My year end new New Zealand vacation was one year in the making because it required some conscientious preparation not so much in the logistical planning but more on strength and body conditioning because a highlight of the trip was a 5-day Alps to Ocean Cycle tour with Adventure South.
Although it has been some years that I’ve learnt to move a bicycle forward, it was really in the recent 6 months that I gained enough proficiency for the cycle tour. This involved planning cycling routes around Singapore’s park connectors to clock mileage incrementally and subsequently buying my own bike, a Dahon, for mobility. Just before departing for New Zealand, I clocked my furthest distance (near 60km) to feel that I’m good to go.
Although the general gradient of the cycle tour was a downhill journey from the Alps to Ocean, there were still a number of uphills that made for a really good workout, some of which I had to get off my bike to push. Headwind was another factor that I couldn’t have conditioned for in Singapore because we just don’t have that here. I took it in my stride though, and viewed it as a lot of fresh air coming my way.
In all, I clocked 209.87km over 5 days – the most covered in a day was 59.01km (Day 4) and the shortest, 16.08km (Day 5 – a day of constant dogged headwind). There were more than sufficient rest stops to be plied with really good refueling amidst the splendour of scenic New Zealand. Picnic lunches featured frequently as midday lunch breaks which consisted of all my favourite things - potato salad, antipasti with olives and sundried tomatoes, ham, salami, roast beef, multigrain bread and an assortment of spreads. These breaks were prepared by our impeccable Adventure South guides, Stefan and Josh, who also doubled up as our drivers, safety officers, bike mechanics, tour guides and all-round warm and friendly kiwis.
Our ride took us through an array of terrains and geological formations – from along canals, to open coastal roads, meadows, snow-capped mountains, dams, valleys and bike-only paths by lakes. My favourite ride has to be the portion of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail along Lake Pukaki.
Other great routes and destinations
Opihi Winery (also lunch stop on Day 1)
Lake Tekapo (first night’s accommodation)
Tekapo Canal (also site for Salmon Farming)
Aoraki Mount Cook
Twizel (second night’s accommodation at Omahau Downs B&B)
Oamaru (fourth and final night’s accommodation)
New Zealand traffic – sheep crossing and cattle underpass!
And a cat that plots to take over the world, from Mount John Observatory no less.
Sight-seeing New Zealand on bicycle was definitely a great way to see the country. Personally, it was quite a feat because prior to this trip I never envisioned myself to be able to have the stamina or skill to cover this distance. And now I’ve become better for it. Besides us, there were nine other Kiwi grannies and grandpas on this trip in their 70s and who absolutely whipped my ass and left me to bite the dust. At their age, I am in awe of their fitness, good humour and zest for life! I can only aspire to lead the next half of my life to arrive as such.
Other than the 5 days on the road, we spent a few days exploring Christchurch and its surrounds. Although devastated by the earthquakes, and not fully recovered from them, the resilient city shows creativity and determination to make the best of it. The main shopping stretch has taken the form of a strip mall set up in containers – a project aptly named Re:START. It was heartening to see in mostly quiet Christchurch, that people were out and about enjoying the festive spirit amidst the visible urban ruins cordoned by fences.
An art initiative called Gap Filler that seeks to “temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city” takes site-specific art installations new heights.
On our way back from dinner one evening, we noticed a suspended disco ball in what seems to be an open-air club near a carpark. Nearby, was a souped-up coin-operated washing machine that invited people to activate the sound system from our own mp3 player with a 2 dollar coin. And guess what? The Dance-O-Mat worked! The theme song from Wrack-It-Ralph was blasted from the geek’s iPhone into the streets of Christchurch. No dancing flash mob appeared though.
Near the shopping area of Riccarton is Riccarton House & Bush where the Saturday Farmers’ Market is held weekly. Alongside the picturesque gardens runs the Avon River and the attendant dawdling ducks. The Avon river continues its course through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens
A short 2-hour leisurely drive away from the city is the harbour town of Akaroa of French orientation. History has it that the French were a little late in claiming this coastal village because the British had beaten them to it just days before. Regardless, because they found Akaroa so lovely, they stayed anyway attested by the current French flags, street names and accent we encountered. In fact, one of the founding operators of the Akaroa Dolphins Cruise can trace his lineage to the first French settlers.
Because this sagacious looking dog can detect the frequency of the Hector Dolphin’s echolocation, he will alert us when they approach. How clever!
Other marine life – seals and sea lions along the cliffs
The waterfront of Akaroa, on a beautiful day.
Within Christchurch, the other places of interest that are worth spending a day at are the International Antarctic Centre and the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. There is so much more to New Zealand I’ve yet to get acquainted with, however, in the span of nine days, the pace and depth at which I explored the places was just right. Future trips to the other parts of
New Zealand Middle Earth are in the horizon.
Complete photo album here.