There was supposed to be some heavy rain heading our way during the morning so when I woke to dry conditions outside I thought it best to pack away quickly and hit the road. It started to pour just a few miles in, my rain coat is not so waterproof these days after accidentally putting it on a warm colours wash, messing up the material. I was soon sopping wet head to socks with no option but to continue riding. My hands were cold and cramping from clutching my wet bars. I found Eal paused in the road by a stop sign, the heavy rain had dislodged some big rocks causing a landslide which embedded them in the road. The cleanup was underway with a helicopter scooping water up from the river and dropping it down on the slide to push down any more loose sections, mud, rain, wind and traffic jams along highway 6.
After making it through we continued towards the NZ west coast. Towns weren’t forthcoming so another roadside picnic with P+J sangas had to suffice. By now the rain had pushed over and the sun was shining bright, when I arrived at the town of Charleston there was no sign of a store or Eal. I took to the recreation area on the beach to dry out my layers in the sudden heat.
The ride along the ocean reminded me of the US pacific coast, the roads hair-pinned inland over bluffs in the same manner as they did on highway 1, the rock stacks stood off in the sea, my brain was continually telling me to go on the right side of the road. Slightly confusing but hearing some kiwi accents re-calibrated my geo-location.
The local attraction in punakaiki where we spent the night is the ‘pancake rocks and blow holes’ I only managed one picture of the rocks before my camera battery died so see the following youtube video. Pretty incredible and unlike anything I’ve seen before!
From there it was a short 30 mile day to Greymouth where we intended on taking the Monteiths brewery tour on the afternoon. In town we located the Neptunes Backpackers, another super friendly family run place like in Turangi. We met Ben from Vancouver again who was staying there for 5 days as they offer free accommodation if you work a while, he has a few weeks to get to Queenstown so its perfect for him. We restocked on road supplies from the supermarket then enjoyed some wonderful sipping time at Monteiths. Wasting their time with the seasonal Apricot Wheat though, when asked what beer they like, each person on the tour responded ‘strong ipa’ Monteiths don’t do one, maybe they will take note.
When I strolled down to the kitchen for the free guest breakfast the next morning I could see the weather outside looked atrocious. I checked the forecast and it was scheduled to be heavy rain all day with winds of 25mph. Eal had arranged yesterday to have some tyres delivered to a bike shop in town. We couldn’t be sure they would arrive before 12 noon anyway so made the decision to remain at Neptunes another day.
I switched the tyres around on my bike, did some laundry and we played on the free pool table in the afternoon. Eal had destroyed me 7-1 in Wellington so I was happy to restore some pride this time with a 3-1 best of 5 win. The sideways rain didn’t let up once the entire time as I repeated over and over ‘So glad I’m not riding in this!’. Its not so much the getting wet its the riding with a burrowed head and squinting eyes. You miss all the scenery and on the narrow NZ roads it can be incredibly dangerous as the spray kicked up from the trucks when they pass prevents the drivers behind from even seeing you hugging the white line.
We said our goodbyes to the Neptunes owner and hit the coast road again on another beautiful spring day. I stopped to talk with a couple of German tourers heading north, we have started seeing a few more cyclists recently as the finer weather approaches, I guess the South island is possibly a more popular destination too. Halfway through the day I stopped for lunch in Hotikika. Me and Eal had agreed on a primitive camp area for the night just a few km south of Ross so I decided to spend a few hours chilling out so not to arrive to early.
Heading out again at 4pm with the intention of arriving at 6pm I met a local cyclist, he had a very unique prosthetic left leg with cleat mechanism for his road bike. He informed me that the camp area I was shooting for was much further south than I thought (based on what google maps had told me), Eal had the map so I couldn’t verify where it was marked on the paper copy which I never actually saw for myself this morning. Lake Ianthe would actually be another 25km past Ross. I saw the cyclist again in town. Without me saying a word he said “I can’t offer you a place to stay because I’ve had to many people thieving off me over the years.” Gee-thanks! I verified how far Ianthe was with the store owner. If I set off now I would arrive in darkness, that’s assuming the terrain wasn’t too bad and I didn’t get a flat or worse. I resolved to make up the mileage in the morning and located an odd cabin deal to sleep in for the night.
Very basic and dusty but it will suffice. The rustic setting pushed me towards pen and paper to finish some postcards I had still failed to send 2 weeks after picking them up, better late than never! This would be the first night since May 27th me and Eal had not spent in the same place.
The early alarm I had set to catch Eal up didn’t wake me up for some reason. My cabin was a little chilly during the night. When I did eventually wake at 7am I got trucking quick sharp, amazing early morning light, super still and quiet. The day began with glorious scenery, views of Mount Cook in the distance, pristine lakes, snow capped ranges.
The views continued to wow me into early afternoon, at this point I was debating in my head whether this could possibly be the best bike ride of my life. I concluded it was simply special and precious in its own way just like many other days riding this trip. A couple from Brisbane, where I’m heading to in Oz, were stood on the bend of a river taking pictures and offered to take mine in return for me snapping one of them. Afterwards I managed to stab my right calf on the big chainring turning my bike around. I looked for a way down to cleanse it in the water but it was inaccessible so my bottled water had to suffice, nothing could spoil my mood today though. So happy with life, I felt euphoric. The couple beeped and waved as they passed, if ever I feel like a smile on the road I will throw a wave out towards an oncoming driver. Which is almost always returned, helps to feel less alone some days out on the road and reminds me that there are real people inside those metal boxes zipping by me.
Arriving in Franz Josef I still needed to locate Eal, I checked in at each campground and backpackers with no luck. I had arrived in good time so he must have been here much earlier. It crossed my mind he may have continued to Fox Glacier. Either way we both knew we would be in Fox Glacier tomorrow afternoon after both deciding our one ‘kiwi’ experience splash-out would be a glacier hike. I checked rates at backpackers and found a great deal at the YHA for cyclists as part of there carbon footprint scheme. I failed to mention my 2 long haul flights getting to this point.
I shared a big dorm room with just one other guy from Hong Kong. We had some communication issues but he was so enthusiastic and friendly, continuing to try asking questions and understand my responses. He had just been on the ice breaker ship down to Antarctica for $3000 and had other touring cyclists on board with him! After telling him about my ride he nicknamed me ‘Ironman’. Doesn’t quite work somehow when I’m curled up on my bed like a chesire cat under the quilt with woolly socks on to stay toasty. Meow.