A2O day 1. Awesome! We started along the canal road from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki. These lakes are all connected by canals and feed into a huge hydro-electric system. This canal road alternated between sealed road and gravel. The gravel sections were pretty loose but had a nice single track worn down the middle.
The road followed the valley where there would have been a river were the water not all diverted into the canal. As we went along the mountains started coming into view. There was a salmon farm on the canal which did not impress me, but there were a lot of fisher people on the banks. After that there was a dam and then a big climb, then it was downhill to Lake Pukaki.
At Lake Pukaki we joined the main route coming down the north side from Aoraki. We road back up that direction for a short way and then stopped for lunch. It was a great spot and I would have loved to camp there. Instead we continued on to Twizel and stayed at a holiday park.
We took a rest day at Lake Tekapo before starting on the A2O trail. It was the perfect place to do so. I rode into town and back to the campground and around the lake a little. Very windy day. There is a larch forest growing on the side of the lake. They are not native but have naturalized very well.
I am very impressed with New Zealand Holiday Parks. They have shared kitchens, that are very convenient for bike tourists that don't want to carry much. But the nice thing is that it forces people together instead of isolated at their own campsites. Many of them also have a shared lounge/TV/internet room with comfy couches and reading material. These were really welcome on the cold nights where otherwise we'd be in our tents by 8:00. They aren't cheap, but then nothing in NZ is.
Didn't sleep well after a late night with our new friends doing a road bike tour. So another late start. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and now we could see some of the mountains that were obscured by clouds yesterday.
It was a gradual climb to the "town" of Burkes Pass. I was going very slow not wanting to exert much effort until I knew just what the climb would be like. The road headed straight towards the highest mountains, but then veered south and somehow found a way through the pass. Burkes Pass was a quaint place full of 50's memorabilia from the states. I caught up with Jelle there as well as Leon from the afore mentioned group. Leon was riding a classic Colnagno and was wearing the Italian kit to match. I had a coffee and was ready to go.
After the town of Burkes Pass came the actual climb up Burkes Pass. It was a grunt for sure, but not that bad. I felt really good about it. There was a short fast downhill after the summit but for the most part we were on a plateau now with mountains on all sides of us.
Lake Tekapo is very scenic with aqua marine glacial looking water. It's only at 2,300' elevation but feels and looks like it's much higher. Lots of tourists. Some tour buses stop here. The campground is crowded as well. We booked for 2 nights. Rest day tomorrow and then the Alps2Ocean trail.
This was a very pleasant ride on highway 8. Light traffic and very gradual grade, although we were climbing the whole way. Jelle was having bike issues this day. His fairly new Schwalbe Marathon was bulging and also had a big gash in the tread. Then when we removed it to put in a boot, which I cut from my Tyvex ground cloth, the hub came a bit loose and started making noise. After many stops he finally decided to swap the bad tire to the front where he had much less weight. This allowed us to continue on to Fairly without incident. In town we found a mechanic who took care of the hub problem very easily.
It was a cloudy day so we couldn't see the mountains that are visible from Fairlie. It was starting to drizzle when we setup out tents, but we were under a big tree which offered some protection. We met a bunch of riders who were doing a supported tour all of the way from Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the North Island, to Bluff on the southern tip of the South Island. They were doing about 100k a day and had several support vehicles, which their wives were driving, and had accommodations booked the whole way. They were staying in the motel rooms which are an integral part of any New Zealand Holiday Park. Latter we meet a bunch of them at the restaurant and had beer and pizza.
Another easy day. A bit longer than we had been riding, which was good. We debated the route a bit as the route we were following from the Kennet Bros was quite a bit longer than the main highway, but ended up following it pretty closely.
Midway we passed through the town of Geraldine, which would be the biggest town we'd see for a while. The I-Site had a nice cafe attached so we had some lunch. Jelle picked up a new dry bag to keep his sleeping bag dry when packed with a wet tent. I tried to get a hold of the only bike mechanic in town to see about getting a smaller small chainring. No luck there. We could have stayed longer in Geraldine, but that was not our destination for the day.
We were back on back roads from Geraldine to Pleasant Point. At one point we got on this road that climbed up a big hill through some farms, then dove down and up again, and continued with really nice rollers. It was fun to be on rolling hills where you have enough momentum from the downhill to almost make it back up the next climb. After this the route took a narrow gravel farm lane. The variety kept it interesting.
By the time we got to Pleasant Point we were as close to the ocean as we had been in Christchurch. Our route through the Canterbury Plains formed an arc, and the coastline also curved back towards us. I was tempted to take another day and go see the ocean at Timaru, but the Alps were calling. We stayed at the Domain Campground in Pleasant Point.
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.