James headed out this morning in his push to be in Nelson by Christmas Eve. I, feeling lazy and not wanting to ride in the rain, decided to take a day off in Westport. Tomorrow it should be back to warm and sunny weather so I figured I'd wait it out.
I didn't really do anything too productive today, though. I did go to a beer tasting at West Coast Brewery and drank more than I should have. I spent a while talking with one of the brewers and learned a lot about beer in New Zealand. Finally discovered that it's the tax that makes it expensive and unlikely to be a high ABV%. Tax, in general, is huge on beer but its also dependent on ABV% so a stronger beer is taxed more heavily.
After that I
stumbled walked to the rather new theater in town to catch The Hobbit. I read the book early in my trip here so it seemed fitting to watch it while here. Was cool seeing familiar landscape on screen!
Today James and I finished what is likely to be our last day cycling together as we made it to Westport, finishing the west coast. Weather was hot, sunny and beautiful, a fitting way to finish the “rainy west coast”. Total kilometers spent getting rained on was only about 70, though maybe 110 with gloomy, foggy weather. Given that the west coast is about 400km long I'd say we had pretty good luck.
Not a lot to talk about for the ride other than it was full of beautiful scenery and Pakihi Hill is a jerk.
Westport is a pretty nice town, we wound up pitching our tents behind Bazil's hostel, a place that was recommended way back by the cyclists I met in Clyde. I failed to get to Westcoast brewery in time to finish my following their entire list of advice. I may actually take a day off here tomorrow, though. Would like a day to relax and watch The Hobbit before hitting the road alone again. To celebrate our time together James and I got a pack of beers and Christmas mince pies to go with dinner. It's been good having someone to ride with and he's really helped me keep my impulse spending on food and coffee down.
Our ride today was from Greymouth to Punakaiki which is half way to Westport. The weather was beautiful this morning and stayed that way the entire day. It's hard to say how much the clear sky influenced this feeling but this was one of the more fantastic segments of the west coast. The road was constantly winding and full of small hills alongside the sea surrounded by native vegetation. I often find that I take pictures that completely fail to capture what I want to show of the road or the scene, so here's one of my bike instead. You can see further bits of the road in the background, actually.
Punakaiki is a tourist spot due to the presence of pancake rocks and blowholes. We arrived shortly before high tide which is the optimal time to see the later. I took videos of the blowholes but can't get them off my camera with my iPad.
We woke up and had breakfast with Kevin before setting off in gloomy and rainy Hokitika. I took a spin around the town while James was uploading photos (for once I wasn't the one who needed wifi) and it seemed like a really neat place. Sad it rained the entire time we were there.
It was a short 40km to our destination, the city of Greymouth, and the flattest I've had in weeks so it was a nice breather for the legs. Sadly the day was not without a rough patch. We were waiting to cross a one way bridge that is also used for a train crossing. As we mounted to take our turn to cross, James' front wheel slid on the rail line, got caught in the groove and down he went. I was close behind and swerved in time to only jam my panniers into his fallen bike and barely maneuver around him. Don't worry, though, the bike was fine. Seriously though, his fall was minor and we got ourselves and gear safely out of the way and he was okay other than what will likely be a nice bruise in the morning.
In Greymouth we pitched tents behind another hostel (Neptune's) as it was the cheapest option. Far from roughing it or the normal solitude of camping, it's nice having a comfortable lounge and people to socialize with. We splurged for dinner on $5 pizzas from Domino's. An even better deal than in the states, given the conversion.
I also fully stocked my electronics kit by picking up a phone finally. Found a pay as you go phone with sim for $15nzd at the Warehouse. After such a lovely warmshowers experience I want to be able to do more of this and when I had tried to coordinate these originally I felt lack of phone was a major barrier.
We got an early start today, as the forecast called for rain all day after 10am. The plan was to get to Hokitika which was only 55km away from camp. The only town of note we passed through was Ross, an old gold town where the largest nugget in New Zealand was discovered.
We were given only a tiny bit of rain on the way until we arrived at Hokitika. Fortunately by the time it started raining we were inside the library mooching some Internet. I finally had access to a PC and uploaded my Garmin data and found that I'm at about 1700 miles for the trip thus far.
So for lodging tonight we both had our first warmshowers.org host, Kevin. We were greeted with great hospitality. Not only did we get a warm shower and a bed for the night, Kevin even made us a delicious (and large) dinner. We spent the night talking about traveling, the other people he's hosted over the years and about cycling.
I reluctantly left my bed in the hostel this morning to get back on the saddle. It sure helped that the sun was shining and the weather looked to be warm and partially cloudy all day. The two nights in the YHA left me feeling regenerated and fresher than I have in a long while. Having a soft bed and the ability to stretch out and roll around was beautiful but the second night my bunk mates came and went until rather late at night and I wasn't a fan of waking up to the lights being turned back on. I guess I got used to sun down meaning lights out. I'm sure I'll see another hostel bed before this trip is over it as I head to the North Island before the new year I hope to make more use of warm showers as the towns are much more populated. So overall not to sad about being back in the tent. It was neat to think about how lightly I could pack if I wasn't camping, though.
James and I need to be in Hokitika tomorrow so we wanted to get at least to Harihari (52km) today. Figured we would play it by ear at that point. Now right before Harihari is a slightly grueling climb over Mt. Hercules. I guess this wasn't as bad as the name would lead you to believe, fortunately. The climb peaked at 185m and outside of the biting 13% for the last 600m it wasn't too rough. As usual I left James behind and got to take a rest at the bottom while waiting for him to catch up. He's new to cycling and even newer than I am to touring so it's still pretty impressive that he's making these climbs at any speed without stopping or walking.
We rolled into Harihari, a nice small town, and stopped for lunch at a picnic area. James took a nap and I read for a while. Neither of us had much motivation to keep pedaling it seemed. We eventually decided we should press on to the DoC camp another 18km down the road but as we got to the middle of town we saw a hand painted free camping sign. Well okay, sure, so I get a coffee and we change plans to go pitch there in a bit. After another hour of sitting and letting our legs turn to stone we go back to the sign and say hi to the people there. Apparently the sign was for something going on in town yesterday and we couldn't camp there today. Meh, on the road we went, now tired and a little bummed.
We make it to the DoC site and pitch the tents on the edge of a lake and cook dinner next to them. What a life!
We took the day off today, spending it mostly hanging out in the YHA relaxing and recovering. For me I had been in the saddle 14 days straight with some of these being long and grueling days like the Crown Range day. For James I think it's been about 7, but he's earlier in his tour and still getting used to this.
I woke up having slept better than I had in a while, I really missed having a bed. Given the cold nights I've had here I typically have to have my sleeping bag zipped up to my head so am pretty confined at night. Being able to roll around and stretch out was fantastic.
We went back to the bakery for lunch and got pasties (corn/potatoes/beef/etc in a big pie-ish crust.. See picture below) and donuts as it was donut day there.
These were some serious donuts. Fist sized balls stuffed with cream, jelly or custard. The title says third as well because I wound up going back for another later on. Eating healthy on my rest day!
I also spent a bit of time trying to find an easy way to make a map of my trip on my iPad. I had little luck, hopefully I can make use of the Garmin software when I get access to a real computer and upload my stored data. Anyway, I found a way to roughly draw on a map and this has been my last 6 weeks.
This morning we woke up from our first shot at freedom camping really early. I mean 5:30am early. I guess you can say the paranoia didn't wear off over night. Anyway, we packed our tents quietly and hit the road. Laughed and high fived about our success as we slowly road in the cold, foggy and rainy morning.
In town we hung out on a bench for a while to wake up and eat a little breakfast. We ran into another cyclist (the first American I've seen on a bike here) going the other direction and talked about the route. When we were sufficiently conscious we hit the road heading to Franz Josef glacier. A short ride, just 23km, but a bit hard. We had to pass two steep hills then one much shorter one. I wound up leaving James behind and meeting him again at the end.
Today's weather was very cloudy and it rained most of the day which is also the forecast for the next few days. It rains most of the time on the west coast so our long stretch of good weather was lucky and couldn't be expected for the whole trip over here.
We had been given good advice by cyclists along the way about where to stay in Franz Josef on the way. We knew camp sites in town were $20 and found out that the YHA hostels give steep discounts to cyclists as part of a green travel deal so we decided to stay there as it was cheaper. This is my first bed I've slept in since Little River six weeks ago.
Franz Josef is a tiny but neat town. Mostly full of tourist activities and expensive food places, we discovered a cute little European bakery that doesn't seem to fit in. The prices were incredible with $6 pizzas big enough to feed a hungry cyclist and $3 giant deserts. Compared to the $20 burgers in nearby stores this is crazy.
The push today was to make it to Fox Glacier, a tiny tourist town next to, well, the Fox Glacier. About 10km in we stopped for breakfast at a salmon farm and both ordered muffins titled “death by chocolate”.
From there we road until lunch time and while stopped a couple and a lone cyclist saw us and joined on the side of the road. The couple told even more stories about touring southeast Asia that continue the trend of people making me really really want to go there soon. Most importantly during this lunch the couple told us of a nice freedom camping spot past the town. I wasn't so up for it as I've been putting in some long and hot days and the lake was the closest thing to a shower I've had recently. The camp sites in town were all $20 and it is a crazy hilly day to go past to any other camps so I caved and agreed we would give it a shot.
After lunch we pushed on without many exciting things other than the terrain until Fox Glacier. We restocked on groceries a bit and headed to the camp spot. Found the picnic area mentioned, saw the tracks to where the couple clearly camped the night before and, uh, also saw a no camping sign back at the entrance. We cooked dinner, lamented about paying the $20 or continuing down this long dirt road for a $6 shower-less DoC site.
We decided to stick it out, assuming soon (this was at about 7pm) cars would stop going past and we could set up. Nope. Cars constantly went by, tourists constantly got out to take pictures of the (admittedly picture worthy) view and we sat in paranoia. Eventually it was starting to get dark around 9:20 and we manned up and pulled our stuff into the bush area and pitched tents.
So now I'm writing this sitting in my tent slightly paranoid. It's my first night freedom camping, actually. My panniers are still mostly packed as I've only taken out the essentials. The plan is to wake at 7am and cycle the 5km to town before we put on cycling gear and eat breakfast.
The other cyclists were heading all the way to Fox Glacier (120km) but i wasnt up for that with this being my 12th day in a row on the saddle after all.
We had an occasional head wind but as a whole it was a beautiful day as we headed along the west coast, riding alongside the rainforest and sea. The west coast is sparsely populated and there are no types of services between Haast and Fox Glacier (120km) so I've been finally getting use out of the Platypus water sacks I brought.
We made it to the furthest DoC campsite, assuming if we passed this we may be trying to freedom camp somewhere tonight and decided to stop to take a look. The camp site was set at the edge of beautiful Lake Paringa and we met a couple cycling there so decided 55km was enough for the day.
The other cyclists were doing a similar deal to James, they bought their bikes here and were riding to Cromwell where they would work on a farm picking fruit. The campsite wound up becoming pretty packed as the night went on and we had a lot of company, talking about our travels.
Being the shortest ride I've had in a while it was nice to get time to relax and read. I also took a very brief swim in the very cold to try to wash off the concoction of ultra strong bug repellent, sun screen and aloe (for the bug bites).
Speaking of bug repellent, I mentioned before that the stuff I brought didn't work so well. As we get back into sand fly country this became apparent again. I asked Garben at camp last night if they were having sand fly problems and he showed me a tube of 80% DEET Bushman bug repellent. Joked that it wasn't legal in his home country but that it worked so I picked up a bottle in the morning before leaving Haast. I put it on when we stopped for lunch. The amount left on my hands ate the dye off my bread bag when I touched it and I was left with purple hands for the day. At least it kept the sand flies away.