Late arrival into Christchurch and “Jail” time, earthquake aftershock, very strong head winds and absolutely stunning views. Made these five first days a fantastic start to our stay in New Zealand.
Day one : 19/10/10
Because of our delayed flight we arrived in New Zealand just before 3am. At the luggage reclaim, a friendly security guard helped us with our bike boxes and guided us to the next stage of checking into NZ.
Passport check was easy and then the bio-security check when our bicycle had a quick check over. Our tent got taken aside to be inspected for soil while we ex-rayed the rest off our stuff. The security guy came back with our tent asking us if we had put it through the washing machine, as it was so clean. :) It is a good idea to clean your bike, boots and tent very well before flying to New Zealand.
We did spot the sign “bicycle assembly area” outside the airport but we got the shuttle bus (with very cheerful driver, given it was 3am) to our pre-booked Backpackers Hostel, a fantastic place called the Jailhouse. It’s a real former jail last used in 1999, complete with preserved original cells, cell wall graffiti, and iron bars at the windows of the rooms, aka cells. The Jailhouse staff had told us via email how to “break in” with a special code if we arrived late, which was rather fun.
We got up at 9am to check out and had a good chat with the lady running the place, who was from Barnsley in the UK. She told Peli a good place to go horse riding near Queenstown and gave us some vouchers for the excellent cafe down the road. We had porridge with cinnamon stewed apple and whipped cream – simply delicious.
While we were unpacking the bike in the garden of the Jailhouse the earth moved for us. Literally. For around 4 seconds we felt an enormous rumble and shaking of everything around us, including the huge iron Jailhouse gates. It was a surreal experience, and I can only liken it to sitting on the old Northern Line underground train in London. I nearly shouted “Again, again!”. We later learned that it was a 5.0 on the Richter scale and around 12km deep. They have had around two thousand aftershocks since the big one and will probably have them for the next year.
We then headed out through Christchurch via an outdoor superstore for gas and a supermarket for provisions. In the distance we could see the mountains but not the wind that was soon to hit us.
The more out of town we got the more the wind on the flat picked up, guess where we were heading, right into it. As the mountains grew bigger our legs grew tired, which was noticed by a nice local in a van. He pulled over and said “I have heaps of space in the back, and that wind is only going to get stronger. Wanna a lift?”. He even told us that the warning sign for high winds on the freeway was not often used. But we declined since this touring is all about doing it under your own steam.
Ho ho ho. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Just a few miles up the road we turned straight into a lung-busting headwind which had Peli wobbling off the road a couple of times. At around 25 miles into the day’s ride we called it a day and found a field to wild camp in. There was no more go in us after only a few hours’ sleep since arriving in NZ, and we needed more food and it was getting darker and rain looked liked it was on its way. I think that’s enough excuses. :)
Just as we had finished eating and were about to pitch the tent, the rain started in earnest, and didn’t stop before the morning. Good call on calling it a day!
25 flat miles but right into one of the hardest winds either of us has ever experienced, in six and half hours.
Day two : 20/10/10
We got up early to frost on the tent and a beautiful sunrise. Since we wild camped we decided to cycle to our planned destination, Springfield, 14 miles away. We arrived at the DoC/Railway Station where we cooked our breakfast. The lady at the station filled us in on the weather forecast, and provided us with (at a fee) three slices of yummy cake to keep us going. New Zealanders make great cake, it seems.
Just before Porter’s Pass, which was rather hard (400 metres up in 4km) we stopped to have a bit of cake and a rest. Porter’s Pass did get me at around 500 metres from the top. I had to get off and walk as I was just going too slow to keep the bicycle upright, Peli made it all the way to the top with the odd stop to breathe. She’s very good at trackstanding her way up hills (aka bloody stubborn). :)
Then it was undulating with some short and nasties. Well, after Porter’s Pass and that headwind it did drain us. I kept pushing on as I knew there was a fair distance to the next place to camp. As the weather forecast was for rain and we were in the high hills with snowcapped mountains surrounding us, I didn’t fancy wild camping without a shelter nearby.
We went past Castle Hill, an incredible area of limestone boulders scattered across the hillside, where some of the scenes from the Lord of the Rings and other movies were recorded.
Limping into Craigieburn Forest DoC, tired and hungry, we found a free DoC campsite with shelter, water and a toilet. First priority was to get some food in us before pitching the tent. We had the site to ourselves for the first couple of hours before six mini campervans rocked up, brimming with rock climbers. Some French, some German, at least one American and I’m sure I spotted a Dane in the crowd. They told us that they had spend the day bouldering at Castle Hill.
We spotted an Umpalumpa of a bird while washing up, a funny little creature it was. One of the climbers told us that it was a Kea and that we should keep an eye on it as it would eat anything. It even ripped open a tent the other day.
45 miles with a one long and hard hill, still into the wind though not so strong as yesterday.
Day three : 21/10/10
We woke up and were ready to get up nice and early. However, the weather had other ideas. Before we managed to vacate our warm beds, it started to rain hard. So we snuggled up and waited. We were also rather tired from the ride the day before.
When the rain stopped we got up to find blue sky and a somewhat chilly morning. I’ve said it many times before, but it does pay to have downmats and sleeping bags. One of the climbers told us that it had snowed during the night.
We bid the climbers “fare thee well and adieu” and headed for Arthur’s Pass Village, again with absolutely stunning views of snowcapped peaks like something out of a fairy tale. Lunch was taken on a little lookout over a flood plain. Hundreds of sandflies decided they’d join us, uninvited. If this is their low season I would not like to see their high season, feck me. While they’re not bothering Peli much, they are eating me alive. They are crafty little things, finding spaces you’ve missed with your DEET repellant, and munching away. Ouch!
I had read about the magpies and their tendency to dive bomb you in New Zealand and Australia. In Oz we even saw a few people who had put long zip ties on their helmets to prevent the attacks. While we where zooming down a hill Peli got hit rather hard and she nearly got knocked of her bicycle. Right on the helmet and it even manage to pull her hair a bit in its attack. At first she was sure it was something a passing car had thrown at her but then saw the naughty magpie flying away from her. She has a shining white helmet I wonder if that attracted it.
Staggering into Arthur’s Pass Village we decided that a good bed, shower and feeding was due and booked ourself into the YHA. It should be one of the oldest YHAs in New Zealand but it did not look like it, very new, clean and well kept. We had an immaculate double room, and the bikes were parked in their own quarters across the road.
We then went to the store to get provisions, though just a word of a warning, it is not a store as you know in a normal town sense. More like a cafe with some random cake, crisps and more cake for the punters to spend their money on. So, the evening dinner took place in the Wobbly Kea Cafe across the road along with all the other guests from the YHA. The home-baked and simply massive pizzas on which we feasted that night deserve a separate blog, but we don’t have time. Suffice to say there were this: NOM. Peli even had some leftovers for lunch the next day.
30 miles rolling hills and stunning views.
Day four : 22/10/10
We saw signs all over town “Do not feed the Kea” and “A fed Kea is a dead Kea”. Our host at the YHA told me that it even nicked a camera from a tourist at the top of one the mountains and flew it down to the information centre 1000 metres below. While getting the bicycles ready I saw three Keas in a row, checking out our bicycles. Luckily they didn’t take to them. They decided to nibble on a car instead.
Packed and ready to go we only had around 3 miles to the top of Arthur’s Pass and then around 60 miles down hill to the coast. Like the fella at the YHA said “there is only 5km to the beach” (very smilingly). Though as the “bible” (Pedallers’ Paradise) said “sometimes the New Zealand wind will cause you to pedal downhill” and it was true to its word. What would have been zooooom for the most of the 60 odd miles down hill, became a leisurely pedal down.
I’m glad that we did the Pass the way we did, as coming down Arthur’s it was 16% steep, very winding through open tunnels, and with loads of traffic. We were faster than the massive timber lorries which were edging their way down on their engines. But we didn’t overtake as there was no place to to do so because of all the hairpins. Having done Arthur’s Pass (down) and Porter’s Pass (up) I think we did it in the right direction, even with the wind we endured all the way from Christchurch. You really wouldn’t get to see what traffic was coming as you moved slowly up Arthur. On Porter’s, at least you got to see what was coming and it was not that steep or winding.
The plan was to get all the way to Kumara Junction for our night stop, but at Kumara our legs had had enough, and Peli was still struggling with upper back pain (a result of fitting a new saddle – not a good idea on a long tour). So I asked in the local store if it was ok for us to pitch our tent somewhere and they told us at the local sports ground would be fine as it had running water and clean loos.
We cooked our dinner while we waited for a quiet time to pitch our tent on the hardly-used rugby field. We enjoyed our first NZ ice cream of the trip, from the local store before bedtime. Delicius it was, too. Passion fruit and HunkyDory (which turned out to be kind of toffee-ey).
Day five : 23/10/10
Hokitika was 15 miles away on the highway, or 15 miles on a smaller “B” road. The GPS enthusiastically pointed us to the latter, so we took the gamble. The first mile or so was tarmacked, then it turned into hard-packed gravel, then a forest track with a sign saying “After this point the road would not be maintained, proceed at your own risk!”. We plodded on: a few times we had to get off and walk since the road was just too rocky and even came to a little ford which we had to cross (thank goodness for bringing a change of waterproof shoes). Let’s just say the water was a bit fresh and our Ortliebs are totally waterproof!
Shortly after that we found tarmac again and rolled in to Hokitika where we asked the local I-Site for information on how to get a bus to Franz Josef.
15 easy with some tricky bits miles.
Click here to see all the pictures : Across New Zealand