Haast Pass

Date: Tuesday 5 March 2013
Route: Makarora to Haast
Distance: 80km plus 2km into town to shop
Weather: clear and sunny, strong headwind from midday
Accommodation: Haast Lodge – backpacker accommodation – small rooms but good facilities – recommended for value for money

It was cold when we set out this morning, even though the sun was shining. Must have been because we were up in the mountains. We soon found ourselves riding through beech forests tunnelling the road.

We stopped in the first 10km to look at the Blue Pools – a short walk through the forest, including crossing a swing bridge to get there.

The climb up the actual pass was not too bad – long and steady with a sharp final climb. The downhill on the other side was extremely steep – we had to go slowly and carefully braking the whole way. We stopped at the Fantail Falls near the bottom and the smell of car brakes was overpowering. I was thankful we didn’t have to go up that way!

The rest of the journey was down the Haast river – the river bed is fairly broad and rocky, with steep cliffs on either side, covered in vegetation.

The ride was up and down, not too strenuous. Towards the end the headwind became wearisome. Kris found a monster blackberry hedge at the side of the road and we spent some time eating – they were perfectly ripe and warm from the sun. I could hardly tear Kris away from it.

We passed a number of bicycle tourists again. We met a man from the Chatham Islands again today (first encountered yesterday) who is riding from Bluff to Cape Reinga. He has his family supporting him in a camper van, so he is not carrying any luggage. However we still overtake him every day.

The lodge at Haast has a very pleasant communal lounge and kitchen set up. We went shopping to buy food for supper plus for tomorrow (as there will be no shop available). We felt frustrated at the limitations of the single local shop – high prices plus a lack of fresh vegetables.

Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka

Date: Monday 4 March 2013
Route: Wanaka to Makarora
Distance: 78km
Weather: clear and warm, strong headwind from midday
Accommodation: Makarora Tourist Centre Limited

Today’s ride was more hilly than yesterday with lots of ups and downs. We extended the journey a bit by taking a detour around Hawea Flats before we got to the lake. This took us through farmland and the town of Hawea. The road next to Hawea Lake has some wonderful viewing spots, where you look down onto the lake and mountains beyond.

At the end of Lake Hawea the road goes over a high saddle and comes down on the other side to the north western shore of Lake Wanaka again (the same lake we left 50km earlier). Some of the mountains on the other shore of the lake are so high that they still have patches of snow on them. One of the peaks was very sharp and jagged, as if it had been freshly cut out of stone. There were many little streams and one solid waterfall coming down off the mountain, under the road and into the lake.

The road eventually flattened out at the end of the lake and we found ourselves following the Makaroa river. The headwind became strong and difficult at this point. We were glad when we arrived at the tourist centre where we are staying in a cabin.

There is not much at Makaroa apart from a DOC office, restaurant/pub and tourist accommodion. There is also a small airfield where they have a helicopter to take tourists on trips. There are a few tramping tracks that start here. We did some maintenance on the bikes, including Kris replacing his front brake pads.

Lake Dunstan and Lake Wanaka

Date: Sunday 3 March 2013
Route: Alexandra to Wanaka
Distance: 94km to Wanaka, another 7km around town
Weather: perfect- clear and warm, no wind
Accommodation: Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park

This was a day of cycling next to the water. There was a climb to the dam at Clyde – giving us a good view over the town. Then a long, relatively easy ride next to Lake Dunstan – nice and cool in the shadow of the mountain. At the start the lake is really narrow – with a mountain rising on the other side of the lake. At Cromwell we paused to view the town from above from the opposite side of the lake. We decided to stick to the road that goes around the eastern side of the lake, rather than crossing the bridge here.

It was a gently undulating landscape, following the Clutha river once we left the lake. Farming included vineyards and sheep. There were a few steep hills again just before Wanaka – but all in all a very pleasant and manageable ride.

I got a flat tyre mid-morning – one of my tubes began to leak at a patch – probably due to rough treatment on previous days.

We passed a few groups of touring cyclists – more than on any other day, including on the Otago rail trail (when we saw none). This is obviously a popular place to tour.

We were struck by the festive resort atmosphere in Wanaka – there is a steady stream of tourists around the lakefront, even though it is not high season. It is truly a stunning spot with the mountains on the opposite side of the lake providing a backdrop. The lakefront has kayak hire and many people were just sitting on the grass overlooking the water.

After finding our accommodation and cleaning up we found an open bike shop to stock up on spares – spokes and tubes. We then looked around the watering holes on offer and decided on the Monteith’s bar on the waterfront. It was great having a cold draft beer and wedges sitting outside on the lakefront.

For food we decided on kebabs (there was a large selection of take-aways and restaurants). We sat at the lakefront to eat them and ended up having a long conversation with a Swiss backpacker. It is his dream to catch a large brown trout in a NZ river – we hope he achieves it.

Otago Central Rail Trail

Date: Saturday 2 March 2013
Route: Ranfurly to Alexandra
Distance: 88km to Alexandra, another 6 around town
Weather: overcast and cool in morning, clearing and warm in afternoon
Accommodation: Alexandra Tourist Park Cabin

It was good riding totally away from the traffic for the whole day today on the Otago Central Rail Trail. The trail is unsealed, but a better surface than yesterday’s ride. We started around 20km from the highest point, and the rest was a very gradual downhill – the inclines are very gentle, as expected on a railway line.

The arid scenery, browns and greens of the countryside and interesting rock formations add to the beauty of the trail. The most scenic part was between Auripo and Lauder where we passed through the Poolburn Gorge, which includes a viaduct and two tunnels. The viaduct could be scary for someone afraid of heights. All the bridges on the trail are wood and feel rickety under bicycle wheels. The two tunnels were about 200 metres long. About midway, when it gets too dark to see, the light from the other end of the tunnel start to cast shadowy glimpses of the tunnel walls, allowing riders to find their way (we saw riders with torches)

We passed many dozens of other cyclists on the trail. Most seemed to be out for the day or had someone else carrying their luggage (no other cycle tourists like us). All other cyclists were on mountain bikes which are more suited to the rocky terrain than our touring bikes (due to thick tyres). There were many older people and people who looked as if they don’t usually cycle. The rail trail is geared towards day outings and organised groups..

Kris got a puncture on his back tyre around 5km from our destination. We probably got off lightly after punishing our bikes for the last two days.

A downside of the trail was the fine dust that coated everything. I spent ages brushing it off panniers and Kris had to wash the bikes again.

The holiday park at Alexander is very empty. It has all the facilities we need but feels a bit melancholy, in need of care and additional tourists.. We made a huge meal in the communal kitchen and consumed it on an outside picnic table.

Danseys Pass

Date: Friday 1 March 2013
Route: Tokarahi to Ranfurly
Distance: 72km
Weather: Clear and warm in morning, clouding over with headwind in afternoon
Accommodation: Old Post Office Backpackers – recommended

Today was the toughest day so far. We knew Danseys Pass would present a challenge and it certainly did. Around 46km of the ride was on unsealed roads – from before the pass until just before Naseby.

We stopped at a lavender farm before the pass proper (after about 20km). One can smell the lavender from the gate. Evidently the climatic conditions are just right for lavender and they make award winning oil, on a small scale. We bought some lavender ice cream which tasted fragrant and tangy.

The pass proper was really steep on unpaved road with lots of loose stones and rocks. We ended up pushing the bikes up the main climb. By this time it was around midday and the sun was very hot overhead.
It was very quiet on the pass. We must have passed about 15 cars the whole time. It is a terrible road for cars as well – most were 4 wheel drive. In a lot of the places there is not enough space for two cars to pass each other. On the pass proper the cars were going so slowly they tended to stop and talk with us. No other bicycles.

Even when we got to the other side on the downhill, it was still slow going. This is because it was so steep and the road so bad we had to go down very carefully. We were lucky not to get any punctures or break spokes. Our average speed for the day on the odometer was 11km/hour – very slow.

There is a hotel and pub at the bottom of the pass, with nice garden, but we decided to push on. The road thankfully flattened out (around 40km into the ride) – however it remained a gravel road with many corrugations and loose rocks. There were also a few more climbs which were difficult as I was really worn out.

I sure was glad to see that tar at Naseby. We had a quick look at the (very cute) town and then flew into Ranfurly (14km) – against a headwind, but no gravel!

We love our accommodation at the Old Post Office Backpackers. On arriving I discovered I have worked with one of our hosts, Suzy de Louw, some years ago at HNZC in Wellington. She and her partner have had a radical change in lifestyle by moving down here. We are the only guests here tonight, so it was comfortable making a meal (steak) in the kitchen and sitting watching the news in the lounge.

Laurie found us here (we made enquiries at the campground earlier), and we accompanied him to the pub so he could get a meal and to watch some rugby. The pub had a real community feel to it. Ladies from the church were running a raffle for foodbanks, so we bought a couple of tickets. We were happy to win some home baking – date loaf and biscuits.
Kris and Laurie took advantage of the reasonably priced beer.

Around the Lakes

Date: Thursday 28 February 2013
Route: Omarama to Tokarahi
Distance: 106km
Weather: high cloud in morning, very hot in afternoon
Accommodation: Tokarahi Homestead Bed & Breakfast

A highlight of today was a detour we took to see the Benmore dam and then a quiet ride on the road circling Lake Aviemore. The main motorway goes on the other side of the lake – so we were only passed by about two cars the whole way around. The lakes are bright blue, and the fields and mountains are brown. The Benmore dam has the second largest hydro power station in NZ. We were surprised to find that the dam wall is made of earth – 110 metres high! There were many camping grounds around the lakeshore. The wind drove waves onto the shore, making it sound like the sea. We travelled over a smaller dam wall (Lake Aviemore) to get back onto the main road. This wall evidently has a ladder for Salmon to climb over (didn’t see it though). The final dam wall we passed was Lake Waitaki, this was one of the first dams built in NZ – between 1928-1934.

As we travelled down the Waitaki River, the country side became greener as a result of irrigation. It was totally brown and dry in Omarama, but we gradually passed some vineyards, then orchards and finally dairy farms. We stopped to buy some food at Kurow and some fruit at an orchard.
We also couldn’t resist a coffee at the Flying Pig cafe in Duntroon – the last town before our turnoff.

Our bed and breakfast is 13km off the motorway in the direction of Dansey’s Pass (tomorrow’s destination). This is the most expensive place we have stayed so far. The homestead was built in 1876 and has been restored with antique wall paper. Our room, at the front of the house, has a fireplace and a 5 metre high ceiling with decorative mouldings. We also have a ball and claw bath that I look forward to using later. It was extremely hot when we arrived at around 2.30pm, and the first thing I noticed was how cool it is inside. The house is made of stone and is surrounded by a porch.

Canal Ride

Date: Wednesday 27 February 2013
Route: Tekapo to Omarama
Distance: 103km
Weather: clear and sunny, heat wave in afternoon
Accommodation: motel unit at Top 10 Holiday Park

Today was one of our best rides so far. We knew it would be hot,so we left early at about 8.45am. We made good progress – we had an hour stretch where we could almost maintain 30km per hour, as it was a gentle decline.

Unfortunately we couldn’t ride along the canal between Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, due to construction/ restoration work being done on the canals. The whole day was through barren alpine scenery – with the Alps in the background.

Lake Pukaki is an unearthly turquoise colour with the Alps as a backdrop.
We found our way onto the canal road at the outlet of Lake Pukaki and kept to it until Lake Ruataniwha. The road was extremely quiet with some anglers along the canal and not too many cars. I highly recommend this route for cyclists.

We rejoined the main road at Twizel. Apart from a stop at a salmon farm, we had a straight run into Omarama. We arrived after 1pm, just as the heat was building up. It is almost unbearably hot outside this afternoon.

Omarama is a very small town, mainly a tourist stop over. I was surprised to meet Laurie again while doing the washing in the camp laundry. It was good to catch up again. I made a pasta dinner, Laurie brought along a bottle of red wine, so we had a good shared meal again.

Burke’s Pass

Date: Tuesday 26 February 2013
Route: Fairly to Tekapo
Distance: 43km – and another 2km around town
Weather: high cloud in morning, hot in afternoon
Accommodation: Parkhead Motel – recommended for lakeside view

Today was another relatively short ride, and so we started late again at around 10am.
We had some atmospheric mist in the morning, but thereafter perfect conditions, if a little hot towards the middle of the day. We are now into Mackenzie country and the scenery is beautiful.

We stopped at an artists studio at Kimbell and had an interesting discussion. After a while, Kris ended up offering to help artist Lloyd Harwood to set up a new website for the gallery, which Lloyd promptly accepted. The idea is that Kris would coach Lloyd into managing the website himself.
Shortly thereafter Kris broke the second spoke of the trip – which took about an hour at the side of the road to fix.

Then onto Burkes pass – not as much of a challenge as Lewis Pass, but a long steady climb none the less. We felt we had had our exercise by the end of it. Once we got down to the other side the plain really opened up and we had spectacular scenery with the Alps in the background all the way into Lake Tekapo.

The lake is just as stunning as I remember it. Our motel is well sited on the road going past the Church of the Good Shephard, with classic views of the lake. Nice big room with all the facilities too (and he let us use his washing machine).

All Kris’s nuts have now been cracked! – we spent about an hour at the lakeside cracking the last of the hazelnuts – using stones from the lake shore.

We had a picnic type supper on our porch after examining the local restaurants – they cater for tourists (more $) and we decided we could eat better from the supermarket. Since then just been spending time watching the lake – the light over the mountains, cloud formations and colour of the water are constantly changing.

Kiwi bicycle tourism

We have toured the South Island by car many years ago but after recent NZ marketing we decided to tour the South Island by bicycle.
Basically, touring cyclists require an environment where you can cycle anywhere safely and where accommodation is readily available. NZ fails dismally as a cycle destination.

In Europe a lot of the routes have separate roads for cyclists.
In NZ none of this exists (of course). The next option would be to have shoulders on the roads. Most roads in NZ do not have road shoulder. The situation in NZ is much more dangerous than no shoulders. Perversely the dangerous roads with little visibility have no shoulders and the straight roads have shoulders.
This sets a dangerous precedence as motorists may be conditioned into thinking that their behaviour to cyclists can assume shoulders, exactly in scenarios where it should not.

The majority of drivers are well behaved towards cyclists. Unfortunately, some trucks think they own the roads (might is right), and demonstrate this by driving past you as close as possible.

Cycle road planning in NZ is hilarious. There are some goat tracks that have been created, or have been rebranded as cycle tracks. So the local tourist office may typically advertise paid pickups and transfer of luggage. This may be good for the occasional family outing on mountain bikes, but if you attempt this on a typical haul of 80 km between accommodation possibilities, you will be midway, repairing your bicycle when it gets dark.
It seems like the NZ bicycling strategy has been planned by a 10 year old. Sorry, I have to apologise. A 10 year old would do much better.

I would advise cycle tourists to avoid New Zealand.

Free Beer

Date: Monday 25 February 2013
Route: Geraldine to Fairly
Distance: 48km – and another 2km around town
Weather: overcast and cool in morning, sunny in afternoon
Accommodation: Fairly Holiday Park motel cabin – too close to road!

Today was a shorter ride, but very much up and down. We left late after a lie in at 10am, and it took us 3 hours to get here. We had a few steep climbs and downhill runs on the way. The countryside was rolling hills – we are well out of the Canterbury Plains now and entering MacKenzie country. There is a statue of James MacKenzie in Fairly main street – he was the first European person to cross this country. He also stole 1,000 sheep from one of the biggest farmers in the area at the time.

The ride today was marred by the fact there was too much traffic for the windy road, not enough room for bicycles, and it can be dangerous. I would not recommend this road to bicycle tourists (however there are no real alternative routes).

The highlight of the day was our stop at Valley Brewing Co about 10km outside of Fairly. We saw the brewery and stopped to see if we could buy some beer for tonight. The cafe and shop were closed, but the owner was there and gifted us some bottles of beer. An excellent Pale Ale (strong hops) and a gorgeous Red Ale (called Muster). Very hearty and natural tasting – great craft beer.