5 – 22 February, 2014 – We took the 8am ferry from Wellington to Picton and before noon we were on the south island. The sail was beautiful through the Marlborough sounds with rolling green hills to both sides. We continued our journey a few days later to Nelson and this time cycled along the Marlborough sounds, a very scenic landscape and famous wine region. Nelson claims to have the most sunshine of this island, but we arrived in the pouring rain, wet and cold to the bones. As the rain wouldn’t improve we chose for a motel, what a luxury for us. We left late the following day and stopped early again, too tired from the long journey the day before.
We then took a route through the mountains, mainly to avoid heavy traffic but also because it is so much more scenic. On our way we met Ruud, a Dutch cyclist, walking his bike up the hill with a huge backpack on his back. He was wearing thick clothes despite the warm temperatures, sweating like crazy and didn’t look very healthy. Johan met him first as he was as usual ahead of me and was really worried about him and asked if he was ok. But Ruud explained that he was more an uphill walker than cyclist. He hates hills and thinks he is much faster walking his bike. In the evening we wondered if he made it into town!
As from now we would meet at least two touring cyclists per day. One day there were nine!
The landscape was absolutely stunning. Almost every day we thought that this day has been the nicest with the best scenery so far. But it would just continue to get better and better, with very few exception. One of it was Greymouth, named after the river Grey. The city is as grey and boring as the name and locals were a little strange as well.
Our first off-road experience from Murchison to Springs Junction:
We also discovered the funny Kiwi accent and had a few communication issues at a local café, the only nice one we could find. We were asking for the size of the bowls for the salads and were shown a mini and a tiny bowl supposed to be the small and large one. As we are always very hungry I asked: “Are you serving the salads with bread?” The young lady behind the counter couldn’t understand me: “What?” “Do the salads come with bread, as the bowls are so tiny?” “WHAT?” “BREAD???” I first thought she was maybe deaf but then she replied: “Ah, you mean breeeeed?” Well, I actually meant bread, but breeeeeed would have been fine as well. Of course it came without. I just hope we don’t pick up this accent!
From Greymouth we continued along the Westcoast, also dubbed the Wetcoast as it rains a lot. And it was true, a few nice days were followed by a few rainy days. Thankfully it was still relatively warm with day temperatures around 20 degrees. In a small town on the way to the glaciers we could stay with Dulkara, another Warm Showers host and waited two days for the rain to stop. In this area it doesn’t make any sense to cycle in the rain as you won’t be able to see anything and that’s what it is all about here: breath-taking snow-capped mountains and glaciers to the left, the sea or river valleys to the right.
As often as possible we tried to avoid the highways and took back roads or dedicated cycle trails. These parts of our journey were usually the best ones: no traffic, bush cycling, and very remote. We often thought we were part of a fairy tale and small hobbits would soon cross our paths. But we were wrong, cowboys crossed our path at Cowboy’s Paradise, a replica wild west town. It was hilarious with dressed up cowboys and cowgirls, shootings and a real saloon where we could enjoy a drink and watch cowboys in action.
Leaving Greymouth on the Westcoast Wilderness trail:
On our way to Hari Hari:
Often we stayed at government-run and cheap campsites with little to no amenities. If we were lucky there was a toilet and drinking water. One day we stayed at a beautiful campsite only to discover that we were surrounded by some weird people, besides one million sandflies. We were about to pitch our tent in the rain when we heard a strange beep coming closer: a German woman with metal detector looking for treasures and she had to search around our tent, much to our amusement (I think Johan envied her a little bit). After we had washed ourselves with wet towels in the tent – a wilderness shower was absolutely impossible as the sandflies were eating us alive – and had eaten our pasta I headed back to the tent and Johan went for a walk. Suddenly a man jumped out of his 20m long camper-bus, run after Johan to talk to him about cycling and how much he loved it. A short walk and a weird conversation later Johan was back in the tent. In the meantime another man had approached me asking about our route and then told me, that everything would get so much worse on our way south: the sandflies, the weather, really bad choice he thought. Johan and I looked at each other with disapproval and hoped the axe murderer had chosen another campsite for tonight!!
Close to Franz Josef glacier we met a Japanese cyclist going the opposite direction. He was very excited and told us, there was a young woman ahead of us, cycling on a recumbent. We had met French Lena, 68, twice on the North island but as Manta was 100% sure that he met a young girl we thought there must be someone else on such a bike. About ten minutes later we saw her, Lena, the young girl :-). What a compliment and what an achievement for her. She hardly takes rest days and cycles constant distances of around 70km. We were at the same day in Hari Hari, she at the motel and we with Dulkara! We would meet her many more times the coming days and even cycle with her, but that’s another story.
We decided to see the Fox glacier. It’s quite an impressive glacier even though smaller than Franz Josef. Getting there we cycled through the bush and afterwards walked through the glacier valley.
Despite we still would have had time to continue we checked into a hostel as the weather forecast was horrible for the night and the coming day. Hence we wanted to rest another day and slept in. At around 9.30 am we noticed the sun shining into our room. We took a closer look and realized that it was a beautiful day. We quickly changed our plans, packed up our stuff hectically, ate our breakfast and were on the bikes by 10.45pm. Far too late as we had to cover far more than 100km to Haast, but we didn’t want to waste a good day. And we didn’t regret it. We had the odd shower every now and then but for the rest it was a good cycling day. We treated ourselves to a nice restaurant dinner when we arrived at 7.30pm and met Lena once again on the campsite where we pitched our tent just before it poured again!
5 February, Wellington – Picton, 16km
6 February – rest day
7 February, Picton – Nelson, 117km
8 February, Nelson – Richmond, 16km
9 February, Richmond – St. Arnaud, 78km
10 February, St. Arnaud – Murchison, 65km
11 February, rest day
12 February, Murchison – Springs Junction, 85km
13 February, Springs Junction – Reefton, 50km
14 February, Reefton – Greymouth, 85km
15 February, rest day
16 February, Greymouth – Hans Bay, 73km
17 February, Hans Bay – Hari Hari, 94km
18/19 February, rain rest
20 February, Hari Hari – Franz Josef, 66km
21 February, Franz Josef – Fox, 36km
22 February, Fox – Haast, 122km
Total distances cycled: 21,827km, of which 1,653 in New Zealand