Overnight rain had passed through and after a good sleep it was a leisurely start to Friday. With a large civilised breakfast around a table, it was after eight o’clock before Oliver and I pedaled out of Tapawera. Before long we were riding through more boring plantation forest, cresting the hill and rolling down to Wakefield – at least we found a lot of ripe blackberries on the roadside. With a day and a half to do only 240 km, we were taking plenty of stops. It warmed up some and as we came to cross the main road we got stopped in our tracks by a large procession of hot rods – it was Waitangi Day (NZ’s national day) so a lot of people were out and about.
Thankfully the store was open late morning on a public holiday, so it was a stock up for lunch and my seventh and last pie in five days. The large bag of salt & vinegar crisps I bought required some creative stowing – eventually they ended up stuffed down my shirt; ready access – brilliant. I had hoped the Taste (cycle) Trail into Nelson would provide plenty of opportunities to sample local food and wines – disappointingly, it didn’t. In fact it was quite boring; but it was flat, smooth and fast and we were in Nelson to have a brief rest beside a small river in the shade. That break was supposed to be lunch, but we’d eaten too much in Wakefield.
Somewhere along the way we’d got to deciding that it would be cool to finish the course in less than seven days – that would mean being back in Blenheim by ten o’clock Saturday morning. Instead of camping the night at Aussie Bay along Queen Charlotte Drive, we would instead get to Picton that night and see if we wanted to go much further. If Picton was the overnight stop, that would only leave sixty-five kilometres and about four hours’ riding the next morning. I was starting to get a bit bored with the scenery so was wondering if I might be able to push through the night to finish – also pitching a tent for only few hours seemed a waste of riding time.
Leaving Nelson up the Maitai Valley was all very pleasant as we passed some big parks with plenty of people out enjoying the warm weather. Fortuitously, as we hit a nasty nasty climb the clouds started to roll in from the west and it wasn’t nearly as hot and uncomfortable as it could have been. The ascent of the Maungatapu was more than enough unpleasantness without sweltering in harsh sunlight. Once again, as on Day Five, it took two hours to go ten kilometres – but this time there was a unrelenting six hundred metres of vertical gain to also be earned. This was mostly pushing, but at least a higher proportion was rideable (just) than Porika Road the day before.
The only photo of the day – looking back towards Nelson from the saddle.
With not too much cursing, we attained the saddle to see the only person for hours, a young guy wandering around with a rifle – brilliant. After a brief chat it was a fast, fun & rocky descent to Pelorus Bridge. Just as we popped into the DOC campsite office to fill water bottles, the big cloud that had been chasing us since Nelson unrelentingly dumped rain as we sheltered near the cafe. Thankful to have avoided that, we waited it out and hit the highway to Havelock. We’d both been craving hot chips for a while, so finding the grocery store closed we headed to a chippie and stocked up on delicious chips.
Out of Havelock was the most tired I felt all day, I struggled along for half an hour or so until we left Pelorus Sound. Reaching the very top of Queen Charlotte Sound, near The Grove jetty, was the dead-cert highlight of the day – and easily the wildlife viewing moment of the week. Initially we rode past a bunch of tourists stopped on the side of the road, as tourist are want to do, before thinking there might be something to see. There definitely was – in the low light of the evening one could just make out a faint disturbance in the water’s surface between some boats anchored fifty metres off shore.
Gradually, a large pod of quite sizeable dolphins came towards us spending more and more time above the water. They came in quite close to the jetty and as they kept going in & out of the water it was difficult to work out how many there were – I think about fifteen. It was one of those majestic memories that will have to stay in my mind as my camera was buried deep due to the heavy shower earlier. The rest of the day seemed quite boring in comparison.
It was only another fifteen-odd kilometres to Picton around the edge of the sound as night closed in and we tried our best to not be hit by slow-driving tourists. We’d decided to keep going & see how far we might make it – if too tired, we’d simply camp somewhere. Thus Picton was our last chance to stock up for the night-ride ahead; after finding the only eating places in town open were bars and restaurants we went towards the main ferry terminal – I’ve never been so happy to see a Subway open. Foot-longs devoured it was about ten o’clock before we left Picton for the last sixty-five kilometres to Blenheim via Port Underwood and the coastal road.
I’d been well warned that this was a rather hilly route and would take hours – also, Oliver had toured it not so long ago. It persistently rained upon leaving Picton for about ninety minutes – until the top of the biggest remaining climb (crossing from Waikawa to Port Underwood). We managed to grind out all the climbing, the quick downhills were freezing in night and the about twenty-five kilometres of gravel road was in pretty poor condition. With quite a few stops to snack, put on a layer or take layers off (it was quite warm going up the hills) I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to keep pushing the pedals around, however slowly, as it was soon the early hours of Saturday morning. It’s nice to do something completely mad every so often.
Finally we were out of the hills after forty kilometres that took over four hours (that is proper slow on the road) – it was probably good that darkness concealed all but what was immediately in front of us. I couldn’t see how big the looming hills were or just how awful the road surface was. On the plains back to Blenheim the sky finally cleared and as the roads were straight and progress was much easier, Oliver started to get a bit sleepy – understandable as it was about three o’clock by this stage.
Eventually, we were back in Seymour Square in Blenheim at 3.40 to absolutely no fanfare – as you’d expect, there wasn’t even a passerby or stray dog to witness our achievement at this time of the day. So that was that – 1150 km around the upper South Island in seven days less four hours. Naturally I was pleased to finish and with the achievement; dog-tired, I was almost just as pleased at how well we’d come through what turned out to be a twenty-hour day to cover 240 km with one bloody big hill in the middle and then multiple smaller steep climbs in the dead of the night. What a great event and I got to see so many new things!
Back to Doug & Shirley’s I found we’d been locked out, so had to pitch my tent anyway. With a few solid hours kip on the lawn, we were up in time to make it to a fun nine o’clock breakfast sharing campaign stories with a few of those riders we’d seen quite a bit of the previous days and who’d finished at a sensible hour the evening before.
I had enough time the following day before catching the ferry from Picton to Wellington to drive the rugged Port Underwood road in the daylight and appreciate the views we missed at night and see just how big the hills were. I’m not sure how we made it through in the dark – probably not being to see the challenges helped. It was hard enough to drive in a 4WD! At times the road was so steep and corrugated that the rear tyres would not grip and I had to put the truck into 4WD. Goodness knows what we were thinking riding through that after already having spent fifteen hours riding that day!
Picton was looking much nicer in the sunshine too:
I suspect this Chevy is carrying one of the Model Ts that was in Blackball just before us a few days previously.