Tour Aotearoa Day 23 – Queenstown to Mossburn – The Penultimate Day

One month ago, this grand adventure seemed so ambitious. I’d never cycled so far or tested myself physically and mentally for such a sustained period. Success wasn’t guaranteed. But, if I was going to have any chance, I’d have to find new reserves of endurance. Leaving my hotel in Queenstown to begin the penultimate day of the Tour Aotearoa, victory feels almost within reach. I can’t wait to return home to my family, but right now I’m determined to enjoy these final two days.

Today started with a boat trip across Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamboat TSS Earnshaw, which made its maiden voyage over 100 years ago in 1912. I squeezed my bike onto the lower deck amongst several other riders, and then the steamboat eased to her cruising speed of 13 knots. Below deck, the crew were shovelling coal at the rate of one tonne an hour, which sounded almost as exhausting as riding the Tour Aotearoa itself, and I was content to sit on the deck watching our wake cleft the calm waters of the lake in two while admiring the panorama of the Southern Alps, which had low, wispy mountains tangled around their flanks.

After 45 minutes, the boat shuffled into the bay at the foot of the imposing 1,800-metre Walter Peak. Legend has it that two pioneers flipped a coin to decide who would get which side of the lake. This side of the lake was a marked contrast to the busyness of Queenstown, and I stopped for a nice coffee in Walters Park before setting off.

Today’s ride was entirely on the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail, another of the Ngā Haerenga Great Rides of New Zealand that I can add to my list. I pedalled through the Von Valley, entering this region known as Southland, now approaching the far tip of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s a remote wilderness of high country farms tucked into barren landscapes. The scenery was rugged and barren, the forests of previous days replaced by low shrubs and scant vegetation. The gravel road was long and purposeful, heading south, as if to some final destination: Cape Bluff. A cold southerly wind sapped my energy, and even after cresting the sharp climb to Von Hill and enjoying the view of Jane Peak, I had to pedal against the headwind on the nice descent I’d been expecting. Until you look at a map, you don’t realise how far south this region of New Zealand is. I’m now only around 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometres) from Antarctica.

The landscapes were beautiful, in a kind of menacing way. I cycled beneath glaring hills with the feeling that I was approaching the end of the world. I passed the picturesque Mavora Lakes, used as a filming location for The Lord of the Rings, and knew I was reaching the culmination of my own epic journey.

If you’ve followed this blog since the start, you’ll know that right back on the first day while racing the tide with fresh legs along 90 Mile Beach, I met a group of five cyclists from New Zealand who were also just starting their Tour Aotearoa adventure. We’ve crossed paths several times throughout the tour, and today I bumped into them again. They had a friend living on a farm nearby and they invited me to join him for a BBQ. The dinner was lovely, with kind, friendly people and a jubilant and celebratory atmosphere. It seems fitting that tomorrow we’ll all reach the finish line together. For my final night on the Tour Aotearoa, I enjoyed the comfort of the Historic Railway Hotel built in 1922.