____From Charleston to Westport, a short day and a tent site at Carters Beach; where I leave the panniers and go into town before riding out to the lighthouse at Cape Foulwind. Named by Captain Cook; it probably can be a bit rough on a bad day, but when I was there, it was sunshine and a light breeze. Well over a week of fine weather on the west coast. Westland, so shortened to Wetland.
____A long day along the banks of the Buller River, from Westport; sea-level, to Murchison at a elevation of 208 metres in 106 kilometres. The first 26 miles being the course of the Buller Marathon, running down stream.
____More bankside riding by the Buller to start the day from Murchison but then a long winding climb over the Hope Saddle; a higher crossing of the Southern Alps than the Haast Pass. A steep twisting descent has the brake pads smelling hot; then twenty kilometres downhill in top gear to the rustic camping called Quinneys at the small township of Motupiku.
____Another saddle on Highway 6, Spooners Saddle, before Nelson. But a fine cycle track alongside the coast, from Richmond into the heart of Nelson’s port area. A compact little town with plenty of cyclists out and about in the sunshine. Laundry needs to be done; so I book two nights at the Nelson City Motor Camp, small but close to the town centre. The first rain since leaving Haast comes during the night; but the morning dawns clear and bright, if a little windy.
______ There are not many trucks on the west coast of South Island, NZ. Westland Milk Products' tanker fleet being the most numerous. But I did spot this old F88, finishing it's working life as a fire wood truck down at the local log splitting site.
____Up at the crack of dawn and along to Lake Matheson to get the photograph of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook reflected in the water before they are enveloped in their daily cloud cover for the rest of the day. Breakfast at Fox Glacier’s Hobnail Café; then three lung-bursting climbs in 30 kilometres before Franz Josef. Another glacier and another tourist village but with the advantage of an ATM that takes Visa cards; the first since Wanaka. On to Whataroa, 33 kilometres north for the night; with the road a lot flatter and dairy farms in amongst the native forest.
____A 100 kilometre day to the seaside town of Hokitika. A tail wind and a lot flatter as the farms now have most of the narrow coastal plain cleared of bush. Tea-breaks at Harihari, Pukekura and at Ross, the historic gold town. Pukekura’s Bushman Centre being the original “Roadkill Café” with possum being the most popular. All the benches are covered with possum fur.
____Away from Hokitika and to Kumara Junction, where the two Spanish guys turn off to tackle Arthur’s Pass; on there way back to Christchurch. I’ve seen a lot of them during the last week and we are on first name terms. They are both called Jose; I christened them “Jose Juan” and “Jose Too”, but didn’t mention it. I carry on north, through Greymouth, replenishing supplies and onto the beachside camping at Rapahoe. The old village school converted into a camping ground without losing the schoolroom atmosphere; amazing place.
The Pancake Rocks
____Very little coastal plain north of Rapahoe as the Southern Alps come down to the sea. Beautiful scenery, but hard going on the bike. A stop at Punakaiki to inspect the weird “Pancake” rock formations and lunch at the Pancake Rock Café; whose speciality is…yep…pancakes. Hot sun and long hills puts Westport out of reach; so I settle for a night at tiny Charleston with a pizza at Jack’s Gasthof.
Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook reflected in Lake Matheson.
____Early away out of Haast, riding alongside an Aussie cyclist; chatting for mile after mile until the traffic gets heavier as the campervans come out to play. Three major climbs leading up to Knight’s Point, from where the load levels out through endless temperate rain forest that is so dense; with tree ferns filling in the space under the canopy. Very few houses and the first place to stop for refreshment is at 70 kilometres. A salmon farm with attached café; good salmon scones with a bottomless cup of tea. At Bruce Bay, the road briefly follows the beach, but with Fox Glacier village being just too far for a days riding, I stop and camp at Jacob’s River. A campsite so small that a Volvo estate car, parked on the grass, halves the area for tents.
____Thirty kilometres to Fox Glacier and after breakfast, I explore the tracks leading to the ice-mass; on foot to the Chalet Viewpoint is the most rewarding. A stiff climb with rock-hopping to cross several creeks finishes on a platform high above the point where the ice melts and the Fox River starts. Fox Glacier Village is purely for tourists to visit the ice but I’m pleasantly surprised to get a site for my tent for only NZ$17. For the second day running the famed Westland rainfall has contented itself to a couple of showers. However, there are plenty of the dreaded sandflies about.
____Away from Frankton at 7 o’clock ready for a long day to Wanaka; firstly following the Kanwarau Gorge as it takes the waters of Lake Wakatipu down to Cromwell. Down hill amongst the vineyards before turning north along the west shore-line of Lake Dunston and it’s cherry orchards. Into a headwind and not a pub or café for over 100 kilometres. A night at the Southern Matterhorn Backpackers, a reference to the pinnacle shape of nearby Mount Aspiring, in Downtown Wanaka; a kind of mini-Queenstown.
____Another day of constant head wind, from Wanaka to the banks of Lake Hawea before changing to the banks of Lake Wanaka for the northward slog to Makarora. Two Spanish guys catch me up, also cycling to Makarora. One has a profile map book showing all the hills that are to come. The other has GPS on his camera and knows exactly how far we have to go; but neither has a substitute for pushing the peddles round and getting us there any easier.
____A big day riding over the Haast Pass, one of three road crossings of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Up to a height of 564 metres and after only twenty minutes out of Makarora; it starts pouring with rain. Soaked through and with no place to shelter, I push on over the top in Westland. At Pleasant Flat Shelter comes a place to rest but it’s full of cyclists from a tour company having lunch spread out for them at the only picnic table.
“ On days like this we’re all in it together,” says the tour guide lady, “ help yourself to sandwiches and fruit.”
That’s all the encouragement I need to start hoovering up what the wet and bedraggled cycling tourist don’t need. They are having their bikes loaded on to the top of their minibus and are going over to Makarora in the warm and dry. From the rest area, I push on, non-stop, to the township of Haast and book into the warm and dry Wilderness Backpackers.
____Julius Von Haast gave his name to the Haast Pass in the 1860’s. along with the Haast River, Haast Junction and the Gates of Haast; the road was first opened to vehicles in the 1960’s. Herr Haast’s other great claim to fame is that he once bought a genuine Egyptian mummy for only $24. I would have loved to have been there when he rolled up at an Antiques Roadshow with that little beauty.
____From Kingston, the road follows the shore of Lake Wakatipu on the most scenic and enjoyable days riding of the trip so far. Sunshine and windless on a road with plenty of scenic lookouts to stop at. I camp at Frankton, on the outskirts of Queenstown, close to the eastern corner of the lake where it’s waters flow out at the foot of the Remarkables Mountain Range.
____A cycle track leads from the campsite; the eight kilometres into the heart of Queenstown, hugging the lake shore all the way. The town must hold the record for the most outdoor pursuit shops per square kilometre in the world. Activity is what Queenstown is all about; that and spending money. From bungee jumping, sky-diving, white water rafting to jet boating and canyoning; it’s all on offer. Plus hiking, sight-seeing and a lake cruise on the old steam ship; MSS Earnslaw. But with a budget of NZ$60 per day; I’m left with browsing the sports shops; wondering who buys all this hi-tech, light-weight, quick-drying, non-sweating clothing that is so bloody expensive.
____Window shopping is not my main reason for two nights at Queenstown. My next stop is at Wanaka and they are having their annual Ironman triathlon event with 1200 competitors. It would be good to watch it; but as all the accommodation is booked up, I’ll leave my arrival until everyone has gone home. I’m not a big fan of these extreme events, 3.8 km swimming, 180 km cycling and then a marathon run. What are the joints of these athletes going to be like when they reach old age? I’ve seen bodies ruined by hard work such as bricklaying and plastering; so with the endless training, these triathletes are heading the same way.
____ Into town early and a new tyre, tube, spare tube and a box of patches from Crossroads Cycles; Gore's number one bike shop. It's then flat countryside down to Invercargill, not quite on the coast, but with Oreti beach 10 kilometres to the west. I book into Sparky's Backpackers, a small cozy establishment with Sparky; the ideal host. His signature chocolate cake is not only delicious but bonds everyone together for the making and tasting.
____ Leaving most of my luggage at the backpacker hostel for the day, I have an easy lightweight ride down to the final kilometre of Highway 1 at Bluff. A port for the shipping of lumber, containers and aluminium; it is also the ferry terminal for the trip to New Zealand's third biggest island. But it's NZ$132 return to Stewart Island and as they don't have many roads; I decide against a choppy boat trip. I satisfy myself by viewing the island from the Lands End signpost while getting a young lady from Southend-on Sea to take my picture. Then it's back to Sparky's for another night and more chocolate cake.
____ North from Invercargill, through Wilton and on to Lumsden with a new haircut and the wind behind me. Lumsden's campsite is deserted; reminding me of all those municipal camps in small French country towns. The big difference is that Lumsden has a fully equipped kitchen with most of the stuff brand new. By nightfall there are three of us, one on foot, one car and me on the bike; nobody shows up to collect any money so we put it in the honesty box. I can think of quite a few places where the honesty box would have disappeared, along with most of the kitchen.
____The flat plain of Southland continues for much of the morning and at Five Rivers I meet a Canadian couple from Gatineau, cycle touring, also heading for a overnight stop at Kingston. I'm surprised how much quicker they are than me; but with their narrow tyred racing bikes, it's not a style of riding I am comfortable with. The mountains slowly close in on the road when I reach Otago but there are no real climbs before the small lakeside town of Kingston and a friendly motorcamp, cafe and pub.
_____ Invercargill first came to my attention when I saw the Sir Anthony Hopkins' movie: The World's Fastest Indian, where he plays the character of Bert Munro. Bert owned ,rode and modified a 600 cc. Indian motorcycle that he bought in 1920 until in 1967 he took it to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and got it to go at over 200 miles per hour. A great film well worth getting out on DVD.
_____ Bert's original bike is still in Invercargill, at Hayes' hardware store and the replica bike used in the film is on show at the museum. Oreti beach, where Bert did a lot of speed trials is just down the road. I stayed at Sparky's Backpackers and made Sparky put the film on; even though he had seen it over fifty times. Then the guy keeps coming in from the kitchen with various bits and pieces that he tells me are props from the film. The place to watch it, bar none.
____A dry day out of Ranfurly, sheep pastures of the Strath Taieri change to the sheep pastures of the Manitoto after the tunnels of Poolburn. The wind then gets up to gale force and progress is slow even though I’m going down hill after Wedderburn. The Commercial Hotel at Omakau is showing the final stages of the Ashes Cricket 5th Test. It seems a good idea to have an early finish.
____Alexandra finishes my Otago Central Rail Trail after a couple of hours down from Omakau. Back on the road, southbound to Roxburgh, where I have two punctures in quick succession. The back tyre had taken a tremendous pounding on the dirt trail and shows signs of broken cords. Alongside the Clutha river are many orchards with picking of apricots and cherries in full swing. The camp site at Ettrick has plenty of casual seasonal workers and the pub next door is buzzing on a Saturday night.
____I change the tyres from back to front; hoping to nurse the bike down to Gore for a re-fit. But another puncture soon takes my last patch. The hottest day of the tour and 15 kilometres from Gore, the tyre goes flat again; now I have to get off and push. After 5kms a pick-up truck stops and a good guy who does plenty of mountain bike riding loads up my bike and runs me into town; right up to the camp site. Thanks Mate, I owe you one.
____Down to the majestic Dunedin railway station bright and early for what was claimed to be one of the worlds greatest railway journeys. A trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway to the village of Pukerangi, high in the Otago interior. It was very scenic, through the wilderness country as the tracks followed the river; the engineering feats to create the route in the late 1800’s demand admiration, but I think claiming the line as a world great is a bit optimistic. At Pukerangi, I was back on two wheels in splendid isolation, high in pastures full of sheep with weird shaped outcrops of schist rock. Twenty-two kilometres later ,I came to Middlemarch; the start of my journey on the Otago Central Rail Trail. I make camp at Blind Billy’s Campground, where it rains heavily all night.
____Rain all day which spoils an awesome ride along the old pathway of the tracks that are a continuation of the line that brought me up from Dunedin. It is hard packed gravel which seems to drain remarkably well as there are few puddles and very little mud. It’s a busy trail with a lot of cycle tour companies doing packages for tourists; not many kitted out for carrying luggage; as many have their bags transported for them. A cup of tea at the old station house at Hyde and onto overnight accommodation at The Old PO Backpackers at Ranfurly.
____Out of Ashburton, bright and early on New Years Day. Highway 1 southbound is deserted except for me and the milk tankers. The flat Canterbury Plain seems to have as many cows grazing the grass as there is sheep. Through Temuka and onto Timaru for the night as the road again starts to follow the coast. Timaru, much like Taurango in the north, a busy container port and sea-side resort with a traditional carnival in town.
____ The flat road riding comes to an end when Canterbury turns into Otago. Also at Glenavy, the rain returns. I rent a cabin for the night at Oamaru, a remarkable town of splendid limestone buildings that seem unjustified by it’s size. A handy quarry with quality white stone and the proceeds of a long gone gold-rush are the reason for the unexpected architectural extravagance.
____ A wet morning dries by the time I reach All Day Bay, as the coast road switches between the beach and the cliff top. It’s hard going, after the flat roads of Canterbury, only compensated by an excellent fish and chip lunch at “Lockie’s” in Hampden. I knew it would be could when I saw the queue, a sure sign of a good chippie, the world over. An early finish, as I camp at Moeraki and head off along the beach to investigate the Moeraki Boulders; the Maltesers of the Gods, according to Maori legend.
____Moeraki to Dunedin and probably the hardest day on the bike so far. Beautiful coastal scenery on minor roads that twist and turn; climb and swoop. It’s signposted as a cycle route to Dunedin and as the Highway 1 is closed to bicycles, it’s the only way to go. Mount Cargill Road is long and winding but then drops me down into the city at the speed of sound. I book into an hotel for the night, quite near the city centre; in the morning I have to be up early because I have a train to catch.