Today Sarah and I reached the literal high-point of our trip. We crossed the Crown Range on New Zealand’s highest paved road at 1076 meters.
The climb up was definitely the toughest we have done so far. Here is Sarah’s description of her experience:
We were ready for an 80 km day - 40 to the top of NZ’s highest paved road, then another 40 down. The first 30 km was an easy gradual climb. I was barely tired, which made me very nervous. I knew we’d have to climb all those record breaking meters soon. At 35 km the real hills began and the hot sun decided to come out from behind the clouds. I dislike hills + hot sun almost as much as I hate cold + wet weather! I struggled along in my granny gear for a few kilometers then decided to stop for a rest & drink. Jamie continued on ahead calling out “let’s keep going until we find some shade!” I knew this was wishful thinking - there were no trees, it was noon, he was dreaming.
After my rest & water I felt much better so I continued struggling along up the hill. I had to stand up (still in my granny gear, by the way) and grind on my pedals to get up one particularly steep curve. This extra exertion apparently did me in. About 500 feet of this and I had to flop off my bike again, panting like crazy. But this time I didn’t get my breath back after stopping - I just stood there panting and feeling miserable. Then my face got all numb and I almost passed out on the side of the road. Then I threw up my water. It was a quite a scene! After a few minutes of additional panting, I started pushing my bike up the rest of the hill. I pushed for about 20 minutes and enjoyed the faces of passing motorists. Usually on tough hills we get lots of thumbs ups and friendly honks. Not so when you’re pushing your bike. Instead I was treated to many slow shakes of the head & sad smiles, which I loosely interpret as “You poor bastard. What on earth were you thinking?”
Jamie came back looking for me on foot after he reached the summit, so he was able to join me for the last few meters. He even gallantly pushed my bike for me, but not before taking this lovely snapshot. I was yelling something like “Jamie, ONE is enough” right as he took this.
The climb started in Wanaka, one of the prettiest towns we have traveled through so far. We liked it there so much we stayed for three nights resting for the climb. Here is the sunset over the mountains and lake the night before we left.
The terrain of the climb was very strange. Lots of rounded peaks with grass and shrubs growing. The shrubs gave the hills a weird texture, making them loop like leopard print. Here are some images from the ascent.
From the top we could see Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and our upcoming descent.
The descent was not fun. It was too steep and curvy for our tastes. Our ascent was 40km and the descent lost all that elevation in only 12km! It looked like a great road to climb up though. There was one section with steep switchbacks, a single lane, and beautiful views that looked like it was right out of the Tour de France.
We finally made it to the valley floor and tried to take a back road into Queenstown. After we had cycled 5km down it, we saw a sign saying it was closed ahead, so we decided to backtrack to the main route instead of risking getting lost. Sarah was worn out from her efforts on the climb (two mountain passes in one week!) at this point and was not happy.
As we neared Queenstown, traffic was pretty heavy and it was getting really windy, which didn’t make cycling very much fun. We did get our first view of the Remarkables mountain range which Queenstown is so famous for though.
We pulled into a holiday park on the edge of town and hung out in the kitchen all night eavesdropping on a pathological liar who was telling a fellow hiker of his multiple 100ft falls from mountain cliffs without injury. After such a fall, he would just find the nearest cold mountain stream and let its waters “heal” him. Yeah right! Welcome to Queenstown.