Three weeks in NZ and one night of accommodation paid for. How did I do it you ask? With the glamourous affair of sleeping in barns, closets and parks. So sit down, buckle up and get ready to read the Idiots Guide to Backpacking the South Island.
Well g'day g'day,
Scotty here, let's get cosy with some stories from NZ on the South Island, huddle up!
Approximately two years ago, whilst in Australia, I decided to hit up Gumtree and buy an old bike from Brisbane and cycle 220km through some mountains and down to Byron Bay. With no knowledge of bikes, no riding since coming off the training wheels, no idea of how to tie a 60L duffel bag to a relatively small bike frame, an epic trip was in the making. The rest of this little story should tell it's self but I'll tell it anyway. 15km into the ride, the gears broke so the bike was stuck in 9th gear. A huge storm rolled over and I had no waterproof gear. The first leg was meant to take five hours and it took me 13h, so I arrived at the campsite at 2am. The next day, I left my bike on the side of the road for someone else to bloody deal with and I sourced a lift to Byron Bay (after sneaking into Wet n' Wild and meeting some cool chaps in line for a ride).
Two years later with still no knowledge of bikes and sub-par riding abilities, I continued to resist to learn the lessons life tries to desperately teach me. I thought it would be a wicked idea to bikepack across the South Island of New Zealand, across the mountain passes, down the West Coast and through the Otago region.
After snagging a bike for $240 on TradeMe (NZ's Gumtree) located in Christchurch it was time to quickly scramble around the web for ideas on how to turn a hardtail mountain bike into a touring bike. 50 bucks, an old bike pump from the garage and a few dry bags later and she was racing machine. This machine would be called ThunderKitty. The bike even came with some handlebar streamers, essential for speed, power and stability.
The journey from Christchurch to Queenstown began, and my body was feeling mentally strong, physically chiselled and spiritually free. Well, until the 10km mark when I remembered how damn hard cycling was, and the ghosts from the past began creeping up on me. 15km later and with the gears still working, my spirits lifted and I cycled 60km out of the city to an epic gorge to camp for the night.
After cycling through nothing but farming towns, signs began to pop up informing me about the upcoming mountain ranges, which did little to prepare me mentally for Arthurs Pass. One sign I didn't see, however, was an extremely important sign letting passers-by know that there would be no shops to purchase food (or fuel) for 95km. It wasn't until 25km in, after cycling a 700m climb on a 33 degree day, that a fellow bike packer that I'd met and started cycling with, asked me how much food I'd packed as I wouldn't be able to buy any for another two days. I was struggling to do the calculations in my head; I had three packets of two minute noodles, divided by two days, well f***. That night I uncontrollably ate two packets of two minute noodles (they're just so overwhelmingly tasty), which didn't help matters. I continued cycling with my bike packing mate for the next two days, I also continued eating his dried bananas so I didn't become a famished wreck.
Two days passed and we made it to a pub just before Arthurs pass. A few beers and two pub meals later and my body was famished no more. I stopped in Arthurs pass for four days and managed to squeeze in a gnarly tramp up to Avalanche peak, down an 800m scree slide and to a hut just below a glacier in a gorgeous valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The next few days consisted of cycling from Arthurs Pass to the West Coast, sleeping on the side of roads and in abandoned farm shelters. I made it to Hokitika and successfully completed East to West Coast. I was physically drained, so the celebration was short lived, if lived at all. Amplifying this was the fact that I'd only cycled 1/3 of the planned route, so I did the best thing I know how… box up the bike and post it to Queenstown! In less than 12h was on the side of the road with my thumb out and found a ride pretty quickly with an epic dude travelling to Wanaka. I spent the next two days with David, camping out and exploring the waterfalls and walks through Haast Pass.
Dropped off by David in Wanaka, I spent a few days doing some trail runs up Roys Peak and around Wanaka Lake. To keep to my budget, I also snuck into and slept in the closet of a hostel where they store the additional doonas. It was then time to hitch a ride to Queenstown to fetch ThunderKitty and start a four-day off-road ride called ‘around the mountains cycle trail'. I got prepped, got the ferry across the lake and began my cycling journeys once again. 12km in and my physiologically incapable knee gave up on me, induced by the fact my seat was too low, I was cycling on too high gears and had 22kg of poorly attached gear on the rear end of my bike. I doubled back to the ferry port and met a lovely Dutch gardener on a farm nearby who offered to buy my bike right then and there. I got 200 bucks and caught the ferry back across to Queenstown, without ThunderKitty, but with fond and dreadful memories her.
With eight days left in NZ, I managed to squeeze some more fun. The next day I hitched to Glenorchy and hiked up Mt Judah and stayed in a shanty hut that I had to myself. In the morning I hitched to the start of the Routebourne track, hiked 20km and slept in a secret valley that the DOC (Department of Conservation) hut wardens had quietly let me know about. I woke up with a thin layer of ice covering my bivvy, and was told later, by another hut warden, that it reached -2 degrees overnight. I finished the 32km track and hitched to Te Anua, where I slept in a park and quietly used the cooking and shower facilities of the holiday park across the road.
I was back in Queenstown soon after and hung out with a big and beautiful slackline group who set up lines on the lake front every arvo. Over the next three days, I was taken out for a day of climbing and did my first lead climb, went canyoning for the first time and got to have a crack at a 60m highline across a river.
All in all, NZ was a wild ride of mixed experiences, emotions and feelings. The lonely and gruelling cycle from coast to coast was not only mentally and physically draining, but ultimately enabled rewards of incredible scenery and huge personal gratification. The legends who'd pick me up on the side of the road and chat with me for hours reminded me of how many beautiful and empathetic people there are surrounding us every day. Similarly, the family of people who were so warm and welcoming to take me out on gnarly adventures in Queenstown reminded me that humans are just f****** awesome!
Until next time, much love!