Sunday, 3 March 2013

Over the Haast Pass and Riding the West Coast

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The Haast Pass

It rained heavily in the night and I woke to an almost flooded tent. I spent the hours in the morning attempting to dry my tent and trying to decide whether to go over the Haast Pass that day or not, In the end the sun came out and I decided to go.

On the pass itself roadworks were holding up the traffic which was only being let through on the hour. Luckily I only had to wait ten minutes. The climb, on the final stretch of gravel road, was relatively short and painless, though one of the workmen did shout out to me that it was another five miles to the top. It was in fact only a few hundred yards!

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Once over the pass you enter the West Coast of the South Island which is part of a huge National Park. It is also a temperate rainforest, with about seven metres of rain a year! I wasn't surprised therefore when the rain returned, and didn't stop for the next two days. Once the traffic had gone I had the road to myself for hours at a time, and although it was difficult to admire the mountains, the forest, the river and the waterfalls in the driving rain it was a fabulous downhill ride.

On the way I passed an American couple and rode with them for a while. After an hour or so of incessant rain I was soaked, but not cold. However when the valley flattened towards the coast this cold biting wind started blowing in our faces and almost brought us to a standstill. At Haast village I didn't fancy camping. The camp-ground looked waterlogged, but the two motels there were fully booked. I looked a right sight wandering into these, dripping wet and squelching everywhere.

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Eventually I had to face a further fourteen miles down the coast to Okuru where I managed to share a bunk room with some Austrians. I bumped into one of them again in Auckland. The room had a small heater so I managed to dry everything off. I'd ridden sixty miles in five hours today, mostly in the rain.

A Temperate Rainforest to Fox Glacier

Today was worse. Eighty miles in seven hours, all of them in the rain. Almost everything survived dry, except the clothes I was wearing and my diary. The rain washed out the bottom four lines on every page! The ride was exhilarating though. After riding back to Haast village I rode up the coast through rainforest most of the way. I had three steep climbs in succession along the top of cliffs overlooking the crashing surf swirling around rock pinnacles, and around headlands where the strength of the wind almost stopped me. Through the forest the sounds of the birds and frogs was incredible. Not many people out on the roads in this weather.

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When I got to the village at Fox Glacier I was lucky enough to get the last bed in the bunk-house. Everyone was very subdued here though. Many people had been trapped by the rain-storms for several days and hadn't had the opportunity to go hiking up the glaciers and mountains.

To Franz Josef and beyond

The next day was a relatively short ride, but this included three steep climbs between the Fox and the Franz Josef Glaciers. Finally the rain stopped and I had a chance to admire the fine views of the snow-clad mountains and the forest. After a short break at the Franz Josef village I continued onto Whataroa where I stayed in a motel. I spent another evening drying everything out.

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Onto the Empire Hotel at Ross

The day after that was also up and down, especially over Mount Hercules. The rain managed to hold off and I stopped for lunch at Harihari and later, at Ianthe I chatted to an old couple who were also cycling. At Ross I decided to stay at the Empire Hotel, a pub really, and spent the evening at the bar chatting to the locals. The highlight was the fact that my room had a bath. After improvising a plug I managed to enjoy a long soak after drinking a couple of jugs.