By Rita Zeidner
In New Zealand, the adage about good things coming in small packages rings especially true. This small, two-island country — about two-thirds the size of California — presents visitors with an astounding variety of climates and landscapes. In February, fellow PPTC member Harold Datz and I had the privilege of experiencing most of them. Sometimes all in one day.
We were part of a 21 person group organized by the Bicycle Adventure Club touring New Zealand’s South Island. The BAC suffers from a lack of name recognition, so I’ll take a moment to talk a bit about it. It’s a member-led non-profit travel group. (Check them out at www.BAC.org.) Like PPTC, members pay a small annual membership fee and that gives them access to dozens of trips lead domestically and abroad by volunteers. These trips invariably cost a good deal less than those offered by more well-known travel groups and, in my experience, are a better deal — so long as you don’t need or expect hand-holding.
BAC’s trips, in fact, are so popular that most fill up within a few weeks of being announced. This was my third BAC trip and Harold’s seventh or eighth.
Few if any domestic BAC rides subcontract to an outfitter, although many international trips, including my New Zealand trip, do.
BAC ride leaders get to vet their ride participants and this one was geared toward experienced, independent cyclists. However, given the time of year (February) and the age of the participants who signed up (50-78), the ride leader wisely arranged for Kiwi-owned outfitter PedalTours to shadow us. Truth be told, only a handful of us never asked for some motorized help to get our out-of-condition butts over some of the 16 percent sustained grades. (And some of those steep climbs were complicated by 20-30 mph gusts and headwinds.)
Our 12-day, 500-mile trek included six of the country’s classic climbs: Porter’s Pass, Arthur’s Pass, Haas Pass, the Crown Range, Lindis Pass and Burkes Pass. We would ride through lush subtropical forests (what Kiwi’s call “bush”), enjoy sweeping vistas of snow-capped peaks, saddle up to glaciers (pronounced “glossy-airs” by locals) witness sharp-fanged, 7-pound eels eat meat out of a naturalist’s hand and have the unique pleasure of seeing phosphorescent glowworms light up the darkness. And, of course, we saw lots and lots of sheep. (Bet you didn’t know that that a sheep will go limp when set on its rump for shearing)