So our plan for a while has been to bike while in New Zealand. After considerable research and contemplation, we decided to rent bikes and bike on the South Island only. According to all reports, 3/4 of the people live on the North Island and hence there is much less traffic on the South Island. We also realized that with all the gear and the terrain we would not be able to do it all. Little did we know!
Before I get into the pleasures of the undulating roads of the South Island, let me fill you in on the bike rentals. I think one lesson we are both taking from this experience is that it is much better, if possible, to tour on your own bike. That said, we knew it could be extremely costly to ship our bikes back to the U.S. We had made arrangements with a shop, which will remain nameless, in Auckland that came recommended from a few sources. Dave had been corresponding with the shop owner for a month or so prior to our departure. We had requested road style touring bikes rather than hybrids or mountain bikes. We had also requested triple chain rings. (If you are not a cyclist, note that this is absolutely critical for hauling my big bum and associated gear up very steep hills.) Based on the shop’s communications with us, we had a clear sense that the bikes would be on the older side (How does your wife feel about shifters on the down tube?), but felt pretty confident in him based on the questions he was asking and his general attitude towards working with us. I suppose I should also add that this shop was also the cheapest.
So on our first day in Auckland, we went in search of the bike shop anxious to check out the bikes and get them suited up with our pedals, seats, etc. We turned the corner near the shop and both nearly burst out laughing. The highly recommended bike shop was a plain, little, white, one-car garage on a residential street. With a raised eyebrow and a hope that this added character to the experience, we walked on over. The shop owner happily greeted us and took us out back to show us what he had for us. He instructed his assistant to get the bikes they had talked about for us. I think, though I am not 100% certain, that he went behind a shed and pulled bikes off of a pile. What he produced was well worn with a rusted chain and a double chain ring. Mine was also uncomfortably big for me, though the owner didn’t seem to think so. Dave’s bike was in a similar condition and also with a double. The shop owner initially resisted changing out the doubles for us then after some consideration said he would do so the next day.
After a moment of disappointment and now what do we do?', we did some research and ended up canceling with our friend the next day. Thankfully, he had not requested any payment up front. We ended up going with an operation based in Christchurch that runs tours and rents bikes. They could have two bikes set up for us in Wellington the following week. A little more money, but it felt a little more reliable. In the process, we had to forgo road touring bikes for hybrids. Still seemed like the best option at that point.
So we did pick up the bikes as planned. Even a day earlier than planned. We loaded them up good (and I mean good and heavy) and headed off on the ferry to the South Island. We met some other cyclists at the ferry and heard some of their tales of riding the North Island and learned some highlights of the South Island from a super friendly British couple who had travelled there before. The following day we set off down the eastern side of the island from Picton toward Christchurch.
Prior to leaving Wellington, Dave and I had spent a couple of hours planning out our route, ensuring time off for a few highlights and trying to be realistic about how many kilometers we could cover a day with all the gear. What we have learned since then is the following:
- heavy hybrids with fat tires are slower than road bikes with skinny tires
- we have too much weight on our bikes
- the NZ transportation department didn’t care about grading the road when it comes to hills
- the roads, though paved, are something like a nice country road in Ohio (not exactly smooth) – except there are tour buses and double trailer semis passing you
- Lee Anne was REALLY not in shape for this (ok this is not really new information, but it has definitely been confirmed)
- this is a really beautiful country with lots of friendly folks!
I can say the latter now that we have arrived in Christchurch, spent a day off the bike and given my very sore bum a rest. I’ll spare you the details of the sore bum, but’s let’s just say it’s not good.
In reality, the ride has been much more challenging than we both anticipated. There is more traffic on the South Island than anticipated, some of the climbs are excruciatingly steep and we are making very slow time. I never knew I could actually ride this slow! So, once again, we’re in the process of adapting and being flexible. We’re planning to comprise our plans a little and pedal on for a couple more weeks than possible cover a few of the South Island sites by car.
We’ll see how it all works out. You know what they say, “a day on the bike is better than a day in the office.”