23 February – 7 March, 2014 – After a long and tough cycling day we were actually looking forward to sleep in the next day as the weather forecast was very poor and we thought we had a rest day once more. By 8am the bright sun shone on our tent and Lena was already having breakfast as she of course would continue cycling. Looking at the sky we decided to follow Lena’s example, we felt too embarrassed to just do nothing at a place where there is nothing to do or see at all. The going was tough, beautiful rolling landscape with still snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, but even short climbs were too long for my tired legs. After about 50km and right before an even tougher climb over a pass we decided to stay at the campground and get a good night’s sleep before tackling another challenge. Lena of course continued, brave old lady!
The following day we were glad we had made the right decision: after about four kilometers we started our steepest climb ever in New Zealand. Three kilometers at gradients where we often had to stand on the pedals to be able to keep them turning. We just made it without walking the bikes, but only with many, many stops in between. As always the reward was the scenery and this time as well a nice restaurant on the other side of the pass with a lunch buffet and portions that pleased our hungry stomachs.
The afternoon continued mind-blowing, breath-taking, just amazing. The strong tailwind blew us over steep hills all the way to Wanaka. We cycled along two lakes, met Lena in the late afternoon and at the campsite and felt lucky again having had such an awesome day.
In Wanaka we rested another day and cycled the next day over another pass – on the highest highway in New Zealand at 1,076m – to Queenstown, the party capital. I know I am repeating myself, but the landscape was once more amazing and worth every drop of sweat we lost on the way. By now we are really fit and hardly any mountain can scare us off anymore. Thankfully, as there were many more challenges ahead.
As we are dead-boring and old we didn’t party and instead rested (again!) in Queenstown. The next challenge was just around the corner: cycling another ’Lord of the Rings’ landscape. To do that, we had to take an old steam boat to cross the lake. There were several crossings each day but we wanted to take the first boat at 10am. We got up at 6.30am, took a shower and were back in our still warm sleeping bags by 6.45am. I was still so tired, the sky grey with rain clouds and the air cold. We now aimed for the noon boat as Lena did. By the time we had packed up our tent the skies opened and it rained heavily. Not willing to unpack again and hoping for just a shower we continued to the harbour, bought our ferry tickets, bought some wool gloves for me and waited together with Lena for the rain to stop and the boat to leave. We were just about to load our bikes onto the vessel when the captain approached us to let us know that we had two streams without bridges to cross on the other side of the lake and with the heavy rain the water could become as high as our hips. He also told us that there was no accommodation nor food to buy for the next 100km. We knew the latter, discussed the rain with Lena and decided to give it a try. Worst case we would have to camp somewhere next to the river.
By the time we reached the other side of the lake, the sky had cleared and the sun was shining. The top of the mountains around us were snow-covered, a cold wind was blowing in our faces and it was freezing cold. Glad, I had just bought the gloves. Nicely packed in our warm clothes the three of us headed off on a small and winding gravel road, first along the lake and later through a valley along a river and over a pass. We didn’t get far that day for several reasons: first, we only started pedalling at around 1.30pm; second, we cycled against a strong wind on a bad road and third, we had to stop so many times to take pictures. We were in “Lord of the Rings” land now, some of the spectacular landscape scenes of the famous movies had been shot here.
As Lena struggled on the road with her small tires she was much slower than we and we waited for her at the first river crossing, which was just ankle-deep water. So shoes off and barefooted through the ice-cold water. Shortly after we had to climb a three-kilometer long pass. On the top the wind was blowing even harder and as it was already past 6pm we realized we wouldn’t reach the campsite anymore. We then stopped at a little shepherd’s hut where we pitched our tent and even had some shelter from the gusty wind. We thought it was the best camp spot ever. We didn’t see Lena anymore and found out the next day that she had stopped a few hundred meters before us next to a river.
The next day and almost at the end of this fantastic trail we said our final goodbyes to Lena as she was heading in a different direction now, impossible for us to catch up with her again.
We were now going to Te Anau and the Milford Sounds to see the fiords and to do some things that all the other tourists do as well: take a bus, take a boat, take a bus back and all that with about 30 other tourists from different nations on a rainy day. While the fiords were beautiful, despite the rain, that day wasn’t as exciting as our other days, this touristy stuff is just not our cup of tea. We are too used to stop when we want to and not when the bus driver decides.
As we had a Warm Showers host waiting for us in Invercargill we had two more tough days ahead of us. Tough because we cycled each day more than 100km on undulating roads with passes in between and very tough because we cycled against the wind. The latter was so frustrating as our little cycle guide promised strong tailwinds most of the year all the way to Invercargill. Well, we made it nevertheless and relaxed two days at John’s wonderful house with his son Fergus, Emmy, the dog and 50 Alpaca sheep in the paddock. Andrew, the Scotsman and Jens and Conny from Germany, all cycle tourists camped in John’s garden and we all spent the evenings eating together and enjoying Warm Showers hospitality at its best.
23 February, Haast – Pleasant Flat: 48km
24 February, Pleasant Flat – Wanaka: 98km
25 February, Wanaka rest day
26 February, Wanaka – Queenstown: 79km
27 February, Queenstown
28 February, Queenstown – Mavora: 35km
1 March, Mavora – Te Anau: 93km
2/3 March, Te Anau
4 March, Te Anau – Tuatapere:103km
5 March, Tuatapere – Invercargill: 107km
6/7 March, Invercargill: 24km
Total distance cycled: 22,489km of which 2,343km in New Zealand