It felt good to be back on the road again. Our initial fears of not being able to cycle with fully loaded touring bikes (way too much food on board) soon disappeared as we cruised southwest on highway 6. Our plan leaving Nelson was to cycle south over the next couple of weeks until we reached Milford Sound and then, depending on how much time we have, start making our way back to Picton Via Lake Tekapo and Castle Hill. This plan is a bit ambitious because it involves over 2000kms of cycling and only about 7 weeks left to do it in.
For our first day back in the saddle we only planned to cycle about 30kms to a friend of ours that worked at the veggie farm. Her name is Carolin and she was having a winter solstice party at her place up in the Waiora Gorge. She planned to meet us on the road and bring us the last few kilometers to her house. Just before she met us something snapped on Jasmin’s front shifter and she was unable to change gears anymore. This was a problem I thought I would be able to fix but over the next few days it got the better of me.
We stayed two nights at Carolin’s house and had a lovely time. We stayed up late on winter solstice feasting on food, drinking wine and getting into deep conversations. Carolin and her husband Wayne were awesome hosts and made us feel very welcome in their home.
Carolin gave us a lift to the bike shop in town so that we could get Jasmin’s bike fixed. It turned out that it needed a new gear cable as well as some adjustments. While we were there we also got them to put new brakes on the bike. By the time the repairs were done it was too late in the day to cycle the 60kms we needed to do to reach St Arnaud. Knowing that we were a day behind on our cycling Carolin offered to drive us there instead. So a long day of uphill cycling turned into a pleasant drive through the country side stopping at places of interest. Thanks Carolin, we really appreciate all you did for us.
St Arnaud was beautiful but that night it got very cold. This was a good test for all the new camping gear we bought while working in Nelson. We wrapped up in our down filled sleeping bags, lay on top or our new Thermarests inside our new tent and we were very warm that night.
Over the next few days we made our way towards the coast. The way was pretty remote as the highway wound through a gorge. Every now and then there was a shop or a cafe though and one time we came across a retirement home for animals with some geriatric goats.
The weather got really bad as the rain came in on the second day so we send a message to a man named Bob on the WarmShowers (its like CouchSurfing but for cyclist) website. Bob was an awesome host, he had done lots of cycle touring in his day. We spent the day at his place talking about our travels and getting lots of good advice on touring around New Zealand.
The next two days we followed the Buller River to the coast. The weather was terrible again. It rained constantly but it seemed fitting to arrive in Westport (same name as my home town) with it pissing down from the heavens. We checked into a backpackers and went about the mammoth task of washing all our stuff.
Leaving Westport we headed down the coast in the direction of Greymouth. The weather still wasn’t great but we had sunny spells in between showers. It made it hard to know what to wear. When it was raining we had to have our rain jackets and over trousers on and when the sun came out we had to strip off a few layers before becoming self-propelled saunas on wheels. This constant changing of layers got really frustrating and we ended up just leaving the rain gear on the whole time. This made some of the hills (including the 200m climb over Perpendicular Point) very hard, but working up a sweat is a good thing…right?
We finished the day after cycling 57kms in Punakaiki and planned to take a day off there. We stayed at the Te Nikau Retreat and spent the next day exploring around Punakaiki. In the morning (after a sleep in untill 10) we cycled to the caverns and spend an hour exploring them with our head torches on. Some of the passage ways went under into the rock about 50m and the roof was way above head height. Some though were barely big enough to crawl through. Later we went to the Pancake Rocks where we watched the rough sea crash against the limestone cliffs and sea stacks. In the evening we went for a short walk on the Truman Track which leads to one of the most impressive sections of coastline I have ever been to. There are overhanging cliffs, a waterfall that lands on the beach, caves, rock climbing, roaring seas and a view to an awesome sunset all down on one little bay. Anyone traveling down the West Coast should definitely stop and spend some time in Punakaiki. We only planned to stay one day but ended up staying two.
After two days of rest it was tough to get back on the bikes again but the weather was good and we pedaled on to Greymouth. We stayed one night, stocked up on supplies and got ourselves prepared for three days of cycling on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.