New Zealand: Picton to Westport

19/01/19 - 29/01/19

Aussie Bay

It was plain-sailing across the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton on the Bluebridge ferry.  With a range of snacks to hand and incredible scenery to oggle at, the three and a half hour journey sped by.  It was impossible not to be transfixed as the boat approached the South Island via the Marlborough Sounds: beautiful, sea-flooded valleys that form 150km of coastline (the longest stretch of coastline in NZ, which is a bit sneaky because it's all higgledy-piggledy).  According to Maori tradition, the South Island is the waka (canoe) of Aoraki, the most sacred of Maori ancestors.  Ao-raki (Cloud in the Sky) is also known as Mount Cook.  Aoraki was the tallest of four brothers.  Aoraki's brothers constitute the three next highest peaks in the Ka Tiritiri o te Moana, the Southern Alps.  The four brothers were Sky Children who came down to earth to greet their father's new wife.  They never returned to their celestial home as the incantation that should have carried their waka back up into the sky failed.  The waka fell into the sea and turned to stone and earth.  The prow of the waka forms part of the Marlborough Sounds.  I was really fascinated to learn about Maori legends during our time in New Zealand.

We arrived in Picton in the late afternoon and so although we could have got going straightaway, we chose the more leisurely option which was cycling to a nearby campsite, making dinner and looking forward to starting our South Island adventures propre the next day.  There was a bit of a rumble in the campsite jungle when, at about 2230, a motorhome almost ran over our tent and a very irate man shouted at me for stealing his spot.  We had no idea and no way of knowing that we had pitched up in his patch having been given a highlighted map of available spots by the campsite manager.  The following morning, the man's apologetic wife came over to retrieve some towels from the site behind ours.  The towels had been their equivalent of a hand on a spot of hall floor in assembly at primary school.  The towels had blown away.

After topping up with supplies in a new supermarket to us (FreshChoice - the cheap cousin of Countdown) in Picton, we headed out of town and along the beautiful coastal road, which for a time wound alongside the famous Queen Charlotte Track; the Te Araroa walkers all talk about its beauty.  This first day of our journeys on the South Island proved to be a great taster for all to come: incredible beaches, crystal clear waters, scenic campsites, "less traffic", more tourist traffic, poor drivers and ice-cream!  A bit windy and narrow, especially on the steeper sections, we paused on the Queen Charlotte Drive at a lookout to wait for the ferry traffic to pass us by and marvelled further at the Marlborough Sounds.


We camped that night at Aussie Bay, a tiny DOC site not really suited to tents, but incredibly pretty.  Aussie Bay remains one of our most scenic camp spots to date as from our stony pitch we looked out onto the sublime waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound.  The beauty of the sound had captivated us earlier in the day too as we stopped for lunch at Ngakuta Bay and then, shortly after, for Tip Top hokey pokey ice-cream at Momorangi Bay.  The sun shone fiercly and there was not a cloud in the sky.  That day it felt like we were on holiday.

Hokey pokey
Ngakuta Bay 

View from the tent at Aussie Bay

Lunch at Ngakuta Bay

From Aussie Bay we made good time to Havelock where we stopped at the Blue Cafe and ordered a date scone, tea and coffee.  (Olly had kicked over his Aeropress that morning and had brooded over his spilt caffeine fix.)  Anna McNuff talked quite extensively about date scones in her book Pants of Perspective and I was keen to try one!  It was huge!  And very tasty.  I liked Havelock, home of the green mussel, as it was small and friendly, and I would recommend a pit-stop there to anyone.

Emerald waters from the Cullen Point lookout

The 20km from Havelock to our camp spot at Pelorus Bridge, however, is another matter.  As we had turned right into Havelock a headwind had greeted us all too fondly.  That was point of contention number one.  Point of contention number two was the maniacal driving that was so unpleasant Olly later commented that he thought he might actually have a heart attack.  He wasn't joking.  I don't like it when Olly gets nervous because he is undoubtedly a more confident and experienced cyclist that I am.  I did my best to reassure Olly by counting down the kilometres until we reached the campsite, and there weren't so many.  We were relieved to turn into a wonderful, posh, DOC site and off SH6 (which would, however, become our stomping ground for much of our time on the South Island).  The pretty Pelorus River ran through the campground and we had good fun jumping off rocks into its cool depths to purge ourselves of the angst from the second half of the day's cycle.  Mild anxiety returned as the wind rushed through the leaves of the trees and a big trunk creaked ominously right next to our tent...



We were due at Andrew's in Stoke, Nelson the next day and this involved getting back out onto SH6.  Having gauged the opinion of the locals in the spot next to ours, and that of fellow cyclists via various blogs on, we set our alarm early in the hope of beating the traffic and the wind over the two hills, or 'saddles', separating us from Nelson.

We didn't do too badly.  We were away before 8 and we climbed the hills with minimal trouble.  Following the unpleasant time we'd had the day before, we decided that Olly would ride behind me to alleviate his nerves and also so that he could keep an eye in his rear view mirror and simply shout "pull in" if something big was coming.  I have to admit, that ignorance is bliss in this situation, dumb too, for sure.  I really don't like watching traffic approach and pass me in my rear view mirror, it's terrifying!  On the second climb of the morning, Olly shouted "pull in" as there were three big milk trucks behind us, and in NZ these trucks carry two tanks and so are incredibly long.  Although they were going slowly, we pulled in, but on a bend.  Lesson learnt: don't pull in on a bend as it seemed to make it harder for the trucks to pass us than had we kept cycling.  We might have frustrated the truck drivers more in doing so, but we wouldn't have feared so greatly for our toes.

After a couple of fun descents - we were passed by very little traffic - something terrible happened: the wind hit us full-force in the face and by the time we got to Nelson I was so exhausted by it that I could barely hold my head up and I almost cried.  It was so savage that after our intentionally frugal lunch we diverted to a Four Square to buy fizzy drinks and chocolate.  We must have looked pretty rough because a guy came over and asked if we wanted a lift into town - town being 3km away along a dedicated cycle path.  Olly said we'd be fine.  It was touch and go for a while.

A big milestone reached

Views from 6000km

6000km in - note the helmet strap: windy!

Andrew's place was in a suburb of Nelson called Stoke and I enjoyed sending pictures to a couple of friends with a Stoke, UK connection.  I liked Stoke a lot, but do always find myself becoming more attached to the places seen and shared through the eyes of locals thanks to Warm Showers.  Stoke is home to so many wonderful things, the Pic's Peanut Butter factory, the Stoke IPA brewery and a wonderful 'whole food refillery' shop and cafe called The Pantry Door to name but a few.

Inside 'The Pantry Door'.  Olive oil, honey and peanut butter refillable containers.

We stayed with Andrew, a self-entitled 'POHM' (prisoner of her majesty - a name used for Britons), for two nights and had a brilliant time.  Upon arriving, Olly couldn't believe his eyes as there were bikes everywhere!  Fourteen in total, I think, and Andrew is very much a fan of the n+1 for bicycles rule.  Andrew used to own a bike shop and is simply a cycling enthusiast.  Amongst his collection are two tandems, a recumbent and a unicycle.  Most of the bikes lived in the garage, but a special few had their own room in the house!  Riding a tandem had long been on my bucket list and I told Andrew as such.  The next day, a rest day, after some bike maintenance under Andrew's professional guidance, we rode the tandem out to Rabbit Island where had a cooling splash around in the sea.  I marvelled at the beach which just had the most beautiful, pure sand that I think I've ever experienced.  Riding the tandem with Andrew was great fun: we bombed over boardwalks and took corners at full speed, leaning into them so that our knees almost brushed the ground.  When Olly and I rode the tandem, it was a slightly different, more stressful story.  We stuck to straight roads.  Andrew made epic, tasty food: vegan tortillas with homemade guacamole and refried beans, and then pizzas with just the right amount of chilli sauce.  Andrew also introduced us to the peanut butter and honey combo (which we had on this homemade bread and then on many bought bits of bread thereafter), approved of our eating chocolate for breakfast and encouraged our sampling of kiwi beers.

With Andrew

From Andrew's, we followed Tasman's Great Taste Trail out to Kaiteriteri, meeting a horse who was scared of bags and a dog who was scared of wheels.  The ride certainly did take it lots of tasty places, including several vineyards, what with the Marlborough district being the premier wine growing region in the country.  New Zealand is certainly brilliant for little independent places that all look so wonderful, but, we couldn't try them all.  We picked up a couple of 50c corn on the cobs from one of many local fruit and vegetable stands and enjoyed the mostly off-road cycling all the way to the sea.

Plenty to taste on the trail 

Buying some corn

Speeding along the coast, off-road

Free library/book swap

High point on the trail.  Kaiteriteri in the distance
Putting the tripod to great use...

Kaiterteri is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and the home of a monstrous carpark of a campsite that we stayed at for two nights.  The facilities were great, it just really wasn't our scene.  In addition, having not had much of a rest after the intense, tear-inducing, windy ride into Nelson, we were just quite lethargic and so we just bumbled around the aforementioned carpark and ate mint slices.  Because our tent took up so little space in comparison to every other pitch, which generally housed a 4x4, a boat, a caravan and two tents, many others enjoyed bumbling around our spot too!  Discovering and exploring the Abel Tasman National Park is definitely high up on the list of things to do on the 'when we go back to New Zealand' list.  All of the pictures we've seen portray simply stunning scenery.

Much time spent eating snacks...

Olly doing some sand art (a self portrait)

He kindly drew me too...

That time we thought we'd won a 4x4!

A half-decent shot of a tui bird - finally

From Kaiteriteri we cycled to Tapawera and had a wonderful stay at the campsite there on a bed of pine needles that reminded us of our stay with Kevin and Megan at Christmas time.  The small, quiet and friendly site formed a stark contrast to that of the previous few nights, and was run by two Brits who we enjoyed talking with about adventures old and new.  I loved the rustic and quirky site and felt quite at home there.  It had been so hot on our cycle into the small town, where a speed-sheep-shearing competition took place the night we arrived, that we headed straight for the Four Square and downed a litre of Fanta each.  A couple of hours later I felt that deep regret and shame that you get after having consumed something that is quite bad for you.  At the time, though, it really did hit the spot!

Chilled out at Tapawera

After Tapawera, we had the West Coast firmly in our sights and in three days' time we made it to Westport.  From Tapawera to the Owen River campground, we spent hours trudging along on a gravel road.  I think I spent some time talking to a pine cone at lunch time as I was delerious.  When we finally made it back on SH6, we crossed over a small bridge and spied another cycle tourist down by the little stream.  A few kilometers further on, that same cycle tourist had, unbeknownst to us, overtaken us and was sat at the side of the road underneath his bike.  We pulled over to check everything was OK.  That was when we first met Uwe.

We then cycled and camped with Uwe for the next two days and this was our first experience of teaming up with another tourist and the drafting opportunities it permitted were wonderful!  Uwe is from Germany and had done his first cycle tour with friends in Sardinia last summer.  He had been crouched both by the river and underneath his bike because he was so hot and thirsty!  He had taken to wearing a t-shirt underneath his helmet to protect his neck fromt the sun.  With Uwe we battled the sandflies at the Owen River campground (we donned our face nets they were that pesky), made it to Murchison in no time at all (20km/h, baby) and meandered our way through the beautiful Buller Gorge.

From this point on, the trip became epic in new proportions.  The scenery just got bigger and better and we met more cycle-tourists than we had at any point previously on the trip.  We're so lucky to now call so many of them friends.

We paused at the top of the Buller Gorge for lunch and having just passed the 'Welcome to the West Coast' sign it seemed only right that it should tip it down.  We pulled on our waterproofs and decided there was no time like the present to get going.  However, just as we were about to get back on the bikes, a man poked his head out of a motorhome that had pulled up a short distance away.  "You like coffee?", the man shouted.  "YES!", Uwe and I shouted back simulatenously.  We rushed over, already soaking, and into the campervan of a Dutch couple on their Kiwi adventure of a lifetime.  Their son had studied in New Zealand and had typed up a brilliant itinerary for them that didn't look too dissimilar to our own, we'd just take twice as long as they would to cover the same distances!  I had grabbed my packet of gingernuts as I ran to the dry saftey of the motorhome and we all enjoyed them with steaming mugs of hot tea and coffee as we listened to the rain hammering down on the windscreen.  Just as we relished the final dregs, the rain eased and we thanked the weather gods and serendipity for being on our sides this time.

Spot Olly!

As we emerged from the motorhome and waved the Dutch couple goodbye, we walked into the path of British couple, Chris and Sue, who were on their Kiwi adventure of a lifetime too: six weeks on a tandem on the South Island.  As we swapped gingernuts for Bombay mix, the heavens opened once more.  The Dutch couple must have shaken their heads in disbelief as we got soaked de nouveau and then started taking pictures!

After our considerable lunch break, we sped down the hill and towards our camp for the night at Berlins.  Uwe enjoyed taking a picture and sending it home to his dad in Berlin.  It was a super spot with the huge Buller river just the other side of the road.  Just as we had done the night before, and so so whenever possible, we headed straight for the picnic bench and set up camp around it.  Similarly, just as we had done the night before, we also headed into the bar as night started to fall to escape the sandflies.  The beer wasn't bad either!

View from the tent at Berlins
Uwe and Olly

With just 46km to go to Westport the next day, we had a leisurely start.  It was a nice ride and its culmination celebrated with a trip to New World and thus a hearty lunch was enjoyed by us all in the park.  As lunch stretched on, it was time to say 'auf Wiedersehen' to Uwe and head to Janet and Terry's house just out of town, our Warm Showers hosts for the night.  (We had also pressured Uwe into signing up to Warm Showers and even at the last minute, a kind Kiwi offered to host Uwe for the night.)  This wasn't the last we saw of Uwe.

Up a hill and through a gate into a garden full of life: flowers, grasses, trees were all in full bloom at Janet's house.  We walked around the house and to the open door: "Hello", we cried.  We had followed Janet's instructions, but at this point still couldn't be 100% sure we were in the right place.  We were, thankfully, and we were greeted by a familiar accent as Terry heralds from Yorkshire and despite being forty years in New Zealand, had not managed to lose his wonderfully friendly northern tones.  "Do you fancy a cup of tea?" asked Terry.  We definitely did.  A few hours, two cups of tea and an impressive amount of cheese and biscuits later, we showered and set about sorting ourselves out after a day of cycling.  I immediately felt very relaxed in Janet and Terry's company.  I sat writing in my journal listening to Janet's daughter's CD (Mel Parsons) as Janet cooked up a veritable storm in the kitchen.  Following a meal of delicious courgette fritters and beetroot relish (that we did try to recreate on our camp stove...) we sat talking aimlessly, digging all sorts of stories from our collective archives.  One such story concerned foods we had all become addicted to in various places, and so we admitted to our current mint slice habit.  After dinner, we settled into the chairs on the verandah and looked out at the city lights twinkling in the distance.  Janet disappeared for a moment, returning with a packet of our favourites in her hand.  She had bought them for a party she was hosting the next day (which turned out to be her birthday party!), but she couldn't resist tucking into them after hearing our pitiful tale.

And so the sun went down on another wonderful Warm Showers stay.  It was starting to feel harder and harder to say goodbye to the people who opened up their homes and hearts to us when all we currently had to offer were stinking clothes and rumbling tummies.  Out we went onto State Highway 6, the Great Coast Road, and pedalled in the direction of what would become the most epic stint of our cycling adventure in New Zealand.  Terry had told us it would be.

All prices for an unpowered, tent site.
  • Parklands Marina Holiday Park, Waikawa (Picton) - no complaints.  Standard fare.
  • Aussie Bay, DOC site.  $8 pp per night, stunning views, not ideal for a tent, long-drop loo.  Very small, arrival after 6pm and you'll be lucky to bag a spot.
  • Pelorus Bridge DOC campground.  $18 pp per night.  Great river fun to be had.  Worth booking.  Showers and toilets available.
  • Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve.  $25 pp per night.  A huge site with good facilities.  But, a carpark in high season.  Big and commercial.
  • Tapawera Settle campground.  $18 pp per night.  Lovely.
  • Owen River campground. $10 pp per night.  Huge camping space, huge amounts of sandflies.  Very basic facilities.
  • Berlins campground.  $12 pp per night.  Friendly; bar on site.  Facilities fine.