Tour Aotearoa – My Day Fifteen – Pine Grove to Wanaka

Steeling myself for another long day of quiet West Coast highway, it was about five minutes down the road in the dark before it started dumping rain again. But as it got light, the eventually rain scarpered and was not seen again in force for rest of my Tour – huzzah! I’d timed my start and ride well to arrive at the salmon farm cafe for the supposed opening time of eight o’clock – the first opportunity for some decent food that day. Alas, it was a bit of a wait around and the six or so others from Pine Grove duly arrived. I was still there at nine, everyone else except Brett from Tauranga having left – I was happy to wait for the first full English breakfast of the South Island. I was feeling a bit deprived of decent breakfasts.

It was good to have someone else to ride with after the solo, rainy efforts of the last few hundred kilometres. As I grew up near where Brett lives, there was plenty besides bikes & Tour to talk of. We made it back to the coast and climbed up to the next checkpoint.

Knight’s Lookout – it was now a lovely day, although the sandflies came out to feast.

Flying downhill we were back next to the beach battling a strong onshore wind. As always, my slight frame left me at a disadvantage compared to other bigger riders. I think Brett did quite a bit of the leading, not that it mattered with a crosswind. Progress at times slowed drastically, but it wasn’t all bad news – I was pretty sure this wind would help us up the Haast river valley and over the pass. Just as we came into Haast Township we had my closest near-miss with traffic for the whole trip – feeling like we almost got sideswiped by a tour bus. But the crazy wind may have made it seem worse than it was.

First-lunch was in Haast, then as I was about to depart I realised I’d not eaten enough, so stopped to buy second-lunch too. Progress had been good for me, about ninety kilometres by midday – there was a chance I could get to Wanaka and keep the hope of a Thursday finish alive. I’d been right about the wind, we had a big tailwind up the Haast valley – it was tremendous. Fifty kilometres was very flat, only gaining a hundred metres – Mark from Waihi caught up to me and we made good time in very nice conditions. There were so many great waterfalls to spy – so much easier to do so from a bike. Spotting waterfalls was almost as easy as playing spot the rental vehicle – that is, very easy when over half the vehicles are either campervans, or hired Toyota Corollas and RAV4s.

As the valley and highway turned south a few of us congregated to eat and chat before the climbing started in earnest. I’d driven this road shortly before my move north last winter, so had a fair idea of what was coming.

Heading for Haast Pass.

Looking back down the Haast valley.

Crossing the Haast River, the climbing begins in earnest shortly after.

At least the climb is shorter than one expects, which is just as well as it climbs over three hundred metres in less than four kilometres. The steepest kilometre, having a gradient of over twenty percent, is near crossing the thundering river at the Gates of Haast. There’s a brief respite before the final kick up to the pass and then all of a sudden one has left the West Coast. The transformation is swift and quite incredible – instead of swollen with raging water, all the creek beds are bone dry.

We followed the Makarora River down to the township for more food – the strong wind at our back helping appreciably.

Approaching the head of Lake Wanaka – great to be back around the southern lakes.

There’s a slight climb over The Neck between Lakes Wanaka and Hawea – but I didn’t mind because I knew the view would be grand as the sun sunk on a stunning day.

As so often on this Tour, any discomfort was easily overridden by all we were experiencing – views like this certainly helped.

Down the western shore of Hawea would have been nice as a flattish ride, but it’s not that sort of terrain – there were a few good sharp climbs before we finally rolled into Hawea. Mark, Brett and the rest of their group were staying in Hawea the night, the good company was appealing but I thought I still had a bit more left. How this was the case is a testament to improving stamina thanks to the tour – I’d already done over two hundred kilometres and a few decent hills for the day.

Looking back up Lake Hawea as the sun begins to set on another great day’s riding.

I knew the cycle trail to Wanaka well enough and thought I could get to the supermarket before it closed at nine – necessary as the batteries in my SPOT tracker had died somewhere over the pass. The trail whizzed by as I put in more effort than I should have. The multitudes of wild rabbits scurried out of the way – it always disturbs me to see how many of these pests are around Otago. Past Albertown and around the headland I was in town in time to stock up and grab a huge burger and chips from Red Star – tremendous. While I waited for that to cook there was enough time to get organised and reflect on another big day; the end of the adventure was getting disturbingly close, but it was still so fantastic, rewarding and exciting. Still well pleased to be fortunate to be out on a bike seeing so much, I slept very well that night.

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