Notes From the Road:
New Zealand Biking

I can’t listen to the Counting Crows CD “August and Everything After,” without conjuring up the golden-hued rolling hills of the central Otaga, the wind-swept salt-encrusted beaches of New Zealand’s wild west coast, and the placid otherworldly beauty of Milford Sound.

After finding my natural milieu as a B&R guide in the mid-90s, I never looked back.
After finding my natural milieu as a B&R guide in the mid-90s, I never looked back.

The first trip I ever guided for B&R was a biking trip on the South Island of New Zealand back in the winter of 1995. I was travelling the world after an ill-fated career in corporate law, using the pungent exoticism of the road to cleanse the trauma to the spirit caused by two years of grueling hours and soulless work. Fortune smiled on me, and I was plucked from the privations of the backpacker trail in Asia and parachuted into the heady comforts of the world of B&R. Having finally found my natural milieu, I never looked back.

It was the height of summer in New Zealand, of course, and my co-guide and mentor was a young woman named Rosemary Bird. We picked up a car and drove the entire route forwards and backwards, checking the bike routes, walking the hiking trails, sampling the restaurants, arranging the menus, and  confirming the myriad other details that go into every trip. That Counting Crows CD was the only music we had for the entire two weeks and we practically wore a hole in it.

Milford Sound

New Zealand itself was just beginning to emerge from its relative obscurity at the time as a quaint and somewhat bemusing relic of the colonial enterprise. Adventure travel was still in its infancy, and yet the world’s first commercial bungee-jumping operation had already been established just outside of Queenstown (in addition to the river jet boating, paragliding, sky-diving, heli-hiking… there’s a reason they call this place “the adventure capital of the world”).

Back to the Land of Adventure

On our New Zealand Family Adventure, explore the breathtaking South Island, from Christchurch to Queenstown on two wheels.


Back then, most New Zealand wine was considered undrinkable by the international cognoscenti, and never made it beyond the borders, but the Pinot Noirs of Wanaka and the Sauvignon Blancs of Marlborough were revolutionizing local winemaking at the time. In short, we were in New Zealand at the perfect moment in time, when the reality on the ground had fundamentally changed, but international awareness (and the hordes that go with it) had yet to catch up.

The Pinot Noirs made near Lake Wanaka now rival the spectacular views.
The Pinot Noirs made near Lake Wanaka now rival the spectacular views.

B&R was originally drawn to this region because it represented one of the most accessible adventure destinations for biking and walking trips outside of Europe and North America. It offered an extraordinary diversity of physical and cultural landscapes in an incredible compact area; from the glaciers and great mountain ranges of the Remarkable to the primordial rainforests of the West Coast, from twee English sensibilities of Christchurch to the adrenaline soaked outdoor adventure of Queenstown.

Where our first foray into New Zealand stayed at Gerry McSweeney's Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, our latest adventure uses his Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge.
In the 90s we stayed at Gerry McSweeney’s Lake Moeraki property, and our latest adventure uses his Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge. A perfect example of how itineraries come and go, but friendships from the road can last a lifetime.

The concept of an eco-lodge had yet to emerge as a force in international tourism, and yet the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, set in the middle of 2.7 million hectares of world heritage forest and run by Gerry McSweeney, one of the top naturalists in New Zealand, was our home away from home on the West coast.

The wave of mass tourism (fuelled in large part through the Tolkien movies) has receded, and in its wake is some of the best infrastructure in the world for high-end active travel. In particular, the government has almost completed Nga Haerenga, a national project to build the world’s greatest network of cycle trails across the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Add in killer Sauvignon Blancs coming out of Marlborough, swimming with dolphins and whales in Kaikoura, and heli-hiking to just about any mountain peak in the Remarkables, and you have all the elements for the perfect adventure trip.

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  1. Hi Norm

    As I sit in the middle of an organic vineyard near Blenheim NZ in the heart of Marlbough, sipping a cold glass of Saavignon Blanc I read with great interest your article on your first trip here. We have cottage here for a month in order to stay and appreciate this beautiful and remarkable country.

    The beauty and diversity of this country remains constant and yet it somehow feels undiscovered when we drive the back roads ( no pun intended) and hike the hills near by.

    We were close to Kaikoura yesterday and did see Dolphins and baby seals and we were in awe of the costal scenery.

    Glad to hear you had returned to B&R and I have great memories of my time I spent there. I still chat up and talk about the exceptional company I worked for for 6 years.

    It was a privilege.

    Cheers Susan Parker … then Baldwin

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