New Zealand cycle trek, Chapter 8: Comfort food powers pedalers through Southern Alps

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 19, 2016 11:00

Bateman’s Blog

Journalist Chris Bateman, 69, and son Ben, 28, continue their 500-mile ride across New Zealand, from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Tuesday, Feb. 8: Fox Glacier to Haast

Distance: 81 miles 

Net elevation loss: 640 

 We see them every day: fellow touring cyclists.

They are easily distinguishable from casual pedalers by what they carry – saddlebags (panniers), multiple water bottles, and all manner of cycling and camping gear attached to the frame and bars. Their bikes, also, are a lot heavier and sturdier than any you’d find parked at a shopping center.

Unless you are into self-torture, you’d never take a touring bike out on a daily training ride. They’re the one-ton, four-wheel-drive pickup trucks of the cycling world.

Until now, Ben and I would only wave as we passed our fellow New Zealand tourers. But now, as we’ve been at it long enough to accumulate some road cred, I decided to stop and talk to each cyclist (or pair of them) we encountered on today’s ride.

About that “cred”:  We are pedaling the Christchurch-to-Queenstown loop, a 10-day, more than 500-mile run. It’s rarely flat and has a couple of substantial mountain passes.

“It’s for the keen cyclist,” according to a brochure put out by Natural High, the outfit that rented us our bikes. So we were feeling pretty good about our efforts.

Until we talked to those other cyclists. Here’s a quick look at who else is biking the South Island:


Merle and Brent

Brent and Merle, from Germany, are two months into a three-month ride.

Maxim and Sophie, from France, are also out three months, pedaling both the North and South Island. (Maxim front, yellow jersey)

Monica, from Germany, is on a three-month solo ride. Both islands.

Neil, from Nottingham, went first to Australia, where he rented a camper van, threw his bike in the back and rode a couple of hours each morning or evening. After two months Down Under, he returned the camper, brought his bike to New Zealand and is now halfway through a two-month tour.

Connor, a red-bearded rider from London, is halfway through three months of pedaling.

Harriet, from Scotland, just graduated from high school and is treating herself to a November-through-May vacation in New Zealand before going home for college. So far she’s been biking for a month and a half and says she will be pedaling for at least two more.

Sarah and Yannis, from Germany and Luxembourg, are really in it for the long haul: Yannis took off in 2014 for maybe a year-long cycling tour. Then his girlfriend back home dumped him and he decided to bike indefinitely.

He met Sarah on the road nearly a year ago. She will go home soon (and by soon, she means in a few months) for pharmacy school.

But she vowed never to give Yannis a deadline for ending his bike trip. Which is a good thing, because he won’t be home until his brother gets married in 2017.

And after Yannis finishes pedaling New Zealand?

“I’m going to Vancouver, then biking to the southern tip of Argentina,” he said, like it was a trip to the grocery store. “I’m on a round-the-world tour.”

Believe it or not, otherwise Yannis seems fairly normal.

As to our own 10-day ride? We’re not talking much about it any more.

Not only is our ride just an afternoon stroll for these European athletes, but they are all carrying at least twice the weight we are.

Ben and I are hauling just two rear panniers: one for biking gear and another a survival kit (books, laptop, shorts, T-shirts, toothpaste, charger cords, etc.) for life in a series of motel rooms.

The Great Outdoors, I decided for both Ben and me, was good only to a point. Especially at age 69.

Most of our biking colleagues had two rear and two front panniers, handlebar bags and all manner of strapped-on gear for overnight camping and cooking. We saw pots and pans bungeed to some bikes.  loaded-down-bike

Then there was that beaten-up black touring bike parked outside the Salmon Farm, where we had lunch today. It looked like Fred Sanford’s junkyard on wheels.

And that rider’s helmet was dented and dinged almost beyond recognition. The old Bell model, to understate it, had been rung. It looked like it had gone through a dryer cycle with a pound of rocks.

This guy probably had stories to tell, but given the condition of his helmet, you’d have to wonder how coherent he’d be.

So, yes, Ben and I are lightweights in New Zealand’s rolling cycling community. (Curiously, we haven’t met any Kiwi, Aussie or other American cyclists here – although we talked with one from Argentina).

But the cyclists we have met don’t care how long or short our ride is. They are helpful without fail, giving us tips on the roads, cafés and water sources ahead – along with plenty of encouragement.

They treat us as colleagues, even though we will in a few days be flying back to a different, far more sedentary life.

But today we are still touring cyclists, headed south on Day 7 of our trip. The long, largely downhill ride from Fox Glacier at first brought us through a series of lush alpine valleys. Late in the afternoon, after delicious salmon paninis at that fish farm, we labored up a series of hills as we approached the beach town of Haast.

We met Yannis, riding north, on Day 460 or so of his trip. “Only one pitch to go!” he encouraged.

Two hours later we had eaten at Haast’s finest (and only) restaurant, had checked into the Bay Road Motel, had turned on the TV – and I am enjoying the hell out of not camping.

Yes, I admire the prodigious rides of our fellow cyclists. But no, I wouldn’t trade places with any of them.

Ben might: A few years ago took he took four months to ride nearly the length of South America, and says he has at least on Big Ride left in him.

But I’ll be very happy to get home Saturday and, at least for awhile, to spend my days off the bike.

Should wanderlust strike, I’ll get by vicariously – by imagining exactly where Yannis might be at that moment.

Kiwi Notes       breakfast-full-plate

Have you ever wondered why you never hear about good New Zealand food?

It’s because the food here – despite this beautiful, friendly nation’s long and impressive list of other attributes – is not good. In fact, it’s British food.

Do you like fish and chips? Steak-and-kidney pie? Mashed potatoes and beef? Bangers and mash?  Then you’ll love the food here, which likely dates back to British colonization in the mid-1800s.

Yes, New Zealand’s fare is bland. Apologists might call it comfort food. Dieticians almost certainly would call it bad. Ben and I, who are not at all reticent about consuming it in vast quantities, call it fuel.

We typically start each morning with what every café we’ve stopped at calls a “big breakfast.”   Translation: bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns, toast and coffee.

It’s a mountain of a meal. But after three hours of pedaling, we’re hungry again and lining up for lunch at the local pub.

My cardiologist may already be counting the cash my pending triple bypass may bring him.

There are exceptions to this diet. On several of our riding days, there is no town between breakfast and dinner. Then lunch becomes an assortment of nuts and energy bars.

 Today, for example, Ben’s midday feast was branded “The Square Meal,” two energy bars in perfectly square wrappers.

Sure, it does the job, but we’re always happy with our fish-and-chips feast at the end of each ride.

Read past chapters and stay tuned for cycling updates at Bateman’s Blog.


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 19, 2016 11:00
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1 Comment

  1. Thad Waterbury February 19, 14:49

    Thanks for including lots of photos in this edition. I am sorry to hear it ending soon. Couldn’t you tag along with some of the Europeans for a month more?

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