We left Wellington at 2.30am on the over night ferry to Picton. The ferry itself was an experience. We got on board, locked up our bikes in the hold and went upstairs. There were big comfy seats to sit in and watch the onboard movie. We found the movie to be an odd choice though. They played Captain Philips which is a movie about a container ship being invaded by pirates and the crew being held at ransom. It was a good movie, tense at time but made worse by the fact that we were out in the open sea ourselves at night. The sea was quite rough that night at one stage during the movie the ferry rocked heavily and we heard a large about of cutlery, plates, pots and pans crashing to the ground in the kitchen behind us. I’ve never been to a 4D movie but this was pretty close I guess.
Another peculiar thing was going out onto the deck to look at the stars. After being on the boat for about 2 hours we stopped noticing the movement of the ocean and as we looked up it seemed like the stars were swaying violently from side to side and that the boat was motionless. It took a moment for our eyes and stomachs to adjust to the sensation but when they did we were rewarded with a very clear sky.
We arrived in Picton at about 6 in the morning and it was freezing cold, frost on the ground and everything. We met two other female cyclist from Germany as we were getting off the boat and invited them to come with us to find a place to have breakfast. We cycled the short distance into town where we cooked breakfast in the park on our camping stoves and watched the sun come up. At about 8am the town started to wake up. The two girls had got some sleep on the ferry and felt fit enough to cycle that day so we wished them luck on their trip. Jasmin and I on the other had didn’t catch a wink all night so we rolled into town to look for a hostel.
We didn’t look around for long because we were in a bit of a zombified state and booked into the Villa Backpackers. The room wasn’t going to be ready for about 4 hours so we went for a wander around Picton. We made it to the harbour and ended up falling asleep on a bench. Realising how homeless we must have looked we made our way back to the hostel and fell asleep on the couch outside while everyone else was having their breakfast around us. When the room was ready we went to bed and woke up in the evening.
The next day we got an early enough start and headed out of Picton on the Queen Charlotte Drive. Our plan was to make it to Pelorus Bridge which was about 50 kms away. The cycle along Queen Charlotte Drive was really nice and hugged the coast line for the most part as we cycled up and over the headlands. Along the way we were overtaken by Matthias, the Bavarian cyclist we met in Wellington and another Swiss cyclist that he had paired up with. We stopped for a brief chat but the Swiss cyclist was on a mission to catch a bus in the next town which was still 15 kms away and leaving in an hour. Nevertheless we planned to meet Matthias at the camp ground in Pelorus Bridge that night. Shortly after meeting Matthias we met 3 French female cyclist outside a petrol station having a snack. We knew the girls from Taupo where we had all stayed in the same hostel. They were also heading for Pelorus Bridge and so we headed off together (although they got ahead of us pretty quickly) and planned to camp in a big group that night.
The camp site at Pelorus Bridge was awesome. It was a little more expensive than regular DOC camp sites, costing us $12 each but it had really good facilities like a big kitchen and hot showers and it was well worth the extra cash.
Any of you that have seen The Hobbit will already know the Pelorus River from the scene where the dwarves are being chased by Orcs down the river in barrels. We didn’t know this about the river until we got there but it added a sense of other-worldliness to an already beautiful place.
We met Matthias and the French girls again and set up camp. That evening Jasmin, Matthias and I went for a walk to see some waterfalls and then came back and cooked a big meal with whatever food was in our panniers. That night though, it got very cold, down to about 1 degree actually. Jasmin and I slept in our sleeping bags with all our warmest clothes on and were still shivering. We realised that summer sleeping bags and thin ground mats were not going to cut for winter on the South Island.
The next morning we woke up early because of the cold. Our panniers were hard to open because of the frozen condensation but it was one of the most beautiful mornings to have woken up to. We walked down to the river where there was a heavy fog hovering over the crystal clear, perfectly flat water. We spent some time hopping along the rocks on the river’s edge, trying to keep warm and enjoying the brisk clear morning.
Pelorus Bridge to Nelson was another 54 kms. This route was not nice to cycle. It was another very busy highway and we had two very big hills to tackle. The down hill parts were a lot of fun though and in some sections we were able to pick up a lot of speed but It was very windy and there was no hard shoulder so we had to be careful. Later on in Nelson we met up with Matthias again and he told us that we was doing well over 60 kms/h on the downhills and was overtaking caravans and motorhomes. Crazy Bavarian!!!