New Zealand, Stage 1

Last we left it, I was in Geraldine, NZ, the end of the Canterbury Plains and the start of the hills.

The next few days is now a blur of small towns and nights spent either in a backpackers or camping out, weather-depending. The weather is really variable here: one day it’s lovely and summery and the next is cold and rainy. Winds can be really strong and a headwind will ruin your day. I am going to invent a new ‘factor’, like the windchill factor, except this is just called the ‘wind factor’. For example, and I will make up the numbers here, if the wind is in your face at 40km/hr, then biking 30km ‘feels like’ biking 50km. It takes the same amount of time and takes the same amount of effort. I don’t have the scale quite worked out yet, but I do spend a lot of time on the bike doing math: “If I can walk the bike up the hill at 4km/hr, pushing the whole way will take 16hrs.

There isn’t much of anything between each town I stay in. Sheep for sure, farms and a house here or there, but mostly it is isolated roads, carved through the landscape, through valleys and up the damn hills. If I pass a cafe or something, I usually stop and fill up the water bottles and give my butt a break.

I got sick of always calculating in my head so I started throwing the iPod in the hood of my sweater and now I listen to podcast or songs as I go. Super fun.

Places like Lake Tekapo (That’s pronounced “Tech-a-Poe”, there people.) are gorgeous. The glacial lakes are strikingly blue due to ‘rock flour’: a few fine silt that comes from the grinding rocks under the glacier. It’s so fine that it doesn’t sink and gives the water a bright, translucent blue color. It’s really quite a sight when you first round the corner and see it.

I got to Twizel after a good but windy ride from Tekapo. Due to heavy headwinds, I decided to take the short bus to Mt. Cook. It’s a 70km ride that’s tough on a good day but impossible in a headwind. (One steep hill I went down subsequently I was actually slowing down due to the headwind. It would have pushed me to a stop if I didn’t pedal. Ugh.) The week before, one of the bars in the village had to close because their huge window got blown out from a 180km/hr wind.

I was lucky to get 2 reasonable days at Mt. Cook. It can be hard to get a clear view of the mountaintop (Mt. Cook is the tallest mountain in NZ.) The landscape was amazing. A big flat, rocky plain and countless boulders and rocks strewn around. You can get fairly close to two glaciers but on this side they were a bit underwhelming. Due to them currently receding at a good clip, they are black, covered in a thick layer of rock. Way way in the back, you can catch a glimpse of the white part. But the gully of rocks they leave behind is impressive. The whole landscape is raw and rough.

Sadly, when it was time to go, it was a bit rainy so I was forced to take the bus back as well. Doing that road with a solid tailwind can be I hear. So that 140km won’t be included in my distance sum.

The next day was a short 30k to Omarama (o-MARE-a-ma) since the next day was a monster. The next day was my longest to date, 111km (66miles or so). It was a windy day and I had a couple of good hills so after about 8 hours on the road, I trickled into Cromwell, about 60km east of Queenstown.

Cromwell is old gold mining country and now hosts a good collection of wineries and fruit orchards. Part of the old town was raised up a few hundred feet due to the damn being built. The main town in only a couple of decided old.

The week before, I got an email from a Helpx host, asking if I wanted to come by for a bit. I certainly did. It was right about the time I was planning on stopping for a while and they were just down the road, so I said “sure!”.

I spent the last 10 days at the Rosewood Lodges, a mix of backpackers rooms, caravan camping and tent campgrounds. It was built in the 70s to house workers for the Clyde dam and served as a lodging place for a while since then. David and Susan bought it 5 months ago and there is a LOT to do. I spent most of my week happily putting paint on things. I spruced up the bar/cafe part, painting the huge but thankfully low ceiling, taking off years worth of cue stick marks. I then painted red the wall behind the bar. It’s a vast improvement and really gave it some character.

It was a nice week with good work, good hosts and plenty of time for other things. I have been spending a lot of time working on the web application for Newport Biodiesel, a project I started in June. It’s coming along quite well and it’s nice to be learning so much. I am getting to be a much better coder and it is nice to go back and refactor initial code into something more robust and efficient.

I left Cromwell this morning. I was there a couple days more than planned due to weather and projects. I don’t want to help too long or I will lose my hard-won leg strength! So today was a difficult 75km, through a hilly valley and towards the end, a good headwind. But mostly it was warm so I could take off my hoodie and get some sun. Funny, I was regretting going down big hills today because I could plainly see that I would just have to go up them again on the other side. It was almost 7 hours for those 75km.

I am now in Roxburgh, on my way to Dunedin. I got in just before the rain started. We will see what tomorrow brings. It’s a couple good days before my next destination.

Thanks for reading.


View Larger Map


  1. Dede Silvia Lyons

    The adventure continues for you in what can only be described as a glorious country (or perhaps it’s the photographer making it look so pretty). You mention losing leg strength but all I can think about from the little biking I do is your “bum” strength, god bless you for biking that many miles in a 24 hour period, hope you have a cushy seat and a good pair of bike pants. Oh, and nice work on painting the bar, looks modern and inviting. Keep up the blog, we’re all really enjoying the writing and the photos.

  2. You’re amazing. Photography fabulous as always. Do you ever get lonely? What podcasts do you listen to? Perhaps include the answers in your next entry. J

  3. Why is my previous entry titled “…awaiting moderation” ? I didn’t write that or think it. Is it a message from my father on the other side? Podcast messages from my childhood? J

  4. Donald, love the photos of NZ, you’re making me feel very homesick. I’ve cycled around a good part of NZ and it’s a great way to see the REAL country. Enjoy the trip, I’m envious!!