Tag Archives: Cycling

New Zealand – Pedallers’ paradise

“Tēnā koutou e ngā manuhiri o te ao whānui. Greetings to you, our visitors.”

It is Januari 2001 and finally I am off to New Zealand. It was a plan which originated somewhere in the year 2000. I was going to cycle somewhere far away, preferably Australia. After reading the book ‘Cold beer and crocodiles’ I realised that the land of Oz was a bit too big for me. It’s neighbour would do just fine. And to be honest, I never regretted my change of plans (apart from the moments I was cycling uphil).

So, we packed our bicycles and left for Auckland. A long, long flight starting in the Dutch Winter and ending in the NZ Summer. Lovely. With the bikes heavily packed we take the train from Auckland to Wellington, followed by the ferry to Picton. First we cycle on Te Wai-pounamu, the South Island. Little did we know about the steep hills we would encounter in the first days already. Dutchies cannot train for this in the land of flatness! I had no clue I had it in me to swear so much going uphill. But hey, going downhill was fun.

My bicycle is a Koga and it gives me headaches at times. I rode it a bit at home, but with 20 kgs on it, it feels somewhat unstable. Soon I decide to send a package back home with stuff I surely would not need. That makes cycling more fun. We roughly cycle between 40 to 80 kms a day in the first 3 weeks. Via Havelock and Nelson we head to St. Arnaud. I start having knee problems soon enough. The mountains kill me for sure. I decide to take the bus to Christchurch to give them some rest. I spend time in this lovely city, walking around, enjoying the people, the atmosphere, everything. After reuniting, we spend a day around Christchurch, visiting the Sign of the Takahe and Kiwi and enjoying the views on Lyttleton Harbour and Banks Peninsula.

Via Darfield, Rakaia Gorge, somtimes with heavy headwinds and superb tailwinds (going from 5 km to 45 km/h), Mt. Somers and Geraldine we arrive in Lake Tekapo. Along the way we enjoyed the landscape with many, many sheep in the fields and snowy mountains in the background. We cross Burke’s Pass and it looks like my knee is holding. Great! With Mt. Cook (3724 m) in the distance we proceed to Lake Pukaki. We conqer Lyndis Pass, manage to go downhill with app. 60 km/h and cover days with over 100 kms. It is magnificent down here. We can camp at a school, using their showers, eat carrot cakes and scones, enjoy the scenery along the way. This is the place where I can see the milky way for the first time in my life. Lovely!

Even though the heavy headwinds try to keep us from making progress we manage to reach Queenstown. Time for a change. We decide to go hike the Kepler track for a few days and kayak in the Milford Sound. We leave for Te Anau and start the 75 km hike the day after. Through fern forrests, with splendid views, eat noodle soup brewed with water from the lake, are eaten by many sandflies and finally reach Mt. Luxmore hut. The second day the hike is interesting and leads between some rain showers to the Iris Burn hut. The next day we follow the Iris Burn river, attacked by sandflies, all the way to the Moturau hut, Our muscles hurt from the hike. This is nice for a change. The Country cuisine meals we brought are disgusting, but Pam’s pudding keeps us going strong! Exhausted and very satisfied we get back to Te Anau, take a shower (the first in 5 days), change into clean clothes  and eat a lovely meal.

After the hike we go for a kayak tour in the Milford Sound. Paddling between the fjords, with a few fur seals playing around, gives me the utmost outdoor feeling. Even though the sandflies are really annoying, nature is overwhelming.

Enough of ‘other’ activities, our bicycles get annoyed. We head back to Queenstown, decide this many people is not what we like and we drive off. Up north this time. We pass Crown Saddle (the highest pass in NZ with 1080 m) and drive to Wanaka. I check my 1000th km along the way. We ride on, passing The Neck, enjoy lovely views over Lake Hawea and Wanaka and manage to set our speed record at 69 km/h. We have tailwinds, helping us to climb Haast Pass. The Southern Alps have no mercy. I need to walk part of the steep roads. Sometimes we exceed the maximum speed limits and wonder if they also apply to cyclists.

The westcoast is flat(ter), but my knee is bothering me again. I take the bus to Fox glacier. We hike to the glacier. Again, nature is at its best here. The glacier almost stops at sea level, so we can see both in one day. Amazing. We decide to hike the Copeland track. A two day hike, where we leave our bikes on the campsite again. We just take tent and some food. A lovely path brings us to Welcome Flat, where we pitch our tent for the night and take a bath in the hot pool.

Via Hokitika we go to Arthur’s Pass. We see the blossoming rātā and pōhutukawa trees, colouring the pass, After a misty and rainy visit we drive back to the Westcoast. Via Moana and Greymouth, we pass the pancake rocks at Punakaiki and keep cycling along the coast. It is beautiful and the sunsets are stunning!

We visit the seal colony at Cape Foulwind and head inland, back to Picton. The road leads through the amazing Buller Gorge (I pass the 1500 km), we stay in Murchison and St. Arnauds and enjoy the views over Marlborough Sound. After 7 weeks we finish our tour on the South Island. We have seen so many nice things that it takes time to process. Another 5 weeks remain for the North Island.

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The Eleven Cities Tour… per bicycle

Elfsteden-01

“It giet oan” (It goes ahead) – famous frysian words to mark the 11 city tour is going to happen

The “Elfstedentocht” or eleven cities tour is a famous ice skating tour of app. 200km, called “the tour of all tours”. It has been held for just 15 times since 1909 and as such is a rare event. It needs at least 15cms of ice on the various canals, rivers and lakes. As soon as it starts freezing, the Dutch people start dreaming of a new version of the race. It is a fever running throuh our veins.

Not me. I am not a skater, but I do remember the images from tv when I was young. I am a cyclist and I have 4 days off. Checking the various long distance cycling routes I find this one: 260km. It is a heat wave when I start. Temperatures well over 30 degrees Celcius. I think it is hilarious to cycle an ice skating route in a heat wave. Well, I start in Leeuwarden and follow the route clockwise. Passing all 11 cities, where as part of a Frysian cultural event, a temporary artistic water fountain is presented, made by some local artist.

I furst cycle to IJlst. From a large city, to a very small one. The countryside consists mostly of green meadows, cut by small rivers and canals. Along the way I spot some small Dutch windmills and characteristic American windmills to keep the polders dry. IJlst is a lovely city with some nice historic houses and a great saw mill (with one of the fountains next to it). It is the place where most of the metal American mills were produced in the past.

The history of the 11 cities dates back to the early 1200s. Times where Frysland was one of the most thriving provinces. A lot of trade was done from the small cities and their important harbours. Due to silting of the harbours and coasts, as well as the growing trade from Amsterdam, things changed over time. Nowadays the cities are small, with tourism being one of the important industries. And that shows, I see boats everywhere. Especially sailing is very popular.

After IJlst I drive through Sneek in the direction of Sloten. Sneek has a very nice entrance gate, Sloten is just cute and small. Well known for its skate factories in the past. With a little wind in the back I reach Stavoren. A small, historic harbour city on the IJssel lake, the largest fresh water lake of the Netherlands. It was closed off from the Wadden sea by the Dutch in the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays it is a large water sports area, especially in this nice weather.

I keep on pedaling to Hindeloopen, famous for its furniture and Workum. In the mean time the weather changes. It is still warm, but now there is rain, thunder, wind. I race from city to city to stay ahead of thunderstorms in the countryside, passing Harlingen and Franeker. Lovely places, with some impressive fountains and historic centres.

The last day I pass the last of the 11 cities, Dokkum. In the skate trip it is said “who reaches Dokkum, will reach the finish in Leeuwarden.” I think so to. Just 25 more kilometer. I pass the famous bridge in Bartlehiem (the last bridge to pass in the skate tour) and visit the Eleven cities monument, a bridge filled with with over 7000 tiles with images of people who have participated in the skate tour and finished.

I arrive back in Leeuwarden, just 310km on my counter. I must have made some detours here and there. It was a nice trip with a great historic character. “The tour of all tours”.

The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 3)

There is no such hill as a Limburg hill – Scubajo

After almost a week I enter the 2 provinces where my parents were born and where basically my history started. First I cycle through a small bit of Limburg.

Limburg

Just south of the Berg and Dal region from part 2 I take a sidestep to the Mookerheide (Heather field of Mook). I would have passed blindly, but I have some time and am very curious. Lucky me. What a beautiful hill, purple from the blooming Heather, with spectacular views on the west bank of the river Maas. Then a somewhat boring part along the river. Until Gennep where I have lunch. I cross the river and am in the next province.

North Brabant

The province where my cradle has been. Again the roads proceed along the river, through corn fields. Worth mentioning are the small hedges planted between the fields to act as a ‘natural’ border. This has been done probably since the 15th century already. And to be honest, that was it already. I drive back into Limburg. These ‘borders’ are sometimes a bit strange. For me it does not matter. My route goes south.

Limburg (2)
Just passed the border and I meet a friendly mountain biker who accompanies me to my campsite. We have a coffee on the way, and even though I do not know the guy, this encounter is inspirational. I love Limburg. I stay in Lottum on a campsite at a farm, completely with pigs, fancy chickens, rabbits and guinee pigs. Lovely.

The next day I pass Venlo, Blerick, Baarlo, all cities along the Maas river. The views are spectacular. The Maas is a rain river, causing the water levels vary a lot. In order to be able to sail the river, a number of weirs have been build. To pass them and see the difference in water levels is impressive. At some point my route turns inland to pass a nice forest area called ‘Leudal’. Today is a bit wet and the sandy path tricky. At the bottom of the valley I find again a nice water mill. Nobody is here, just me and some squirrels. I pass a few castles and start realising that Limburg is very well known for the rich history and large number of castles (over 250)!

I pass the historic white town of Thorn and briefly enter Belgium to visit Maaseik and return to Limburg, by simply crossing the river. The landscape changes a bit, small hill appear and the towns I pass all have a nice historic centre. Roosteren, Obbicht, Berg, Urmond. I see many castles and manors and admire the perfect state they are in. Most of them are still inhabited, which explains why they are maintained so well.

The road goes East now. I pass a castle I knew from stories, but never visited before. Chateau St. Gerlach is a hotel & event location and is located in an absolutely fabulous setting. The scenery is beautiful and some of nice pieces of art are presented in the garden. On the day I was there, there was a Lamborghini Islero day. Some very nice historic cars were showed in the park. Via very touristic Valkenburg I enter a small forested area, pass a few crucifixes, turn right and am surprised by a very, very nice castle called Schaloen.

Knowing the plateau of Margraten is ahead, I am still hit hard by this elevated area. The road goes up steeply and I am stuck. The 15kg on my bike is pulling me back. Man, I feel my legs, but wow it is so pretty here! I deserve a real nice piece of typical Limburg cake called ‘Vlaai’. The views are great, the weather is certainly helping a lot and I reach the end of my trip. Official end is at the border in a small ugly town called Withuis. I simply cross and turn back. For me personally the end is the Pietersberg, our highest mountain. I turn North, follow the river Maas again, cross per ferry, cycle a bit through Belgium and get to the mountain. Struck by surprise I see we are basically dig out this mountain. It is made of limestone formed in the Cretaceous when there was a sea in this area. Perfect material for building, so we dig. I cycle up a mountain bike path (regret it halfway), visit a small limestone cave and go down on the other side. The end of my tour is the city centre of Maastricht. Buildings, people, traffic… I take the train home. This was a very, very nice experience…

“U can’t buy happiness but U can buy a bicycle. That’s pretty close…”

Part 1>>
Part 2>>
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The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 2)

A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke

I started in the province of Groningen and passed Drenthe. My ride through Niedersachsen in Germany I will forget. That was somehow one of the least impressive parts if you ask me. Gas installations, empty villages, the route went over grassy paths, tractor tracks and gravel roads. Okay, the most interesting thing was the fabulous ‘Kuchen’ (cake) on a terrace in Uelsen.

Overijssel

Then I enter the third Dutch province of my trip: Overijssel and one of my favourite areas called Twente. My first challenge is the Poasche Berg with an elevation of 89m. It is an end moraine remaining from one of the ice ages long, long time ago. I return to the nice town of Ootmarsum (I was here last year as well, see Cycle tour around Twente) and proceed along a very long canal. At some point I see a nice historic building called ‘Schuivenhuisje’, a weir used for the releasing of water from the Dinkel river to the canal. After a less impressive day, this is cheering me up. The lovely Dinkel river is winding through the fields and forrest. Small, picturesque towns show me their happy faces. A little bit further is the estate of Singraven, with its beautiful water mill. I pass Losser and Glanerbrug, and realise I am cyling along the Dutch-German border again. On a sandy road I notice the righthand side is Dutch territory, the left German. For me both corn fields look exactly the same.

I decide to make a small detour into Germany to visit a very nice water mill in the forrest, the ‘Haarmühle’. The route proceeds along large heather fields with swampy areas and another very impressive water mill (Oostendorper molen).

Gelderland

Without knowing I cross a province border again. I am entering Gelderland, and to be precise the Achterhoek. Famous for some Dutch rock band called Normaal, motor races and farm land. And then, again Germany. This tour partly follows the border and crosses it few times. I enter the sleepy town of Zwillbrock and see a beautiful Roman church. Not far down the road there is also a swampy area (Venn) where flamingo seems to breed. Unfortunately they do that in Spring, so I have to come back some day.

I proceed along typical landscapes and notice the humor people have. Garden gnomes greet me, welcome signs to have a seat and rest, a warning for a suicidal dachshund and I am so happy to spot a deer in the forrest. This is what I came here for. At the end of the day I set myself on a terrace in Bredevoort. The Book town, where people put their bookcases on the street, where there are many book shops and… a very impressive brick windmill, build in 1870 and used for grinding corn.

Without many places to get coffee, I proceed my route West. And then I reach ‘s-Heerenberg and Stokkum. I thought I knew a lot about the beauty of my country but here I am stunned. There is a beautiful 13th century castle and I never knew. The sun illumunates it like a fairytale. I have lunch and just keep on looking at it. Amazing. A bit further down the road is one of the oldest brick tower mills of western Europe in the town of Zeddam. Probably built in the 15th century, it is still operational today. Cycling here is fun, as there are some hills to conquer.

Again I head into Germany. This time I pass through a forrest with some nice hills to climb. Soon after I reach the point where the river Rijn enters the Netherlands. I keep cycling West and should have known this means headwind. Many kilometers of hard pedalling along the river. Somehow I have great fun. The views are completely different from the other days. I pass the river on a small cycle ferry and proceed. The polder is fantastic. Wet areas with wild horses and Scottish Highland cows and the history of making bricks from the clay.
I pass the nice town of Nijmegen to enter a very nice area called Berg en Dal (mountain and valley). I climb and descent in the forrests, have great views on the Mooker Hei, a nice elevated area with blooming heather and lowlands in the background. These are the lands of the world famous 4 days of Nijmegen hiking event. I love it here. 450 km On my counter and more to come…

Part 3>>
Part 1 >>

The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 1)

Don’t limit your challenges – Challenge your limits

I have this long distance cycling tour in my mind for some years now, I even bought the route book already. In 2017 I finally decide to go for it. I start in Pieterburen in the North of Groningen, on the coast of the Waddenzee, and I will cycle all the way to Withuis in the South of Limburg, at the border with Belgium. The end will be on the Pietersberg (‘mountain’) in Maastricht. All in all a distance of roughly 670 km, which I cycle in 10 consecutive days. The route I take from the book “Het Fietserpad”. This is part 1 of my adventures.

Groningen

I take the train to Baflo, where I start cycling. First up North to the coast of the Waddenzee and the official end, and fir me start of the tour. I have decided to ride it from north to south, instead of the other way around like in the book. It is just that I have more connection with the southern provinces. This route is basically a cycling version of the longest long distance hikes called ‘Pieterpad’. On my tour I meet many people hiking the 485km (or part of it) to Maastricht. I follow most of their route, with some detours here and there.

The province of Groningen is flat, green, windy and has a lot of grassland with horses, sheep and cows. And windmills, of course. Mostly for keeping the land dry. Typical for this area are the ‘terpen’ or mounds. Long ago people build their churches on an elevated part of land to protect them from high waters during floodings. They are clearly visible in the otherwise flat countryside. The capital of this province is also called Groningen and it is a nice city, full of historic buildings like the Martini tower. I keep on pedaling, passing the beautiful Paterswolder lake in the late afternoon. The sun is starting to set and makes the view on the windmill simply spectacular. What a beautiful country I am living in. At the end of the day I arrive in Haren.

Drenthe

The second province I pass through is Drenthe. I have been cycling here for a long weekend last year Heather and ‘hunnebedden’ (dolmens) and am excited to be back. I pass the small town of Zuidlaren and cycle through beautiful countryside. Lots of blooming heather, sand dunes and large areas of peat or turf. Once very valuable and used for many things, most of the peat areas have been extracted, leaving swampy lands. In Balloo I visit a dolmen and pass a boulder circle, which basically is a piece of art directing and informing the long distance hikers of the ‘Pieterpad’.

The tour proceeds through forrest, small villages like Grolloo and the Ballooër Field. In the amazing setting I find one of 4 historic small drainage windmills left in Drenthe, called Tjasker. I proceed along more heather and peat fields, through lush green forrest, passing some large boulders from Scandinavia, left here during the last ice age. Part if my route passes the Hondsrug, a long stretched hill of (yes really) 26 meters high. It is of such natural and historic importance that UNESCO recognized it as geopark in 2015. And I can see why.

I pass a few more very nice farming villages with fantastic historic wooden farm houses, to finally end up in Meppen on a lovely campsite called the Boemerang with chickens and a dwarf pig calked Floor.

Part 2 >>