Editor’s note: Laura and Russ of The Path Less Pedaled are traveling through New Zealand and sharing with us exclusive dispatches from their trip.
By Russ Roca
The general advice you’ll get from most bike tourists traveling in New Zealand is to get the hell out of Auckland as fast as possible. We’re not most bike tourists. We love riding in the country but are also fond of cities and love interacting with local bike cultures. We were determined to not leave Auckland until we found some bicycling stories in New Zealand’s largest city. Auckland has been dubbed the “supercity” because a few years ago all the neighboring council regions were absorbed into one council. In terms of bike infrastructure, Auckland is closer to Los Angeles than Portland. Standing outside our backpackers in the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland it was dizzying the amount of car traffic whizzing by – this was a long long ways from the Shire.
Most reality shows and journalists have fixers, a local that knows the ins and outs of navigating the city and can help arrange story leads. Anthony Bourdaine does not just step off plane and wander into the first place serving pork he sees and starts chatting away (or maybe he does!). Being a crew of two and essentially winging it we were scrambling to find something bike related. We had managed to find a coffee shop that was delivering roasted coffee to subscribers by cargo bike (didn’t make the final cut), but needed more.
The bicycling gods were listening and we happened to make contact with Barbara Cuthbert, a dynamo of a woman leading the charge to make Auckland more bicycle friendly. She is a force. With her unsinkable upbeat attitude and ability to build consensus she is transforming the city.
We had just met our fixer. She had a thorough knowledge of everything cycling related in the super city. Through her we learned about the Telestra Challenge, a recreational ride that was unique in that it was the first time cyclists would be allowed to legally ride across the Harbor Bridge. She also introduced us to Pippa Coom an elected official that was also part of Frocks on Bike a sort of Auckland Cycle Chic movement. Through her we also got a quick interview with Len Brown the mayor of Auckland! In a single stroke of good luck we had found ourselves in the center of Auckland bicycle advocacy.
Pippa Coom, an Auckland Council board member and advocate for bikes.
I can’t emphasize the amount of luck that went into making this episode. Our bags were literally packed to leave that Thursday but after meeting Barbara we changed our plans and stayed until Monday to cover everything we could. This chance meeting reminded us of what we love about open-ended travel – the ability to change plans at a moments notice. If we had booked things too far out in advance or had been too stubborn about sticking to a schedule, we would have missed out on all these great experiences.
So what did we really think of Auckland? Its cosmopolitan and is indeed quite a “livable” city as the mayor likes to say. We found many cute neighborhoods that had all your daily needs within walking distance. The bus system is fairly good (they do need bike racks on them though). It has a long way to go to be considered really bicycle friendly but we feel hopeful. The idea of non-recreational “everyday” cycling for transportation is remarkably still a new idea but it seems to be catching on. We’re looking forward to coming back to Auckland in a few years to hopefully see some great advances in urban cycling.