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.