Thursday, 1 December 2016

Queenstown to Te Anau

When I arrived in Queenstown after my escapades in Glenorchy, my body was shot to pieces.  I arrived in the evening after 6 o'clock and contemplated just doing nothing the next day, but realised I had no food and I was a significant distance away from an affordable supermarket, due to Queenstown's tourist rates, so I had to leave.  Still, I set myself a modest target of only 50Km to a small town called Kingston, where there was a campsite I could pitch my tent.

I set off later than normal and only had about 10Km to go to hit a supermarket so I could get some provisions and a big lunch.  I felt slightly more energised after woofing-down some sushi, a pizza, and some chocolate and decided to check the weather forecast while I waited for my stomach to settle.

I had a problem, I was facing a stiff headwind on that day passing south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, but more worryingly gale force headwinds the day after, and more worryingly still, gale force winds and torrential rain the day after that.  With no hostels between me and Te Anau (about 170Km away), I was torn between two options; have a big day and have about 60Km into the wind the next day, or wait out the bad weather in a campsite, in a small town with little to do, losing a couple of days in the process.  There was no contest really, I had to push through, despite my already tired body.

Into the wind, but at least the road out of Queenstown to Kingston was pretty.

Instead of a gentle 50Km, I pushed 120Km into the wind to get to a campsite in Mossburn.  Because of the winds and the fact I started later than normal, I got there as the sun was setting, one of the latest days cycling of the trip.  I do rather enjoy cycling at sunrise and sunset, however, particularly in areas of few people, it often has a beauty and peace you don't find at other parts of the day.

I met a fellow cycle tourer in the campsite.  He was only doing a circuit around the bottom of the South Island, but had his sights set on much greater things in the future. He was Argentinian and had cycled quite a lot in his own country, but was planning an around the world trip.  He was an interesting guy and we had quite a long chat in the camp kitchen while we were preparing and eating dinner.  This chat ended rather abruptly as 5 Chinese tourists came in and began shouting at each other continuously for about 30 minutes about who knows what.  They then proceeded to shout at each other once I settled-down to sleep, as well as moving their campervans to several different places in order to find the perfect place to park.  The concept of lowering your voice in consideration of others didn't seem to have taken hold in their collective mind.

I slept OK, despite the heated debates over parking, and woke to a magnificent sunrise and a very unique-looking sky.  The reason it was so special, however, was that the wind was blowing.  It was gusting from the west, and guess what direction I was travelling?

The cloud formations in the sky were strange, but beautiful all day due to the high winds.

As any cyclist will tell you, headwinds are our greatest nemesis, I would take steep hills any day.  Headwinds are dispiriting and exhausting for a number of reasons.  Not only is it simply physically harder, but it it crushes you mentally.  Flat, and even downhill sections become drudgery and hard-labour; there is no respite, no crest of a hill to aim for and then relax going down the opposite side.  Getting out of your seat to pump the pedals becomes counter-productive as you just create more wind-resistance.  This in turn makes your butt sore as you stay in the seat for longer.  The wind also can make you cold, and tends to cause your lips to get dry and sore.  Headwinds really cause the perfect storm of suffering on a bike, and when they're gusting, pedaling safely on the road without falling off or veering into traffic becomes another issue.

The 60Km from Mossburn to Te Anau was without doubt the hardest section of the trip. 60Km would normally take me about 3 hours, but instead took nearly seven.  It's not as if I rested much in that time either, as there were no towns or villages to stop at.  On one stretch in particular, where the mountains gave way to a vast plain, I could hardly pedal and the the blustery nature the wind started to make it dangerous, screwing with my balance on the bike.  Completely demoralised, at one stage I wondered whether I'd make it to Te Anau at all because I thought I might have to get off the bike and walk most of the 60Km.  Fortunately, however, as I hit more hills and mountains, I became slightly more sheltered from the worst of the wind.

It was a genuinely hellish day that I was glad to see the back of.  I arrived at the hostel in Te Anau safe in the knowledge I wouldn't be doing anything the next day because of the dismal weather forecast.  Sure enough, the next day it rained all day, so it was worth the effort.  I spent most of this day with my feet up eating chocolate, not feeling in the least bit guilty for doing absolutely nothing and piling in the calories.

I was again to run into Alex, as he was passing through with my thermos flask that I left at his place.  He was on his way to Milford Sound when news came through that the road was closed because of avalanche risk.  It was possibly opening later on in the day, so he came to the hostel I was staying at to put his feet up for a while and get more information.  Luckily for him, the road opened-up later on in the day, after a few planned explosions to set off controlled avalanches so the road was safe.

Te Anau was a pleasant little town, and all in all, I spent more time there than anywhere else on my New Zealand adventure.  It provided a good base for a few things I wanted to get done.  I had 2 main things in mind when I arrived, and that was the Kepler Track (a 60Km Great Walk), and a trip to Milford Sound and a boat cruise or kayak.  I had originally set my mind on kayaking Milford Sound, but then changed my mind as I learned a bit about Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound is perhaps the less spectacular of the two major Sounds in the Fjordland, but it is much bigger and more remote, and therefore sees far less tourists because of it.  I thought this might be a better place for a kayaking trip.

Slightly scuppering my plans all along, though, was the weather.  I needed good weather for two days to make it to Milford Sound and back, and at least reasonably good weather for both Doubtful Sound and the Kepler Track.  I just about nailed it, waiting some days for rain to clear, first up was the Kepler Track, which is the subject of the next blog.

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