Civilized Remoteness

  • Picton to Nelson (By Car)
  • Day 27 Nelson to Tapawera 66 kms 489 m
  • Day 28 Tapawera to Lake Rotoroa 63kms 750 m
  • Day 29 Lake Rotoroa to Murchison 32kms 273 m
  • Day 30 Murchison to Maruia Hot Springs and Spa 93kms 1200m
  • Day 31 Maruia Hot Springs to Reefton 60kms 400m
  • Day 32 Reefton to Greymouth 91kms 525 m
  • Day 33 Greymouth to Hokitika 89 kms 780 m
  • Day 34 Hokitika to Ross 34 kms 65 m
  • Day 35 Ross to Hari Hari 47 kms 350 m
  • Day 36 Hari Hari to Franz Josef 66kms 530 m
  • Day 37 Franz Josef to Bruce Bay 71kms 780 m
  • Day 38 Bruce Bay to Haast 76 kms 654 m
  • Day 39 Haast to Makaroa 79 kms 1052 m
  • Day 40 Makaroa to Wanaka 75 kms 700m
  • TOTAL SO FAR 2534 kms 23,324 m

Nelson is inaccessible by bike until mid December. A rain event washed out the trail AND the only highway. The workaround highway is jammed with cars and massive trucks. We rented a car at the ferry terminal and drove through the vineyards of our favorite Marlborough wines. We only stopped at Rimapere, but found they had not yet opened their tasting room. But in typical New Zealand fashion, the staff gave us a tour of the vines and a free tasting of their Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Sadly, they could not sell us any as they weren’t “open” yet.

We were lucky to enjoy a couple of days with good friends Kate and Stephen and kids Alice and William. They moved to Nelson from Canada 7 years ago mainly because, as Stephen describes, “It’s the most remote, civilized country in the world”. Civilized remoteness. That’s it. That’s what describes a lot of what we’ve been feeling here. Everything feels so remote, but with no predatory animals or plants harmful to us humans, it is so….civilized. Grocery stores and cafes are abundant (when not randomly closed) and still so ….remote.

There is a lot to like about Nelson and the South Island. Just ask William who is a competitive mountain biker, a windsurfer, a free diver, a fisherman and a hunter. Or Alice when, with guitar in hand, she gazes out the window at the amazing seascape and offers, “You kind of get use to it, but it is a pretty special place”. We had such a wonderful time. A trip highlight for sure. What a beautiful home, great hospitality and wonderful visit. Gear Guy, “We should just stay. I could learn about chickens and sheep and stuff.”

Our bikes got a rebuild from The Bike Station – full drive train and brake pads. Gear Guy can’t say enough good things about the Bike Station in Nelson. Not only did they have the expertise, they also had a fully stocked inventory of high end parts and gear. The Aotearoa ride is wonderful but hard on equipment. We attribute the worn out drive trains to the huge amount of single track we did as well as the considerable grade on many rides. For Fernieites, it was sort of like riding on Ridgemont trails for days on a fully packed gravel bike.

Gear guy is enamored with Nelson. Not only because of the multitude of activities available including mountain biking, gravel biking, hiking, kiting, windsurfing, swimming…but because of the impressive bike and gear shops. One of the shops appropriately called “the Gear Shop” offered all the same brands we’ve come to know and love. And like the Bike Station, well stocked with inventory. We picked up several little things (that will stuff into our packs), but the highlight is the spatula. A $10 tiny spatula that will flip our fish filets and omelettes like nobody’s business. Although somewhat expensive, I was reminded – “Good gear is priceless.”

Dragged Jay out of Nelson to head south down the West Coast. We met two Kiwi ladies, Annette and Moira who have cycled most of New Zealand over the years and were currently touring the Nelson area. They sheepishly added “E Boiks, for the first time”. Their tire went flat while we were at the motel in Tapawera and they were confident they would fix it. We checked on them after our dinner and Gear Guy was indispensable in fixing it. “We would have figured it out – would have just taken more time.”

Kiwi Tough – Annette and Moira
Continental Breakfast – some are better than others

We stayed at a Backpackers in Lake Rotoroa hosted by Louise and Tony. “Pensioners”, they described themselves. But it would be hard to keep up with Louise. Louise ran the backpackers and had made us a huge delicious breakfast, was doing laundry, delivered a caged possum to a neighbour “to take care of” and was out walking our bike trail. All ahead of us leaving. A bit like trying to keep up with our local legend Linda S. Tony offered up some great fact and folklore of the area. It included a drunk fisherman who fell off his boat and was never seen again. Divers were called in to search for his body and did not find it but refused to go back in the lake. “Why?” The simpleton tourist in me asked. “Not sures, may have been the eels.” Down to the lake we went and watched the local kids jump in and swim around. “Of course they bites. It can hurt. But they usually prefer tourists”. Ahh. Kiwi humour. I skipped the swim.

There was only one accommodation near our next destination – an upscale hot springs spa and it was 14kms out of the way – each way. I don’t typically do “out of the way” (except to Jay’s cousin “Yukon’s” place). No matter, the spa was just what we needed following a longer than expected into the wind ride. Outdoor natural hot pools with hot circulating water, a lovely restaurant, a yoga class and a massage. It’s not all tough.

We now crossed into the West Coast – a unique part of New Zealand – squished against the Tasman Sea by the Southern Alps. Known for spectacular coast line. And rain. Lots of rain. The only benefit of the rain is the endless spectacular rainforest that we biked through. The people of the West Coast are unique – laid back, friendly and speaking a foreign English language. Think Newfie in Kiwi.

We take every route we can to avoid the milk hauling double tankers and other highway traffic. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is a Great Ride we are glad we did not miss – it crossed our minds due to the extra 50kms, elevation and single track! What a spectacular ride. Rest stops can be tricky as another thing the West Coast is known for is sandflies – voracious – vicious – just like our Canadian blackflies. They seem to have an affinity to me. I have been missing Terese who is usually the target.

Everywhere we ride we see “poison” signs on the side of road. This is the country’s attempt to eradicate pests by 2050. Pests are any non-domesticated mammal that did not exist when humans arrived – which is everything but the brown bat. Rats, stoats, possums, hedgehogs and rabbits are the main targets of the program. Our statistical survey of road kill would indicate that the possum is the largest problem. The very same endemic possum that is endangered and protected in Australia. In New Zealand there are no predators and they are rampant and impacting the native bird population. There are a lot of merino / possum garments available here!

Our next stretch took us on a State Highway (6) for 6 days, leading us through the glaciers. There is no other way. Helicopter. That’s a way. But it’s a bike trip.

Summer is arriving in New Zealand – evident not by the weather but by the heaps of rental motor homes now on the road. But in fact, the highway gets a “not terrible” rating from us because most of the many bridges are one lane in width – slowing all traffic down but especially nervous motor home drivers. There was no paved shoulder, but plenty of grass that we used for the occasional truck. Gotta love those 2 inch tires of ours. We also adopted an 8 am departure schedule; which did not get immediate cheery acceptance by all members of the team. But it was apparent that motor home driving tourists also prefer to sleep in. That and the regular wind and rain squalls seem to occur more frequently in the afternoon. So, early departure it is. We’ve been wet and we’ve been dry. Dry is better.

After taking the obligatory photos of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers we were chatting with locals who told us they were going to Haast specifically for the best venison burger “in the World”. Skeptical but curious, we pulled into Haast anxious to try the local cuisine. The Hard Antler Bar and Grill, as you might expect, is a classic Kiwi bar complete with pool tables, dart boards, dead animals…and 70’s disco balls that light up the surrounding carcasses. But the decor was surpassed only by the awesomeness of the Classic Hard Antler Venison Burgers. If you are ever near Haast, you must, you must, have one of these as they may actually meet the claim of the locals.

The Haast Pass is one of the three routes to get from the west side to the east side of the South Island. The west side, as I may have mentioned is notoriously known for being wet. The annual average of rain on the west side is 2,640 mm. The east side by comparison gets an annual average of about 300 mm. And the west side has swarms of sand flies while the east side, none. So you might ask, “Why in the world would you cycle down the west side?” Well, because it’s beautiful and the trails are spectacular. But you pay a price. And we paid it in spades on the Haast Pass. Wet, cold, windy and steep with 13% grades. We were astonished to find a rest site with a shelter to change wet cycling clothes and warm up with soup. But whatever goes up must come down and the road down was wonderfully less wet to our stop for the night, a Tee Pee. Still, no tent.

Wanaka – the Canmore to Queenstown. Perfect town for a 2 day rest after a 10 day cycle streak. Especially perfect given the forecasted heavy rain materialized for most of our 2 days there. Airbnb house kept us dry and warm – a tent would not have been fun. In the home stretch of the southern tip!

Kiwi Tough (in the background)
#That Wanaka Tree – famous for being famous.

9 thoughts on “Civilized Remoteness

  1. Sharon Lowdon

    What a fabulous trip to see all the diverse parts of NZ.What a shame about the weather,still not much to be done about that.Following with great interest!


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