New Zealand cycle trek, Chapter 11: You won’t believe what’s left hanging

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 5, 2016 23:15

Bateman’s Blog

Wed., Feb. 10: Wanaka to Queenstown

Distance: 50 miles

Elevation gain: 25 feet

After more than 40 years in journalism, you’d think my instincts would be better. Yet today I pedal right past a bra fence with nary a glance.

You heard me right.

That fence, in the middle of nowhere, does indeed runneth over with cups – more than 1,500  of them. But for all the attention I give that repository of satin, lace and spandex, it might as well have been a billboard.

I took no notes, snapped no photos, asked no questions and raised not an eyebrow. Truth be told, I didn’t even notice it.

And when the bra fence was brought to my attention, I didn’t pedal back a half-mile to have a look. Instead I opted for a cold drink – and a non-alcoholic one at that – at the local pub.

But more on this later.

Ben and I began the day knowing it was our last on the road. By late afternoon our 10-day, 500-mile New Zealand tour would be over.  One more mountain range, one more pass, one more downhill glide and that’s it.

Then for me, it’s back to the rigors of retirement. And Ben would return to a high-tech Bay Area job that frequently sends him to Singapore, Beijing, Taiwan and other Asian ports of call.

Gary gathers roadside trash

Gary gathers roadside trash

My pace out of Wanaka was leisurely. I trail Ben from the outset, slowly savoring each mile.

Early on, I stop to talk Gary, who is busy cleaning trash from the shoulders of Route 6, the main north-south highway on New Zealand’s South Island.

“It’s become a lot worse,” says the Queenstown Area Council maintenance worker.  “But it’s not the New Zealanders who do this.”

Instead, Gary tells me, it’s the country’s foreign tourists, “mostly those Asians,” who litter the South Island’s roads.

I don’t question him further, although I’m pretty sure Chinese sightseers didn’t dump the mildewed mattress and hemorrhaging couch I spotted in the brush outside of Christchurch on our first day of riding.

All that said, New Zealand’s highways are far cleaner than their American counterparts.

A few miles later I catch up with Ben, who has pulled off the road to talk with Rafi, a 58-year-old Swiss cyclist on a three-month tour.

Then we’re all off to Cardrona, an old gold-mining town where our cycling guide says we can fuel up on snacks and drink at the hotel bar for our climb to the Crown Range Summit, the last big pass of our trip.

The guide says nothing about what has come to be called “Bradrona.”

I wait for Ben at the outskirts of town. “Where’s Rafi?” I ask when he pulls up solo. “Oh, he stopped to look at a bra fence,” my son shrugs, like our fellow cyclist has maybe stopped at a Burger King.

“A what?” I ask, not sure I heard Ben right.

“A bra fence,” he repeats, like these things are everywhere and no self-respecting city is without one.

“OK,” I say, buying this flawed logic and loathe to pedal back five minutes to see the fence for myself. “Let’s get a snack at the hotel.”

The bra fence

The bra fence

Midway through my ginger beer and chips, Rafi came into the Cardrona Hotel bar grinning. “The bra fence was great,” he says, tugging on a draft ale. “I sent my wife a photo. She’ll love it.”

I’m suddenly interested, but the fence is now 10 minutes behind us. And, following Ben’s reasoning, we should see three or four more of them by the time we get to Queenstown.

We didn’t, of course. And when I Google up “bra fence” after our ride, Cardrona’s was the only one that came up. There are dozens of news stories and blog posts about it.

Its origins are in question, but the most entertaining of several stories claims that four women who were celebrating New Year’s Eve at the very hotel we had visited went out at midnight. Then, as 1998 turned into 1999, they celebrated by unhooking  their bras and hanging them on a ranch fence.

Chris on scenic descent to Queenstown

Chris on scenic descent to Queenstown

The idea caught on: Within two months, 60 bras hung on the fence. By 2000 there were 200 and by 2006, at least 800. Although sheep rancher John Lee fancied the notoriety and became the fence’s unofficial guardian, not everyone was happy.

The gold rush and ski town was suddenly eclipsed, and Cardrona assumed a new identity: Bradrona.

But the area’s chamber-of-commerce types called the fence something else: a public embarrassment.  They convinced the Queenstown Area Council to declare it a danger and distraction to the motoring public, and secured an order to have the bras removed forthwith.

The move came despite Lee’s protest that his fence had become Cardrona’s most photographed tourist attraction,  and had inspired thousand of visitors to stop, savor the moment and on occasion add a bra or two of their own.

The bras did come down, but they went back up again. The council’s order was like a crabgrass ban. It didn’t work, and today some 1,500 bras adorn the sheep fence, now curated by Lee’s son, Sam.

Now I’m a guy who in his journalistic prime made a living writing pieces about Big Foot, UFOs, wet T-shirt contests, fence-vaulting pigs, runaway emus, and psychedelic toad slime. But today, inexplicably, I determined that world’s longest bra fence was not a story and that nobody would want to see the full-color photos that I never took.

Instead, with the accumulated wisdom of 69 years, I apparently reckoned you’d much rather hear about our climb up the Crown Range Summit.

So here goes: It was a long, but only occasionally steep ascent. Unlike the deeply forested Haast Pass, its mountains are arid and the grass brown. We cross the Cardrona River nearly a dozen times as we wind our way up to the 3,678-foot Crown Summit atop what is  touted as “the highest main road in New Zealand.”

There we celebrate with Damian, a French cyclist who was first to the top, and Rafi, powered by a couple of ales enjoyed in Cardrona, who was last up but seems the happiest.

We all pose in front of the summit marker, making believe we accomplished something. But Damian, the youngest and fittest among us, pooh-poohs the feat. “It’s only 1,000 meters,” he scoffs.

We ignore him.

Next we slide down the steeper, shorter side of the pass. Then, after lunch at a pie shop in the historic gold camp of Arrowtown, we meander through 20 miles of rolling hills into Queenstown.

And suddenly our 10-day, 500-mile ride is over.

So how does that little travelogue stack up to an eyelash-lace 36D demi-bra hanging on a Cardrona sheepman’s fence with more than 1,000 others?

Really, wouldn’t you rather hear about my gear ratios, the pros and cons of disc brakes, or how successful our chamois cream (colloquially known as butt butter) has been?

Thought so.

In conclusion, a suggestion to Sonora’s own chamber-of-commerce types, now struggling with empty storefronts and an occasionally moribund economy:

Try a bra fence. I’m sure more than a few cattle ranchers west of town have available space on their barbed wire. And, really, we’re only 2,000 or so bras away from having the world’s largest.

“Branora” may not roll off your tongue at first, but you just might get used to it.

Kiwi Notes

Yes, I have a few left. Like those shrink-wrapped bales of hay all over the South Island, nursery spider webs and accident “black spots.”

Also, there’s an easier way to cross the Southern Alps than pedal over them. It’s Kiwi Rail’s famed TranzAlpine train, which was later and hotter than ever when we rode it.

Finally, what to bring and not to bring if you decide to bike in New Zealand.

But I’m already running long. So give me a week or so to wrap up this story with a Chapter 12 finale.

Read previous chapters, and check back for the finale, at Bateman’s Blog.







Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 5, 2016 23:15
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1 Comment

  1. miffy March 7, 10:27

    As I find it difficult to walk a Mile I thank you for the vicarious adventure and the delightful humor with which you describe it.

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