After the adventures and cold nights camping on the Wilderness trail, we decided to have a day off in Hokitika. It was good to rest the legs but I was restless to get back cycling again. We used our day off to plan the route ahead and buy food for the next few days. The next town with any real services was 138kms away and we planned to make that trip in three days.
We rolled out of Hokitika early in the morning, bikes heavily laden with food but happy to be heading further south. Our goal for the day was to make it to the DOC campsite at Lake Ianthe. The distance was 57kms which isn’t a great distance but the short winter days and sunset at 5:20pm ment we always had limited time to get the kilometers done. On this occasion, we had got an earlier start than normal and the weather was good so we took our time cycling. We made a stop for lunch in Ross and ended up pottering around for almost two hours in this tiny roadside town. A lovely old woman in the arts and crafts store kept us chatting for most of the time.
When we got back on the bikes we realised it was getting quite late and that there was only a few hours of sunlight left. We quickened the pace a little but still rode at a speed that allowed us to enjoy the ride.
We reached Lake Ianthe as the sun was going down. We quickly went about setting up camp in the remaining light. Once the tent was up we were able to enjoy the beautiful sunset. We walked out onto the jetty and watched the vivid colours of the sky reflect onto the mirror water of the lake.
We cooked dinner, once it was dark, by head torch light. It started getting very cold once we finished our meal but we stayed outside for a while, enjoying the moonlit lake and looking at the stars.
Next morning we woke with another frozen tent. I left the food panniers on the bike over night and they were also covered in a thick layer of frost. The gas canisters for our stove didn’t work too well either and it took a long time to boil the water for coffee. The cold didn’t last long though. Once the sun came out we had another clear crisp day of riding ahead of us
Leaving Lake Ianthe, we started for our next destination, Lake Mapourika. A 69km spin down the road. Again, the weather was really good, sunny and not much wind. The way was pretty flat for the most part with only a slight gradient up or down and they were very straight. I measured one stretch of road with my speedometer at 5kms long between bends. The one major challenge of the day was the cycle over the 200m Mt. Hercules. This was a steep hill but we breezed over it with relative ease.
This hill was a good benchmark to view the improvement of our fitness on. Thinking back to when we cycled the East Cape, five months earlier, I remember tackling much lesser hills and finding them much tougher. Jasmin’s fitness has also improved vastly over the last few months. At this point we are cycling all day, for multiple days in a row. We are eating very healthy and getting LOTS of fresh air. Although, I am sometimes tired at the end of the day, I personally have never felt this good about health. Still, Mt. Hercules was just a warm up for some of the bigger climbs we would tackle further down the road.
That evening we arrived at the campsite on Lake Mapourika. Later, as the sun went down the dew started to fall. Everything got damp very quick and the temperature started to drop. The shoes I had bought for this trip almost ten months ago were now falling apart. The sole was starting to come away from the shoe and water from the ground was soaking directly into my sock. Wet feet and freezing temperatures are not a good combination. I decided that the next affordable pair of boots I find, I would buy.
We had another frosty start the next morning. It was hard getting out of the warm tent but putting my feet into wet shoes was worse. It didn’t dampen my spirits though. We only had 15kms to cycle to the tourist town of Franz Josef where we could check into a hostel, do laundry and have a shower.
After just about warming up we arrived in town. We checked into the hostel, dropped our bags off in the room and headed on our unloaded bikes for the main attraction in town, the Franz Josef Glacier.
We flew down the road on our light bikes towards the glaciers car park. From there we had to walk a path for about an hour to get to the viewing area. As we walked along I kept thinking that as we got closer we would start getting a view of the glacier in the distance. All of a sudden the path ended at a barrier and there was not much to see. The Glacier had almost completely receded. We looked at an information board that showed a picture of what the glacier was like in 2008. What we saw was only a fraction of what it was then.
We were shocked to see this. At this rate of recession the glacier would be gone by next year. Franz Josef is a town that was build on the tourism that the glacier generated. If the glacier did disappear, I could imagine the place becoming a ghost town.
That night we got a good sleep in the hostel. The following morning we prepared for a short but very tough cycle. It was only 24km to the next town of Fox Glacier but we had three very large hills to climb in between. All three hills were around the 400m mark and the gradients were very steep. We cycled out of town on a flat road for a few kilometers untill we reached the bottom of the first hill where the climbing started in earnest. After about 100m we were already very sweaty so we stopped to delayer. I took my jacket and fleece off but for some strange reason I put thermal leggings on that morning. I was way too hot but I couldn’t change my pants in the middle of the road. The only thing I could do was roll them up to expose some of my legs in an attempt to keep cool.
The uphill cycle continued for a long time but we eventually crested the hill and we were rewarded with a few minutes of very fast downhill riding. Once the first hill ended the second one began and the process was repeated. The third hill was by far the toughest. At one stage the combination of a steep gradient, a sharp bend (speed limit 15 km/h) ,a road gritter spreading grit and a cattle grid across the road forced us to get off the bikes and push some of the way. We were happy when we got to the top of that hill and we cruised the final kilometers downhill into Fox Glacier township.
Fox Glacier is another town built on the tourism generated by a glacier and is Franz Josef’s twin town. We took a day off from cycling and stayed in a backpackers. We were hoping after the disappointment of the Franz Josef Glacier that the Fox Glacier would be more impressive. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. We made a trip out to the viewing point but from where we stood, we could see nothing. Some other tourists stood at the barrier and took pictures as if it was right in front of them (I don’t have a clue why). I didn’t even take my camera out. Despite the disappointment, we still had a nice walk. The rain was heavy but this made for lots of waterfalls to fall from either side of the valley we were in.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time around Fox Glacier but the weather was getting worse. We ended up taking a second day off hoping it would clear up. On the third day it rained as hard as ever but we were tired of waiting around. We decided it was time to get back on the bikes and so we pedalled off into the rain.