Stepping back in time (Queenstown – Te Anau)


Steam boat, stunning views, gorgeous weather, broken valve and a cracked rear rim. Crafty critters, erm, sandflies by the millions and a fall with gravel rash made this challenging, but fantastic, few days.

Day one : 30/10/10

At 10am we boarded the TSS Earnslaw (98+ year-old steam boat) and set sail. Or rather, the crew started to shovel coal while we enjoyed the view on our way to Walter Peak on the south side of Lake Wakatipu.

We then started what should be an easily-completed 40 mile ride, on gravel (metal road, non sealed) with a somewhat steep climb thrown in for fun. But the scenery was simply so stunning that we had to stop to take pictures and take in the view every corner we turned.

We also came across a herd of boisterous sheep which we had to walk through, they kind of parted like the sea for Moses, it was a funny experience. The road was pretty much empty bar the odd tourist and farmers, which made good cycling for us. The gravel was at times a bit hard to cycle on and our wheels skidded around of their own accord. We were glad that there wasn’t much traffic to worry about.

At one of our rest stops I noticed that my rear wheel was a little buckled, not much to worry about and it would last until we arrived at our campsite for the night, where I could fettle it.

The climb, heat and road surface did take its toll on us, but the scenery pulled us along. With a little help we had the wind helping us to do some loooong down hills rather fast and I was thinking we were making up good time. That was until we came to the first of two river crossings, where we had to get off our bikes, change our cycling shoes for sandals, and wade through the rather fresh water. Peli would say it was “squealllll (some high pitch sound I can’t hear) this is bleeping freezing, I can’t feel my toes!”. At one of the rivers the current was strong enough to move stones the size of footballs, which made it rather interesting to cross.

Just as we were getting rather tired and closing in on the DoC campground for the night near Lake Mavora, the valve on my rear wheel snapped with a big bang. While swapping the inner tube we had at least two cars and a couple on motorcycles asking if we were ok. They’re friendly people down here.

I think the reason for the snapped valve could be packing the bicycle up a couple of times and the road we rode on. Every so often I would hit a stone and it would flick away like a game of tiddlywinks and hit the frame or spokes with a rather hard knock. I’m rather sure that one of them could have hit the valve and caused it to snap. I was thinking that one of the stones might have hit a spoke and caused the buckle too, but saw no sign of damaged spokes.

At Lake Mavora we paid our fee to camp, NZ$10 which goes to the upkeep of the area, and cycled to the end of the track where we found a spot among the sandflies.

Day two : 31/10/10

We woke up to a thick mist, which did the opposite to one of Stephen King’s Mists, and crawled away to reveal a stunning view with a mirror lake. And those pesky sandflies again.

The area we cycled through was more farmland: still beautiful but if you compare it to what we saw yesterday it was a bit dull. The track also became more used by farmers and tourists which caused more potholes and the gravel to pile up, making us cycle in a trough with a wall of loose gravel on each side, mere inches away. This became rather tiring and took its toll on us.

The first thing that told me that something was wrong was the way that Peli used her expletives. Then I heard the tell tale sound of someone coming down hard and fast. I looked back, when I had slowed down enough to do so safely myself – remember the rather nasty bit of road we were on – and saw Peli picking herself up from the ground while saying more expletives. I quickly dumped my bike where it was (middle of the road) with oncoming traffic (one car) and legged it over to her where she was now sitting. She was rather dusted up by the gravel and feeling rather woozy with shock, and we found one quite deep road rash on her right arm below the elbow, along with a little hole in her cycling shorts. Then, the normal system checks and there were no other damages to report. A few car drivers slowed and offered assistance: again, they’re friendly people down here.

Upon further inspection, we found a rather bigger road rash at the top of her right thigh, under her Assos tights. It had all the signs of becoming a nice big colourful purple bruise, and was very painful to the touch.

After some time spent with her legs in the air (to treat for shock, of course), some rest and some patching up from the first aid kit, we were on our way again, though rather slowly and gently. We didn’t do much sightseeing for the next 15 or so miles, as we were mostly looking out for a good bit of road. There was much rejoicing when we finally found the sealed (tarmacked) road again.

That was 30 miles of rather hard riding, especially for battered Peli, and we still had 20 miles to go into Te Anau. That stretch would have been enjoyed more if it wasn’t for the fall. Arriving into Te Anau we found the first and best campsite that the information board and GPS agreed on, and pitched up for the night.

Day three : 1/11/10

The night before we booked a trip out to Milford Sound on a coach, our first proper guided touristy thing to do while away. The main reason was that it would take at least two days to ride out there, along with the fact that the road would be winding, hilly and it had the “famous” Homer Tunnel, one way with a 1:10 climb in it. Even with it being early summer season we would have had to share this with coaches and camper vans doing the day trip out. I wouldn’t recommend doing this road at high season on a touring bicycle, didn’t look any fun at all.

That said, we had a great coach ride out there with Allan from Mitre Peak Tours, with plenty of information and stops to take pictures and even time to stretch our legs. Then we had a two hour boat ride out to the entrance of the sound, which is a mistake as it is actually a fjord. Even in “bad” weather this boat ride was very enjoyable and we got right up and close to the wonderful seals, cliffs and plants. And I even got to test out my wet weather gear under a 120 metres waterfall for a few minutes (I was the only one on the boat mad enough to do so). It works. :)

You have to remember if you want to see the waterfalls, it has to be raining and most of the weather fronts that hit New Zealand comes from the Tasman Sea. It is a rainforest after all, with up to 7 metres of rain a year in one place, I read. So you have to be very lucky to see a sunny day, but that is when you miss out on the beautiful waterfalls.

That evening when chilling out at the campsite after yet another one of Peli’s knock up camping meals, she’s a good cook that girl, I had a look at my rear wheel. I was sure it would be fixed with a quick truing, but I found an inch-long crack around one of the eyelets. Yup, I’m carrying rather a lot and, before you say it, I’m not a featherweight either. So, a plan had to be made. Get a new rear wheel while not staying in the same place for too long.

Click here to see all the photos : Stepping back in time


  1. We were lucky when we went to Milford Sound (also with Mitre Peak Tours) because it had been raining heavily before we got there but was sunny when we actually got out into the boat, so we saw the waterfalls and had a sunny day!

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