Phil Thorn has spent much of the last three days using a hand crank on a bespoke tandem recumbent bicycle to weave his way across the South Island.

Starting at Greymouth on Thursday, he completed the trek of around 250km this afternoon at Christchurch's New Brighton Pier.

The adventure is the latest in a series of physical challenges for Thorn, who contracted meningitis in September 2008, aged 39. He endured three weeks in a coma at Dunedin Hospital. The illness left him blind, deaf and without the use of his legs. He has since biked around Lake Taupo and through Molesworth Station.

Thorn completed the coast-to-coast odyssey with a team that included his sighted pilot Jon Fifield, Paralympic swimming champion Mary Fisher and her Dad Mike on a conventional tandem called "Ruby", and a busload of supporters.


The exercise raised money for the Laura Fergusson Trust, whose Wellington branch has supported Thorn in his rehabilitation. The organisation is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.

"It was a phenomenal ride," Thorn told the Herald on Sunday after his interpreter passed on the question.

He communicates through manual alphabetical hand sign language. The Blind Foundation have also helped him learn Braille, and he operates technology that allows him to use a smartphone.

"I would never have made it without the team so I want to say a huge 'thank you'. I had to dig deep at times to find the potential inside, especially on the steep parts where a relay of people ran up to give me an extra push on the back of my seat.

"I said to myself 'just keep turning that crank because they're standing behind you'. We made it, and I'm absolutely stoked."

Fisher took time out from her swim training to dance on the pedals, as well as taking on the tasks of photography and waving "thanks" to any vehicles that were slowed down. Her Dad steered and changed gears.

The five-time Paralympic medallist has the genetic condition aniridia, meaning she competes in the "S11" class for totally blind swimmers.

"It was three days of intensity, fun and friendship," the 24-year-old said. "There was determination on Phil's part; it was wet and cold on the first day [riding to Otira] and it took just over nine hours."

However, by journey's end Fisher said there was only one casualty - the bus.

"Half an hour from the end, Jon [Fifield] said it was lucky there had been no major injuries or mechanical issues, then the bus started making sounds like a horse and we discovered a nail had got into one of the wheels.

"Unfortunately the bus didn't make it to the pier, but someone drove back to pick up all the supporters."