The West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island is notorious for rain but up until this point we had been very lucky. We already stayed an extra day in Fox Glacier because of the weather and rather than stay a third we decided we would cycle on.
We packed our bikes under shelter at the hostel. By the time we were done it had eased off slightly and we seen this as a good opportunity to head off. But to think that this light spell would last for the whole 70kms we had to cycle that day was slightly ambitious. We got about 20kms out of town before the rain became torrential again and as we went on, it got heavier and heavier. It wasn’t all bad though, the rain was accompanied by a tail wind that pushed us along nicely. Nevertheless, if you cycle for long enough in rain that heavy, it’s going to dampen your spirits.
After a few hours I could feel that my rain jacket was leaking and my clothes underneath were damp. My over-trousers did a better job but still managed to let a bit of water in. My shoes were completely soaked through.
We stopped at a restaurant after about 55kms for some food. We needed to take off the rain gear and wring out some of our clothes before we could go in. As we sat inside we looked out at the rain and thought, do we really have to cycle on and camp in this tonight? I remained optimistic and said its only 15kms to the campsite and once the tent is set up, we can put dry clothes on and warm up inside. Still, leaving the restaurant to pedal on was not easy.
About 500m from the campsite something started to feel weird with my back wheel. It was a flat tire. The first one of our whole time in New Zealand having cycled over 3000kms. I was glad that it happened so close to the campsite and not 40kms back the road. We set up our tent under the small sheltered area by the toilets and carried it out to a waterlogged patch of grass. Later, I repaired the puncture under the same shelter.
The next morning, after a night of heavy rain, we woke up to a break in the weather. This break lasted only long enough for us to make breakfast and pack up camp. The damp conditions though made it a perfect breeding ground for sandflies. I constantly had to fish them out of the coffee and we definitely ate a few that were trapped in the porridge. Jasmin counted 16 bites on my face.
It started to pour again as we got back on the bikes and we got stuck into our second day of cycling in torrential rain. Three kilometers outside the town of Haast it finally started to clear up. We could see blue skies which promised good weather to come, hopefully. We checked into a motel (the backpackers was closed) which cost us $90 for the night. The owner let us hang our tent up to dry and we threw all our damp clothes into the dryer.
It was important for us to stay somewhere that had a TV because the next morning Germany was playing against Argentina in the World Cup final. To Jasmin’s delight, Germany won the world cup and we celebrated alone in our motel room, eating porridge before packing the bikes and pedalling on.
Our plan was to follow the Haast River upstream to the Pleasant Flat’s camping ground. The bad weather had passed and it was bright and sunny but we cycled through a series of valleys that funnelled the wind into our direction. For most of the day we were battling a head wind but at least it was dry!
After another frosty night camping we woke up with one of our biggest challenges of the trip ahead of us. The 564m Hasst Pass is the smallest of the three mountain passes that lead from the West Coast to the east but it is very steep and can have quite a lot of traffic at times. We cycled 4kms from the campsite before we started to climb. It was gradual at first be as we passed through the ominously named Gates of Haast things started to get difficult. The next 4kms were extremely steep and the high walls of the valley around us created another perfect funnel for the wind to blow through. Unfortunately, again, into our faces. I was adamant on cycling the whole hill but I had to stop and rest every couple of hundred meters. Jasmin did the smart thing and pushed her bike up on the hard parts.
Once on top we paused, proud to have made it over our first mountain pass and relished the fact that we had a long down hill ahead of us. We didn’t take off straight away though. We made the 30 minute hike to the Haast Look Out and were rewarded with awesome views of the surrounding mountains.
Flying down the other side of the pass we entered the Otago region and the landscape changed dramatically. We went from the lush green of the West Coast to brown and arid. This landscape contrasted beautifully with the blue sky, lakes and snow capped mountains. The cold, crisp weather made it vivid and surreal.
The next obvious place to stop for the night was in the small village of Makarora. We booked into a small alpine style cabin, which we had all to ourselves and costed the same as a room in a hostel. That night we ate most of the food we had left and studied the route for the next day. It looked like it was going to be a tough one but we were looking forward to cycling through more of the Otago landscape.
After breakfast we set off towards Lake Wanaka. Large hills rose from the water’s edge and at times became cliffs. The road was quite high above the water and undulated as it cut a path across the banks and around the bluffs. At about the halfway point we reached ‘The Neck’ where we left the shores of Lake Wanaka, crossed over the hills and joined the shores of Lake Hawea. The landscape was similar on the other side except now we had the water on our left side instead of the right. It was no less beautiful though.
There were still plenty of hills to climb for the rest of the day. We had 66kms done by the time we got to Wanaka but we were wrecked from all the hills. Wanaka is situated on the lake and flanked on all sides with snowy mountains. It looked majestic as we cycled in shortly before sunset. We went into the iSite where the kind staff found us a room in a hostel and booked us in for three nights. We went outside and a street vender gave us some roasted chestnuts for free. I instantly had a good feeling about this place and I was happy to be spending a few days there.