Tour Aotearoa – South Island – Cycle Touring on Fat Bikes

We have cycled from the far north of North Island following the Tour Aotearoa route which takes us off road as much as possible. We spent a couple of days in Wellington before catching the ferry across to South Island.

We had the perfect day of almost flat calm waters to get the ferry across to South Island, which was just beautiful in the bright sunshine.

We had been invited to stay with a couple in Nelson who had been following our progress, but first we had to negotiate the infamous (among cyclists) Maungatapu Track.

We had managed to cycle up the first 6 km of it in the 35 degree C heat, but as it got rougher and steeper we were soon pushing. Coming down the other side was harder over much larger loose rocks and boulders, but luckily the fat bikes took that in their stride even if I didn’t.

The view from the top as amazing!

Our route took us past Lake Rotoroa and on to Murchison, mainly down quiet tracks with the odd hair-raising encounters on the New Zealand busy roads and their terrible driving.

some Minulus growing beside the track.

Heading towards Springs Junction took us through some lovely scenery on fairly good tracks.

The forests are dreamy places, full of mosses and lichens

There was no shortage of water here. Just before we arrived much of South Island had been closed as torrential rains had caused extensive landslides, washing away many of the roads.

When we arrived at the track that would take us up to the Big River Goldfields it was starting to rain. We later discovered that this route is considered dangerous when it is wet, but that meant that we had the refuge hut at the top to ourselves.

It was a hard climb up, which took us most of the day. The forest was incredible, so lush and green, full of ferns, moss and lichen. We didn’t notice the rain too much as it was filtered by the trees.

We passed a lot of old diggings for gold. The place must have looked very different then from the quiet, green haven that it is today.

The forest here is mainly Southern Beech, Nothofagus, and I had noticed lots of these strange protrusions from the bark. They are the sweet excretion that drops down from the scale insects that infest the trees. This causes a growth of black fungus on the bark and around the base of the tree.

This shows the black barked Southern Beech caused by the fungus. I had initially thought they had been in a fire.

We had to cross the odd landslide on the way to the top, something we were getting quite used to.

We were thankful to arrive at the Big River Hut Refuge, especially when we found they had left a fully stocked bunker of coal. We were freezing and soaked through and it was great to have the place to ourselves.

One of the many lichens growing on the big river.

The second day on the Big River track took us up a stream bed

Over and under several fallen trees

and though more wonderful Southern Beech forest. Despite being wet though and frozen this was the best part of the trip for me.

We were back on the road with the cars for a while after this, heading towards Fox Glacier. We took a day off there and as well as visiting the Glacier from a distance, we did a nature walk around the lake which in turn led to a lot of plant photos.

This is the remains of Fox Glacier. It was slightly orange from the dust that had blown over from the Australian fires.

From Fox Glacier we continued along the coast road that was intermittently shut due to all the repairs from the flooding. From our point of view this kept the traffic nice and light.

It was either freezing or baking in New Zealand, and as we headed forever up over the Crown Range towards Queenstown it was well and truly baking. So we stopped off at the old Cardrona Hotel for the inevitable coffee and cake, before the climb got serious.

From the top of the Crown Range pass before heading down to a very touristy Queenstown.

From Queenstown we caught the Earnslaw Steamboat across to Walter Peak and the start of a 103 km track to Mossburn.

Arriving at Walter Peak

A flowering paradise

We camped at the top after a wonderful days cycling with amazing views. Unfortunately the next day was thick fog, but we had seen the best side.

We had to battle the terrible New Zealand roads to get to the end at Bluff, the southern most point of South Island. Not at all pleasant, but they are working on a cycleway here.

Made it. Top to bottom, Cape Reinga to Bluff, 3121 km.

Well, now what. We decided to head back up the other side of South Island and try out some of the cycle trails we had heard about, such as the Otago Rail Trail and the Alps to Ocean Trail. But first we were going to have a break, so we hired a car and headed to Milford Sound for a well earned rest.

Milford Sound

From the Otaga Rail Trail

Looking towards Mount Cook at the start of the Alps to Ocean Trail

Then we headed for Christchurch and our flight home. Which, as it turns out, was just as well. If we had stayed in New Zealand for another couple of weeks we would still have been there a year later. Shortly after our flight home all the planes stopped due to Covid 19.

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