to spend the whole six weeks cycling on the South Island. I went alone this time, but before leaving home I had made contact with a number of radio amateurs in New Zealand and planned to visit some of them along the way. I also knew from the first trip that there would be plenty of other cyclists touring New Zealand, so I'd have as much company as I wanted. I took only what I could carry on the bike, about 35 pounds, and didn't plan any overnight hikes. One of my radio friends insisted on meeting me at the airport in Christchurch, put me up the first and last nights, and stored my bike box in his garage. I met lots of wonderful people that way, but had to pass up many more opportunities because, after all, I was there to do some bicycle touring! New Zealand is a great place for touring alone, since the people are so friendly. (If you talked to everyone as long as they wanted to, you would never get out of the airport!)
In 1994, I managed to get away from my job for three months. There were still places on the South Island I hadn't seen, and many I wanted to visit again. Besides, I had hardly begun to explore the North Island. In addition, I'd never been to Australia, and really wanted to see what the place was like. Australia is a huge place compared to New Zealand, though, and one obviously can't see much of it on a bicycle in a month. Also, like the U.S., there are some parts of Australia that are a lot more suitable for bicycle touring than others. I chose South Australia because the road system and traffic levels there looked reasonable, and the weather there is reasonably good in April. I like the desert, too.
Once again, I traveled alone. I carried a small VHF radio, but really didn't use it much. As on previous trips, I stayed mainly at "motor camps" in New Zealand and at "caravan parks" in Australia. I usually used my tent, but often a simple cabin was available for little more than the price of a tent site, which was especially nice when the weather was bad. I carried about 40 pounds of gear, including a large day pack with which I figured I could do some overnight hikes. I had lots of clothes, in anticipation of some cold, wet weather. I didn't encounter any really bad weather, but I still used all the clothes. If I had left the big pack and radio behind, I might have cut the weight by 3 pounds or so, but I really don't think one could comfortably do a long camping tour with less weight under the expected weather conditions. Many cyclists I met carried at least twice as much. After many years of touring, my equipment has evolved into just about the lightest stuff available. One could eliminate the tent and stove (5 pounds) by not camping, but that would impose some severe limitations. Since motor camps in New Zealand always have kitchens, one could easily dispense with the stove there. In Australia, however, the caravan parks don't have kitchens. My bike was an ordinary touring bike, with very wide-range gearing and wide 1.375 inch tires.
A few notes about the journal: It's pretty much just what I wrote along the way. I've cleaned it up a bit, but haven't done much to its literary style. For each day I list the daily and cumulative cycling distances, in kilometers. Temperatures are in degrees Celsius. Prices are in local currency, unless otherwise noted.
Unless you're very knowledgeable about the geography of New Zealand and Australia, the journal will probably make a lot more sense if you keep a map handy.
|Starting on the||a ferry ride to the||and a plane ride to|
|South Island...||North Island...||Australia.|