Day 22 -Rest Day – Queenstown – 0 kms
First of all, let me say that my day off was marred somewhat by the fact that the heavy rains of the previous day created a rock slide that had blocked the only direct road to the west coast of the South Island from Queenstown (next option would require an eight hour detour). Tomorrow morning, I was scheduled to bus to Fox Glacier on the coast, and then continue riding from there. Needless to say, the road closure was at the back of my mind all day, together with scrambled thoughts of alternate plans… Ultimately, the road was partially cleared and only minor delays are expected.
Otherwise, the day off was fine – a welcome rest from pedalling. The weather cooperated somewhat too, with no rain, mostly sunny skies, but very cool south winds kept the temperatures only in the mid-teens.
Here’s a quick run down of the activities in the Queenstown area that could empty your wallet (and stomach) in no time…
Jet-Boating, Bungy-Jumping (in a myriad of formats), River (and land) Safaris, Gondola rides, Paragliding, Wheeled Luge, Fly by Wire, Downhill Biking, numerous versions of Heli-??? whatever, Canyon Swing, River Surfing, Bungee Rocket – and many options for bus (single and double-decker) tours to wineries, Fiordland, etc, etc. In the wintertime there are also all the snow related activities to keep a possibly bored person happy.
Milford Sound (Fiordland) would have been a nice trip, but it would have been a very rushed long day (very early start with a late return) with doubtful weather and road conditions, so I elected to just take it easy and view all the local highlights. Obviously, I didn’t partake in any of the thrill-seeking extreme ventures! I think Basil wants to be a jet boat driver though!
No museum here, but the Queenstown gardens were a nice peaceful alternative to the hustle and bustle of the town with its quagmire of streets filled with gift stores, restaurants and booking offices for the many activities. There’s so much commercialism here, that I feel visitors are not looking at the real attraction, which is the natural beauty of the area. Just to sit out at the lakefront, taking in the surroundings, breathing some clean air, watching the antics of the different birds and ducks (and people) was a real pleasure for me – Oh, I guess that the beer in my hand and frequent opportunities to fill my face helped to pass the time pleasantly! Lots of food choices too, made a change from the old pasta and rice thing!
It was also interesting to sit and listen to all the different languages and accents, trying to figure out where everyone was from – there was certainly a good mix.
Para gliders… It was certainly fun watching the fearless jumping off a very high hill top, with nothing but some string and a silk sheet to prevent them becoming a large divot in the ground! And the only things to break the peace and quiet, were the jet boats roaring in every hour with their payload of cold and wet survivors! NZ$75.00 to get wet for an hour – I’m in the wrong business! But all in all, a very enjoyable rest day.
Day 23 -Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier – 25 kms
Of course, the big mileage today was on a shuttle bus to Fox Glacier; from there I rode the 25 kms. I figured that it wouldn’t take long – I should know better! Three steep, long twisty-turny climbs followed each time by the same downhills through some wild hairpin bends. Anyhow, it was still nice to get off the bus and stretch my kneecaps back into shape! Very little views of the glaciers here, the clouds were covering the peaks, so I only caught a peek of one glacier while I was busy rolling down a hill. The helicopters and buses are busy though, ferrying people back and forth up the mountain to step out onto the ice – just like in Canada!
This morning the road, SH 6 was only opened for one lane of traffic through the recent slide that I mentioned yesterday – luckily the bridge (under the slide) survived the onslaught of rock, or the road would have been closed for much longer.
The only part of the bus trip that I wish I had ridden by bike, was the Haast Pass – very scenic, with an immensely long downhill to Haast beach on the west coast of the South Island – my first glimpse of the Tasman Sea too. But time is a restrictor, so I knew that I’d have to miss riding some of the sections of New Zealand. Today’s bus trip would have been a good four day ride for me – weather permitting. But I don’t really regret bussing north from Haast beach – very little of the coast is visible from the road, as the highway travels away from the actual oceanfront. Most of one’s time is spent travelling through rainforest, with just some glimpses of the coast from minimal viewpoints. I hope that the ride to Greymouth over the next two days will provide some better vistas of the Tasman Sea.
I’m staying at the YHA in Franz Josef and from here have booked some hostels ahead for some of the next few days – especially the two days in the mountains going east over Arthur’s Pass and whatever other passes there are en route! Weather forecast is for changeable conditions – which can mean just about anything here!
Nice hostel here – just been renovated recently. Lots of other travellers here – checking in at the reception desk was a fellow who was from my home town in the UK, Leeds – small world!
I wasn’t sorry to leave Queenstown – the rest was nice, but clearly, Queenstown is brash commercialism at its very best!
Day 24 -Franz Josef Glacier to Ross – 109 kms
Very cool this morning – I guess that the cold rolls down from the ice fields! But nevertheless, dry.
Relatively flat road today, with only one big 4 km hump named Mt. Hercules – I guess it’s named that because you need the muscle to get up it! Otherwise, today’s section of SH 6 was a quiet road with a few minor hills; very light winds made for an easy ride. This highway is still very narrow though, with much evidence of frequent washouts around bridges and streams. Much of the repairs are just done with dirt and rock, which I assume is temporary until the tar and chip surface can be re-sealed. The only problem seems to be that when another heavy rainstorm happens, the temporary repair gets washed away very easily. Most of the roads that I have ridden in New Zealand have been tar and chip – but there is a huge difference in quality and smoothness – some of the roads, you would swear that you were riding on 3/4″ gravel rock – albeit held together with some “stickum.” Where they have used smaller chips, it is much more comfy to ride on – especially in the wheel tracks where the vehicles have pounded it down a bit – my bum can tell, you know!
At first today I was riding in rain forest, then the trees gave way to river deltas/floodplains that are mostly farmland – cattle farms for the most part. And still just a couple of glimpses of the ocean – there should be more tomorrow, I hope! Second breaky was at a tearoom in the small village of Whataroa – not much else there. The next dot on the map was Harihari – an abandoned sawmill there gave testament to the towns better days.
I was going to stay in Pukekura, but there really wasn’t much there apart from some cabins for rent, a restaurant and a pub where everything on the menu contained possum meat in its various culinary configurations. With the large amount of dead (road-kill) possums that I pass every day, I wondered to myself where their supply of meat and furs came from? Hmm!
Anyhow, I ended up in the village of Ross – two pubs here! Ross is a heritage gold mining town, with some excellent exhibits from the old days of the miners. There is a heritage centre and a trail through the old goldfields. Visitors can actually pan for gold there – apparently some people still find enough to pay for a few nice dinners. An English couple panned enough gold to make their wedding rings! – Tourist propaganda I thought, but then at the heritage centre I read an old newspaper clipping that verified the event as genuine! The Empire Hotel is an historic building adjacent to the motor camp and backpacker cabins – NZ$16.00 for a cabin – did I unpack the tent? Give your head a shake! The barman takes the money for the cabins, so it was only polite of me to order an ale too!
Sunny and cloudy today, I hope it holds for tomorrow’s ride to Greymouth – I could really do without the wet coast showing me how wet it can really be!
Day 25 -Ross to Greymouth – 74 kms
A grey ride to Greymouth. Half of the ride was in drizzle, but it was not a long day and it wasn’t windy, so I can’t grumble too much. As rain was mentioned in this morning’s weather forecast, I booked ahead for a cabin here, but funnily enough the sun seems to have been strong enough to clear some of the clouds away and it is a very pleasant afternoon now – I should have camped, but who’s to know with crazy New Zealand weather?
I was going to stop in Hokitiki for a second breaky, but on arriving in the town, first impression was that a riot had occurred! There were beer cans, bottles, cups etc., strewn and broken all over the town centre. It wasn’t a riot, but just their annual “Wildfoods Festival.” Wildfoods? Looked to me more like a wild-people festival! Apparently, 20,000 people attended the festivities, yesterday, with live bands and dances to conclude the day. There were still hundreds of the revellers stumbling around the town this morning, some with partial drinks in their hands. So the executive decision was – to get the hell out of that place! Needless to say, my quiet west coast highway was a zoo after leaving that town. I was also very wary of the drivers, some of whom must have still been impaired. There were a good number of cops in town and on the highway, but they couldn’t be everywhere. At least they had traffic control at the one lane bridges – many bridges in New Zealand are one lane – but there were still some good waits to get across, for the cars – I just snuck through on the shoulder and passed scores of them. After the junction/turnoff for Christchurch, the road was much quieter for remainder of my ride.
So it was Greymouth for a combined second breaky/brunch/lunch thing. Well accepted, anyway!
I must say that I am disappointed with this west coast road – although it is an easy ride, there are virtually no close views of the actual ocean. On the map, it seemed as if I would be closely adjacent to the shore for all of today, when in fact, I was always 500m to 1000m away from the shore all the time. Hence, all I could see – through this morning’s grey – was a distant water mass, no breakers or beaches. Inevitably, the separating land strip was raised grazing land or covered with windswept trees and bushes.
However, after doing some shopping in Greymouth, I arrived at the motor camp here to find that is situated on the beachfront, at last I can dip my feet in the Tasman Sea! – once again, a very nice camp with modern facilities – and a pub across the street! I know, I’m getting spoilt! Tomorrow I head inland and up into the Southern Alps for the last time – I hope that the rain holds off, but mountain climate is very unpredictable, especially here!
By the way, I’ve discovered sand flies – or should I say, they’ve discovered me! I’ve been amazed at the lack of bugs here, just that one night on the North Island that I had some mozzies sucking on me. But ever since the bus trip from Queenstown – we stopped at a rest area on the west coast where I was immediately bitten – and then every day since then! Sand flies are very much like black flies, maybe a little smaller – but just as voracious (check the photo above out for one that didn’t get away 😉 ). The bites don’t seem like much, but a day or two later, you’re in the itch asylum! Nasty little buggers!