Leaving Mt Cook was difficult. We really fell in love with that place but nevertheless we were excited to cycle on a bit further down the road. It was a two-day cycle to Lake Tekapo and these would be our last days on the bikes before making our way back to Auckland by bus and ferry.
We read that when cycling out of Mt Cook Village, the prevailing northwesterly winds can blow you the 55km length of Highway 8 in record time and speeds in excess of 50km/h can be achieved. We were really excited at the prospect of this but knowing our luck the wind would probably be blowing in the opposite direction… And blow in the opposite direction, it did! We now had 55kms of head wind to look forward to as we headed off but luckily, it wasn’t that strong. The road undulated quite a bit but there was more downhill than uphill. The downhill sections gave us a nice break from the wind and we were able to free wheel along at a good speed.
The landscape around was nothing short of awesome. Behind us was Mt Cook which got smaller and smaller every time we looked back and to our left was the massive body of water, fed by the Hooker and Tasman glaciers, Lake Pukaki. A blanket of dark clouds hung over our heads most of the day threatening rain but it stayed dry and we had very pleasant conditions for cycling.
It was nice cycling but 55kms of head wind will wear you down. By the time we left Highway 8 we were nackered. We turned north onto Highway 80 and cycled another two kms to the Lake Pukaki Information center. We inquired about camping on the lake and we were told you were free to do so as long as you had a chemical toilet to do your business in. This is a standard requirement in New Zealand when you plan to Freedom Camp but unfortunately our bikes don’t come fitted with such toilets and there is a fine if you are caught camping without one. We thought this was a bit silly, especially because we were told that there was a public toilet right at the most popular camping spot. We also figured that at this time of year not many other people would be camping and that the ranger wouldn’t be coming around.
We set up camp and had the whole place to ourselves. It was cold but we had a comfortable nights sleep. This would be our last night camping in New Zealand.
We packed up the tent for the last time, left the campsite and headed off on the highway. We planned to join up with the canal road, which connects Lake Pukaki to Lake Tekapo, but had to cycle about 20kms first to get to it. We had heard from some locals that the road was closed for repairs. If that was the case we would have to stay on the highway, which would be fine except for the traffic. Luckily there were signs along the way assuring us that the road was only closed to vehicles but open to cyclist and pedestrians. After the initial few kilometers on the highway the rest of the day would be traffic free, lovely.
To get onto the canal road we had to climb a very steep hill. The sun was shining as we pedalled and by the time we got to the top we were covered in sweat. We stopped for a moment at the top and enjoyed the views from this elevation. There was a large reservoir at the start of the canal with a lot of cars parked around and people fishing all around the waters edge. I was half expecting for this place to be deserted, with the road being closed, but it was full of people. We cycled up stream a few kilometers to The Mt Cook Alpine Salmon Farm. All the fishermen seemed to be down stream from the farm which lead us to believe that they were fishing salmon that had escaped from the cages.
After the salmon farm, there was a sign and a gate to say the road was closed to vehicles from this point on. To the side of the gate there was small gap that allowed us to roll our bikes through. Our bikes were to big for the gap with all the luggage. At first it looked like we were going to have to unload the bikes, roll them through and reload them on the other side. This is a pain in the arse and something I hate doing, I was adamant on getting them through without having to unloading. I got Jasmin to go on the other side, I lowered the seat and rolled the front wheel of one of the bikes through, we leaned it at a 45° angle and twisted it so that one of the panniers went under. We then lifted the front wheel in the air which allowed enough space for the bike to pass through completely. We repeated this process for the second bike. This technique reminded me of the one you use when moving furniture out of a house.
The road along the canal was nice and smooth most of the part but when we got to the sections that were being repaired it turned to gravel. This gravel was very loose and looked like it had been freshly laid. Our tires were probaby the first to roll across it. Although it was not impossible to cycle over it was very difficult and we felt we didn’t have much control. It was a relief when we got back onto the tarmac and were able to roll freely again.
When the canal ended we had a short cycle along the highway again to get into the town center. Tekapo is a popular spot for holiday makers and has a lot of water based activities to avail of. It is also a dark sky reserve and one of the best places in New Zealand to look at the stars.
Rolling into Tekapo was bitter sweat because this was the last bit of cycle touring we would be doing in New Zealand. From here on out we would be using public transport to get us to Auckland in time for our flights. On top of the mixed feelings we had trouble finding accommodation. Everything was booked out and the iSite was very unhelpful. After some time we managed to book ourselves into the last two beds in a hostel. Once booked in, we could finally relax and get excited about spending some time in Tekapo.
The next day we took a hike up to the Mount John Observatory. At 1029m above sea level and situated in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, it seemed the perfect place to have an observatory. Unfortunately the facility is not open to the public at day time but we did enjoy having a coffee at the famous Astro Café. At one stage, an astronomer came out with a telescope that he set up to look at the sun (with a powerful ND filter attached). We had a look through and were able to see the perfectly round disk of the sun with a tiny black spot in the middle. He informed us that it was a solar flare and that during time of greater solar activity you would be able to see a lot more of them.
The hike up to Mt John was well worth it. The coffee was good, the weather was nice and the views from the top were just awesome.
When leaving Lake Tekapo we went to the bus stop, piled up all our gear, took the front wheels off our bikes and hoped that the bus driver would accept all our stuff. This is a process we would be repeating quite a lot over the next week.