Wellington – Nelson: Heading for NZ’s South Island
Our stay in Wellington was intended to be a low-key exploration of the capital city and a chance to talk with some of the folks behind the scenes of the NZ Cycle Trails program. While we did get to sit down with the Cycle Trails people, our stay turned out to be anything but low-key. Our very surreal road rage incident turned into a small media circus and started us thinking (a lot) about the differences in cycling and advocacy in NZ and the US.
By the end of the week, we were in desperate need of some bike fun, so we joined up with the Frocks on Bikes Frocknic. The idea was to take a peaceful ferry ride across the bay, cycle out to the lighthouse for a leisurely picnic, then catch the ferry back. Instead, the fierce winds that had been howling for a few days persisted, and we were all treated to an intensely terrifying ferry ride, in which the boat actually caught some air several times and we listened to the bikes on the exposed upper level get thrown back and forth (except for all the Bromptons, ours and two others, which were folded and stored inside). Safely back on land, we decided to tarry forth, and we all enjoyed a short ride with a tailwind and a lovely long picnic in a sheltered bay. And then we faced the hard truth that we we would all be riding back, into the howling headwind. It turned out to be the most extreme Frocks on Bikes event ever, and we finished off the day with some beers at a local pub, glad that it had taken our minds off the craziness from a few days previous.
On the morning that we left Wellington, we woke up to still weather and beautifully calm seas. Thank goodness! The short ferry ride of the day before had made us nervous about crossing the Cook Strait, but we were fortunate to have a smooth sailing. We even wound up on the same boat as Kiele, a Canadian expat Brompton owner that we had met the day before! The ferry ride between New Zealand’s North and South Islands is simply lovely. Nearly half of it is spent winding, slowly, through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds. The sun was sparkling and we saw a school of dolphins. In Picton, we found our way to Queen Charlotte Drive, a lovely small road that winds along the edge of the Sound, with absolutely phenomenal views and limited traffic. We stopped at a beach for a picnic, then at a small shop for lemonade. And we enjoyed a true NZ rarity – flat land with a tailwind! When we rolled into beautiful Pelorus Bridge campground, we immediately decided to stay for two nights and enjoy a bit of downtime in nature. We hiked out to a waterfall, chatted with several other bike tourists, and took advantage of the cafe on the property. Russ also took the opportunity to cast his line and enjoy some fishing.
From Pelorus Bridge, we hopped on Hwy 6 to Nelson. We passed one small town, where we stopped for coffee, then headed off into a long stretch of forest. The road rambled beside a few rivers and wound up and over two good climbs. Surprisingly, there was a halfway decent shoulder for most of the climbing, and the traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as we were expecting. Screaming down the backside of the second (and last) big hill, we were blessed with not a single car behind us (a small and delightful miracle that put us on a happy NZ high!). As the downhill leveled out, we pulled off for an ice cream break and to revel in the extraordinary descent. From there, we rambled into Nelson. At the edge of town, we discovered a cycle path that allowed cyclists to get off the busy highway. We decided to check it out and were pleasantly surprised by the bike friendly signage. Nelson, it appears, is trying to embrace everyday cycling. Indeed, this is what we’ve come to explore, and we’ll spend the next few days talking with cyclists and advocates.
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