New Zealand – Dunedin to Haast
Denis Kertz, ©2000
It was a mixed night. At first I could not sleep and I was very uncomfortable. I think I must have run a little fever and got the chills. Then after midnight I was OK and slept fairly well. I got up and retrieved my clothes and headed out. On my way out I noticed a flyer on the wall for Elm Wildlife of the Otago Peninsula that was much cheaper that the $89 one I was thinking of taking. I stopped for breakfast at a place that claimed to have banana pancakes. They were OK but nothing special. Then I stopped at the Internet place and managed to get to my email this time.
I walked back to the backpacker and inquired about the wildlife tour. It was only $40 with pickup at the backpacker so I signed up for the 1:30 departure. With time to kill I walked to the train station to find out about the Taieri Gorge railway. On Friday there was a 9:30 and 2:30 departure option. I chose the 2:30 time with assurance that I could switch to 9:30 if I wanted. Cost was $34 with no charge for the bike.
Since I was feeling not so great again I walked back to the backpacker and lay down. Breathing was a rasping effort. I was able to get about 1.5 hour nap and was able to breath normally again although I still could not talk very well. At 1:40 a van picked me up and we went to another backpacker, Elm Lodge, to wait for a bus to arrive. The bus was late so we did not get going until after 2:00. With the others, we had 8 passengers – me and 7 women – 2 from Holland, 2 from Germany, 1 from Israel, and 1 from Switzerland. Nathan, our driver was a student at Otago University working on a masters degree in marine science and a good guide.
We went out on a high road on the peninsula with a good view all around. Around a lake, Nathan stopped and pointed out the various bird life. We continued on to the Taiaora Head at the end of the peninsula. First we looked for albatross, the largest sea bird with a wing span of over 3m, and saw a couple flying even though it was very windy. The albatross can fly 100 kph and cover 500K per day with a recorded record of 1000K. Taiaora is the only mainland albatross colony in the world.
Nearby we saw a sea lion on the shore and several fur seals. Then we headed back a ways to a farm that was nursing four yellow eyed penguins, the rarest penguins in the world. Three were fledglings and one an undernourished adult. We arrived at feeding time and got to watch a helper stuff fish down their throats. Once he pried open the penguin’s mouth and got the fish started down the throat the penguins just swallowed the fish whole, presumably never having been told by their mother to chew thoroughly before swallowing.
Finally, we headed to a private beach on the east side and hiked down a ways to the beach. We saw a sea lion emerge from the bay and plop himself on shore. A little further we approached the colony of about 100 yellow-eyed penguins. The penguins leave in the early dawn to fish all day and return at dusk. We saw the penguins individually come back to shore, waddle across the beach, and then make their way up a hill to their living quarters with their mate. It was almost dark when we left to return home. This was a very good trip and well worth the $40. Almost certainly better than the other bigger tours at twice the cost.
I got back a little after 8:00 and tried calling Ken again but got another answering machine. Then I tried the two other Drew numbers and got an answering machine for Jenny. Later attempts resulted in the same response. So I walked back downtown to a country bar with food for a beer and a burger. There I met a guy from Middlemarch, where I would be staying tomorrow, who warned me not to stay at the advertised motorcamp as he felt it was a rip off. He suggested I talk to the guy at the store in town and he would have a reasonable backpacker.
By this time, I had gotten much of my voice back. Through the afternoon my throat congestion seemed to gradually improve where I could cough and clear out my throat and talk fairly normal at times.
I slept the best I had for some time, waking up at 6:30. I cleaned up but still felt a little tired so I lay down again. I rested until almost 9:30 but never actually slept. I thought about catching the 9:30 Taieri Gorge train which would have been easy to do but figured there wouldn’t be much to do in Middlemarch, my destination, if I got there early. Then I would just be tempted to hammer on. By waiting until 2:30, I was guaranteed I couldn’t do much riding.
Finally I had to drag myself out of bed to get out by the 10:00 checkout time. I packed everything up, got my bike out of storage, loaded it up, and headed downtown. I decided to try Planet Pancake for breakfast. I had their banana/bacon pancakes that were good although more of a crepe than a pancake. The Internet place was next door so I spent about 45 minutes handling email. I realized that Jenny had her email address in the phone book so I sent her a message that I had passed through and maybe she was lucky to miss me and my cold.
Now that I was up and around I was feeling better and my voice was pretty good. I had an ice cream and felt even better and basked in the sun as I watched people stroll around the Octagon. At 12:30, a guitarist took the stage in a small amphitheatre and played some Neil Young and similar songs. At 1:00 a woman fiddler joined him and they played some Scottish tunes. All quite good and a nice way to spend my time until my 2:30 train.
Then I wandered the few blocks to the train station. I got my bike loaded on the cargo car and sat back in my seat. My seat was a four-person booth with two seats across from each other with a table between. I had the booth to myself. I met a guy from Australia touring NZ on his bike. He was headed back to Wanaka after a side trip to Dunedin.
The train pulled out on time. The first part was not very interesting. Then as we got into the gorge where the Taieri River flowed, the third longest river in NZ, there were tall steep hills forested with dense trees and brush, much like western wilderness areas of US national forests. This was different from all my previous NZ scenery. About halfway through the ride, the scenery changed to towering, steep hills with some trees, grass, and some rock outcroppings. In some cases sheep were grazing on the steep hills that must have made a good sheep dog invaluable to locate and round up the sheep. As we neared Pukerangi, the end of the train ride, the gorge disappeared and the train emerged onto a grassland with rock outcroppings.
At one time, this train used to go all the way to Cromwell, providing an important transport mechanism for farming products from central Otago to Dunedin. Now the train is a tourist attraction that only goes as far as Middlemarch but only on Sundays. The rest of the time it stops at Pukerangi, which is a one-horse town if that big. When the train stopped, I collected my bike and set off on the 20K to Middlemarch. The road started out as gravel, changed to sealed, changed back to gravel again, and then back to sealed the rest of the way. The gravel was good gravel. Initially there were some climbing but the route was descending and flat so I made very good time. However, I discovered I couldn’t shift into my lowest gear for some reason. I was also concerned since some dark clouds loomed in the distance but no rain materialized.
In Middlemarch I stopped at the only store and inquired about a backpacker. I got a backpacker for $15 in a place undergoing renovation. It wasn’t perfect but satisfactory and I ended up the sole occupant for the night. The backpacker was also near a tavern where I went for a beer and some food. I ordered a small pitcher of beer for $3.50, a good price, but more beer than I thought. I had fish & chips, which were good except too salty.
I slept really well, probably 10 hours. I ate my breakfast of cereal and banana. Packing up was easy since my bike was in my room with the panniers on. I rode to the store for coffee and a paper. As I left the store the manager suggested taking the rail trail at Hyde to avoid a couple of hills.
The route today should be easy as it was not quite 70K to Ranfurly, the logical destination. The road was generally easy with some rollers. It paralleled the Rock and Pillar Range on the west with fields of sheep and some cattle between the mountains and the road. After 30K of pleasant riding I reached Hyde and took the rail trail that was gravel. I would have preferred the road but was worried about the two upcoming hills without the use of my lowest gear. So I chanced the gravel trail and it wasn’t too bad though better suited for a mountain bike. I even got to ride through a short, curved tunnel but forgot how dark it could get. Shortly it was so dark I could only tell I was riding in the middle of the trail. Then the light from the other end came into view and I survived.
After 5K on the trail I had the option of picking up the road again but I could see the second hill and while it didn’t look too bad I was sure I would need at least my second low gear. So I stayed with the trail for another 5K until Kokonga. This section was a little rougher and caused me to dismount momentarily a couple of times. When I picked up the road again at Kokonga, the two big hills were behind and I was glad to be back on a smooth surface.
In the distance I could now see the Kakanui Mountains as I headed into the Maniototo Plains, wide-open space ringed by low, brown mountain ranges in the distance. It was an easy ride the rest of the way into Ranfurly, the main town in the area. It had a motorcamp but I checked into a backpacker accommodation at the hotel and got a reasonable one for $10 across the street from the hotel that I had to myself and was able to keep my bicycle in the room..
After cleaning up, I walked across the street back into town, did a little food shopping and ate at a café (Thai beef on rice and noodles). Then I stopped at the hotel lounge for a beer to write my notes. I also picked up a free copy of “Shearing – the magazine for all the shearing world” and learned more about shearing than I wanted to know (do NOT shear sheep when they are wet). I decided not to order a subscription. When I went back to the backpacker lounge and turned on the TV, I got to watch a guy set the world record for the number of merino sheep sheared in a day. A fitting end to a NZ day.
I didn’t sleep as well as the previous night, probably because I slept so much the previous night. I got up and had my usual breakfast. I’ve pretty much decided if NZ is going to offer uninspiring breakfasts I’ll just provide my own. I’ve also pretty much decided that backpackers are the place to stay. For just a few more dollars than a tent site, you get a reasonable bed using your sleeping bag and protection from the weather. You do give up some privacy but with the off-season often you get privacy too although not guaranteed.
The weather was very foggy and cool at 8C. As I started out I could see the sun was trying to fight through and it did within about 45 minutes. Initially there was a slight gradient that I could tell as I was going slower than normal. After going mostly uphill for a while, the table turned and I was doing mostly easy gradients with a few occasional short climbs. I passed several fields with domestic deer and found their reaction to a cyclist interesting. When sheep see you on a bicycle, they give you a dumb founded look like they’ve never seen a cyclist before and often only one or two sheep notice. When you pass a field of deer, they all notice and you can tell because suddenly a pack of ears are up and faced towards you like a V. They watch carefully as you cycle by to decide whether to bolt or stay in place. Most likely this is due to their wild heritage instinct that protected them from danger in previous generations.
After 60K I stopped at Omakau for refreshments. I resumed cycling at just after 1:00. My PP guide reported a steep 1K climb coming up that I was concerned about with my missing low gear. However, the climb was only about 0.4K and no problem. I also think I am climbing better now. I’ve been cycling for three weeks and my experience is that’s about what it takes to get in really good condition.
In a little while I took the turnoff to Clyde. I had considered continuing to Alexandra because they have a bicycle shop. However, I was climbing OK and the shop might not be open on a Sunday. Moreover if I need a part delivered I would rather layover in Queenstown. So it was on to Clyde on a cutover road.
When I reached SH 8, I was faced with a 2K fairly steep climb to the Clyde Dam that created Lake Dunston. The lake was very scenic as it wound through steep hills on both sides with clear blue-green water. From the dam to Cromwell the road undulated along the eastern border of the lake. Easily the best vista of the day.
As I neared Cromwell, I crossed the bridge just north of Cromwell to reach SH 6 that would take me to Queenstown tomorrow. From SH 6 I took the exit into Cromwell and quickly found a motorcamp with a backpackers for $15 ($8 for tent site). The backpacker was very nice with two bedrooms and two beds in each bedroom but each bed was separated by a wall that afforded reasonable privacy. On this night I had the place to myself. I also got a key to a bike storage room where I locked up my bike for the night.
After cleaning up, I walked to a nearby tearoom for fish & chips and milk for breakfast. Later I learned a motel at the Cromwell exit had an Internet PC so I retrieved my bike to check my email. On my return I stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of beer for later and returned home. Sometime around 8:30 after I retired to my room someone else checked in the other room but I never saw the person.
I got up just before 7:00, cleaned up, and ate my usual breakfast. Then I retrieved my bike and loaded up and was off by 8:00. Looking for coffee, I didn’t find anything open so I stopped at the lodge by the Cromwell exit. I asked for coffee and toast and was told I could get it as part of the continental breakfast setup for $5.50 so I went for it and had another bowl of cereal along with toast and read the paper.
Shortly after 9:00, I shoved off. The first 7-8K were flat with Cromwell surrounded by low mountains. Then began a long, moderate climb up the Kawarau Gorge. In several places the road was in bad shape, looking like a touring cyclist carried too much gear and the road caved in. After 30K, the gorge widened into the Gibbotson Valley where vineyards lined both sides of the road. After another 10K I stopped at the famous Kawarau Bridge, the site of the first bungy jump. After a quick look around, I road across a new bridge and watched my first bungy jump from a vantage point. The victim arced in a dive and did a head dunk in the river. A raft was used to retrieve the victim.
In a short while I neared Frankton where the Kawarau River starts its journey from Lake Wakatipu to empty into Lake Dunston. Traffic picked up noticeably as houses dotted the lakeside. Pulling into Queenstown, it was an easy matter to find the city center and info center where I stopped to find accommodation. I got a list of backpackers, about 10 places and most near the centre, and started checking locations on the map. I picked one a block away to check, figuring the further from the lake the more likely to be available and cheaper.
When I found the first backpacker, the guy said everybody had checked out on Monday but he had no place to lock up my bike inside so I ruled him out. Then I noticed a big motorcamp across the street and checked it out. I found I could get their basic cabin with four beds and a desk for $30, compared to the regular season rate of $38. So I signed up for three nights.
After unloading my equipment, I walked back to the camp office where I arranged for a Milford Sound bus trip tomorrow - $160. Then I walked downtown to a bike shop to have them check out my bike. The mechanic was too busy for the day but said he would check it tomorrow. He thought it was just a matter of adjustment but I had my doubts. Then I walked through town. Queenstown, as expected given its tourism fame, had restaurants all over the place. Every other store seemed to offer arrangements for tourist activities. I found a chemist (drug store) that had my Kodak film so I bought three more rolls of 36 exposure. Or at least I tried to buy them until I discovered my VISA card was missing. So I scurried back to the motorcamp office and found it there. While back in camp, I cleaned up and headed back to town to get my film.
Now looking for food, I found two places with pancakes so breakfast looked promising. I decided to check out a Pizza Hut and see if I could get real pizza. When I got there at 4:00, I was told they had an all-you-can-eat at 5:00 so I left to kill some time. I took care of email at an Internet place and returned to the Pizza Hut shortly after 5:00. The pizza was OK. Fortunately, I got there early as 20 minutes later a group of about 15 guys trouped in and kind of dominated the place. Then I walked back and bought some food for the trip tomorrow and walked to a nearby bar for my beer and notes.
I slept terrible, a couple of hours at first then tossing and turning the rest of the night. I didn’t need the alarm clock I borrowed as I was awake at 6:10. I cleaned up and ate a quick, typical breakfast and walked downtown to the Fiordland Travel office for check-in at 6:55. There were two buses, each holding about 40 people. I got my own seat by the window.
When we left, we weren’t full but made a couple of stops and only had 3-4 empty seats. Once we got to the southern turnoff at Frankton the ride became scenic as mountains bound the southern protrusion of Lake Wakitipu on both sides down to the lakeshore. I was glad I wasn’t cycling. There was no shoulder to speak of and no room to bail out with the road right up against the mountains/hills. Then to make matters worse the road was twisting and winding creating visibility problems.
Once we got past the lake, the scene opened up with sheep farms with a fair number of deer and some cattle. There were a LOT of sheep. I probably saw more sheep today than in all of the previous days. Of course, some of this was due to covering a lot of ground, ~600K, in a day and some double counting from covering the same route twice. But the sheep were also denser than other areas.
It took about 2.5 hours to reach Te Anau, our first potty break stop. However, there was some contention for the restrooms as the buses stopped at the same places at about the same time. We had about a 20-minute break.
I looked forward to the Lake Te Anau scenery along the road with the mountains on the other side but was disappointed. There was enough foliage and trees that the lake was hidden most of the way. Beyond the lake we passed into Fiordland National Park, largest park in NZ. The further we went the denser the foliage got due to the extensive rain this area gets.
There were several stops along the way for photo opportunities but several were uninspiring – Mirror Lake and the Chasm. The Chasm wasn’t much more than a waterfall amidst some rocks. There were 17 buses in the parking lot when we pulled in and the line of people in the 500m roundtrip trail looked like the line at a wake. However, as we got closer and closer to Milford Sound the mountains soared in dramatic fashion. They took off almost straight vertically and closer to the road. Finally the mountains came together in a cirque that would have been impossible to pass except for a 2K tunnel burrowed through the mountains. With this passageway we reached the other side and descended dramatically via switchbacks to the Milford Valley.
In a few minutes we reached the Sound that is actually a Fiord because Milford was created by glacier carving and a Sound is created by a river. At one time an attempt was made to rename Milford Sound to Milford Fiord but the name was too engraved in people’s minds and the name was left unchanged. We boarded our ship and took off just after 1:00. The Sound was very impressive with near vertical mountains rising above the water with a couple of waterfalls. We cruised along the southern border out to the Tasman Sea and turned around and cruised back along the northern edge for a 1 hour 40 minute cruise. It was very windy on the way out but mostly calm on the return.
At 3:00 we started back on the bus as did almost everybody else. I counted 16 buses creeping up the switchbacks to the tunnel. On the other side the mountains were even more impressive than before as the visibility was better. We retraced our way back to Te Anau and stopped for a 20-minute break. At 5:20 we struck out for Queenstown and I saw more sheep. The sheep farms were really beautiful with their yellow and green fields bounded by brown mountains.
When we reached Lake Wakitipu, dusk was at hand and again I was glad I wasn’t cycling on this road. Back in town, the bus driver made several drop offs and I got off downtown. I stopped at the bike shop to check on my bike but the mechanic was gone for the day and no one else knew anything. Then I retired to a bar to write my notes.
All in all not a bad day. I got to see some great sights that I would have taken quite a while on a bike. On the other hand, this day reminded me why I cycle tour. When cycling you can gaze at scenes longer and stop when and where you want for photos. Potty breaks are where and when you want them and you don’t have to fight a crowd. And you see vistas the old-fashioned way – you earn them.
I slept better and got up early. I got downtown for breakfast at about 7:30 and discovered the place I was going to eat didn’t open until 9:00. By the time I found the other place I had scouted out it was just after 8:00 and they had just opened. So I had banana pancakes that were pretty good. I was told the bike shop opened at 8:30 but they didn’t today. So I took care of some email and got back to the shop at about 9:30. I had to pay $5 for the adjustment to the shifter and was relieved that was all it took. I rode the bike back to my cabin as a test ride and stored it in my cabin.
I messed around a good part of the rest of the day. Did some wash, read some of my book. Finally, mid-afternoon I walked down to the wharf and signed up ($32) for a steamboat ride across the lake at 4:00 on the TSS Earnslaw. This was the largest steamboat every built in NZ. It went across the lake to the Walter Peak High Country Farm, a 45-minute one-way trip. Once out of the Queenstown harbor, there was a scenic view of the lake surrounded by mountains.
After the trip I went back to the same bar as last night for dinner. Then I bought a couple of beers and retired to my cabin.
I slept well and got up at 7:00. I wandered downtown and bought a paper that predicted good weather. I stopped at one of the places offering pancakes but this one advertised all-you-can-eat and unlimited coffee refills. The pancakes were honest-to-god buttermilk. I had a second stack of 3 and then another stack of 2 with several cups of coffee, all for $9. Then I packed up and was ready to go except I couldn’t find my cycling gloves. I checked at the motorcamp and info center but no luck. So I wandered to the bike to buy a new pair and as I was pulling out my bike lock from my front pannier I found my gloves tucked away in between my pannier and the trash bag liner I use to waterproof my pannier.
So off I went, up a short little hill leading out of downtown. Then I started having trouble with my chain shifting from the middle to the inner chainring. When I tried cheating my shifter to the outer chainring, the chain started sticking between the middle and outer chainring. Finally, my chain broke and I stopped.
The chain broke at the Power Link used to connect the chain together. I guess it lost its power. So I fished my chain tool out and removed a link to put it back together and was off. Shortly I realized I made a mistake. I had planned to go via Arrowtown and thought there would be a turnoff right out of town but I think the road to Arrow town started right in town. Rather than retreat I continued on. Later, I could have gone to Arrowtown but then I would have had to come right back out to the main road so I left Arrowtown for another day.
I continued on to the Crown Range Road turnoff. This road is the shortest way to Wanaka but is very steep and partially gravel. The safer way to Wanaka is via Cromwell but its considerably longer plus I had already been on the part of the road to Cromwell. Previously I had asked the mechanic at the bike shop about this road and he didn’t think the gravel was much of a problem so I decided to be adventurous. Immediately after the turnoff I started a steep 2K climb via switchbacks. Fortunately I had my lowest gear back and I needed it. I inched my way up at 6-7 kph. At the top was a lookout point and the vista was worth every inch of the climb. Just a glorious panoramic view of the valley below. This is why you climb.
Finally I tore myself away and continued on. The scenery looking ahead was also great – golden and green fields set against a gold mountain on the west. Then I was jolted back to reality and the sealed road changed to gravel. The plan had been to seal this entire road but a major flood last November undid some of the prep work and delayed the sealing. But the road was good gravel and not really a problem with my tires.
Then the road took off to the sky in its climb to the highest point of a NZ highway at 1080m. Again, my lowest gear came through despite the occasional loss of some traction on the gravel due to the gradient. Then my chain broke again. At this point I was afraid my chain was not intended to be used without the Power Link. This time I fished my chain tool out and kept it handy. I removed another link and reconnected the chain. However, when I took off again, the chain broke almost immediately.
Now I was really concerned. Maybe I would have to hitchhike to Wanaka and admit Crown Range defeat. But I took another link out and put the chain back on, being careful to make sure I got the pin far enough through to the other link, which I probably didn’t on the previous attempt. Realizing that the greatest stress on the chain was going to be this climb, I started out as smoothly as I could and tried to pedal smoothly. I knew I could make this climb but the question was whether my chain could.
This climb of about 3K was truly impressive because you could see the grade as it wound its way along the side of the mountain. Often times you can only see the immediate section of the climb and looking head on doesn’t reveal the grade. Here I saw exactly what I was climbing and it was satisfying that I could do it. Finally, I reached the top with a great view looking back towards Queenstown. I could see Lake Wakitipu and part of Queenstown. One of the best and most satisfying climbs of my touring career and worth all the effort although I could have done without the chain breaks.
Then I started a steep descent on a sealed part of the road. Beautiful as the descent wound through steep hills on both sides. After 5K the road changed back to gravel and I had to keep my speed carefully under control. The gravel was mostly OK but was uneven in spots. After 10K the gravel changed to sealed again and the going was really smooth as I pedaled effortlessly on a very mild downhill gradient, even despite a little headwind. But I worked to keep my pedaling smooth, hoping to make Wanaka with my chain intact.
Just outside of town I encountered a 1.5K stretch of gravel again. Later I learned that this section of road had been sealed but washed out in the November flood. Then I pulled into town and made my way along the lake front to the town center. I headed down the main street and stopped at a place called Cycles and Mowers. I paid $55 for a new Shimano chain and had the owner install it. As he installed the chain, he told me about the November flood and how the floodwaters had reached the top of his workbench.
Then I checked the backpacker accommodations. I stayed at a new place for $17 in a four-person room and locked my bike in the bike shed. I walked downtown to check out restaurants. When I stopped in a pizza place that offered all you could eat for $13.50 including salad, chips, bread, and desert, I knew I had come to the right place. The pizza was even pretty good with some real cheese in it. A great day for food with all-you-can-eat pancakes and pizza for $22.50 – truly a steal for about $12US. Then I retired to a bar for beer and my notes.
I got up just before 7:00 and quietly cleaned up and walked downtown. I found a place with a newspaper and ate at a place with pancakes that were good but only two pancakes. I figured I’d have to augment with some cereal. Weather report looked good through Sunday with Monday somewhat iffy and rain predicted for Tuesday/Wednesday.
When I walked back to the backpacker I wandered into the lounge and noticed a topological style map of the area with trails and huts marked. I noticed a trail to the top of Mt. Roy that was not far away. It was billed as a 5-6 hour roundtrip and promised panoramic views. After some debate I decided to stay another day and do the trip and I was glad I did.
I gathered my things into my daypack, collected my bike from the bike shed and was off. It was an easy 6K ride to the trail head where there were four cars parked. I locked my bike and took off. This hike was a climb via switchbacks almost all the way up until the final ascent when the trail made the top via the backside of the mountain. It was fairly strenuous and took me two hours to make the trip.
Mt. Roy afforded spectacular views of the surroundings at 1578m. You could see all the way to the end of Lake Wanaka and see the mountains in Mt. Aspiring National Park. It was an incredible view, the best of NZ so far, and I exhausted my weekly quota of photos in an hour. While I was at the top, a couple from Holland and a young woman from Germany joined me. I could have stayed much longer but left after about 45 minutes since four more folks were about to join us.
The trip down was harder than I expected, taking only about 10 minutes less than the climb. When I reached the bottom, I was pretty tired. After some stretching I headed back to town and immediately downed a sports drink as I had exhausted my water bottle on Mt. Roy.
Rehydrated, I went back to the backpacker, locked up my bike, and washed my sweaty clothes. Then I wandered downtown for an email check. Then I decided I had worked hard enough to earn another all-you-can-eat pizza fest. When I got to the restaurant, the owner warned me that 50 kids were due in about 10 minutes. So I hustled up my eating and almost completed before the horde was turned loose. I ate my desert at an outside table to avoid the screaming mad house. Then I bought two beers and enjoyed them back at the backpacker. I also swapped my just completed paperback for another as this place offered paperback exchange.
I got up just before 7:00 and walked downtown for breakfast. I went to the same place as yesterday but when I ordered the pancakes I asked for three rather than the normal two. The weather report looked good through Monday except for some northwest winds today. In fact, it was already fairly windy in town, which caused me to rethink about leaving.
It was 145K to Haast so I knew I wouldn’t make that with the headwind. But I knew I could at least make Lake Hawea at 15K. Then it was another 50K to Makarora, the next town and only stop until another 80K to Haast. So I packed up and noticed a woman cyclist riding through town.
I rode out of town on a little climb. It was windy but I just geared down. There were a couple of hills before Lake Hawea but nothing major although the wind was pretty strong. Alongside the rode I noticed a cyclist who appeared to be tying things down and it was the woman cyclist I saw earlier in town. I continued to Lake Hawea and stopped for a Coke at a service station along the rode and saw the woman cyclist pass by.
It was too early, only about 11:00, to quit so I headed down the rode along the west side of Lake Hawea. This was a beautiful lake with ever-rising rugged mountains along the east side. The road meandered along the lakeside for about 10K including a nice lookout point. Along the way I passed another cyclist who I thought might be the woman cyclist but it turned out to be a Japanese guy. When I approached him at the lookout it was obvious he knew little English so I didn’t attempt any real conversation.
After the lookout, the road headed downhill and then away from Lake Hawea and towards Lake Wanaka. At that point I could see what looked like rain in the mountains on the other side of Lake Wanaka. Shortly, I felt a few drops and started scouting out a place for shelter if needed. Finally, I spotted a little shed made of corrugated metal roofing at a turnoff. Taking this as an omen, I stopped and wheeled my bicycle inside where there was just enough room and waited out the weather.
It never did more than a good drizzle but I stayed for almost an hour. While waiting out the rain, an Aussie stopped by in a car to chat and talk about cycling. At one point he made a remark that indicated he thought I was from NZ. I told him I couldn’t be from NZ because I didn’t have the accent. He remarked that he thought I was an educated New Zealander! On the other hand, in Queenstown I saw a T-shirt that said – “My dad says when I grow up I can do anything except play for Australia.”
When the weather looked better, I started again, passing through the Neck, a thin strip of land separating the two lakes. Shortly after the road started along Lake Wanaka it started drizzling again. I stopped under a tree that blocked most of the wind and rain but after 20 minutes there was no improvement in the weather and it was getting late. So I reluctantly donned my rain gear and headed out again. The rain drizzled off and on the rest of the way. In a while the headwind diminished somewhat but the final 17K to Makarora was not fun and visibility was pretty marginal.
Shortly before Makarora I stopped at a café and found I still had 5K to go. I was tempted to stay and eat but was afraid I might not get going again so I pushed on. I stopped at the first place I saw in town, a store, and inquired about accommodations. A cabin was $40 and a backpacker $17 so I took the backpacker, a four bed unit which already had a resident who I assumed was the Japanese cyclist. However, when I got there I found the woman cyclist, Suzanne from Vienna, Austria, whom I had seen several times during the day. The backpacker unit was a cozy A-frame with two sides built out to accommodate two beds on each side. It had a shower and a nice little kitchen. All in all one of the best backpacker units I found in NZ.
After cleaning up, I walked back to the store where I saw the Japanese guy who apparently was camping despite the weather. The restaurant part of the store was closed so I bought my favorites – two cans of Mexican chili and two beers – good enough to get me through any night. I devoured the chili and then talked with Suzanne as I wrote my notes. Suzanne started in Christchurch and did a similar route to mine except she went down to Invercargill and Te Anau where she took a van to Milford Sound. She only had a couple of weeks left but was thinking about extending her stay.
When I woke up at 7:00, the sky was cloudy but a little blue sky was showing through. I was in no hurry to leave, figuring the longer I waited the more the clouds would clear up. So I let Suzanne have the run of the place and she left at 9:00. Then I ate breakfast and packed up leaving just before 10:00. By that time there were blue patches in the sky and it was looking better to the west.
The road alternated between forest lined road and open river flats. The mountains narrowed in on the valley until the climb to Haast Pass began, a 3K climb with the last K a steep climb. Then it was an initial steep descent amidst towering forested mountains that were so close to the road it was a strain to gaze up at them. As I descended I saw a couple of regular cyclists heading uphill. I thought this was a local group out on a Sunday ride but then I started seeing more cyclists. Finally, the mystery was revealed as a van passed pulling a trailer with the name Backroads. This was a supported cycle touring group.
For most of the rest of the way, cycling was relatively easy with a small climb followed by an easy run out. My legs had started out feeling dead and the climb to the pass didn’t help but as I rode on they recovered and felt fine. There were nice views of forested mountains as the road descended along side the Hasst River. There was a great view of Mt. Hooker and its glaciers in the distance. At about 10K to go to Haast, the mountains receded and the area opened up, giving up its scenic views.
I pulled into the Haast area unsure where the backpacker because there was a Haast Township, a Haast Bridge, and a Haast Beach that all had something. Fortunately, I turned off to the Township and found it right away. $15 got me a bed in a room with two bunk beds. At just after 3:00, I was first in the room, staked my claim, and cleaned up. I did a little food shopping where I saw the Japanese cyclist and walked around town a bit before I headed for the nearby tavern for a dinner of fish & chips and beer. Today ended up a beautiful day with almost no clouds and low 20C.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2000. All rights reserved.