Eighteen days in the saddle, riding through some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery and back roads on a mountain bike and not having to worry about too much seemed a nice way for Milton firefighter Carl Schiller to spend a couple of weeks, but add in a subtle hint of competitiveness and you have the Tour Aotearoa.
“You take your own gear, pay your own way, you can go as slow or as fast as you want. The goal is to get there safely and have a good time,” Mr Schiller said.
Billed as one of the world’s great bike›packing trips, the tour is a self supported cycling event that stretches 3000 km from Cape Reinga to Bluff, following a combination of cycle trails, tracks, paths and lanes connected by country roads.
It is not a race per se. The Tour Aotearoa route is designed by Jonathan Kennett, a New Zealand cycling guidebook writer, and the tour is held every two years.
To spare the impact on the environment and the small businesses along the route, riders start in waves of 100 people per day spread from February 17 to March 8 at Ninety Mile Beach.
A total of 716 riders were entered in this year’s Tour Aotearoa and supposed to take no more than 30 days to finish.
Their progress is tracked electronically.
“I was riding with Peter Brookland of Dunedin and we started on day four of the event.
“We lined up with 100 others at 10am out on Ninety Mile Beach and then headed off down the country via all the back roads and cycle rides. It was great.”
Once they started, he said, the riders quickly spread out and they only saw other riders from their start group at odd times down the entire length of the country.
“We were going hard with many days of riding over 200km between stops.
“We would ride for 160km then stop and think we haven’t ridden far enough, so we would get back on and ride until we got to the next town.
“Everyone quickly spreads out so we didn’t see the others much. We even caught up with a couple of guys riding on Raleigh 20s who had started ahead of us on day one. They were having a lot of fun.”
In the end the pair completed the Tour Aotearoa route of 3000km in just 18 days.
“Each day we had to take a mandatory six-hour no movement rest period so as not to create health and safety problems. We were going fast but one guy did the whole tour in just 10.5 days.
“I had planned to ride back home to Milton from Bluff but was too tired so I got a lift back home and surprised my wife Kim at 4am in the morning,” he said.
Not bad for someone who wants to do the tour again on his own next time and thinks maybe he should w train a bit for it as the first couple of days riding were very hard on his body.