Day 18 -Mt. Somers to Fairlie – 100 kms
The rain stopped overnight and as usual the Tui birds woke me. It was a calm but cold morning – no heater in the caravan. The Tuis start their bird calls at 6:30 a.m., they’re quite the warblers – much better than waking to squawking crows!
A slight downhill grade and no wind to speak of got me quickly through the 50 kms of SH72 to the town of Geraldene. A really nice town – good second breaky stop and I also stopped at the info centre to book some train travel for my return to the North Island later on. Very friendly staff there went out of their way to help me out.
Today the sun really tried to shine, but the clouds won out – at least it’s fairly warm and not raining though – cloudy with sunny periods (Kiwi speak… “mainly fine”).
Yesterday, I passed more vineyards and wineries of the Canterbury region; today, in amongst the multitude of sheep farms, I passed quite a few deer farms. Hundreds of deer all penned up. I can’t figure out if they’re bred for the meat or for hunting?
After the flat ride to Geraldene, I set off on SH79 and the road soon began some good undulations – at least three good hills, with the last one, Mt. St. Michael, just before Fairlie. At the top of that one there was a convenient cafe for an ice-cream, so after that I started the downhill run, building up speed I passed some other cyclists pedalling their way to the top. I yelled some encouragement to them, but otherwise couldn’t converse with them. They are the first touring cyclists that I’ve seen since the Dutch couple at Kaikoura – I thought that I would see more, but maybe a lot of them dissolved in the rain!
Really exciting moment today, a bee flew into my helmet! I was on an uphill, going pretty slow, so trying to balance the bike while pulling my helmet off was quite the comedy act. There was a bus coming the other way and all that they saw was me pulling my helmet off and throwing it in the ditch, whilst stopping and jumping off the bike. How I didn’t fall over was a miracle. I guess the bus passengers had a good laugh at my expense! Anyhow, at least I didn’t get stung!
The road from Geraldene to Fairlie is usually very busy (especially on mornings) – with busloads of tourists heading for Queenstown and Fiordland. Lucky for me, I tackled it on a Sunday afternoon so it was pretty quiet, as have been all the roads for the last three days. It certainly pays to ride the rural routes, they are peaceful and allow me to see more of how remote much of this country really is. Unfortunately, many of the back roads are fast becoming main roads to cater for the tour buses and campervans of the many visitors to New Zealand. I’m sure that the Lord of the Rings movies (11 Oscars, wow!) will bring even more tourism, as people will want to see “Middle Earth” for themselves.
Fairlie’s another nice small town and the motor camp is very clean and well kept. Hardly anyone here though – that time of year I guess!
Well, even with the crappy weather, it seems that I might be getting a bit of a tan – hang on a minute – it’s rust!
Day 19 -Fairlie to Omarama – 131 kms
Another mainly fine day – I can’t believe it! Actually, after I sent my email last night, it was a beautiful evening in Fairlie – even the sun started to peek through the low clouds for a nice sunset. It was also a good deal warmer this morning to extract myself from the nest.
Fairlie’s history is like most small towns here, it started as a sheep station. Nowadays, although the sheep are still big business, a lot of the towns are bases for all types of tourism exploits. Fairlie – low alpine – is the base for people skiing nearby Mt. Dobson. Omarama, where I ended up today, is a centre for paragliding, heli-skiing, gliding and numerous other ways to get high! I mentioned alpine, and upon leaving Fairlie I had about 21 kms of uphill to clear Burke’s Pass. Fortunately, most of it was a gentle climb, we won’t talk about the last 2 kms!
Once at the top I got a spectacular view of the snow-capped Southern Alps of New Zealand on the horizon. In fact, for probably 50 kms today, I had some fantastic vistas of the mountains and even Mt. Cook was fully visible in the distance (I believe that Mt. Cook was Sir Edmund Hilary’s training ground).
I stopped for second breaky in Lake Tekapo, where the lake is a very deep blue colour. The village is an alpine tourist venue in the making – chalet and condo construction everywhere – It’ll be a packaged tourist trap (like Lake Louise) in no time. Nevertheless, a beautiful spot all the same.
Lake Tekapo and adjoining Lake Pukaki, are dammed to provide a good portion of the South Island’s electricity through hydro generation. There is a canal between the lakes, and it must have been an expensive project to complete. But the kicker is that there is a paved road beside the canal that runs for almost 35 kms – and it’s completely flat except for a 2 km downhill to the other lake at the end. Guess which road I took? I didn’t hesitate to leave SH8 for the serenity of the canal road. I think that besides being a scenic ride, I only saw about six cars along that stretch – and no buses. Buses are more frequent than big trucks now, as they ply the road to Queenstown. Shortly after reaching Lake Pukaki I had to leave the canal road and rejoin SH8 to ride on to Twizel and Omarama.
All in all a good days ride with some good scenery and weather. I actually saw seven other cyclists on the canal road – all going the other way – three couples and one single lady. Five were Germans – God, they’re everywhere! And the other two were from France.
I only had one scary moment today – just before Lake Tekapo – when a pilot car passed me with it’s orange flasher going – after he went by, I looked in my mirror and there was this truck with a full width (double-wide) house on its trailer bearing down on me. I stopped, jumped off the bike and literally dragged the bike, into the ditch and ducked down – just in time too! I can’t believe that they’d allow something that wide on these narrow roads! Or maybe it’s one of the insane extreme sports here – like zorbing or the myriad other suicidal hair-brained options to maim yourself that I’ve seen advertised here in New Zealand.
Anyhow, that was a lucky break for me – now it’s time to eat – fuel up, ya know!
Day 20 -Omarama to Cromwell – 116 kms
It rained last night, but had stopped by the time I had to pack up this morning. After breakfast, I set out on the 32 km climb to Lindis Pass. The sun was trying to clear the clouds, but the rain showers won out. There were only two quick ones though, just enough to soak me while I donned my raingear – kinda like someone throwing a bucket of water on you while you’re getting dressed – get the picture?
The first 20 kms were a slight uphill grade, but into that damned headwind again. The next 10 kms were a little steeper, and the last 2 kms were candidates for the knee-knackerer award. Once over the 965m pass, it was pretty smooth riding until another 2 km killer hill just before Tarras, where I stopped for second breaky – that was after 80 kms with no services, so I guess that it was lunch too!
The wind really picked up just before Tarras also. But lucky me, finally a ferocious tailwind! Needless to say, the last thirty-odd klicks into Cromwell were a breeze! I met a lady cyclist going the other way just after Tarras – she was not amused!
What enhanced that last section for me, was also riding on relatively flat road alongside the scenic Lake Dunstan. Actually, I had some wonderful scenery all day today – even the stark and barren hillsides of the ride over Lindis Pass had a beauty of their own and I was following the path of the Lindis river, just about all the way from the summit.
That’s one thing that I’ve noticed here, yes there are hills everywhere, but they are very diverse in their constitution – some are clay hills, some are grass, some are wooded, some are bare, others are rock hills etc. Today I passed from one to the other.
The area that I am in now is Central Otago, and I feel as if I have been dropped into the Okanagan area of BC! The weather after the pass changed considerably – it was scorching hot all afternoon, with a very dry strong wind blowing. Nevertheless, the forecast is for rain for a couple of days in the Queenstown area, which is not far away. This valley area, just like the Okanagan, abounds with vineyards and is a major fruit growing region (“The fruit bowl of the south”) – also it was a gold mining area in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; apparently, some of the mines are still viable and there is a definite move afoot to restart some of the old mining operations in the near future – tourism???
Much of Cromwell is a newer town with a partially reconstructed “old” section. The building of the Clyde Dam and the filling of Lake Dunstan required a move of the town centre. Regardless, as in Lake Tekapo, there is lots of construction here too, houses, condos, and with a new shopping centre the town is a very pleasant stopping point. I guess being close to Queenstown is not hurting either! Nice motor camp here too. I got a cabin for tonight – rain expected!
I’m really looking forward to Queenstown tomorrow – “the undisputed tourist Mecca of New Zealand” – I’ve booked a cabin there for a couple of days, so it’ll be a full day off, rain or shine, to be Mr. Tourist. Basil will be happy with a day off too, he says his arms are sore from hanging on to the saddle! Better than a sore butt, I’d say!
For your information… There are no pennies in New Zealand, your total bill in the shops, is rounded off to the nearest five cents! Good system, I like it!
Day 21 -Cromwell to Queenstown – 64 kms
The rain held off all last night only to start this morning at 6:00 a.m. And this was no shower that I could wait out! I set off after breakfast with a moderate rain falling. Heading south west on SH 6, all I could see were grey clouds swirling around the hill tops. As I rode into the spectacular Kawarau Gorge, the rain steadily increased to a total downpour. The new rain jacket paid for itself in spades today!
I planned a short ride today, as I knew that this part of the trip would have some good views. Well I wasn’t disappointed with the views, it was a breathtaking gorge for many, many miles. The canyon/gorge walls were deep and very high, something akin to the Fraser Canyon in BC. Absolutely, stunning! Riding alongside a deep canyon, with no safety barrier or shoulder for much of the way was definitely exciting and sometimes heart-stopping, especially when I was being overtaken and had oncoming traffic approaching too! Thank God that there wasn’t a crosswind, or I might have been bungy-jumping sans bungy!
Of course, the rain spoiled many of my opportunities to gaze around, as I had to be that much more careful on the extremely wet roads and be very aware of what was coming up from behind. But the absolute bummer was not being able to take any photos – an underwater camera would have been handy today again! I did manage a couple of quick shots when the rains decreased to only monsoon properties.
I also passed by the famous bungy-jumping bridge (this was the first place in the world that commercial bungy-jumping was started by entrepreneur A.J. Hackett) just as some fool was leaping. I couldn’t even consider getting the camera out, it would have have been drowned immediately.
I guess that it was just as well that I did plan a short day, because that rain never did quit. Second breaky was in Frankton, about 7 kms outside Queenstown. I was like a drowned rat by then, but even a hungry drowned rat has to eat! I stretched out the meal and pot of tea in the nice warm tearoom for as long as I could hoping for a break in the clouds, but the rain just continued. So I set off for the last few kilometres; that’s when I hit the road-works – just to put the finishing touches to the day! By the time I arrived in downtown Queenstown, there was even some thunder and lightning happening – what next? I cowered under a store’s awning to get my bearings and look around – the place was a total tourist zoo – cars, buses pedestrians all bustling about in the pouring rain!
After a quick gander at the map, I discovered that I only had about a two minute ride out to motor camp – where, being the smart guy I am, I had pre-booked a cabin a few days ago – remember? Actually the cabin is a room in the main building – more like a motel room – nice bed, my own TV etc. – quite luxurious by motor camp standards! It was sure nice to be able to shower and clean up after that ride. I’m thankful that I’ve got good rain gear now, without that, days like today, would have been impossible. I’m also glad that the blustery weather abated overnight; it would have been very dangerous on that road with any kind of wind adding to the hazardous conditions.
And that Basil, he wanted the same winds as yesterday, when in fact they would have been crosswinds! He sometimes doesn’t check his directions very well – ahem!
I also passed by a jet boating venture for the Kawarau river in the canyon, Basil wanted to go, but they didn’t have any suits his size!
After my shower, I put on my raingear again and walked into town to have a boo – now imagine a huge Whistler Village… There is so much going on here it’s difficult to get a handle on everything.
On the shore of Lake Wakitipu, Queenstown is built on the steep hillsides around the lake. Many spectacular and very expensive properties overlook the the lake and stupendous scenery that abounds here. But I’ll leave the rest for tomorrow, after I’ve had a full day here to take it all in.
More rain forecast for tomorrow morning, with some hopeful clearing after that – I hope so, I want to some photos of this place! I might mention that all parts of New Zealand north of here were basking in hot sunshine today! – Typical, eh?