A PIECE of fruit cake and a cup of black tea – better sustenance than any power bar or energy drink according to Corinna and Garry Turner who’ve spent much of the past 17 years cycling vast distances across much of the world.
Returning recently from their latest adventure, a 6185 kilometre trip from Perth to Adelaide and north to Darwin, a journey that took them across the Nullarbor Plain, through a vast expanse of Australian outback and included “5000 kilometres without a sign of fresh running water,” the couple is already looking forward to their next trip.
Common to the many trips Garry and Corinna have made – they’ve now cycled through more than 50 countries – days on their 12-week Australian adventure followed a typical pattern.
“We cycle an average of 100 kilometres a day,” says Garry. “We’re early birds so we’re up at daybreak, porridge and black tea for breakfast, then we hit the road and will usually cycle three or four hours, about 70 kilometres, depending on weather and terrain.” And then it’s time for a tea break, “always with fruit cake if we can,” he says, “and Australia has the best.”
After the break there’ll be another ride, typically around 30-kilometres before the couple call it a day, put their bikes aside, and before anything else, brew a cup of coffee.
“It’s the first cup of coffee of the day,” says Corinna. “It’s the treat at the end of the ride.”
And on a day when things have been tough, she says looking forward to something as simple as that cup of coffee, can make all the difference.
“Not all days are on a cycling trip are good days. It’s not always fun. If you’ve had a headwind all day or you’re just wet and tired and hungry, holding off the simple pleasure of that cup of coffee can make all the difference.” It’s on that basis, she says, that she and Garry use treats as incentives. They are carried sparingly, and don’t come easily.
The couple have had plenty of time to develop the routines now common to their long-distance trips. It’s almost two decades since they made a decision to change their lives, to “simplify everything,” and live their lives doing the things they most wanted to do.
Travelling the world by bike was top of the list.
Life was hectic back then, Garry says. It was the late 1990s and the couple were managing their apple orchard on their land in Hawke’s Bay. They were in fulltime jobs off the land as well, and as highly competitive triathletes (Garry and Corinna were both age-group New Zealand triathlete representatives at the time) they were trying to fit demanding training schedules into their lives as well. “We were tiring of it all.”
Looking back, Garry describes the decision to change their lives as a “lightbulb moment”.
“We decided that instead of being stuck on the path of working to amass money, we would let it all go and create the lives we really wanted.”
The couple spent the following years preparing, selling their land and orchard, their house and many of their belongings. “It wasn’t easy for me,” Garry says. Coming from a farming background “where you don’t sell your land, you use that land to accrue more land,” reconciling the sale of his land with he and Corinna’s belief that “a simple life is the best life,” had its personal challenges. “I did find it hard to let go.”
For Corinna, the transition had been easier. Of Dutch descent, she says she didn’t have the same attachments. “I think holding on to land and property is more typical of New Zealanders than Europeans. For me, it was about choosing to live our lives in a way that makes us happy.”
Garry and Corinna left New Zealand on their first mega cycle trip in early 2002, the goal, to cycle, whenever possible, until they arrived at the Tower Bridge in London. Two and a half years later, they were standing on the Tower Bridge, having made a trip that had seen them circumnavigate almost the entire coast of Australia before heading through Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, and Iran – and into Europe – Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, and Turkey – before arriving in England.
To this day, Iran remains a firm favourite for the couple. “Iranian people are just the most hospitable people we have ever met,” says Corinna, citing, for instance, numerous invitations the couple received to share meals served floor-style in family homes.
“Invitations came constantly,” she says. “They are the warmest and most welcoming people and it was always a wonderful experience.” Not a big meat eater herself, however, she says meals were sometimes a little challenging. “Iranians are huge carnivores,” she laughs.
There were many stops along the way. “Six months travel at a time is enough for us,” Garry says. “We stop then because you start to get saturated and stop appreciating it all.” Stops for Garry and Corinna, mean work.
As part of their mega-cycling lifestyle, they say stopping to work not only brings in funds but brings a deeper experience of a country and its people. Work stints have included three-months in a Cairns campground, six-months in Myanmar with Corinna teaching and Garry working as a swimming instructor.
There was also 13-months working on the estate of a wealthy family in England doing “whatever needed to done,” and sometimes being farmed out to work for friends of the family, including former English royalty biographer, Penny Junor. “She was lovely,” they say.
Leaving England, the couple cycled through France and Spain before heading to Morocco before returning to cycle further in India.
Travelling as they do with limited storage, Garry and Corinna say their own food supply is generally basic. There are essentials that are common to most trips – tinned fish, noodles, dehydrated vegetables and instant mashed potatoes, sometimes rice. There’s porridge, milk powder, coffee, teabags, bread, peanut butter, crackers, and whenever possible, fruit cake.
In their recent Australian trip, enough food and water to last two days was vital, the time it took to cover the often 200-kilometre distance between outback roadhouses – basic establishments providing accommodation, meals and supplies.
“We needed about 10 litres of water for the two days,” Garry says, along with sleeping bags and a tent providing Corinna and Garry with their preferred accommodation. “We always camp if we can, Corinna says, whether that be in a campground, or, often, remotely off the side of the road.
“We’ve got no unfinished business in Australia now,” she says, the two having cycled the country’s entire perimeter on previous trips, as well as having cycled across Northern Queensland from Townsville to the remote town of Tennant Creek.
Garry and Corinna returned to New Zealand in 2006, cycling around the country to catch up with family and friends and eventually, cycling into the Eastern Bay.
It was familiar territory for Corinna. She’d lived here during the 80s, teaching at Trident High School and Edgecumbe College. But cycling back into the region so many years later, riding past the Tauwhare Pa site and down into Ohope, she says she and Garry fell in love with the place. Later that year, they would buy a house in Ohope, their new home base for the future, but they were not yet ready to stay.
The following year, the couple left for China, taking up postings as a science teacher in Guangzhou (Corinna) and teaching English as a second language (Garry). Living there for the next six and a half years, every opportunity was taken to cycle, short trips within the country itself, and during the long summer breaks, bigger adventures in the Philippines,
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. There was a trip to the United States to cycle the entire west coast, Canada to Mexico.
In 2013, Garry and Corinna returned to New Zealand, working for several years to boost travel funds before heading off again in 2017. Travelling to Canada, they set off on a mammoth trip spending four and a half months cycling from one side of the country to the other, plus a side-trip around Nova Scotia – a whopping 10,138 kilometres, and, says Corinna, one of their favourite experiences.
“We loved Canada and I formed quite an attachment to the people and the environment there. They’re the most incredibly kind and generous people. We were hosted so often by random people inviting us to come and stay. We made a lot of friends there.”
That trip was followed by a 13-week cycle through South Korea and Japan, “38-degrees, high humidity,” and a memorable night attempting to sleep in a tent during a typhoon. “It came late at night and we had nowhere else to go”.
The decision to change their lives for this new chosen lifestyle is one the couple say they relish with each new adventure.
“I love it,” Garry says. “It’s the not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, the adventure of always being in the unknown. And also, the intimate feeling you get for a country and its people. Cycling is a great way to experience a country because there’s no glass screen between you and everything else. You experience everything, the good and the bad and everything is always very real.”
For Corinna, it’s the sense of adventure, the challenge, the “getting out there and doing stuff” that she thrives on. “It’s the being immersed in other cultures,” she says. “I love going places where people are different to me, where the culture is different to ours, and learning about them. We’re learning something new every single day we are away.”
And one thing they agree is a vital component of keeping their adventures fun – a commitment to keeping everything simple. “We don’t over plan,” Corinna says. “We have a basic outline of what we want to do, and we go with that. And if you can go somewhere without having a return ticket, that makes it even better. It changes your approach to everything”.
Corinna and Garry are planning to cycle Eastern European next year, heading up the coast and “making a nudge into Russia.”
On the recent 6185-kilometre journey through the Australian outback, not one puncture occurred.
By Lorraine Wilson