Monday, 6 April 2009

Day 684 - Hanmer Springs

We had a late start from Wanaka. Having stayed in really nice accommodation for a change, we decided to have a leisurely breakfast and one last check of our emails before departing. We had only covered about 3km before we passed Puzzling World and decided to go in. As tourist attractions go it is a bit different, just a bit of fun, it doesn’t try to be classic New Zealand. There was a maze there, it said it normally takes 45-60 minutes to get around it. Yeah right! It wasn’t that big for goodness sake. Within minutes I was really impressed, it was much harder than it looked. It even had walkways over the top that had to be used, surely you would be able to work it all out from there, but not at all. In the end it took us 30 minutes to complete, but then it took another 15 minutes to find the way out. There were also a series of rooms that played around with perspective, they too were very clever (Photo). We probably didn’t leave Wanaka until around 2pm, by that time a good strong wind had blown up, it was doing it’s best to make us stay in Wanaka. The road had far more hills than expected, then it ran along the shores of Lake Hawea, which on the clear day that we had looked just stunning. We had plenty of time to look at it, the wind had reduced us to a crawling pace. We met a couple of Aussie cyclists, I think they were finding it even tougher. They had ridden to Wanaka the previous day in constant rain, they weren’t having a good time of it. We carried on a little further, then found a glorious little spot by the lake, sheltered a little from the wind by a few trees. The only problem was that we were just a few metres from the main road, though during the night we didn’t hear a single vehicle pass.
Maybe we hadn’t heard the traffic as the wind never ceased the whole night. Come morning we set off into the same strong wind of the previous day. We were soon leaving Lake Hawea and crossing the saddle to Lake Wanaka. As we rode along the shore we stopped and talked to a couple of cyclists heading the other way, they too were from Berlin. I would think it is a good time to visit Berlin, the place must be empty, they are all cycling around NZ! The scenery was still fantastic and passing by very slowly. We passed the end of the lake, the wind just seemed to get stronger and stronger, it was looking as though we weren’t going to get very far. On entering Mount Aspiring National Park the scenery changed, we were heading through pine forests. Amazingly while we were in them it was silent, the wind seemed to drop off completely, it was so much easier going, though every now and then we crossed open valleys and as soon as we were in those the wind suddenly put in an unwanted return. We were climbing up to the Haast Pass, the lowest crossing to the West Coast at just 563m. As we neared the pass we were joined by cyclist from Nelson at the north of the south island, Martin rode the last few metres with me, then we stopped for a chat. A few minutes later Maria arrived on foot, I never spoke to her as Martin went over to meet her, I had a feeling she wasn‘t best pleased with him and his choice of routes. Once over the pass everything changed dramatically, the wind dropped completely, it clouded over heavily and the change in vegetation was dramatic. We had instantly left behind the rugged mountains and were now cycling through rainforest and waterfalls, and what is more we were heading downhill. By the end of the day we had made reasonable progress. We found a spot to camp by a river, but the whole area was damp and to make matters worse we were surrounded by hundreds of sand flies, the equivalent to Scotland’s midges, they were terrible, any bit of flesh that was left exposed and not moving was prime target and constantly bitten, the first priority was to cover up completely. The clouds were getting lower, before long we could hardly even see the mountain across the river. Then it began to drizzle, it was time for an early night.
It rained on and off all night. Come morning there was water inside the tent. I hadn’t set it up properly, part of the ground sheet had been exposed and channelled all the water straight into the tent….oops! Thankfully by the time we were off the rain had ceased, though I trudged through the long grass in flip-flops to save my shoes and socks becoming soaked before we had even started the cycling, this was to become standard practice for the next few days. Water was everywhere, the waterfalls were in full flow, the clouds were still hanging around in the valleys (photo), it was all very dramatic. We were now well into the West Coast region, otherwise known as the Wet Coast, though thankfully we seemed to have left he wind behind. The riding was easy going, flat yet picturesque. We arrived in Haast and called in at the little store for snacks. Christine has an excellent eye for a bargain, so it is the bargains that we generally buy, though today’s bargain was ice-cream! The cold and wet outside was not going to deter her. Don’t get me wrong, I love ice-cream, but I always prefer it when I am hot, right now I wanted something to warm me up, ice-cream wasn’t going to do that, no matter how nice it was. The road continued flat for most of the morning, the suddenly a number of short steep hills were in front of us, where on earth had they suddenly come from? We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint, the sand flies were still with us, we were already settled into the routine of covering up as soon as we stopped, they were just unbearable otherwise. The vista opened up as we passed Lake Moeraki, then closed back into thick rainforest as soon as we were past. We rode along chatting happily, we talked about food, we talked about God, when suddenly I saw a connection. Earlier I had been awarded half a packet of biscuits from the communal food that Christine was carrying, usually I am rationed to one (ok, that is a slight exaggeration, but it sounds much better that way, normally I am allowed two or three) “Did God tell you to give me more biscuits then?” I asked, “No, God told me you are an arsehole!” came the reply. I am not sure that I entirely believe that, though there may be an element of truth! From lunchtime onwards the weather was deteriorating, then suddenly just as we were looking for a place to camp it suddenly cleared, the sun shone and it was the warmest part of the day. Things got even better when we found a great little spot to camp, basked in sunshine, enough for us to dry out anything that had got wet the previous night, we could hardly believe our luck, we are once again being looked after very well.
By the following morning we expected the worst, it surely had to rain, but once again the weather was glorious, the only wet period of the day was tramping once again through long wet grass back to the road. It is always cold to start the day. Once back at the road I dry my feet before putting on my shoes, then on go the gloves and we head off, even in the bright sunshine it takes me quite a while to warm up. Today we had a sight to see, Fox Glacier, so we aimed to get there in good time, we only had one short stop. The glacier is 4km off the road up a gravel track that climbs gently. Right from the start the valley was steep, you could instantly feel the temperature drop a few degrees. As we approached the glacier the gravel road was being repaired, work was still ongoing from a flood in November that had washed away the last 500m of the road, not to mention much of the path the lead from the car park to the glacier face. There was now a new route in place, but it really showed the power of nature. There were also markers in place to show where the glacier had been in years gone by. It was impressive but remarkably dirty, it’s about time they gave it a good clean. We made our way back to the quaint little village of Fox Glacier, stocked up on supplies for our daily evening ritual of a three course dinner before heading off on the roller coaster road to Franz Josef Glacier. Typically the longest steepest hills of the day were saved for carrying around 10 litres of water. We stopped between the roller coasters, right beside another river, once again in long grass. With about 45 minutes before dusk the temperature drops dramatically, the air becomes very damp and it’s normally a signal to pack things way for the night, or quickly get my final fix of coffee for the day.
The mornings are always cold and damp, but the cold impact is lessened by the fantastic porridge that Christine cooks up. She hated the stuff to start with, but now she loves it and gets a bit twitchy if we are running low. You could try this at home, it’s so easy and tastes great. Boil some water, when it’s almost boiling throw in some sultanas and some cinnamon, then in go the oats which get boiled for one minute. Take it off the heat, add a load of brown sugar and mixed it in, then put more brown sugar on the top so that it caramelises, then pour far too much cream on than is good for you…wow, it’s just fantastic. Oh, whilst you are doing that you can also get your coffee fix! Franz Josef Glacier was also 4km off down a gravel track, then a walk to the glacier itself (photo. Try zooming in on the glacier and find the people walking on it. It will put the size of the thing into perspective). As we started to walk down its river valley we could see people way in the distance looking like little dots, once again natures size was truly impressive. The village itself was another little tourist trap, plenty of accommodation, cafes, bars, shops selling glacier flights, glacier walks etc, a real hive of activity. We were soon heading out, back on the flat roads in glorious sunshine. We passed over Kaka Creek when Christine said “No German would ever drink from there”, “Why not?” I asked, “It’s what a little child would call poo” I was told. This was meant to be, at last I had found it, Shit Creek! I have bad news for you though, I will shatter your illusions, it really would make no difference if you were stuck up Shit Creek without a paddle, there was so little water in there that you would be stuck there even if you did have a paddle. We passed through Whataroa where I recognised a couple of bikes outside a hotel, they belonged to Martin and Maria, the cyclists we had met at Haast Pass, then just a few seconds later we saw them walking down the road, they had reached the end of their short trip, they were even still talking to each other.
Early the following morning we stopped briefly at Harihari, I did a bit of washing for Christine whilst she did the shopping. As I rode along to meet her I passed an Indian guy walking along the road “You have a beautiful day my friend” he called out. I was already having a good day, but that little comment lifted my spirits, it’s so easy to do yet we very rarely do it. Christine seemed to be on a mission, her cycling pace had picked up considerably. Normally when I stopped to take a photo she would carry on and I would quickly catch her, but today as soon as I stopped she seemed to pick up the pace even more, may be she was trying to get away from me though she assured me she wasn’t. This created further unexpected problem, if you leave her alone even for just a few minutes she starts thinking, and that usually means bad news. Women should never be left alone to think for themselves, it makes life so much tougher for us men (ok, ok, calm down, that’s only a cheap little quip!). If I was lucky it would mean she had thought up something else for her to try cooking, but most of the time it meant she thought things through that we had discussed the previous evening meaning there would be further discussions. Of late the philosophical discussions have been really interesting, mainly topics extracted from reading the book “The Shack”. Topics such as ‘what is sin?’, ‘What is a lie’ and ‘is there ever a time when it is acceptable to lie?’ Think about them, they are quite interesting, especially ‘what is a sin’. There you go, I am offloading something on to you, I don’t see why I should be the only one that is paying the price for Christine riding alone and thinking! By evening we reach Hokitika, the first town since Wanaka. We split our duties again, Christine did the food shopping and I went in search of water for the night. When I arrived back she asked if I had filled her water bottles “Oh, I didn’t realise that you wanted them filled”. Of course I had, what a silly question, but she took me seriously. We both seem to struggle with the humour of each others home land, for example, take the following: ‘If the Alps were closer to Berlin they would be much higher’, now apparently the Germans think this is hilarious, I don’t think this is even mildly amusing, but then what would a boring old fart know about humour anyway. That evening we found a nice little spot to camp, tuck in amongst a load of gorse bushes, which at least meant we could depart the following morning without getting wet feet.
The following morning was back to a main road bash to Greymouth. At Kumara Junction we met the road coming in from Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass which meant I was on the first bit of road that I had been on when I was last here in New Zealand around 9 years ago. We came to a long narrow single tracked bridge, which also doubled up as the railway bridge, I instantly recognised it, in fact it had been in mind for a few days and I was trying to remember where I had been when I crossed it, now I was put out of my agony. We stopped off in Greymouth long enough to have lunch and for Christine to get her fix from the latest weather forecast from the information centre. As we heading out we were blessed with a tailwind, it was a delight bowling along with ease, the sun in front of us and the wind behind. That evening we found Christine’s favourite camp spot, tucked down beside a bank below a little road on beautiful flat grass, the sun still shining, pure bliss.
The following day’s target was to get over the Lewis Pass, that meant about 91k and climbing up to 912m. We carried on along the main road to Reefton, a lovely little old mining town that would have not looked out of place in Australia, lots of wooden buildings, all very quaint. We passed the Bearded Mining Company and doubled back to have a look. It’s a sort of little museum where men with big long beards sit around reading papers and talking to each other as well as any passing tourists that drop in. They had a small hut full of old memorabilia, and stove burning away which were hard to walk way from. Stuck up in the window was an old advert for a ‘Steady Woman’, it required a woman ‘….of strict morals, healthy, and good humoured, but above corruption, and a thorough good cook’. Christine was getting all excited and said it was exactly her and that she should apply, but as I tried to calm her down one of our bearded miners chipped in, “There is a ball and chain just inside the door if you need it”. Christine did her weather check at the info centre whilst I checked the local detailed map and found we had a saddle to cross over before the pass itself, that just meant extra climbing. As we left town we were obviously on the quieter road, twisting and turning through a narrow steep sided valley. A police vehicle passed us and minutes later we passed it, the policeman outside, stood there in uniform from the waist down and wearing a Lord of the Rings T-shirt. I almost fell asleep looking at it, and no Aoiffe, I haven’t read the books, though I did manage to get as far as reading “Lord of the…..” before I fell asleep! We reached the final climb to the pass, filled up with water, then decided to camp at the first available spot. As soon as we started climbing we both knew there would be nowhere to camp heading up, the sides were way too steep, we were going to have to get over the pass after all, it was going to be a late night. By the time we reached the top Christine was soaked in sweat and miserable, but a change into dry clothes ready for the descent did her a world of good. After only a few kilometres of descent we pulled into a little free campsite, the first campsite I have used in New Zealand, but if offered flat grass to camp on, something we would be unlikely to find in the next few kilometres. We had made it all the way along the Wet Coast in glorious weather, the following day the Wet Coast would be wet again, I knew that thanks to Christine and her desire of constant weather forecasts. Having arrived late we decided to stick to just a two course dinner, chicken rogan josh followed by apple crumble. Christine finds a apple tree as hard to pass without stopping as she does a town information centre. But we were now back over the pass and on the east side of the south island, the change was once again instant, we once again had the wind for company, but sat around in the dark eating dinner was no longer a problem, it seemed so much warmer and drier.
The following morning the tent and surrounding area was completely dry, it was almost a pleasure packing up. We had a lot of descending to do, but little climbs were mixed in, though with a good tailwind we made very good progress, the first 30km slipped by so easily, the scenery constantly changing, it was a delight. The last 40km to Hanmer Springs were somewhat lumpy, the road climbing and dropping 50-60m at a time, though never too steeply, always comfortable. We now had open vistas, bare mountains, wide stony riverbeds and sweeping valleys. The last 10km were down a no through road, we had expected it to be quiet, but it turned out to be the busiest of the day, though thankfully most of the traffic was leaving. The Springs are a weekend retreat for people from Christchurch and this weekend there had been a mountain biking event, every other car leaving had bikes on the back. The little village centre was heaving, though we were staying slightly away from the centre. When we went back in the evening it had thankfully quietened down, actually it was almost dead, all the cars had gone, the shops and restaurants were all shut, there were just a few stragglers like us left roaming the street.
Today has been a day of leisure, Christine has been to the spa pools and in just a few minutes she will be heading back there, though this time it seems that I have to go too. I might get my knees wet, though she assures me that it is not deep enough for me to drown in.
Just to be fair and balanced, the following is an extract from Christine’s blog of her time spent with me. It is only fair and balanced that I reveal it to you, it doesn’t mean to say that it is true
or that I agree with it:
The joys and sorrows of having a cycling partner
John and me are cycling together for almost 2 months now and we get along surprisingly well despite the fact that he is a male and you can't leave him alone for 5 minutes and he will do something stupid like getting a puncture on his bike. But I have to admit that having a cycling partner makes things a lot easier:-
You save a lot of money (despite the fact that he keeps telling me that I cost him a fortune): You can buy food in bulk (did I mention our 3 course dinners?) and you can share accommodation costs (we had the poshest room ever the last two nights and between two people and the exchange rate it was still incredibly cheap).
You can cook 3 course dinners. This is especially true if your cycling partner carries a petrol stove, 2 pots and 1 pan and you yourself only have to carry 1 titanium pot and a tiny little stove. The best is that this way you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy and still have 3 course dinners.
You can cook anything you like and your cycling partner still eats it. John has the advantage of eating everything you set in front of him including chicken liver, parsnip and beetroot. He even volunteered to eat Sauerkraut!- You are plenty warm at night especially due to the fact that he carries a 2 person 4 season tent that weighs about 1 ton while you carry an ultralight tarptent. If you smuggle yourself into his tent at night you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy, but keep yourself warm and dry at the same time in his tent. Very useful!
You have someone to repair your bike in exchange for sewing repairs. Unfortunately, my bike never had a single problem since we are cycling together while his 40 kg of ultraheavy crap is constantly falling apart and needs to be repaired by me.
You have someone you can nick food off - especially white chocolate John is extremely anal about. I am constantly being accused of eating too much of it which is all his fault because he is just not fast enough to eat it before me.
You have someone you can blame it on if you get lost. The fact that John is not able to read any of his various maps without his glasses is extremely helpful there. But beware: Never give any new map to a male cycling partner - he will study it for hours whereas he never reads his guidebooks and therefore would miss all the museums and sights if you did not tell him.
You have someone you can ditch doing the dishes on in exchange for cooking. He of course thinks that you are doing a big sacrifice for him by cooking for the two of you whereas you just love cooking and would never let get any screaming amateur like him near you food anyway. And I hate doing dishes!
You can always moan at something when you have a cycling partner and get bored. Men usually do something stupid every 5 minutes so you don't have to look far to find something! In the worst case you can just misunderstand his so called British humour that no German would ever understand anyway. And I will never understand why he does not find feminist jokes funny!
PS: Despite what I have written so far I am really having a very good time with him and might eventually even develop a sense humour!


dad said...

Your photos illustrate well the Maori name "Land of the Long White Cloud". Pleased to see some Macro pictures at last, Cobwebs, Frosty ferns, etc. Was the shadow on the wall inspired by my shadow photos that I sent you? I also like the prison photo of you, although the number across your chest seems to be missing. Lastly, the old chap's shack reminds me of a caption to one of Thelwell's cartoons "You'd never believe it, but this place used to be a pig sty" !

Caff said...

I'm intrigued! Why was a policeman was wearing a LOTR t-shirt? Not a normal item of apparel I assume? Had he read your blog I wonder then followed your progress, purchased and donned it especially for you as he knew you were passing through his patch. It's good to know citizen's of NZ do not "sin" keeping crime rate low and his job free of stress so he can indulge in light-hearted interaction with round-the-world cyclists! :-)

jac said...

Loved Christine's blog excerpt. Thanks to her for sharing.

If you're really doing something stupid every 5 minutes, I think we're missing out on lots of comedy potential on the blog! ;-)

Those sandflies sound horrendous. Make me glad I was there in winter!

Great blog, as ever.