Film of pair’s ‘raw’ adventure wins prize

Isobel Ewing (left) and Georgia Merton encountered some stunning scenery during their cycle tour...
Isobel Ewing (left) and Georgia Merton encountered some stunning scenery during their cycle tour on the Karakoram Highway between northern Pakistan and China. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Cycling on a road known for its rockfalls, landslips, avalanches, flooding, terrible storms and really reckless drivers — all while suffering from altitude sickness — would be enough to make most New Zealand cyclists lose the plot.

But for former Wānaka residents Georgia Merton and Isobel Ewing, riding bikes on the Karakoram Highway between northern Pakistan and China was a "raw" adventure of a lifetime.

The duo documented their recent journey with a short film, Inshallah, which has just won the best self-filmed category at this year’s New Zealand Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Ms Merton said the plan for the ride was hatched while they were on a hike in Wānaka a couple of years ago, but at the time, there were no plans to make a film about their journey.

"As the trip progressed, we realised what a special place it was and that we would like to share it with the people back home."

On parts of the journey, the mountainous route becomes unsealed and narrows to barely 3m wide with drops of hundreds of metres.

The film shows about 400km of their ride, which reaches a maximum elevation of 4714m.

"We kind of lost count of the distance after a while because we had so many mechanical nightmares and illnesses, and we were waylaid by kind people inviting us in.

"I was really lucky. I didn’t get sick at all, but Isobel got some sort of respiratory infection, which didn’t help when we were quite high up in the mountains, and she got struck by gastro.

"Even though there were natural challenges that come with cycle touring, like being way out of your comfort zone, not being sure if you’re going to make it to the next [civilised] camp stop each night, not being able to have a hot shower or any sort of privacy — it was all pretty good because we were in it together."

The film was a "celebration of the people", and the power of travelling by bicycle, she said.

"Travelling by bike puts you in touch with the place — you really get to know it intimately.

"It’s a very raw way to travel."

Given that filming the journey was not part of the initial plan, winning an award was "pretty crazy", Ms Merton said.

"I’m stoked and surprised to win this award.

"I never expected this film to get so much attention.

"The best part about it is, we now have a record of the trip to show our grandkids."

Inshallah will be screened in Wanaka as part of the Pure NZ Rua session on June 23.

Asked if she would ever do a trip like it again, the 31-year-old said, "Hell yeah".

She was already planning and saving up for her next cycling trip around Patagonia.