New Zealand – for many it is a dream holiday destination, pictured as a place of dramatic landscapes and unspoiled nature. For us, originating from the Center of Europe, it was as far away from home as we could get.
Mat has family living south of Auckland, and he had visited them for the first time in 2007. When we were living in Singapore we went to New Zealand for Christmas and we got engaged on the Coromandel Peninsula, so Aotearoa had a special place in our hearts. We wanted it to be the cherry on top of the cake of our journey, a place where we could make use of all the skills we had learnt during our voyage across Asia and Australia. To be honest, we had really high expectations towards our 3-months-long visit to New Zealand and it is definitely not a good thing to have expectations when travelling…
New Zealand is an incredible country. We managed to find some truly epic locations, places with a really special atmosphere. We had the pleasure to ride on endless beaches, along turquoise lakes and explore ancient forests as well as admire the country’s mountainous scenery. It is a dream location for a month-long-vacation for a person who has not done much of travelling before. It has all the possible types of environments (except maybe deserts) compressed on 2 major and hundreds of small islands around. One can start the day on a glacier, enjoy lunch in the mountains and finish the day drinking beer on the beach. It is a perfect location for all who want to try adrenaline inducing activities. It is all there, well prepared, waiting for you, served on a silver plate. But it comes at a price.
The beauty of the country attracts thousands of tourists each year. During our stay in New Zealand, we were told, that the number of visitors was at its peak ever. Inviting so many guests is one thing, but accommodating them is another. One of the issues related to moving around Aotearoa is the traffic – there are hundreds of cars full of tourists going from one epic location to the other. All of the “must see” locations, to avoid being completely destroyed by the hordes of selfie-stick equipped “explorers” are well managed and the access is regulated. One can not roam free. There is no other way to do it, it is unavoidable with such huge numbers of people. But for us, coming straight from Australia, where we had the vast space of the Outback only to ourselves, it was not easy at all to suddenly adjust to these new rules.
The best bits of New Zealand are well hidden from the crowds. We deliberately skipped most of the “bucket list” spots. We did not go to Rotorua or Taupo, the Hobbit village or the “Tongariro crossing”. We can not cope well with these sorts of attractions jammed with tourists, souvenir shops and triple prices. We sometimes do visit those kind of places, but each and every time we leave with a bit of a funny aftertaste and promise not to do it again. We can rather handle an architectural tourist destination, admiring the masterpieces built in earlier times than “famous” places out in the nature. Somehow we manage to ignore the crowds better while visiting some ancient temples or impressive buildings than while being in the outdoors. For us the noise of people talking, taking pictures, slamming their car doors is easier to accept within an urban surrounding than within an natural environment.
Our true and only New Zealand lies off the beaten track. We got a glimpse of it while cycling on some of the bike trails. It is indeed wild and stunning, but it is out of your sight.
On top of all that, New Zealand was the first country, where we had some disappointing experiences with fellow cyclists! It is a kind of an unwritten rule in the world of cycle-touring, that when you see another travelling cyclist, you stop to chat. Many times during our trip we had changed our plans, because we had met new friends on the road – this is a part of doing it by bike!
In New Zealand, however, it was all different! One day we were speeding downhill to escape from an upcoming rain. We barely managed to make it to a lone tree at the bottom of the hill. The road was rather small, with not that much traffic on it. The very second we made ourselves comfortable under the canopy of a large pine, a couple on bikes equipped with brand-new panniers passed us by coming from the opposite direction. We said “hi!” and were ready to make some room for them, so that they could wait for the rain to pass. They answered back, but did not even look at us and continued riding, right into the rain, having that huge climb in front of them!
Situations like that continued to occur many more times, New Zealand being the first and only country of our trip where it happened to us. Our theory was, that for many cyclists New Zealand was their first country they have ever gone touring, and they did not know the rules yet. They might had thought (and tell all their friends), that they are going for an epic bicycle-expedition to this remote country, and when discovering after they arrival, that they are not that special after all (there are literally hundreds of cyclists traveling the distance of New Zealand every season), they turned bitter and grumpy and recessed to save their self esteem. Who knows?
Would we come back to New Zealand? Definitely yes. Do we recommend it for advanced cycle touring? For sure NOT.
It is a unique country, very pretty indeed, but there are dozens of better locations for an unforgettable touring adventure. Cheaper, closer to Europe, more jaw-dropping and wild, more unrestrained. New Zealand would be great for hiking, with the famous Te Araroa trail and great options for hut accommodation. But if you are planning to go there cycling, and if by any chance you did a bit of touring or bikepacking here and there, you might end up being a bit disappointed.
On our way to Christchurch, almost flying there with a strong tailwind, we were once again reminded by the road that nothing should be taken for granted, nothing should be planned and that we should have no expectations towards our journey. A simple flat tire, that time from an unusually large piece of steel wire had stopped us for a good hour. It started to rain when we took the tire off the rim, and we had nowhere to hide. We got angry and grumpy. We really wanted to be in Christchurch as soon as possible to start preparing our bikes for the flight back to Australia, but we were stuck with such a trivial problem.
Then we got reminded – by an old Kiwi man who passed us by on his bike – in what an amazing place we were. He stopped to check how we were, we just nodded that we were OK, without paying much attention to the guy. We must have looked really miserable, cause after 5 minutes he came back with two, steaming-hot, takeaway cappuccinos – wished us a great day – and rushed to work. 2 hours later the rainy clouds had gone away and all we remembered from that story was that you should always look at the positive aspects of existence.