A friend introduced me to various bikepacking routes in New Zealand and recommended the best time of the year to tackle them. I was immediately interested. 

While the Tour Aotearoa extends for 3,000 kms from the top of New Zealand to the bottom, it felt a little too far of a stretch. At only 1,000 kms, the Kopiko Aotearoa route across the North Island felt like a better start for my first unsupported bikepacking trip. The route tracks between the most easterly and westerly points of the North Island, covering over 1,000 kms and 16,000^m. Riders can take as many days as they want or need. The official ride occurs on two days, in both directions. This year, on 21 and 22 January.

I started to scout for interest in joining this adventure. “Have a look at this video and see whether you want to ride across the widest part of NZ. It will be awesome!” “Yeah sure, I will join that.” 

Very soon we were a group of 8 riding Kopiko on 22 January 2023 (Andy, Arran, Darcy, Gursu, Jeff, Kelli, Peter, Warwick), all excited by the challenge and freedom of bikepacking. Most of us had ridden long distances road riding over multiple days, but only one of us had any bikepacking experience. Arran quickly became the source of all wisdom as we prepared for the trip. 

We decided to ride East to West because of the prevailing wind, and our starting point was the lighthouse at East Cape, our destination was Cape Egmont in Taranaki on the West coast. While nothing stops you riding this route at any time, to be monitored online with other riders requires registering. The three official rego prerequisites were: a $100 donation to a charity of your choice (with evidence); a paid offset for the carbon you used to get to the start line (which can be easily calculated, and again must be evidenced); and a working/tested personal satellite tracker. That’s it.

A few days out, there were 64 riders registered to ride E-W, and 27 people riding W-E. 


For what (on paper, and from Australia) looked like a simple one-way bikepacking trip where you don’t carry much, there is a lot of planning involved. With the help of the official route booklet by the Kennett Brothers, we spent weeks planning logistics: how to get our bike bags from one side of NZ to the other; what I needed to carry to ride and survive; what would be nice to carry (not too many of these); how to carry the little I am taking on a bike; a ride plan based on what is achievable and enjoyable while ensuring distance targets, accommodation and food. 

Packing for self-sufficiency on a bike means optimising utility, cost, weight and volume. This is hard to do! With limited space, there wasn't any room for luxury or items that don’t perform an essential role. You can’t just get all the ultralight gear without thinking about total volume when packed. I ‘invested’ in good gear, but once packed, anything extra was quickly jettisoned. The packed load on the bike was 10-12 kgs, and I felt every one of those. 


We created a draft ride plan to complete the route in 8 days. It had to be a draft plan as things were bound to change (terrain, weather, mechanicals, injury, fitness, endurance) but it was useful to plan distance by day and plot where we might eat and sleep. Eight days riding 1,000 kms certainly sounded comfortable, almost leisurely. And we even factored time for off-road terrain and carrying extra weight. We knew the route was going to be remote, but this draft plan gave us naive confidence that we would find shelter, and only sleep outside where we had to. 

10 days prior to our start, the weather was a major concern and on top of our minds. Cyclone Hale ripped through the North Island, directly along our route and it was clear that we would be dealing with its aftermath (road slips and potential route changes). Then there was the volatile weather swirling around in the Pacific which meant that we should expect the unexpected. But there is no room for more rain and cold weather gear!


The cyclone had cleared for our arrival but the damage was very visible. As we got to the East Cape, we were cautiously excited. And Jeff was also now ready, after leaving his cycling shoes in Australia requiring him to urgently scour for a pair in his size - he bought a second-hand 10 year old pair for $50.

As the sun rose, the local Maori tribe formally welcomed the riders and performed the haka. Seven of us started riding in sunny, hot, humid conditions, from near the East Cape lighthouse on 22 January 2023 at 06:08. Arran, our bikepacking expert, didn’t make the start due to crippling work commitments. Darcy, a wise man who started with us, had already planned to take 10 days to complete the ride and had set his own timing and stop points. This meant he stopped for the night after 80 kms, and the rest of us pressed on until 170 kms on the first day. 

The North Island is a heavily-contrasted landscape. We cycled along the peaceful eastern coastline with stunning blue ocean colours broken by lush green, knobbly headlands, into mountains covered in native bushland. There were farm lands for days, large instalments of pine trees (used for logging), open plains as far as the eye could see, ancient forests full of dense native ferns and moss, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, mud pools, hot pools, and then lush rolling grazing land on the west coast. Simply spectacular and each new landscape renewed our sense of adventure.

But, it is remote! The route was far more remote than we anticipated. There were very few people, cars, and nearly no conveniences. And those shops that we had planned to see were typically closed or shut for good. “There is another place inconveniently closed.” We became very mindful to preserve our own energy and supplies, to ensure that we made the distance. At one point, we had cycled three days, and 350 kms, before we found a place that we could buy any food and a cold can of drink. 

The only towns we went through with Anglo names were ‘East Cape’, ‘New Plymouth’ and ‘Cape Egmont’. Every other name was Maori, bringing humorous phonetic challenges and embarrassment to visiting Australians with terrible pronunciation. 

What there was a lot of, was sheep. We were in sheep country. Cattle also, but I am sure we saw many of the 25 million sheep of NZ. We were stopped in our tracks several times as flocks and herds moved between pastures. We loved seeing falcons soaring above us, we were on alert to see a wild Kiwi bird (we are sure that we heard some), and we dodged many Weka (small, flightless birds similar to Kiwis). What I was surprised by was the lack of parrots squawking in the bush, which is such a typical sound when riding close by in Australia. We were relaxed in the route’s remoteness in that there are no dangerous animals in NZ, which means it is always safe to sit on a log!

Bees were everywhere thanks to the many hives along the route, and it wasn’t too long before there were a few stings at high speed. One cunning bee managed to make its way into Warwick’s open mouth as he was descending at speed, and landed on his tongue - that hurt! He sheepishly asked Peter to help him remove the stinger from his tongue - and the best tool for that job was his Leatherman (yep, he used the pliers to pull the stinger from his tongue!).

We were reminded about loose planning and flexibility on the second day when Warwick found a typo in our ride planning spreadsheet! We had underestimated the next day by 50 kms (a simple typo), and with that day’s accommodation shorter than where we had expected by 30 kms, we had 80 kms to make up. New distance calculations, new food options, new places to stay were resolved late at night with tired eyes. It was a domino effect with every change bringing compounding changes to the remaining days. 

Climbing through gravel in the mountains doesn't come as easy for cyclists as it does for sheep and goats. The fourth day was tough for everyone - climbing 1000 metres in 28 kms on rough terrain. Once Kelli and Gursu witnessed a full sheep truck make four attempts to climb one particular hill by rolling up and down the valley to gather speed (think pirate ship ride at the theme park), they decided that their Kopiko needed a new course. They devised a different, shorter plan which included a bus between Rotorua and New Plymouth. As Gursu is a chef, we smiled when asked about our fellow riders and told people that we lost our chef - “You brought a chef along?”

The Timber Trail seemed fabled. Everyone that we had met raved about it. It certainly was sensational, but is an 85 km mountain bike trail, rising to 1165 vertical metres at the top of Mt Pureura (our route’s highest point was 971m). We rode the Timber Trail in torrential rain, past waterfalls, over suspended bridges, swollen rivers which consumed the trail, and everything was slippery. 

Despite our plans, and our replans, we encountered a fair bit of trouble through the Timber Trail. Our journey over two days brought repeated mechanical trouble, slowing us down much more than we thought. Our plans had expectations of the second half of the Timber Trail as a downhill rail trail based on the guidebook description “Connect with the historic tramway. The trail is now mostly downhill, passing several historic cuttings and bridge sites. There are a couple of old huts and new toilets along the way.” It certainly wasn’t the smooth downhill champagne rail trail we had planned in our minds. We were incredibly slow, and spent almost 11 hours riding only 97kms, of which the first 42 kms was downhill. 

For more than two days, heavy rain fell constantly. For most of this time, it felt like we were riding through a bath. There was so much rain that opening your mouth to the falling rain gave us an adequate drink. These harsh conditions made it a true test in stamina. We rode together closely, which was essential for safety and repairs. At one key moment, Peter strongly suggested that we change jerseys and into a heavier raincoat to keep warm, as individually we didn’t identify how cold we were. 

I was asked by friends observing our journey across NZ (via satellite tracking), “Is it fun?” This was a hard question to answer simply. There are many days and segments which are utterly delightful - cycling all day, as free as a bird, marvelling at what you see and who you meet. There are also many other segments that are not fun in the moment - they are a ‘type-2’ fun (not ‘fun’ in the moment, but it will be ‘fun’ later when you look back and reminisce). Peter coined the phrase “banking the fun” where you save it up and call on it later when back in the real world. After challenging sections, one of us might holler “just banking the fun”. Through the Timber Trail, after repeated mechanicals and hours fixing punctures, Jeff wasn’t always as diplomatic. But there is so much ‘fun’ in the simple adventure of it, and the series of accomplishments that make each day and series of days, which accumulate to make the experience awesome. 

Kiwis (New Zealanders) are known to be kind, generous and trusting. Every interaction we, and other riders had, confirmed this in spades. Due to the remoteness of the route, several of our nights were spent in local homesteads where we were treated to warm hospitality and delicious meals with an overabundance of lamb (a national treasure) and venison (introduced to NZ and happily hunted). Locals were always quick to share knowledge to help in planning and problem solving for the route ahead. For example, one local offered the crank off his bike to allow a Kopiko rider to continue riding and quipped “just post it back to me when you are done”, another organised friends to deliver critical spares and morning tea. A handful of people really stood out to make this adventure - Lou, Amanda & John, Phil, Kara, Michelle, Erin, Paul, Melissa. 

Our second last night of adventure was in the memorial hall in Ohuru. A toilet, no shower, and a foam mattress for our sleeping bag. While devouring Fiesta Fare Mexican hot food, we heard that Auckland was in a state of emergency. A freak rain event had caused serious flooding which closed the airport and many roads. Auckland had just received 38% of its annual rainfall and this occurred by 29 January. Auckland saw 769% of its January average, and most of this fell on one day - Friday 27 January. Now, that is rain!

Due to the freak weather conditions, we didn’t know if we could get to New Plymouth at all. There were so many questions…Should we ride the planned route? Should we ride on the main road and avoid gravel? What about road closures and rock slides? Would we be able to complete the journey? Would we even make our plane home (and that’s if the planes were operating by then!)?

Oh, this was certainly ‘banking the fun’!

We decided to rely on local knowledge and stuck with a few other riders who seemed to know what they were doing. Vital in this was Kara, who arranged her friends to deliver new tyres to her (for Peter as his were damaged, blistered, and full of tubeless plugs), which meant we were following Kara’s route - the original route. 

Warwick described it as a ‘real adventure’. Normal holidays are planned. This is more than a holiday, it is a real adventure, with problem-solving, decisions and choices, and risks, at every step. 

Day 7 to New Plymouth was another long 175 km, 10 hour day on the bike, but there was little rain and the terrain was mostly sealed with good gravel sections. The main road was closed due to road slips so it was void of cars. We made it to Whangamomona, which locals described as a tumbleweed town, but for us, it was memorable with a great pub with its own beer and walls covered in pictures of the local rugby union teams. We regretted not being able to stay longer, as one of our previous plans had it included, but alas, it wasn’t to be. By the time we got to Whangamomona, some of us were able to pronounce it properly.

In order to make our plane the next day (Monday), Jeff and I decided to retire at New Plymouth - we got to the coast and close enough to Cape Egmont, but just ran out of time to make the official finish line at the Cape Egmont lighthouse. We investigated options to get to Cape Egmont early Monday and back to New Plymouth to pack bikes and make our flight, but it was a futile exercise. The last 50 kms to Cape Egmont was left for Peter and Warwick to complete the next day (Monday), and Darcy the following day (Tuesday). 

The decision by Kelli and Gursu to end their adventure early was a difficult one. There are many points in a journey like this where you are tempted to stop to escape the pain of it all, but the decision to stop for safety and not to complete shouldn’t be underestimated. They were disappointed but recognised it was the right thing at that time. They are already planning a new adventure.

Peter and Warwick completed the mission at Cape Egmont, and in only what could be described as appropriate, went to celebrate with a sushi meal in New Plymouth only to find the restaurant inconveniently closed on Tuesdays.

Darcy rolled into Cape Egmont as planned on day 10, without breaking a sweat. Maybe we should follow Darcy’s local knowledge next time!

What an epic adventure! What a ‘real’ adventure!

Normal road riding conditions usually means fast-paced. Riding slowly takes some getting used to and requires some patience and relaxation for the time it will take you to cover distances. There were many occasions where looking down watching kms tick over every so slowly was numbing. I continued to remind myself to relax and look up, to see what I was passing, and let the kms tick by without pressure.

In a panic, we bought food and refreshments at the end of the first day of riding in a local store in Opitaki. The shopkeeper was excited about our opportunity to experience his land by bike, for at that speed “you will see it all change, and slowly enough to see the ants”. How this was true. 

With this first bikepacking adventure under our belt, we are certainly ready for the next one. Where’s next? We will work that out once our bike bags get back to Sydney. So far, they have been sitting in Auckland airport for 5 days!

Distance (kms)

Distance (cum kms)

Climbing (m)

Climbing (cum m)

Elapsed time

Moving time

Avg speed

Sunday 22

East Cape / Te Araroa to Opotiki









Monday 23

Opotiki to Te Wera (up Motu Road)









Tuesday 24

Te Wera - Ruatikuri









Wednesday 25

Ruatikuri - Whirinaki









Thursday 26

Whirinaki - Whakamaru









Friday 27

Whakamaru - Timber Trail









Saturday 28

Timber Trail - Ohuru









Sunday 29

Ohuru - New Plymouth















Monday 30

New Plymouth - Cape Egmont














There are always lessons after doing something new. Knowledge and expertise are best gained through experience and what we have learned simply sets us up better for the next adventure. 

Here are some of our bikepacking Kopiko lessons:

  • It will take longer than you think, especially if you don’t know the terrain and course. 
  • Don’t plan too far in advance. Don’t lock anything in beyond the second or third day as it doesn’t take long for things to change. 
  • Be and stay flexible (in everything). 
  • Take it and you will carry it. 
  • If it isn’t strapped down, it won’t stay on. 
  • Plan for rain - how to (really) waterproof things and how to carry out repairs in the rain. 
  • In NZ, signs that say “falling rocks”, mean it! Swerve to miss them.
  • Fixed time limits can cause you to push too hard or make decisions that aren’t ideal. Have some more time flexibility at the end. 
  • Get Apple AirTags to keep track of lost bike bags.
  • In Kiwi, ‘biking’ means cycling.


  • 8 committed, 7 started, 5 made it to New Plymouth, 3 made it to Cape Egmont.
  • 7 riders completed 8,300+ kms 135,000+^m in total.
  • Individuals completed 1,016 kms 16,342^m to New Plymouth (~86 elapsed hours) and 1,071kms 17105^m to Cape Egmont (~89 elapsed hours).  
  • 10+ tubeless plugs 
  • 3 tyres trashed, 2 tyres replaced
  • 3 brake pads trashed, 2 new brake pads



PS Darcy actually did break a sweat, and says he sweated so much that he had none left. He found Kopiko really hard, a mighty and very fulfilling challenge and so glad to have done it. It was his first multi-day event and previously he had only ever ridden rides of up to 50 kms.