We took a day off in Franz Josef. We both were feeling strong and did not need it. So it came as a surprise when we slept for 12 hours and still slunk around over a long breakfast without any outward signs of the hardened athletic travelers that we hope we have become. It was raining, but that was fine by us.
The day improved, the more tea we drank,the more it improved and as we had never seen a glacier close up we decided to do just that. Franz Josef Glacier is stunning indeed. The rest day was over and we had the unpleasant prospect of three monster climbs Omoeroa Saddles(320m), Waikukupa (405m), and Cook(410m). I have no photos of them and have concluded that giving any impression of climbs is frankly pointless, I also felt sick.
Moving South the views back to the mountains are breathtaking and the road for many K’s is strangely flat giving great views back. This flood plane gives the ride it’s character and it is a day of crossing single lane bridges over glacial hued waters of turquoise. The communities are very sparse and the “Our Lady of the River” church has nothing near it to suggest a congregation could ever fill it even half full.
Days can be changed by a chance encounter. A fried food van parked in the car park of my local B&Q DIY store back home would be a thing of scorn and indignation about the diet of my nation. Here it is a total joy to spend over the odds amount of money on fizzy drinks and fried food. The food had no shape or texture to speak of, and I did not even recognise it as a hot dog when it arrived. I cared not one bit, but thank you, the fry up van of Bruce Bay.
The Southern Alps were on our right, the road mostly flattish and the sun was out on Highway 6. The road cut through the tallest trees we have biked through. They did a splendid job of keeping us out of the headwind that had got up. Lake Paringa DOC camp was our campsite of choice and that wind would become our friend against the dreaded sandflies.
100k and yet still quite fresh,we set up camp with no one around. Within an hour the site was packed. The vans kept to themselves and the tents likewise, which was good.The sound of badly maintained sliding doors on hire vans being opened, closed, opened and slammed shut and so on is a constant companion on every NZ site. Maori children in a big bus convoy ran everywhere and we could still hear them after we had turned in as they held an openair church service which included prayers for the two cyclists – so thank you for that.
Tucked in just behind us was Steve. I spotted a “Bush Buddy Stove”, so there was every chance I would like him. Four years tucked away from society traveling the worlds wilderness areas and doing it from a lightweight pack and a tarp, should be an overwhelmingly good qualification for something. Sadly, it probably is not, unless society crumbles and we are thrown back into a hunter gatherer existence, where Apes rule over us even. We liked Steve very much indeed.
The next morning almost all of the tents had vanished, unprepared for the near freezing overnight temperatures they had all fled in the night and early morning and we only had Steve for company. Continuing South we were again into coastal cycling. Once more, although it was only 11’c it was overheating followed straight away by hypothermia. No easy distance made but our first sighting of Dolphins in Ship Creek.
We are now in Haast, resting for a horrible big hill ahead. There is always a horrible big hill ahead and everyone we meet appears unduly happy to tell us about it. We have a route guide that gives us the profile so we have some idea even though we are trusting it less these days since some serious underestimation on its part. There is no mistake here, Haast Pass is vertigeous.
The next day was a ride of waterfalls and the bulk of the Young Range rising ahead and the Gates of Haast our entry to the nasty climb. The single lane bridges were now becoming higher, the Haast River deeper and wilder. On through Haast Pass and then down the other side with what was now the Makarora River flowing in the other direction, away from the pass. We were now in Mount Aspiring National Park and camped at a DOC site called Cameron Flat. This will be one of our top 5 sites, for its view back towards Mount Brewster.
Gun culture and hunting have a higher profile here. It is very nearly your civic duty to run over Possums and reverse back over it if you have the time. I have seen hundreds of sign posts peppered with evidence of the enthusiastic marksmen keen to dial in their sites from a speeding truck. I have seen this all over the world and even back home in Scotland, but none more so than here.
In sport, F1 and the Americas Cup are at the top end of extravagance,and touring on a bike at the other. It may not even be a sport, although you sweat and feel sick and build muscles with frightening definition. Touring by classic Rolls Royce, having them shipped to exotic locations for a bit of a drive with your mates. Is at the other end of the touring spectrum. We were passed by a dozen of these honking and waving beauties and vintage tractors going in the opposite direction.
As we neared our goal for the day, Wanaka. The landscape mellowed a bit and Lake Hawea came into view. Up and down we went with the inevitable unexpected nasty hills of the days ride. Wanaka we like very much and a friendly bike shop changed the headset on Esther’s bike for one where the bearings are not made of cheese. How rare is a 1″ headset in New Zealand? Very rare.