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Explore New Zealand’s South Island Lake District by motorhome & e-bike

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After our idyllic motorhome trip in late winter-early spring, we couldn’t wait to get back on the road again in late summer-early autumn. Travelling outside the peak holiday period at the change of seasons means there’s less traffic on the roads and the weather is usually more settled.

Dirt road in Paradise, New Zealand

Dirt road to Paradise amid spectacular scenery, 68km from Queenstown

Our latest adventure began in Christchurch where we picked up two Kiwi-designed SmartMotion e-bikes from The Electric Bicycle Company and a self-contained motorhome from JUCY Rentals, nicknamed “Lucy” after the curvaceous lady on the outside.

Jucy motorhome and e-bikes

Recipe for freedom: a JUCY motorhome and SmartMotion e-bikes

We joined forces with old friends Dave and Libby, who have a camper trailer, and spent the next two weeks cycling every day, working our way from Hanmer Springs in the north to Glenorchy in the south with two or three-night stops en route.

Kinloch to Greenstone Valley. Dave, Libby and Justine Tyerman

Cycling the Kinloch to Greenstone Valley road – Dave, Libby and Justine

Chris Tyerman biking the Clutha River track

Chris biking the Clutha River track

Justine on the Clutha River track

Justine on the Clutha River track

The highlights

In the Hurunui district north of Christchurch, we biked forest pathways at Hanmer Springs and then ventured into the magnificent St James Conservation area with its massive scree slopes, sparkling rivers and vast, open spaces.

In the MacKenzie Country, we rode alongside the deep turquoise canals that link lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau in the massive Waitaki hydroelectric power scheme. Whizzing along the smooth, flat, broad roads at 30kmh-plus was a huge thrill.

In Wanaka, we cycled the scenic lakeside path to the start of the Millennium Track and the spectacular Clutha River loop track from the river outlet to Luggate and back, the only time I was outside my comfort zone. In places where the track was narrow, windy, rocky and had sheer drop-offs to the river below, I utilised SmartMotion’s clever pushing-up-hill mode.

Travel author Justine Tyerman biking in the Hanmer forest

Justine biking in the Hanmer forest

St James Cycleway vast open space

St James Cycleway with Dave a speck in the distance

MacKenzie Country sunset

MacKenzie Country tussock land

Our Jucy motorhome by Lake Tekapo

Our JUCY motorhome beside Lake Tekapo

The entire Wakatipu Basin including Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Gibbston Valley, Frankton, Queenstown, Kelvin Heights and Jack’s Point is criss-crossed with a network of immaculately-maintained hiking and biking trails.

We rode along the Arrow and Kawarau rivers to the famous Gibbston Valley wineries crossing a variety of historic suspension and purpose-built bridges.

The trails have opened up stretches of the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers seldom seen except by jetboat. The tall poplars were dazzling in their autumn colours.

The only time we were on the open road was from Kinloch to the Greenstone Valley along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. There we encountered one 4WD vehicle and a lone Frenchman named Hugo, who was walking the length of New Zealand on the 3000km Te Araroa Trail, The Long Pathway. Lake Wakatipu is seldom like a mirror but that day, the whole lake was glassy calm.

Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley bungy bridge

The original A.J Hackett bungy jump on the historic Kawarau Bridge, Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley cycle trail

Edgar Bridge in Arrowtown to Gibbston Valley

Chris on the Edgar Bridge over the Arrow River en route to the Gibbston Valley

Suspension bridge over the Clutha River

Suspension bridge over the Clutha River

Lower Shotover Bridge

Lower Shotover Bridge

Kawarau River jet boat

Kawarau River jet boat

Kawarau River

Kawarau River

Kinloch to Greenstone Valley

Lake Wakatipu was glassy calm on the day we cycled from Kinloch to the Greenstone Valley

Kinloch to Greenstone Valley

Lake Wakatipu on the Kinloch to Greenstone Valley road

Chris and Justine Tyerman at Bennett's Bluff lookout

Chris and Justine at Bennett’s Bluff lookout, Lake Wakatipu

Delta landscape

The braided Dart River

We also paid a visit to Paradise Trust Lodge to see the rebuild of the property after fire destroyed the historic homestead in 2013, a few months after we had stayed there on our first-ever cycling expedition. Matt and Kate Belcher’s Revolution Tours was an unforgettable experience in an astonishingly-beautiful area seized upon by Sir Peter Jackson as Middle Earth for his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Paradise lodge post fire

Paradise Lodge after the 2013 fire. The three stone chimneys were kept as a poignant memorial to the original historic homestead.

Lodge manager Mandy Groshinski showed us the painstaking work undertaken to restore the place and how they had retained the three stone chimneys as a poignant memorial to the original homestead.

The bedroom-bathroom wing was untouched by the fire and the same high standard of boutique accommodation and gourmet cuisine that we enjoyed is available today. The local school donated a beautiful old building which is now used as the dining room.

Following Mandy’s instructions, we cycled a loop track through the forest, past rustic cottages with outside baths and saunas to a vantage point high above the Dart River as it carves its way from deep within the Southern Alps. We watched Ngai Tahu Tourism’s Dart Jetboats thunder up the valley, shooting curtains of spray metres in the air as they thrilled their passengers with their 360 spins.

Ngai Tahu Tourism’s Dart jetboat

Dart River jetboat

We parked Lucy at Mrs Woolly’s super-friendly camp ground at Glenorchy, a temporary site while an impressive complex — New Zealand’s first sustainable net zero energy campground — is under construction next door.

Mrs Woolly's camp at Glenorchy

Mrs Woolly’s camp at Glenorchy

Glenorchy's activities booking centre

Head of the Lake activities booking centre at Glenorchy

Staff at Glenorchy general store

Staff at Glenorchy general store

While at Glenorchy, we took a day off cycling and went horse-riding with Dart Stables. It was a peaceful, scenic, relaxing amble along grassy country lanes and across the broad shingle flats of the braided Dart River.

Towards the end of our trip, the first snow of the winter arrived, dusting the high peaks surrounding us. We parked at Round Bush campsite on the shores of Lake Ohau, intending to bike a section of the Alps 2 Ocean Trail. The mountains were shrouded in mist and the wind off the Southern Alps was bitterly cold so we gave up after an hour or so and headed for home.

Thanks to Lucy’s super-efficient gas power, we had hot showers and prepared dinner in a cosy, warm environment without setting foot outside. Taking pity on a couple of young campers in a little tent under the trees, trying to cook outside on a tiny gas cooker, we asked them to join us – but they said they were happy doing their own thing. Next morning, they dismantled their saturated tent, packed their meagre belongings into a couple of saddle bags and pedalled off up the hill on the next leg of their quest to cycle the length of New Zealand.

Chris Tyerman happy at dinner for two

Chris happy with a simple dinner for two

Hugo

Hugo the Frenchman en route to the Greenstone Valley

Now in our early 60s, we’ve done our days of roughing it in tents and riding leg-powered-only bikes. We now like a few creature comforts so a JUCY motorhome with a couple of e-bikes on the back is the ultimate holiday, offering freedom, flexibility and activity without sacrificing comfort, warmth and convenience – the ability to lead a nomadic life within the luxury of your own self-contained apartment on wheels is bliss.

JUCY Motorhomes

Travelling by motorhome is like living in a spacious, self-contained cabin on a yacht – you unpack once at the start of your trip and have access to your belongings at all times. Compared with travelling by car or coach where you are packing and unpacking whenever you move on, it’s stress-free and a great time-saver.

You can stow your bulky luggage in the under-vehicle locker which holds two or three large suitcases as well as the picnic table and chairs provided by JUCY.

Better still, you are the captain of your own ‘yacht’ and can determine which route to take every day. There’s no fixed itinerary or check-in, check-out times, and you can stop wherever and whenever the spirit wills, to cook, eat, sleep, use the bathroom, read, write, work on your laptop, watch a DVD, or just relax and dream.

Chris Tyerman happy at the wheel

Chris happy at the wheel of the Fiat Ducato

Bennett's Bluff lookout beside Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy

Bennett’s Bluff lookout beside Lake Wakatipu on the way to Glenorchy

Jucy motorhome at Pukaki to Ohau canal

Water powering through the penstocks at the power station on the Lake Pukaki to Lake Ohau canal

Top of the JUCY Rental range, the Italian-made Casa and Casa Plus motorhomes have automatic transition and are powerful and easy to drive despite their substantial size. They are economical, using diesel rather than petrol, and are high off the ground with excellent visibility.

With two or three generous-sized double beds, you can accommodate your children or friends.

The heating is super-efficient so you can travel year-round in a warm, cosy ‘house’ regardless of the weather. It’s run by battery while the vehicle is moving; mains-power when plugged in at a camping ground or gas-powered when freedom camping. There’s even a booster to heat the water which is hot by the time you’ve had a beer or a glass of wine.

With a fridge-freezer, pantry cupboards and full kitchen with oven and gas hobs, meals for hungry travellers are only ever minutes away.

My husband Chris assured me the process of emptying the toilet was easy and completely odourless. The fully-sealed storage canister is accessed from outside the motorhome and JUCY supplies sachets that deodorise and sanitise the contents. Dump stations to dispose of ‘grey’ and ‘black’ water are well-marked all around New Zealand.

We were astonished by the number of JUCY vehicles on New Zealand roads – cars, RVs, people-movers, campervans, motorhomes, trucks and buses. There’s a quirky kinship among the drivers. Every five minutes or so, there were waves, thumbs-ups, beaming smiles, and other extraordinarily friendly gestures from drivers and passengers approaching or passing us on the open road. We called it the JRW (JUCY recognition wave), brand bonding on a vast scale.

JUCY even has a cruise ship on Milford Sound . . . and Snooze hotels in Auckland, Christchurch and soon Queenstown.

Chris relished the Scoot Wi-Fi which enabled him to keep up with his emails and watch the news on his iPad in the middle of nowhere.

Skiers and snowboarders will love JUCY’s Ski4Free winter deal which provides one free lift ticket at Treble Cone near Wanaka per day of rental.

When we picked up our the motorhome in Christchurch, we were delighted to find a surprise awaiting us: a ‘Posh Nosh and Little Treats Gift Box’ loaded with goodies such as jam, peanut butter, coffee and tea bags, cookies, chocolate, wine, salt and pepper grinders and paper towels. Furthermore, after a week on the road, you get a free linen change in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown and a free valet service every fortnight.

With the liberty to design your own flexible itinerary and move from one beautiful Aotearoa-New Zealand landscape to the next when you want to, there is no better way to travel. The only downside is handing back the keys at the airport.

SmartMotion Electric Bikes

Having two SmartMotion e-bikes strapped onto Lucy’s bike rack added to the giddy sense of freedom and excitement we discovered on our first motorhome trip last year.

With a five-level pedal-assist function and a throttle to add extra oomph when needed, for the first time, I was able to keep up with my husband and explore rugged back-country terrain I have never been able to access before.

Steep hills and long distances are no problem on an e-bike. We covered 50-60km a day which barely made a dint in the 36v15.6ah Samsung lithium ion battery.

Justine Tyerman resting by the Clutha River track

Justine taking a break at the top of a steep climb on the Clutha River track

Justine Tyerman in e-bike action

Justine in e-bike action

You can get as much or as little exercise as you like, depending on which power mode you select. I had my setting on two for most of the time which meant I got a healthy amount of exercise without exhausting myself. What’s more, I was not lagging behind all the time, holding other people up.

Where the tracks were too technical for my novice abilities – narrow, rocky or steep with sheer drops – I used the clever SmartMotion pushing-up-hill mode which is a god-send when you need to get a 25kg machine up a steep slope.

Cycling purists tend to be scornful of e-bikes but they level the pedalling field for people like me who are not super-fit but still want an active, outdoor holiday.

SmartMotion has an interesting history. Established by New Zealander Anthony Clyde in 2007, the company evolved from the development and deployment of mail delivery bikes for the New Zealand Postal Service.

Clyde subsequently designed the SmartMotion range specifically for New Zealand’s varied and rugged conditions, the aim being to produce a durable bike with quality components at an accessible price.

By late 2013, sales exploded and the brand became New Zealand’s top seller and best reviewed.

We have now been designing our own e-bikes for six years and export to Europe, North America and Australia,

says Clyde.

There are eight models to choose from with several new models coming on stream this year including a full-suspension mountain bike.

In 2013, Clyde sponsored Kiwi Catriona Williams on the first-ever hand-cycle ride by tetraplegics from Lhasa to Kathmandu via Everest base camp, a distance of more than 1000km including 10 Himalayan passes.

A higher torque 300w system was developed for Catriona’s front, hand-driven wheel and the machine was powered by a larger battery. Catriona’s was the only e-bike to make it all the way without failure. She even towed one of the other trikes after it broke down on the climb to base camp.

FACTBOX

Transport: JUCY Rentals Casa motorhome
www.jucy.co.nz

E-bikes: SmartMotion electric bikes
www.smartmotionbikes.co.nz

Horse riding: Dart Stables at Glenorchy
www.dartstables.com

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About Author

Justine Tyerman is an award-winning New Zealand journalist, travel writer and sub-editor with 18 years' experience in newspaper and freelance work. She has worked as a news reporter, feature writer, designer of an award-winning Newspapers in Education programme and sub-editor on local, national, business, education and international desks.

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