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Our Great New Zealand South Island Bike Tour

Week 4

by Pamela Blalock with (most) photos by John Bayley

The first order of business was to find a courier to take our backpacks to Queenstown. When I tried to phone over the weekend, I only got answer phones stating Monday to Friday hours. I phones back on Monday and found out I should take the packs to a pharmacy in town. I could have done this on Saturday! We then headed back east. We had heard many good things about the Central Otago Rail Trail, and wanted to go checked it out. So we decided to aim for Clyde, the head of the the trail, and then do an out and back the next day.

Our route out took us along the Kawarau Gorge, past the original AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping bridge, as well as several vineyards. We had a screaming tailwind as we descended the gorge! It was awesome. But the weather started to deteriorate and by the time we reached Clyde, rain was starting to fall, so we found a hostel and booked in for two nights. We wandered around town, and found all the stone schist buildings very nice. We also noticed there were an awful lot of restaurants for a tiny little town. We decided to splurge and planned to try Olivers on our second night.

This was after a grand day riding along the rail trail. This is not what most folks think of in the States when you say rail trail. It was far from straight and flat, and traveled through great rural scenic country (not industrial wasteland). It isn't paved, but was a real pleasure for riding, and we will incorporate the whole thing into a future trip. On this occasion, we rode out to the Poolburn Gorge and returned, after having a grand lunch in Ophir.

Our meal at Olivers was great, not so much for the food, but the company. We met Jim, a very nice American, who was traveling around checking out vineyards. We had the best time talking away the night with Jim and our hostess at the restaurant

The next day, we started heading north, and stopped for lunch in Old Cromwell. Cromwell had been flooded when the dam was built, and the new town in a large ugly shopping centre. We had missed the old town when traveling through before, and decided to give it another shot. I'm so glad we did. I had one of the best soups I've ever had, and we met some very nice people. We then took a side trip to Bannockburn, where we must have climbed Mt Difficulty to get to the tasting room, and then tasted some wine. Next it was on to Wanaka, where the Air Show was to start later in the week. Our timing was great. We got to see practice, and didn't have to pay. And we had a place to stay. That would not be the case over the weekend.

We would have loved to stay in Wanaka to see the show, but most places had been booked out for two years! As it was, it was hard enough to find places up the road over Easter weekend. I phoned ahead to book for several days. I found a motel room in Haast. The only BBH hostel in Fox Glacier was full. They gave me the number of another place, where we made a booking.

After leaving Wanaka, we came upon another touring cyclist, going our way. Gilly was over from Oz, doing a similar trip to us, cycling around the south island and doingthe odd tramp. We exchanged addresses and offered her a place to stay on her way through Nelson. The next touring cyclist we encountered was at our hostel in Haast. Martin came in a while before us, and had been asked if he'd passed a female cyclist. Even though I made a reservation for two, the folks running the place were concerned that I was alone and late. (We arrived with our lights on, just as it was getting dark.) Martin was from the IK and was travelling around the world for a year. he was planning to spend some time touring the west coast of the USA, and we offered tips on all our favourite spots there. We also offered accomodation in Nelson, if we were back when he came through. We saw each other several more times over the next few days, but lost touch when we stayed an extra day in Franz Josef to climb the glacier.

When we got to the Fox Glacier Inn, there was a mix up with our reservation. Normally when booking with BBH, I put a mark in the book next to where we are staying. Since this wasn't BBH, I had a note with the name and phone number and type of room. I also recall giving them a credit card number. At some point, the clerk seemed to locate my erased card number. But they had given our beds away. Conveniently, for them, they had a much more expensive room that we could have. With no choice other than sleeping in a ditch we took it. They did at least warn us about the saddle attacking keas - we hadn't expected them at this elevation. They didn't tell us that they run a bar, and the backpackers/motel is simply a way to get customers in the bar. When we tried to use the kitchen, we found that one burner might work. There were two pots and a pan, one glass, two cups and a few bowls. This was for 50 or so backpackers. We have stayed in lots of backpacker hostels in our time here, and this was the worst. I will say at this point that our experience with YHA and BBH hostels has been really good - they are all pretty high standards. Any time we have been disappointed, it has been a hostel outside of these two networks.

The next day, we went to the Café Nevé and spent the morning drinking coffee and writing postcards. We had planned to either walk on Fox or Franz Joesef Glacier depending on the weather. It was only 25km of hilly riding to Franz Josef, so we could walk at Fox and ride, or ride to Franz Josef, and walk that day or even the next. We woke to pouring rain, so we stalled in Fox. We stayed at the café long enough to have pizza. We'd had one there before about a year ago, and remembered it quite fondly. The pizza was good and it was nice to avoid the rain for a while.

Once we couldn't stall any longer, we headed out into the rain and up and down three big twisty hills to Franz Josef. We booked a walk for the next day and planned to stay two nights in town. Click here to see photos from our walk.


Vital Statistics

date destination distance climbing magpies
Monday 5 April Clyde 88 650 0
Tuesday 6 April Clyde 119 507 16
Wednesday 7 April Wanaka 95 692 7 +
4 warbirds
Thursday 8 April Haast 147 1104 2
Friday 9 April Fox Glacier 126 88 2 +
1 Aoraki Mt Cook
Saturday 10 April Franz Josef 25 576 0
Sunday 11 April Franz Josef 7 hours walk ??  

Week 3

Enough of this biking stuff. Jump straight to the
Routeburn Track

Milford Track

Doubtful Sound

Franz Josef Glacier