Gore, March 2
I left Invercargill a couple days ago with a terrific tail wind, but have been paying the price ever since. That wind was so strong it sometimes took considerable effort to stop the bike on level ground! I didn't camp on the coast as planned, because of the wind, but it was still a nice ride through some native forests. One cyclist going the other way, descending a hill about as slowly as I was ascending, shouted "What an easy die!" (That's Kiwi for "day".) The next day brought headwinds, rain, and sleet as I rode up the Clutha river valley to the north. Even with that weather, it was a nice ride along the river. It sounds like the dam project that would flood that section has run into a lot of opposition. At the campsite that night I ran into a bunch Americans on one of these $200/day bike tours. Most of them sagged much of the day. I chatted with some of them, but they come from a different world. The next day was one of those when I had to keep reminding myself that at least it wasn't raining. Plenty of sun, not too cool, but into a roaring headwind all day. I'm planning a shorter day today, though still into the wind. The wind is supposed to die down this afternoon.
The plan is to loop back west of Invercargill to the south coast again, then head north towards Te Annau and Queenstown. If it looks like more of these cold, wet southerlies are coming, though, I may skip the coast and head more directly north.
Time to get some groceries and hit the road.
Drought on the South Coast
Well, it did indeed look like there was going to be more cold, nasty weather on the south coast, so I abandoned the plan to return to the coast west of Invercargill. Instead, I rode directly toward Manapouri and Te Annau.
Since leaving Gore, I've still been paying for that day of tailwinds, with consistent headwinds. "Againsterlies", coined by an American cyclist I met. West towards Te Annau, I left the farm country for heavy-duty tourist territory. More German and Japanese is spoken there than Kiwi English. I spent a beautiful day hiking from Te Annau, then another fighting the wind up the gravel road to catch the steamship "Earnslaw" across lake Wakatipu to Queenstown. Queenstown is sort of like the Wisconsin Dells, but with mountains. The next morning, the drought ended, with 30 hours of continuous rain. I did learn that, for a change, I have a tent that doesn't leak. After waiting out a whole day of rain in Queenstown, I rode the 21 km to Arrowtown, just a small village by comparison. There's a very nice motor camp there, where I got a cheap cabin and hung everything up to dry. We had quite a bicycle convention that evening, with a couple from Auckland, another couple from Oregon, and a young guy from Sweden. (The woman from Oregon coined "againsterlies".) Unfortunately, none were going my way. The next day, I walked up Tobin’s Track, which eventually connects with the very high Crown Range Road. On previous trips, I've pushed my bike up that way, but it was sure a lot easier without the bike. Later, I tracked down an old friend from my first trip 13 years ago. Cicely is 78 now, her husband died last December, but she still invited me for a visit and put me up for the night.
Well, I've been pretty lazy the past few days, so it's time to start riding again. I'll be leaving the other tourists again as I head east and then north on the back roads. It would be nice to have some dry weather for doing all that gravel, but the farmers still need a lot more rain. Things are starting to green up a bit, though. Up until a couple days ago, I hadn't seen a green blade of grass anywhere.
The dogs in New Zealand never cease to amaze me. I'm seeing trained sheep dogs, of course. On a couple occasions I've ridden right through a mob of 20 or so dogs, and not one paid the least attention to me. Don't try that at home in Wisconsin! The other amazing thing is the way the farmers drive around with dogs on the backs of their little flat-bed trucks. They must be valuable dogs, so you wouldn't think they would want to risk losing any, but every time they go around a corner the dogs are scrambling for footing. I guess they've weeded out the genes that can't stay on the truck. “Whatever happened to Scott, anyway?” “Killed by a flying dog in New Zealand.”
Your midwest snowstorm even made the Dunedin newspaper. Hope you all can get some last-minute skiing out of it before you turn to cycling again.
Feb. 28, Fire Danger "Extreme" March 11, Cyclist Ends Drought
Crossing Lake Wakatipu, the Earnslaw
Post Bike in Arrowtown
Wanaka, March 18
Wanaka should be my last stop before going over the pass to the West Coast. Yesterday was one of those classic "againsterly" days. The wind had to shift 180 degrees at mid-day so it could blow in my face the whole way. So I'm having a lazy day today.
My attempt to wait out the rain in Cromwell failed, and I rode the last 31 km to Alexandra in the rain. But after that the rain cleared and the weather has been great ever since. I rode north through some very isolated country on some gravel roads, over Dansey’s Pass and Hakataramea Pass, and eventually ended up at Lake Tekapo. That's in what they call "MacKenzie Country", a basin surrounded by mountains. The weather usually seems to be good there. It's also the heart of New Zealand's largest hydroelectric facility, with dams and canals all over. The big lakes are natural, but have been raised, so the natural shorelines are gone. Still nice country.
From Tekapo, I rode over to near Mt. Cook National Park, with spectacular
views of the mountain the whole way. I camped there two nights, and took a
day trip up to the park itself to go for a hike. Lots of sunscreen required.
Then I rode south to Omarama, where I had dinner with a friend I met 10 years
ago. Quite a change, as he now has a family including 3 young children.
There were also a couple other cyclists in the campground, a German woman
and a Dutch guy, so we had interesting conversations in the evening.
Isolated sheep station near Hakataramea Pass
Hakataramea Pass, 1015 Meters
Then yesterday it was time to ride over Lindis Pass to Wanaka. Along the way, I met another German, a young guy with an incredible load, which included 3 juggling batons the size of bowling pins! The pass wasn't bad, but the headwinds started right after the summit. I'm still paying for that first day of tailwinds, I guess.
Next I'll cross over the easy Haast Pass to the
West Coast and start north. The forecast is good, but they don't
call it the "Wet Coast" for nothing. Still, I'm hoping there will be
some relief from the tiresome traffic I've had on the main roads lately.
German Juggler's Bike
Greymouth, March 24
After the last report from Wanaka, I had planned to ride 145 km over the pass to Haast in a single day, but the wind scuttled that plan. With a vicious headwind the first day, I only made it as far as Makarora, where I met Mark, the Welsh chef from Wellington. (That's a long story.) We had an interesting evening of talk, then headed in opposite directions. Other than the direction of the wind, it had been a beautiful day. The next day wasn't so windy, but still in the wrong direction. Again in sunshine, I did make over Haast Pass to the coast. Sandflies and mosquitoes in the campground were pretty bad, but at least it was dry. There I again met Paul, a genuine Kiwi cyclist, which is rare indeed. I had briefly talked to him in Wanaka, and there's only one road. We ended up meeting at nearly every stop all the way to Hokitika. We made no attempt to ride together, as there's far too much traffic for conversation on the road. Paul is a young guy from Wellington, who also works as a chef. He didn't know Mark, but maybe there's some reason chefs ride bicycles, or vice versa.
The next day I started the ride north up the coast, on a cloudy but dry day with, you guessed it, another headwind. Not strong, though. I got to Fox Glacier in time to walk up to the glacier itself, or as close as the authorities would allow. Both the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef a bit further north come to within a few km of the sea, and at very low elevation as well, thanks to the extremely heavy snowfall in the mountains above.
That night in Fox Glacier, the rains began. Strangely, even when it rains hard here, the rain falls in fine droplets. Doesn't sound that bad hitting the tent, but soon everything in sight is thoroughly soaked. The night was comfortable enough, but some water started to accumulate under the tent and soak through the floor by morning. No matter, when I took it down in the rain there was no way to prevent it from getting completely wet anyway. I decided to just ride the 23 km to Franz Josef, but it poured the whole way. That wasn't a good plan, it turned out, as most everything was booked up in Franz, and another night in the already soaked tent wasn't appealing at all. Finally found an overpriced room, but at least it was dry. A lazy afternoon of waiting out the rain, but I figure I earned it after climbing those three big hills from Fox in the rain. Since I was all out of dry clothes, I didn't make the trip to the Franz Josef glacier in the rain.
At any rate, the next morning dawned clear in Franz Josef, so I hit the road early, a couple liters of rain water wrapped up in the tent, etc. It turned out to be a fantastic day, with lots of sunshine and light winds. The first day in a long time without headwinds. I even found a nice back road detour into Hokitika, which led me right to the motor camp. Shortly after I arrived, Paul rolled in. He came into town a different way, but there's only one motor camp. There was just time to get the tent dried out before evening. I watched the sunset out over the Tasman Sea, big waves crashing on the beach. It was a mild night, but I think half the Tasman Sea condensed on my tent.
It was only a short ride of 45 km to Greymouth today, where I have ham radio friends to visit. An absolutely perfect day, temperature about 20 C, sunshine. And, would you believe it, a TAILWIND! I took my time in the morning, drying things out, then had a relaxed ride to Greymouth. Even found another detour off the highway.
Haast Pass Bob and Barbara, Greymouth
After another nice day in Greymouth last week, I departed in light rain for Reefton, a coal mining town inland a ways. It wasn't unpleasant riding in the warm rain, aside from a construction zone, which made a real mess of the bike. Most of the way, I rode on the quiet road through Blackball. The motor camp was almost deserted, so it was no problem getting a nice, dry cabin for the night.
"Formerly" The Blackball Hilton
From Reefton, it was a cloudy but warm and dry ride to Murchison. The route up the Buller Gorge passes through an area which has had some very severe earthquakes. You can still see the rockslide sites, and parts of the old road. In Murchison, I'd been instructed to look up another ham operator, one whom I had never met on the radio. Rex and his wife put me up for the night, naturally, and Rex and I spent the evening talking about antennas, etc.
The next day to Motueka was a bit longer than usual, at 130 km, but turned out to be an easy ride. Weather was warm, with a little drizzle at times, but only a light headwind for a change. I took the "Dry Weather Road" to bypass Hope Saddle and the busy highway. Though gravel, it turned out to be easy riding, with much easier climbs than I expected. The 3 fords were even dry. At one rest stop by the highway, I was driven out by bumblebees, which seemed to think the plastic bag containing my food was a giant flower. Motueka is a very popular area, as it has just about the best weather in New Zealand. In addition to lots of retirees, the area also attracts lots of "alternative lifestyle" people. I'm not sure how they make their livings, though some think a lot of them are on the dole. In any case, I arrived at the home of my old friends Russ and Zelda to a warm welcome. They are both radio hams, and I've known them for about 10 years. They even visited Bonnie and me in Madison a few years ago.
After just one night with Russ and Zelda, I decided to head to the far north, with the idea of getting back to Motueka before the Easter holiday traffic picked up. It rained all the way to Collingwood, but it was quite warm, and not uncomfortable. Once again, a dry cabin and the clothes dryer at the motor camp made things very comfortable at the end of the day. The next day dawned clear and sunny for a day trip to the north end of the road. An easy 23 km ride each way leads to some nice walks to the beaches along Farewell Spit. It was very windy on the north coast, and easy to understand where the sand dunes came from. When I arrived back in Collingwood, who should I meet at the motor camp but Paul, the cyclist from Wellington. I don't think I'll run into him again now, but one never knows. Touring cyclists are getting pretty scarce now.
For the ride back to Motueka, I had another dry day, with plenty of sunshine. It got a bit windy later, but not too bad. I had some time to kill in Takaka, so I had the bike shop clean up my bike. It sure is nice not to have to listen to all that grinding noise any more! I even found some nice back roads that day, as holiday traffic on the highway was already picking up.
Back at Russ and Zelda's place in Motueka, it was time to relax. Russ and I spent part of a couple days helping a friend of his work on antennas, and we've spent a lot of time just visiting. Yesterday, two women I contacted on one of the internet cycle touring groups stopped by to visit. Christine and Madi live in the area, but are leaving in a couple days to begin a cycle tour across the US. I expect they have quite an adventure ahead of them, though I tried to talk them into coming to Wisconsin to sample some of our great cycling roads.
Now for a couple more relaxing days. One of Russ and Zelda's
sons runs a local sea kayaking outfit, so I signed up for a trip for Monday.
Then I'll get back on the road for a few more days before beginning the long
trek back to Madison.
North coast beach near Farewell Spit
Christchurch, April 9
In Christchurch it definitely feels like autumn. Quite a shock, after lots of balmy weather further north.
I've been more of a tourist than a cyclist lately. While I was still staying with Russ and Zelda in Motueka, I did a nice day trip by bike on Easter Sunday, then the next day did a kayak trip with an outfit run by one of their sons. The kayak trip was on an absolutely beautiful day, with just enough wave action to make things interesting. We got quite a ride on the last landing, when the boat actually got to surfing down a big wave. Unlike the boat ahead of us, my English partner and I managed to keep the boat upright. Then we got some exercise, as the tide was out and we had to drag the boats a good long way across the tidal flats. Tides are close to 4 meters here. They had nice little carts for the boats, though.
The next day I said farewell to Russ and Zelda. I survived a bus trip east to the other side of Nelson, the driver a real kamikaze. It probably would have been safer to take my chances with the traffic on my bike. I had planned to spend a couple days riding up amongst the Marlborough Sounds, but the wet weather made those gravel roads seem pretty unattractive. So it was just a short ride the next day to Picton, to finish up my New Zealand cycle tour. I had one more lazy day in Picton watching the ferries, playing recorder, and basking in the sun. The last morning in Picton, I met another touring cyclist, Ian, from some island off the northern end of Scotland. He was the first I've seen with less gear than I have. He said he only had 5 kg, and that's all it looked like. When I asked him what he did when all his clothes got wet, he said he just wore them until they dried. He didn’t even have a water bottle, as there are plenty of streams in NZ. He did concede that he had two pairs of underwear. Both of us agreed that the Germans carrying 35 kg were completely mad. No doubt they think the same of us.
Later that afternoon, I caught the train back to Christchurch. Along the way, the warm weather was replaced by something distinctly cooler, with plenty of rain.
The next day was cool, with only a little rain. I took a bus over to the old French town of Akaroa for the day. The route is over and around an old volcano, but there is far too much traffic for cycling. Fortunately, this time the bus driver was a sensible grandmotherly type. The town itself is just a little traffic-choked tourist trap, but there was a nice walking track up the hill. I climbed up about 350 meters, though the showers made the muddy stretches pretty slippery.
My final morning in Christchurch I packed up my bike and gear, then
spent most of the rest of the day exploring the museum and botanical gardens.
Then I was off to the airport, and a mere 22 hours later back in Madison.