The background to the trip was that we (Neville Frost and I) were approached at Bike '97 to join up for a cycling trip called 2000 First to the Sun (FTTS) going from Auckland to Gisborne in New Zealand, Gisborne being the first city in the world to see the sun in the new Millennium. Unfortunately, although the two idea originators, Patrick Horton and Chris Bradley, remained enthusiastic and dedicated to the project throughout, they used bonded travel agents throughout the world who all seemed to excel in total uselessness! We only found out that we had not been alone in our troubles when we shared our experiences with others on the trip from America, Germany and elsewhere. Anyway we are very glad that we persevered and stuck with it as it truly was the trip of our lifetime to date and we cannot speak highly enough of the 2000 FTTS team's dedication and organisation throughout the whole 3 week event.
Our fears started to evaporate when we checked in at Heathrow with Air New Zealand and Neville was told, "don't worry, sir, we'll look after it for you" as our bubble-wrapped Cannondale tandem was wheeled away. There was no mention of any extra charge, as numerous publications had warned us about (£225 single!). The Air New Zealand flight (totalling 28 hours in all, including a 2 hour transit stop in Los Angeles) was excellent with lots of leg room and a pull-down footrest and good food - 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts! We saw the sun set 3 times! All very confusing this crossing the Dateline business! Our return was equally good and trouble free.
More fears were dispelled when we were met in Auckland airport by both Pat and Chris together with some of their helpers, all sporting bright orange T-shirts with the legend 2000 First to the Sun for ease of identification. It transpired that there had been quite a few of us (25) on our flight. We had spotted Andrew at Heathrow with a very strangely shaped long box - inside it was an Australian made, extremely low, 3-wheeled recumbent, 2 wheels at the back, which Andrew assured us was very comfortable. Everyone's boxed bikes arrived unscathed and so did our bubble-wrapped tandem. We did hear though that an earlier arrival's bike-in-a-box had had its tyres explode during the flight which had damaged the frame. We felt it supported our argument of having the bike visible: our tyres had been let down even more than when we left it at Heathrow.
There were 152 cyclists in all and only 2 other tandem teams joined us, both from America and one couple being Mel & Barbara Kornbluh of Tandems East whom WE had told about this trip but they had kept their attendance secret from us until their arrival - we were suitably surprised! The 6 of us had some good fun together whizzing down the numerous hairpin bend hills that we encountered in the days to come. Everyone on the trip was very friendly and the international mixture jelled very well - 11 countries were represented. It was nice for us that New Zealand is very English in both language and traditions and we felt very comfortable there although some of the Americans and Europeans amongst us experienced some difficulties with cycling on the left hand side of the road and negotiating roundabouts and had a couple of near misses whilst trying to walk across roads - looking in the wrong direction!
The cycling trip itself started from Clevedon, just south-east of Auckland on Monday 20th December 1999 and kept mainly to the coast travelling along the Pacific Coast Highway along and over the Coromandel Peninsula and around the Bay of Plenty, stopping after 4 days of cycling in Tauranga for our Christmas break. We soon learnt that New Zealand is very hilly - they just keep coming! and when there weren't hills then we had a headwind! Even so the scenery was spectacular with beautiful bright blue/green bays greeting us as we swooped down yet another hill and giant fern trees giving it a tropical jungly feel in some areas and meadow and pasture lands with yellow and white flowers and Jersey and Friesan cows lending an English countryside air in others. The birdsounds were lovely too, far more than we hear in England these days. Christmas in the sun was wonderful and was celebrated by a swim in the cold Pacific Ocean by Neville, followed by restful lazing in saltwater hotpools by us both - very therapeutic after some very hard cycling. After 2 days rest we continued on our way around East Cape, a fairly remote Maori dominated area with big wide rivers bringing their collection of driftwood to lie on the beautiful beaches. The hills still continued though and brought another meaning to the word "undulating" for us - Pat was teased unmercifully for his use of this word when briefing us on our routes. 5 days cycling finally brought us to Gisborne on the afternoon of the 30th December 1999 where all 152 of us were escorted into town by the local police - quite an entry!
We liked Gisborne a lot and were very happy to spend several days lazing around in the sunshine and enjoying the atmosphere. We thought they handled the New Year extremely well. The main street was closed off to traffic for several days and sound stages had been set up for bands. This was where the actual midnight celebrations were held with lots of noise and lights. For the Dawn celebration a soundshell stage had been set up just behind the beach of Poverty Bay and from 4am the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra played beautiful sounds to all those thousands of us who were quietly sitting on the grass in front of the stage. Dame Kiri Te Kenawa joined them and delighted us with several songs and finally a traditional Maori troupe performed. The sky lightened and we all began drifting towards the beach to see the sun come up at 5.40am. It was a very brief sighting as it was very cloudy but we DID see this beautiful orange ball rise out of the sea. There were traditional Polynesian sailing boats in the bay and 2 huge waka Maori war canoes landed on the beach. Yes, we decided it had definitely been worth coming all this way to experience a very special time.
On the 4th January 2000 we travelled the 6 hour journey back to Auckland by coach and said goodbye to all the friends we had made on the trip. The organisation of the cycling event had been excellent in every way. The trip was camping based at various showgrounds, rugby clubs, school playgrounds and therefore every morning we packed up, took down our dome tent, ate a good breakfast of fruit, cereals and toast in the big marquee before embarking on the average 60 miles per day cycling. The main campsite consisted of a very large marquee in which we ate our meals (which were all wonderful), several smaller marquees for men's and women's washing facilities and administration and racks for our cycles to hang on overnight as well as an amazing lorry containing 12 showers divided between men's and women's. All this lot had to be dismantled as soon as we had finished our breakfast and, together with our tents and luggage, moved the 60 miles or so to our next night's stop and reassembled before the majority of the cyclists got there around 4pm. A fabulous dinner would be provided for us each night with several special ones along the way: a couple were put on by the local Maori people of that village and we were treated to green lipped mussels, crayfish, wonderfully tender lamb and other gastronomic delights. On Christmas Eve we were treated to a special meal followed by dancing. On our last night in Gisborne a farewell dinner was held in a seaside restaurant. There was always back up and sag wagons driving back and forth along our daily routes to make sure that all the cyclists were OK and picked up and moved on where necessary. Drink stops were provided along the route together with the essential portaloo, towed behind the pickup truck providing the drink stop. The attention and care was excellent and everyone was looked after as need be.
Thames - second night
Bright flowers on a rainy day in Coromandel
Giant Fern trees
Mobile shower block
New Zealand Butter country - Golden Valley
In Bethlehem on Christmas Eve!
Christmas Day in Tauranga
Boxing Day at Mount Manganui
The 3 tandem teams
At Okitu, north of Gisborne, just before we rode in en masse
Dawn of the Millennium in Gisborne