Up and over the Lindis Pass

Top of the Lindis PassHaving made it to Twizel on Friday night we then faced a choice on Saturday of either a short 30km to Omarama, or making an attempt to go about 90km over the Lindis Pass to a DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite. Of course, given the choice, I picked the short version. The campsite host in Omarama informed us that we had made a good choice as a concert in Queenstown meant the road over the Lindis on Saturday had been busier than usual. Given some of the rather close overtakes we have been subject to so far this was good news indeed. Plus, we got fluffy towels in Omarama – a little perk they offer to all cyclists. Nice. And Omarama has a statue of a Merino sheep in it – cute.

However, my joy at nice short cycling days was short lived. On Sunday we faced the choice of 60km over the Lindis Pass to the DOC campsite (which is a fairly basic facility, some offering toilets, some only offering a place to pitch your tent….) or to push on to Wanaka, at about 115km. The weather forecast favoured the long option as rain was predicted overnight on Sunday and then all day Monday, so if we stayed on the DOC campsite, we would end up cycling in the rain with a wet tent.

We elected to set off early on Sunday and so set our first alarms of the trip and were on the road by 7:30am. Our first challenge was the Lindis Pass, which involved 35km of climbing from our campsite at 430m up to 965m (about the same height as Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England). The Lindis Pass is, I believe, one of the highest roads in New Zealand and climbs very gradually for about 20km (at about 0.5% gradient) then gets gradually steeper peaking at about 8% for the last 2km. It was bloody fabulous. The early start meant we hardly had any traffic. The road winds itself up a progressively narrowing valley and it was a real pleasure to cycle. That’s from someone who doesn’t really love hills, even less so on a touring bike.

After the climb comes the descent and we swooshed down for about 20km, barely having to turn a pedal, the bends nice and easy to navigate without worrying about the bike toppling over. The whole Lindis Pass experience is probably some of the best cycling kms I’ve had. Lucky me.

We got to the DOC campsite and it was only around 11am and we had already covered half the distance to Wanaka, so we decided to keep going. In order to not burn myself out for the long day I had slowly twiddled my way up the climb, reserving some energy for the afternoon, as I knew there would be more climbing to come. And probably some headwinds.

We decided to try and have lunch at Tarras, about 75km into the ride. Before Tarras there was another climb, only of about 100m, but it was a bit of a leg burner and about 5km outside town I could feel my energy reserves waning so we stopped down a dirt track on the side of the road and munched on pitta, hummus and lettuce. Refuelled, we arrived into what we thought was Tarras (there was a community hall) but round the corner 1km further on was a lovely little coffee shop where we decided to stop for some tea. It was only just gone 1pm by this point and we knew it was only another 45km to go so we could well afford to take things easy.

After Tarras, we turned off onto Highway 8a which was a lot quieter than the road we had been on (with most traffic staying on 8 to Queenstown/Cromwell and Dunedin). We faced some of New Zealand’s finest headwind so I got Adam to go on the front for a while and I tried to cling to his back wheel. The road was undulating but I knew there only two more main climbs to come. One was at about 90km and one was just before Wanaka airport. I gritted my teeth and pushed up each, I’m sure both were steeper than Lindis, but perhaps it was just the miles in my legs. At the top of the final climb was another café and although we were only 10km outside Wanaka I thought a cheeky packet of crisps would do me good. I was pretty shattered by this point (I always am for the last 10km of pretty much any ride, no matter what distance – it’s more mental than anything else); it had been a long hot day, with lots of cycling and lots of climbing. Adam promised me wine AND bacon.

We made it into Wanaka to find that the two main campsites were the other side of town and up a hill. We turned into the first campsite and I slowly plodded up what felt like a wall hill only to find they apparently had no room for 2 cyclists with a small tent – that’s the first time I’ve ever been turned away from a campsite. I had a total sense of humour failure. We turned round, went back down the bloody bastard hill I’d just climbed up and went to the next campsite. This also involved another hill. As I climbed I was swearing pretty loudly. A roadie came past me grinning and said “hi”. Thank|fully this campsite had plenty of room. Once the tent was up I made Adam go and find me wine and bacon. I had definitely earned it!

Today has been a rest day, the first one since we left Pleasant Point after our enforced rain break. We’ve spent the past few days wondering what to do from Wanaka. The choices are to head to the east coast on the Otaga railway trail down to Dunedin and then get a bus back to Christchurch, or go to the wet, sorry west coast, cycle past glaciers and feed the sandflies. We seem to change our minds every hour. At the moment we’re favouring the west coast. Who knows what’ll actually happen when we wake up tomorrow morning…

To Twizel

To Wanaka (7658946)

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