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

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.

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