We’ve spent the last few days cycling from Charleston, on the West Coast, to Blenheim, on the East Coast, following the beautiful Buller gorge for a lot of it. As with any bike ride, there have been highs and lows, surprises and disappointments. We are spending a few days in and around Blenheim to try some wine and will then head out to Marlborough Sounds probably tomorrow (Tuesday) before taking the ferry across to North Island this Friday, bringing our South Island adventure to a close. We had expected to spend about 6 weeks here, but I’m such a cycling goddess that we’ve covered the ground quicker than expected and so will instead head over to North Island a bit earlier than expected.
On Wednesday morning we set off from Charleston following the coast along SH6 towards Westport. We were only going to Westport to visit a supermarket and stock up on food for a few days. Rather than going into and out of Westport on the same road, we took a longer route via Cape Foulwind (named by Cook owing to winds that blew him off course apparently) where there is a seal colony. Unfortunately we didn’t do our research properly and once we got to Foulwind, we realised the colony was another 4km away down a dead-end gravelly track; not wanting to add much more to our cycling distance for the day, we elected not to go and see the seals, making our diversion somewhat wasted. Ah well – that’s part and parcel of touring.
We didn’t bother with seeing the sites of Westport (are there any?) seeing instead only the inside of the supermarket. After a spot of lunch we rejoined SH6 (which we had been following for quite a few days now, in fact pretty much since Wanaka) which eventually drew up right next to the Buller Gorge. From that point on the ride all the way to Berlins (our camp spot for the night) was breathtakingly stunning, with the road sitting close to the Buller for the whole afternoon, affording us spectacular views over this mighty river. We stopped frequently to take photos, congratulating ourselves on how lucky we were. We also got stopped by our first set of traffic lights since Christchurch!
The sun was out, the road was quiet, the views were amazing – this is what cycle touring is about. When we got to Berlins, we went for a quick dip (more of a sit down) in the Buller to cool off, were thankful that despite no shop or anything to speak of there was a bar to have a beer, and then hid from the blasted sandflies (which get more annoying by the day).
I was looking forward to the ride over the Murchison on Thursday, expecting a continuation of Wednesday. We hadn’t done an elevation profile for the day (something we normally do so that we have an idea of how much climbing we need to do), but expected little and gradual as we followed the Buller. This turned out to not be the case. It was hard and hilly. The road did continue to follow the Buller, but from further away so we would only catch occasional glimpses of it every once in a while.
After Inangahua the traffic on the road also increased, including the terrifying logging lorries. There was little to no hard shoulder on most of this road and these trucks didn’t seem to have brakes or a steering wheel as they didn’t slow down and didn’t pull out. Sometimes they would honk their horn aggressively to signal to us to “get the hell out of the way”. With two to three trailers on the back of each, every overtake was a heart-stopping moment. On more than one occasion I was forced off the road. After yet another crappy overtake I stopped at the side of the road and burst into tears (I had had a couple of other cries during the ride but I’ve discovered I can’t climb and cry at the same time as I only have enough breath for one, so climbing won). We had no other option but to grit our teeth and continue. Adam sat on the back and kept an eye on the traffic behind and a shout of “lorry” would lead me to slam on the brakes and take cover in whatever ditch/verge there was on the side of the road.
After what felt like forever, we made it to Murchison unscathed. Thank f*** for that. We decided that I was probably quite tired as we had done quite a lot of climbing in the last few days and had been cycling everyday for 10 days (some of them quite short, but others long days in the saddle) and the next ride to St Arnaud would involve climbing all day, so we decided to take a rest day in Murchison. The Riverside campsite at Murchison was absolutely lovely. It had a large open terrace by the Buller, a swimming hole with a rope swing to enter the water, it was very well equipped, and the owner Robin was very friendly. After a dip in the swimming hole Julien, another cycle tourist we have seen on the road and various campsites since Wanaka, appeared on his bike and we compared notes from the day, including remonstrating the logging lorries.
We knew that our ride over to St Arnaud would involve about another 35km on dreaded lorry road on Saturday morning, so we decided our best option was to try and leave early to avoid as much traffic as possible. We were on the road by 8am on Saturday and this tactic seemed to work as we only saw about three trucks, one of which was a milk one which DID slow down and pull out for us and gave us a friendly wave. We then reached the road junction where we turned onto SH63, which we had heard would be much quieter, with most of the traffic staying on SH6 to Nelson/Picton. This turned out to be true and we had a lovely few km climbing up a gentle gradient to St Arnaud.
St Arnaud was much bigger (for relative scales of “big”) than we expected and had a decent shop, which we weren’t expecting and a couple of campsites. We turned up at midday and got the last camping spot in town – lucky! We went for a swim in the lake, walked into town for a beer, realising that we needn’t have lugged all our food over from Murchison after all. Oh well, it helps with the fitness carrying more weight (thanks Adam!).
We knew that Sunday’s ride to Blenheim, whilst a decent distance at 108km, would involve about 10km of gentle climbing and then would be downhill all the way to Blenheim (from 720m down to sea level over about 90km). And indeed, the first 80km of the ride to Renwick were lovely, on a quiet road, even with an unexpected coffee van at the side of the road. On the approach to Blenheim, there were vineyards as far as the eye could see, all immaculately maintained and neatly planted. They must make a LOT of wine here.
And so here we are, just outside Blenheim in a place called Spring Creek. There is no way we can go to all the vineyards here (more’s the shame), so I think we are just going to pick one, go and do some tasting and have a nice posh lunch. Tomorrow we will probably head to Marlborough Sounds, and then the ferry to North Island from Picton on Friday. Woo hoo – some much deserved R&R time.