Since leaving Christchurch, we’ve been headed southwest for the tourist mecca of the south island called Queenstown. Between Queenstown and Christchurch is New Zealand’s highest mountain range, known as the Southern Alps, which divides the island into a distinct east and west.
On arriving in Fairlie on DAY 29, Mar. 9, we were one step closer to crossing the alps. Our ride from Geraldine to Fairlie started marvelously, the first 35km being some of the best riding we’ve done so far on our trip, what with the smooth pavement, slight tailwind, mellow rolling hills, mild temperature, and best of all, FEW CARS.
We then merged onto a secondary highway with a gradual uphill for the remaining 50km. That section was going fine until we were casually passed and almost dropped by a plump teenage girl on a beaten up mountain bike. It was embarrassing. Here we are after four straight weeks of cycling, our leg muscles nearly iron-hard (not really), and we can’t keep up with some smelly, cootey-infested girl. What’s more embarrassing is that Carrie and I weren’t about to let her get away.
We chased that girl as best as we could, but when she saw us nearing she’d always manage to break away again. The race was on and we were losing. With about 2km left we came to a short downhill (FINALLY), where with our heavy bikes we had a chance to pass her (I swear) but we eased off, satisfied with the childish feeling that we could have beaten that lousy girl. When we arrived in Fairlie, Carrie and I were spent. That stinky girl kicked our butts.
From Fairlie we rode to the resort village of Lake Tekapo (DAY 30), with it’s beautiful milky-cyan glacial water. Because we couldn’t decide what to make for dinner, we decided to eat out, a real rarity on our budget. We had a tasty pizza that felt like an appetizer. So for dessert we got double scoops of ice cream and then headed out for a short sunset hike up to a vista point to view the lake. After the lovely hike, I ordered my first bit of fried food in New Zealand. Like England and Ireland, New Zealand’s staple meal seems to be fish and chips. I ordered just the chips and they were delicious. Pizza, ice cream and French fries. Not the healthiest meal but we ride our bikes all day so it evens out in the end, right?
On DAY 31, we left Tekapo and headed south about 85km to Omarama. The ride was great because we got our first view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3754m. We left early in the morning from Omarama to allow enough time to cycle the 115km to Cromwell. It was cold at first but warmed quickly as the sun rose over the mountain tops behind us. The first 30km featured a gradual uphill with occasional gusts of headwind to keep things interesting. Then for the next 2km we climbed a steep but not too steep grade to the top of Lindis Pass (alt. 709m). It was rewarding to finally reach the pass, which we’d been anticipating since leaving Christchurch. We were also excited because we beat a nasty storm front that we really didn’t want to meet at that elevation. The ride down from the pass was fast and fun, a nearly pedal-free coast for about 30km before another shorter but steeper climb slowed us down. After that hill it was more downhill to a cafe in a village called Tarras, where we stopped to treat ourselves to huge slices of cake and milkshakes.
From Tarras we still had 30km to ride to reach Cromwell, but we were feeling good after the cake and a little rest. We were lucky enough to catch a real winner of a tailwind that sent us flying to Cromwell in record time. 30km of cycling never felt so easy. A tailwind is a wonderful thing. It’s like an old friend; you’re always glad to see it when it comes around. A headwind, however, is like George W. Bush; you didn’t vote for it and you’ll be glad when it’s gone.
The headwind that met us on DAY 33 to Queenstown was too disturbing to describe in simile. After about 30km of pleasant riding through a lovely gorge, the road veered into an open, nearly treeless wine valley, leaving us easy targets for the icy gusts of Antarctic headwinds that brought curses to our lips. The 30km remaining to Queenstown were a real test for us, but we made it. We made it!
Queenstown is a main draw for tourists because it’s a launching point for four of New Zealand’s Great Walks, multi-day hiking trails in some of the country’s most remote locations. The walks are one of main reasons Carrie and I chose to visit New Zealand. We took DAY 34 off to wait out a terrible storm, complete with high winds, hail and snow in the mountains. It’s amazing how quickly the weather changes here. One day it’s 75 degrees and sunny, the next it feels like the worst of winter days in the Bay Area. We also took the time to buy backpacks and food and to prepare for our tramp on the Rees-Dart Track, a five-day trip.
That’s all for now. You probably won’t be hearing from us for about a week because we’ll be out in the wilderness, and this time I’m not bringing the laptop.