Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cycling NZ - St Arnaud - Murchison - Lewis Pass - Hanmer Springs

420 kilometres in five days. From extreme wind to extreme sunshine and back to extreme wind. That's how it goes when you're cycling in New Zealand.

Day 5 - Sunday 16 Oct 2011
Distance ridden:
100km; Route: St Arnaud - Murchison - SH65 40km past Murchison; Weather: perfect (sunny, warm, no wind).

The following two days were so far the best part of my trip. Perfect weather, almost no wind, stunning landscapes and roads flat enough to let me enjoy the surroundings instead of panting and praying for the hilly torture to end. I reached Murchison by lunchtime, had a juicy burger and after resisting the temptation of an inviting looking backpacker (it would have been a sin not to tent with that weather) I pushed on for another 40km, making it a total of a 100 that day.

Hard sitting stuff
Side note: in my previous post I forgot to mention a very important thing - I've got a new seat on my bike. A soft one that doesn't turn my ass into an ocean of pain and doesn't make me worry about conceiving children some day... If the guy who tries to sell you a bike says "this seat is quite popular, I wouldn't get rid of it", don't trust him! Popular my ass... actually NOT popular my ass at all!

Day 6 - Monday 17 Oct 2011
Distance Ridden:
47km; Route: SH65 40km past Murchison (Burnbrae) - Springs Junction - Lewis Pass; Weather: still perfect.

Good morning Maruia saddle. My first "freedom camping" went well and after having finished the day with a hard (and totally unexpected) climb, I could start the new one with a pleasurable downhill to Springs Junction, with the occasional stop for a photo. Lunch in Springs Junction and then the hard work - Lewis Pass... or maybe not.

Mentally prepared to tackle a 500m elevation to the 907m mountain pass, I stumbled into two DOC workers (DOC - Department of Conservation, they take care of all things nature) who kindly agreed to give me a lift (about 20km), thus saving me a couple of hours of sweating and panting up the hill. DOC people like trampers and cyclists, but hate people with campervans, who apparently defecate everywhere and leave lots of rubbish. Thanks to these kind tourists the NZ government is actually clamping down "freedom camping". Isn't that nice?

Hot water, cold beer and cool view.
What else does one need after a day's cycling?
Hot pooling
Luckily for me, they'd go the extra mile to help a cyclist, so instead of sweating on the Lewis pass, I sweated in steaming 40°C water in the natural hot pools just after the pass. The area around Hanmer Springs is full of hot pools created by underground volcanoes, and although most of them are private and you have to pay for them, there is a place where you can go for free, if you know how to find it (information travel by word of mouth, the locals don't promote it, for obvious commercial reasons). It's right next to a river, and jumping from hot to cold water makes it even more fun, with skin going all prickly and stuff.

Click for more pics of my biking.
Sandflies in the ointment
I spent four amazing hours in the water, until my skin got more wrinkly than a 90-year old's cheek. The only fly in the ointment, literally, was an army of sandflies. They're the ultimate New Zealand bug pest, they're ultimately annoying and they're ultimately everywhere. Even when you're up to your chin in the water, there's a cloud of those horrible little buggers flying around your head. The only way to get rid of them is to wrap every square centimetre of yourself in a rug or use a net.

They ruined my morning, too. I woke up hearing drumming noises on my tent and I thought it was raindrops, but it was just a million sandflies stuck between the inner and outer layer of the tent. The bastards made me waste several hours of good ridable weather thinking it was raining.

Day 7 - Tuesday 18 Oct 2011
Distance ridden:
67km; Route: SH7 10km past Lewis Pass - 10km past Hanmer Springs turn-off; Weather: good at first, extreme at the end (thunderstorm, hailstorm, gusty wind).

Maruia falls.

The plan to cycle to Christchurch didn't quite work out. First I lost a few hours thanks to the lovely sandflies, then I found out that the 60km to Hanmer Springs weren't nearly as flat as the map promised (unless you call flat a constant up-and-down of hills where you first sweat blood to reach the top and subsequently burn your breaks not to crash on the amazing downhills) and lastly, the weather must have decided to utterly and fully hate me.

When I was a few kilometres short of reaching the Hanmer Springs turn-off, an exquisitely strong south-easterly almost knocked me off the bike, yet I managed to push through it and decided to skip Hanmer and instead cycle another 27km to Culverden, reducing the distance to Christchurch and gaining a heads-up for the following day.
No sooner had I resumed cycling than the weather hit me with everything it got. After the wind, rain stared pissing down on me in bucketfuls and when I still kept going, it turned into ice. Thunders followed.

Luckily, there are kind people on this world and two of them, a middle-aged couple of Kiwi cyclists with a van, thought it was a good idea to offer a ride to a poor fella at the mercy of the elements. Even more luckily, they were going south and drove me almost all the way to Christchurch. Since the incredibly bad weather continued for another three days, that was quite auspicious.

And that's the end of the story for now. I cycled 420km in 5 days (riding for 3-8 hours a day) and then enjoyed two weeks of sweet doing absolutely nothing in Christchurch before taking off again.

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