Friday, 6 January 2017

The Haast Pass

One of the disadvantages of pristine wilderness and lots of mountains, is that the South Island of New Zealand is not served very well by a lot of roads.  For this reason, my trip to the fjordlands meant that I would have to double-back on myself and retrace my steps all the way back to Wanaka before I could find a new route back up the South Island again (over 400Km of doubling-back from Milford Sound).

Te Anau to Wanaka, via Cromwell.

The winds really weren't kind to me, both on the way into the fjordlands and also back out.  I had to cope with a northerly headwind for most of the journey back to Wanaka over two days.  I took a slightly different route on the way back, avoiding a second trip over the Crown Range road (the highest sealed road in New Zealand).  Not only did I fancy going somewhere different, but the road was steeper from Queenstown to Wanaka, and busier, with narrow switchbacks making it rather hazardous.

My new route doubled the distance, but was much steadier via Cromwell through the Kawarau Gorge.  Gorges always make me nervous because some of my steepest climbs and most hair-raising descents have been on gorge roads.  However, this time it wasn't too bad.

Two big days from Te Anau to Wanaka, and with slightly dodgy weather again the next day, I decided to take a rest and stock up on food and get ready for a potentially tough 145Km to Haast going through the Haast pass.  I had heard it would be a difficult but very picturesque cycle.

It turned out to be my favourite day of cycling on the trip.  The few kilometres prior to the Haast pass were tough, but generally the road was testing enough, but also really distracting.

Wanaka to Haast route and profile.

It started-off passing alongside Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka, on an entertainingly undulating road, before steadily climbing through the mountains.

Misty mountains

The weather was worse than I expected, with lots of rain, but strangely it didn't dampen my spirits and, as so often happens, the rain actually brought the countryside alive. There was a beautiful mist on the mountains, rainbows formed, and temporary waterfalls flowed.  After the Haast pass, at roughly 565m high, the road was mostly very gently downhill with towering mountains and vast river deltas all around.  This made for easy and enjoyable cycling to a truly wondrous backdrop.

I bumped into some fellow cycle tourers, both from France, who were travelling in the opposite direction.  I stopped and had a short chat, but couldn't hang around for long as my old nemesis, the sandflies, were out in full force yet again  Before I could string a couple of sentences together, they had already bitten my legs four or five times.

Some beautiful sights just off the roadside.

I stopped regularly to do short walks to waterfalls, valleys, and lookouts that started on the roadside.  This probably helped to break up the day and keep me enthusiastic on the bike.  I had set off at 6.30am and arrived in Haast at 7pm, so it was a long day, but a really spectacular and rewarding one.

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