The Kiwi Traverse: 1,700km tip to tail

Friday 15 December, 2017

Haydon Gray and Steve Bramfitt travel 1,700km tip-to-tail through New Zealand, by hiking, biking and flying. By Haydon Gray

An overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity came over me once I had made the decision. I’d been flying backwards against the ridge long enough to realise I had run out of choices. The only way out was to turn and fly into the unknown, face it head on. My last radio call to Steve was, “Sorry mate, I’m going over”. As I crossed low over the smoothest part of the ridge, the first three seconds were eerily calm and quiet, like I’d been awarded some sort of a grace period before the inevitable happened.

The reality of my situation snapped into being as my wing started going berserk as I flew into the leeside turbulence of a 60km/h+ wind. It felt like someone had just taken the plug out of the bath and I was getting sucked down, into the middle of a steep, remote forested valley in South Island New Zealand. Little did I know, Steve had committed himself to the same fate and followed me over into the unknown.

It was 16 January 2016, and the Tip-to-Tail adventure had begun. Steve slumped down in the economy class seat next to me stinking of Jack Daniels and Coke only three hours into the 28-hour flight from Zurich to Auckland. I tried to remember how this idea had formed, a simple vol-biv mission had evolved into a unique, country-long triathlon across New Zealand. Like a small snowflake on course to becoming an avalanche, it had become more than we both expected. As two double JD and Cokes appeared, I realised the avalanche was just starting.

By the time we reached the paragliding vol-biv part of the adventure we had been on the road already for six weeks. We had started at the most northern point of the Aupouri Peninsula at Cape Reinga and we planned to travel under our own power all the way to the southernmost point of the South Island, The Bluff. As the crow flies it was about 1,700 km, but between cycling, kayaking and paragliding we would cover much more.

We biked 14 days from Cape Reinga to Wellington and then crossed the Cook Strait between North and South Island by kayak, finishing with a final bike leg from Picton to St Arnaud. On many counts we had been lucky with the weather, our equipment, friendly people and simply life on the road. Over 1,400km we had punished and tested the limits of our brand new Kona cyclecross bikes and only suffered two punctures and a broken pannier.

For all the uphill grinds, long days, sore bums and knees the downhills were worth it. Rolling through the Waipoua Forest past some of the largest Kauri trees in the world; descending from the mountains all the way to Napier on the coast; and our final descent down the Rumitakas to Wellington were unforgettable.

Our kayak across the 22km Cook Strait had required three attempts and five anxious days of waiting in Wellington. After the first two attempts in rough seas and strong winds, the third attempt was a relatively benign start.

Our guide Tim Taylor pushed a good pace across the Strait, but as we approached Arapawa Island the ocean showed us why this is known as one of the toughest stretches of water to paddle. A strong southerly current pushed against us as we tried to reach land, and for two hours we gained almost no distance. Tim decided to abort the Tory Channel and instead we headed up the Queen Charlotte Sound, adding another 20km – and a day – to our trip.

We arrived in Picton the next day very happy to be finished with the kayak leg, an important part of our journey, but not something either of us would look to do again. Apart from the albatrosses that eyed us curiously in the middle of the Strait, we had seen little wildlife and, like some of the bike legs, it had been a bit of a grind. But now two out of three parts of this adventure were complete. The most exciting and definitely most challenging part was going to begin, the vol-biv…

Read the rest of the article in Cross Country 186, Dec/Jan 2018

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