A 180km cycle with two young boys in tow starts out stressful but turns into an amazing family adventure, writes Greg Bowker.
Two boys under 5, four bikes we'd never seen before, a truck load of gear — what couldn't go wrong?
That was what kept me awake before my wife, Sarah, and I embarked on a rather adventurous 180km ride with our two boys, Hugo, 4, and Henry, 2.
First, we'll need their car seats, bike seats and all our helmets, extra warm clothing as it's a few degrees colder in Queenstown, and what if it rains or is windy ... let's not even think about anyone getting sick.
Kids, they're just the best little people to make you overthink everything, second-guess and sometimes just do cool family adventures.
"Dad, is there lava in those mountains?" Hugo asked as we arrived in Queenstown and started rushing to get organised on our four rental bikes.
Two brand new e-bikes for my in-laws, who are in their 60s and keen outdoors types. They opted for the modern way of travel this time, which proved to be a very smart choice.
Sarah and I chose the old-school pedal-powered mountain bikes, for this is what we'd been riding back in Auckland for our inconsistent family training rides.
And we were "that family" — a little rushed fitting a rental trailer and kids' seats that we'd brought with us outside the Earnslaw office when Hugo took off for the historic sailing ship without a care for Mum and Dad.
After the mild panic of being one child down, and an oversized coffee, we looked to the snow-capped Eyre Mountains and thought "we can do this!"
Queenstown's air was fresh, it felt like we'd booked the weather. The clear blue skies and snow-covered peaks made it look just like a postcard, the total opposite of the snowstorm that blew through a week before.
The ride Around The Mountains is just that, a 180km journey from Queenstown's Walter Peak Station to Kingston around the Eyre Mountains. The trip can be done either way and Mike, the tour operator, advised us that in October, at the end of the season, we'd normally get a tailwind for some of the ride if we started from Walter Peak. Meaning we'd also get the only true hill on the ride over and done with on day one after only about 26km of flat riding.
Tackling the Von Hill, a steep 2km climb, isn't that bad, normally, but it was after lunch and I was towing the two boys in the trailer loaded with camera gear and other panicked items. Then we were met by the only headwind of the trip as we rode towards the Mavora Lakes. Sarah and I were left searching for lower gears as the energy in our legs faded, and wishing that we'd done a little more training.
"The crystal-clear waters and the remoteness of the Mavora Lakes make it a major camping, boating holiday spot for southern folk," Mike tells us as we are shuttled back to Lumsden, 80km further around the mountains and our base for the next two nights.
It was just what we needed, a large southern-sized burger and chips from Lumsden's only takeaway shop after day one of the Around the Mountains Cycle.
The Lumsden Motel is a great spot to set up, whether you're travelling as a family or a couple. Fresh rooms and fluffy towels made us feel at home.
We made several trips over the road with Hugo and Henry to the historic trains and playground that were super-entertaining. Venture a little further into Lumsden and you'll find the beef and buffalo pies and the doughnuts that appear to sell as fast as they come into The Bafe-Bakery in the morning. After four o'clock the piano top is open along with the bar at the hotel, a great spot for an IPA and fries after a day in the saddle.
We returned north on day two, refreshed, refuelled and ready to roll. We started our ride at Centre Hill, 29km south of Mavora Lakes. A small part of the trail hasn't been completed yet but you can choose to ride on the gravel road — though in summer the dust would be nightmarish.
Centre Hill to Mossburn is a purpose-built cycle trail and great riding as it follows the river downhill, and for those who are also keen freshwater anglers, you're riding through some of the country's best spots.
Mossburn is another wee town that is famous for a pie; this time it's venison and it's not too hard to find. "Don't worry about the calories," someone says, "you're burning it off carrying the two extras."
The boys were glad to rest in the trailer and take in the views of white, fluffy clouds, greener-than-green paddocks and distant mountains as we zoomed along the cycle trail close to the main road, downhill for 20km with a westerly wind, overlooking some great farms around the Oreti River.
Celebration as we finished day two off with chips, beer and a wine. The boys had been great trail buddies today, taking in the sights from their spots on the bikes and were full of chat about what they were seeing. Our adventure was now in full swing. Henry was excited to see his green seat fitted to Sarah's bike before he went off to bed. "Bike more," he said... Yay!
With another great night's rest we packed our bags and left Lumsden. Heading out early for the 33km trip to Athol via Five Rivers along the former rail line made for easy riding and an early arrival at The Lodge. More southern hospitality, rooms for the kids with super-comfy fresh beds that even welcomed my tired body. What a way to spend our last night after dinner at the local restaurant Brown Trout.
Riding on to Kingston on the last day, Hugo and Henry were ready for more adventure.
They were eager to climb to their seats at the front of the bikes, then kept their eyes open for deer, new lambs and a trout or two under the major bridges as the hills started to surround us again. Garston was a compulsory morning coffee stop after only riding 12km. The Coffee Bomb van was already starting to get a crowd at 9.30am. The team had plenty of great chat for locals and tourists while they made some of the most amazing fresh bacon and egg rolls to fill our bellies.
We had to drag our bikes back on to the trail after enjoying the best coffee and a relaxing stop.
We followed the rail line to Fairlight then wove our way into Kingston, the final stop on this family adventure.
Hugo and Henry were great riding buddies. They didn't get in many pedal strokes or change many gears and to say they were helpful on the bike could be a stretch. They did bring some good chat, ask some interesting questions and, most importantly, made it one of the most amazing family holidays yet. Sarah and I were glad to have planned an adventure with our two boys. We learned that with a little extra planning and having each other's backs, the mountain is the limit.
launches a direct Auckland to Invercargill flight in August, with fares from $87.