After an evening of pampering and a good night’s sleep at Franz Josef, we got our day underway early to take advantage of the good weather forecast and to get some kilometres under our belt. It was a crisp day but the blue skies and lack of rain really made a big difference to our spirits.
After conquering the excitingly named Mount Hercules, we headed into Harihari where to our excitement there was a cart filled to the brim with peppers of every colour, aubergines, onions and chillis for sale at ridiculously cheap prices. Having found food prices really expensive in New Zealand, particularly in rural areas (I once bought one red pepper when I was really desperate for some nutrients not realising it was $3 which is about £1.50!) this was rather an exciting moment for the two of us. We were like kids in a candy store as we stocked up on vegetables. We were so thrilled at the feasts we were going to cook up that we left a note with our money in the honesty box to thank the growers.
It was here that we heard the previous night there had been a massive storm in these parts bringing trees down and taking out power lines. We also heard there had been heavy snow in Christchurch. Having had a very peaceful night in Franz Josef when only a few kilometres further north there had been such heavy winds, we thanked our lucky stars as I’m not sure extra pegs in the tent would have withstood that test. As we cycled on we saw more and more trees snapped like matchsticks.
We ended our day in the historic gold mining town of Ross. It was here in 1907 that New Zealand’s largest gold nugget (the Honourable Roddy) was found weighing a massive 2.8 kilos. As we approached the outskirts of the town, we could see the mining continuing as the coastal hills were stripped of their trees so that the soil could be sieved. It seemed to me to be quite a destructive business.
We found a very cheap camp spot next to a pub, the Historic Empire Hotel. As we were preparing our feast in the camp kitchen, there was a power cut. Knowing that it would come back on eventually and not wanting to cook by head torches, we decided to head into the pub for a beer. As we headed in I was slightly apprehensive as all the locals propping up the bar turned to look at who was coming in. However, we soon got chatting away to people and learnt all about living in a rural mining town. We had a great time cosied up in the warm bar, drinking a beer (or two) by the atmospheric glow of candlelight and the log fire. I could just imagine the old gold hunters coming in here after a hard day of panning for gold and probably spending most of what they had found. I had read in our guidebook that the soil under Ross is believed to contain a vast amount of gold which the mining company we had seen on the outskirts of town is itching to get to. Although the government has given consent for them to mine there, it is only on the condition that the townspeople agree to move off the land. From what I could see at the pub, the townspeople seem quite content where they are. That night we must have slept on a bed of gold.
Leaving Ross, we headed for Greymouth, the West Coast’s largest town. Although we had a tailwind, the cycle was pretty boring as the road was straight and flat and the view of the Tasman Sea was spoilt by the grey clouds so we thought we would create a bit of a stir by having a crash. It all happened in slow motion as these things usually do but not slow enough for you to do anything about it. The railway track that we had been cycling beside met the road at a tight angle as they both led into a one-way bridge. Although there was a sign warning cyclists and Steve did his very best to take the track at the widest angle, due to the length of the bike he had to straighten up before the trailer got over the rails and the trailer wheel caught the track knocking us off balance. Steve managed to gain control of the bike but as he swerved to do so, the front wheel then hit the second track and boom, we were off, skidding along the gravel.
We weren’t in any danger from traffic as there was nothing coming either way and although Steve didn’t have any injuries, I did get a bit of gravel rash up my arm (even more of a bona fide touring cyclist now!) and took a big impact on my right knee which worried us both as I limped up from the side of the road. Poor Steve just kept apologising and I felt so bad as it was simply an accident and despite me repeating that to him and reassuring him that I wasn’t seriously hurt, I could see it wasn’t sinking in. After a few minutes to regain our composure as we were both pretty shaken up, we checked Hooch over who was surprisingly unscathed. We were only 10 kilometres outside of Greymouth and so all we could do was saddle up and cycle gingerly into town.
We checked in to a backpackers as we both needed a bit of a rest after all the excitement. That night, after Steve supported my hobbling into town as I couldn’t bend my knee, we treated ourselves to a large pizza each (although not as big as a Mama’s) and a beer at the local pizzeria. That seemed to be a great medicine for the pair of us.
We stayed in Greymouth a couple more nights as we didn’t want to push on before my knee was a bit better. After our initial concerns that I may have done something serious to my knee, its improvement day by day showed it was just badly bruised. It was really dreadful to see Steve beating himself up over the accident as he felt ultimately responsible as he was the one steering. Whilst I appreciate why he felt like that I know that he would never ever do anything reckless to put me in harm’s way. I tried to reassure him that my trust in him is absolute and that it was just an unfortunate accident. If I had been on the front of the bike, I dread to think what number accident we would be on now! We ended up laughing about what happened and we knew we just had to get on and put the blip behind us.
The amazing views that we had cycling through Buller Gorge certainly helped with that.
At St Arnaud we camped at a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite at Kerr Bay. As we cycled down to the lake the sun was setting, lighting the mountains in a beautiful pink. Although we knew that the night was due to hit at least -3 degrees, the view made up for it.
Although DOC campsites are usually really basic with a long drop toilet and either running water or stream water, this DOC campsite had a massive three-sided shelter, a zip tap, a gas stove and flushing toilets. That evening we put as many clothes on as we could. I had on all three pairs of my socks, a pair of long johns, two pairs of pedal pushers, two t-shirts, a fleece, a coat, a pair of gloves, a scarf and two hats. Oh and a hot water bottle up my top. I was still cold! In order to keep warm Steve put on some music from our lap top and we did a cross between aerobics and dancing to Blur’s greatest hits. I was more worn out from trying to keep warm as we star-jumped around, and from laughing hysterically, than I was from the day’s cycling. We were pretty cold that night as thick frost formed on our tent but we were fired up that we had nearly completed the South Island.
The next day we cycled through rows and rows of grape vines in New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region. It must be even more amazing in the summer when they are in fruit. The mammoth task of carefully training each vine around fences seemed more tiring and monotonous than cycling.
After more than 2,000 kilometres we finally had our first puncture. It worked out pretty well though as it was lunchtime so whilst Steve fixed the puncture, I made sandwiches.
We finally arrived at Picton where we would catch the ferry the following day to Wellington. That night we camped and although we have certainly met some colourful characters at campsites, there was none more so than the guy I saw pushing his dog around in a pram. I did have to take a second look to make sure I was seeing right!
As we waited to load Hooch onto the ferry, we got talking to a guy who worked in the port. We didn’t know what he did until the ferry docked and to Steve’s absolute envy, he controlled a massive remote-controlled train to take shipping containers off the ferry.
We then enjoyed the amazing views as the ferry sailed its way through Marlborough Sounds, a mixture of islands, bays and inlets. We also indulged ourselves in the cheapest fizz we could find in Picton to celebrate completing the South Island!
As we sailed into the Cook Straits, there was a swell of 5 metres. A safety announcement warned people to stay seated so yes, you’ve guessed it, Steve headed straight onto the deck to get a great picture of the waves. As he was out there, there was a massive dip and then a huge surge of spray from the wave that swept the side of the boat. The door to the deck opened and a bedraggled, soaked Steve walked in with a bit of a sheepish look. He did get some good shots though!
We are now in Wellington! I have been so excited to be in a city. As much as I think Steve hopes that I will yearn for a more rural life, cycling through remoter areas has done anything but! You can take a girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl. I absolutely love Wellington – it is a very cool city with lots of retro and vintage shops, and millions of trendy cafes. As it has been Steve’s birthday, we have thrown caution to the wind and checked into a hotel (a cheap one though) and have eaten out for breakfast, lunch and dinner! We have watched the All Blacks versus Ireland rugby game in a pub, walked round the Museum of New Zealand, eaten posh ice cream, had a fantastic coffee and soaked up the atmosphere. Having thoroughly celebrated Steve’s birthday, today we head off for unknown adventures in the North Island.