Inangahua - the last place in NZ where they ask at a tearoom whether Earl Grey tea is a herb tea! The joys of travel and the same guy (he has only been there a month) doesn't know what is at Inangahua Junction several km away. February. Has to be the best time for a holiday right? Kids mostly back at school, roads and camping grounds quieter and the weather better.
It certainly seemed like the best choice when Jo and I were planning our cycle touring get-away late last year. We made our bookings and hum'd and ha'd over routes - should we go through the Rainbow or Molesworth roads, directly to St. Arnaud from Picton then down the coast - or what about over to Nelson then Motueka/Kaiteriteri before heading south? Hmm .we needed to be in Christchurch by the 19th Feb. for a family wedding so maybe we should cut it short and go over Arthur's Pass? We finally decided to go over to Nelson and see what would happen. We were on holiday after all - who wants fixed plans.
Just a few days before we left I read that February is the wettest month on the West Coast. Great. Maybe we should think again? But the tickets were booked, including our discount airfares for the return trip from Chch. Just do it we thought. The Lynx got us smoothly to Picton in time for morning tea. From there it was a quick bike ride, slowed only by the head wind, around Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock for lunch - love those cafes. From there, to ease us in to the routine of cycle touring, we biked to the Pelorus Bridge campground. It was a nice short day.
The camping ground was almost empty, and - lucky for us - ten meters above the river . Three days earlier it had been raining heavily and the entire campground had been under water. Timing is everything. We heard second hand that a cycle tourist there at the time had had to swim for it in the flooded river in the middle of the night. Another fine day dawned and after a leisurely start we headed over the hill(s) to Nelson. A head wind during the last 15 km left us somewhat tired but dinner and a movie revived us at the end.
That night we had an excellent sleep in our little tent, only to wake and find that someone had stolen our bikes! Bugger. Cycle touring without wheels was going to be difficult - and it was only Day Three. The lucky recipient obviously had an eye for quality though - a couple of other bikes with cheap crappy locks had been left alone. We weren't completely singles out however, a motel unit nearby and several cars in an adjacent street were also done over.
While the insurance companies procrastinated over when and how much they would pay out we cruised every bike shop between Nelson and Richmond checking out our replacement options. Three days later we were on our way again, heading south - next stop St Arnaud. It was still in the high twenties when we arrived St Arnaud, 30 degrees and a 2000 foot climb. We were somewhat weary and accompanied by an English woman who had recently cycled across most of Canada - and was finding NZ hard going.
Murchison, Westport, Punakaiki, Greymouth with fantastic weather. There was a little head wind but otherwise fine and warm. Maybe February isn't the wettest month? The camping grounds were almost empty - of NZers. There were a lot of foreign tourists, mostly German.
The delays in Nelson meant we didn't have time to go right down and over Haast so Arthurs Pass is was. With 920 metres altitude Jo chose to catch the train from Otira to the township of Arthurs Pass. I was feeling pretty fit and thought I'd give cycling a try. I nearly made it, before the unrelenting climb was too much to handle without a breather in the middle so I changed to a little walking for some change in muscle activity.
The new viaduct was smaller than I'd imagined but still pretty big. Actually, considering the piles go as far below the ground as they do above, the viaduct is quite impressive. You won't be able to see much of the old road in a year or two - it will have all slipped away. I thought I would cycle up it as it is longer but somewhat less steep but there is no longer even ready access to it.
The next morning in Arthurs Pass we got the first real rain of the trip. They thought we were mad leaving the backpackers judging by the looks we got. We descended below the rain clouds in about half a hour and had a good tail wind all day. Porters Pass was great fun to descend. I stopped on the way down to talk to a cycle tourist who had paused on the climb up.
He and three friends had got off a 12 hour international flight in Christchurch that morning, cycled 60 km into a head wind across the Canterbury plains and found it was just to much to hit Porters Pass - which is higher than Arthurs Pass. They were intending to reach Cass, another 60 km, but fortunately there was someone there who was going to come looking for them later in the day. Perhaps someone should have explained the terrain to them, suggesting a day or two in Chch to recover from jet lag before setting off. But they only had two weeks.
We had a rest day in Chch and having a few days up our sleeves we headed of to Akaroa. 84 km with a bit of a hill. A tail wind down to Birdlings Flat blew us well along the way - and Little River has an excellent café if you are ever down that way.
The little hill was a 500 meter climb over eight kilometres, not too steep but long. It was followed by a similar descent - great stuff. We found the four hills around the sides of the harbour to Akaroa, little but steep, especially the last one. Akaroa is great but damp. I coasted down the last hill at 75 km/hr on the way back. Awesome. Now I know why it seemed steep on the way up. The final day back to Chch was moist with a good southerly tail wind and we had the best average speed of any day so far not that cycle touring is about best speeds!
Three weeks of cycling/camping/cafes/fine weather/great scenery (the only low being our bikes being stolen). It was real culture shock to have to ease back into a Wellington week of work one week later.