15 Jan

A backpack and a bike and the horizon as the destination

When I left Dunedin 3.5 weeks ago with a small bag to explore the South Island of New Zealand, I did not anticipate that this would lead to an epic eight day cycling trip with an even smaller backpack. Only a few clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, a bike,  a map and a friend from the US (Patrick) – enough to make this an unforgettable adventure.
Our plan? Well, heading in one direction in the morning and finding a place to sleep in the evening and do it again the next day. The uncertainty of sleep arrangement, terrain, weather and other unknown factors made this quite an adventure.


The sudden change of weather and wind made us change our destinations very spontaneously. It started right at the beginning when our Christchurch host, Rori, told us we could ride to Arthur’s Pass that day –150 km, mostly uphill, into a 50mph headwind, with heavy rain and temperatures in the 40’s — but it really would not be very pleasant.  (Gotta love summer in NZ!). We changed direction and ended up with this route in eight days including two hiking days:

I learned quickly that mileage does not mean anything in New Zealand. Wind (as in 60mph gusts) and terrain (like a 3k 16% Arthurs pass) are the deciding factors.


Kaikoura – our start location (nope, the picture is not color-enhanced)
Our sleep arrangements were the adventure on its own. On the first day, we decided to put signs with “Need bed in Blenheim” on our backpacks to find a place to stay for free. 
After a long day in the saddle, we were browsing the aisles of a supermarket in Blenheim while an older lady in a wheelchair stopped next to me and checked my sweaty, dirty, worn-out self from top to bottom out. I must have looked still somewhat decent because she invited us to their place. 
A sign on the backpack that got us our first sleep arrangement.
The second stay (via warmshowers.org) was just as surprising. The description of our free place near Murchison with similar conditions as a rain forest said: “Pass shed garden to the left and you will find our driveway a few hundred meters ahead.”


On arrival we learned that the shed was his house. The dwelling consisted of corrugated steel as a roof, plastic walls, no electricity, no heater, an outside toilet, outdoor showers from a hose and the nearby rain forest as the yard.


Corrugated steel as roof and plastic as walls

View from the “bathroom”

Grocery shopping before heading to the host house. 
Food dangling in front of my nose while riding the last few miles – dangerous!


My attire for the supermarket when everything else was getting washed.

Cooking after the ride. Don’t need to say how big the portions were.

After a rainy day near Murchison, I found my absolute favorite cycling route: The 100k coastal route from Westport to Greymouth.

Mountains and beach – so much to see.
Near Greymouth, we found a great backpacker place to stay that was surrounded by mountains. We decided to stay there an extra day and go for a hike. The hike was a climb up one of the mountains. It wouldn’t have been an adventure if we didn’t get lost. After walking into one direction with seemingly no end, we had to make the call – the call to our backpacker’s host who was so kind and picked us up – my first DNF on a recreational hike.
Surrounded by surreal vegetation 

Next on the agenda was the notorious climb up to Arthur’s Pass. 16% grade for 3km. Loved it!



Our final ride from Arthurs Pass back to Christchurch lead us from wet and mountainous terrain to dry and sunny flats. That’s New Zealand! Change of scenery, vegetation, weather and terrain within a very short distance.

For those who might be interested in doing a similar trip:
  • I have posted all my road cycling rides in New Zealand on Map My Ride. (Not sure how to share them here)
  • The stuff I had in my backpack: one cycling kit with arm and leg warmers, hiking shoes, one set of normal street clothes, sun lotion, rain jacket, and food. 
  • Weather and wind conditions guided us. We rode against the “northwesterlies” (NW Wind) and it took us a long, long time.
  • Weather reports are an OK indicator but could also change spontaneously. We completely changed our cycling route when we saw it was sunny and not the forecasted rain. 
  • We always had to apply sun lotion, no matter how stormy, rainy and windy it was. One item I wish I had with me was a hat. 
  • Our accommodation was a combination of friend of a friend’s places, warmshowers.org (cycling hospitality website) and backpackers. My favorites were staying with locals. Kiwis are such warm, welcoming and friendly people with a lot of insight knowledge to share. 
  • The two backpacker places I would recommend though are:
    • Brunnerton Lodge in Taylorville near Greymouth, very scenic, non-touristy with a great hike around the corner.
    • The Sanctuary in Arthur’s Pass. Low key, non-touristy, basic backpackers place.
I wanted to thank all the amazing people I met along the way of my NZ-wide adventure:


  • Thanks to Jenny and Kevin in Alexandra for your hospitality, the amazing food and for the insightful conversations.
  • Huge thanks to Reta and Robyn in Christchurch: You are awesome! Robyn, thank you very much for your great hospitality. Reta, es war der Hammer, dich kennenzulernen. Du bist einfach super! Ich hoffe, wir sehen uns bald wieder! Viel Erfolg in Deutschland dieses Jahr.
  • Thank you to Sheila in Washington, DC for connecting me with Rori in Christchurch. Rori, you were not only a wonderful host but also an incredible tour guide. I have never thought I would learn so much about earthquakes (and experience one!) as I did at your place.
  • Thanks to Bob, Gracia and Bill for hosting us in Blenheim and Murchison.
  • Big thanks to Bethy for hosting me in Oamaru, for your inspirational stories and for checking out penguins with me!
  • Last but not least, thanks to Patrick for sharing such an incredible adventure with me!
  1. Wow! sounds amazing, I am so happy/envious of your riding around down under. I have been reading your blog and it sounds like your having a blast. I hope everything is well. I am doing fine. I found a coach and we have been training with power. Its going well. During our first test I had a Functional threshold of 266 watts I surprised myself and in my heart I know I have you to thank for that. I am already a better cyclist than any time before in my short cycling life. And I owe a lot of thanks to you. In our short time together you taught me much.

    David Sundheim in Wadena.

  2. What an amazing trip! That hill looks insane, and since pictures never do justice I can only imagine how much worse it was in person. Thank you for sharing your trip with us!

  3. I am visiting NZ South Island next year (2018) and wondered did you take your own bike, or did you hire one there?

    1. Hi Keith, Fantastic that you are visiting the South Island next year! You will come across so many beautiful places. I did take my own bike with me so unfortunately, I cant point you to bike rental places.
      But I am sure there will be many shops that do rent bikes. Enjoy!

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