The 11.30am start started at 10.30am for some, 12.00 for others. And so it began; the gathering of like minded souls. A week riding the bottom of the south island. 1000kms over 6 days atop carbon-fibre machinery, second to none. The inaugural Tour of New Zealand proved a catalyst but no solution for the enthusiasts, meaning six months of planning for this breakaway tour group of 21 riders.
The convoy of two vans played tag, pausing at McDonalds Ashburton for a nutritious interlude. The journey to Balclutha went remarkably fast considering miles consumed. Captains of industry, airlines, surgeries, and domestic duties amused themselves with cryptic crosswords, Heineken consumption, minutia of cycle purchasing and anything else to distract the necessary evil of travel.
The Rosebank Motel welcomed. Rooms allocated, we descended upon the bar for a ‘speed dating’ session, keen to become acquainted. Race rules for the pseudo competitors were mulled over a hearty meal of steak and large sides of pre-race banter before an early night.
Day one of riding began with large breakfasts and riders ready for takeoff at 8am, after obligatory first day photos. With nary a backward glance we rolled into the streets locating our group confidence and the turnoff for Invercargill easily.
Southern hospitality is a tangible thing. We touched it at the Whistling Frog cafe 68kms into riding. Devonshire teas were delivered fresh from the oven by enquiring owners bemused with our caper.
We rose and fell with the undulations all the way to the Stirling Tides of Invercargill. Like guests at a wedding breakfast we shuffled inline, piling our plates with restaurant fare of Michelin quality.
Replenished and savouring the coastal views in the mid afternoon sun, we nearly forgot the additional riding into Invercargill.
Wary of burnout, I opted for the van while the bikers grappled with off-shore winds.
The Monarch Motel morphed into view. Invercargill looked almost appealing with two days to relax as only ‘Type A’ personalities can; inching up Bluff Hill and racing the Velodrome.
The arranged masseuses arrived on schedule at 4pm. In lots of three, those interested had the hills kneaded right off their muscles. The rest watched on from their mezzanine balcony, sipping beer in true kiwi fashion.
An unexpectedly impressive meal was enjoyed at the Kiln Restaurant. Toasts made and awards issued, we returned to our cyclist’s village sated.
“Veni, vidi, vici!” Well, we all did. Bluff Hill; the nipple on the large breast of the far south. Oft spoken, seldom ridden. A warm-up ride of 27km prepared our bodies for the 265m climb up the extinct (we hope) volcanic cone. Our minds were another story. Two kilometres of sharp uphill had us heading for the bushes ‘nervously’, then tossing off clothes passionately like eager lovers.
Ten to fifteen minutes later, dependent on your prowess, it was over. Ruddy faced and self satisfied we grouped for a ‘must have’ snapshot.
Stella’s cafe served up homemade hospitality into booths, characterising Bluff’s unique locale.
That afternoon, insurmountable climbs were quickly forgotten as the team clambered into the ‘home of cycling’, AKA Invercargill Velodrome.
Jerry Stock; of name and body, valiantly drew on his best coaching skills teaching the large mass of testosterone, how to safely ride the $25m track. A twelve time Tour of Southland entrant and European cycling guide, his credentials.
Propelled around a 250m track by centrifugal force upon a cereal bowl edge at speed, is electrifying. Physics be damned!
The Lone Star Invercargill proved a haven with much to celebrate in addition to payment for Jerry’s time.
February 22, the anniversary for the full contingent of Christchurch riders, weighed heavily in our minds alongside the 190km ride to Te Anau.
Textbook riding was observed as we passed through Riverton and the coastal glory of Gemstone Bay ALMOST slow enough for photos.
Colac Bay hid off the main road. The Pavilion cafe incongruous with the raw coastal solitude, easily comfortable on Auckland’s waterfront, dished up the best scones to date. Sated we stared out through the drizzle, warm of stomach and heart.
Acutely aware of the time, at 12.51pm the peloton rolled to a stop. Aligned, heads bowed in the middle of the wilderness, we reviewed our personal demons and mourned the loss of our compatriots for sixty seconds.
Like a large picnic rug, Blackmount School swimming pool spread ahead. Eating sandwiches from plastic triangles, we enjoyed a trip down memory lane when life was less complicated.
Manapouri beckoned. A sprint finish to the water’s edge. Skiable backdrops were another photo opportunity, then the final descent into Te Anau, 190km since breakfast.
The expected Te Anau rain arrived overnight and stayed on uninvited. Our ‘commissaire’ halted the tour and we vanned to Five Rivers. A battle between procrastination and indecision ensued. Ten foolhardy fellows donned their raincoats. One van went ahead brimming with optimistic afternoon cyclists and the other remained behind in ambulance position.
Ironically, the “Dipstick of the day” uniform of OSH reflective ware, proved a safety beacon through the fog.
Queenstown’s unparalleled energy delivered on demand. The Prime restaurant and Alexis Motel, worth revisiting.
The dry night was celebrated like a new mother. Departing town, persuaded by the brooding sky we headed for the ominous crown range. Climbing one of the highest sealed roads in New Zealand took almost an hour and a lot of puff.
The slippery slide into Cadrona compensated. Rotisserie-like, we huddled about the fire warming our stomachs and bottoms alike on more treats at the iconic inn.
The collaboration of sun, backwind and downhill accelerated our team trials into Wanaka. Fellowship wrestled results and fellowship won.
The Clearbrook Motel provided a comforting sojourn with full facilities for
domestic duties catch up. Keen to accumulate more miles, the
testosterone and tranquillity of the area spurred the group on for a
further sixty kilometres. A shopping window opened for others.
Urban Grind; synonymous with our lives and recreational choices, proved
a great dinner venue for the team.
Invading the alfresco tables the bicycle blether accompanied the
tapas menu before a B line was made for inviting beds.
Day Six in the saddle. Lindis Pass; our final frontier. Our celebrity cyclist, the 1988 World Triathlon Champion, gave us glimmers of greatness along the way fuelling the group’s professional fantasies.
Gliding into Omarama alongside an airborne glider, was straight off the
cover of ‘NZ Life & Leisure’ magazine.
‘The Wrinkly Ram’ an adequate depiction of the road spent riders, a
The McKenzie canals marked the end of our tour. We grouped squadron-like and headed for home grateful for the wholeness of mind and body.
The holidaying guitar finally made an appearance at the “Wrap party” and stayed well into the night competing with exhaustion for pole position.
Game over, we returned to point A where it all began. Gear disbursed, we group hugged and sang Kumbaya as we made our way back to our families and lives, richer for the experience.