It was starting to show signs of clearing as we left, and as the day progressed it got nicer and nicer. We were riding quiet back roads with very few cars on them. As the sun came out we could now see the foothills and mountains to the west. As we approached the Rakaia Gorge we did have to get on the main highway as this was the only road across. There was not much traffic though.
It was mostly flat until a fast decent into Rakaia Gorge. The rivers the flow across the Canterbury Plains form very wide beds. It was obvious that a whole lot more water comes down in the rainy season. Here the Rakaia formed two distinct channels as it fed into a large reservoir. The water was a bright aqua color typical of glacial runoff. I don't known if this river is glacier fed, but many of the rivers here were this color. After crossing the river we of course had a big climb. The steepest part was right at the start, and I did have to get off and walk a little. I didn't mind because it gave me a chance to soak in the scenery.
After the gorge we were back up on the plain. We crossed a couple more rivers but none quite as spectacular. We weren't quite sure where we could end up, we were just following the route in Jelle's Kennett Bros guide book, which was keeping us off the main highways for the most part. When we saw the sign for Mount Sommers we were ready for a break as there had been no towns in quite some time.
We pulled into Mount Sommers and there was a small store. We got a few refreshments and sat around for a bit. Yelle had to make a phone call so I told him I was going to find the public toilets and rode off following the signs. It turned out the toilets were at a very nice Domain Campground, and directly across the street was a tavern. I sent Jelle a text saying to come over. His phone call was to confirm that he had gotten a bonus after being laid off from his job. We went straight to the tavern and celebrated.
After a rest day at Hanmer Springs, which was nice and hot, we woke up to rain. We had a shuttle to catch so there was no time to try and dry the tents. The shuttle kept us from riding the busy highway which now had all of the traffic to Christchurch since the coast route was closed due to the recent earthquake. The driver was kind enough to take us all the way through Christchurch and let us off on the bike route heading out of town. It was still raining on and off but we got started.
We soon came upon the Bicycle Thief Cafe and decided that it would probably stop raining soon if we stopped for a coffee. Nice place, and they promised our bikes would be safe.
Sure enough the rain let up and we were off riding the Canterbury Plains, which we would be for the next 4 days. There were farms and fields but it was such a grey day that nothing stood out. The campground at Glentunnel was nice though.
Layover day in Hanmer Springs. We went to the hot pools, which were relaxing even though it was a hot day. Mostly hung out. I took advantage of the free Spark Wifi to upload some pictures.
We ran into another touring cyclist Joost, whom Jelle had met previously. She is also from The Netherlands and has had quite an extensive tour here. While we were talking we were joined by Mariska, also from The Netherlands. She was not bicycle touring but has done so previously. There was also a young man from Switzerland who's name I don't recall.
It was cold when we woke up at Cold Creek, but we could see the sun would soon be upon us. We knew we had a hard morning of climbing ahead of us before the long downhill. At once the road got a lot rougher than it had been the day before. There were some places where slides had fallen over the road and the rubble just bulldozed aside, leaving a lot of rock to navigate. Then there was a lot of loose gravel on some of the steep climbs which made it had to keep traction. Then there was a long section of decent road and a manageable grade when I got into my stride and felt like I was really making progress. Of course we were still following the Wairau River so after every bit of climbing the road would dive back down to the valley bottom.
We then came to the boundary between the Rainbow Station and the Molesworth Station. These are the two huge cattle stations that the trail crosses. At this point we were still in the Upper Wairau Valley, and still climbing. We new there would be 200 meters in 2 km at the top. Metric makes it really easy to determine that would be a 10% grade. Soon enough we came to it and I started pushing/pulling my bike along. A few times it looked ridable and I tried to get on but could not get traction. Starting on a steep grade is hard. Finally I made it back on and was able to ride the final stretch to the top, where Jelle had already been waiting for some time.
From Island Saddle we could actually see some lingering snow in the far off mountains. We were now at 1,347 m (4,419 ft), not as high as our Cascade passes but plenty high none the less, and it was some effort to get up here. In fact it may have been the hardest thing I've ever done. From here we had views back down the Wairau Valley, and ahead to the Clarence River Valley which we would be descending. The first couple of kilometers of the downhill was very steep, and the road was now badly corrugated (washboard) so we had to keep our speed way down until it leveled out. After that it was a good, wide gravel road, but still quite corrugated so it was a pretty jarring ride.
We got to the turnoff for Tennyson Lake but we both felt more like pressing on then camping again at high altitude. We stopped at the turnoff for lunch, but did not ride the 1.5k in to see the lake. Instead we continued on until the old Saint James homestead where we again rested and ate. It was now getting hot and we were happy to find some shade. The rode continued steady and corrugated. We did not have to ford any creeks on this side as they all had bridges and the road was better maintained. There was some scenic stuff in this section that I did not get any pictures of.
Eventually we got to the junction at Jacks Pass and had to start climbing again. Another 2k climb, and now there was traffic as well as loose gravel. After that 6 k fast downhill to Hanmer Springs.
Epic ride up the Wairau River into the mountains.
It was longer than I thought it would be on the highway to the start of the Rainbow Trail, but eventually we turned off on a lovely fast downhill into the Wairau Valley. The clouds were putting on a show and the whole thing was amazingly picturesque. The road was still sealed at first but soon turned to a kind of chip seal which continued to where the road to the ski area forked off. From there in it was rough dirt, rock, and gravel, but still very ridable. This is why I brought a bike with 2" tires. This trail would take me well beyond my comfort zone and stretch my limits of endurance, strength, and bike control. I loved every minute of it!
It wasn't long before we came to our first creek ford. The water was low and we rode right through it. Okay, if they're all like that I've got it licked. Not a chance. They kept getting deeper, wider, and rockier. Pretty soon I wasn't even trying to ride through them but just dismounting and walking. Glad it was summer time and my shoes would dry out.
It was a steady climb now with a lot of short steep sections that I could not ride. Jelle managed most of them and I noticed he had a much lower gear than I did. He could spin very fast and get up the really steep stuff. He also had excellent bike control in the loose and rocky stuff. I played it safe. This was not a good place to get hurt.
We were getting further and further into the mountains, which were mostly stark, bare, and rugged. This is not the lush jungly part of New Zealand. I guess that would be the West Coast. There was a lot of green along all of the creeks and rivers which were numerous. There was a lot of water coming off of those mountains, even if there was not much growing on them.
We got to Coldwater Creek and setup camp. We both tried to wash in the creek and it was indeed cold water. Very cold. This was what I came for. Camping in the wilderness far from roads, lights, and people. We took a walk to preview what we'd see tomorrow and took some pictures in the fading light. It was plenty cold over night but I slept warm enough.
Left Quinney's Bush Camp at 9:00 with the sand fleas chasing me the whole way. First stretch was on the highway which was busy but not too bad. Then the turnoff on Korere - Tophouse road. This was great. No traffic at all. Steady climbing into a slight headwind. First farms and then forests. Lots of Doug Fir. When the road joined Kerr Hill road, and the main Golden Downs route, it got busier. Still climbing until the mountains came in view. After Tophouse it was a quick downhill to St. Arnaud.
Once again I was exhaused by the time I got there. Fortunately the store and cafe had nice shaded picnic tables, and plenty of food. I expected Jelle would catch me here but I got a message from him that he was at a Warm Showers host so I headed off for the campground. Didn't get very far as right across from the cafe is the Alpine Loge and Backpackers. I needed to sleep so I got a room aned immediatly lied down for a nap. Jelle ended up here as well so we had a nice reunion and then some dinner. Tomorrow we head out on the Rainbow Trail.
Through Facebook Messenger I had been communicating with Jelle and I decided I would meet up with him in St. Arnaud to ride the Rainbow Trail. I had two days of riding to get there.
I left Harmony's place as early as I could get going and back tracked up the West side road on the Motueka River to Woodstock Junction and then got on the main road. I followed the river upstream most of the day. Traffic was not bad on this road, and the climbing was gradual for the most part, with just one really steep hill I had to stop and rest on a couple of times.
I enjoyed the town of Tapawera. They had shaded picnic tables next to a store and cafe. So I sat and ate and rested a while before heading on. There was also a little "Vege" stand as they call them where I got some kale for dinner and some plums. Less than 10 miles later was the junction with highway 6 where I stopped at the Flat Rock Cafe and ate and rested some more. The riding hasn't been that hard, but I have been tired. I stopped at the first campground I saw after that which was a good choice.
Quinney's Bush was a holiday park right out of 1950's America. It had lot's of room for camping and all kinds of family activities including a great swimming hole with a slide, a go-cart track, miniature golf, a big play ground and more. I had a large field all to myself for camping as the holiday season was now over.
I knew Harmony for a short time in the early 80's. We played music together back then so when I found out he was close to my route on the South Island I wanted to stop by and say hi. He gave me directions to his place. It may have not been the easiest route by bike, but it was scenic and a great ride. There were a couple of good climbs including Moutere Saddle and Dovedale, the later of which I had to walk some. The route started on the Great Taste Trail out of Richmond and then went through Upper Moutere, Redwood Valley. Dovedale, Woodstock Junction, Graham Creek.
The climb to Moutere Saddle was a bit disturbing as there was a lot of logging activity, as well as bulldozing down the native bush in preparation for pine plantations. I certainly get that people need lumber, but those native forests can never be replaced once they're gone.
Redwood Valley was true to it's name as I saw Sequoia and Eucalyptus trees. Really felt like California. There was also a lot of fruit, including some citrus. I passed by a strawberry farm where the plants were grown in containers on benches so that the berries could be picked without bending over. The nice lady working there gave me a few berries to eat on my way. Yummy!
Neudorf Road started off very scenic and then pushed skyward as it became Dovedale Rd (or something like that). It was steep and I had to walk some but then the downhill went on forever. I didn't know where it would lead me and it looked like it was heading into a deep dark valley that I'd never be able to get out off. In reality I was heading into the Mokueke River Valley. The Motueke River empties into Tasman Bay at the town of Motueke, but I would not go that far. Instead I followed a nice small road on the west bank of the river to Harmony's place.
Leaving Pelorus Bridge I had a choice. The more direct route is a rugged 4 wheel drive road which is not recommended for loaded touring bikes. Instead I took the longer route on highway 6 through the Rai Valley and then over the Whangamoa Mountains. At first there wasn't much traffic, but it picked up on the climbs. I had lined up a Warm Showers host in Nelson who said he was going to ride out and meet me. But first I had to get over one pass and start climbing another.
The first pass was Rai Saddle, which seemed like it must have been the big climb of the day, but Whangamoa Saddle is higher at 466 meters. As usual the downhill was over too soon and the road began climbing once again at an and easy but steady grade. I had already gained back a lot of the elevation when Andrew arrived from the other side. "Perfect timing" he said "we can get off the road here". Sure enough he led me over some rocks and through some trees to the "old road" which paralleled the highway but was not accessible to cars. It was great to get off the highway but soon we came to a place where they had bulldozed a big mound over the old road. This required some serious grunt work to get over. Since we still had more uphill to go Andrew offered to carry my rear panniers as he was on an unladen touring bike.
The old road ended too soon and we were back on the highway for the final push to the top. We stopped for a snack at the top where I made another costly mistake. My food was in a front pannier underneath my rain gear, which was wrapped in a neat bundle inside my helmet cover. I took out the rain gear bundle and set it on the front rack. After the snack I closed up the front pannier but left the rain gear unsecured on the rack, and then proceeded to speed off down the hill. Andrew is very fast on the downhill and was soon out of sight. I soon heard a car beeping at me so I pulled over. "Looks like you dropped something a couple of kilometers back up the road." @!%@#! First my helmet and now my rain gear. I could go back, but it was a long climb, and Andrew would think something happened to me. So I said goodby to my rain gear and kept going, feeling really stupid and depressed.
Andrew was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill and we continued on together. It was a long way to his place as he lives on the other side of Nelson. I was ready for a break but we kept going. We did stop at an interesting bike shop that sold a lot of Velo Orange and other vintage style stuff. I was amazed to see so much VO stuff in one tiny shop on the other side of the world. Very cool. We also stopped at the beer store. Craft beer on tap. You fill your own bottles. Never saw that before.
Andrew has a small house distinguished by 2 things. He has a garden on all 4 sides growing a wide range of vegetables and some fruits. He also has a small garage jammed full of vintage bikes he has or is restoring. Very interesting person. Thanks Andrew.
By morning it had stopped raining and it was looking like a nice day. Jelle had made arrangements to go kayaking this day so I headed out Queen Charlotte Drive by myself. I wasn't sure if we'd meet again but we exchanged contact info so that we could.
Queen Charlotte Drive started climbing immediately, but it was up and down as it stayed close to the which which was of course Queen Charlotte Sound. It was all very scenic, with lush growth and views out the sound. This is a very large body of water and the road followed it for quite some time through a couple of little towns.
The first of these tiny towns was Ngakuta Bay which had a wonderful and unique "give cyclists space" sign. This road is a popular route for locals as well as tourists. I stopped for a coffee at the only place in town, which was a converted camper trailer. I noticed they were also selling Sand Flea Repellent. This was my first warning, which of course I ignored and didn't buy any.
Queen Charlotte Drive ended in Havelock, which bills itself as the Greenshell Mussel Capital of the world. I didn't have any, but I did find a fishing supply/sporting goods/hardware store where I found a gas canister that would work with my Jetboil. After Havelock the route is on highway 6 to Pelorus Bridge. Although NZ highways have no shoulder, traffic was not a problem.
The Pelorus Bridge Cafe was a stop on the tour bus route and the place was hopping when I got there. The campground was quiet though and right on the river. Very nice. The water was crystal clear and fast flowing. Camping next to me was Camille from California who was on a tour herself with her bike and a camper van. She was nice enough to give me her contact info and said to call her if I ran into and problems and needed a ride. Meanwhile the sand fleas had discovered me. Fresh meat. They went straight for my ankles and feet and I had lots of bites before I covered up and put on some bug juice. That night I played my shakuhachi by the river.