Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Dash to Mount Cook

The north island was behind me and I managed to board the ferry from Wellington to Picton a couple of days earlier than I'd originally booked.  Just as well, because my buddy Alex, who I was arranging to meet up with, sprang the news on me that he was only available in the first few days of October.  That left me with only a few days to get down to him in Wanaka, which was a tall order.  However, we formulated a plan, whereby I'd meet him a couple of hundred kilometres north of Wanaka in Mount Cook and have a bit of a hike there, and then maybe he could give me a lift in his car to Wanaka with him.

A great plan, but it still left me only 5 days to make it from Picton to Mount Cook Village.  A tough task even on flat ground, let alone going through the mountain passes of New Zealand.

This part of the road along the East coast is currently impassable due to land slips from the recent earthquake.
It turned out that the weather on the crossing over and the northern part of the South Island was terrible on the first day.  It rained heavily all day, and this did not bode well for doing the required miles, not to mention the lack of enjoyment such a day would entail.  With time and weather against me, I decided to hop on the train from Picton to Kaikoura (Kaikoura was at the centre of the recent major earthquake in New Zealand).

There aren't a lot of trains in New Zealand, and the only passenger trains in the South Island are slow moving scenic train journeys.  The weather being so bad, however, there wasn't much to see.

Cycling profile from Kaikoura to Mount Cook Village

After spending the night in Kaikoura, I still had a little over 500Km to do in 4 days, a doddle in Australia, but New Zealand is a different kettle of fish.  Fortunately, much of this distance was across the Canterbury plains in the Christchurch region, the flattest part of New Zealand.  I made good time on the first two days; going from Kaikoura to Christchurch (185Km) on day one, and Christchurch to Geraldine (approx 140km) on day two.  This meant shorter days firstly to Tekapo and then onto Mount Cook, which were both much harder on the legs due to some big climbs.

The east coast was rugged and bleak, but still quite majestic with tall mountains rising sharply out of the ocean and the road winding (thankfully) round them rather than up and down them.  Sheep and cows on the roadside were substituted for seals, some remarkably close to the roads edge, sitting on the rocks.

After passing along the coast, the road turned inland for some hard climbing, but then settled after about 30Km into the Canterbury Plains.  It was then flat and largely featureless, especially in quite cloudy weather, until just after Geraldine.  This section was probably the only featureless part of the whole trip, still, at least my camera was glad of a rest.

I knew the 90Km or so from Geraldine to Tekapo would be a shorter day, but a more arduous one, as there was a reasonable climb to get there.  It was actually quite steady for most of the way, except for the last kilometre, which really tested my legs, heart, and lungs.

Cycling profile from Geraldine to Tekapo.

Because I'd arrived fairly early in the day - at around 2 o'clock - I decided to hike up to Mount John Obervatory, which was about a 300 metre climb from the lakes and then loop down the lakeside back towards my hostel.  The walk took nearly 3 hours, and that pretty much finished me off for the day.  This was first real glimpse of the snow-capped mountains of the South Island and the incredible scenery to come.

At the top of Mount John with Lake Tekapo in the background.

The next day, I had almost exactly 100Km to cycle to get to Mount Cook Village, which sits in the shadow of the highest mountain in New Zealand, for my rendez-vous with my old chum from back home.

It was a really stunning cycle that day, especially the last 50Km after the absurdly blue lake Pukaki.  I sat for a while watching the fog lift and had a cup of coffee near a salmon visitors centre beside the lake.  The parking area was full of Chinese tourists having a rest stop and a photo-op from their coach tours.

The blue waters of Lake Pukaki

I have always found it interesting how men and women react to me when they see me and the bike and what I am doing.  Women typically react in astonishment and concern by saying I am crazy and asking me to take care and be careful on the roads.  Men on the other hand, are usually full of admiration and often ask me about the bike; many often say that they were thinking of doing something similar themselves.

A Chinese man came towards the bike, looking it up and down in curiosity for some few minutes.  It was a bit bizarre he didn't say anything to me, as I was right next to it, in fact he didn't even make eye contact. Perhaps he just didn't speak any English, still, he looked fascinated with it all, and then proceeded to take several pictures of a handsome-looking duck instead of the gorgeous view of the lake as the fog started to lift.

With thanks to Alex for taking this awesome picture of me with Mount Cook in the background.

After a difficult, but scenic 50 more kilometres, I arrived suitably tired in Mount Cook village and decided to take a rest in the afternoon and just wait for Alex to arrive. Never one to be on time, he was typically late, but that was fairly understandable given that he is a good photographer and he obviously spent some time taking a fair amount of pictures on the drive up.

It was good to see a familiar face and the next day's hiking gave me the opportunity to catch-up and to get some much needed photography tips, as well as having a few stunning photos taken of me with the amazing scenery.

Alex in action.

The hike also served-up my first encounter with the friendly and inquisitive Kea, the world's only alpine parrot.  I was to encounter these little rascals on several hikes and bikes through the mountains as I travelled further south.

This little guy posed for the camera a number of times, especially for Alex.  They look wonderful in flight when the fiery red underside of their wings can be seen.

Sometimes you visit a place that is so vast that it is humbling just to be there.  The mountains and valleys in this region definitely had this effect on me, as I reflected on how amazing it was to meet up with an old buddy, in such a spectacular place, on pretty much exactly the other side of the planet from where we last saw each other back home in England.

No comments:

Post a Comment