Leaving Franz Josef, we continued north along the west coast, staying in various DoC campsites that offered wonderful (and surprisingly mild) lakes to swim in. One memorable moment for me was at Lake Ianthe, where I awoke bright and early and, after enjoying the tranquility of the mist-covered lake from the wooden jetty, decided that it would be rude not to have a swim. An invigorating way to begin the day as I had the lake to myself and the sun slowly rose over the mountains, bathing me in its warmth.
Our next stop was Hokitika, famed for greenstone carvings. We 'splashed out' on a room in a motel and enjoyed our first hot shower since leaving Christchurch almost a month ago! It was an opportunity to charge electrical equipment (our solar charger has died), edit photos, write a blog and enjoy a sand fly free evening! We treated ourselves to a supper of 'fush 'n chups' which was thoroughly enjoyed and then we headed down to the beach and bumped into a couple of 'travelling' friends with whom we spent the remainder of the evening, sitting around a deliciously warm camp fire.
After enjoying a breakfast that included such rare luxuries such as fresh milk, banana cake and coffee, we pedalled along the coastal road towards Punakaiki. Some wonderful scenery helped us navigate the undulating coastline and, despite spending most of the day under a thick blanket of cloud, on arrival at the famous Pancake Rocks, the sun suddenly appeared which helped to make the landscape look even more spectacular!
We have been so lucky with the weather on this trip. Rarely have we had to endure terrible cycling conditions and, when it really matters, the weather has been perfect!
We camped in the Paparoa National Park (after slogging our way along a 6km gravel track) where we were tormented by a cheeky Weka for most of the evening. They are very inquisitive, flightless birds who like to steal things!
Continuing north, we enjoyed a great stay with (Warmshowers host) Don in Westport before heading up the Buller Gorge on our way towards the Abel Tasman National Park. Our first camping spot (Lyell Gorge) was a place of nightmares! It was in a lovely location, but the sand flies were worse than anything we'd previously experienced. Washing in the river, left us vulnerable...a position thoroughly exploited by the little bastards! We were well and truly ravaged and, by the end, I was almost a gibbering, tearful wreck!! We spent the remainder of the evening constantly moving (standing still in one place for more than 10 seconds is asking for trouble) which did mean that we got to enjoy a nice walk through the forest to see an old gold mining site! We were rescued later on in the evening by a British couple who took pity on us and invited us into their campervan for a beer and cookies!!
The Buller Gorge was a delight to cycle and towards the end, we met up with two other cyclists from France (Laura and Stefan) who we'd previously met a couple of weeks earlier. As we were heading in the same direction (and thoroughly enjoyed their company) we spent the next few days cycling as a foursome.
It would appear that in New Zealand, there is a movement to deter Freedom camping as much as possible. If you are in a self contained vehicle, you are in a more privileged position. I cannot understand why we are not able to pitch a tent in one of the many rest areas, especially when a toilet is nearly always provided. Bicycles are a non-polluting and healthy method of transport, it should be encouraged. Ash and I have enjoyed the opportunity to use the DoC campsites, they are simple and perfect for independent travellers with few requirements. However, they aren't always available and the 'proper' campgrounds often come with a significant increase in price. Whilst there is a plethora of really well run campsites throughout the country, they are often geared towards families: with children's play areas, swimming pools, tv lounges, kitchens, laundry and plenty of other tantalising things. As much as I have enjoyed cycling here (and I really have), when I next visit, my bike will be staying at home and I'll be hiring a self contained campervan...apparently that's how you get complete freedom to stay where you want.
Warmshowers does offer us cyclists a wonderful alternative, so I shouldn't complain! We were lucky enough to be hosted by Chris in the incredibly amazing village of Marahau. It was the kind of picture-perfect place that you don't ever want to leave (and we were indeed very sad on the day of our departure). We kayaked on the turquoise waters for one day: hopping from one golden beach to another, swimming in the sea and spotting seals and penguins. The second day saw us hiking a 24km track through the rainforest...interspersed with food and swim breaks of course! Talking of food....and I always do!!...we were staying right next to the best burger joint in the world (I exaggerate not!) The Fat Tui creates the most amazing burgers I have ever tasted. We ended up eating there two nights in a row...and I think that if I lived in Marahau, I would be the size of a house within a year! Incredible stuff and well worth a detour for anyone in the area (and by that I mean travelling anywhere in NZ).
The day kayaking with Ash, Laura and Stefan rivals Pammukale as my favourite day of the trip so far. I really loved it that much!!
So, now we are in Nelson. Just 100km more cycling will see us leave the South Island and it will certainly feel like the trip is coming to a close. I'm not entirely sure whether I will be able to upload this blog, as I don't seem to be having much success with the Internet recently. So if you are reading this, then you know it worked!!
Love and hugs. X