It’s the driest it’s been for over 40 years. Most people are looking forward to this….
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The day from Haast turned out to be a fantastic day, passing through thick temperate rain forest almost the entire day. The rest of the time, I was passing remote deserted beaches with waves lapping gently from the (ususally rough) Tazman Sea. I say rain forest, there wasn’t much rain, and hasn’t been for months by the looks of it. When leaving Haast, the owner of the hostel said not to worry about water ‘loads of it up the west coast’ he said. The reality was somewhat different. Most of the streams and rivers have dried up completely, often leaving a trickle of stagnant water, the only rivers with water being the main ones.
I overtook a number of cyclists also touring (many of which over 60) and passed several coming the other way, including a French gentleman who wouldn’t stop talking and a 21 year old German lad, who looked even younger than I did at that age… Anyhow, it turns out this section of the west coast is pretty flat, so I pressed on to Fox Glacier, breaking my distance record in NZ by a whole 0.2km! (123.7km) The hostel at Fox Glacier is another corker – it has hot tub and sauna, which I made full use of today, taking a day off. I also popped up to the Fox Glacier itself. It was interesting cycling up the valley seeing the trees get smaller, indicating I was getting closer to where the retreating glacier now sits (as obviously large trees don’t grow overnight). The last 1/2 mile up to the face of the glacier was strewn with rocks and no vegetation at all.
Today, I made my way further north to the town of Franz Josef, which being on the backpacker bus circuit had a funky coffee shop with everyone plugged into their laptops/smart phones. Not quite the wild west coast! A little further north, I turned off the main highway, down to Okarito, which was recommended to me by a friend back home (thanks Jo!). It takes relaxed to a totally different level. There’s not much there in the way of services, but the fresh water lagoon and fantastic empty beach more than make up for it. Apparently it was a bit of a boom town back in the gold rush days with over 30 hotels and 2 banks. There is now only 1 hostel, a community run campsite and a canoe hire business which looks like it’s recently branched out and is now starting to make people cups of coffee too. It’s quite busy in the campsite though – at least 20 people. We’ve doubled the population of the village by the looks of it!
Ok, so not the toughest, though the longest, with seven and a half hours in the saddle and 123km covered. Think I managed to find the only flat road in NZ!
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I made it to little used D.O.C. site by the name of Cameron Flats to stay the night. In the last 20km of the day, the scenery changed from grassy scrubland, to dense rainforest, the only problem being that it’s not rained here for several weeks. I’m appreciating the dry spell at the moment, even if the trees aren’t.. Cameron Flats sits just south of the Haast Pass. I mentioned it doesn’t get used much, and for good reason too – the sandflies where shocking – ‘little bastards’ to quote one follower of my blog. They were so bad, I spent half an hour trying to sweep them out of my tent with a small blanket I have. After I thought I had successfully squashed/removed them, I zipped my self into the tent for the night, and read my book for a while. Finally, I spread out the blanket as I do every night when in the tent, which released dozens of sandflies than had been wrapped up for the previous half hour. The sandfly eradication continued…. There were so many flies outside, it sounded like it was raining, what with the damn flies hitting the outside of my tent.
The next morning I prepared by covering every bit of exposed skin before exiting the tent. It was all going fine until I had to go for the ‘final ‘trousers off, cycling shorts & shoes on’ before leaving the camp. A mad dash in a fit of rage ensued.
I cycled up the Haast Pass (thankfully faster than sandflies can fly) which is only 500 or so meters high, and down the other side and proceeded to have 2 separate punctures and one of my front racks collapse. Oh, and a button fell out of my shirt (more important than you might think given the sandflies). The punctures were straightforward enough but the rack required a splint made out of a spanner from my tool kit, a jubilee clip and copious amounts of duck tape. I won’t mention how the sandflies affected the process of repairs….
Later on, I stopped and spent a good half hour picking blackberries – must have a good half kilo of them!! They are now sitting in the fridge in a huge bowl at the hostel I’m at here at Wilderness Backpackers in Haast.
So, as you can see not the easiest of days, but spirits are still high as there is little traffic on the road and it’s not raining (still only cycled one day in the rain in the last 4 months!)
The concert last night was quite the experience. I love looking at the audience of a gig beforehand to try and gauge what the atmosphere is going to be like. There was a mix of middle aged folky types (you know, the ones with patches stitched on the elbows of their jackets), a few pensioners, and a handful of the stereotypical Queenstown 20 something adventure seekers. I guess I fall into that bracket (yes, I know I’m 35 and therefore not in my 20s, but I still look 25, so it’s fine by me). The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra were quite the mix of folk. There were a couple of big beards, a skinny geeky looking guy, 2 large Kiwi women (with personalities that were even larger), a glamorous Kiwi woman who was sporting gigantic decorative ginger eye-lashes and a thigh slapping woman in hotpants. Oh, and the big burly gay guy wearing rainbow socks and big fluffy sweat bands (taking centre stage of course). I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a collection of eccentric social misfits in my life. Recipe for some fantastic live music I say.
I wasn’t disappointed either – the ukulele is an instrument which somehow I (and most of the audience last night) can’t take seriously, with outbursts of laughter from the crowd a frequent occurrence. This, combined with renditions some classic hits such as Africa by Toto, as well as Salt’n’Pepper’s Push it, made for an extraordinary experience. The next song would start, and out of the blue, the quiet guy in the corner with the big beard would burst into song, leaving the audience looking at each other wondering what just happened.
As well as the ‘Orchestra’ (more like collection of mates), there was also James Hill – known for being the best ukulele player in the world. And right enough – he had the crowd whooping and cheering within a couple of minutes of getting on stage. Quite simply remarkable stuff. I made a point of hanging about in Queenstown to see it, and I’m glad I did.
Today however, I was back on the bike, over the Crown Range to Wanaka which involved a 10km climb up to the top of the pass (the highest sealed road in NZ). I’m glad to be back on the road in a way, wheeling into new towns, seeing new sights and people. The hostel in Wanaka is another cracker, with fantastic views over the lake, and the hostel is fantastic. I’d stay longer, but I want to complete the west coast, so I’ll be off tomorrow.
I saw the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra last night. As a special treat, they brought along a guy called James Hill Anne Davison. He’s only the best ukulele player in the world…… he even managed to make a drum n’bass tune out of a ukulele using chopsticks….
Quite simply some of the best live music I’ve ever seen. This guy is so talented… Click here
So I’ve been continuing my mountain biking here in Queenstown. One particular day took me up to the Coronet Peak ski area, and down a number of tracks including ‘Rude Rock’ (which also has another name, starting with ‘C’ – I’ll let you work it out), Skippers Canyon, and Zoot. Quite simply some of the best mountain biking I’ve ever done. It was quite a big day, which was confirmed to me when I returned the bike the next day at the bike shop with a few eyebrows being raised. I guess the months I’ve been on the bike have make quite a difference. Yesterday I hired a downhill bike and took it on a few runs of the gondola and downhill trails here. Given I’ve not ridden a downhill bike for a while, it took some getting used to, though by the end of the day I was really getting into it. So much so in fact that I stopped prematurely for fear of crashing, as I was getting faster every run (another sign I’m getting old). It was easily the steepest hill I’ve ever biked on, which made it interesting and given I’m not sure I had insurance for mountain biking, I decided to quit while I was ahead!
I’m off to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra tonight, then get back on my touring bike to head over the Crown mountain range to Wanaka tomorrow, then onward to the west coast. I’ve just armed myself with an anti-sandfly cream which apparently works (the west coast is notorious for sandflies).
Not much more to say today, so I’ve included some more mountain biking pictures… Over and out.