Tour Aotearoa a 3000km journey from cape reinga to bluff

To say the least it was incredible. We saw so much, met lots of amazing people and have many more stories to share. So to start things off, here is a small batch of images from my trip. Enjoy


Over a year of preparation and the day had arrived. We all lined up at the start and before we knew it, we were off. After 15km of sealed road we hung a right and cycled down a gravel road which eventually turned into a sandy stream. Clean, quiet bikes quickly became muddy and noisey with the sound of rubbing brake pads and squeaky chains echoing through the bunch. We came out on 90 mile beach and started riding south into a stiff headwind. It was a mad dash to reach the last 8.00pm ferry but we made it in the nick of time.

Clockwise from top: Riding in formation along 90 mile beach, Boarding the Hokianga ferry

We refuelled in Rawene and then pushed on well into the evening. This is where our group of four riders organically formed. The four of us (Jeff Lyall, Geof Blance, Steve Scott and myself) would end up more or less staying together for the duration of the tour.


We awoke early after spending our first night camped out behind the back of a hall in Waimamaku. Although none of us slept, as there were a couple of sensor lights that were set off every time someone rolled over.

We started with a good climb up in to the Waipoua Kauri Forest and unfortunately reached Tane Mahuta in the darkness. It actually took us a while to figure out which tree it was in our very weary state. From here it was a long haul to the second ferry at Pouto Point. We didn't have time to muck around so after a quick stop for food in Dargaville it was back on the bikes. The last section of this leg was a challenging gravel road with lots of hills and by the time we eventually arrived at the ferry we were all absolutely shattered.

Left: Jeff clambering along the side of the boat Right: Taking every opportunity to rest

We arrived in Helensville after the 3 hour ferry and quickly went to seek out some food. Feeling rejuvenated, we began to navigate our way through the hustle and bustle of Auckland. The route here was fairly straightforward although we had a few near misses with cycle commuters rushing in the opposite direction in order to get home.

It was good old KFC for dinner near the airport and then we carried on to find a camping spot in the Hunua Ranges. This was easier said than done as it took a long time to scope out a suitable patch. We eventually carted our heavy bikes over a fence and camped out under a stand of pine trees.


The next morning we got underway early again and 5.00am starts were becoming the norm. In the rush to leave, my sunnies had fallen off my bike and as it was dark I hadn't noticed until we were a few kilometres up the road. I reluctantly turned back in search of them and eventually caught back up with the group.

Clockwise from top left: Sunrise en route to Mangatangi, Waikato River from above, Dylan and Pete come to say hi, Fun on the Waikato River Trails

It's fair to say the Hauraki Rail Trail was probably one of my least favourite sections and the long straight stretch between Thames and Matamata was arduous. Although once we hit the Waikato River Trails things improved a lot and we all really enjoyed this stretch. It was a nice surprise to be greeted by Dylan and Pete when we popped out at the Maraetai Dam. After a good catchup we continued down the last hilly and windy bit of single track in the dark to Mangakino. We set up camp in the park near the lake and didn't take long to fall asleep.


We woke to a misty, cold morning and quickly got underway in order to warm up. We continued on the Waikato River Trails before veering off and taking some back roads through to the Pureora Forest. This included a cool section which had an old-school feel that reminded me of my early days as a mountain biker and riding the 42nd Traverse. Soon enough we joined up with the Timber Trail and we climbed up towards the summit. Things started to get a bit boggy here and it was our first real taste of mud of the trip.

Clockwise from top left: A misty start, Another bridge, Timber Trail support crew

About halfway through the trail, I burst a sidewall on my front tubeless tire bombing down a rocky decent. We stopped to repair it, then after we got going again I struggled to get back into a rhythm. I decided to ease off slightly and be a bit more careful to avoid getting a pinch flat. Our last food restock was in Matamata so I was starting to run low.

These factors came together to make the last 30km of the Timber Trail tough for me. I'd ridden the trail in the past so I knew what was coming up and the 1km markers didn't help morale. Stops became frequent and the progress was slow, but we eventually made it to the carpark. To my amazement Dylan and Louie had driven over and were waiting with my Aunty Moira. It was great to see some familiar faces again albeit briefly.

The gravel road between Ongarue and Taumarunui was fast and we were there in no time and ready for dinner. Jeff managed to book us in to an open home in Owhango, so we had a 2 hour ride to cap off the day on another back road which included a fair bit more gravel. Paul kindly had hot soup and buns waiting for us and it was our first chance to have a shower after 3 nights camped out. We also had the luxury of sleeping in a proper bed which was such a treat.


It was much harder leaving the comfort of the bed, but a big bowl of porridge and a good strong coffee kicked things off nicely. We had a 2.00pm deadline to make the Wanganui River jet boat so there was no time to waste. The Mountains to Sea trail was a real highlight for me with some great sections of technical single track which I managed to cope OK with on the cyclocross bike.

Not all plain sailing on the Bridge to Nowhere

We made it to the jet boat on time and loaded our bikes onto the racks. The ride down the river was great, and in-between nodding off I managed to capture a few shots. Arriving in Pipiriki we quickly went to find the local cafe and some ice-blocks to cool down. From there it was a nice, quiet ride down the river road into Wanganui. On arrival we downed a beer which didn't even touch the sides.

After getting a taste of sleeping in a bed the night before, we decided to check into a fancy motel and try to get a few quality hours sleep.


This was always going to be a long, hard day. It was our earliest start too at around 4.00am. We had committed ourselves to get to Masterton in order to make the Cook Straight ferry the following day.

The first few hours of the day were the usually the hardest for me. Tired and achy, it took a good while to get into it, and I was generally starting to feel alive by the time the sun came up.

Stumbling out of the local dairy in Hunterville with freshly brought supplies, I was greeted by Mum and Dad who had also got up early and driven down from Taupo to meet us. It was so nice to see them and very unexpected, although I wasn't at my finest. We had a quick catchup then I got underway again.

It felt as though the organisers had managed send us down every gravel road in the Manawatu which made for a great day as we traversed the North Island and then south towards Palmy.

Clockwise from top: Refuelling at BP, The big kiwi in Eketahuna, Riding near Apiti

While in Palmerston North I was tasked with the job of finding a place to stay at our destination. I quickly got on my phone and started searching. After finding what I thought was a suitable choice, I made a call and told the manager we'd be arriving around 11.00pm which he seemed fine with. There was a little problem though. I'd picked a motel on the other side of town about as far off the course as possible.

After a long haul we arrived bang on 11.00pm and quickly checked in, showered, ate something and crawled into bed.


Another 5.00am start came around far quicker than we would of hoped. We found our way back to the course and jumped on a very familiar road that led into Martinborough. Here we were greeted by Wellington shredder, Johny Waghorn. He rode into the centre with us as we shared stories then we parted ways.

The next stretch into Featherston was horrible and a very strong headwind made for a slow journey. We eventually changed course and the wind was behind us as we rolled into Wellington with a big group of local supporters.

I had worn out my rear tire, so I quickly went and put a new one on, then met the boys at the ferry terminal where we hung around and waited for our slightly delayed departure.

Clockwise from top left: Rimutaka incline, Rolling into Welly, Beautiful sunset over Queen Charlotte

We all slept very well on the ferry after a beer and bowl of chips. Jeff fell asleep under the table while we all went to look for our own more comfortable spots.

Feeling recharged we were back on the bikes and heading for our campsite for the evening. It was a wonderful evening and a great feeling to be in the South Island and past the halfway point.


After a good night sleep at the DOC campsite we awoke at 4.30am for a 5.00am departure. By this stage I had my routine sorted. I was able to get my gear packed up a little faster than I could in the beginning, so I'd give myself a few extra minutes sleep.

We had a gentle start on a gravel road before reaching the base of the Maungatapu which I'd never been up before. I'd heard it was going to be one of the toughest climbs on the tour and I tend to agree it was. We started climbing in the darkness and by the time we reached the top the sun had come up and over the hill. A rough decent from the summit slowly led us into the Maitai Valley and before long we'd arrived in Nelson.

Clockwise from top left: Before dawn climbing the Maungatapu, Braeburn track, Leaving Murchison

After a good coffee and a scone in Nelson, we jumped on a series of fantastic cycle paths which led us out to Richmond. I thought I'd seen the last of my family up north, but my Auntie Sue was down in Nelson for a hockey tournament so it was great to see her standing out beside the course.

The rest of the day was fantastic as we headed out towards Tapawera and down through some great back roads to the Nelson Lakes.

A little boy was out helping his father build a fence beside the road when he saw us approaching. He quickly ran inside and came back out with a big piece of watermelon for each of us. A pleasant surprise on a scorching hot day.

The Braeburn Track was a real highlight for me and the course just seemed to be getting better and better.

We had a meal in Murchison at the local pub and then pushed on towards Maruia where we camped beside the road for the night.


Starting early meant we missed seeing some of the stunning Maruia Saddle track in the daylight. We rolled in to Reefton just in time for morning tea, and in my opinion visited the best cafe of the trip. We made sure we ate lots and stuffed away plenty of goodies in our bags for the next section through the Big River and Waiuta Tracks.

I had a blast through here. Wonderful moss lined single track padded with cornflake like leaf litter. The scenery was stunning and the trails technically challenging especially with a bit of weight on the bike.

Big River and Waiuta tracks

I was also fascinated with the gold mining heritage of the area and would of liked to learn more, but once again because we were moving along didn't have a lot of time to take it in. Saying that, a trip back to the West Coast with Amy is definitely on the cards down the track.

We'd gone through all our food so stocked up again in Ikamatua, before the final stretch into Greymouth. Subway for dinner in Greymouth and then on dusk we started on the new West Coast Wilderness trail. It was fast and quite fun in the dark, so we made it to our destination in Kumara in good time.

When we arrived we were greeted by the motel owner who opened up his shop and we were very grateful to be able to grab a few treats before bed.


The West Coast lived up to all my expectations. Having a perfect weather window must of also helped.

Day 10 we set off in the dark again and contined on the Wilderness Trail climbing up to the high point inland. After dawn broke I started to freeze. We’d just gone past Cowboy Paradise and I couldn’t feel my fingers. I had to stop and pretty much put on every layer I had to try and warm up.

Clockwise from top: Lake Kaniere, Whataroa River, Jeff bringing the cows in

We stopped at a good little cafe in Hokitika. Geof had been there a while so decided to leave not long after Jeff and I arrived. We were fine with that as knew we’d eventually meet again. Leaving Hokitika I got my second and final puncture which I quickly repaired.

There were a lot more cycle tourists on the West Coast. And if you have spent any time down that way you can understand why. With each one we cycled past, Jeff and I would look at each other and think to ourselves how happy we were with our set-ups. Many of the people we saw were on fully laden bikes that would of weighed 3 times what ours weighed!

A few big climbs kept us honest between Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. And once in Fox we started to think about what we would do for the evening.

As it was a little colder down south the thought of staying somewhere warm had a certain appeal. After looking at the course notes, we made a call and we'd found a spot 35km south of Fox. Somewhere along the lines we'd lost Steve so it was just going to be the three of us.


Pine Grove Motel turned out to be a little gem in the middle of nowhere. We had a great night sleep in our tiny cabin which set us up for what would turn out to be our second longest day.

Not long after setting off, I saw a light up the road and I was curious as to who it could be. It didn’t take long to catch up, and when we eventually did we realised it was Steve. He’d roughed it and tried to sleep beside the road somewhere, but hadn’t had much luck so was feeling a bit worse for wear. He made me laugh when he told me, he'd actually fallen asleep while taking a wee. He must of been tired!

Arriving in Haast at the local cafe, we came across a familar face. It was Cliff Clearmont who I’d only met briefly on the Pouto Point ferry. He stuck around and we all shared stories before continuing on. Steve decided to hold back, but it would turn out we’d catch up later on in Queenstown.

Having Cliff join us changed the dynamic of the group. We were all pretty keen to get into a rhythm so started lapping it out hard until the base of Haast Pass. I was feeling good so decided I'd attack the climb and wait at the top.

Clockwise from top left: Steve near Haast, Haast River, Climbing Crown Range, Lake Hawea

The day was probably one of the most picturesque and I can understand why this area is always teeming with tourists. Being on a bike is the way to do it though, as you really get a chance to take it all in, and stop in places you wouldn't necessarily be able to while driving a vehicle.

After we made it in to Wanaka we stopped at a pub down at the waterfront for a pint of craft beer and a burger. The idea was to push on to Arrowtown so we could get the Earnslaw the next morning so that is what we did.


Today we were able to get up at the more respectable hour of 5.30am. The Earnslaw ferry departure was at 10.00am which gave us enough time to ride into Queenstown and have a nice breakfast by the waterfront. Everyone was in good spirits and the end felt near. We boarded the ferry and sat down for another coffee while we cruised across Lake Wakatipu.

When we got off the ferry the pace was on. Jeff was sitting on the front and was on a mission. We hit the first big climb coming out of Walter Peak and the group quickly split up. By the top of the hill I found myself out in front with a fairly decent gap. I'd usually stick around, take some photos and wait for the others but this time it was different.

Left: Geof about to board the Earnslaw Right: Endless gravel near the Mavora Lakes

At that point I decided I wanted to ride to the finish on my own. We'd been together as a group for the duration of the trip, so it made for a refreshing change. There was also that illusive last place inside the top 10 which had my name on it.

I wanted to arrive while it was still light. I did the maths and knew it was possible, so I put my head down and went for it. With the help of the strong tailwind, I managed to average over 30km/hr for the remaining 250km. This was pretty quick considering our average speed usually sat somewhere in the vicinity of 19km/hr.

The time alone gave me a chance to reflect and think about the trip as a whole. I thought about the enjoyable times, the testing times and I thought about going home. The realisation that just over 11 solid days riding my bike was coming to an end.

Riding into Bluff was quite emotional. I think the last 100km I was running on pure adrenaline. All the body's aches and pains had faded away as I rolled around the corner and saw the Bluff signpost. I got off my bike for the last time and sat there for a moment taking it all in.

There was no one waiting for me or no other riders around. I spoke to a few tourists who were taking shots and told them what I had just done and asked them if they'd get a photo of me. After all, it would probably be one of my most prized.


All in all it was an amazing experience made even better by the company I shared it with. The fact that none of us had any major issues with our gear or bodies was incredible and we were all very grateful for this. We also had brilliant weather for the whole trip so considered ourselves very lucky.

A big thanks to Jeff, Geof, Steve and Cliff as well as all the friendly people we met along the way. Huge thanks needs to go the Kennett Brothers for all the work that went into preparing such an event and route. Also Sam Kopae and her husband Wally for putting me up the night after the event and providing a bike box. And of course my fiancee Amy for letting me go and ride the length of New Zealand.

Created By
Matt Dewes
Matt Dewes, Jeff Lyall

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