8 – 19 March, 2014 – We left Invercargill with a strong tailwind supporting us all day long. What a ride! We almost flew over the rolling hills, that became steeper and steeper the further southeast we rode. We were now in the Catlins, a rugged, sparsely populated area featuring a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest both of which harbour many endangered species of birds, most notably the rare yellow-eyed penguin.
As I had never seen wild penguins I was very keen on spotting them while being in this area. Luckily our campsite was close by a coastline where some colonies are supposed to come ashore at dusk. The campsite manager advised us to go there by 7.30pm. Excitedly we (OK, I) walked along the coast and from far away we could already see a lot of people standing on the rocks. We weren’t the only ones, it seemed. As we got closer to the area there were about 100 people with cameras ready to shoot waiting for penguins to arrive. And yes, there was a penguin. Exactly one. Standing still on a rock a few meters away from an overwhelmed crowd. First I thought it was a joke and this penguin wasn’t real as it didn’t move at all, but getting closer and finding a hole to look through the crowd I could tell it was real. When I think about a colony of penguins I think more about hundreds of penguins, not just one. So we decided to continue walking a bit further to wait for more penguins to arrive, maybe they had a fun day out at the sea and were late home. And yes, far far away we spotted two more penguins slowly jumping out of the water and walking clumsily behind each other. They looked like an old married couple, fighting every once in a while with the man walking in front, turning back every once in a while to tell his wife to hurry up. Well, after about another 30 minute-wait and more and more people arriving at the beach but no further penguin appearances we left the scene. Not really satisfied with the quantities, but well, at least we saw a few. The next morning we also saw two hector dolphins, another endangered species, that regularly swim in the bay. Two more animals checked!
We were now slowly cycling north again, heading to Dunedin, often referred to as the eco-capital of New Zealand as the Otago Peninsula to the east is home to another colony of penguins (they don’t mention the number of penguins in this colony, hopefully more than 5) and also boasts the only mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross. The town itself has the finest examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the Southern Hemisphere and reminded me a lot of Edinburgh.
From there we headed inland again to cycle parts of the Otago Central Rail Trail, another beautiful path that follows the former Otago railway line. But before we got there we had to cycle to Middlemarch and overcome more than 20 often long and always steep hills. A tough journey we started far too late and ended just before it got dark again. That day we were even more reminded of Scotland. No surprise the early Scots chose Dunedin to settle and build their home away from home.
From Dunedin to Middlemarch:
By the way, slowly our gear is falling apart, just a few weeks before we are flying home again. It started with my nightie I’ve been wearing since day one of our trip and almost every single night since. I love it and just a few days ago I looked at it thinking that I am very proud on it as it doesn’t have a single hole nor tears anywhere. I maybe should not have thought so, as a few days later I was putting it on after a shower on a campsite when I tore a huge hole of about 30cm into it – at the front and of course while not having anything else with me than my dirty clothes. Thankfully it was already dark outside and I sneakily went back to our tent. As I didn’t want to buy anything new and had no old T-shirts to replace it I started stitching up the tear which became an almost daily task from then on as new tears appeared every morning. One might assume Johan had torn it off my body, but I can assure you, it’s just the thin cotton that’s too weak to resist my nightly movements.
In Ranfurly we pitched our tent in the garden of another Warm Showers family and enjoyed a typical New Zealand family dinner. As the weather forecast was really bad for the next day the Kirks invited us to stay another day and we got introduced to their favorite sports: the ancient Scottish game of curling, great fun!
We now continued through another remote area over a long and winding pass road to Duntroon. Only a handful of cars passed us all day long and with the once more beautiful weather we added another beautiful and extraordinary day in New Zealand.
From Duntroon, where we again arrived pretty late as we underestimated the difficulty of the pass with a double-peak, we were heading into the direction of the Southern Alps again, this time from the other side. We rode the full length of the Alps to Ocean cycle trail, another awesome cycle route. There is one section where we really thought we finally got lost, despite the many road signs. We had to cycle on a path that wasn’t a real path anymore, but mostly high grass and only when some other cyclists passed a little later, we were confident we got it right. We had to cross a pass again described as a 9km uphill ride. When we passed the 9km-mark we were surprised that the peak wasn’t anywhere but near, we continued and continued to climb. The small path became a narrow stony track more suitable for mountain bikers than touring cyclists. At one point we stepped off our bikes and continued pushing them uphill, not because of the gradients, more because of the bumpy, difficult surface of the path. Despite our slightly deteriorating mood we enjoyed the gorgeous views down the valley and at around 6pm we reached the highest point at 900m. Finally, now we would go downhill for the remaining 16km – and get freezing cold. As the path didn’t really improve it took us another hour to get to the lodge where we camped and treated ourselves to a luxury 3-course dinner at the restaurant overlooking the lake and the alps. Another fantastic day had come to an even better end.
8 March, Invercargill – Curio Bay, 76km
9 March, Curio Bay – Owaka, 69km
10 March, Owaka – Balclutha, 48km
11 March, Balaclutha -Dunedin, 85km
12/13 March, Dunedin, 30km
14 March, Dunedin – Middlemarch, 85km
15 March, Middlemarch – Ranfurly, 62km
16 March, Ranfurly, rest day
17 March, Ranfurly – Duntroon, 80km
18 March, Duntroon – Otematata, 68km
19 March, Otematata – Lake Ohau Lodge, 67km
Total distance cycled: 23,182 km of which 3,012km in New Zealand