Update from Wanaka


Tonight’s update comes from Wanaka, which we arrived at after two very long days in the saddle.

We left French’s Pass two days ago, retracing our steps along the 40km of dirt and twisty bitumen. I took it easy on the dirt; although French’s Pass is a dead-end track, it’s a popular destination, so there’s a bit of traffic. On graded dirt roads, the safest and least slippery path is usually the the wheel track on the inside of a corner. On a blind corner, particularly a right-hander, that can be a pretty scary concept. Much of the track clings to the side of barren hills, so you can see some distance ahead, even if you can’t see around the next corner, but when it gets into forested terrain, you have no warning of oncoming cars.

Back on the bitumen I seemed to hit my stride. Roger was first, and had his camera mounted backward on his bike. I followed close behind, and matched him through the tight corners. Since we’d covered the road once already, we had a good idea of where the surface was patchy or undergoing repairs, which, for me at least, helped my reactions. That stretch was a lot of fun.

We headed west on some incredible roads, and ended on the west coast, just out of Hokitika. In all, we covered about 450km. Our destination was a house on the beach, just out of town. After a quick debate over the merits of eating out vs eating in after a long day, a few of us headed in to town shop for dinner. After unwinding on beer, cheese and salami, we sat down to a mixed grill and veggies.

Our hosts had collected driftwood for a beach fire, which the guys got going, and spent much of the evening enjoying under a clear, starry sky. I read for a while and crashed early.

This morning we woke to rain. After coffee, good bacon and scrambled eggs, we layered up with our wet weather gear, and headed out into the wet, hoping that it would soon clear. Before leaving town we stopping into our hosts’ factory, right across the road. They call themselves “stone weavers” and they make coasters, table runners and door mats from flat round grey stones (which the area seems to be made of) bonded to matting material. The results are quite beautiful, and they sell their product at the factory and through homewares stores in New Zealand and overseas.

Then it was out into the cold and the wet. Before long I learned that my waterproof pants, well, weren’t, and my boots soon filled up with water. My jacket did its job, and I remained try from the waist up, and reasonably warm everywhere but my hands.

We stopped at Franz Joseph in the hope that the weather might clear, and that we might see the glacier, but that wasn’t to be. So after a coffee and a dry-out, we were on the road again. The weather continued all the way down the coast to Haast, where we stopped for lunch, and tried to work out what to do. One option was to stop where we were for the night; another was to push on to Wanaka, and another was to push even further to Queenstown. In the end we decided that Wanaka was a reasonable distance, and would leave us with a short ride to Queenstown the next day.

We retrieved our wet socks and gloves from the open fire at the restaurant (no dress code, it seems), and resumed our journey. The weather had cleared a little, thou it wasn’t til we were over the Haast Pass that we saw our first glimpse of blue sky. As we made the descent toward Wanaka, we were riding in sunshine at last.

We checked in to the backpackers, changed, and rounded up our wet and dirty clothes for a washing run. It turns out that the laundromat is more spacious than our room, so we spent the afternoon there and polished off a case of beer as our clothes dried.

This time there was no debate about dinner, and we dined at a restaurant on the foreshore.

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