I said that we liked Wanaka, well we liked it that much that we stayed two days. The second rest day was in question until we woke to heavy rain and a grey sky. I could live in Wanaka quite happily were it not for one of the most expensive places in New Zealand to live. You feel you can go up to people and ask them their best 10k time or an opinion on Campag versus Shimano. This is a sporty town that has earned its money somewhere else and now wants time off to play.
It was also the venue for a big agricultural show, so I could put my agricultural past to the test and talk sheep. The finest Merinos were on display but we could not find them. We asked and were told ” sheep are over in the far corner where all the blokes are drinking beer”. Within a few minutes we were drinking beer and had met quite a number of top examples of this blogs totemic animal, the Merino.
A young lad was helping to spruce up stock for the showing ring. His shirt said Lilliesleaf and I could not wait to tell him that I also once had a farm there, but in the borders of Scotland. I wanted to tell him that it is a small and lovely place. He could not have been less interested.
These were farmers from south and east of Wanaka which is prime stock country and it is here that we spotted our first couple of ginger haired children. You can look at a map and see all the Scottish names, but this is perhaps even more conclusive proof of the ancestry and antecedents of the area and it is still here in the gene pool.
The next morning’s ride out of Wanaka was on a minor road taking you towards Queenstown and we would stop at our first borders place name Cardrona. The two events in Wanaka worked against us on this narrow road. Traffic going to the agricultural show and a cycling and marathon event bought hundreds of vehicles onto our quiet road. Bugger, they were out to get us.
New Zealand roads have a number of peculiarities which I can illustrate here. Tarmac as we know it is used sparingly. You can see the good stuff here followed by something that we Europeans would never use at all. It is rough stuff, with the texture of stuff that my dad used on our houses brick work in the early 70’s, rough-casting it was called, and for a reason.
The white line which is about 15cm in width you can think of as a Kiwi cycle lane. It is the only safe place to be and too much to the right of its safety and there will be trouble. It does reduce the rolling resistance if you hold your line, but that is all.
No where in our guide does it say anything about this being the highest sealed road in New Zealand, and is another reason for our recent distrust of the guide. I am not sure if this would have been something Esther wanted to know. She was having a less than spectacular day and found the heat and the 15% grade less than enjoyable. 1046 meters and we made it to the top and just in time to see a passenger jet go by a long way below us into Queenstown. The descent was a white knuckle ride made all the more so by 2k of dirt, dust and gravel that passes as road maintenance. Thank goodness this was a dry day.
Arrowtown was our campsite for the evening. A beautiful town and the end point of the bike and running race from Wanaka. Many had come to run across land owned by Shania Twain and the farmers amongst them marveled at what can be done if you spend $15 million controlling the weeds. Shania wants things just so, and has the money to fight nature on her terms.
Our perfect run of great weather continued. Autumn is on the way this far south and mornings take a while to warm to the mid twenties of midday. We pulled away towards Queenstown past some of Shanias neighbours. New Zealand was Sunday morning manicured and perfect and every third property a gallery. We headed on along highway 6 around the banks of Lake Wakatipu. It was a nother perfect day with a tailwind ( we have had more of these than we could hope for ), and rolling country keeping us at 30k for long stretches. Life can be good, so a long stretch of “road maintenance” could only half dampen our spirits.
Past Fairlight the road runs straight for many kilometers. The mass of mountains ahead and the headwind would seriously spoil your day if you were going the other way. The Eyre Mountains to our right looked like the highlands rising up just around Sterling. The road stretched ahead to a distant horizon of haze. Then my legs just went bang when they had been feeling so good. We pulled up at a little campsite in a village called Athol. Quiet, quaint and just a little excentric. A cottage with a fence made of bicycles, some would sell for a fortune in London at the moment.
The road went on the wind at our backs and then we took a right turn and left all the shelter behind. The wind became dangerous, strong and gusting and nothing was in its way but us. We could not control the bikes at all and got off to push, leaning into the wind to keep the bike upright. This was a bad situation indeed. We looked terrible and had no idea what we were going to do, which was a good time for Trevor to pull up in his truck and invite us back to his farm.
Lunch, and another agricultural chat with Trevor, Karen his wife and family and then a farm tour were another Kiwi highlight of generosity. Once again we landed on our feet and as the wind was still blowing a gale we put our bikes into the back of Trevor’s truck for our first ever lift.
We had been riding into Autumn which we had enjoyed, with its cool nights and sunny days. The campground at Mossburn had some Autumn treats for us to bulk out our meal as it was covered in field mushrooms. Then just as we sat down to cook a storm broke and the wind now carried rain horizontally against our tent.
The rain went on for most of the night and we greeted the prospect of putting on cycling gear and getting on a bike with the enthusiasm of a Spanish climbing domestique forced to make up the numbers for one of the cobblestone spring classics. In other words, we were not too keen.
Overshoes were got from the bottom of panniers, where they had been since Auckland and leggings pulled on for the first time. Ten degrees and a grey sky. We have been so lucky so far, bugger!
Kiwis love woodburning stoves and this was the chance to fire them up for the first time of the season. Wood smoke drifted with us as we rode in the rain towards Te Anau, thankful that the wind had dropped. It was now 11*c and had all the ingredients for a Scottish May Bank Holiday and we are used to that.