Queenstown to Christchurch
21.12.2010 - 27.12.2010
When we pedalled out of Auckland in October our aims was to make it down to Queenstown. As we arrived with over 3 weeks to go we decided to shift the goalposts and make Christchurch our final destinatioin for our New Zealand cycling odyssey. There was so much more we still wanted to see.
Top of our list, and only 10 km outside Queenstown, was Amisfield - a winery and restaurant nestled within olive groves and a vineyard.
At one of the campsites we stayed at weeks ago we picked up a magazine called 'NZ cuisine' which contained the results of the New Zealand restaurant awards. Amisfield received glowing reviews for its unpretentious cooking using locally sourced ingredients. Simple food cooked well- our favourite. With some covetted otago wine thrown in which we had yet to try it was a stop off on our cycle tour that was pretty hard to resist. From the moment the homecooked bread (sourdough) was brought out with freshly churned butter and pea green olive oil from their own olive grove we knew we were in for a treat. We exercised some restraint on the wine opting for a glass each rather than a bottle as we still had another 50 km to ride to Cromwell that afternoon. As a general rule I steer well clear of rose wine after an unpleasant encounter with Blossom Hill at university. However as Amisfield is particularly renowned for rose and pinot noir we had one of each. Both were glorious, particularly the pinot (2007) which tasted like oak and felt like silk. We happily feasted on tuna as thick as a fist but so tender that you could cut through it with a plastic teaspoon, and pork belly with crackling. Without doubt the best meal we have had in New Zealand, although a few nights of wild camping and feeding on wild flowers might be needed to get us back on budget. Cromwell provided our first opportunity for this (camping not flower munching) on a grassy treelined path to nowhere right next to a lake.
Early start the next day for what would turn out to be one of our most epic cycles. We were heading to Omarama which was 110Km away. To get there we had to cross the Lindis Pass; a 50 km climb - the last 15 km of which is steep and the last 4 km very steep. The start was pretty promising, we covered about 30km by 10am where we reached a small but very pretty village called Tarras. Stopping for a mid morning flat white and muffin has crept into our cycling routine. It was all the more necessary on this day as there are no services until Omarama which was another 80 km away.
With our caffeine and cake fix satisfied I started loading us the panniers as Rob squinted at the horizon. "I think that weather is heading towards us". I looked at where he was pointing. The sky that had been piercing blue when we arrived was now so black it was almost purple. It was indeed heading our way. Ten minutes later the heavens opened. If we go now, we reasoned, we would get wet and cold very fast. Better to wait it out. Two hours later we ventured outside. Good decision to wait we congratulated ourselves with glee. But an hour later the rain started again... and then the wind. We crawled along at a snail's pace of about 10 km per hour. The rain got harder so, going against our plan of doing most of the climb before lunch we huddled under a tree munching bread and cheese and cheering ourselves up with a sugar rush of the Arrowtown fudge. 'It'll probably stop in ten minutes' we told each other.
The hours passed, the climbs got steeper, we got slower and the rain continued to fall. By the time we got to the steep section of the climb water was flowing down the grooves of our helmets in a steady stream splashing off the handlebars. With each revolution of the pedals I could feel my toes squelching in the puddles collecting in my shoes. Nearly 5 o'clock and nowhere near the top of the climb. To add insult to injury Rob had accidently put on my cycling shorts in the rush to get an early start . With padding in all the wrong places and chaffing sodden lycra his bum was going red raw. The Lindis was throwing everything at us! The landscape we were pedalling past was completely barren save for a few trees that became scarser the higher we climbed. About 7km from the top there was a little shack on the side of the road. It was covered in graffiti and all the windows were smashed. "I'm going in" Rob announced "We need a cup of tea". Shivering we pulled out the trangia and huddled over the pot while the water boiled. Half an hour later we left warmer and lighter having made an artistic donation depositing the cycling shorts on a rusty nail amid the graffiti with an arrow and a message scrawled in biro reading 'help yourself'.
When we reached the summit of 980 mts the road turned back on itself and we had a gusty tailwing all the way to Omarama. I was in my highest gear , spinning like fury to get any resistance. Rob, who is more of a speed demon than me and has higher gears completely left me for dust. We did the last 32 km in under an hour.
The next day we took it pretty easy, soaking in the views of snowcapped mountains as we cycled towards the majestic Mt Cook, coming to rest on Lake Pukaki, the more beautiful, lesser known neighbour to Lake Tekapo.
A Northwesterly wind started gusting that evening and would be centre stage in our cycling experiences in the days ahead. On Christmas eve we left our wild camping spot on the lake and headed towards the canal road - a shorter flatter route through to Lake Tekapo which was far preferable to the state highway which was heaving under the weight of excess christmas traffic - mainly consisting of 4x4s with trailers holding boats, bikes, kayaks and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink for holidaying kiwis.
When we got to the canal road it was closed due to high winds which apparently get so strong that cars can get blown off the road. This did not bode well. Back to the state highway where we spent the morning fighting an unholy head wind coming slightly from the left periodically gusting us into the middle of the road and perilously close to oncoming traffic. After about an hour and a half we were pretty battleweary and feeling quite unstable on the bikes. So we flirted briefly with the idea of hitching to Lake Tekapo. Our first attempt put a firm stop to that plan when an overweight man and his wife in a caravan stopped and proceeded to tell us that we needed to 'tough it out' and that 'we knew what it was like when we left home'. They then sped off. With that dose of xmas cheer we struggled on. It took us over three hours to reach lake tekapo which was only 25 km away. We then turned into a tail wind and arrived in Burke Pass Village (about the same distance again) in under an hour.
Christmas Day was marked with little ceremony other than a hot breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg.
Having woken up in a farmers field where we camped the night before we set off just after 8am and enjoyed one of the most peaceful days cycle since the trip began. Hardly a soul on the road. Enroute to Peel Forest we ran into a french cyclist. 'Where are you cycling to?' we asked. 'It depends on the wind' he replied. Having spent a couple of gruelling days fighting the wind like us his new strategy was to go where the wind blew him. A permaculture cyclist! We'd be adopting his philosophy sooner than we thought. We had an overdue rest day in Peel Forest on boxing day and then headed towards the Rakaia Gorge - a very gradual 70km climb and we planned to reach Christchurch the following day. Despite our hopes that the wind would have died down after a day off the bikes it was as ferocious as ever. After about 20 km we reached an intersection with a road pointing to Ashburton which was straight into a tailwind. 'Is Ashburton on the way?' Rob asked 'No.... but maybe we should go there anyway...' Ah permaculture cycling. What an enlightened discovery!'
We soared into Ashburton which was just 40km from the turn off. We discovered that a bus was leaving in 15 minutes time going straight to Christchurch - the alternative was a 85km cycle on the SH1 straight into the wind. After some kerfuffle getting the bus driver to agree to take us and the bikes on the bus (in Nz it is all at the driver's discretion so you can't buy a bus ticket in advance even though the excess you pay to take a bike on board is almost the equivalent cost of a ticket) we were off" An hour and a half later we were deposited in the middle of Christchurch - unexpectedly a day early - and at the end of the cycle touring part of our New Zealand adventure.