When we got to Wanaka we were still undecided as to what direction we’d take. The west coast would make a more logical journey for us, but it would likely be wetter. Going east would have an off road trail to follow to Dunedin, but we’d then have to take a bus back to Christchurch as neither of us wanted to cycle Highway 1. As we’d done 120 km the previous day we spent a day not cycling, giving us time to make our decision. We spent a relaxed day wandering around Wanaka, stocking up on food & eating really good wood fired pizza for lunch. The forecast for the west coast was looking good, so we decided to give it a go, heading off from Wanaka yesterday (Tuesday). So of course we awoke on Tuesday morning to rain…..
We packed up most of our stuff and sat in the kitchen from about 7.30 am for a good hour, by which point the rain had stopped, so we decided to go go go. Even before leaving Wanaka we had to remove the waterproofs because we were already too hot. Once out of Wanaka Philippa noticed an off road option to get us to Hawea. The locals we saw all told us we were picking the right choice as the road wasn’t nice, although they were on mountain bikes and we had loaded touring bikes. Hmm…. And there was a great café in Hawea. However, the surface was rideable, the views were great and it was brilliant to get away from the traffic. Philippa even enjoyed herself, so it seems like we’ll need to take her mountain biking on a suitable bike at some point! At Hawea we somehow missed the café, so just plugged on with the ride beside the massive Lake Hawea. It looked like a Scottish sea loch because of the size, but we were at 300 m. Very strange. The roads were a lot quieter than around Tekapo region, which we both enjoyed.
After Lake Hawea we rejoined Lake Wanaka, which made us appreciate how massive this lake was as well. All the mountain scenery in New Zealand is on a different scale to anything in the UK. That evening we stopped in Makarora. There’s hardly anything there: a tiny school, a few houses, and a visitors centre with a campsite and cabins. The campsite was nestled in between the cabins and was beautiful. Plus it was really peaceful after the shock of Wanaka.
This morning (Wednesday) we left Makarora and set up off to Haast Pass. The road was still empty and gradually climbed upwards. The final 100 m of ascent or so were steep, but it was better than coming from the other direction. The top of the Haast Pass was covered in trees, so no views to enjoy and it was a bit of a disappointment, just feeling like we were on a forest road somewhere.
The ride from there down into Haast was fantastic. We were passing through rain forest full of ferns and palm trees and exotic sounding birds and the noise of cicadas, there were waterfalls cascading down from the cliffs 100s of meters above our heads, the Haast river was thundering next to us. There was also snow on the tops of the mountains which seemed a bit odd given how hot and humid it was down by the river. There were probably pterodactyl flying around in the trees that we didn’t spot. The Haast river is massive. Normally we see driftwood; here there are trees littering the riverbed that have floated down in floods. When it’s wet here, it’s really really wet and it must be a sight to behold, but that wasn’t for today because we were enjoying a bit of sunshine.
Just before we got to our campsite we stopped at the supermarket, and came out to rain. We managed to put the tent up in gaps between the showers, but since then have been hiding from the rain in a converted aircraft hanger, chasing away the sandflies (annoying little buggers). Some forecasts for tomorrow show rain, others show grey cloud but dry. We’ll find out tomorrow morning if we’re leaving Haast or spending a day reading our books in the hanger.