Most hostels have a free food shelf in the fridges for items people are leaving behind. Last night I had eyed up 4 eggs in a carton that I was going to have for breakfast this morning. I went through at 6am to boil some dippies only to find they had been eaten already! Dang nabbit’.
I set out into a drizzly morning with just 15 miles of riding to catch up Eal in Franz Josef. This would still include 3 reasonably steep but short passes that got me warmed up nicely. I arrived by 9am to find Eal having cofffee, he had spent the past few days thinking I was ahead of him rather than behind. So had been racing ahead each day trying to catch me up. We would be spending the afternoon on a guided hike up Fox Glacier. Preparing for the hike we added a few more bicycle layers, the company provides trousers, jacket, boots, cramp-ons. It was a clear, sunny day though so the gear stayed in my pack the entire time.
We had a short 15 minute walk through the valley to get to the terminus of the Glacier. It was an incredible experience stepping onto the ice pack, we hiked up further checking out all its glorious features up close. The few hours we spent whizzed by, I didn’t want to leave. Phenomenal place.
Leaving Fox Glacier the next day conditions were still bright but it wouldn’t last. When the rain came it was cold, heavy and relentless. There is nothing nada, zilch for the 75 mile ride between Fox and Haast. Snack stops were made stood in the pouring rain, water trickling from the front of my helmet. The only restbite from the torrential rain came in a small shelter on a lookout. I spent a few minutes reading the information boards on local sea birds and ate the rest of my cookie pack. Not a good idea to hang around too long whilst cold and wet. I got going sharpish to keep my body temp up.
I kept my body as rigid as possible so not to feel my wet crinkly coat and sopping lyrca pants against my skin more than I had to. On downhills the rain felt like I was staring at a cold shower jet, with no way of dry wiping my face, I just blinked endlessly. Finally making it to Haast at our accommodation for the evening which is best described as a converted community centre. Good stock of fire wood though, all socks, shoes and cyclewear laid out to dry. I was just relieved the 8 hours riding in rain was over. Definitely taken to a new place mentally today, I wouldn’t call it real adversity but I know I can cope spending all day in those conditions. Although we aren’t even attempting to camp with the current condition of our tents and clothes. Good job New Zealand is geared towards backpackers.
Apparently the weather hadn’t read my script for this morning. The rain from yesterday was still coming down, puddles were now lakes. Determined to keep dry feet today I employed a shopping bag technique over my socks. It was quite funny knowing we had spent all evening dry out our things only for them to get soaking wet within seconds of riding again.
There would be absolutely nothing again today between start and end point. The initial riding was traversing up river but nothing too taxing. There was one small shelter before we crossed the river at the scarily named ‘Gates of Haast’ where I ducked out the rain for a few seconds to devour a few bananas. From here the climbing began, it was super steep and winding. Rarely on this trip have I had to stand up for entire climbs. Thankfully it levelled out nicely towards the top of the pass and in total wasn’t too long. I stopped briefly to talk with some trampers about bicycle touring. Wary of the fact I was wet and cold with a downhill to follow I got going again.
The rain had finally stopped for the last 10 miles to Makarora which consists of a few farms and a small holiday village where we would be staying. The buildings were all triangular and quirky. I scored a bed in one of the dorms and was already showered, sat sipping Earl Grey by the time Eal turned up looking as I had, shivering, bewildered, spent. We got the fire going without any kindling, score! Lucky for us there would be nobody else arriving that evening so we had the dorm block to ourself. Bazinga!
The cycling gods finally showed mercy on us for the ride to Queenstown. Clear skies and strong, gusty tailwinds. The first 40 miles to Wanaka were probably the easiest I have experienced as the winds urged us over hills and across straights at speed. Wanaka was a beautiful outdoors type town right on the lake. Eal caught up with me whilst I was having lunch then we set out into the afternoon, heading over the crown range as the temperature soared.
The landscape, heat and narrow road up the crown range reminded me of riding along the Columbia river gorge. The view distance at the top stretched out for miles, you could see Queenstown low in the valley by the lake. The descent was made terrifying by the low guard rails on the cliff side. The immense winds and narrow hairpin turns meant I was constantly gravitating towards the edge.
6 miles from Queenstown we jumped on an off road bike path that would take us into town, it was rideable and gave us a break from the cars of highway 6. This place is the main south island destination for backpackers, hikers, thrill seekers, pub crawlers etc. Everybody we have met talks about going to or having been to Queenstown. Its suited in the middle of several epic mountain ranges, we have a few days schedule to see what all the hype is about.