The Kiwi Chronicles: Episode 5 - Cycling in Nelson
Editor's note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
By Russ Roca
What you’ll probably notice in the video is what’s missing. There is no mention of the International Bike Incident and no real explanation of how we ended up having tea with the mayor. After some long internal debate, I decided not to include mention of the road rage incident in the video. While quite sensational, it was a lot more energy than I wanted to expend on the experience and it would have been something hard to fit in a video we’re trying to keep under ten minutes.
After Wellington we were both feeling pretty down about cycling in New Zealand. You see so many photos of amazing landscapes with hardly a soul and you just assume the riding must be great. What you forget is that New Zealand is doing a little creative storytelling of its own. You don’t see the parade of rented camper vans and tour buses. You don’t see the sandflies. You get a very well composed snapshot of a virgin New Zealand waiting for you to explore it. As much as we tried not to let the incident in Wellington color our view of New Zealand, it couldn’t be helped.
The riding from the Picton to Nelson on Queen Charlotte Drive was spectacular. It’s been noted as one of the best road rides in New Zealand. The road twists and climbs but never too steeply. With every turn up the climbs you get an ever-expanding view of the sound’s startling blue water. You pass through several small bays with tiny settlements and a dairy (convenience store) or fish and chips place. The riding was beautiful enough to almost erase what had happened in Wellington.
Nelson was also a breath of fresh air. While not perfect, it was easily the most bike and pedestrian friendly town we had seen. There were some decent road treatments and what looked like a good number of everyday cyclists and there was also good beer readily available, which much improves your opinion of any city. Free House is easily one of the coolest places to have a beer in NZ. The environment is very laid back and they’ve got a wide and actively rotating selection of beers. They don’t serve food, but you are more than welcome to bring take away dishes from neighboring restaurants. During our stay in Nelson, it was our happy place. We tried a few more pubs in town, but none had the same character as Free House.
Nelson also seemed to be buzzing with touring cyclists. We saw a few more trickle in everyday. It really did give us a hope that the riding would improve which was a big psychological boost. It was real easy to slip into a downward mental spiral after Wellington.
We are in Christchurch right now waiting for a bicycle part before we can move on. The city is still without its central business core, but new signs of life and culture are springing up around its ragged edges. From here, we head down to Dunedin and onward to the Otago Rail Trail, which seems to be the linchpin to New Zealand’s push to promote bicycle tourism.
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