Hutt Valley couple enjoy two-wheel trek from London to Wellington
For some folk, a bike ride from Wellington's ferry terminal to Upper Hutt would be a decent workout. On Sunday it was the final leg of a 15,000km, year-long cycle trek for Shelley and Baden Campbell.
The Hutt Valley couple set off for their O.E.in 2008. "We went for two years and stayed for seven," Shelley says.
The couple had done some cycling around London after growing sick of The Tube, and Baden had started getting out on a racing bike on Tour de France and Belgium Spring Classic routes. But he didn't know what Shelley's reaction would be when he suggested they cycle home to New Zealand.
She was keen, and a trial ride from Dubrovnik to Istanbul confirmed it.
"It didn't kill us so I thought, 'yeah, let's give it a go'."
The pair had been learning Spanish so after riding through Europe they headed for Latin America, riding from Mexico to Lima, Peru, instead of the more traditional cycle tour route down central Asia.
They've pedalled through dangerous countries - podcasting their experiences on their blog howareyouwhereareyou.com - but have no fraught encounters or tales of crime to relate.
Threatening wildlife then? "I did run over a rat once," Baden offers.
"Despite the reputation of these countries, we have always felt safe.
"We have been welcomed into the homes of more than 50 strangers on our trip and we can't wait to start returning that hospitality for bike travellers passing through Upper Hutt," he says.
Through the cyclist accommodation website warmshowers.org, they have found home hosts that treated them like family. In Colombia they arrived at one place right at the start of a big festival and the host said 'you'll be staying the week, then'.
They tried to head off on Christmas Eve from another "but they wouldn't let us go," Shelley says. "They had Christmas presents for us and everything."
But for about 40 per cent of the past year they've pitched tents and done their own cooking.
"Our whole life was packed into these panniers. You kind of realise you don't need much more," Baden says.
Neither had been particularly athletic before their marathon trek, and they recommend cycle touring to anyone.
"It's such a sensory experience. When you're in a vehicle you don't hear the birds tweeting, the waterfalls...riding down a valley, the mountains looming over you; you just don't get that same feeling when you're in a box," Baden says.
Shelley says in Uruguay they took a bus trip to a beach for a break from the saddle. "We felt strange, disconnected. You didn't have to worry about the direction you were going, the weather. We just sat their passively, using the wi-fi on our phones and hardly looking outside."
They've come 15,000km but their most memorable weather experience was "a pretty intense day" on the West Coast of the South Island last week. That and particularly bleak and cold conditions 4000m up in the Andes in Ecuador.
Unfortunately, they also confirm the stereotype - some Kiwi drivers are among the worst.
"Some of them just haven't got round to thinking cyclists are human beings and quite vulnerable on the road," Baden says.
"In other countries we've had the experience of big rigs pulling up behind us on mountain passes and waiting until they can get by safely. Then the driver yells out the window, 'go go!'." That's rare here.
But we do have very hospitable people, and they encountered fellow cyclists from all over the world on the South Island trails.
One might think the couple wouldn't want to go near two wheels for a while. But they have immensely enjoyed their year on the move.
"We're thinking next week we'll ride up the Rimutaka Trail and camp in the Wairarapa," Shelley says.
"Buy a car!" quips one from the peloton of friends and family members who joined them on their final ride to Upper Hutt.
"Shut up!" is the Campbell's retort.
- Upper Hutt Leader