The Tour Aotearoa may only be a few years old, however, it's already one of New Zealand's great cycling adventures and is recognised as one of the best in the world, too.
That's no real surprise as it stretches 3000km from Cape Reinga to Bluff, down the spines of the North and South Islands, following a combination of cycle trails, tracks, paths and lanes connected by the most enjoyable country roads available (with as little traffic as possible). To add even more spice to that mix, the tour has to be completed in 30 days.
The course was designed by Jonathan Kennett, pioneering cycling historian, guide book writer and trail builder, alongside his brothers, Paul and Simon. The Kennett Brothers are like The Beatles of this country's offroad biking - New Zealand Hall of Famers (if one existed), both as a group and individually.
Collectively, they were inducted into the Marin MTB Hall of Fame (which really doubles as the International Hall) on September 23 this year, along with other legends of our sport, Steve Peat, Ken Chlouber and Josh Bender.
One local rider who took on the challenge of the first tour in 2016 was Erik Westra. He stands out in a crowd because he's one of those selfless, generous folk who give up their time to help maintain the trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest, investing sweat equity and real heart to the ongoing hard mahi. He's also very tall.
To take on a 3000km epic like the tour, carrying all your gear, requires a bike that fits like a glove. For that Erik turned to Rotorua artisan bike builder, Jeff Anderson. He created a unique, steel frame customised to perfectly fit Erik's own, unique frame with bike bags by another local, Harm Zuidmeer from Dancing Moose Cycling Adventure Supplies.
I'm getting ahead of the narrative, though, because the Jeffson was the bike for Erik's second attempt at the Tour. What happened on the first go-round, ten months earlier*, sets the scene in his new book, Second Time Lucky. This is published by The Kennett Brothers, to complete the circle.
It's a compelling, at times, emotional read, beautifully written and evoking the grandeur of our country and history (as well as its challenging and sometimes, treacherous terrain), the camaraderie (and loneliness), the triumph of completing this epic ride…the quiet satisfaction of a task very, very well-done.
Even though I knew the outcome I was still cheering and fist-pumping as I read the last few pages. Probably more than Erik as he rode those final kilometres. Above all else, he's a modest man of many accomplishments in all aspects of his life.
And his creative genes run deep – his mother, Ans Westra, one of New Zealand's finest ever photographers, and father, the legendary story-teller, Barry Crump.
The final word goes to another local bike-packer and Tour Aotearoa veteran, Peter Maindonald (who's completed the course twice with a 'warm-up' from Bluff to Cape Reinga, then back to Bluff):
He describes Erik's book as: "an inspiring read by a passionate cyclist, and I would recommend it not only to readers interested in planning and riding the Tour Aotearoa route, but also to a wider audience interested in a unique slice of Kiwi life."
* Buy the book from Mcleod's Booksellers if you're in Rotorua, www.kennett.co.nz if not.
And learn more about the past Tours and the next ones: www.touraotearoa.nz