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I’d had enough of a succession of grey, drizzly summers that left me feeling cheated. I needed a change from Britain so I boarded a plane for the Southern Hemisphere in May 2000.
According to all the stories I’d heard, New Zealand was going to offer greater incentive for me to be more active. It had glorious weather. It offered scenery and outdoor adventure. (It also had pies.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since settling in I have taken every opportunity to walk, cycle or kayak in the many National Parks of this country.
My first long cycle ride – that is, one that involved taking a sleeping bag – took place in late 2003 when my wife’s friend Lorna came for a visit. Jan, Lorna and I sat down over some tea and fancies and planned our holidays together. Jan and I had discussed driving throughout both of New Zealand’s main islands, walking in Fiordland and perhaps doing a spot of pootling around on our bikes. Lorna was quite keen on the bike idea but blew away any pootling-related activities and dived straight in with the suggestion to cycle all the way around the rugged East Cape of the North Island. By this stage we had probably graduated onto the gin and tonics, so we readily agreed. The seven-day trip was a success and we had such a good time that I wanted to do more. I instantly recognised that the cycling pace is a great way to immerse yourself in a countryside as spectacular as New Zealand’s and also rather conducive to meeting interesting people, even if only for a moment. Once I had got over the mental barrier that convinces you that cars are the only method of getting from A to B (and in fact to Z), I was unstoppable: anyone could do this.
I figured that if I could cycle around the East Cape, then I could cycle north from Auckland to Cape Reinga. Having done that, I realised that I was quite capable of cycling down to Rotorua and from there to Wellington. Having cycled all the way across one island it seemed reasonable to keep on going until I ran out of land in Invercargill.
Having now cycled and walked a large proportion of New Zealand I feel that I have a much better understanding of the country and the people in it and this is mainly because I did it on two wheels.