It now seems ages ago I shot down the rail trail. The original railway was completed in 1921. As it turned out the line was uneconomic. Lucky for cyclist young and old, the Department of Conservation (DOC) took over and transformed it into a perfectly enjoyable (and easy) bicycle ride between Clyde and Middlemarch.
I arrived in Middelmarch rather late because I just couldn’t find a camp spot along the last 25km or so. I stopped for a coffee and started chatting with the owner of Quench Cafe/Bar. He’s involved with the local rugby club and gave me the keys for the clubhouse so I could use the showers. After making sure the rugby team wasn’t gonna walk in on me I did. And managed to return the keys just before he closed. He told me I might as well camp at his place 🙂
He’s also the one who told me there is actually another road to Dunedin, my next destination.
Tourist information and guidebooks will have you believe you must cycle on the main road, or take the train. It is not true!
There is a back road that crosses private property so it’s necessary to ask for permission before you set off. But if the sheep are not lambing and there is no other objection it should be fine.
So I rode to Pukerangi, where I was just in time to see the others off on the train, and kept cycling.
The country here is lovely. But the rolling hills have a few surprises. Without warning the road dips down into gorges to cross rivers and shoots back out on the other side. And rather steep too!
But the road down into Mosgiel was the funnest downhill, I was flying down it while singing my lungs out. It was great! I was told by a lady I asked for directions it was very far to my destination. (it was 6km)
Still, it was a little bit of a climb into Abbotsford, where I arrived at Brian & Gail’s house just in time for dinner. They were on the Cavalcade too. He is in search & rescue here in NZ and does a whole lot of other things. Like locking me up in the Dunedin police station
and showing me around town. I’ve learned as a kid that the police is your best friend, this is the first country I’ve been where it might be true.
(hi Brian!, hi Johnny!, hi Murray!)
It was once more confirmed when a few days later I got an police escort to a party in a wool shed during the Catlin Canter. When local policeman Murray let me stay in his house and even gave me a couple of beers to take to the party with me.
I caught up with some old friends from the Cavalcade. Like Sandy here.
An old time cowboy who’s even been in the Mount Isa rodeo back in 1962. He broke his ankle that year but that’s just about the only injury he ever got, a miracle, I’d say the least. It was there I first met Linda & Doug, who ended up being my adoptive parents in this glorious part of the world. But more about that in a little while.
I followed the coast.
Cris-crossing hills and farmland,
with great sea-views.
I made it through the town of Balclutha. As I stopped for a coffee (I do this too often, I got a perfectly good stove and a plunger in my panniers, still I stop at just about every opportunity to drink coffee. I’m getting lazy) I got chatting to Fiona, on her way to Japan, and her grandma Jenny, seeing her off. Jenny gave me her number in Invercargill where I was heading. To have another coffee when I arrived there. She also mentioned I must go and see Harry when I got there.
I cycled through the Catlins, where “the natural landscapes are enthralling and the wildlife is extraordinary“…. It’s true! It says so on the website… I did not see an awful lot of wildlife, bar some dead possums on the road. I did hear a lot of birds. And I saw a lot of water falling…
It rained quiet a bit as I cycled through, so things were wet, but wonderful.
I realised one evening I wasn’t going to make the next camp area in time. It’s all rainforest and uneven ground, but I happened to find one spot where my tent just squeezed in perfectly.
Well, almost perfectly. There’s so many different plants, one of which the fern. With the silver fern being New Zealand’s unofficial national symbol I’m keen to find one of them. I haven’t yet. Found a whole lot of others though…
Harry is the 150 year old Tuatara that lives in the museum. I didn’t know that and just before getting to the museum I ran into a person Harry in the street. He happened to work for DOC and gave me some very useful information about the road I was planning to cycle… Or planning to carry my bicycle, actually. Harry is based in Te Anau. So I told him I’ll come and let him know how the ride was when/if I make it there.
I found Harry the Tuatara.
He looks like a lizard but is actually a ‘Sphenodon’, they became extinct about 65million years ago together with the dinosaurs. Except here in New Zealand, where they survived. So there you have it. A real sort-of dinosaur kinda lizard-thingy.
In the same museum I found ‘The world’s fastest Indian’.
Who’d have known, the legendary Burt Munro came from Invercargill!
I cycled around the south coast. I’ve been warned for it’s notorious westerly winds that I would have straight against me.
Typically, on this one occasion the wind turned and blew me right in the direction of Aris.
A greek an a pushbike.
We talked for about 20min when he decided to come back to the last town with me where we had a beer to celebrate my 5-year-on-this-trip anniversary.
We both set off in different directions the next day, I was heading for the Boreland road. I had seen it on my map and after many people telling me I couldn’t go there, and one person, Harry, telling me I could I figured I’ll give it a go.
I came across a little shed on the way,
Where this friendly gentleman was busy skinning possums he had just trapped. Possums are a pest in New Zealand. After being introduced by us Europeans trying to establish a fur-industrie (sorry). With no native predators there were soon too many and there have been attempts to eradicate them, because of the damage they do to native trees and wildlife.
He does his bit.
It took me three hours to climb up to the Boreland saddle, up through a valley with cliffs and power lines. The road is originally built to service the power lines. So I will not complain about them obstructing the views. The road wouldn’t have been there if the powerline wasn’t.
On the top I had a great view over ‘green lake’ a popular tramping spot. I noticed. There were a few vehicles on the road. None of them were expecting me there which resulted in a few near misses. I had been looking forward to the zig-zagging downhill. Sadly a grader was servicing the road! And instead of a nice hard track he graded it all to soft mush. So I still couldn’t go much faster than 10 km/h if I didn’t want to slide down the side or fall over.
The good people from DOC have made huts, shelters and little bivouac’s in the national park areas. I happen to come across one and stayed the night.
It was nice and warm, the mice had a great time running through my panniers too.
Next day the road took me (slowly!) to Lake Manapouri’s South arm. I couldn’t stay for too long because the sandflies made a meal out of me.
The very detailed map I had told me there was no track for about 3km. The very detailed map was right. It had started to rain and if I wanted to make it to the West Arm I would have to carry my bicycle and all my gear up a steep cliff. I could do that, it would take about 5 goes… but not in the rain 😦
I figured I would most likely slip, fall and break some bones.
So I turned back.
I mentioned Linda & Doug before.
They welcomed me with open arms when I finally did make it to TeAnau. They live just outside town and have the most spectacular view over the lake and the mountains. Having a daughter my age over in the UK, they looked after me, made me feel at home and are now my parents in New Zealand 🙂
The morning I was planning to head off I farewelled Doug & Linda and called into the DOC office to let Harry know I didn’t make it across Percy’s saddle. After a coffee and a nice chat he convinced me to go and visit Milford Sound. I’ve had some pressure from Stuart and his dad to go and see this number one tourist attraction and after Harry telling me the same thing I figured I might as well check it out.
The 120km road there was spectacular to say the least. And the busy traffic I’ve been warned for wasn’t half as bad as people tried to make me believe. I found a great little campsite on the way up (I left Te Anau late afternoon) And started cycling at 6 in the morning for a change. It was pitch black and when I touched my headlight the batteries fell out. Darn. It took some scrambling around to locate them in the dark and when I did I could not get them back in. So I cycled by following the white line for about an hour ’till it got a little lighter. My headlight has cracked.
It was very foggy and I could only see the outlines of big hills shimmering through the mist. That and the moss-covered trees gave it all a rather magical look.
I climbed till I reached the Homer tunnel and from there the road dips into Milford Sound. The tunnel itself has a gradient of 1:10. Great fun on the way down.
Just after the tunnel I noticed a Kea, a parrot nicknamed ‘the clown of the mountains’ because of it’s overly curious nature.
They’re known to pick at and damage cars/tents/backpacks, one even flew off with someones passport once! I have had no trouble with them yet…
I rode down fast and stopped for a coffee at the information centre. It had started to rain. Still the view was spectacular,
Sheer rock faces rise up 1200 meter and more on either side of the fjord.
Apart from the beauty and the grandeur of the place it is a total tourist trap, where you can not do a thing without spending a lot of money. Even the walks are hard to get to since you need to cross water.
After being inside for too long waiting for the rain to stop I had to get outside where I ran into James. He came down from Auckland with his mate Charlie and were exploring this beautiful part of their country by boat.
Somehow we all ended up in the pub that evening and they took me out fishing the next day.
Miraculously the weather had made a 180 degree turn around and the skies were sunny and clear here in the place that’s known as New Zealand wettest inhabited place.
The idea was to catch a blue fin tuna. But the tuna was smarter than us.
Still, cruising around the ford was a great experience. We saw massive waterfalls,
and many birds. We didn’t get the boat stuck on the rocks at all… true! Charlie just thought it was a good idea to jump into the 9 °C water for fun…
I spent another night at the pub with those guys, and it’s thanks to them I had the greatest Milford Sound experience you can imagine! Them and the glowworms.