First Impressions Of South Island

Getting on the Ferry at Wellington in the afternoon we were joined by about 20 guys all riding super nice road bikes on a charity tour and one other fellow loaded tourer from Vancouver. The journey took just over 2 hours, Eal didn’t bring his sea legs with him and felt a little nauseous,  it did get quite choppy. Still, up on top deck the view of the Marlbrough sounds made for a staggeringly beautiful entrance to the south island and our destination for the evening, Picton. We located a campground just 2 miles from the terminal, our tents had been packed away wet the whole time in Wellington so now they smelt like a damp football sock. Breathe through your mouth time. Excited for the south island. Our second ferry ride of the trip done, just one more plane to catch now from Christchurch to Brisbane.

The next morning was a public holiday in NZ, labor day. We had been advised to checkout Renwick and the surrounding wineries that are linked with trails especially for bikes, it was also home to the MOA beer brewery. Only 25 miles from Picton but seemed too good to miss so we covered the ground early and stopped for lunch at the 3 bears cafe to line our stomachs. Watson’s Backpackers in town hooked us up with a sweet deal to camp in the garden and use all the kitchen, shower facilities. Bags unloaded we swiftly headed back out towards the cellar doors that we had passed coming into town on what was a perfect sunny spring afternoon.

We stopped by a few tasting rooms, a couple of regular culture vultures decked in lycra. Hmmm. This is white wine and bubbles territory, mostly delightful and unique. Mid-way through vineyard hopping we hit the MOA brewery, 3/5 were good drops including one that I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of for the road tomorrow. The last vineyard was right in town, Gibson Bridge. It was the smallest in the area, a family ran place. Julie gave us by far the most entertaining and engaging chat over the tasting. Her husband, Howard, came out to talk with us about our trip for a while past closing time then pulled out some free wine for us to take away, thanks guys!

After failing to find a suitable ATM in Picton or Renwick we were both low on cash, unfortunately towns for the next few days looked like being few and far apart with extremely limited services. Stocking up at the supermarket before riding I made sure I had enough meals and snacks for three days. I find this difficult on a bike, its hard to resist tomorrow’s chocolate bar when you have already devoured today’s ration by 10am. Gone are the days I could rely on Flavia for a swedish fish treat in the afternoons and Eal eats all 3 days worth before he’s even started riding! ‘When they’re gone they’re gone’ as my mum used to say with the sweets.

There was literally nothing leaving Renwick except for stunning scenery. Rest stops were made by the roadside sitting on grass. At one point Eal caught up with me as I was perched by a fence having lunch in the sun. By the time we got to riding again it started to sleet! The icey showers coming straight off the surrounding mountains. The dramatic change in weather and temperature had us pulling on all kinds of layers to stay warm. We were both attacked by the most aggressive magpie yet, this one had swooped at eal from the front and clattered his helmet from behind! Strong headwinds blasted us from the west, the only positive being that it pushed all the nasty weather over our heads and the blue skies prevailed once again.

A steep climb took us past ski field signs to St Arnaud that brought us out at the base of the stunning Lake Rotoiti, in amongst the mountains. It would be a fairly primitive camp, with bench and small shelter for us to sit out the cold, despite one side being open to the elements. A frosty night ahead had Eal concerned. My sleeping bag is rated extreme for -11C his is down to 1C. Ducks joined in with dinner which was then washed down with the superb MOA Five Hops I had carried with me from yesterday.

I woke up cold several times in the night with my nose, the only exposed body part, freezing cold. I was happy to get a response from Eal to my shout at 8am in the morning to know he hadn’t frozen solid. Our feet were like ice blocks, there was a tiny gas station in St Arnaud and that was it, we stopped in there to thaw out for half an hour before heading out. It remained chilly throughout the day, I sported my extra layer of fleece gloves most the time.

Destination for the evening was another primitive campspot called Lyell just off highway 6, down deep in the Buller river gorge which we would be riding all day. So we were thankful to find the town of Murchison, the first real settlement since Renwick, at least had a small supermarket to restock with some treats before continuing towards the NZ outback. Two days without shower and tomorrow I will add some more sweat to that just for good measure. The cold makes it tricky to layer correctly. The last thing you want to do in these temps is start sweating under layers because then if you stop and the wind picks up you will get the worst of chills. Thankfully it was milder than last night, so I was able to save my hoody from coming into contact with my rancid bike attire.

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