A girl, a dog and a bike take on New Zealand’s National Cycleways

Leisa and Indy with their bike in the Christchurch Port Hills - vertical

Leisa and Indy with their bike and trailer in the Christchurch Port Hills. Photos Dennis Radermacher

If you’ve just spent two years on the couch, what better way to face the world again than to cycle the length of New Zealand with your best friend in tow? Canterbury-based multisport athlete Leisa McNaughton was a high achiever – she had a great job, good friends and a love of adventure sports. She had hiked in Nepal, mountain-biked in Banff, Canada and Colorado, USA and adventure raced in New Zealand. Until it all caught up with her.

“My world came to a dizzying stop,” says Leisa. “My mental health took a blow and suddenly I couldn’t get off the couch.”

Leisa credits her friends, an amazing team of health professionals and her best friend, a part Border Collie/Bernese Mountain dog named Indy, with helping pull her through the worst of it. It’s been a year of healing, but now she’s ready for her next big adventure.

Leisa plans to cycle the length of New Zealand on tracks part of the Nga Haerenga The New Zealand Cycle trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff. She’ll also use the trip as an opportunity to fundraise for charities that are close to her heart. “We are so lucky to live in an amazing country and I want to see all of it. I also want to share the sights and sounds of it with as many people as I can, and help people along the way.”

And Indy will be at her side. Once described by a friendly stranger they met, as part bear/part giraffe, Indy has a specially designed ‘chariot’ manufactured from aluminium by a local business in Christchurch. The trailer is attached to Leisa’s bike and he can use it to rest in when he chooses to.

Leisa and Indy are an inseparable team, ever since she found him at the Christchurch RSPCA as a puppy.

Fielding numerous astonished queries about why she has chosen to do such a challenging cycle, Leisa says her immediate response is always, “Because I can.”

“I will be travelling an average of nine to 20 km an hour – depending on how many hills there are on the route – aiming for a total mileage each day of between 30 – 50 kms.

“When the tracks are technically too difficult for Indy's trailer, too remote or we are in National Parks where dogs aren’t allowed, I will be riding self supported and I am hoping adventure riders will join me. My plan is to utilise a support vehicle to take Indy and his trailer for these sections.”

Leisa starts her trip in October and expects it to take at least four months. She has divided her route up into 13 different zones and is fundraising for a different charity for each leg of the trip. Each charity has a personal connection for Leisa (see table of charities attached).

Leisa and Indy’s trip has been made possible through the generous sponsorship of several businesses and individuals. (See table of sponsors attached).

“I could not do this without the incredible generosity from these people,” says Leisa. “I’m so overwhelmed and touched by their kindness. I know the spirit of community and support will keep me going when the trail gets tough.”

Leisa plans to Instagram and Facebook her way down the country with photos and video diaries, so people can follow her journey, and if they are in the same area as here, actually coming along on their bikes. “My hope is that families, including the kids, though anyone is welcome, will join me on the tracks. And also help fundraise for the charities by getting friends to sponsor them for each kilometre they do.”

She also hopes to make contact with teachers along the way and make the trip a learning experience for young New Zealanders. “I would love to see children getting out more and, if not cycling on these incredible trails, then at least learning more about the amazing country they live in. If I can encourage even just a few of them to do that through this experience, then it will all have been worth it.”

If you would like to contribute to Leisa’s fundraising efforts, visit https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/assistleisaindy4nzcyclejourney

Any teacher who would like to get in touch with Leisa to talk to about how they can involve their class with the trip, can reach her through her Facebook page (Facebook/LeisaMcNaugton or Facebook/Leisa & Indy’s NZ Charity Cycle Journey) or by email to leisa.mcnaughton@gmail.com

For more information, or to arrange interviews contact Leisa on 027-5726534 or leisa.mcnaughton@gmail.com