New Zealand Tour

Day 26 -Greymouth to Arthur’s Pass – 105 kms

Swing Bridge over Lake Brunner at Moana

Swing Bridge over Lake Brunner at Moana

I awoke to grey skies that produced drizzle very soon after leaving Greymouth. My route would first take me northeast on SH 7 and then on a rural road southeast following the trans alpine train route through some very rural settlements and villages for about 60 kms of today’s ride until I had to join the busier SH 73 for the rest of the day. Second breaky was in Moana on the shores of Lake Brunner, where I also said hello to some relatives of an acquaintance of mine – they run the motor camp in Moana which is 40 kms east of Greymouth.

The road progressed gradually uphill all day which made for a tiring ride, and the drizzle would turn to heavy rain every half hour or so, which also made it tough. I stopped in Otira at the cafe there trying to garner some energy for the ride ahead with a pie and milk shake. Regardless, once I left the village of Otira, I wished that I had taken the train!

Avalanche Tunnel at the Otira Gorge

Avalanche Tunnel at the Otira Gorge

The road to the Otira Viaduct, which crosses the Otira Gorge, was an impossible grade in some places. I rode the whole thing apart from two left hand hairpin bends that I had to push the bike for about one hundred metres around each one! The camber on those corners increased the grade from barely doable to not doable – at least if I didn’t want my kneecaps blowing out! Even with the rain, I have to admit that the route was a very thrilling ride and a real testament to the engineers and road builders who virtually stuck a road onto the side of a mountain in places.

Very Steep Grades!

Very Steep Grades!

The new Viaduct decreases the grade to 12%!

The new Viaduct decreases the grade to 12%!

There were 6 kms of really tough riding on some very steep hills with very little shoulder to ride on – and with rain bouncing down at times too. Of course, as soon as I reached the summit at 920m, the rain increased even more, so my 3 km ride downhill to Arthur’s Pass Village was somewhat of a non-event due to wet roads – and brakes! Oh well, a bit of a downhill in the morning and then up again to Porter’s Pass – Oh joy!

I’m certainly glad that I booked ahead for the hostel here, even it is only a dorm bed for the night – it’s pissing down outside, so tenting would have been a real pain today – and there’s no motor camp here, so it would have been “rustic” camping! And the rain is so much colder at this elevation too, making me appreciate a hot shower when I got here. Very small YHA here, an older place, but clean, tidy and cozy with a nice log fire in the lounge area.
I met another cyclist here, Marcus, a young fellow from Germany – where else eh? I ribbed him that if all the German tourists around the world returned to Germany, there wouldn’t be enough room for all of them! He had a good laugh about that! Anyhow he rode from Moana today and pushed his bike a lot further than I did on that bit of vertical hell, so I didn’t feel too bad, especially as how I had ridden 40 kms farther too. We both agreed though, that riding those tough grades at the end of a day’s ride is definitely harder than tackling them first thing – regardless, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it! Funnily enough, Marcus stayed at the motor camp in Moana that I mentioned earlier, where I stopped for a visit this morning.

Arthur’s Pass is named after Arthur Dobson – I’ll have to see if I can find out who the hell he is?
Some good scenery today, mostly in the gorge area, otherwise the rest of the ride was through acres and acres of farmland – didn’t even get to see the train today, unless I missed it when I was either wiping sweat or rain off my eyes!

Last night…

Sunset at Greymouth

Sunset at Greymouth

That bloody Basil disappeared! – I looked all over for him, then I went down to the beach, and there he was all covered in sand flies, watching the setting sun. Being on the west coast, we were hoping for a nice sunset, and it was for a while, then the clouds got in the way for the finale. Oh well, we enjoyed what we saw.

Well I hope that Porter’s Pass is kinder to me than today’s knee-wrenching experience. And that the bloody rain stops – I’m not surprised that everything’s green here, there’s a one inch layer of damp moss on everything!

More from Atlantis tomorrow…

Day 27 -Arthur’s Pass to Springfield – 84 kms

Different Scenery!

Different Scenery!

It poured rain all last night into this morning; I lingered over breakfast, hoping that the rain would ease for my getaway. No such luck – I headed out onto SH 73 wearing my full complement of rain gear into a heavy and cold rain. Luckily the first 15 kms were mostly downhill, and after that distance the rain had eased considerably. Another 5 kms and the golden orb showed its face – wow, what is that yellow thing in the sky? I should have taken a photo of it, because it disappeared after 15 minutes behind the usual heavy clouds. At least I had the chance to divest myself of raingear, and the temperature was quite pleasant, compared to the mountain top anyway.
After the initial rain today, I did ride through some very scenic and desolate alpine wilderness areas all the way to the pass; beyond that the road began to pass through fertile farmland as I approached the Canterbury Plains once more. There were quite a few areas today with “erratics” – huge rocks and boulders scattered all over the hillsides, that were left behind when the glaciers retreated – reminded me of Newfoundland!

'Erratics'

‘Erratics’

Porter’s Pass at 939m was no big deal, just one section quite a distance prior to the pass was a steep grade – but at least still rideable. After the pass there was a 4 km very steep and winding descent – and I mean steep and winding! Do the words “slalom on a bike” conjure up some images for you? But it was certainly fun to ride, especially on dry road with little traffic to worry about. After that initial run, it was 15 kms of nearly all downhill grade to Springfield. Springfield is another one street village, similar to Arthur’s Pass – not much here, but the food store, pub and cafe are pretty well all that I’m looking to use anyway. I’m at the YHA here – a funky old house with creaky narrow stairs and bunks stashed into every available room. But it’s dry and warm, much better than taking a chance in the tent with the present changeable weather conditions. Fortunately, I pre-booked a twin, so if no one else shows up, I have the room to myself.
Tomorrow’s ride to Christchurch – which is at sea level – will also be on a slight downhill grade – hopefully all the way – so it should be an easy ride, barring any horrendous headwinds!

Day 28 -Springfield to Christchurch – 65 kms

Christchurch was the hot spot in New Zealand… yesterday, reaching a temperature of 25°C. Today there are only grey skies, accompanied by a cool south wind and temperatures nowhere near 25°C!
I gave the Springfield train station the once over yesterday – interesting place. It’s a heritage building that’s still in full operation. Inside the station house were some marvellous photos and displays from the days of yore when many workers toiled to build the railroad from the east coast through to the west coast along the same route that I had travelled for the past two days – namely, Arthur’s Pass and the Otira Gorge. By the way, “Arthur” is Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson, apparently the fellow who first surveyed the route through these mountains.

Last night in Springfield, it started raining at about 6:00 p.m. and continued on all night. There was a lull as I left this morning, but not far down the road I was into a cold soaking drizzle for the majority of the ride. Only just on the outskirts of Christchurch did it stop – but threatening grey skies remained for the rest of the day. The sun poked out for about two minutes – like, peek-a-boo, here I am – sorry, now I’m gone!
The ride was quite uneventful… After Sheffield on SH 73, I took a quiet rural road all the way into Christchurch (the Old West Coast Road, in fact), and it was that quiet that there wasn’t even a stop for second breaky until almost in Christchurch at Yardhurst. But as I figured, it was mostly downhill all the way into the city on a straight-ish road – an easy, but wet ride.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

Once in Christchurch, I had to figure out how to get to the YHA. The city’s a maze of one way streets, but apart from the cathedral square blocking off some through streets, relatively easy to find one’s way around. Besides the cathedral, there are lots of nice heritage buildings around, together with museums and art galleries etc. Also, many touristy things to do, together with scads of eateries and pubs – I guess that they’ll be busy tonight, it’s St. Paddy’s Day here.

Day off tomorrow, then I’ll be catching the train and ferry back to Wellington on the North Island. One quick night there, then train again to Hamilton, which is about 100 kms south of Auckland – that will be my next and final day’s ride in New Zealand, after which I’ll have one day to visit the largest city in New Zealand – Auckland – prior to my return flight to Canada the next day.
So, what with travel etc., it’s about three days off for me – at least I won’t have to worry about the weather too much for a few days! I’m really looking forward to the train trips too, in addition to the thrill (for me) of riding the rails, they’ll give me an opportunity to see some of the places that I saw a few weeks ago again – like the Kaikoura coast, where I battled headwinds and rain for a good part of the day. Also I’ll be able to travel through some of the North Island that I didn’t have time to visit by bike – regardless, they were flooded then anyway!

Day 29 -Day off in Christchurch  0 kms

~ I wrote this journal in 2004… I was very fortunate to see all the sites in and around the Cathedral Square as a massive 6.3 earthquake in February 2011 destroyed much of what I had visited in 2004.
Apparently as of 2017 there is a movement to rebuild the Cathedral with a projected timeline of 10 years ~

I should have a pedometer – I walked for miles today! There was too much to see in Christchurch for one day – I made a good job of seeing as much as possible though, but still left many stones unturned. What I did see though was very enjoyable, interesting and made for an active but rewarding day.

Beautiful gardens alongside the River Avon

Beautiful gardens alongside the River Avon

I could have spent much more time in the museum, cathedral and various galleries, but time was a constraining factor. The cathedral square itself was a fascinating place, with vendors, chess players, speakers etc. – great place for just people watching! I just got a quick look at the Botanic Gardens and then strolled along the river Avon, watching the punts being propelled with their payloads of passengers along the serene river where the adjacent streets were lined with open air cafes and bars. I took the tourist tram ride around the town; that reminded me of being a kid back in England, when trams were the only public transport in the city where I lived – now I’m really showing my age!

Heritage Buildings & Tram just off Cathedral Square

Heritage Buildings & Tram just off Cathedral Square

Even the weather kicked up a notch – after a grey morning, the bright and warm sun played peek-a-boo with some puffy white clouds for a change.

Bridge of Remembrance

Bridge of Remembrance

Things I missed… Too many to mention, but for one day’s tourism, I did a pretty good job! A marvellous day in a city with at least two bakeries on every block! – Yum-yum!

Continued on Page 8…

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