Cycle touring is very popular in New Zealand. Only one day has passed without us seeing at least one (often several) other fully-laden bikes whiz by! Some stop for a chat, others continue on their way with little more than a friendly wave. Ash and I have been chatting about why we have enjoyed travelling by this mode of transport and have come to the conclusion that, despite the obvious (and at times knackering) effort required, it provides a wonderful multi-sensory experience. Aside from seeing the sights, we get to enjoy the wonderful (and not so wonderful) smells, feel the weather on our faces (good and bad), chat to people and hear the many different sounds that each day and location brings. It's made us appreciate that visiting a country isn't just about simply enjoying the views, there are so many other factors that combine to make every place unique and special.
Continuing from Queenstown, we caught the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak station and cycled along the gravel road to Mavora Lakes. Both Ash and I agreed that this was one of the most beautiful sections of road that we've ever cycled along: very little traffic and soaring mountains. It's wild, unspoilt grassy plains were enjoyed massively. It was just as well that the views were so spectacular and the vicious head wind we had to endure kept average speeds well below 10kph for the day!
We've cycled through countries where the thought of scorpions, spiders and snakes has always been at the back of our minds when setting up camp, but I can honestly say that the sand flies of New Zealand are the most heinous of all creatures that we've encountered! Their determination to feast is relentless and our ankles, wrists, legs, and faces are littered with itchy bumps that cause us to scratch like dogs with fleas! I think that the fact we are camping puts us in locations where the flies are most prevalent and it has been quite debilitating at times! We stayed in a motel the other night and it was blissful to be able to spend an evening without being bitten!
Aside from a comfy bed, it was pure luxury to have a hot shower. It was actually our first hot wash since we left Christchurch (just under a month ago). We have always been camping beside creeks, rivers and lakes which have provided us with plentiful water to clean ourselves up in at the end of the day. Swimming in the lakes has been a definite highlight for me. Before we set off on this trip I was, as some of my northern friends might have said, a bit of a soft shite! Wild horses wouldn't have dragged me into an open-water situation unless I was protected by a thick, winter wet suit but, perhaps this trip has toughened me up a bit and I've been happy to plunge into several lakes that receive water directly from the snow capped mountains and glaciers. Lake Wakatipu certainly sent my testicles migrating swiftly towards my diaphragm (I did have to check that they hadn't frozen and snapped off whilst I was swimming!) but left me feeling completely invigorated and completely alive!
So, Milford Sound was amazing! We were lucky that it had rained persistently the day before, which meant that on the gloriously sunny day of our visit, eerily misty clouds of evaporation were pouring out of the rainforest-covered mountains. The road became more and more incredible and the final 30kms were pretty gobsmacking! I think cycling along that road is discouraged, but no one seemed to mind our presence and we timed our arrival and departures to avoid the heaviest traffic. We were even treated to a ride through a tunnel on the back of a truck by the road maintenance crew. Much appreciated given the efforts involved in cycling around those hilly sections!
Back to Queenstown we headed and rested there once more before tackling the Crown Range road and heading into Wanaka. I think it's one of the highest sealed roads in New Zealand and took us a fairly strenuous 90 minutes to climb. We continued working our way towards the west coast via Wanaka and the Haast pass. Wonderful waterfalls thundered over the steeply sided mountains, all of which demanded closer inspection!
The West coast is great. I loved the coastline in Thailand, but that evoked calmness and serenity. This section of New Zealand is completely the opposite: huge, rolling waves constantly pound the ever-changing coastline filling the air with a wonderful saltiness that reminded me of stormy days on the north coast of Devon. It's dynamic, it's energetic....it's my kind of place. As we cycled along the coastal road, I often forgot that I should be struggling up the ascents, as the need to see the next section of coastline was spurring me on...and on...we were blessed with wonderful weather too, which makes a massive difference!
Eventually we reached Glacier country. Ash and I decided to stay 3 nights at Gillespie's beach (20km from Fox Glacier) as it was a free campsite in a great location! On arrival, we weren't disappointed by the wonderful site beside the beach, but as the afternoon wore on, the clouds that had been concealing the mountain ranges inland, began to subside, revealing an incredible view of Mount Cook and Fox Glacier. It was one of those moments where you had to pinch yourself to make sure it wasn't a dream! The sunset was awesome as well and the stiff breeze kept the sand flies at bay....pure NZ perfection!
We didn't indulge in any heli-hikes or ice climbing adventures at the glaciers, but simply enjoyed the combination of walking and cycling to reach the various view points. Fox offered a more intense experience, in that we were able to get within 200m of the terminal face (compared with a slightly distant 500m at Franz). Not only that, but we decided to check out the chalet lookout walk which was technically closed, but using our common sense, we were able to complete the walk with ease, which included crossing a hugely impressive mountainside river channel that in full flow would have been moving boulders the size of cars!
We are currently in Motueka, about to indulge in a few days of kayaking and walking in the Abel Tasman National Park. As Internet is a bit hit or miss here in NZ, the rest of our news will have to wait for a while!!