I first heard about the Tour Aotearoa (TA) on an Adventure Syndicate training camp in January 2020 from a lady called Vanessa. Vanessa was using the trip as training for her New  Zealand adventure starting in March that year. At the time I thought that sounds amazing, why aren’t I doing that, and the idea stuck at the back of my mind.

When I returned to work and reviewed the career break policy through which I could take up to 6 months unpaid leave. Maybe this was the answer to my adventure dreams. But I didn’t feel fit enough, I couldn’t possibly do that, especially on my own, the imposter syndrome kicked in and took over.

Then the pandemic changed our lives as we knew it with overseas travel becoming a thing of the past, I explored locally by bike and got into gardening. But the thought of a grand adventure stuck at the back of my mind and I wanted to use a career break to spend time with my mum and show her the wonderful country of New Zealand I had visited twice before. So in December 2021 I agreed to meet my mum in Bluff, the end of the TA,  on her birthday (15th March 2023). I was committed, I had shared my ambition with my mum who told everyone she knew. Whereas previously I had kept the ambition a secret between my husband and I as I was too scared to share it with the world as I wasn’t sure I was capable of a grand adventure.

I’m Emma, an engineer and lover of the outdoors with an adventurous spirit, quietly determined but also impatient. I was struggling with my confidence and self belief feeling confused and a bit useless in the changing world. From the effects of the pandemic, seeing friends grow up and start families but also the mental strain of a traumatic climbing accident 12 years previously. I wanted to do something for myself to show I was capable and I chose a grand adventure as I had fond memories of Duke of Edinburgh and Expeditions during my school years.

Me cycling the Pennine Rally route solo reaching the English border I bumped into three guys out for a day ride who were impressed and checked out my bike.

However the TA was a huge challenge 3000 km in 30 days with a mix of road, gravel and single track. I would need to average 100 km a day for a month, something that seemed almost impossible, so I started small. A good friend who had a baby during the pandemic lived 200 km from my mum’s house so I decided to cycle from Nottingham to Stroud with a premier inn half way. I did it and with time to spare I met my friend at lunch time on day two. Maybe the long goal was achievable after all.


In February 2022 I enlisted the help of Jon Fearne  an endurance coach and friend of my childhood Duke of Edinburgh teacher, to coach me to the start of the TA Brevet in February 2023. I was committed and scared but having the support of Jon endurance coach, personal trainer and New Zealander Duncan, my husband and garage bike fairy Ross and my mother who told anyone she could of my grand ambitions kept me motivated and focused. 


So the summer of bikepacking and training began with a few failed adventures and many lessons learnt along the way. Number one being that I am over ambitious on how much ground I can cover in a day off-road with a loaded bike, 100 km in an afternoon did not go to plan. This included a cycle tour to the Orkney islands where I learnt about wind, the Speyside Way where I was shown tubeless repair by my husband.  Concluding with a solo cycle to Manchester via the Pennine Rally route, 500 km over 5 days which gave me the confidence to get on the plane to New Zealand and get to the start of the TA. 

The North island 

After meticulously cleaning my bike and kit for New Zealand customs I arrived in Auckland airport a week before I was due to start but my bike was still in Singapore. Fortunately I had an AirTag which I used to locate the bike box and retrieved my luggage. Cyclone Gabrielle also delayed my travels and made getting to the start difficult, the shuttle minibus I’d organised was delayed from Tuesday to Thursday so I would be starting my ride on the Friday 17th February, not the 15th as originally planned. This gave me 26 days to reach Bluff, not 28 days as originally planned.

On the 17th February, along with 100 other riders I started my adventure, cycling south. I carried a GPS tracker and joined hundreds of other dots on the Map Progress page, after many years of dot watching I was finally a dot, and friends and family from the other side of the world could watch my progress. 

Day 1 riding down Te Paki Stream to reach 90 mile beach – the wet sand was energy sapping but I was finally on my way and in my head ‘I was actually doing it’ but realised what a huge challenge I was undertaking.

The first day did not go to plan with a strong headwind making progress slow and another rider, working in the group, swerved into me, sending me flying, getting sand everywhere. Myself and my bike were fine and so was the other rider. After 70 km I had run out of water so detoured off the beach to refill and rethink. I decided to follow gravel roads adjacent to the beach to avoid the tide coming in and sneak up on the wind, navigating on the go. By 7 pm I made it to the  campsite  at Waipapakauri, 14 km from the end of the beach, greeted by fellow Brevert riders. Unfortunately I did not have an evening meal as I’d planned to complete the beach that day where I knew there was a re supply point. However, some of the other riders gave me a bit of their dinner which was so kind. I bonded with a rider called Ivon who I spent the evening sharing stories and plans for the ride. 

Day 2 was an early start with a 4.30 am alarm to be riding on the beach during low tide. I stuffed a few cereal bars in my face whilst packing away the tent, being careful with my short supplies. By 5.30 I was riding on the beach, lit by my front light, with the sea on my right and dunes on my left. I put the fear of night riding to the back of my mind and concentrated on finding the hard sand to ride on. Progress was swift without the headwind of the previous day and riding through dawn was very special with the morning glow of golden light. After the beach the route followed a hilly road to Broadwood where I stocked up on supplies. I felt a sense of camaraderie sitting on a bench outside the shop with fellow riders stuffing our faces and sharing stories. I just made it to the Rawene ferry as I time-tried the last 4 km on the road as the boat ran hourly.  That evening I camped at Wairpoua forest campsite which was pretty basic but still had a shower and washing machine, all I needed. The family running the campsite invited me to join them for dinner as I was the only rider camped at the time, it was lovely to be looked after and cared for as they asked intently about my adventure. 

Again day 3 was an early start to make the Pouto Point ferry some 120 km away, I started riding just after 6am with more beautiful dawn light. As the route diverted onto gravel roads I continued slowly uphill and enjoyed the descents, stretching my calves by getting out the saddle. In the middle of nowhere a young girl started riding towards me, turned around and continued to ride alongside me. She and her brother had set up a water and fruit station for fellow TA riders. This was a lovely act of human kindness and spurred me on. After Dargaville the road was flat for a change so I made good progress, my legs were sore but I was motivated to keep moving to make the afternoon ferry. A wasp sting from the previous day began to irritate in the heat so I took frequent rests in the shade when I could. The climbs were relentless, especially in the heat and I fondly remember two ladies from the UK; Zoe and Jessie checking I was ok after I’d just inhaled a gel, they reminded me to keep going. It was so good to see them on the ferry with just 30 minutes to go, I made it.


Boarding the Pouto Point ferry – I just made it with half an hour to spare, a number of riders commented they didn’t think they’d see me again after overtaking me earlier that day but I think I timed it impeccably. 

That evening the extent of my reaction to the wasp sting was clear to see with the inside of my left knee swollen and blistering, the strong antihistamines clearly weren’t doing their job and I was concerned about progress so I booked a BnB for the next evening some 80 km away for a shorter day. 

I had a slow start to day 4 leaving at 9 am to avoid the traffic. There were more hills and my sting was sore, so I kept stopping to squirt water onto the blisters to cool them down. Fortunately on the outskirts of Auckland I found a bakery and pharmacy. I stocked up on antihistamines and dressings as it was inevitable the blisters would burst. I used a buff tucked into the bottom of my shorts to keep the area from rubbing on my frame bag and try to keep the sun off. I continued through Auckland slowly and was relieved to reach my BnB for an early night and rest. 

Day 5 was flatter with a mix of road and gravel so I made good progress to my Motel in Te Aroha, cycling 145 km with multiple ice cream stops. The lady at the motel was so welcoming, giving me free breakfast and a bag of frozen peas for my swollen leg. 

Elevating and icing my swollen knee in the Motel in Te Ahroa 

For day 6 I was joined by my friend Vanessa chatting away and catching up, she really lifted my spirits after the difficulty with the wasp sting. It felt like a fun social ride, not cycling the length of the country. We joined Zoe and Jessie along the beautiful Waikato river trail into Arapuni for lunch. After lunch Vanessa left and I was riding on my own, I decided to push on but started to struggle with fatigue on the climbs, stopping frequently to eat. Eventually I arrived in Managakino just before the fish and chip shop closed. I joined a group of 6 others down by the lake to camp and swim as there was no shower, it was a beautiful evening and the cold water helped my tired muscles. 


On the morning of day 7 I resupplied then enjoyed the gravel single track out of town, but I felt tired and knew I should have a shorter day. I emailed the Pureora cabins some 50 km away to check availability for the evening as this would be something to aim for. I met Rich and Mark just before the infamous swing bridge at the start of the rainforest. To get over the bridge I pushed my bike  in front of me balanced on its back wheel down a plank then onto the metal wire bridge with metal supports to push the bike over whilst swinging over a deep gorge to a river below. I was grateful to be among company and for the gym sessions as I pushed my bike uphill to the far side, that was a workout in itself. Soon after the heavens opened and would continue for the rest of the afternoon. The mud was tough going and the hills relentless but I continued slowly alongside other riders. I had an issue with my back wheel and tail fin rack letting my rear axle loose so I stopped to reattach it. The heavy rain washed out the track in places so I took the descents slowly but another rider was not as fortunate and was awaiting rescue at the side of the track, a reminder to concentrate. 

Rich preparing to cross the infamous wire swing bridge

Finally I reached the Pureora cabins after 50 km of mainly off road riding, 1000m of ascent in over 5 hours, a slow day. I had become quite cold from the rain and the showers were cold but I managed a quick change and relaxed in the cabin. I ended up in a shared dorm with 5 other riders whom I’d met on previous days which was really comforting knowing we were all having an adventure together. 

Day 8 was the infamous Timber Trail, 80 km of single track through a rainforest following an old railway line. I started early and climbed gently for the first 10 km winding through the rainforest which opened up to beautiful views through clearings in the trees. Then the descent came, it was like a blue grade mountain bike trail with tight corners that flowed from one to another. I was thoroughly enjoying myself but kept reminding myself I was riding a loaded bike and still had a long way to go. It was truly a smiles for miles kind of ride. The trail continued with a number of suspension bridge crossing ravines, initially these were quite exciting to ride over as the bridge swayed beneath my tyres but I soon got the hang of them. I knew rain was coming so kept my momentum with short snack stops at various long drops along the trail. At the end of the trail I found a toilet and shelter out of which a lady asked “ are you Emma”, I sheepishly replied “yes”, she’d been following me on the tracker page as I was just in front of her husband who she was supporting. She insisted I come inside and cook me a sausage sandwich, some of the best food I’d had all day. I got to the shelter just as the heavens opened so I hid inside talking to fellow riders and someone walking the TA. After an hour the rain had not let up and after watching my fellow riders pass by the window I decided to brave the last 20 km into Taumarunui. Upon reaching my motel I was offered the use of a bike wash and handed laundry powder and tokens for the washing machine. I was so excited to wash my kit, how I began to appreciate the little things in life like clean clothes. 


The next section of the route was the Bridge to Nowhere which was known for being tough going after heavy rain and potential hike a bike. Due to finding hike a bike difficult with a fused ankle and my deadline to meet my mum in one piece I decided to detour on the road and booked to stay in the Convent in Jerusalem the following evening. The road detour was longer than the main route going over a road pass at National Park into a headwind so I didn’t get much time to free wheel down the other side. But once I turned off the main road the wind died down and I enjoyed a twisty descent into Pipiriki. From Pipiriki it was the final climb to Jerusalem for the night. By now it was past 6pm and I was tired so the going was slow but the scenery was amazing so I kept stopping for photos, enjoying the golden light and the deserted road. Upon arriving at the convent I was greeted by fellow cyclists, those who had done the off-road section’s bikes were covered in mud and that was after multiple washes. I was grateful to skip this section and save my ankle.


I woke on the morning of day 10 exhausted and decided this was due to the lack of cafe stops from the previous few days, so I was on a mission to find a cafe. On the road I bumped into Mark and Rich, who I last saw at the swing bridge, who told stories of the clay mud and hike a bike of the previous day.  After a slow 40 km I arrived at the cafe ordering a huge sandwich and cake. I was stuffing my face when Bronwyn walked in, the wife and support of one of the riders Stuart who I camped with in Mangakino. She confirmed my feelings and told me I looked worse for wear but was ahead of the others. So I booked a motel in Whanganui and looked forward to an afternoon nap.

By the end of the day I’d covered 1066 km on a mix of terrain on a loaded mountain bike, probably the greatest distance I’d ever covered. I was having a bit of a panic about making the ferry to the South Island in four days time. I messaged Jon and he told me to focus on the goal ahead and break it down, also reminding me that I had many hours of daylight and could keep riding if needed. The ferry I’d booked wasn’t until Friday morning and it was Sunday evening so I had four days to cover 450 km. It was achievable but I was catastrophizing. 

After an early night and  big dinner I was feeling good so set out on day 11 with the aim to cover 100 km. The day started off with the Durie Hill elevator that gave me 100m  of free elevation to start the day, a historic public transport feature in Whanganui and a novel feature of the route. I decided to resort back to my initial game plan of riding for 8 hours, sleep for 8 hours to work towards the ferry on Friday morning. I had nearly reached my goal of Rangiwahia when I saw a sign that read; cyclists accommodation text this number. I continued on and at the road junction was greeted by Mary, a trail angel who was running a snack stall for charity. Mary kindly rang the number for me and the kind stranger had an empty holiday home which he was opening to cyclists. I don’t usually stay with strangers but thought this was all part of the adventure so went with it. The front door was open and I was told to make myself at home so I used the shower and started to recharge my devices. Shortly afterwards Guy, a fellow rider, joined me and we caught up on our adventures so far. Later that evening the owner and daughter arrived for the evening who didn’t know about the TA, they just saw lots of cyclists and had an empty holiday home so they did a good deed. This trip was really restoring my faith in human kindness. 

Trail Angel Mary and her stall – a wee oasis in the middle of nowhere 

The morning of day 12 started with home cooked breakfast and good vibes from our trail angels. The road was covered in storm debris but one lane was open so it was still passable by bike. I continued on a mix of gravel and quiet road trying to chase fellow riders ahead of me. I had a motel booked in Palmerston north which kept me motivated and the sun was shining which helped. In Ashhurst I bumped into fellow riders, Guy, Stuart, Mark and John which was a nice lift, they’d left a little earlier than me that morning but had a few bike issues to share tales about. That evening I treated myself to sushi for dinner and an early night. 

I left Palmerston north at 7 am, on the morning of day 13, as I was keen to get as close to Wellington as possible for the upcoming ferry. It was a misty morning and with road works on the climb I was under pressure from traffic to keep moving. To avoid the pressure I took regular breaks to let traffic pass. Just after the climb I missed my turn off due to the heavy mist which added an extra 5 km onto my day, but I tried not to beat myself up as progress was swift on the road. In Eketāhuna I bumped into Stuart who was also aiming to ride to Martinborough that day to visit friends, we swapped numbers and promised to meet up that evening. Later that day I bumped into Lewis, a fellow rider from the UK who was struggling for motivation so I introduced him to my system; ride for an hour with a 5 minute break. The regular breaks along with the chat worked and the kilometers ticked by so we stopped for fresh fruit ice cream at a fruit farm near Masterton. As we neared Martinborough I got a text from Stuart inviting me to stay with him and his friends, so waved goodbye to Lewis and I was greeted with open arms, a drink, shower, home cooking, washing and big bed all to myself. It was lovely to be sharing the adventure with such kind people and  it began to be more about the kindness of strangers as well as pushing myself. 


Taking stock of the ferry situation I was 100 km from Wellington, due to a 160 km day to Martinborough, so I could relax as my ferry wasn’t until 2 am on Friday morning and this was Wednesday evening. I was making great progress so I took day 14 at a leisurely pace. I bid farewell to my friendly hosts and looked forward to the day ahead. 


The day included the Remutaka rail trail, a gravel rail trail including a 300m climb and some old railway tunnels. I enjoyed the climb but took my time to stop and take photos enjoying the view back down the valley. I was glad of my Scottish night riding lights as once you entered the tunnel you could not see the exit and some of them were over 1km long. It was a spooky experience, especially with my fear of night riding, but I continued slow and steady and made it out the other side. I had grown in confidence since starting the ride two weeks ago.


At the summit I bumped into another rider, Brent whom I’d met previously, he was getting a ferry the next morning and offered to share his cabin in Lower Hutt 17 km from Wellington. We rode together for the afternoon sharing stories of bug bites and tired legs. I was hoping to find a spot by the river for a Power Nap before the late night ferry but I ended up snoozing in the cabin whilst Brent went out for dinner instead. Just before 8 pm I waved goodbye to Brent and cycled into Wellington to find a pub to wait up until I could board the ferry. In the pub I ordered lots of food, the standard by now, and a glass of wine to celebrate completing the north island. 


Waiting for the ferry, snoozing on the terminal floor with fellow TA riders, I began to feel like a real bikepacker I’d read about in races, sleeping when the opportunity arose. 

Unfortunately the ferry was delayed so I joined fellow riders snoozing in the terminal building. I began to feel like a real bike packer getting rest when I could as I’d planned to push on riding when I arrived in Picton. The silver lining was I managed to secure myself a cabin on the boat to get some good sleep. 

The South Island 

I started riding off the ferry at 7.30 am and felt tired from the lack of sleep but a previous TA rider had offered up their home for the evening in Nelson so this motivated me to keep going. I was also promised a visit from my friend Vanessa as she was on holiday in the area. 

Leaving Picton the route followed the coast road which reminded me of the west coast of Scotland but in the sunshine, it was breathtaking. I was overtaken by a group of riders from the ferry who let me tag on their back wheel which made the first 35 km flow by to a cafe in Havelock for a second breakfast. I inhaled my food as I knew my friend was waiting at Pelorus bridge some 20 km away. I pulled into the car park at Pelorus bridge where I was greeted by Vanessa and partner Andy with big hugs and smiles. They treated me to a picnic lunch by the river after a refreshing dip, I did not want to leave. Vanessa insisted on filling my water bottles and helping me re pack my kit onto my bike before waving me off. We spoke of the next section of the trail, the Maungatapu track, another renowned hike a bike section so I stuck to the the busy road instead. 


Meeting Vanessa at Pelorus Bridge for a picnic and swim on my first day cycling on the South Island – it was so good to see a friendly face and be looked after. 


The afternoon was very hot so I stopped in the shade at regular intervals to cool down. The road was busy with two climbs which concerned me at times with close passes but there was  no going back. I was glad to pull into Hira, 15 km from Nelson, for an ice cream and water. I kept going as my host for the evening was dot watching and would be finishing work at 5pm. I followed the cycle infrastructure into Nelson where a lady on a bike greeted me as a TA rider and insisted on escorting me into the center and showing me the way. Shortly after I met Luke, my host for the evening, at a crossroads. I followed him through the city and up a considerable climb to his home, which had a great view, so the climb was worth it. I was given a bedroom and bathroom to myself and Luke insisted on cleaning my drive chain and cooking me dinner. Luke’s wife Margot provided the wine and pudding, she was setting off on her own bikepacking adventure on the Sounds2sounds route soon so the evening was spent sharing bikepacking stories and packing tips.


I left Nelson on day 16 feeling rested and ready to tackle the South Island. The route followed the great taste trail through vineyards to Wakefield where I bumped into fellow riders who were riding the route for charity. As usual I stopped for a second breakfast before tackling the climb to Spooners tunnel, another 1.3 km long tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel I bumped into fellow rider Lewis who I rode with to Taperwera for lunch. After this we followed the Tadmor valley climbing on gravel tracks. I felt my seat post slipping and stopped to tighten it on a number of occasions but soon realised I had rounded the bolt meaning tightening it was almost impossible. I spotted some friendly cows and watched them for a while whilst I dealt with my frustrations. Shortly afterwards I was passed by a fellow British rider who suggested using the star of my Allen key, this made the bolt almost unusable but stopped the saddle from sliding around. I now had a saddle at a slightly lower height than usual but it was stable. My legs were very tired from the change in saddle height so when I found a freedom camping stop at Kawatiri junction I stopped for the night. I didn’t have dinner as such but ate what snacks I had for dinner which included a bag of walnuts, plain tortilla wraps, baby bells and half a tube of Oreo’s. I messaged my husband in my disappointment in myself with my mechanical skills who insisted all would be alright in the morning.


Just before lake Rotora on the morning of day 17 I found a guesthouse serving hot muffins so I stopped for a break. I soon met Lewis from the UK who didn’t have a spare bolt that would suit but on inspection of his bike lent me a bolt that held his kickstand in place. Success, I could hold my saddle at the correct height and my legs were relieved. We rode together over the Braeburn saddle to Murchison where I found a hardware store to buy a bolt and spanner to hold my seat post in place. I was exhausted so after a large lunch I got a cabin at the campsite, did some washing and had an early night. This was my third ‘rest’ day of the trip at 50 km. I was worried that if I stopped riding for an entire day my legs wouldn’t start again. 


I woke early on day 18 to avoid the heat and was greeted with beautiful views of misty mountains as I wound my way up gravel tracks to the Maruia saddle. Just before the saddle I was greeted by cyclists coming the other way who were giving out sweets to TA riders which was a lovely interlude. The gravel  track through the rainforest was a nice change to the recent road riding and I thoroughly enjoyed both the climbs and swooping descents. At Springs junction I stopped for an ice cream and fruit juice in the shade and mentally prepared myself for the last climb of the day before Reefton. The road climb was straight forward with a swooping descent. I managed to get a cabin at the campsite and a huge dinner of egg fried rice. I was keenly following the spot trackers on fellow riders, Zoe, Jessie, Stuart, Mark and John who looked like they were going to make the campsite later that evening and when they did I would be there to welcome them. It was great to be greeted by friendly faces and share stories of mechanicals and long days on the bike.

Approach to the Maruia saddle – mist over under the mountains and enjoying the shade.

My bike was beginning to creak over the past few days but I couldn’t find the source of it so on day 19 I cruised into Greymouth, avoiding the Big river hut track, to visit a bike shop. The kind bike mechanic looked over my bike whilst I had lunch nearby. To repay them I took along some shortbread to say thank you. They had not found anything obvious but had given the drive chain a good clean and sent me on my way.

I found myself willing away the time to the finish and not enjoying the riding as much so I promised myself to stop and enjoy the view whenever I could and let the adventure sink in. After leaving the bike shop I stopped on the coast to take in the view when I noticed a spoke missing from my rear wheel. I rang the bike shop and sprinted back into town for another repair.  They quickly added a new spoke and sent me on my way at 5pm. I had a hotel booked in Kumara some 30 km away but knew they would stop serving dinner by 7.30pm so I took the road back to where I’d left the route and tried to keep my heart rate in zone 2 not pottling mode as previously. I managed to make it in time and have a quick shower before dinner, another success.


The forecast for the next two days was heavy rain so I’d booked indoor accommodation to dry kit in the evenings. As I packed my bike on the morning of day 20 under cover on the veranda of the hotel I watched the rain fall like a shower from the sky. It was all part of the adventure  I told myself and it was warm rain compared to back home at 16 degrees. Not long after leaving the hotel I was wet through but thoroughly enjoying the gravel of the West Coast Wilderness trail. I laughed to myself as I felt like I’d been in an actual shower but I was singing in the rain and beginning to embrace the elements. At the various river crossings I pushed my bike through the fast flowing water as my feet were already soaked through so it didn’t matter. I met other riders along the trail who were stopped in various shelters along the way but equally embracing the weather. 


I stopped in Hokitika as my gears were beginning to slip so I asked the bike mechanic to install a new chain whilst I ate lunch. Upon returning to the  bike shop the mechanic noticed a number of problems with my bike including brakes pads and rotor wear. So I ended up sitting in  the bike shop for a further 2 hours whilst he showed me the problems with my bike and discussed the best repair options. I was glad to be inside out of the rain but again knew I had to keep moving if I was to make my accommodation that night. Fortunately the next 35 km were flat to the village of Ross, my husband’s name, which kept me amused as the trail signs counted down the kilometers to Ross. Sadly he wasn’t there to greet me but the thought of making it this far made me proud and a little teary eyed. By this point I’d ridden 2260 km solo and overcome a number of hurdles. That evening I enjoyed the all you can eat pub buffet with fellow riders and had an early night.


The rain on the morning of day 21 was biblical and I wanted to stay in bed but I knew my mum was on a plane traveling to meet me in Bluff so I got dressed, packed and off I went. Again shortly after leaving I was soaked but somehow the rain got heavier for short periods and the road was a river. Once I was wet I had to keep going to the next cafe stop as there was no way of warming up at the side of the road. I leapfrogged a group of ladies called the three goats on Map Progress they were really encouraging and I often met them just as they were leaving cafes so they gave me reviews of the food. 

Day 21 cycling on the west coast from the village of Ross to Fox Glacier – the rain was biblical but mum was on a plane coming to meet me so I kept pedaling. I was rewarded with sunshine and views for the last climb between Franz Joseph and Fox, it was worth it. 


By the time I reached Franz Josef the rain had stopped and as I sat drinking a hot chocolate fellow rider Guy who I’d last seen near Nelson popped by to say hello. He was having a rest day after a nasty cut from a fall and to avoid the bad weather. I stripped off my waterproofs and stopped frequently taking photos of the amazing landscape as I climbed two passes enjoying the sunshine once again. Nearing the top of the final summit I bumped into Brent who was struggling on the hills so we rode together into Fox Township.


I was struggling on the morning of day 22 feeling tired but the rain had stopped and the scenery was beautiful. I ended up riding with fellow rider Brent for most of the day chatting away which helped with the monotony of riding on the road. The beaches of the west coast mixed with the glacial valleys and rock formations were spectacular but I was really feeling the fatigue of the past 3 weeks of riding. About 10km short of Haast we were struck by a strong headwind and I was relieved to have company to spur me on. Upon arrival we had an early dinner and I waved by to Brent in the motel and went to pitch my tent. 


The next morning whilst packing up I noticed a huge tear in my tailfin bag and remembered my bike had fallen over when I checked in at the campsite on that side. I used duct tape to bodge the repair and scrounged a bin bag from the first cafe I passed to waterproof my kit. Day 23 started with a gradual climb to the start of Haast pass, a 10km road climb at an average gradient of 9%. I was grateful for the mountain bike gearing. I joined two fellow riders who stopped for a rest on the climb who were impressed by my climbing. I was feeling stronger today and my technique of counting pedal strokes paid off. From the top of the climb I had a swooping descent to Makaora where I saw a rider I hadn’t seen since day 2. He was a fast rider so I didn’t think I’d see him again but his knees were hurting so he was taking it easy. I pushed on towards lake Wanaka then Lake Hawea with more stunning mountain scenery, I couldn’t resist stopping for photos at regular intervals and snacks. That night I camped at  campsite at lake Hawea and ate my emergency instant noodles as I was close to the finish. 


I left just before 8 am on day 24 and enjoyed the golden morning light as I rode to wanaka along the gravel river track amongst morning runners. It was a stunning morning and would be another hot day. After a second breakfast in Wanaka I set off to climb the Crown range pass a slog of a climb up to 1076m, the highest point of the route. Half way up I met a group of fellow riders outside the Cardrona hotel who were in good spirits and were impressed with my progress. The climb started to steepen and I kept stopping to drink water as I was struggling in the heat. I made it to the top of the climb and it wasn’t far to Queenstown. At first I thought it was all downhill from here but the short ramps of the river trail sapped my energy.  I pulled into town mid afternoon and found out why my motel was so cheap. It was at the top of a very steep road climb, nevermind my legs enjoyed the stretch of a walk. I was invited to join the other riders for dinner but I was very tired and feeling antisocial so treated myself to some sushi and an early night. 


From Queenstown it was a ferry across Lake Wakatipu but my boat didn’t leave until 11 am so I had a lie-in and brunch outside on the harbor surrounded by mountains. I boarded the  steamship and enjoyed the journey with some fellow riders who had mixed emotions about reaching the end of their adventure. I started riding from Walter peak station just after lunchtime on the Around the Mountains Cycle trail, a trail of mostly gravel road and walkers paths. After turning south away from the edge of the lake I realised I had a head wind for the Von Hill climb, the last major climb of the route at 300m. Initially I didn’t mind the wind as the scenery was spectacular and I was approaching the end of the route. I felt mixed emotions about approaching the finish, I was so proud of what I’d achieved all on my own but also enjoyed the simplicity of bikepacking with few possessions and a flexible plan. It felt miles away from my day job and responsibilities at home, I didn’t really want it to end. 


As I passed Mavora lakes I was sharing the gravel road with cows but there was nothing separating me from them. So I would talk to the cows and ask them kindly to move off the road as I approached. This seemed to work well as I’m secretly scared of being sat on by one! By now my fused ankle and coccyx (that’d I’d also broken previously) were starting to hurt from the wash-board gravel tracks. I had a sense of humor failure and had to stop and give myself a talking to as the pain and frustrations were getting to me. I’d planned to press on to Mossburn that day some 105 km away but after 80km it was 7pm and I’d reached the last shelter on the trail. I set up my tent and got into my sleeping bag with all my clothes on where I ate a picnic dinner. I remember messaging Ross feeling like a failure for not covering the planned distance that day but knew it was from being tired and the later start.


I woke early on day 26 with the uncertainty of reaching Bluff that day but I was going to give it my best shot. The first 25km was fun winding gravel to Mossburn where I had a second breakfast in the Cafe surrounded by the Sounds to Sounds Brevet riders traveling in the opposite direction. They were mostly positive but some seemed to think my route was easier than theirs, I think it had something to do with the tailwind I was experiencing. I was flying along with a tailwind on the quiet country roads and slow descent to the sea. However my coccyx kept complaining so I stopped for some ibuprofen and regular snacks which seemed to help. I reached Invercargill by 3pm, some 35km from the finish in Bluff. The going had been quick so far so I messaged my mum and asked her to meet me in Bluff at 5pm. Soon after leaving Invercargill and joining the cycle path alongside highway 1 the wind direction changed and seemed to come at me from all directions with a little drizzle for good measure. 

I was cycling along battling the wind with Bluff in my sights when I saw mum in the car, she didn’t recognise me with my hood pulled over my helmet but she was there. I hadn’t seen her for a month and she’d come all this way to meet me. I was almost too tired to get emotional about this moment as I’d had plenty of time to think on the bike the past few weeks about what I’d achieved. I was determined to reach the end that day and battling the wind was an appropriate finish for a tough ride. By the time I met mum in the car park at Bluff I’d ridden 160km that day, a feat I used to find daunting but by now seemed the norm.

Day 26 I made it to the sign post at Bluff where my mum greeted me with a big hug and a hire car to take me back to our motel. 

It was a relief to meet mum on the other side of the world with snacks and champagne cooling in the motel but most importantly with a big hug. I couldn’t quite believe what I’d achieved but I had put in the hard work and I was determined to make it a reality with a year of training focused on the trip. I was a little sad for it to come to an end but my coccyx was relieved!


For the weeks afterwards I traveled round the South Island with my mum being a tourist. At random mum would say; “I can’t believe you did it, 3000 km” and I would reply; “I did it with a big smile”. I was incredibly proud of myself and was on a high realising that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and how much more capable I am than I think sometimes. 


So why go and ride the length of a country, well this was my dream for a while that I put off because I didn’t believe in myself and I thought it was too hard and that’s what other people do, not me. But I realised that life does not happen on the sofa and you have to get up and go and live it, because doing the thing that scares you is where life happens. And I had an amazing adventure and learnt a lot about myself that I hope to take forward into the rest of my life.


Finally I’d like to share a little about my mountaineering accident back in 2012 to inspire you that anything is possible. In January 2012 I fell 100m down the north face of Ben Nevis breaking my pelvis, right knee and left ankle. The knee was operated on and fixed whilst the pelvis healed but my ankle was nearly amputated due to infection and the extent of the damage. However, the doctors managed to fuse the ankle and keep my foot. It was a miracle I survived and managed to walk again, which is how I got into cycling.  So I’d like to reflect that if I can do something like cycle the length of a country then so can you, so go out and achieve your dreams you just have to start somewhere. A wise doctor once said to me a diamond is a piece of coal that stuck at it, so stick at it and anything is possible. 

Follow more of Emmas adventures here –

Follow more E3coach athletes here –

Check out E3coach Youtube here –