One can’t complain too much when you wake up in the wilderness with views like this:
I had a leisurely start to the day & managed to eat the rest of my dinner that I couldn’t the night before. The other two were off well before me, so I spent most of the morning riding solo. Back on the route, it was soon the turn off to the St James Cycleway – part of the NZ Cycle Trail. I’ve ridden a few of the easier trails that are part of the network further south recently, but this was a whole different level and was actually mountain-biking – it was incredible.
First up it was a decent 250 m climb on 4WD track up to Maling Pass, at just over 1300 m. The views looking down into the Waiau were more than worth it, and the very fun fast rocky descent to the valley floor was excellent.
From Maling Pass looking down to the Waiau.
This was definitely an intermediate grade trail down the valley – a lot of fun, but at times quite hard work with a loaded bike. Sometimes it was just following small paths across the grass on the river plains, at other times the purpose built trail had to climb a bit away from the valley floor – some of the pitches were so steep they required walking. At one stage the river valley narrowed to a steep-sided rocky gorge – so there were some wire swing bridges to cross, not always the easiest with a heavy bike and certain peril staring you in the face.
Most of the way down the valley, an ominous black cloud had been chasing me – thankfully it never broke completely, but the light rain that fell had a nice cooling effect as the day warmed up. It started to get pretty hot, & I made a point of drinking a lot – but still struggled to fight off a little nausea. After quite some time I finally caught up to some other riders – I think they’d had a much earlier start than I did. Turning east it was up over Charlies Saddle (more pushing) to go east up the Edwards River valley. That was manageable, but climbing out of that to Peters Pass was a solid fifteen minute push at gradients over twenty percent – hard work & I was starting to get a little fed up. At least there were a few other people around – some struggling like me, others depressingly riding a lot of it.
At the top of that climb the pass turned to an easy grade trail down to the St James Homestead. I cruised down that, wondering how much longer I would be able to go on, as the others all took off for Hamner Springs – which I was very much looking forward to seeing. The trail at ended at the homestead – it would be great to do it one day on an unloaded trail bike. Jacks Pass was a bit of a non-event, much to my relief, before a screaming 500 m drop down into the hot spring resort town of Hamner – it was nice to see civilisation again. I was so exhausted I spent about half an hour lying on the grass in the shade of big trees in the centre of town as the drizzle continued to fall. Back in phone coverage, I was able to pick up a couple of short encouraging messages that had been left, which did untold wonders for my spirits and determination to finish – I made a deal with myself that I’d complete this day & the next before making any rash decisions like pulling out or changing to the Brevette (which plenty of people had been doing).
With a bit of food, here I discovered the brilliance of salt & vinegar crisps (they’ve always been my favourite – but there restorative properties, mainly helping with salt levels, were new to me), and after a good rest I was ready for the fifty comparatively easy kilometres on highway to Hurunui. I took it easy, but being on the road my speed was well above the average for the rest of the day. At Culverden I came across a small group just setting off again after a coffee stop. Somehow I managed to hold on to the back of that group as Dan set off at quite some pace for the last fifteen kilometres to Hurunui (where I had planned to get to that night, at least). We stopped for a swim in the Huruni River and enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon. With some good company, a swim and then the pub stop my Kiwi Brevet was back on track and saved – I was a happy camper again.