For previous blog entries of our ride through NZ, Australia, South East Asia, China and Central Asia, click on the little arrows beside the dates in the Blog Archive below and use the scroll down menu.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

South Island - Picton to Queenstown

Ellie and Iain
Milnthorpians - Andy n Tom
Tom Heywood
Top of the Crown Range
Start of the best descent in NZ
Top of Crown Range

Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea
Lake Wanaka

Lake Paringa
Bruces Bay
Ben n Lee

Franz Josef glacier

Lee's house
Lee's bath

Cheeky Weka

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiaki

John, Ben, Ian, Tony

Me, Tony, David, Ian, John

Lake Rotoiti

Kiwi humour
Anna - beach at Lucy's bach

The Sounds

Leaving Wellington
Mary and co

Route: Picton - Havelock - Nelson - Murchison - Westport - Greymouth -Haast - Wanaka - Queenstown

Distance covered: 2411 kms

We spent a couple of days in Wellington with Lucy's friend Mary and her flatmates. Mary gave us our own room and a key to get in and out of the house so we had a really relaxed couple of days. We're really looking forward to seeing Mary again at New Year. Party on. These guys were all amazing and we really appreciated being able to dump the bikes and explore Wellington on foot. Thanks for making us feel so welcome. We really, really liked Wellington. It's a cool city with a real positive feel to it. Ben met a great guy called Arthur who fixes bikes for free and teaches others bike maintenance skills for free from a squat in Wellington. He can be found at 128 Abel Smith Street, Te Aro, Wellington, Tel: 04 9727260.

We arrived in the south island on the 20th of November and met up with Ian and Anna again in Picton. We then cycled about 30kms up the "scenic road" to our friend Lucy's bach(holiday home) in the Marlborough Sounds. The scenery on the ferry over was stunning as was the ride to the Sounds, lush green mountains, clear blue seas and golden beaches everywhere you looked. The bach was amazing with the garden backing right onto the sea and a great view of some of the other sounds in the distance. Ben found some kayaks in the garage so we took them for a spin, finding mussels on the rocks which we collected and had for dinner. We spent a really great couple of days there and want to thank Lucy and her family for letting us use it.

We could have easily spent a week there but left a couple of days later to head for Nelson. Our friend Rachel's mum, Henrietta put us up for a couple of days in the centre of Nelson, kindly giving us a key to our own little "granny flat" at the side of the house. Henrietta is a wonderful woman and really looked after us while we were there. We left Nelson refreshed and excited about seeing the rest of the island. Ian and Anna tried to convince us to head North to Golden Bay with them but we stuck to our plan of going South. Thanks to Henrietta, we found a great little cycle path leading out of Nelson. We felt quite jolly for the first 10kms or so until we ended up on the road again fighting a headwind. We managed 70kms before finally giving up. Intending to find a nice spot to wild camp in, we asked someone to fill our water bottles and in the usual friendly Kiwi style, we were offered a spot to camp in, a shower and breakfast the next morning. Roger, you're a star.

Next day, we ended up at St Arnaud and visited beautiful Lake Rotoiti. From Belgrove to St Arnaud, we cycled on a lovely little quiet road, avoiding State Highway 6. The scenery was stunning and we enjoyed being able to cycle without worrying about the traffic. Shortly after leaving St Arnaud, we rejoined SH6 and continued down the Buller Gorge(into a headwind - again). Later that day, we arrved in a town called Murchison, where the woman in the local chip shop threw out a load of perfectly good pies instead of giving them to us and another cyclist Richard we'd just met. Ben, the "whinging pom" has never quite got over it and is still haunted by images of those succulent pies dropping into the bin. I'll never hear the end of it. We cycled up the road a bit with Richard, originally from Dorset who'd just cycled 5,000 miles through America. We left him at the Greymouth turnoff after having a debate about SPD pedals. He's dead against them and thinks toeclips are good enough for anyone. We disagree and like our clippity-clop shoes. Richard has a fine collection of stickers off apples which he has collected from different countries, put in a book with a date of when and where he ate the apple. That night we had our worst nights wild camping in a clearing in some spiky bushes in the rain. We were however visited by some mystery horses in the middle of the night who were on some sort of under cover of dark stealth mission. The next day, some nice folk let us walk across NZ's longest swingbridge for free, which made up for our run in with horrible chip shop lady. Then we set off to Westport.

On our way, we started seeing loads of other cycle tourists and stopping at a cafe about 50kms out of Westport we were joined by another 4 cycle tourers, all cycling separately. We had lunch together and decided to cycle to Westport together as we were all heading the same way. We met Ian from Morningside(fur coat and nae knickers) in Edinburgh who goes out with the Edinburgh road club and knows loads of the people we do the SXC races with, Tony from Wisconsin, on a holiday from the states, John, on holiday from Amsterdam and David from Calgary in Canada. What an amazing bunch. We cycled towards Westport at high speed and said our goodbyes to David, who was heading South to Charleston, just before Westport. The rest of us cycled into town. We all shared a room that night at Bazil's Hostel in Westport where Mike Stevenson let us stay for free. Thanks Mike. After spending a special and memorable night together we set off separately in the morning, running into Ian and John again later in Punakaiki. It was such a pleasure to meet you all and I'm sure we will see John in Amsterdam on our way home and hopefully Ian when we're back in Weegie land.

On our way down the West Coast, the scenery got more and more spectacular. The coastline is truly beautiful. It is rocky and rugged with huge rock pillars and stacks jutting out of the water and massive waves crashing against them. We visited the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki, a stunning rock formation and had lunch with some cheeky wekas(wingless birds, vaguely resembling kiwis but a bit bigger) who kept trying to steal our lunch, shoes or whatever they could get there beaks on. We do love these wee beasties though, they are comical as hell. We had one steep, twisty climb after another as we approached Greymouth and the weather was abismal. We spent the night in a really cool backpackers, Noah's Ark(which was fitting that night really as it was raining heavily and we were a pair!)in Greymouth where Matt kindly let us stay 2 for the price of 1. We had a great night there in a double bed in a room all to ourselves for $25(12 quid).Jammy.

We reluctantly set off in the rain the next morning with the aim of getting to the D.O.C campsite at Lake Mahinapua, 50 kms away. We stayed there for 2 nights as we needed to rest our legs. The D.O.C (dept of conservation) campsites are amazing. It costs about $5 a night to stay there and they are usually full of people touring in camper vans so it's usually a good place to meet people and have a laugh. We set off excited about our next destination, the Glaciers about 100kms South. We reached Franz Josef and ended up meeting Lee, originally from Warrington who said we could camp in his garden. Lee has built his own house in the middle of a beautiful piece of woodland near Okarito. To have a bath at Lee's, you go down to the riverside fill up a cast iron bath with river water and light a fire under it. In an hour or so you are sitting in the al fresco bath watching the river rush by and appreciating the wonderful sights and sounds of nature around you. It was the best bath we'd ever had by far and even bets the hot tub at Mabie! Lee works for Franz Josef Glacier Guides and got us on a Glacier walk the next day and we spent a few hours, crampons and all walking up the Terminal face of the glacier. It was a great experience and a wonderful sight to see close up. The 2 days we spent with Lee were amazing as we both felt a real connection with him, as though he was someone we'd known for a long time. We really hope to see you again Lee and hope you can make it to Scotland for a tour of the Seven Stanes! As we sat in the centre of Franz Josef just before we set off, Ben decided to use the futuristic, space age bogs across from the Tourist Information office. Once inside the coccoon, the electronic door is locked and a voice tells you you have 10 mins use time. You are then treated to some light Jazz and an electronic toilet roll dispenser. However, it all comes to an abrupt end when after 10 mins the voice tells you to leave immediately. Ben, still on the pan, ignores the warning only to be exposed to the world seconds later as the toilet door swings open and an ear piercing alarm goes off. Publically shamed for taking more than 10 minutes on the shitter. What's the world coming to?

After the toilet incident we bumped into Cathy, a 22 year old cycling round New Zealand on her own. As we were all heading the same way we teamed up and cycled to the D.O.C campsite by beautiful Lake Paringa. We were touched as 2 little Korean boys appeared from a motor home, with 3 cups, teabags and a kettle of hot water for us saying, "our Mummy thought you looked cold, here is some tea". Ah, little things like this remind you what a good place the world can be. We had a great swim in the Lake the next morning by which time, someone had switched the good weather on again. That night we also camped with Sebastien and Celine from Switzerland, who we keep bumping into on the road. A bientot! We did another 100 kms with Cathy that day and ended up at Pleasant Flat campsite in Mount Aspiring National Park after showering in a waterfall by the side of the road. The two things that make me happiest at the moment are eating and bathing. You really appreciate cleanliness when you're on the road and we take every chance we get to jump in the sea or lakes. The cold water's good for the old muscles too. By the end of our third day of cycling with Cathy, we had done almost another 100 kms and ended up in the Motor Lodge at Lake Hawea where the 3 of us camped for $10(5 quid) all in. Lake Wanaka, which we passed on the way down was beautiful.We still had access to our own wee kitchen and living room as no-one else was about and got some beers to take out from the pub. It was a nice chilled out night after 3 hard days on the bike. During these 3 days, Cathy had been doing an amazing job of grinding up hills in a really tough gear and it was clear she needed some extra low gears for getting up NZ's monster climbs. So we cycled into Wanaka where Ben fitted her a new 11-34 tooth cassette. I really hope this helps and you're enjoying your new bike. Thanks to Mike from the bike shop in Wanaka for lending Ben your tools, giving us a place to work and generally putting up with us being a pain in the arse. And to Cathy, enjoy the rest of your trip, we may see you again before we leave NZ and if not, you are of course welcome to join us for a ride along the way. It was great spending time with you and we both admire you for doing a trip like this on your own.

NZ is like a big village, you just keep running into the same people over and over again and meeting people who have just met someone else you did a bit of cycling with the other week etc etc. It's a nice feeling though. Infact, just yesterday, Ian and Anna said they had been talking to Lee in Franz Josef about us. It's easy to see there are only 1,000,000 people on the South island. The fact that NZ is not over-populated means it has been able to remain a scenic, unspoilt country with plenty of areas of wilderness and a high standard of living. We really love it here and I totally understand why people would want to move here. We left Wanaka in the evening and started our climb over the Crown Range, the highest pass in NZ at 1,076 metres above sea level. We camped that night by a river in a very secluded area in the hills, our best wild camping spot so far. Reaching the top of the pass we were treated to some spectacular views and the prospect of the Colin McRae rally style, hairpin descents that awaited us. And what a descent it was. Grinning from ear to ear, we raced down the mountain at 70km/hour + at times. It was a hoot and the best downhill run we've had so far. We definetly had it easy though, climbing up that hill would have been tough as hell, much better off going down it!

So, we finally arrived in Queenstown. Our friend Lisa put us in touch with a couple here, Iain and Ellie who have been putting us up for the last few days(Lisa and Lucy, what would we do without you). Thanks to Iain and Ellie for your hospitality. Your lovely home has been a welcome retreat, a chance for us to rest our weary bodies and shelter from the bad weather. The first night we were here we attended a "Milnthorpe lads reunion" in Queenstown town centre where we met up with Ben's old pals, Andy Gordon and Tom Heywood. Tom got up in the pub to play some of his songs he's written from his forthcoming album. The man's a comedy genius. When the album's out, I'll make a link to it. Hope things work out for you both in NZ. We're sure you'll have a blast. Thanks also to Willy at the Stihl shop who has just helped Ben fix his rack free of charge. You're a good man. Queenstown is a cool place to live, a bit like Brighton with better weather. But tomorrow, we must leave this place and head for Te Anau, where we will visit the Fjordland cinema then onto Invercargill. We are having a GREAT time. I've realised that travel is such an important thing, maybe not for everyone but certainly for us. Every morning we wake up feeling joyful and looking forward to the day ahead. It's done us the world of good and brought us much closer together. We hope everyone back home is well and we miss you all.
PS After what I said about NZ being like a village, Ben's just bumped into Celine and Sebastien down the road! - again.

1 comment:

  1. now that report brings it all back, we were there for 3 months 2 years ago and constantly miss the place. Sounds like you've fallen for the place just like we did, enjoy.

    Neil & Suz