Things have been looking up after the wet weather. We left Fairlie yesterday (Thursday) and cycled into the hills. We were expecting to climb from Fairlie up to the summit of Burkes Pass, a climb of 400 m or so, and then roll down the other side to Tepako Lake, where there’s a campsite. 45 or so km, so a nice short ride. After leaving Fairlie it felt like we were cycling in Scotland, with massive hills raising up from the farmland below, which was a marked change after the flatlands of the Canterbury Plains. We knew it wasn’t really Scotland because it was too sunny. The road from Fairlie started to gradually climb up to the hamlet of Burkes Pass, which confusingly is before the top of Burkes Pass. The final kilometre or so up to the top of the pass was the steepest, although I’m not sure of the actual gradient. The top appeared at just over 700 m, from where we thought we’d have a nice gradual descent, but oh no.
Firstly, Tekapo lake is higher than the summit of Burkes Pass, which we hadn’t realised, and surely doesn’t make any sense! Oh, and by now it was very windy, naturally blowing straight into our faces. We chugged along for the 20ish km into the wind. However, the views more than made up for the hard work. Vast skies overhead, sunshine and mountain after mountain on the horizon. It was like we’d entered a new world, and suddenly we knew why people come cycling in New Zealand.
People certainly don’t come to New Zealand for Tekapo village, which was a small tourist trap, built on the edge of a lake that was an unreal bright blue. Our campsite overlooked the lake, and we did the only thing that seemed right when it was baking hot and tried to go for a swim. It was certainly refreshing, or rather freezin’ cold.
Today (Friday) we were going to ride to Lake Pukaki and we’d been given instructions on how to pick up a canal to follow that would avoid the traffic on the mainroad, information we shared with a Dutch couple we’d been chatting with since Fairlie. To pick up the canal the gravel track plunged downhill through woodland, which on loaded touring bikes was no fun whatsoever. Thankfully the Garmin was correct and we picked up the canal and suddenly had a wide tarmac road all to ourselves. Bliss. There were views everywhere, the water remained that unreal blue colour and we cruised along. Until we hit a gravel section. Boo hoo. We slowed down, picked our way across the 1 – 2 km section and then rejoiced when tarmac reappeared. This continued, with one noteworthy section that we couldn’t ride because the sidewinds were threatening to blow us off our bikes. In retrospect the sign saying “Take the lower road in high winds” made sense. Philippa marched along in silence pushing her bike. I took photos, fell off when trying to get started again and then decided to push as well.
Our reward were views of Lake Pukaki and the snow capped Mnt Cook at the end of the lake. Our plans of wild camping next to Lake Pukaki were ruined by getting there at 1 pm when it was baking hot. Neither of us fancied hiding from the sun for hours on end, so we had lunch, soaked in the view and then carried on down the road to Twizel. Via the Mnt Cook Salmon shop, which was a far far tastier option for dinner than the canned tuna we’d planned on eating.
So soon we’ll be at Wanaka, when we’ll need to decide if we should head to the east or west coast. We’d planned on going up the west coast, but having only just dried out we are reluctant to get more soakings. Also, we’ve now seen the forecast for the next few days. The west coast has weather warnings for gales and floods and our favourite weather forecasters are predicting mega rainfall (10 mm per hour for days on end). Hmm……