NZ | Wellington - Picton - Nelson - Westport | 28th Dec '14 - 8th Jan '15 | 2640km
Wellington, self styled as 'the world's coolest little capital', has more cafes and bars per capita the New York. It has an internationally recognised coffee culture and has become the hub of New Zealand’s craft beer revolution. If the craft beer map wasn’t extensive enough, every local has their own recommendation too. We found it had a small town feel, likely owing to Wellingtonians being away for the festive period, and we were more than happy to spend four sunny days exploring the city’s bays and back streets before getting the ferry across the Cook Strait.
On the ferry we met Jon, who had been riding through North Island a few days behind us. In an exaggerated Missouri accent, he described himself as just 'a simple mid-western boy’, but we got on right away, sharing a similar passion for coffee and food. It was nice to laugh about the best and worst bits of cycle touring with someone else. By the time we’d finished the reduced price pastries (Luke has a sixth sense for finding them) acquired pre ferry, we’d agreed to ride together for the next few days.
Leaving the ferry, it was raining so hard that we had to decipher whether or not we had actually made our berth or were just being deposited directly into the ocean. Plans for camping where quickly revised and we pulled into the nearest hostel. Luckily, we looked like we’d been riding for hours and the owners took pity. A place on the floor was made available (it was New Years Eve after all) and we settled in. According to another traveller, ‘Kiwi’s love to blow sh*t up’, and the midnight fireworks, launched from a barge, paid homage to that, booming down the Marlborough sounds for extra effect. Sleeping on the floor with the hostel dog was bearable, but made better by the all you can eat homemade scones baked that morning. Needless to say, we ate all we could.
You can spend days planning a route but nothing feels better than a knee jerk reaction to a local tip off. En route to Nelson, along the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound, we were told that an old version of the main road was still rideable, but blocked off from the highway by big boulder and not easy to spot. Eyes peeled, we found the entrance and rode up, three abreast, with the overgrown vegetation creating a post apocalyptic feel. We pitched up and cooked on the road, 30k out from Nelson.
We’re not sure Nelson was a real place, it may have been made up. We’re still swooning a bit, but we really liked it. Despite having only really just got going again, the offer of checking out the local mountain bike trail, BBQ invites, the Saturday market and a beach trip had us checked in for dreamy weekend.
Heading due South, we were sent on our way with homemade snacks - left over Christmas pudding made into truffle like balls and covered in melted chocolate. It’s hard to describe the look on Jon’s face when he ate one, whole, but his eyes definitely rolled back a little.
At the risk of repeating what most pasty white Brits probably moan about when visiting the west coast, the sand flies are horrendous. One nights camping in particular, deep into the Buller Gorge, turned into a bit of a horror story. Having been driven into the tents early, we spent the night thinking it was spitting with rain. Dawn revealed that is was the sandflies, waiting. Even a rushed getaway wasn’t enough to avoid numerous bites on all available bits of flesh, and through clothes. Hearing that they only get bigger and thirstier down the West Coast, some route alterations may be in order!