Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Road to Queenstown


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Lakeside Ride to Omarama

The next morning I rode alone as Tim and Mike had decided to stay an extra day in Tekapo and do some serious fishing. I took a little used road which ran beside a waterway connecting Lake Tekapo with several other lakes and a hydro system. All day I rode with the silhouette of the mountains over my shoulder. The road was bleak and empty and the countryside was now brown and barren. I passed only one car and a single tourist coach. I'd been told that the drivers of these coaches were not averse to picking up stranded cyclists so I decided to be friendly to them and waved. You never know.

The second lake was very different from Lake Tekapo and had none of its glacial colour. Its surface was very calm and the snow-capped mountains were limpidly reflected on its unruffled surface. By lunch-time I had reached Twizel, a strange modern looking town, built when the hydro-stations were being developed, and now something of a ghost town. I dutifully had lunch and wrote a couple of letters before continuing the gentle ride down the valley to Omarama.

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Here I sat in the sun with an ice-cream, before setting up in the camp-site. It was packed mostly with bikers who were here for a moto-cross week-end. In the evening I met a woman from new York who was also cycle camping and I chatted to her for a while.

Over the Lindis Pass

The next days ride was a long seventy miles over the Lindis Pass. I'd been forewarned that this was a hard climb, the worst part being the last mile where the road climbed into a high col, which was relatively flat, and then climbed very steeply over the ridge. I could see the last climb for an hour before I reached it. Torture! After a brief rest at the top it was an eighteen mile descent to the first village. This was so exhilarating and so fast that I had to stop and put my wind jacket on before completing the descent.

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At Tarras, the small village, I chatted to two young shepherds over lunch. The New Yorker was also there, but she seemed extra careful in ensuring that I didn't offer to share the ride down to Cromwell. Have to be careful on your own. The lunch was good though, seemed like a health food place which makes a change from the usual 'greasy-spoon' type cafes. Though I must admit that these are wonderful on their day, especially as you get a proper cup of tea, in a teapot, with all the trimmings.

The last part of the ride took me down to Cromwell beside a recently flood lake and into a town which had been moved and re-built to make way for the hydro scheme. The was dead - it was a Sunday - so after a brief look around I set up camp. This time I met Mr and Mrs Pepper from Maine, USA who had exactly the same tent as me. (A Northface Tadpole). They were cycling north and we had a long conversation about which parts if New Zealand they had visited.

Through Shotover to Queenstown

Whilst drying out the flysheets in the morning the Peppers inadvertently took mine and left me with theirs! I didn't notice until the evening. After stopping at a roadside greengrocers I joined the road that follows a gorge down to Queenstown. The road is quite narrow and twisty and the traffic had increased. Queenstown is a tourist centre and the river I was following has rafts and jet-boat trips on it. After a while I came to an old gold mine and spent half-an-hour looking around. A short ride then brought me to a vineyard, one of the most southerly in New Zealand. It was also a restaurant.

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So I had lunch on the patio: pasta and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which left me sleepy in the sun. I spent about three hours here, mostly trying to sober up! I'd only just re-started about ten minutes though when I came to an old suspension bridge where the bungee jumping was done. I pulled up in the car-park, full of coaches, and watched the idiots jump seventy feet towards the river with an elastic rope around their legs. The whole experience lasted about 15 seconds. I imagine the waiting in line was the most nerve wracking part. It also cost about thirty pounds.

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After this I decided to take a detour via Arrowtown. I chatted to a racing cyclist who puled up alongside me. He was just finishing a 150k ride. The town itself was very quaint; a bit like a western ghost town. All the buildings were wooden and the streets were all lined with trees. I wandered around some of the tourist shops before riding the last few miles.

this last part of the ride was down the Shotover valley which was picturesque and very quiet until it came into Queenstown itself. here I found the camp-site which was the busiest I'd seen so far. I had a wander around before crashing out. Many people had told me about this place as it was a mecca for tourists and travellers but I decided not to hang around and continued my ride the next day as planned.