My tale starts in 2019 as a fresh-faced Aussie backpacker on a working holiday visa in the UK. Trying my best to avoid “little Australia” in the share houses of Shepherds Bush, I was determined to see what Britain had in store outside of London, and spent a few happy years locuming my way all over Wales, Scotland and England as a healthcare worker in the NHS. Not satisfied I had seen all there was to see, I concocted a brilliant plan to cycle my way around dear Old Blighty and experience all her best bits in a convoluted JOGLE of sorts (JOGLE meaning a journey from the most northerly point of the UK – John O’Groats – to the most southerly point of the UK – Land’s End). I had one minor hurdle – I’d never ever cycle toured before, let alone ridden further than a few dozen km in one go…
Undeterred by the sheer enormity of my unpreparedness for such an undertaking, in 2019 I threw my hat in the ring for an Adventure Queen Grant in the hope that some back up from this amazing community would help me turn this crazy idea into a reality in the summer of 2020. Sadly, March 2020 brought with it the beginnings of the global pandemic and a hasty flight back Down Under.
Fast forward to November 2021 and, unable to get the craving for a long cycle trip out of my head, I set off to circumnavigate the South Island of New Zealand by pedal power. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was more than a little lost trying to JOGLE on the opposite side of the globe, but at least you now kinda understand how it came to be that an Aussie with zero bike packing experience spent 2 months on the road tootling 2000km solo around the astonishing Te Waipounamu Aotearoa, and why I want to share the trip and it’s lessons with all you Adventure Queens.
What was it like?
Hands down the most amazing thing I’ve ever done! With too many highlights to count.
Cycling alone in the peace and quiet of New Zealand’s wilderness was quite the surreal experience. I’ve never felt more present with the sights, sounds and sensations surrounding me than that first 12 days on the bike, where I essentially spent 24 hours a day outside – something I hadn’t actually realised modern life takes away from us. Using Department of Conservation campgrounds along the way, my days were spent totally absorbed in the delightful appreciation of life’s simple pleasures. Waking with the sun in my hammock, morning coffee with a view, cruising along in nature at my own pace… It was a lifestyle I could go back to in a heartbeat!
The South Island has an incredible network of hiking/cycling trails, and my planned route basically connected some of the best ones in the country. If you’re familiar with the Paparoa Track, the Heaphy Track, the Queen Charlotte Track, and the Alps2Ocean you’ll understand I was one very lucky girl to be able to navigate my way around by pedalling along all of them. I even got to hike the world-famous Milford Track (usually booked out a year in advance) thanks to a very serendipitous, last-minute cancellation right when I rolled into town.
A journey that began with it’s fair share of anxiety, insecurity and inadequacy, finished with very strong emotions of wonder, confidence and perspective. It’s not an understatement to call this experience life changing. More than a few life lessons were learned along the way…
Never give up: the power of grit
I wasn’t awarded an Adventure Queen Grant for my idea (although I surprisingly made the shortlist!) and I was forced to leave the UK prematurely, but I still got my adventure. Why? Not because I’m special. I just made the decision that I really wanted to follow through on my plan somehow, and to do that I had to be able to adapt. The process of applying for the grant 100% sold me on the fact that it was possible, so if you’re in the same boat as me (i.e. the no clue what you’re doing boat) I’d highly encourage you to go through the motions of applying anyway, just as a thought experiment. Answering questions in the application takes a big vague scary idea and breaks it down into tangible, logical problems for you to solve. For example, “if I were to cycle from A to B what equipment might I need?”. I had already hashed out my plan in 2019 in the UK, so when the opportunity presented itself in 2021 in NZ it was there ready to be flipped upside down for the Southern Hemisphere.
Have a crack! A wise old Aussie saying…
Wisdom may not be something you associate with the Aussies (I certainly don’t), but there may be a little special something in the attitude of just having a go, or “having a crack”, at something. I’ll admit it’s no Aristotle or Churchill, but the words certainly rolled around in my head more than a few times in the lead up to, and while on, the journey. Answering all the inevitable What If’s (What if I can’t make it up a hill? What if something breaks in the middle of nowhere? What if I run out of supplies?) was as simple as telling myself to just have a crack, you’ll never know if you don’t try. The result? I made it all the way! It wasn’t perfect, and there were no land speed records broken, but it’s still the best thing I’ve ever done. So if you’re feeling unsure about your own idea, what have you got to lose by at least giving it a crack? Probably not as much as you think.
Accepting vulnerability: It’s OK to ask for help
I had soooo much help making my adventure happen. Friends loaned me gear, kind strangers gave me lifts, randoms sheltered and fed me… and you know what? They were the best, most heart-warming parts of the journey. It wasn’t failure, it wasn’t poor planning (*ahem* most of the time), it was just opening up to the beautiful people of Aotearoa New Zealand and fully letting the whole experience in. I learned so much from quick conversations with strangers on the street who asked about my bike and my journey. I got some of the best tips on where to go and what to see just sharing a table and a meal with someone. As a private, introverted type this did not come naturally at all, but becoming more open has been one of the biggest changes people have commented on since I completed this adventure, which was an unexpected bonus.
I wish I had more words to tell you more tales from the road, but I wanted to make sure that in closing I could thank the Adventure Queen community for giving me the little nudge I needed to do something extraordinary – the memories, skills, and confidence I’ve gained from giving it a crack have changed my life. I really hope paying it forward with this post and it’s pictures might light the little spark of an idea in you (yes, YOU!), and inspire an adventure of your own.
P.S. I haven’t had the chance to plan my second big adventure yet, but I can’t wait to get back to your beautiful country for a JOGLE one day!
This blog post was written by guest blogger Erin Nugent.
Australian-based AQ Erin loves to travel, try her hand at new activities (anything from surfing and snowboarding to CrossFit and climbing) and help others to lead happy, healthy lifestyles as a Sports Physiotherapist. Currently back in Australia after 5 years of working and travelling abroad, she can’t wait to take off again! Erin’s blog Free Life Physio (@freelifephysio) is a project all about helping health practitioners around the world have the same amazing international life and career experiences she’s had.