They were whimpering in their box, my trusty tramping boots, not able to comprehend why they had been passed over for a pair of lightweights.
“We’ve served you well for 10 years and now you’ve decided you’d rather cycle than tramp,” they grizzled. “We always go with you to the great outdoors. How could you leave us behind in favour of those flimsy sneaker things with no tread?”
I tried to explain to them that cycling was vastly different from tramping, and pedalling would make them horribly dizzy, but they were soles-up and sulking.
I promised them a lovely muddy tramp when I returned, but they had pulled the lid shut, muttering “traitor”.
The sneakers were not the only new item of clothing I donned on day one of my first-ever cycling expedition. I also pulled on padded pants, which felt like nappies.
Setting off on a late summer cycle trip instead of a tramp was a radical departure from the norm for me but the Paradise Trail was irresistible. For someone whose spiritual home is the mountains, lakes and rivers of the South Island, this four-day trip had it all.
I confess I was so mesmerised by the breathtaking photos on the Revolution Tours website, I developed convenient amnesia about the fact I had not been on a bicycle since school days, and just kept chanting the words on the home page of owner-guides Matt and Kate Belcher: “If you can ride a bike then you can do this trip.”
Midway up the first gentle incline, I realised why the machine I was riding is commonly referred to as a push bike – because when the puffing set in, I became a pusher.
But the panorama of jagged peaks and gleaming glaciers unfolding with each turn of the pedals was so spectacular, my soaring spirits drowned out the protestations of my muscles, and every day the cycling became easier.
I quickly bonded with my “hybrid bike”, with its padded seat, step-through frame, easy-to-manage handgrip gears and “upright geometry”, which allows riders to appreciate the views. I even grew to like my “nappies”.
And I never once felt tempted to get in the support vehicle which trundles behind, loaded with emergency equipment, including a defibrillator.
The trip does come with a serious warning however. Don’t imagine you will lose any weight with all the hearty exercise you are doing, because delicious food lurks around every corner. As well as the country breakfasts, yummy picnic lunches and morning and afternoon teas that appeared by magic, we were treated to gourmet feasts at the end of every day.
After coffee in Queenstown, we steamed across the satin waters of Lake Wakatipu on the iconic 102-year-old TSS Earnslaw, the Lady of the Lake, watching the stoker feed a tonne of coal an hour into the hot jaws of her hungry furnaces. We had morning tea in sunshine at historic Walter Peak Station, before cycling along the lake on undulating farm tracks through ancient beech forests to Kinloch at the head of the lake.
Kinloch Lodge, a tourist destination since 1868, was our luxurious accommodation for the first night. A delicious hot tub on the hill overlooking the lake eased newly discovered complaining muscles.
Next day we meandered up the braided river valleys of the Dart and Rees, which cut deep into the backbone of the Southern Alps. Jet boats hooned up the Dart while we ate our picnic lunch, gazing spellbound at towering snow-capped peaks named after Greek gods.
We rode through the Lord of the Rings’ forest of Lothlórien, posing for photos in Gollum’s hollow tree trunk, skirted the shores of glistening Diamond Lake, and by mid-afternoon, found ourselves literally in Paradise, so named for the eponymous duck.
The historic Paradise Homestead, built in the 1880s, was our home for the next two days. Deeply weathered Mt Earnslaw with a crown of silver schist was on our doorstep and a short walk away, a necklace of startling peaks as improbable as a child’s scribble of the horizon.
On day three, we hiked up the Routeburn Track alongside a river with colours so intense our Aussie bike mates believed me when I said Department of Conservation rangers poured turquoise food colouring into the pools to wow the trampers.
A light frost lingered in the shade as we cycled towards Chinamans Bluff on our final day, surrounded by the giants we had seen in the distance as we steamed up the lake four days earlier. At road’s end, we walked up the Rees-Dart track and ate lunch on a log by the river in the company of Cosmos, Chaos, Minos, Nox and Amphion.
We dawdled there, reluctant to leave Paradise and return to civilisation, but the drive back to Queenstown along the shores of Lake Wakatipu was magnificent.
I had an epiphany on the trail which may see my faithful tramping boots sidelined more often. For every burst of exertion, there was the heady reward of effortless freewheeling downhill through beech forests with shafts of sunlight flickering like frames in an old movie, whizzing down country lanes, yelling “wheee” to the animals along the way, and charging through mountain streams with feet in the air.
Such pedal-powered delights cannot happen on foot, short of fitting wheels to one’s boots.
I also discovered you can cover great distances à bicyclette and not miss out on the views. I’m just not sure how to break the news to my old tramping mates.
The four-day, three-night fully guided Paradise Trail with Revolution Tours covers 70km by bike over three days and includes a one-day hike up the Routeburn Track.
Justine was a guest of Revolution Tours. Visit revolutiontours.co.nz
Justine Tyerman stayed in Queenstown courtesy of AmazingAccom.com