Here's a little overview of the first major leg of the Tour - Picton to Stewart Island, down the West Coast, three weeks, 1500km - what a time! If you're thinking about cycle touring, I'd say go for it! It's an awesome way to get around: you see (and smell!) so much, and it's good for you and the planet. I've really loved the Tour so far. There have been some really long days, some tough hills, and some achy body parts, but on the whole, I'm very happy with life on the road.
The West Coast was great. I'd only spent a day there before, but the people and the scenery were something really special. I think I had a vague idea of trying to find quintessential New Zealand, the kiwiest part. The Coast always seemed like it could be it. Having visited, I think the overall notion of ‘real’ NZ is a mirage, but the Coast delivered in some special ways. The shows in Barrytown and Blackball were lovely, and Hokitika remains a highlight in terms of how I performed. I definitely gained an appreciation of the area's contribution to NZ as a modern society - through gold, coal and forestry. As a lefty Wellington art type, I can wring my hands about resource extraction, but the country would be a very different place without these historical contributions. Did you know there is only one MP for the entire Tasman/West Coast area? I know there aren't many people that live there, but it's a huge area (with scandalously little cell phone reception and other services). The Coast deserves better, and when it rises again, I'll be right behind it.
My favourite ride of the Tour so far has been Murchison to Westport - 100km along the Buller Gorge. What a dream! Amazingly beautiful beech forest, and the river must be one of the most beautiful in the country.
The hardest climbs… which to choose? Haast Pass was very tough, though short and sharp. The ride through Franz Josef and Fox Glacier towns was very challenging! The hills just kept coming. And the ride to Nelson slammed me, in particular Whangamoa. I remember thinking “I don't think I can do another climb…”, but I had to, and I did!
The weather was okay, a real mixture of everything. Sometimes it rained all day, often it was sunny, and when it was windy, it was a struggle. Given the choice, I'd gladly cycle in the rain, if it meant no headwinds - that can radically change a day's ride. The last 20km into the wind to Mossburn asked some tough questions of me, and I was completely drained by the end. In the past I've mostly ignored weather forecasts, and the Tour started out that way. After a few weeks though, I got really hung up on how the next day might look: what were the winds doing?? How would that affect the ride? I had to change tack, and knew that it would affect the ride however it did - knowing the forecast doesn't change the reality of what you're riding in (especially if you already have your route locked in). Ditto with hills: you just have to face what you're given, and know that you can do it
Meeting other tourers is great! There's a real camaraderie - a wave and a “hello” can exchange so much about life in the saddle. It's very easy to chat with someone when you see a bike beside their tent, there’s an awful lot of shared experience. For the North Island I’m planning to get on board with Warm Showers - a couch-surfing type network for cycle-tourers.