Leg 5 – Fox Glacier to Glenorchy

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I have been cycling for over a month! This seems crazy to me. It’s one of those situations where all at once I feel as though I have just begun but also like I have been doing this forever. Each day brings with it fresh challenges and entertainment, I feel set in some kind of routine and aware of my capabilities yet I am always exited to see what the next part of the adventure will bring.

This week has been the most diverse so far and I am only a few days away from southern tip of the South Island now! If you are time limited, head straight for the pictures nearer the end of the blog. So exciting!!

Sorry for the delay but I haven’t been able to get internet at all.

Route Map B5

Day 23 – Fox Glacier to Haast – 75.6 miles

So, after waiting an extra day in Fox Glacier due to the rain, I had to bite the bullet and set off on my long journey. It rained. All day. It was, however, not QUITE as heavy as the previous day – every cloud… is shedding its load on my head.

It has been a long time since I tackled such a lengthy ride and I was keen to get an early start but I also wanted to enjoy the morning and say goodbye to my new friends properly. In the end, I made a 9:30am start, which I thought was fairly respectable.

After a confusing interaction with the lady at the shop, I managed to find the giant scales that Mark had mentioned and went to find out how much my bike weighed after I had spent so much time getting rid of superfluous items. Originally I had estimated that my bike and kit had come in at around 40kg. The official weight, setting off that morning, was 45kg. I certainly have dragged a heavy bike a thousand miles and it isn’t all too light even now!

With the rain as heavy as it was, I saw very little, despite the length of my journey. The rivers were angry torrents and I so wanted to take pictures as I crossed them but all the bridges were single lanes and I think there would have been angry drivers wanting to send me and Peggy for an unwanted swim if I had tried.

Something I did see on my journey was other cyclists. Lots of them! All braving the rain – many without baggage and a few with bikes equally as laden as Peggy. In fact, the only redeeming feature of the café at the salmon farm was the other cyclists. There was a Dutch group with whom I had a brief chat and I can only assume it was them who left me a little surprise! When I returned to my bike after a particularly dissatisfying break (awful food, awful service and the unwanted arrival of my ‘monthly friend’), I went to put my helmet on my head and, hidden underneath it, was a sweet treat – a macadamia and cranberry energy bar to be exact – what a delicious random act of kindness. I have some serious paying forward to do as soon as I am able.

I thought it would be quite funny (a good excuse to stop before the top of the hill and an opportunity to apply more chamois cream to my drenched derriere) to stop at the lookout point and take a picture of the view – rain.

It took me a very long time to complete the ride, though the downhill section at the beginning did give me a little boost. By the end, I think I might have been getting a little delirious as I was absolutely positive that one of the trees I was approaching for a good length of time was the exact likeness of a tyrannosaurus rex. If only the rain hadn’t threatened to terminate the life of another phone with its persistence, I would have taken a picture… I wonder if anyone else has noticed the same tree.

My accommodation at the Haast Lodge was great – inexpensive and very comfortable. Since it wasn’t very busy, I had a 4 bunk dorm to myself which was an added bonus. I decided that tumble drying the things I had been wearing (and the jeans I wore the night before) would be a good idea and worth the $3 charge and took advantage of the sole occupancy by putting the heater on to dry out my shoes and waterproofs.

Day 24 – Haast to Makarora – 47.7 miles

Waking up, I peered out of the tiny, mosquito net covered window and thought I could see a patch of blue. I can’t say it turned out to be a clear day but I beat the majority of the rainfall to my destination!

It was a strange day of cycling. I was worried about there being no facilities between Haast and Makarora but I soon realised that I had enough cereal bars (with some other slightly more real foods) to feed a small army. It made me think of the bin liners of snacks we receive from the kitchen on school trip days and I wondered to myself how many ‘trip days’ worth of cereal bars I have already ingested on this trip.

I was pleased because it wasn’t raining but then was thwarted by my fiercer foe – wind – but ultimately I was blown away more by the beauty of the day’s journey. It is truly one of the finest and the signposted forest walks provided even more dramatic views only minutes from the main highway.

I loved cycling through the valley, surrounded by the imposing mountain ranges and was surprised by the little picnic areas with camping spots especially given that I was led to believe there was absolutely nothing on my journey. Far up on the hillsides, I could see great waterfalls in full force and as I began to climb, saw falls along the roadside. I stopped to walk 2 minutes into the bush for a close up of Thunder Creek Falls, which was stunning.

From here, two things took a significant turn for the worse – the gradient of the road and the force of the wind. I managed to pedal Peggy over the Gates of Haast Bridge and a little further before the gale became so strong, I was pedalling, crying, yelling and cursing into the full force of it just to stay relatively stationary. There was no verge and I really was struggling to hold my line. It was steep, I was tired and Garmin said I still had 24 miles still to go… I got off and pushed, cried and yelled into the wind until there was a flatter part or a pause in the wind. I have no idea if I could have tackled the gradient without the wind and the sheer death plummet drop but I couldn’t do it with all things considered!

At least it gave me more time to take in the surroundings!

My biggest fear was that I was going to have to push for ten miles but the steepest section didn’t last too long and I was able to get back on and summit the pass. Hooray!

Garmin also seemed to be telling me the wrong distance and the road signs said I had significantly less to travel before reaching my terminus for the day. So, when I passed the sign for the Blue Pools (30 minute return) I decided to head off for a mini tramp.

Unlike cycling, I am actually a fast walker. It’s the only ‘active’ thing I’ve ever been quick at. I remember walking to the doctors with my mum across the precinct in Cotgrave a good long time ago and her remarking that it was usually the child that was struggling to keep up with the parent and not the other way around. Ha! So, after probably less than ten minutes and crossing a couple of awesome bridges, I was rewarded by some stunning views where I could stop and snap away to my heart’s content.

Then, it was only a short spin to Makarora and my accommodation for the night (next to the tourist information centre). I was so giddy seeing where I was staying. For only $35 dollars, I had a room in a 4 bed en-suite A-frame style cabin in the woods. I loved it. Out of all the places where I have actually paid full price (thank you again wonderful people), this is by far and away the best value for money. It had all the facilities of a hostel or a top end campsite but it just felt that little bit more special. I also really liked the staff, who were incredibly helpful and fun to chat with.

Day 25 – Makarora to (Oliver) Cromwell – 66.4 miles

It took the staff a long time to help me with the internet the night before and we just couldn’t get it working properly. So, I didn’t get quite long enough to work out where I was going to head this morning. After too much messing around, I finally decided I would head to Cromwell, a little further than I would have hoped to ride but a town that should have plenty of options for food and sleep at the end of a long day.

The first half of this trip was alongside the north-eastern edge of Lake Wanaka, and gave the unrestricted water views I always hope for. With only a little wind (that I remember) and no rain, it really was a moment for reflecting on how much I am enjoying myself (despite it being ridiculously crazy and difficult and well worth sponsoring!) and listening to the closing chapters of The Secret Garden was the perfect accompaniment. I am loving the audio books. I’m running out of downloaded ones though – need to get some real wifi soon!

I had a moment of hilarity en route also… I had put my underwear on as well as my shorts, thinking this would mean I could wear my only comfortable pair of shorts for more days. Unfortunately, this only had the result of making my only comfortable pair of shorts completely uncomfortable. There was nowhere to stop practically all day so at some point I was just going to have to bite the bullet and, at the side of the road, I re-enacted the magic knicker removal trick that had once been the routine for all the girls after primary school swimming lessons. I managed to avoid indecent exposure, get myself comfy for the day, grab a snack and then wave at a passing cycle touring couple…. Phew. Just in time.

Thankfully, I passed the couple again a little further up as they had also stopped for a snack. I was just about to get grumpy, thinking that I had seen the last of the water for the day, when, after only a few more painful minutes of climbing, I was rewarded with my first view of Lake Hawea, which would be my companion for a good while and a good deal of climbing. Treasure Island was my next book and it, too, seemed to fit with the surroundings of the day.

From Hawea, I probably should have headed to Wanaka and across the Crown Range but instead I took an alternative route through Hawea Downs to Luggate and on to Cromwell. There were certainly pleasant views on this part of the journey – lots of vineyards and fruit groves. It wasn’t as magical as the morning, though and the wind was up again, making what was supposed to be pretty much a downhill end to the day feel very difficult.

Arriving at Cromwell (I can only remember the name of this town by first thinking of Oliver Cromwell), I was devastated to find that the backpackers hostel was full. I went to one of the motels and the guy there was very unhelpful – probably because I look ridiculous and smell terrible but a lady, Lisa, at the Golden Gate Lodge was wonderful. It looked like a nice place to stay but she had just sold her last room. She rang around a few places for me and got me booked in at the Victoria Arms which turned out to be a pretty run down pub with horrendous karaoke entertainment. Still, the pizza was fantastic and I slept reasonably well despite the snorer next door.

Day 26 – Cromwell to 12 Mile Delta – 48.5 miles

This was my topsy turvy day. Everything was supposed to be uphill but I felt like I was spending the majority of my day going downhill. There were definitely climbs but I didn’t feel like I was ascending the whole day.

It should also have been an incredibly dangerous road but the cars were the best they’ve been – a truck even waited behind me before passing on a narrow section… normally they’d just try and squeeze around. Yey.

By now I am completely running out of adjectives for how much I love the scenery. I think that the fact I hadn’t been expecting views of the Kawarau River made it even more pleasing to the eye. The crystal clear waters, reflecting that incredible turquoise colour in the gorge below probably had a lot to do with the feeling that I wasn’t climbing too much! And the weather – it was so blue! I didn’t listen to any music or books all day – I was too busy taking in the spectrum of colour awakened by the mystical yellow orb’s return to the sky.

I even stopped to take a picture of my shadow. It has been a long time since I have had one of those!

After cycling through the Gibbston Valley, with even more vineyards and some spectacular ‘real country’ feeling meadows with golden grasses and the dark mountains looming in the distance, I headed right and up to the settlement of Arrowtown. I think that this was a great detour, taking in some excellent views, getting me off the main highway and introducing me to Malaghans Road, which has some of the smoothest verges I’ve ever had the pleasure to cycle. It was wonderful. I didn’t even mind that I was overtaken by two guys on touring bikes… they had much less luggage than I did. And something smelt phenomenal too – I think there was some pine work going on and I was swallowing huge gulps of air, it was simply delicious.

Just before Queenstown, I started what was meant to be the downhill section of the day. There was definitely some quick descending but what I hadn’t counted on was a one lane bridge with an incredibly steep uphill at the other side and lots of traffic… Peggy wouldn’t change down onto the granny cog and I was pumping as hard as I could to keep myself moving so that I wouldn’t fall off into the path of a vehicle in a hurry… I don’t think I got my breath back until I was unclipping in the middle of Queenstown, surrounded by what felt like far too many people who weren’t cyclists.

I did pop into a couple of shops to have a look at the cycling shorts but I couldn’t try anything on as I was so I decided to leave it until I next had a proper opportunity. I did, however, manage to go to Ferg Burger on Emily’s instruction and I got the most enormous burger which I took down to the lakeside and gobbled like a monster since I forgot to stop for lunch… oops.

I had some interesting ideas in my mind and I took this moment to digest a little and make some calls… exciting, exciting!

The digestion time was not sufficient and I really did think I was going to have to stop and be sick as I left Queenstown. Somehow I managed to hold it together – the lake probably helped. I took a picture with the Closeburn sign, which is near to where my folks live in Scotland, and played the gear changing game as I battled with the gradients to get to the camp site.

I was a little confused by the 12 Mile Delta site – it’s in a fantastic location but it’s very busy and has pretty barren pitches. I’m not sure it would be my first choice to revisit – maybe I just needed to pick a better pitch or be braver at getting into my togs and going for dip in the chilly waters! I certainly enjoyed only having to walk a few feet to see the full beauty of the lake in the morning.

Day 27 – 12 Mile Delta – Glenorchy – Paradise – Glenorchy – 44.3 miles

Wow, wow, wow! This road felt like hell to cycle with Peggy but I know it would have been every road cyclists dream and there were a few of them out on this glorious Saturday morning. None of the climbs were particularly long but they did feel steep. I even got passed by a lovely lady who yelled that she was cheating with electricity as she passed – I think the road bikers are cheating just as much compared to dragging Peggy the Beast around.

But the VIEWS, the views were worth the agony. I love this lake (Wakatipu), I love this weather, I love Glenorchy. Yes, yes, yes!

It was only 22 miles to Glenorchy which I made in reasonable time and checked in at the backpackers there (6 people in a tiny cabin is way too many but again, stunning location). I met a lovely couple from Australia with Scottish heritage – we talked at cross purposes for a while about Thornhill – apparently there’s one just near Stirling as well as just near Dumfries – but we had a lovely natter and I hope they are enjoying the rest of the trip. Sue and Ian, I think (sorry, I didn’t write it down).

We crossed paths again on my way out to Paradise – the end of the cycleable road in that direction. Ian didn’t seem to think that the gravel road was worth it but I had my sights set on swimming in Diamond Lake and I am more used to ‘metal’ roads by now than most people would think so I decided to check it out anyway. I needed to make up my miles!

There was a lot more traffic than I had anticipated – perhaps a busy time on a busy day because of the weather and the weekend – but I enjoyed the ride anyway. There were so many changes along the way, with cows and sheep chilling out in communal fields, to lush forest roads, the pretty little lake and the enormous mountain ranges blocking any further travel by road.

My favourite bit of the journey had to be fording the River Jordan to get to Paradise, only to find that there was NO ENTRY due to a private function. Denied access to Paradise!! Hahaha. Fortunately, that was only the trust centre – I’m pretty sure that Paradise is all around me.

And, I did indeed go for a quick swim in the lake. I think I shocked the guys from Queenstown who were just finishing up their fishing trip for the day. Quick lakeside change into my bikini – the tie tops are really handy and in I splashed. I stayed in the shallows near the edge – I’m always scared of not being able to get back out if the water gets too deep for me – and this had the added bonus of the water being relatively warm. It was so fresh and cleansing. What a treat!

I did manage to walk off without my glasses and had to be rescued by the aforementioned fishermen. I’m certain that they already thought I was crazy and my chat with them only made to affirm their first impressions!

Since it was so warm still, I chucked my cycling gear on over my wet things and was back in Glenorchy just in time for shower, food and my bed, ready for a very exciting day ahead!

REST DAY

Oh wow! Oh my goodness. Today has been so incredible that I am having to start catching up from here and then I will work backwards.

I’m hoping this doesn’t go as a cheat but, I reached the end of a road and I had a decision to make. It may be a little controversial but the endgame of 4000 miles will be the same regardless. I am determined about that.

SO… somehow, I think it is Callum’s fault for getting the idea into my head, I decided that I should fly across the little mountain that was in the way of me and my destination. And when I get an idea in my head, I’m pretty good at finding a way of making it happen. So I did and it was the best experience ever.

I had wanted to fly from Glenorchy but that would have meant chartering a plane and that was out of the question! But a little phoning around solved my problem and Milford Sound Flights were able to help me out, so long as I flew from Queenstown… I couldn’t risk missing the 2pm flight so I took today as a rest day and got a lift along the road that I had already cycled… I figured that, considering I had cycled to the end of cycleable roads in the direction I was heading, that this was acceptable.

It meant that I could pop down to the lake one last time in the morning to take some photos and say goodbye and it also gave me time to pop back to Outdoor Sports in Queenstown who were incredibly helpful and caused me to part with another lump of cash to sort out my cycling shorts situation which has become a bit of a misery. They were so wonderful that they are able to draw a mention on this, day of days.

Also – I needed to go to the grocery shop, which I managed just in time, realising that there is absolutely no store at all at Milford Sound. This is worth considering if you are planning a trip.

Back to my day of days… OK. So the sales guys have been amazing and must have been going crazy by the end of their dealings with me and the customer service wizardry just kept on producing magic.

At the airport, there were two pilots having a bit of a chat about what they were going to do with the bicycle and I managed to introduce myself and start up a bit of a chat… there were two planes going over to Milford Sound to collect passengers, one empty and one with the three booked passengers who were also going to have a cruise. I mentioned that I would probably go out on the later cruise which ultimately led to Grant suggesting that he not only take Peggy and my bags but that he could take me too!

This meant that I got to sit right up front with Grant on our little flight together! WOW! It was an absolutely stunning day for it. Even more blue sky than the previous day and barely a cloud in sight. I was bursting with excitement and this must have rubbed off on Grant somehow and, as we took off, he casually explained (through the awesome cool headset) that, since I wasn’t time bound, he had got authorisation from mission (ground) control for us to take the EVEN MORE scenic route.

I have never had the pleasure of such incredible aviation. In our tiny plane, the newest of the fleet, we soared up above Queenstown and headed for the mountains. Everything, every single thing looked spectacular. I was excited by seeing the propeller on my camera, I was excited by seeing the roads I had cycled on, I was excited by seeing the lake I had swum in just the evening before. I was just a buzzing ball of excitement.

Grant was incredible, pointing out the various mountains we were passing – whether they were at the wing tip or on the nose. He even inched us higher (I was so happy that he was speaking in terms of feet – MY LANGUAGE!) so that we could get a view of Mount Cook, the cloud piercer. Even more special than that, but we flew right between the peaks of Mount Tutoko and Mount Madeline so that we could see some of the glaciation and I giggled in delight as we turned and I could see right down out of my window. There was just so much to enjoy. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I want to do it again and again.

I think I will leave that at that and just upload as many pictures as I can because I can’t do it justice.

THEN I got to do the cruise over the sound, which isn’t really a sound – it is a fiord. I remember Dirk trying to find out the difference between a sound and a fiord and I was told again today. Maybe this time I will remember, both are similar but the walls of the sound’s valley are carved by the running water of a river whereas a fiord is as a result of ice.

It was difficult to be quite as mesmerised as I would normally have been as my senses were still overloaded from the views from the plane but this really was incredible as well. I enjoyed relaxing on the boat, the Mitre Peak Cruise and seeing the mineral deposits and rock formations as the engines were turned off and we paused just metres away from the walls of the sound. Everyone has been astounded by the weather – apparently this area gets up to 10m of rain per year and I managed to get perfect clear skies! Our guide was pretty happy as we took in the view of the Tasman Sea and he laughed that you very rarely see the Tasman as it was right then. This certainly makes up for the wet and wild west coast. On our return to the harbour, we saw seals on seal rock and got I drenched by one of the falls as the captain took us up close and personal.

On the boat, I also met Neil, a fellow cyclist from Nottingham who has hired a bike and is cycling around New Zealand for a couple of months. We ate our dinners together and exchanged stories – he is cycling back out to Te Anau and scared me with the stories of the hill I have to climb tomorrow. I think it’s going to be an early start and a late finish. I have no doubt that I will be overtaken by Neil at some point! I wonder whether I will make it to the tunnel beforehand!

Though there is no shop or township of any sort at Milford Sound (Fjord) the café actually serves delicious meals and I decided to save the pasta I had bought for my night at Te Anau Downs. The accommodation for backpackers is everything you would expect (- sockets in the bedrooms + hairdryers in the bathrooms) and the hostel is buzzing. Despite this, I was able to find a quiet(ish) space to sit on my own and contemplate the wonders I had beheld.

Sandflies – lots. Am getting a dab hand at the kill on sight ritual. Sorry to all those averse to violent pest control but they really hurt. If it makes it better, I do end up slapping myself in the face quite a lot to get the blighters.

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