Would you travel around the world on a cheap bicycle?
Would you travel around the world on a cheap bicycle?

'Kiwi bird' sees best in people

"KIWI birds don't fly" - they cycle, for 20 months, alone, on a cheap mountain bike, through dangerous countries just to get back home ... from London.

The quote was posted by a friend on Kylie Phaup-Stephens' Facebook wall while she returned from her OE on a voyage during which she fended off men trying to break into her tent in Iran, ate out of bins and stayed with the New Zealand Army in Afghanistan.

If she ever writes a book about it, she has the title sorted.

Riding her 18-speed mountain bike, which she nicknamed "Tankini" because "it's a tank", loaded with 80kg of gear and with just $7.35 a day to spend, she trained her stomach to survive off just one meal a day.

She slept on boats with cockroaches and rats crawling over her and went to sleep - and woke up - with foreign men leering at her. She ate camel, dog and rats and found her way by asking people directions.

"If I came across people who were really nice and wanted me to stay, I would. The only thing pushing me for time were my visas."

She cycled - alone - through Iran, Albania, Kosovo and camped at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli.

But, the 36-year-old from Christchurch said her most terrifying moments were in Iran, when men were trying to get into her tent and in a hotel, where the manager locked himself in a shower with her.

But, despite the bad experiences, Ms Phaup-Stephens says she's seen the best of human nature.

"So many families just took me in and fed me and just wanted to talk to me. There were so many other good things that happened as well. There's far more good people in the world than there are bad."

Seven months in, and feeling very isolated and homesick, she made it to the NZ Army base in Afghanistan, where she had Milo and a hot shower.

"I rocked up to the New Zealand Army base and the guys were like 'what the hell are you doing here?'

"I can't tell you how good it was just to see other New Zealanders. It was the highlight of my trip."

On her way to extend her visa at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, she walked past blood-spattered walls from where a suicide bomber had killed about 19 people days earlier.

But it wasn't until she was cycling through China that she wondered if she'd made a mistake and considered flying home.

It was "tough and hideous" with lots of "smoking and spitting and pollution" and bad roads. Some days she could cycle only 10km because the clay stuck to her bike wheels and they wouldn't turn.

She was knocked off her bike three times on her first day in Java, Indonesia, and still she kept going.

"There's nothing you can do but get back on and keep riding."

Ms Phaup-Stephens, who visited 22 countries in her travels, thinks she has crossed about 50,000km of land in addition to the six mostly "skanky" boat rides she had between countries.

If it got tough, she got off and walked. And, if she wasn't allowed to cycle through some countries, she'd get on a bus or train with her bike.

She arrived in Australia with $87 in the bank and had to talk supermarket staff who were throwing out food into giving it to her for free. "There were a few times in Queensland that I was eating out of rubbish bins."

While waiting five months in Australia for a boat to bring her back, she cycled from Cape York in Far North Queensland to Wilsons Prom in Victoria, the southernmost point of the mainland - covering more than 10,000km.

Although she's the fittest and healthiest she's ever felt, it hasn't been easy. "I still get a sore bum every day from biking."

The thing she missed most was companionship after going "for hours on end without seeing a soul".

Her journey's not over yet.

Once she arrives home - either in Tauranga or Napier tomorrow or Wednesday - she will ride to Auckland before getting a train as she heads to Christchurch on December 22.

And her time spent in Afghanistan and East Timor has left her with one more goal - to join the Army. She has completed four of the 10 steps necessary to be accepted.

Like many Kiwis, Ms Phaup-Stephens is humble and quick to play down her achievements.

"There's nothing special about me. I'm just average, really.

"I just happened to like travelling and just got on a bike and rode home. I'm just an average Kiwi girl. That's all there is. I just struggle to think that I've inspired anyone."


* Two hospital stays - one in Turkey for a bee sting allergy, the second for five days for suspected food poisoning in Pakistan.

* Watched NZ win cricket against Pakistan.

* Stayed with the New Zealand Army in Afghanistan.

* Met an Afghani woman who had 30 children.

* Stayed with the New Zealand police and shared Anzac Day 2010 with the Army in East Timor, where she was given Raro, Milo, Weet-Bix and Marmite.

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