The ride from Franz Joseph to Hokitika was beautiful, hilly and long. We also didn’t realize how popular Hokitika is as a tourist destination and all the campground cabins and motels were full. After using an I-site(the NZ tourist information places) to help us find a room at a backpacker’s lodge about 5 km north of town, we walked across the street to the local fish and chips shop and devoured a Blue Cod fish and chips – hot, greasy and delicious. This was just the fuel we needed to cycle to the store for dinner supplies and on to the Bird’s Nest Backpackers lodge which, by the way, was comfortable until all the young, inexperienced cookers started stir-frying and smoking up the place. Eric and I escaped by getting to bed early.
The following morning we set off early. Eric found a side road that wound through Safford and connected to the West Coast Wilderness Trail just north Kumara, a relatively new cycle track with sunning views. A highlight was stopping at the Theater Tavern in Kumara for a coffee before continuing on to Greymouth.
We stayed two nights in Greymouth for bike repairs – new bearings for my back hub (again) – which has to be ordered. We used the extra night to enjoy a movie (Fast and Furious 7 which was horrible) and a glass of wine (which was delicious) at the local cinema. (I love getting wine with my movie!)
Greymouth to Punakaiki was start of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery to date. The owner of the Greymouth bike shop called it “iconic – among the world’s top ten coastal drives” and I have to agree. It was breath-taking. We checked into the Punakaiki Beach camp, left our bicycles, and walked along the beach back to Pancake Rocks National Park. The walk is dotted with amazing geological formations and, because the tide was rolling in, we got to see a few blow holes spout their ocean spray.
If possible the ride from Punakaiki to Westport or at least as far as Charleston was ever more beautiful than the day before. Maybe it was the man selling espressos from the back of his fishing truck about 20 km north of Punakaiki or the “best pizza in NZ” at Jack’s Pizzeria about 35 km north of Punakaiki at an isolated campground on the Waitakere Nile River, but between the amazing scenery and the great food and beverages, this was a great day. The final 30 km to Westport were not as stunning but still pleasant rolling hills and farm lands. We stayed at the Kiwi Holiday Park in Westport and enjoyed our little A-Frame cabin.
The most important thing to know about this leg of the journey is to bring plenty of food. There are almost NO places to buy much besides a meat pie or some pasta. Even worse for us, it was the Easter weekend so the alcohol sales rules meant “no” sales on Easter Sunday.
We started riding on Easter morning thinking that the traffic would be lighter and everyone would be at church. It was a nice idea but not the reality. There was steady, but bearable, traffic to Makarora where we stopped for the night. The weather was nice so we opted to camp and the lodge with its shared kitchen facilities was comfortable, friendly and cozy with a stoked up wood-burning stove.
The next morning we left in a drizzle but the weather cleared as we got to the top of Haast Pass. We met up with four other cycle tourists who were heading south and we both agreed that the pass was not too difficult.
The ride towards the town of Haast was beautiful, so beautiful that we stopped in the Hard Antler Cafe for a coffee and beer at Haast Junction to relax and pat ourselves on the back. This was a big mistake as the weather made a 180 degree turn and started pouring making our rush to find lodging a bit hectic. The Top 10 Holiday Park did have a lovely room AND a courtesy shuttle to a local restaurant which was a very helpful as the rain was now coming down in sheets. We couldn’t cook because we were out of food. (Re-read my note at the beginning of this leg.)
The rain was so bad that we were considering taking the bus to Fox Glacier, but when Eric was walking back from warming our meat pies for breakfast, the sun came out. “Let’s go!” he barked. I pulled myself away from Facebook and slowly put on my cycling clothes. (I was still in bed thinking we had until 1:00 pm for the bus.)
His decision was good. The light wind was at our back, blue sky was peaking out between clouds and there was little to no traffic. We arrives at Lake Paringa at 1:00 pm and recognized that the only thing to eat there would be sandflies. The price was right but the absence of food in our panniers made this an unviable option. We rode a couple of kilometers further where we found a honey stand with a honesty box sitting on the side of the road. I bought a little jar of honey and put my coins in the honesty box. Things were looking up as we now had honey to eat. Riding another 8 km brought us to the salmon farm and tea room. This place was great. It had an espresso machine AND fresh salmon and lemons for sale. Now we almost had a meal. We just needed lodging.
Riding another 30 km (We we up to 85 now..) we saw a sign for Hunts Beach Accommodations. We took the turn-off, rode another 800 meters down a dirt road and came to the end of the road strewn with old ATV’s, watercraft, a rusty bulldozer, miscellaneous dogs, and a sign pointing us to the “office”. I tentatively knocked on the door and was greeted by a very large, missing one tooth, 30 something, man. When I inquired if he had rooms, he said his mom was gone ( I guess the mini motel is her business?) but he thought they had a self-contained unit. (kitchen, bed, and bathroom). Surprisingly, the room was beautiful and clean. Is also had a view of Mt. Cook and Tasman Glacier out the front, and the crashing waves of Hunts Beach out the back. I cooked a delicious salmon dinner with a side of left-over spaghetti. We even scored some beer as Eric ran back to the owner’s house and asked the large son if he would sell us a couple.
The following morning we left in a foggy mist that lifted just as we were pulling back on the highway. The ride was not too difficult or hilly and we arrived at Fox Glacier earlier than expected. Unfortunately, by the time we found lodging at the Top 10 Holiday Park and bought food, the fog rolled back in. Luckily, we did get a glimpse of the glaciers the following morning. Inspired by the sun, we cycled the 6 km to Lake Matheson and were rewarded with great views for Tasman and Fox Glacier. We even met one local who said they’d been to Fox Glacier three times before and this was the first time they’d ever had good weather. We also managed a hike to the glacier – stunning- and a night trek to see the glow worms – totally cool and worth the effort even after two large beers.
After two nights in Fox Glacier, we were ready to move on. We’d been warned that the 3 saddles (or peaks) between Fox and Franz Joseph were really tough so I guess we were mentally over-prepared. As it turned out, the 23 hilly km was not too bad and we arrived in Franz Joseph just after lunch giving us plenty of time to check in to the Top 10 Holiday Park and hike to the glacier.
After biking the 6 or so kilometers to the trail head we had just enough time to get to the edge of the glacier and snap photos before we got caught in a pouring/freezing rain.
After long showers to warm up and a good dinner we went to bed to get ready for some big days ahead.
This section of our trip in New Zealand was probably one of the hardest: strong winds, cold temperatures, hills – lots of hills, few services (like food) and lodging. In spite of all those negatives, we did have some great experiences and met some really nice people along the way.
The first day we rode to Slope Point. This was a long day and the last 10 or so kilometers were on a hilly gravel road. When we arrived at Slope Point Backpackers, the owner was great and sent us down the road to an old three bedroom farm house they’d recently purchased. She even sold Eric a few bottles of beer.
After unloading our bikes we walked the remaining 4 kilometers to Slope Point because we were too tired to pedal up another hill. When we returned from the hike, another couple (yachters from France who were driving around NZ for a few weeks) joined us at the house. Eric stoked up the wood burning stove – it was COLD – and, after some lively conversation, we all went to bed early.
The next day’s ride took us to McLean where we stayed at the Whistling Frog Campground. The owners – wife from San Francisco and husband from New Zealand – have a great business, a nice campground with an even better cafe/restaurant. We treated ourselves to pizza and beer in the lively restaurant. The temperatures dropped a lot that night and, although we stayed warm in our tent, the condensation in the morning made the fly really wet and heavy for the next couple of days.
Riding to Owaka was made more pleasant by the quirky coffee shop we found along the way. I’d actually been fairly grumpy that morning so the saying on the wall behind the barista was the perfect thing to cheer me up.
The following day we rode to the intersection of Nugget Point and Kaka Point coming from Owaka. At this intersection, we parked our bikes and hitchhiked to Nugget Point saving ourselves a 9 km ride uphill on a gravel road. Our “drivers” were the possum hunters mentioned in the earlier post “Hitch hikers and Possum Hunters.” After retrieving our bicycles we cycled on to Balclutha where we stayed in the local holiday camp. There were two great things about Balclutha – the local butcher where we bought a couple of steaks and the well-stocked kitchen at the campground.
The ride from Balclutha to Dunedin was much harder than we’d anticipated. The first 20 km were fairly easy, aside from a few large trucks, to Waihola Lake. We even lolligagged at the lake and had a long picnic until the sandflies attacked. You can imagine our surprise, then, as we slowly pedaled on, whene we were greeted with a very steep hill between Waihola Lake and Taireri Mouth. Luckily, we were rewarded with a great downhill and magnificent views on the Scenic Coastal Route heading north to Dunedin. The final 3 kilometer climb into Dunedin nearly did us in, but the warm dinner roast, glass of Kim Crawford wine and hospitality from our Warmshowers hosts Sue and Ian made us forget how tired we were.
We took a day to sightsee in Dunedin an additional day to cycle the Otago Peninsula and see the Albatross Colony before catching the train to Middlemarch.