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Life in the Fast Lane: Dunedin, The Catlins and Fiordland by Car | We're Not There Yet

We left Queenstown about 12 hours after we arrived. By all accounts it is a sporty, fun, and expensive town, but we didn’t want to stick around to find out how expensive. We reserved a rental car to zoom around in for a couple of days before our Routeburn Trail reservation. I have to say that new Zealand by car is a whole different animal than New Zealand by bike. First of all, cars go way faster. You can make little detours, you don’t need to worry about running out of water, and you can carry along several bottle of wine. I could get used to this.

Our whirlwind tour by car basically took in all the places that we had to skip on bicycle in order to be ready to hike the Routeburn on schedule. We left Queenstown and went back to the Alexandra area to do some winetasting (the distances between the wineries are impossible by bicycle and require too many detours). We were able to camp at a DOC campsite, which is rare because they are often spread out at inconvenient intervals for a day’s ride and/or are accessed by 2-10km detours off the main road. We were able to do a lot of things we couldn’t by bicycle including having conversations not interrupted by oncoming semi-trucks, going out of our way by 20km just to check it out, and not getting wet when it rained. It was truly luxurious. I think my favorite part of the whole road trip was not sweating- if it got too hot, the AC would go on, if it got too cold, we had a heater.

Traffic jam on the way to St Baathans

Best of all, we didn’t miss out on some places that we had resigned ourselves to skipping:

Dunedin (very hip town with cheap Asian food and expensive coffee; it reminded us of San Francisco and I would have liked to have spent more time there)

Moeraki Boulders (really interesting and unusual round boulders about the size of an exercise ball, but not worth cycling hundreds of kilometers to see, like we would have had to; there were more tourists taking pictures of the rocks than there were boulders; there as also a dead seal which kind of broke the spell)

Bowling balls of the Gods

The Catlins (R draws comparisons between the Catlins and Highway 1 in California; there is a coastal road that offers gorgeous views of the water, although, just like in central California, the water is too rocky, cold and rough to jump in; some charming campsites and delightful small towns dot the road; it would have been a shame to miss)

Windiest place on Earth? That may not be true, but this should give you a good impression what conditions were like. Thank goodness we didn’t try to ride our bikes here!

Not ugly

The end of the earth

Invercargill (just another sprawling town with the usual mix of fast food joints and mini-malls; the town is famous for their plentiful oysters, but they were out of season)

Te Anau and Fiordlands (we decided against cycling here because the ride is a multiday out and back and involves some pretty burly climbing through a tunnel coming back from Milford Sound; we drove the car to a kayaking date at Milford Sound and saw it again by bus when we were dropped off at the start of the Routeburn Trail; this is one of the most spectacular and unique parts of New Zealand and absolutely not to be missed).

Mirror Lake

View from the car window

No one can appreciate an economy rental car more than two people who have moved almost exclusively under their own power for the better part of a year. The luxury of going fast without getting tired and being able to pull stuff out of the backseat instead of digging through panniers on the side of the road cannot be overstated. We are not car people- we are New Yorkers, we walk, we cycle, we take public transit- but for one brief, shining moment, we tasted the life of a car owner and we liked what we found. I am afraid that this will significantly color the rest of our cycle trip, knowing that all the other tourists have vehicles with kitchenettes and radios and sometimes even toilets (which, actually kind of grosses me out). We have seen people roll up in their camper vans and then cook dinner in their camper vans and then go to sleep in a bed inside of their camper vans- all without getting wet or cold or bitten up by sandflies! It is too late for us to have that now, but we have begun to consider what we’re going to do after we leave New Zealand and it is awfully tempting to eliminate the spandex-and-sweat element of the trip.

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