The Braaksma family has finished a year-long cycle journey from Bluff to Cape Reinga.
Ten-year-old Mahe Braaksma will never forget riding his bike through the freezing rain in the Catlins, or the day spent walking it over slips on the Coromandel Walkway. They were the hardest days, he says, of his year spent riding the length of New Zealand with his family; an adventure that will stay with him forever.
The family from Te Anau – Adrian Braaksma, wife Steff, 12-year-old Jazz, Mahe and seven-year-old Charlie – left Bluff in December 2020, clocking up around 4300km before arriving in Cape Reinga on December 30. The kids took a year off school, doing lessons on the road via Te Kura distance education. Adrian says there were countless highlights. Going over the Omarama Saddle on the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail was a special moment. He remembers the kids working hard to make it up the steep climb, digging into their reserves and then that wonderful feeling of achievement at the top.
Getting to the upper reaches of the Rakaia Gorge was another highlight, as was cycling through Molesworth Station behind the Inland Kaikoura Range.
“A farmer let us put our bikes in his farm shed for a few days so we could climb Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku,” says Adrian. On another occasion, the family rode into Mt Cook and walked to Mueller Hut.
Adrian says the kids have boundless energy for the adventure, and that the trip has highlighted that even young children are capable of amazing things if you give them a chance. A rewarding part of the trip has been meeting other families along the way and sharing their tales.
“A lot of people are inspired by our journey to start their own adventures with their kids,” he says. “That’s wonderful to see. We’re so lucky in New Zealand that you can link a lot of cycle trails together and do some great four or five day trips.”
Steff says she couldn’t be prouder of the kids and that the family is already thinking ahead to the next big adventure. “Alaska to South America could be on the cards,” she says, clearly serious.
The family lives for adventures and exploring the outdoors is in their blood. But they’re also keenly focussed on local issues and intimately connected to their community at home. Part of the aim of their trip was to spread the love for Te Anau tourism businesses doing it tough since the pandemic.
“The community put their logos on our bikes, so we can promote the town as we ride,” Adrian says. “We have a lot of friends who are struggling, so we’d love to encourage people to get out and visit beautiful places.”
Returning to (real) school, Mahe will have no shortage of tales to tell his friends. He says his favourite day was riding through the Manawatu Gorge, long since closed to vehicles by landslides, overgrown with weeds and strewn with debris. Was it the eerie sense of forging onwards after an apparent apocalypse that he loved; the feeling that nothing could stop them? “Nah,” he says, “it just saved us from having to ride over a big hill.”