Return to NZ (part1)

From dry desert warmth,

to warm island humidity. We parked the Scamp and hopped a plane around the world. Again.

We hadn’t really been planning on it, but as the days got shorter and the Scamp looked smaller and smaller the choice became clear: we are fortunate to have few encumbrances and we love so much about New Zealand. It made sense.

I’m not sure if it was warmer when we got on the plane or when we got off — both places were in the upper 80’s, despite it being after Thanksgiving.

The previous year’s trip featured much precipitation. So, we thought we’d skip Novemeber this year and hit the drier months of December and January.

The photo above is one of only a handful of storms that grazed us in those months. November had been dry too. That’s what we get for having expectations.

The plan was still to base off our mountain bikes. It’s a simple, lightweight and semi-carefree way to travel. This time we’d focus a little more on foot adventures, using the bikes to travel about the south island.

We had a rough idea of:

– hanging out with Indie dog and her lovely humans in Christchurch
– taking a shuttle to Hanmer Springs because the pavement ride was a one time affair last year
– riding the St. James trail and Rainbow road to the town of St. Arnaud

That was the extent of our “planning” if you can even call it that.

Last year a local in Hanmer had told us of a free hot pool a short detour off the St. James. That little nugget was more than enough to put it at the top of our list. Hot springs bikepacking!

It didn’t hurt we’d also heard it was “sweet as” bikepacking trail.

The first of the NZ “Great Rides.”

A co-worker of our friends was concerned that we’d be in trouble on the St. James due to the high temperatures. “They’ll never make it.”

The heat did get to us, particularly on the last hike-a-bike, but we LOVED the St. James with its singletrack, primitive conditions and great camping/huts.

“It’s a Kiwi!” I did exclaim that last year when I saw a hedgehog like this one, but this go ’round I’m a (slightly) less dumb American tourist.

Near the Anne hut, we met a rather large group of Kiwis (i.e. people, not the bird) going hut-packing. The last in the group lingered a while and we struck up a conversation. Slowly he let slip that he was planning to ride the Tour Aotearoa (the closest thing NZ has to Tour Divide). He followed up that he was tracking the event as well.

“Wait, what? What’s your name?”


“I’m Scott Morris from Trackleaders,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand.

It was a funny place and time to meet up — both out bikepacking and adventuring. Luckily neither of us are cuthroat businessmen, so we continued talking the ups and downs of the tracking world. I think we both just want to make a living doing something we enjoy and have an interest in, and there’s room for the both of us.

After some confusion we were told (on the phone) that we were “good as gold” to hop over the CLOSED gates on the Rainbow Road and cross that beautiful piece of land. It’s a fine gravel route, following clear rivers, and the only people we encountered were either fishing or kayaking.

I wish there were more routes in NZ like the St. James + Rainbow. I suppose more are coming as the country continues to invest in “Great Rides.”

Hot bike touring = jump in the cold glacial lakes.

And begin the bike touring diet. Cannot get enough food! Especially can’t carry enough.

Layers. Nelson Lakes National Park.

We got a hostel for a little work. Eszter writing and me tending a tracker or two. Luckily December is my off season, but there were still a couple of events and always emails.

We ditched the bikes in the bush near the trailhead, and commenced a 3-day hut trip (aka tramp).

First hut had a dock, several kind and interesting fishermen, and eels that lived under the dock. The eels can be upwards of 80 years old. Eszter is being still to try to sneak some glimpses.

A Scot joined us for the scramble up Mt. Angeles, one of the highest points around and the highest we’d yet been in NZ. We were pretty stoked to be climbing an off-trail mountain.

NZ alpine is just as dreamy as it looks in the fotos. Just as dreamy as being above treeline in the Western US. But 8,000 feet lower, so there’s tons of air.

Tons of air, and usually really bad weather. Not so for us. We pinched ourselves at the clear day and lack of storm threat — our experience last year taught us these days are precious, and indeed they are.

The building on the lake was our second hut of the trip, which we shared with a mix of international folks. The huts don’t provide much beyond shelter, a mattress and water. But that means you can go light — no tent or sleeping pad!

Dream walking, it is. We closed the loop, fetched the bikes, went swimming again, ate a couple of “Big Breakfasts” (LOVE LOVE LOVE the all day breakfast so common in NZ, it’s a bike-tourist’s dream).

Then we debated our options.

This is one of those points where, as I sit writing this months later, I can see the error of our ways. We were tired after 10 days of adventuring, riding and tramping. It was hot out.

But, but, the weather was sunny! We have to take advantage of it! We’ll rest the next time it rains for 4 days straight. The days are long! The trail ahead calls loudly — new territory awaits!

We aren’t invincible. Sometimes a little rest can go a long ways, and this is one of the points where we probably should have just sit by the lake and chilled out. Easy to say that now.

Instead we pedaled on and camped at one of the free sites you can find on the NZ camping app. All those vehicles are people camping — mostly europeans living out of their vehicles.

Some locals walked through the free campsite with their dogs in the morning.

“It’s disgusting, isn’t it?”

“Yees, they are destroying our native bush!”

(No, farming and clear cutting have destroyed the native bush, not campervans)

Eszter tried to be friendly (we were the only ones awake) and play with their dogs, but they would have none of it. Complain to the council for allowing free camping on your walking trail in a tiny little parking lot — not to the people stuck with it.

It was funny. Prejudice even in the most otherwise friendly of places. We try not to camp in the obvious overrun campervan spots, but when you travel by bike there sometimes isn’t any other choice.

(I do sympathize with the locals whose little park is not being destroyed but is over-crowded with campers)

Oh there are great tastes, on the great taste trail!

Once again we didn’t stop for wine tasting, sadly, but we did enjoy some nice riding. And the “no hike-a-bike” sign makes me smile. (It’s actually a common NZ symbol for no motorcycles).

But we did ride on the beach this time.

And swim in the very warm ocean!

We ditched the bikes in Motueka, skipping another opportunity to rest, and lined up a boat ride out along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. This is a popular tramp so we had to, gasp, carry our tent and sleeping bags.

We were a total junk show, with extra bags tied onto the outside of our Osprey packs, and a satchel of fruit and veges carried in the hand. We had much laughter at our own expense.

We walked barefoot a lot, in and out of the ocean. Because it’s novel to us non-coastal types. And because this coast is especially beautiful with its iron rich brown sugar sand.

I got stung by a bee, resulting in pretty solid forearm swelling. Eszter had a massive reaction to sand fly bites, or maybe something that bites in the sand. The bottoms of our feet got pretty torn up (duh).

In short, we sorely underestimated what is probably the easiest of the NZ Great Walks. And we got totally epic’d by it. Only we could pull that off.

Cleopatra’s pool, above, was a lovely cold and fresh water oasis that rejuvenated us enough to crawl the next several km’s to our next beach camp.

This night stands out among the whole trip. A gorgeous cove and our own personal beach. There were a couple of other campsites but no one else was there.

The sunset and sunrise, the soothe breathing of the planet in the waves, it was enough to erase a lot of epic and forget how foolish we’d been. It was worth it.

House-truck! The Kiwi’s were way ahead of the tiny house movement. Decades.

The beaches and ocean mesmerized us, but let’s face it, the deserts and mountains have our hearts.

We pedaled a day or two to a remote trailhead populated only by a weka and it’s little weka babies.

Good lord tracks in NZ are steep. I think STIL still applies (steeper than it looks). How it hasn’t turned into a giant erosive trench, I don’t know — there’s magic in these forests.

One of the best moments in NZ tramping is when you get your first glimpse of ‘the hut’ (meaning your destination hut). Glorious! Especially when it starts drizzling (waa hoo! 2nd rain of the trip).

The hut was the base for climbing Mt. Owen.

Mt Owen being a wilderness of karst limestone.

Like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I was entranced, and loving the exploring and new kind of “scrambling.”

From the top it was obvious how deep the wilderness was up here, and how lightly we had scratched the NZ surface. And it was obvious how tired we were.

We made our way down through the maze of deep chasms, giant blocks and steep flowery steps, all the while discussing what we knew was the right choice:

Stay in the hut another night! Take the afternoon off. Rest and take in what had been a visually stunning, hot and draining couple of weeks. How we scored two nights at this hut alone I’m not sure, but it helped push us towards making one of the first ‘smart’ decisions of the trip.

Would it be enough? Will our poor biketrampers get tired again? Will they get eaten alive by sandflies? Bivy in a sea of campervans? See wild and exotic New Zealand places? Shred the gnar in the bikeparks? Take another afternoon off? Stay tuned for part two.

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