Sunday, 31 July 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 19-21

Day 19 Whitebait
Fox Glacier to Pleasant Flat 160km


To be honest, I found the riding between Ross and Haast a bit of a blur. You cannot deny the natural beauty of the region, but unfortunately the riding was all on SH6, so had a quite a feeling of sameness about it.  


As there were no off road sections it did make it easier to cover more distance though. I did stop for lunch at the salmon farm just north of Paringa and had a whitebait fritter with a bread garnish


The next stop was the Knight's Point Lookout and memorial

The ride into Hast was fast with a slight downhill gradient and a favourable wind. Again I had been crossing paths with other riders all day, but by this stage everybody was well settled into their own rhythms, so aside from a greeting and a quick chat everybody kept mostly to themselves.

there were quite a few riders at Haast and most had opted to stay there for the night, I decided to head for the camping ground at Pleasant Flat so I could tackle Haast Pass first thing the next day. 

Leaving Haast
I enjoyed the ride to Pleasant Flat, although slightly uphill there was a helpful wind. The scenery heading up the Haast valley is spectacular with steep hillside dropping down into the valley and a multitude of cascading waterfalls. Pleasant Flat is a surprisingly busy and well equipped DOC camping ground. I arrived around the time it was getting dark. As I was setting up my tent I was greeted by an American tourist who gave me a bottle of Steinlager. She said that they had passed me about 40 minutes earlier on the road and wondered if I was going to stop at the camping ground, she congratulated my effort and we had a brief chat. I continued setting up my tent and managed to tip the bottle over with some over vigorous tent pole assembly, I said a naughty word and only managed to save half the contents.

Day 20 Hills 
Pleasant Flat to Arrowtown 170km

There was some light rain around in the morning and the camping ground had emptied out early, I suspect, mostly, to avoid having to pay the DOC ranger who makes daily rounds. Haast Pass is not the biggest hill on the tour but it felt like the steepest, time for some more walking. On my way up the Pass a car stopped, the driver got out and gave me some Easter eggs, it was Alison, who I had run into at Ford's cafe in Nelson some days ago. At the top of the pass we cross over from Westland into Otago and bid the west Coast farewell.

Boundary
I stopped and had lunch at Makorora, during this time the light rain eased up. From  Makorora we head into the lakes district first Wanaka then over the hill to Hawea. Hawea is a pretty little town by the dam, and certainly not as commercialised as Wanaka, and Queenstown. For the first time in two and a half days we were off road again onto the Hawea River Track, an enjoyable track with not too much up and down.

Lake wanaka
Coming into Wanaka it's onto the beach again, this time around the shore of lake Wanaka, certainly much more enjoyable than the last tine I rode on the beach in Northland. Wanaka is the last stop before Cardrona, I grabbed something to eat and stocked up on supplies, and headed off to Cardrona 24km away. I got to Cardrona relatively early and decided to push on over the Crown range to Arrowtown, first booking into the camping ground at Arrowtown. The Crown range is a decent climb to around 1100m, the highest point on the tour and at the top you can see the lights of Queenstown twinkling in the distance. The gradient though is not too bad only getting steeper as you near the summit. Near the top it was getting dark so I turned my lights on, only to have them fail in sight of the crest. Climbing without lights is bad enough but the descent was worse, luckily I had a spare torch, a small LED torch with 2 AA batteries. I did the descent with the the torch, holding onto the torch and the right handlebar with one hand  and the brakes with the other. The descent is quite steep and i was struggling to control the torch, handlebars and brakes all at the same time, my brakes by now  were making some disturbing noises. About half way down, the trail ducks off onto a gravel road to head down into Arrowtown. I was having difficulty keeping my bearings, so was stopping regularly to check the GPS on my phone. There was one more hair raising off road descent into Arrowtown. Late again, but the camping ground had a vending machine, snacktastic. This was to be my last night under canvas, it was also my longest day in terms of distance covered and probably had the most climbing as well. 



Day 21 Nadir
Arrowtown to Mossburn 139km

Arrowtown in the AM

I got scolded by the custodian for camping in the wrong place, at least I was paying, unlike the camper van parked on the road over the fence. I was aiming for the 12:30 T.S.Earnslaw sailing accross Lake Wakitipu to Walter Peak Station. I had allowed my self 3 hours for the 30 odd km to Queenstown, made up mostly of the Twin Rivers ride. What I hadn't realised was that my left knee had blown up overnight, probably a result of overdoing it the day before. It was a struggle from the moment I set out, in the end I got to he boat  30 minutes before sailing. The Earnslaw is a gorgeous old steam boat and even has a gentleman playing a grand piano to add to the ambience. I had some lunch on the boat and sat back and enjoyed the ride

T.S.Earnslaw
 Walter Peak is a working station that does the "farm" experience, a good number of passengers were staying to experience the sights and smells of the farm. On the boat I met Dirk, a wave 1 rider, who had also stayed in Arrowtown the night before.

Landing at Walter Peak

We left together, but I soon fell behind, my knee was giving me some grief, the previous day it seems had taken more out of me than I thought. I sat down by the side of the track at one point feeling quite sorry for myself, this was my lowest point of the tour.

Low Point, Lake Wakatipu in the Distance
While sitting there having a sulk, a German cycle tourist approached from the opposite direction. She stopped for a chat, asking about the conditions further on, which broke the spell and I got moving again. Things were still not right, and I stopped about 10km up the road and had a little sleep on the side of the road. There was one more climb between me and Mossburn, which I walked.

 Across the Top

Once at the top and starting to head down I began to feel a little better, there were some long fast downhill sections, but the weather was starting to close in and I began to eye up shelter belts as potential camp sites. I stopped and sat in a bus shelter at the intersection with Centre Hill Rd. Remarkably I had cell phone reception, at this point I was around 36km from Mossburn, I phoned ahead and booked a cabin at the Mossburn camping ground for $35 as the overnight weather wasn't looking promising. 

The last 26km is on The Around the Mountains Cycle Trail, I missed the turn off and had to backtrack a few km, I wasn't the only one, apparently the local anglers are a bit territorial and remove signs relating to the trail to keep cyclists off it. I enjoyed the trail it has a fast hard packed surface, there was also a tail wind most of the way to Mossburn. I passed Dirk who was camping by the river just after the start of the trail. With about 5km to go the sunlight was fading, I tried my lights again but they were only working intermittently, which was OK while they were going, but not so good when they cut out. I resorted to the hand held torch for the last few km to the camping ground. 



Friday, 29 July 2016


Tour Aotearoa Days 16-18


Day 16: Gold
Springs Junction to Blackball 127km

It was a cool start to the day, the moteliers had kindly done my washing for me overnight but there was nowhere to get breakfast, so that would have to be Reefton about 35km away. There is only the small matter of the Rahu saddle in the way which climbs it's way to 690m and is followed by a 30km downhill into Reefton. I stopped at the The Broadway Tearooms & Bakery where a number of other riders had already gathered, having left Springs junction before me. The main point of discussion was whether to do the Big River Waiuta section or take the alternate route via SH7, the consensus was to take the detour. I had done Big River during KB14, so knew what was in store and had always intended to do the trail as it was one of my highlights from the last tour. 

Big River Trail


The Big River track heads up into the hills above Reefton, it starts off as a gravel road and slowly degenerates into a rocky unmaintained 4WD track which passes through old gold mines until you get to the Big River goldmine at the top, I had hoped to spend the night at the Big River Hut, but again I hadn't got my timing right so I had to settle for eating an al fresco lunch there that I had bought at the bakery in Reefton. I had a glance at the visitors book, noting the TA riders already having stayed, the comment I found most amusing was the one left by a princess moaning about the smell of the long drop toilet, quite why you would expect anything different in the middle of nowhere is beyond me.



Big River River
The Waiuta section starts with a magnificent baordwalk at the top but soon turns into beech forest singletrack, which was a boggy mess having been carved up by the 100+ riders already having passed through. There were also a couple of wash outs that required some bike carrying.


Waiuta boardwalk
Waiuta trail











Washout
The 40km through Big River/Waiuta took about 6 hours which meant that I arrived at Ikamatua too late for the store to be open so I just sat on the bench outside eating paenut M&Ms and pondering my existence. Between Ikamatua and Blackball is the Pike River mining disaster memorial, I stopped and had a walk around the memorial which was a piognant experience. 
Pike River Memorial

I stopped at the Atarau hall and phoned ahead to the formerly the Blackball Hilton to make sure they were still open for dinner, the hosts are avid blue dot watchers and were wondering if me and another rider were going to stop in. I still have fond memories of my meal there during KB14, so I stopped for dinner and stayed the night.


Day 17: Water
Blackball to Ross 154km

It was a grey morning and just starting to drizzle when I left Blackball for Greymouth about 20km away. By the time I got to Greymouth it was raining a a cold wind was blowing off the ocean, this made the photo stop at the Greymouth Bar thoroughly unpleasant. 
Greymouth at it's Finest
We follow the cycle trail along the coast until it's time to head inland towards Kumara where I stopped for a bite to eat, thoroughly soaked and believing I couldn't get any wetter.

I was wrong, at Kumara the trail heads inland winding past the Kapitea resivoir on the way to Cowboy Paradise, an American style western town run by the Nitro Kid and marks midway between Kumara and Hokitika. Cowboy Paradise holds western style shooting competitions and has adapted itself to the needs of the cyclists now passing through. By the time I got to Cowboy Paradise I was wetter than I had thought possible, I had to stop periodically to drain the water out of my jacket. I stopped there and got a cup of coffee and a bowl of hot chips. There was a big group of riders staying there having completed their section of Wilderness Trail for the day.


The Sun Comes Out

Cowboy Paradise
While I was eating the sun came out which made for a much more pleasant, predomintly downhill, ride out to Hokitika. The trail takes you past Lake Kaniere and the hand dug Lake Kaniere water race. I got to Hokitika about 7:00pm, too early to stop so I headed off for Ross. The trail follows the Mahinipua tramline before crossing the road and following a gravel road running parallel to SH6. It was dark by this time, so I was startling a few of the local inhabitants including a hare, an opossum and a number of pukeko, I decided against the psychiatric help, inexpensive as it was. 
Mental Health Stop
Following the trend set so far I got to Ross to late for anything to be open, so I found a campsite and settled in for the night.




Day 18: Glaciers
Ross to Fox Glacier 154km

The tour now passes through the West coast towns of Pukekura, Harihari and Whataroa on the way to Franz Joseph, I got mobbed by the contents of a tourist bus at Harihari, fortunately I had already got my food. In the end this was largely uneventful riding along SH6 passing one of the photo control points, Lake Ianthe, along the way. 

Lake Ianthe
I criss crossed with a few riders along the way, among them Jill and Gordon on their twin surly's. I managed to get a bit befuddled on the way into Franz Joseph so had to stop for  a few minutes to regain my bearings. Most were staying at Franz Joseph, Franz Joseph is a tourist hot spot so was a bit of a shock to the system after the relative isolation of the county side. as it was still relatively early I elected to press on towards Fox glacier to get the climbing out of the way, there are 2 good sized climbs between Franz Joseph and Fox. The climbs were not as bad as I had expected, so I had time to head up to the new shared trail to Fox Glacier before spending the night in a cabin at the camping ground. I had a meal in town and managed to get all my washing done before getting to sleep.





Saturday, 9 July 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 13-15


Day 13: Ditch
Upper Hutt to Maitai Valley 99km

After a night in my own bed it was time to get moving, I had booked the ferry the night before and was on the 9:00am sailing. It was hard to leave home and difficult to muster the motivation to get moving, but I had a boat to catch. The ride to the ferry is the same as my usual commute to work. Along the Hutt River Trail I met my friend Karl, and he rode with me from Lower Hutt to the ferry terminal, with me struggling to keep up as Karl was on his road bike and without all the extra gear I was hauling around.  On the ferry I ran into Erik and Greg again, we talked about whether we would do the optional off road bits around Queen Charlotte Drive, Erik was keen, and I thought that I might do them. I was back on familiar ground again as this section of TA was part of the KB14 route. 
Flasher than the Interislander
In the end I decided not to do the off road sections as I had reached the high point on Queen Charlotte Dr and started to descend when the first turn off arrived, and the prospect of more climbing wasn't that inviting. I stopped for a milkshake at Havelock and then made it to Pelorous shortly before the cafe shut, at the cafe I met two young ladies who had done KB14 and had a quick chat. I had plans of getting to Nelson before dark, the only thing between me and Nelson was the Maungatapu Track. 
Warning. Pain Ahead
The Maungatapu Track is probably the hardest single climb on the TA route, it starts off OK and then gets progressively steeper, the track surface also gets rockier as the gradient increases. About halfway up a stick got caught in my rear deraileur and everything came to a dead stop, fortunately I was only going at about walking pace. I stopped to investigate the damage, which amounted to a broken deraileur hanger, fortunately these days I always carry a spare. Oddly, of the 4 hangers I have broken over the last 12 years, 3 have occurred in the Nelson/Marlborough region. It only took about 15 minutes and some peanut M&Ms to fix the hanger and get moving again. 
One of these things is broken
It was getting dark as I crested the saddle, I took the descent easy, walking the steep rocky section into the creek near the bottom, as I was on my own and it was not in an ideal place to munt yourself in the dark. I ended up camping by the river in the Maitai valley.


Day 14: Wind
Maitai Valley to Kawatiri 125km

Nom Nom
I stopped for beakfast in Nelson at Fords cafe, the same spot I stopped during KB14, it was here that I discovered that Erik had got himself a helicopter ride after smashing his wrist on one of the off road sections around Queen Charlotte Dr, ending his tour, Erik would have to rank as one of the unluckiest TA riders, a shame as he had put a huge effort into the cue sheets and designing the TA riding top. Luckily he had been riding with his old friend Greg, who raised the alarm, I had been crossing paths with the two of them since the start of the tour and would miss the opportunities to catch up and sometimes ride together. Alison, whose partner was doing the tour stopped and had a chat while I was eating breakfast, she assured me that Erik was being well looked after. 

Leaving Nelson I got mixed up in a group doing a guided tour of some of the Great Taste trail, I had a yak to the guides and eventually parted company with them around Stoke. Once out of town there was a nasty headwind all the way to Wakefield, even the birds were going backwards, so it was head down and grovel time. Wakefield is where the route departs from the KB14 route and heads towards Tapawera, rather than St Arnaud. Wakefield is also where my Mother grew up and was the home of my Grandparents, so for old times sake I went for a wander around the town and had lunch at the Wakefield bakery before heading up Pigeon Valley Road. Riding through the valley I was stung by an unidentified sort of stinging insect, which was just as well as I has been falling asleep on the bike, I then missed the turn off to Sunday Creek Rd and had to back track for a few ks. I stopped at Tapawera, where my Uncle Donald and his family lived while he worked in the forestry in the area, and stocked up at the 4 Square. I then moved on to Tadmor where my Aunt Steph had worked in the telephone exchange when they were farming in the area. The road turned to gravel on the way through the Tadmor saddle to Glenhope, I was passed by a couple of fellow TA riders around here, whose names unfortunately I can't recall. I Got to the Kawatiri campsite in the dark and camped there.

Day 15: Bugs
Kawatiri to Springs Junction 134km

The nights sleep was broken by the passing of trucks travelling down state highway 6. There was the option at this point to take the optional route over the Porika track, I had done the Porika previously and while it affords a magnificent view of Lake Rotoroa on the descent it was starting to rain and the prospect of the climb wasn't all that appealing. 
Moody Lake
Lake Rotoroa is one of the photo stops, and you can measure the time that it takes for the hordes of sandflies to settle on bare skin in milliseconds, there is a water supply and flushing toilets at the lake so it gives the opportunity to complete some ablutions. 






Bug Problems









After leaving Lake Rotoroa we rejoin the KB14 route on the Braeburn Track. Whilst on the Braeburn I felt a stinging sensation in my right wrist, thinking that this was the start of nerve damage in the hand I looked down, and saw a wasp going to town with it's stabby thing.  I had problems with my hands during the KB14 so while it was a relief to see the wasp it didn't make the experience any more pleasurable


By the time I got to Murchison I was soaked through. I stopped there for lunch, and then headed up Mangles valley towards the Maria Saddle. The Maruia Saddle was one of my favourties during KB14, and climbs gently through some beautiful
The Mariua Saddle
beech forrest. Though I got to Maruia Springs and Reids Store after closing time, the owners kindly opened the doors to let me restock my food supplies, I was not the only rider to benefit from their generosity over the course of the tour. 
Reids Store is now sadly, closed. 

I stopped for the night at the motel in Springs Junction , the motel there is like stepping back in time to the 70s, but it is warm and dry.  I had decided that spending the night in comfort was preferable to rolling into Reefton late, and then trying to find somewhere to stay. It was too late to get a meal so I settled for  a steak and mushroom pie and a big bag of chicken chips.












Saturday, 2 July 2016

Tour Aotearoa Days 10-12

Day 10: Duck
Whanganui to Apiti 128km
Quack
Being back in the big city again for the first time since Auckland 6 days ago was quite a contrast to the remote regions of the last 3 days. After some confusion finding my way around the cycle way by the river, I got myself underway and made it to Durie hill and rode the elevator to the top. It was a pleasant morning so I sat at the top and had breakfast while taking in the view

Whanganui
The next stop was Hunterville about 60km away through rolling farmland. This was largely uneventful, though I did stop at one point and had a nice chat with Seth and Steve, under a shade tree, Steve had come all the way from the United States to do the tour

Hunterville was the lunch stop, a small group of riders had stopped at  a local cafe, so I joined them. I discovered at this point that you cannot buy a single roll of toilet paper, I had run out on The Timber Trail, so did not want to tempt fate any further. I donated the spare toilet roll to the cafe.

I had ridden in this area before, in the opposite direction, when I was preparing for the 2014 Kiwi Brevet, not that it helped much, temperatures had risen again so it was very hot as I left Hunterville making it a grovel on the gravel to get to the next stop at Rangiwahia.

Grant, who had passed me earlier, was at Rangiwahia, and was planning to stop there for the night, there is a campsite there with a water supply. It was still too early for me to stop so after a short rest that involved a bag of dinosaurs, I carried on toward the campsite at Apiti. The road trended upwards with a few deep gorges to climb in and out of along the way, then a final downhill into Apiti and the campsite. There is a petrol station in Apiti, but again, this was closed by the time I got there, I had since heard stories about how the owners had been making emergency runs to Palmerston North to stock up on goods purchased by ravenous TA riders. Greg and Erik were already there, having passed me at while I was stopped at Rangiwahia, and kindly shared their rice and salami hot pot with me. The road beside the camp site was busy with haymaking contractors going hard out to get the hay baling done.
Sunset over the Rangitikei
Day 11:  Steamroller
Apiti to Eketahuna 154km

Remarkably, when I got up the next morning the tent was bone dry, an unexpected bonus as I hadn't had a chance to dry it out since the Timber Trail. Again, I was among the last to leave. Another rider yet to leave had been ravaged by a stinging insect of some sort the day before, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. He managed to get a diagnosis over the phone from his father who happened to be a doctor. After making sure that he was going to be OK, I set off aiming to be in Palmerston North for lunch. 

Eric and Catherine, my wife's parents, who had been waiting for an opportunity to catch up, met me a Ashurst and bought me lunch at a nearby cafe.
Eric and Cath
From there it was a 20km ride to Palmerston North on the cycle trail, which was made unpleasant by a headwind that had sprung up from nowhere. I bypassed Pamerston North and headed up the Pahiatua track. 
I have driven the Pahiatua Track many times but this was the first time I had ridden it. There were road works along the way, at one point I passed a steam roller only to then have it then chase me up the hill, a tad disconcerting. The hill was not as bad as I expected, I stopped at the top, sat on a pile of gravel and replaced my front brake pads, which had been screeching at me every time I hit the brakes since the second day of the tour. I stopped and got a burger in Pahiatua and then took to the back roads to Eketahuna. It was early evening and the riding was calm and pleasant, Erik and Greg caught up again, they had bypassed into Palmerston North, I rode with them to Eketahuna, where they elected to stay at the camping ground. 


While I was in Eketahuna I met a young man who told me about free beds being offered to TA riders just out of town, keeping this in mind I kept going, about 10km out of town I came to the sign that offered a shower and bed for TA riders. My hosts Fran and Derek, had a friend doing TA that had already passed through and entering into the spirit of TA open homes had put the sign on their front gate. It was their son I had met earlier in Eketahuna while taking a photo of the kiwi.
Eketahuna
Day 12: Home 
Eketahuna to Upper Hutt 138km

I spent a pleasant night sleeping inside, and was, to my surprise given a cooked breakfast the next morning. I was again extremely grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers.

The ride into Masterton is predominantly downhill, Grant caught me up and we rode together most of the way to Masterton. I stopped for something to eat in Masterton and planned to meet up with family in the area, my brother lives in Greytown and my wife was working at the Martinborough Fair. At this point I didn't realise that the SpotNZ tracking was down and still had me eating my burger in Pahiatua. As I passed through Gladstone on the way to Martinborough I saw a sign supporting the TA, another symbol of the of the high level of awareness and support of the tour in general, particularly in smaller towns.  
Feeling the Love
Martinborough was having the second day of it's annual fair, held on the first Saturdays of February and March each year. The crowds were huge, eventually I found my wife, Tanya, a mountain bike widow from way back and we had lunch together. Tanya told me about running into Jo and Scott who had been just ahead of me since Whanganui.



I wasn't able to catch up with my little brother as he thought I was still in Pahiatua and had made other plans. Between Martinborough and Cross Creek I got hammered by a NorWest headwind, not unusual in the Wairarapa, but that didn't make it any more pleasant. There is now a cycle way from Featherston to the turn off to Cross Creek which makes the ride more pleasant as the road on this stretch doesn't have much in the way of a shoulder. At the Cross Creek car park I met a rider and tour guide from Green Jersey Cycle Tours who took the photo below.

On the single track to the old Cross Creek station site I passed two riders going  in the opposite direction, who had caused much discussion as they had been seen on the train heading to Wellington and it was assumed that they were TA riders taking a short cut. The ride to the Rimutaka Rail Trail summit was into a howling headwind, again, not unusual for the this area. My house is about 500m from the course, off the Hutt River Trail, I was unable to resist, so I stopped at home. I went out to dinner at a local Indian restaurant with my family, I also took the opportunity to do all my washing and replace the spigot on my camelbak that had vanished a few days before.