Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pedaller's Paradise

* There will be no pictures in these blog posts. You'll have to pretend that it's a travel report from 2002 when digital photographs were rare. If you'd like to see pictures from the trip, see Meghan's blog at http://www.meggomyeggo.com/, or naturally teh internets

Having now cycled across the country widthwise ( Nelson - Picton - Blenheim - Westport ) it's time for a rest day and some blogging.

The best guidebook for New Zealand cycle touring is named Pedaller's Paradise. Well that sure sounds great. But then as the tour approached everyone kept mentioning how crazy the drivers are and how the roads have no shoulders. Which is it? Paradise or terrible roads?

Well, the answer of course is both. A typical road in New Zealand looks like this:

Whoops, of course that photo is outdated. The road has since been fully modernized and now looks like this:

You'll note that despite clearly being a one-way road, there were no stop lights, stop signs, or other controls to navigate this section. Well clearly I've picked a particularly bad example for humour's sake. A more typical section of road would look like this:

I know in Canada the dotted white line would mean that both lanes are headed in the same direction, but in New Zealand this is a two-way road. Almost all the roads we've been on have been like this; two lanes, no shoulder.

So, you might ask, given that there's no shoulder and only one lane in each direction, how can this be a wonderful place to cycle tour? The answer comes from the extremely low traffic counts. Let's have a look at the official government of New Zealand road count statistics. Or rather, let me pick out some key data points. On the section of Highway 6 where the first two photos were taken, the government counts an average daily traffic rate of 1000 vehicles per day in both directions. So in the course of a day, on average 500 vehicles will pass you. If we assume the majority of traffic is in the daylight hours, that's 40 vehicles per hour. Even better, traffic clumps behind slow moving vehicles. So you ride for 10 minutes with no traffic, then get passed by a stream of 2-6 cars, and then ride onward on a car-free road. Much of the cycling has truly been tremendous.

The first day of cycling however, was not tremendous. In retrospect, our first day cycling from Nelson to Pelorus Bridge was on one of the scariest stretches of road on the South Island. In the area around Nelson, New Zealand's beautiful old growth forests, a mix of hardwoods, tree-ferns, softwoods, and podocarps, have been replaced by perfect rows of commercial pines. Transporting those harvested pines to Nelson over the Wangamoa pass are logging trucks in a frightful hurry. The road is very twisty with terrible sight lines and no shoulders. All traffic that is not a logging truck is terrified of rounding a corner and meeting a speeding logging truck, so vehicles pass extremely close to you. Traffic is also much heavier near the city of Nelson. All in all, it was a pretty spooky day. Though I put on a brave face and cheerfully declared that I liked cycle touring and New Zealand, in my heart I thought I may have signed up for a terrifying death race. Luckily, since that first day, traffic volumes have severely declined, drivers are willing to give much more space when passing, and sight lines have improved. The stretch between Blenheim and Kawatiri Junction had a traffic count of 360 vehicles per day in both directions. Cycling bliss.

1 comment:

Heather said...

that first road looks like the highway to port alberni by cameron lake! wouldn't want to bike it either...