Body & Fitness

Former mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s quest to cycle the length of New Zealand

The ex-mayor has a new challenge to tick off.
Celia Wade-Brown

Butt butter, one change of clothes, and a bunk; former Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown doesn’t do overindulgence.

Well, not on this particular journey. And what a trek it is – 3000km by bike, from the top of New Zealand to the very bottom.

The 63-year-old, who, in 2010 famously cycled to Wellington Airport to meet then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is riding in this year’s Tour Aotearoa long-distance “brevet” from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

Participants follow a route that takes in NZ’s most iconic cycle trails, travelling at their own pace but within a specified 10 to 30-day time limit.

The former green mayor’s hoping to do it in “29 and-a-half days”, explaining, “At the moment the aim is just to do it, unless I have a mechanical or body problem, but if I’ve got most of the way and it’s going to take me 40 days, then I’ll just take some extra days.”

She has some idea of what she’s in for.

She and husband Alastair Nicholson, who now live in the Mangatarere Valley in the Wairarapa, walked the Te Araroa Trail in 2017, a year after she stood down as mayor. It was, Celia says, her “political detox” rather than something to tick off a bucket list.

“Te Araroa was about doing something low impact on the environment and high impact on myself in all sorts of ways, but it was also about spending time with Alastair, who had been such an uncomplaining other half. This time it’s just me.”

Still, the pair have previously cycled together, at one time doing the Way of the Roses, a 270km coast-to-coast trail from Lancaster to York, on three- speed folding bikes. Not great in the mud, apparently.

Despite her many years of cycling – she’s been known to ride across the Remutakas to and from meetings in Wellington – Celia’s upped her training for Tour Aotearoa, including a 126km eight-hour slog from Featherston out to the Wairarapa coast and around Cape Palliser to Miramar in Wellington, plus an overnighter to Ocean Beach.

There is no entry fee, but participants are asked to donate at least $100 to a charity of their choice.

The first Tour Aotearoa in 2016 attracted 250 cycle enthusiasts; close to 1000 are doing it this year. Many choose to camp, others opt to stay in cushier accommodation.

Celia is aiming to collapse into, if not a luxuriously soft mattress then at least a bunk bed at the end of each day. However, she’s also carrying a bivvy tent in case of emergencies – or, as she puts it, “getting a puncture in the rain 50km from the next town”.

She is riding a borrowed carbon-fibre mountain bike, not her own electric bike, which is on loan to a friend. And she’s travelling light.

“I learned what not to take on the walk,” she laughs. “So I’ve got wet weather gear, a locator beacon, gloves, a merino singlet, bike shorts with chamois and one set of clothes I can change into in the evenings.

“I’m not bothering with new bike shoes. I’ve got a pair of walking shoes that will be fine and I suspect I’ll be spending quite a lot of time pushing the bike uphill!

“I will not be taking make-up, just a very small toiletry bag for toothpaste, floss and sunblock.”

There’s also the “bible” – the official route book, which lists 30-photo check points and every twist and turn on the way – anti-inflammatories and the legendary Sweet Cheeks butt butter, a soothing anti-chaffing cream.

Celia showed Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla around Wellington in 2012

(Image: Getty.)

Growing up in London meant the young Celia didn’t get her first bike until she was 12 years old, when the family moved to a smaller town.

She tells, “I’ve never been as competent as people who learn as five-year-olds. I remember how hard it was to learn how to balance. But cycling is such a convenient and reliable way to get around. And you can eat more,” she jokes before adding, “she said while tucking into a brioche!”

Celia, like a number of other riders, is using the event to fundraise. Her $100 donation went to KidsCan, while Living Streets’ Footpaths for Feet campaign is her main charity.

All going well, she should arrive in Bluff around March 31.

She hopes her adventure will encourage others. “I might not be the fastest, I might be the slowest, but that’s what’s great about this; anyone can do it.

“I love exploring New Zealand and I like to have an adventure to look forward to. If you don’t realise your mortality in your 60s, you’re never going to realise it. You don’t have forever to do these things; it’s not a matter of saying one day it would be nice. It’s a matter of doing it.”

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