New Zealand has always been one of those places people have told me to go and see. With my love of the outdoors, it has been high on my list however, I was looking for a challenge as well as a way to continue the link with schools globally before committing to this wonderful part of the world. As 2014 arrived, my teammates for the North Pole expedition had unfortunately committed to their own work in the military so we had to put the North Pole on ice for another year. This opened a gap for me to do something different. In 2006, I had cycled across the USA from Seattle to New York, a distance of over 3500 miles (5830 KM) so I had a great understanding of long distance cycling and I was used to being alone with the North and South poles expedition. I decided it was time to pull on my old shorts and get back on my bike. My challenge was to cycle from Cape Reigna, located at the very tip of the North Islands to the Bluff, which is the furthest tip of the South Islands. The trip was organised by a wonderful educational team, IGGY from the University of Warwick in the UK. www.iggy.net had previously supported me on the North and South Poles as well as the Mount Everest expedition. They set up incredible on line projects and competitions with their “Gifted and Talented” on line network of students from across the world.
As I cycled down through New Zealand over 25 days, I would stop off at schools to deliver talks to new audiences about modern day exploration. I also discussed the environment, thinking differently about life, the University of Warwick and how the students could become IGGY members. As always, I packed light! A small bag of lightweight clothes, my computer with the talks programme with films on it, a first aid kit, a bicycle repair kit and a camera. I sat on my bike at Cape Reigna on the first day, pointed my bike south and as I pedalled, I thought of my first steps in Antarctica. Every journey begins with a first step or in this case, a first turn of the wheel.
I headed down through Auckland joining forces with my good friend Michael, who is the first New Zealander to reach both the North and South Poles and on his South Pole section, returned via kites with the great Richard Weber. We had met a couple of years before at the South Pole and whilst in NZ, he and his lovely wife Lorraine really took care of me. I gave talks in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch. I also gave live Skype calls to schools around the world that had joined me on colder expeditions and they were intrigued to see how I would do in normal civilisation.
As I crossed the ferry to the south islands from Wellington, I was aware of Captain Cooks influence on the country, many sections of the islands referred to his mapping of the coastline. In Christchurch, I spent many hours in the museum taking photographs of the historical artefacts of past polar expeditions. This area of course is the main stepping stone to Antarctica for expeditions and research. Christ College was literally 200 metres from the museum so when I delivered a talk there, the students already had a wonderful idea of the struggles of past explorers.
In Christchurch, I also spoke to the students about the devastation of the earth quake... On the day it happened they had hid under their desks in complete horror of what was happening and when I returned to the UK, I was able to give talks in schools about that terrible day. There was a definite feeling in Christchurch that people were no longer prepared to lick their wounds and the city would rebuild itself. I am sure it will thrive once more and come back the stronger for it. New Zealand was everything I expected it to be and more. I cycled 250 miles alongside the Pacific Ocean in the sunshine, I spoke to some incredible students on route and I kept that all important link through IGGY, connecting to students around the world.
However, looking at the map once I was finished, I realised I had missed out so many great areas which just leaves more for the future. A student from a school in the UL asked me on my last day, how many miles had I covered. The truth is, I don’t really know the exact distance, but the trip was never about that anyway!