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Cycle touring New Zealand blenheim

When I set out from Picton at the top of the South Island, I really did have no idea about what I was doing. I didn't really know about cooking on the road and how much water I'd need. I didn't have any proper clothing or shoes and I didn't even know how to fix a puncture.

Still, I thought I'd give it ago and so I set out rather optimistically.

I spent my first night camping behind a basketball court in Blenheim as the camping ground I found thought it fine to change $17 for a patch of grass.

New Zealand farm gate

I cycled west out of Blenheim the following day along HW 63. Vineyard after vineyard rolled by and in the distance stood the sun baked hills of Marlborough.

After 50 km's or so, I found a place to camp just off the side of the road amongst the trees, and apart from the odd car engine, I had a very comfortable sleep.

Nelson lakes national park lake rotoroa

Headed for The Nelson Lakes National Park the following day. It was to be my first foray on gravel, and although a little difficult at first, I soon got into the swing of things.

After spending the night camping by the lake, I headed back to the main highway and continued onto Westport. 

I came to a turn off for Lake Rotoroa after about 30km's and decided to head on down that gravel road if only to break up the monotony of being on the highway all day.

It was exhausting work cycling on gravel though, particularly with all the weight I was carrying. In the end it was all worth it as I had the lake pretty much for myself.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the surrounding forest and hills before relaxing by the lake in the evening.

I didn't want to re-join the highway the next day and I also didn't want to travel the same 10km's on gravel to join a road I had no interest on cycling on anyway.

With that in mind, I asked a local if there was another way which would take me west and onto the town of Murchinson.

He promptly told me there was a track that led over the hills but that it was only really suitable to 4x4's. I took it anyway.

Broken rear rack on a bicycle
West coast New Zealand
Cycling the Braeburn track new zealand
Murchinson New Zealand

I had noticed that my rack was scraping on top of my back wheel and then after a few more noises, the bike shook and I heard a loud cracking sound.

I was almost at the top of the crest I had been going up and my rack had snapped under the weight of the luggage. The road I had been travelling on probably didn't help either.

There was nothing I could do to fix the problem as the entire left hand side had snapped in half. I was in the middle of nowhere and hadn't seen a soul all afternoon. This was a problem.

About half an hour passed by when I overheard a car in the distance. As it drew nearer, I stood up to flag it down and once they saw me, they promptly stopped and asked if I needed some help.

Tho two men offered to take me the rest of the way to Murchinson, thus I ended up giving them all my gear. I said I had wanted to at least cycle down the other side so they told me to meet them at the red farmhouse at the bottom.

It felt exhilarating to be able to cycle down the other side with zero weight on the bike. True enough, I saw their jeep outside the farmhouse when I got to the bottom twenty minutes later.

They took me all the way into Murchinson where I stayed for the next two days until I could find someone to weld my rack until I could buy a new one when I got to Westport.

Turns out they were gold-miners and I met them again the next evening at the local pub.

I cycled out of Murchison with a slight feeling of trepidation, knowing there were no services from here until Westport, 100km's away.

I cycled the next 40km's though the dense forest lined road and past the blue river of the Buller Gorge involving lots of sharp accents, tight turns and perilous drops off the road towards the river that ran alongside it. 

The next day, I arrived in Westport and literally as I passed the sign that welcomed me to the town, my rack actually gave way. I was but 1km from the centre but I ended up pushing the rest of the way to a hostel that I had seen.

Here I asked the price of a bed, but was actually told I could pitch my tent on the garden for half the price which I dutifully did.

Having spent two nights in Westport, and with a new rack attached to the bike, I set off along the west coast in high spirits.

Wild camping New Zealand
Sunset over west coast New Zealand

For the next two days, I continued along the wild west coast of New Zealand enjoying the windswept beaches to my right, the dense rain-forested and rugged cliffs to my left and the long and sweeping descents that inevitably came.

Having seen the Punakaiki rocks, I found a great beach on which to camp. Having seen a few people collecting mussels from the shallow water, I decided to do the same. I had enough water with me to be able to wash them thoroughly enough and thus that night, dinner was indeed served!

New Zealand river
Stealth camping New Zealand

I found myself cycling along later on the next day when it started to rain, and within no time at all it started to pummel me. I was only wearing cotton clothes thus this wasn't the weather to be cycling in. Pretty soon, my extremities were becoming bone achingly cold and I knew I had to find some form of shelter.

Jamie Shannon

With the wind battering myself and my bike, I eventually found a track leading up to a house in the bush. I pushed my bike under the porch and breathed a sigh of relief. After a couple of minutes, a man came out of his shed and enquired if everything was okay, at which point I asked him if I could stay there until the rain abated. 

Upon asking him this, he told me to come inside and preceded to feed me sandwiches and cups of tea, insisting on drying my clothes by his fire. He also gave me some information about the history of the area and then told me there was an abandoned beach hut by the sea a few km's down the road.

He decided to give me a lift to the hut and supplied me with some firewood and even a mattress to sleep on. I was overwhelmed by his generosity and couldn’t believe how the worst of situations can sometimes turn into the best. It got a little windy in the hut but once I had gotten a fire going I was quite warm and slept with a great view of the ocean. The man even came back a couple of hours later with a carton of milk. I could have got used to this.

I spent the next couple of days enjoying the coastal road, camping on the beach and visiting the towns along the way. This was broken up by being invited into peoples homes where I was treated to several cups of tea and toast with vegemite

The landscape began to change from one of dense rainforest bordered immediately by the ocean to one of open grasslands, rivers and lakes.

Suspension bridge new zealand
Highway in New Zealand
Highway in New Zealand
Fox glacier

Small townships passed by in which time had somehow forgotten. Eventually the road began to ascend and descend via switchbacks that gave some real trouble to my already bandaged knee.

I stayed one evening at a hostel by Franz Josef glacier where I was able to recharge and hang out.

It was an exhilarating ride into Fox glacier the next day where I cycled onto Gillespies Beach to find a campsite and seal colony.

It urned into a 20km ride on gravel that I was not too pleased about, but once there, I had magnificent views across the surrounding countryside above which hung the huge glacier tumbling down from the mountains above.

Jamie Shannon
Rainbow New zealand

After a day spent off the bike by the beach, I cycled back to the highway and the next day found myself being handed muffins by people situated at the top of a series of switchbacks that led to a lookout point called Knights Point.

Lake Hawea new zealand

The following day, I cycled out of Haast with the sun shining brightly but as I was slowly but surely climbing ever higher up Haast Pass, the heavens opened and I was well and truly drenched. It's no fun cycling up a pass in the rain that's for sure.

Halfway up, I could cycle no more in the rain and found a place to camp. It wasn't perfect but at least I could stay dry.

I awoke to perfect sunshine in the morning and thus continued up the pass in high spirits with only the occasional tour bus spoiling my mood.

The heavens opened yet again though, and before I knew it, I was carrying another 5 kg's of water up with me. I do like to make it difficult it seems.

I found a lovely campsite however on the other side and the next day, I descended into another valley to be greeted by absolutely gorgeous views across Lake Hawea.

Crown range road new zealand

I spent the night camping by the side of Lake Wanaka which afforded me great views over towards Mount Aspiring National Park in the morning.

The following day, I decided to take the Crown Range road over to Queenstown. At 1076m, it's the highest paved road in New Zealand thus I figured it had to be done.

Stealth camping new zealand

I slept at the top of the road behind a church which came in quite handy as there was a water tap out the back and even an outhouse with a toilet. Gotta be creative!


Having descended from the pass, I headed into Arrowtown and had a look around. It was clearly very affluent. I also used the internet to send a couple of emails. I managed to speak to a friend whom I had lived with back in Auckland and he told me he was in Queenstown for a couple of days.

With this, I literally ran to my bike as I had not spoken to any of my friends for nearly a month. I took the shortest possible route to Queenstown and arrived a couple of hours later. Here, I was greeted by two of my friends in the town centre.

Lake Wakatipu new zealand

North of Queenstown, at the top of Lake Wakatipu, there lies a small township called Glenorchy surrounded by stunning views of the South Island. A part of the area is aptly named, Paradise. It was here I rode to next.

Beautiful new zealand

Having stayed up in Paradise for two days and seen some Lord of The Rings filming locations, (geeky I know) I headed back down to Queenstown. I picked up a ticket for the ferry that would take me across Lake Wakatipu and onto Walter Peak; a quite desolate area of the country I was led to believe.

Horses in New Zealand
Walter peak New Zealand

There was another reason I chose this route. It was either a 200+km ride on the highway to Te Anau or a 110km ride through the Mavora Lakes region, albeit mostly on gravel. I chose the latter.

Having disembarked, I began cycling immediately uphill. I had the entire area to myself; mile after mile of untouched natural beauty, and made the most of it by choosing an amazing place to camp overlooking the lake.

The day started off quite well with only a few clouds in sight. After breakfast and having collected fresh water from the lake, I made my way inland along the gravel tracks. It was a steady climb up to around 700 m passing desolate scrub and plains with almost no treas or foliage in sight.

Around 20km's further on, the track became a lot steeper and the sky began to turn a dark grey colour. The wind picked up almost immediately too. I spoke to another cyclist who was coming back from the way I was going and he told me it probably wasn’t a good idea to carry on. Once the weather turns up here, he continued, there's nowhere to take shelter from the elements and you're just far too exposed.

I decided he was being melodramatic, and continued on my way.

As I began to ascend the plateau, the wind really began to inhibit my progress and the temperature began to drop significantly. The area looked desolate, but I continued on, determined to reach Mavora Lake by the days end.

Walter Peak New zealand
Gravel road and misty weather
Beautiful mountains in new zealand
Mist new zealand
Bad weather cycle touring new zealand

After a few more km's, I did begin to wonder whether or not this was such a good idea.

By now I was cycling at a snails pace. The wind was pushing me back every inch of the way and on top of that, the rain chugged down my back and pummelled my face into submission. My entire body was drenched from head to toe, my hands were freezing, beginning to go numb and my feet felt like blocks of ice too. Blocks of ice that I somehow needed to pedal with.

A few minutes later, I saw a lone tree off to the side of the road and headed there. It was the only bit of shelter I. could see.

I had lost all sense of feeling in my feet by this time, and just tried my best to change my socks and waterproof my other trainers as best I could.

Having somehow used my back as a shelter against the rain and changed some clothing, I pushed my bike back to the road. At that point the wind blew it over and my panniers came loose.

It was here that I began to panic. I couldn't fit my bags back on as my hands were too numb. I began to breath slowly and told myself to calm down.

Eventually, after much cursing, I was slowly on my way again. I knew these were the types of conditions where hypothermia can set in and so tried to relax and focused on the task ahead.

I tried to stop every 2 minutes or so in order to get some feeling into my extremities.

Half an hour later, I actually began to ride downhill and was so overjoyed that I began to cycle harder.

Beautiful landscape in new zealand

Another ten minutes passed, and eventually in the distance, below deep blue skies, stood the forests and Lakes of the Mavora region. I thanked someone up there for my safe passage.


I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt like I had come through the end of the world and yet on the other side, I was greeted to great weather, shimmering lakes and endless forest. It was magnificent.

Lake Te Anau

I spent the following day cycling through the rustic farmsteads and quiet back roads of Mavora before spending the night camping next to Lake Te Anau.

Doubtful new zealand

I had made my way to the small town of Manopouri where I was to catch a boat for a scenic tour of Fijordland National Park, and more specifically, Doubtful Sound. Having first been transported across Lake Manapouri, we caught a small bus for the 18 km's it took to reach the Fjord  and our waiting boat.

Doubtful sound New zealand

Spent a wonderful two nights travelling the fjord, and the Tasman sea. There were dolphins galore, great food and of course a wonderful bed too.

The road to milford sound
Jamie Shannon
Touring bicycle new zealand
Cycle touring new zealand

After arriving back at Manapouri, I cycled back to Te Anau where I slept by the beach. In the morning, I headed off on the road that would take me up to Milford Sound.

Thick forest hung over the highway at times, completely encasing it so that hardly any light actually reached the asphalt. This was interspersed every few km's by grassland on either side behind which stood majestic valleys encased in their own thick layer of rainforest. Above, jutted the snowy peaks of Fiordland National Park.

The next day was again spent following the Milford road. I met some travellers at a campsite with whom I enjoyed some good food and wine. The only problem with this part of the world seemed to be the complete, overwhelming abundance of sandflies. They really are a nuisance.

Milford road new zealand

The real climbs began on day three. It was extremely tiring work what with the weight I was carrying. The buses and camper vans that sped pass didn't really help either. The road twisted it's way up through the valley alongside a river to the right. Eventually, I came to a plateau of sorts and then flew down some awesome descents on the other side.

At the bottom, the road climbed and climbed up to 1300m's. I shifted into the lowest gear possible and began to grind through the pain.


I reached another plateau towards the end which afforded unbelievable views across the sweeping valley that I now found myself in. From here on out it was another 500m climb up towards a tunnel that would take me through the last mountain, and into the fjord itself.

Having cycled through the tunnel, I was confronted on the other side by a humongous valley in which the road twisted its way down to the forested floor beneath. It was an awesome ride down to the bottom, and after another few km's, I was confronted by another equally amazing sight; Milford Sound itself.

Milford sound new zealand
Lake wakatipu

After spending two days at Milford Sound, I caught a bus all the way back to Queenstown where I met up with Rose, whom I had been living with back in Auckland. We spent our time walking around town, hiking, doing some shopping and enjoying the evenings in that great little town. It felt great to be off the bike however briefly.

From Queenstown, I headed east towards Lake Dunstan and the town of Cromwell. It was a glorious day. The landscape began to change as I cycled through the plains of central Otago. Autumn was now in full swing and the colours were now a brilliant collection of vivid yellows and oranges. In the space of 100km's, the landscape had eased from rainforested fjords through majestic alpine valleys to the one I now found myself in; namely the sun baked hills of Otago.

Otago rail trail
Sunrise new zealand
Otago new zealand
Otago new zealand

I still hadn’t had one puncture on this trip and was so amazed at this, that I thought it must be coming soon, but every time I looked at my tyres, they were as hard as a rock.

The following day, I headed down Kawarau Gorge and onto Cromwell and the start of the Otago Rail Trail.

As I came into Cromwell, the landscape changed abruptly from mountainous forms to one of flat plains and rolling grassland. I came to a local vineyard that was also selling fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables, with which I loaded up without hesitation.

I followed the trail through the countryside for the next two and a half days. This led me through the rocky grasslands of Otago which really reminded me Rohan in The Lord of The Rings movies. It was nice to be off the road for a while and to not have to worry about traffic.

There were lovely views to be had on my last morning. The early morning mist was beginning to disappear just as the sun began to lift proudly into the sky.

I had a decision to make once I reached Middlemarch. I knew I was going to take a scenic train for the remaining 20km's to Dunedin, but the starting point lay in the middle of nowhere  I could either cycle the 20km's or take a bus.

I went for the former.

Once I found the start of another track, the gravel became very uneven and took longer than expected to traverse. Nevertheless, I tried with all my might, but then came the hills and when I say hill's, I mean huge, steep, rock infested hills where walking would have been hard work, let alone cycling.


About 15 km's into the ride, I just knew I was not going to be able to make the train, and a passing shuttle bus, realising this also, stopped and gave me a free ride to the small station. I was very relieved.

Arriving in Dunedin that evening, I was immediately struck by how nice the city looked. The following morning I decided to stay on for a further five days. This allowed me to see the Otago Peninsula and to really be able to get a look around the city. I actually even considered staying on and working but decided against this in the end.

Rock formations otago

From Dunedin, I headed north, deciding to take the main highway instead of the quieter side road in order to avoid a massive hill around Mount Cargill Nature reserve. This proved a rather stupid decision as there was zero hard shoulder to ride on and the traffic horrendous.

As soon as I came to a small place called Evansdale, I took the coastal road in order to get away from the highway and to get back to enjoying some nice scenery again. This road was extremely hilly and narrow but my effort was rewarded with amazing views over the pristine beaches and farmland overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Moeraki boulders new zealand

I really felt like I was on the home stretch now. I had been travelling for nearly two months, and although not very long by some peoples standards, it was a long time for me. With this in mind, I just tried to take my time and enjoy the last week or so of this little adventure.

The scenery was a mixture of undulating farmland with nothing but the flat plains of Otago and Canterbury to the west and north. I wasn’t finding it particularly interesting but as I knew that better scenery was on its way, I cycled on with quiet feelings of anticipation anyway. I stopped in the small town of Palmerston and bought some fresh bread before cycling on and finally arriving at the Moeraki boulders in the early afternoon.

I woke up extremely early the next morning in order to catch the sun rising above the boulders and the Pacific Ocean. I was rewarded with nothing less than spectacular views. The light transformed the entire horizon and if it looked amazing before, the view was magical now. It's truly wonderful how early morning light can transform a view and whenever I put the effort into waking up early, I'm almost always rewarded with something special.

As the sun began to creep higher into the sky, I walked back to my tent and made some breakfast and a smoldering cup of coffee and watched the rest of the morning unfold from there. I packed up my gear and headed north along the highway and onto Oamaru where I would find a nice bed and a hot shower for the evening.

Stealth camping new zealand
Sunrise new zealand

From Oamaru, I followed highway 83 north west towards the southern alps. The gradient increased  slightly and the landscape began to transform once again from rolling farmland to rocky outcrops and grassland.

Highway in new zealand
Mount cook national park
South island new zealand

Continued on my way along the highway the following day and cycled with the Canterbury hills to my right. I arrived at Lake Pukaki in the early evening and camped on the edge of the lake which afforded wonderful views towards Mount Cook National Park in the evening. What a magical country this is.

Jamie Shannon
South island of new zealand
Farmland new zealand south island

Having woken up early to catch a glimpse of Mount Cook, I was a little annoyed that it was covered in cloud, but I still had some amazing views over the Alps with the morning light.


With some photos taken and breakfast eaten, I set off to Lake Tekapo where, hopefully, better views awaited. It was here that I planned to take a bus to Christchurch too.

The road from Pukaki to Tekapo was quite desolate at times with absolutely noting but scrubland, and once in a while, a farm to accompany me. The snowy peaks of the Alps resided to my left whilst the flat plains of Canterbury stood to my right.

I arrived in Christchurch after dark but could still see the damage the recent earthquake had caused. There were rows of houses and then, all of a sudden, one house sitting right in the middle which was reduced to a pile of rubble. This was repeated on most streets we drove though.

I would be catching another bus onto Kaikora the following morning as the entire city centre was closed off due to the disaster. They say Christchurch was one of New Zealand’s most beautiful cities and I was very sad to have had to see it like this.

A few days later, I woke up with a feeling of accomplishment knowing that I would be gliding down the road back into Picton where I had started this ride nearly two and a half months earlier.

As I approached Blenheim, I met two German girls whom I had lived with briefly in Auckland which was a nice surprise. I mean what are the odds seriously.

Having a good nights sleep under my belt, I set off on the final leg of my journey back to Picton. The road out of Kaikora was stunning. The mountains almost touched the ocean all the way along the coast whilst the road hung precariously in between, cutting through the earth via tunnel after tunnel.

Picton New zealand

Every so often, I would have to get off the road as, just like the west coast, huge trucks would swarm past and I didn’t fancy ending up as road kill. The highway usually followed a pattern of short sharp accents followed by very long descents and then a huge stretch of road almost at sea level. A tough ride but thoroughly enjoyable at the same time.

As I neared the start of the road towards Picton, another couple of spokes on the rear wheel broke off, but as it was only a few more kilometres, I decided to push on and fix them whilst I waited for the ferry. It did seem like a strange sort of coincidence arriving at my final destination. After nearly two and a half months cycling around the Island, I was thoroughly exhausted and run down and my bicycle actually reflected this too. As I arrived in town, the bicycle clinked and rattled its way down the main street, battle scarred and with lots of injuries, she got me back and that's all that mattered. I must add also that all this was done without a single puncture. Unbelievable.

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