Archive for February, 2007

Goodbye Mr. Sandfly

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Today Sarah and I rode 50km through the Southern Lakes district to the town of Wanaka. Our ride took us past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. The lakebeds for both of these lakes were carved by glaciers and each lake is over 300 meters deep. We were surrounded by mountains the entire time and our ride was very hilly. We were both a little tired from yesterday too and that made today one of those days were 50 kilometers feels more like 150. The good news is that there are no sandflies here! We woke up at our campsite this morning and the sandflies were so thick we were inhaling them. Now we are in Wanaka and haven’t had a single bite yet!

Here are some pictures from our ride today.

Check out how steep the road up this hill is!

The view from the top was nice though!

Now we are going to spend one or two days relaxing in Wanaka before heading South to Queenstown over the Crown Range.

Break On Through To The Other Side

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Hello from the other side of Haast Pass! Sarah and I safely and successfully crossed the Southern Alps today and we are now in a new region of the country: Otago. This region is known as one of the most beautiful areas of New Zealand with majestic mountains and glacially carved lakes and during our short time here it has lived up to its reputation!

Weather and sightseeing slowed us down a bit last week, so at the end of the week, we cycled like lunatics to get to Haast and in doing so we did our first metric century and bested our previous longest day by 50%! On Saturday the 3rd we cycled 126.08km in 6 hours, 55 minutes, and 45 seconds. It was definitely a grueling day and we were wiped out afterwards so we spent Sunday the 4th resting in Haast. After the ride, we were discussing whether or not cycling 100km on these loaded touring bikes is as difficult as riding 100 miles on a racing bike. We think it is.

The epic ride started inland as we left the glaciers. Here is Sarah cycling through some dense rainforest.

As we neared the coast, things started to open up a bit with nice rivers, plains, and hills.

As we were nearing the end of the ride, we touched the coast and had to climb and descend three 200 meter hills in a row. It was painful, but the views from the top were worth it.

We spent the next day relaxing in Haast and cycled about 5km down to the beach. Sarah did a little beachcombing, hoping she would find an ancient mere, but she didn’t have any luck. We did spot a couple of dolphins in the surf though.

Today we were feeling pretty well recovered so we decided to tackle Haast Pass. Here I am getting my daily upper body workout by using our handpump to inflate our tires to 95psi.

The ride started out pretty flat; we cycled along a plain for about 50km with views of the mountains we were trying to get across.

Check out all the waterfalls coming down this one.

Sarah’s shadow was so clear in the morning sun, it looked like she was riding on top of a mirror.

We stopped for a lunch break at Pleasant Flat and were thankful we didn’t have to cross the glacier covered peaks we could see in the distance.

As we approached the Gates of Haast, the road became steep and our pace slowed to 5km/hr. We knew the pass was about 10km, so we got a little worried wondering if it was really going to take us two hours to get across?! When we arrived at the Gates of Haast, we really started to panic. We could see the road became even steeper ahead and we didn’t know whether or not we could make it. Was it really that steep all the way up? Sarah was feeling very tired, so we decided to take some action. We took her dry bag and put it on my bike, creating our first double-decker load.

We then started up; the falls at the Gates were beautiful.

As we started climbing, we realized this wasn’t a road we were on, it was a paved wall! I was out of the saddle, grinding my way up the hill. I could feel the burn of the midday sun on my back and I was instantly so drenched in sweat I could barely keep a grip on my handlebars. I looked back, worried about Sarah but she was already out of site. So I decided to leave her. If she was really this weak, I didn’t bloody want her anyway.

Just kidding people! I knew if I stopped I would never be able to start up again, so I continued on to scout out how long the steepness lasted. Luckily, the gradients eased after about two kilometers and I was able to pull off the road to catch my breath. After a few minutes, Sarah rounded a bend and wove her way up the road toward our resting spot.

When she arrived, she told me she had to climb so slowly that she wasn’t able to keep her bike upright and she fell off. When she started again, she learned that at speeds below 3.8km per hour her speedometer gives up and tells her she’s not moving anymore!

Thankfully, that hellish stretch was the worst of the pass and the remainder was actually very gradual. Haast Pass is actually the lowest of the passes in New Zealand at only 564 meters.

We spent the afternoon descending gradually and admiring the new dry landscape.

You may have heard some military types bragging about the in-air refueling of their fighter jets? Well, they’ve got nothing on us. We’ve also perfected in-flight refueling with our Hydrapaks. Here is Sarah hydrating in style.

On our way down, we stopped to visit the Blue Pools. It was a short trail off the road including a swinging bridge crossing and the water was amazingly clear and beautiful.

At the end of the day, we set up camp at a DoC site right on the shore of Lake Wanaka. We gaze out the front door of our tent and pretend we are in our million dollar lake home. Tomorrow we head toward Wanaka and Queenstown.

Stats from Week 5 (1.29.2007 – 2.04.2007):
Greymouth -> Haast
5 days cycling, 2 days resting

347.78km (69.56km / cycling day)
20 hours, 27 minutes, 42 seconds in the saddle

NZ$265.09 (NZ$37.87 / day)

Happy Birthday Sarah!

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Today Sarah turned a lovely twenty-seven years of age. Her first birthday as my wife! What a milestone!

When we woke up, we were glad to see that the skies were clear and sunny. We decided to head towards Fox Glacier which is only about 20km South of Franz Josef, but the road between the two is very windy and hilly. At first the climbs were nice and gradual and we were surrounded by forested mountains and clear streams, so we were happy.

Soon things became very steep though. If you look closely, you can see Sarah has her “Lance” face on as she destroys this switchback.

We arrived in Fox Glacier about two hours later and decided to spend the night here so we would have time to see the glacier and walk some of the trails in the area. We stopped at the DoC office to get some information on the trails and it looks like I was right, a lot of tourists have been injured and killed because they don’t heed the warning signs near the glaciers! Think twice before crossing that barrier kids!

Fox Glacier is smaller and much less touristed than Franz Josef, but we thought it was more spectacular. It has carved out a narrow canyon with vertical walls and the trail follows the icy river right up to the terminal face of the glacier.

The ice in the river looked like the tapioca balls in bubble tea.

Ye olde terminal face of Fox Glacier.

It started to rain on us (gasp!), so we headed back to the township of Fox Glacier. We thought about going out for a nice dinner, but after looking around at our options decided we would have tea and cake instead and wait until we returned to Auckland in about a month for a celebratory dinner. After our snack, Sarah got to forget about the budget for a day and go on a shopping spree at the market here in town. She picked out “Luxury Muesli”, a nice bottle of NZ Shiraz, some of her favorite digestive biscuits, and “all the milk she could drink.” Not pictured is the ice cream bar that was devoured before the photo was taken.

While waiting for Sarah to pick out her loot, I found the perfect treat for our little kitty Robo. I bet he wishes they had this in the United States!

No comment on these puzzling little treats though.

Tomorrow we will continue South towards our first real mountain pass. Haast Pass!

Glacier Expedition

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

You would not believe how hard it rained here last night. It is the kind of rain you see at the very most intense part of a midwest thunderstorm…but it never stops. It rained buckets and buckets for many many hours. We are officially in the rainforest now, though, so I guess I’m not allowed to be too surprised. The forecast said that over the course of 6 hours they were expecting 130 – 160 mm of rain. That’s about 6 inches.

The tent sites here aren’t on grass due to the amount of rain regularly received. Instead we spent the night on a sheet of astroturf sitting over a bed of gravel. Sounds uncomfortable, but it was better than sleeping in a puddle. Our tent held up decently well in the deluge, although the floor seems to ooze water. Not sure what’s up with that.

Today we woke up to absolutely clear blue skies – I could not believe it. The city of Franz Josef is beautiful; it is set in a valley surrounded by snow capped peaks:

We decided to stay for the day & hike to the face of the glacier. We rode our bikes the 4km to the start of the glacier hiking trails. This included another trip over a one-lane bridge – this one crossed a turbulent river of totally grey water. The rainstorm last night increased the river volume and filled it with rock particles to the point where it didn’t even look like water. It was more like a giant mudflow with soccer ball sized chunks of ice floating in it:

View from the road to the glacier:

Jamie stops to pose on the road to the glacier:

Franz Josef glacier:

I managed to take this classic photo of Jamie contemplating the glacier. He stood just like this, staring at the glacier, for quite a long time. Turns out he was busy imagining what it would be like if the glacier exploded into a huge rush of water and ice, striking down all those naughty tourists who’d broken the rules and slipped under the rope for a closer look at the glacier. Typical.

A pretty reflection pool with Franz Josef glacier in the background:

Close up of a fern leaf unfurling:

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

I think Jamie jinxed us with his last post about the nice weather we’d been getting. As soon as he uploaded his journal entry in Greymouth (using the only wireless internet in town at McDonald’s!) it started pouring.

Later that afternoon we went grocery shopping to stock up on food for the next week. Here I am organizing & packing it all:

The next morning the weather cleared just long enough for us to pack up our wet tent. We set off down the west coast and it immediately started to rain. It wasn’t bad at first – just a heavy drizzle – but over the course of two hours it turned into a full blown thunderstorm. We finally decided to stop for the day at only 40km, in Hokitika. We were completely soaked to the bone, starting to get really cold, worried that cars wouldn’t be able to see us on the road, and worried about getting hit by lightning. We also stopped in at the local tourist information site and found out the forecast for the rest of the day predicted severe thunderstorms. As we set up our tent at the local holiday park I realized my hands were so frozen that I couldn’t move them well enough to squeeze open the clasps on our panniers. Everyone knows how much I love to be cold and wet, so you can imagine my mood. (See the About Us section, under “Thing you least look forward to on this trip.”) We ate lunch in the holiday park kitchen, drank a bunch of hot tea, and then the rain stopped. It didn’t rain the rest of the day and the sky even cleared to bright blue. We were both extremely annoyed – we’d just spent the absolute worst part of the day cycling then paid for a camping spot and so couldn’t cycle any further that day. Instead we hung around in the TV lounge and watched an episode of Dr. Phil.

It stormed all night, which means we woke up the next morning and packed up the still wet tent. We continued south against some nasty headwinds but we weren’t too sad because the rain finally stopped and the skies cleared! We stopped for lunch at Bushman’s cafe in the town of Pukekura (population: 2) which was extremely entertaining. We got to see a giant sandfly statue, angry letters to the proprietor from animal rights activists, and Jamie got to sample a possum pie. These pies are, naturally, the reason for the animal rights activist letters.

Getting ready to dig in:

First bite:

Verdict: delicious!

Dad, this one’s for you. The Roadkill Cafe menu:

After 75km we arrived in the very small town of Hari Hari where we decided to stop for the night. Nothing much exciting happened there. Jamie developed a new method for drying the tent out:

We had a beer in the local pub and watched cricket like everyone else was doing. We spent our time speculating what the rules & goals of the game are. We’re still not quite sure how it all works.

Next morning dawned and it was grey and rainy again! We didn’t want to hang around Hari Hari and we’d heard a rumor from another pair of cyclists that the weather would turn even more nasty in the afternoon. So, we packed up camp as fast as possible, ate a cold piece of bread with peanut butter, skipped my precious morning coffee, and took off. It rained non stop for the first 32 km. We took a break for a small snack of trail mix and a quick bowl latte at the only cafe in town then departed to ride the last 32km to Franz Joseph. It rained non stop for the second 32 km too. Aside from the coldness and misery of riding in the rain, it also sucks because you can’t see anything. You squint to see the white line on the side of the road through all the rain and you occasionally look up and see hazy grey mist. The scenic highlights were the many rickety looking one-lane bridges we’d ride over mountain rivers; the water was completely opaque but bright aqua blue – so pretty.

We were also extremely entertained by the unicyclists we saw touring the country! No joke – we passed a group of four men on giant unicycles. They were touring the entire west coast of New Zealand on these extremely uncomfortable looking bikes…I don’t know how they did it. It made what we’re doing look too easy!

We managed to get a few good pictures of them. This guy was a pro!

This guy was a little more wobbly – we were concerned for him on the hills!

Here I am: slightly crazed, riding in the rain, no hands! Impressive, no?

Even the horses were wearing rain jackets:

The ride into Franz Joseph was pretty, even in the rain. We decided to spend the night here & wait for the weather to clear – it is supposed to be better by tomorrow or the next day. We don’t want to miss all the sights on the west coast due to this pesky rain.

Riding into Franz Joseph:

Riding into Franz Joseph: