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Pilgrimage into the Deep South

April 12, 2017

En route home after a cycling trip (by push bike, not assisted) that took Stephen and Bettina down the entire length of the South Island last month.

"The question we were asked most often was, 'why?'" says Motueka's Bettina Fautley of her nearly 1,500km cycling trip with her husband, Stephen Reij, down the entire length of the South Island last month.

"It was something I asked myself, too, especially on tough days!" she laughs.

So why would anyone want to do anything quite so challenging, way beyond one's comfort zone, and cycle across glaciers, mountain passes, in often unfavourable weather conditions on busy roads clogged with campervans and trucks?

"The answer has a lot to do with not knowing anybody else who has completed an unsupported journey like this, and also the fact that we could. And so we did," says Stephen Reij.

"It's easy to talk about doing something, but there's a big difference between talking and actually doing it."

"We set off at the end of February, literally from our front door and ended in Bluff, at Stirling Point, overlooking the Foveaux Strait, a month later," continues Bettina.

"It was a magnificent, madcap adventure that had us meeting the most fascinating people from all over the world and from all walks of life, with their own intriguing stories to tell.

The sign at NZ's own land's end - Bluff

"The myth is that you have to travel beyond your own country to be amazed and awe-struck ... it's not true.

"Biking around, being open to new experiences, we met and chatted to people in the strangest of places: communal kitchens, while taking photos from bridges, brewing up a coffee at the side of the road, sheltering from the elements under a tree and, of course, communal lounges at campsites at the end of the day.

"People who have also done cycling touring were always keen to compare notes.

"We met other cyclists doing unsupported trips, carrying their own gear with them and not having a van trailing behind with scones and tea on board and the option of a lift to the next destination if you simply didn't feel like cycling that afternoon, or if it was pouring with rain, but they were all men - except for three women - doing much shorter trips and usually much younger, too.

"It was a pilgrimage, with all that this implies - from the physical and geographical demands to a deep level of introspection and awareness," says Bettina. "I wanted to honour the wonderful country that has been my home for nearly 16 years.

"And as with all good pilgrimages, it was both tough and supremely rewarding."

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