Neil Young has a song about dogs riding on the back of trucks “the best hound dog I ever did have”, go the lyrics. The dog was not afraid to jump from cars at high-speed and neither are they in New Zealand. Truck surfing dogs are a feature of the road here and because they have to bark at every cyclist, they can scare you out of your wits. Bark, bark, bark and then 40 seconds later as the truck goes past Esther, bark, bark, bark. A few days ago, back on the glorious Route 53, it was 12.45 in the afternoon before I needed to go into the small “granny” gear.
As we headed out of Blenheim on Route63 into the Wairau Valley, a helpful tailwind and a kind gradient meant that we would climb to over 730 meters and only drop into “the granny” at 3.00 pm. Noteworthy in New Zealand indeed to climb to the backbone of the South Island with such ease.
Wine, and high value special occasion, company budget stuff at that, is the crop of choice along the valley as you climb up the Wairau River away from Blenheim. Many of the vine rows have a rose at their ends in the French style. It all looks a lot more laid back than the Merino sheep farms a little higher up the climb.
Merino’s were being gathered. Many had blue or red crayon marks on their foreheads to tell that they had been wormed or injected. No marking of these valuable fleeces doing it this way, but they did look stupid.
The road climbed and often kept a straight line and the K’s went by. We kept to our rule of the road and pulled into a roadside pub. We appear to be collecting all of the historic taverns and most give a great in site into the local preoccupations. this is a sheep area ( Wethers are year old male sheep).
Mail boxes of New Zealand continue to fascinate us. Here the custom is to construct a small model of your homestead in varying scales. These are all home made and show varying levels of ability. This one had the chairs on the porch and must have passed a few winter hours.
Scenery in the last third of our 110K day just got grander.
The first Kiwi sign that I had noticed and then a big kick up of the road for the last 5K to make sure you set up camp in a horrible cold post effort cramping. A stunning pitch for our tent next to Lake Rotoiti and just 17 degrees left us reaching into the depths of our panniers for clothing as yet unused on our trip. Then the rain started and only helped with the magic of the views.
The road from St Arnaud drops all the way to the coast, but a nasty little headwind took all of the expected joy from the next days cycle ride as the wind had done a 180 overnight. Also overnight, as we lay in our tent, we had two after shocks from the big earthquake. A very strange feeling with the ground rolling slightly and moving. I would not like to anywhere near a big one of these, not even in a tent in the open, you just feel so helpless.
New Zealand roads are great. well that is not totally true. They do the middle bits very well but run out of enthusiasm or cash for the edges. This is our realm and the ride to Murchinson was a narrow winding excuse for a main road. The edges broke away and there were a number of work sites. We always have a tight feeling in the stomach when we come across one of these as they expect you to race between “GO” signs on something that can look like a dried up river bed. Often we jump onto the wrong side of the cones to find better tarmac and often we can feel anger growing from vehicles behind us.
Another roadside pub just at the end of our ride provided entertainment and a tv tuned all day to coverage of the earthquake just up the road. There are so many people touched by this tragic event in this small country. We just want to get something to eat and get away from the road for a while and it is difficult to watch lives being changed for ever.
We camped by the side of the Buller River just outside Murchinson on a strangely empty campsite that should be mobbed. It is as ever absolutely stunning.