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March 2020 Issue
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Coasting around New Zealand

Photo: Dunc Wilson
Dunc Wilson completed the first circumnavigation of New Zealand on a bike, a 10,940km journey that took him 240 days. He’s written about his epic solo ride in his new book The Big Loop: Biking Coastal New Zealand.

What inspired your journey?
The time had arrived in my life to plan and embark on an epic thru-journey. Once I’d settled on the idea, I couldn’t put it down. I’d spend every second of free time poring over maps of New Zealand, plotting a fantasy route and conjuring up images of all the places I was going to visit and experience. It wasn’t that I’d chosen an adventure, but rather the adventure had chosen me.

How did your fitness change over the trip?
I was of average fitness at the start. I ran a bit, cycled a bit and tramped a lot. The first two to four weeks were the toughest, with minor struggles as the body caught up with my plans. Then one day, it just clicked, as if it were saying: ‘Oh, we’re really doing this thing, then?’ By the finish, I was ready for a place within Cycling NZ, but the call never came.

Did you contend with any injuries on the trip?
Other than minor twinges, I was lucky to go injury-free right up until I had a crash. I was fortunate not to break anything when I slid face-first down a 10m bank on the Queen Charlotte Track. The bike smashed me in the back on the way down and beat me to the bottom, leaving a lot of bruising and two weeks of recovery.

Did you have a favourite stretch of coast?
Excluding the part I crashed on, every section of the coast occupies a fond place in my memory. Northland’s Ripiro Beach offered a special kind of wilderness – wild and desolate, with barely another soul. The Wairarapa coast was also special. I’d gone into the trip aware of the farm tracks that trace the ocean between southern Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, but I was unsure how I’d access them. By the time I popped out in Eastbourne, it was largely familiar territory and I knew many of the farmers, too. I do and always will love the West Coast for its unapologetic rugged nature, glaciers, waterfalls and snow-capped peaks, all visible from grey, stony beaches. And the Brighton coast, south of Dunedin, is a hidden jewel.

You’d have been putting out a lot of energy – how did you replenish it on the go?
It has been calculated I was smashing more than 5000 calories a day. I replenished them by eating two breakfasts, compressed bread and peanut butter throughout the day, two curries in the evening, chia seeds in my water bottle, coffee and cake whenever I saw a café and from top-ups from honesty boxes.

Have you any advice for others wanting to make their own wild dream a reality?
Dream. Dream big. Dream small. Have dreams. When one seems achievable, it’ll take you there. Plans will be made, knowledge will accrue, people will come to help. If you want it enough, you will get there. If it wants you enough, you will have no choice.

Did you ever get lonely or bored?
The funny thing about New Zealand is, despite the minuscule population, there are people everywhere. Even the most remote South Island roads would provide me with a couple of Germans in a campervan to have yarns with. Evenings were seldom lonely.

How do you rate New Zealand as a cycling destination?
It’s stunning for cycling. Roadwise, the coarse chip seal is less desirable than the scarcer, super-smooth tar roads, but then again, it’s all about gravel biking these days. Milford Highway is hands-down my favourite section of road-cycling from the journey. I spent all morning gradually climbing to Homer Tunnel, flanked by sheer rock faces, misty clouds looming overhead. On the other side, the best part of 20km is all downhill. When I rode the highway, it had just rained, but the sun was shining. The waterfalls were pouring and two kea escorted me down.

– Click here to buy Dunc’s book The Big Loop. Subscribers get a 10% discount