Thursday, April 26, 2001

Tour Aotearoa 2018

On February the 28th  2018, the last group of riders set off in the Tour Aotearoa, leaving from Cape Reinga, at the tip of the North Island of New Zealand .

An hour and 10 minutes later, Wellington massage therapist Pat Hogan reached Bluff, 3000 kilometres away, finishing the journey that he started 14 days earlier on February the 14th.

The 2016 Tour Aotearoa was so popular that the 300 available places filled up very quickly. In the 2018 running of the event, the organiser, Jonathan Kennett opened it up to 600 riders, in 6 x 100 person waves, starting on the 10th of February and staggering the start waves through until the 28th. This would spread the load over the country and make sure that the smaller areas of the country were not over-whelmed.

The Tour Aotearoa is not your typical biking event. It’s not a race, it’s an adventure. It’s like a cross between the Coast to Coast and the Camino de Santiago. It encourages self sufficiency and resilience. It must be completed between 10 and 30 days, unsupported, with 6 hours a day minimum rest from riding, for recovery. Riders must ride, and not deviate from a preset course that takes in some of New Zealand’s great rides. The Waikato River Trail, the Pureora Timber trail and the Big River Waiuta trails on the west coast of the South Island. Deviation from this path can only be for safety reasons outlined in the course notes, or in cases of civil emergency or local road closings, as happened during Cyclone Gita.

Not all plain sailing on the Kaipara Harbour with wild weather causing havoc at times. Image Paul Nicholls.

New Zealand has a very changeable weather system, the literal translation of Aotearoa is “The land of the long white cloud”. After coming off the hottest summer in recorded history the country was suddenly hammered with rough weather as a series of tropical cyclones swept through. Rider resolve was being tested. Ferries were being cancelled, roads were being washed out and closed. Road conditions were becoming challenging as cars and heavy traffic were re-routed onto the previously quiet Tour Aotearoa route, with little regard for the riders.

The topography boats etc.

A whole community has grown around the tour Aotearoa with many remote accommodation options popping up and sharing their details on the official Facebook site. Spectators and family members watch as their loved ones navigate the country by keeping an eye on their “Spot-trackers”.

Despite the emphasis on resilience, social media has now become part of the tool-set with which some people arm themselves. In earlier times, if you suffered a catastrophic failure then your only option was to keep on walking until the nearest farm house where you could usually rely on a friendly farmer to help you out. Nowadays the request tends to go out to social media where people will offer a loan of replacement parts or just advice on where is the nearest bike shop. Within hours of a rear hub failure, a rider has found an after hours mechanic on Facebook, and a rescue mission has been launched to extract a rider deep from the boon-docks by friendly DOC staff. Two other riders were reunited with their bikes after they were stolen from their accommodation over night, all with the power of social media.

A large number of the riders in this year’s Tour Aotearoa are woman. Typically an event of this length would attract 9 to 11% women at most. It is estimated that around 20% of the riders this year are ladies. The reasoning is not known. Maybe having compulsory rest times makes the event seem more doable, or maybe it was the example set by trail blazer Anja Mcdonald’s ride in the 2016 event. Anja finished 3rd across the line in her wave in a bit over 10 days. This year her husband Tristan Rawlence is trying to beat her time. For every elite level rider doing the TA there are 100 riders who just want to experience the outdoors and rise to the challenge. Several riders over the age of 70 are out there right now and mixing it up.

Will the Tour Aotearoa be held again in 2 years time? It's probably too early to say. As an event with no entry fee there is probably not a lot financially to be gained by the organiser Jonathan Kennett. The important part has been done, the establishing of a trail the length of New Zealand that anyone can ride, any time they want.

Too early to say?
The trail is important

There is a high percentage of women doing the Tour Aotearoa and we can only speculate as to why,
Old folks
Choosing bikes

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