Next week I'll be heading back to the South Island of New Zealand for a month long tour around the southern highlands. I was considering the North Island Tour Aotearoa route, but ultimately decided to return to the south. I have unfinished business there and it is the reason for building my Salsa Fargo. I'll tackle the north another time.
I have as previously alluded, ridden some of this route before. It's partly (mostly) on the Great Southern Brevet course. I found it was not easy to ride on a heavily loaded touring bike with skinny tires, so I had to leave out some of the more rugged stages I'd planned. And I was a bit concerned by the weather at times with snow falling on the high country. I've had a bit more experience with snow since and won't let a little of the white fluffy stuff put me off. But I swore to return and complete the ride, and have built a bike to do it. I'll just have to hope there will be no blizzards.
The itinerary is very ambitious but flexible, so I can easily shorten the route by cutting a day or two if for any reason I don't make good progress. And with the new bike I've changed my touring mode to bikepacking and I will carry only ultralight essentials to keep the riding as easy as possible.
I like to ease into a tour gently and build my trail fitness during the first week. So I'm taking the Taieri Gorge Railway out of Dunedin because the exit up Stuart Street is a very steep climb right from where I'm staying in the city centre. It's seemingly only a little less steep than the infamous Baldwin Street, and much longer. I don't want to risk fatigue or perhaps a pulled muscle from a cold start on the very first day. There will be plenty more climbing to do in the days that follow. Besides, the gorge is spectacular so the train ride is well worthwhile.
Pukerangi is the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail - or really Middlemarch, about 20kms away is the official start. But it's as far as the train goes on week days.
From there I'll ride the first half of the rail trail to Ranfurly, turn north and cross the Kakanui Mountains via Dansey's Pass to Duntroon and Kurow. Then continue north up the Hakataramea Valley and across the Grampian Mountains via Hakataramea Pass to Tekapo in Mackenzie Country, which will be the northernmost point of my ride.
From Tekapo I'll take the alternative start and ride part of the Alps2Ocean trail to Lake Ohau and on to Omarama, where I'll cross the Ewe Range via the Omarama Pass.
This will take me through the Oteake Conservation Park back into the Central Otago region known as the Maniototo. There I'll rejoin the rail trail briefly, before crossing back over the Dunstan Range via Thomsons Gorge Road and on to Wanaka.
From Wanaka I'll take the Crown Range Road up through Cardrona to Arrowtown and on to Queenstown, where I'll take a ferry across the lake to Walter Peak Station or Mt Nicholas Station and ride the Von Road to Mavora Lakes, the location of Nen Hithoel in the Lord of the Rings movies, then follow part of the still to be completed Around the Mountains trail to Garston.
From Garston I'll ride up the Nevis Valley across Duffer's Saddle to Bannockburn, rejoin the rail trail again briefly to Alexandra, from there take the Roxburgh Gorge and the Clutha Gold trails to Lawrence, and back to Dunedin via Milton.
So, there will be lot of mountains and many passes to cross, with a mix of pavement, gravel roads and bike trails. It will be hard work, no doubt with a bit of hike-a-bike. The weather will be cool and I'll be surprised if there isn't a least some snowfall. But it will be rewarded with spectacular landscapes.
And as usual my freeloading buddy Boofle will be along to keep me company and make sure I eat my crusts (or else he will).