A tale of five lakes!

25 January 2020

Sunday 19 January 20 – Te Anau to Mavora Lakes – 68km

Though it is a bit touristy we really liked Te Anau.  It’s a lovely place with spectacular scenery and nice people. There’s plenty more to do in the area, especially multi-day trekking in the fantastic mountains, so if we come back we plan to bringing hiking (known as ‘tramping’ to the Kiwis) boots!

As we didn’t have a particularly long cycling day we weren’t up super early, but still managed to get on the road by 8:15am. We had to back-track along the road we’d taken into town for 35km before turning off to the north. About 5km from the turn off I had another puncture – the second one in a few days. I’ve always sworn by Schwalbe Maraton Plus touring tyres, but my latest rear tyre isn’t as good as any of the others I’ve put on either of our bikes. We noticed in Australia that mine was wearing really quickly compared to Martina’s. Our friend SK in Singapore had mentioned other cyclists complaining about poor quality of those made in a factory in Taiwan compared to the European ones made in Germany. Perhaps I got one of the crap ones? Anyway I think that the one on the rear of my bike has been rubbing the inner tube and it keeps wearing through causing a puncture. Luckily we both carry a spare folding tyre and new inner tube, so I completely changed my rear tyre at the side of the road to this new combination and got underway again.

Once again we met the French cyclists, who were riding out of Te Anau at the same time – they did at least acknowledge us this time and told us they were also heading to Mavora Lakes. I feel that we’re going to keep bumping into them along this route! We also saw another couple arrive at the lakes a bit later so it could become crowded…we’ve now seen more cyclists in New Zealand than in the whole 21 months of the rest of our journey put together!

The rest of the day was on a gravel road – not our normal choice, but by taking this road north and again tomorrow we stay off the main road and get to Queenstown a day early. There was a gradual climb throughout the day, but nothing too bad and the gravel road was manageable. On our way we passed an Orc Mound, a film location on Lord of the Rings (LOTR on Google Maps), which was just a lumpy piece of ground and some trees. A little later we passed another LOTR location which apparently was the junction of the Silverlode and Anduin Rivers – means nothing to us, but I’m sure that there are LOTR enthusiasts out there that come all this way to take pictures. Seeing these locations did of course mean that I could use every opportunity to become Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s loyal companion, as he must have come from the south west of England with an accent like his! Quotes such as “look Mr Frodo, Orcs!” have now become stock phrases in thelifecyclers camp!  I’m sure this isn’t the last time we will be visiting a LOTR site.

Our destination was a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite in a wilderness location on the side of Mavora South Lake. We paid our fees and within minutes found a perfect spot right on the lake. We could have ventured further to the main campsite, but this seemed an ideal spot with no one else around. Once we’d set up our tent, had a snooze, made dinner and sandwiches for tomorrow we sat by the lake for a while just watching the waves – very therapeutic!

A note on the wildlife: it’s hard not to notice all the flora and fauna here that we also get at home (in Europe). Thistles, oxeye daisies, lupins, blackbirds, thrushes, gold finches, skylarks, etc, etc, the list goes on and on. Apparently these were all imported by Europeans who wanted this land to look and feel a bit more like home, so when we keep saying it feels like England or Ireland this probably has quite a bit to do with it. Europeans also imported rabbits, probably for food, but they became pests (as they are at home) eating the farmers’ crops, so in order to keep the rabbit population down, stoats, weasels and ferrets were brought in. Unfortunately New Zealand has (or had in some cases) a number of flightless birds, of which the Kiwi, their national bird, and the Takahe, which we saw yesterday, are two. These birds had migrated here from Australia a few tens of thousands of years ago and because there were no natural ground-based predators at the time, the birds flourished on the ground and stopped using their wings. Fast-forward to the present day and the poor flightless birds that move much slower than rabbits have been decimated by the stoats etc. But it wasn’t just the Europeans that caused this to happen – when the Maoris arrived 3,500 years ago they brought dogs, which hunted some species to extinction, and they also brought rats.

New Zealand has its own fly issue with the sandfly, which we met by the hundreds as we were getting into our tent tonight. Though there aren’t as many as we encountered in Australia they bite and unfortunately we’d run out of fly repellent, so we just dived into bed. Rather stupidly we left our rubbish bag out overnight and twice whilst we were sleeping we were disturbed by something snuffling around ripping it open. I tried to see what it was and to scare it away, but I didn’t want to venture outside as I could hear the buzz of a thousand sandflies waiting to attack!

Monday 20 January 20 – Mavora Lakes to Walter Peak (and ferry to Queenstown) – 58km

The topography on the map for the route we were taking today suggested that the scenery would be spectacular – and it didn’t disappoint. We were up and out to the cries of “Look Mr Frodo, Orcs!” and onto a steady climb through thick fog. At this point we though that perhaps we’d started out too early, but even at 8am there were signs that it was burning off…….

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like using the word ‘awesome’ as it’s overused – I’m sorry but a bagel is not awesome.  However, the enormous scenery around us was just awesome! We continued climbing slowly, but our progress was slowed by having to cross a couple of rivers (getting wet feet in the process)…

…and because we were taking a gazillion photos. Every five minutes there was another epic vista in front of us that require a stop, gawp and photo session…

Another one…

And another one (spot a tiny Martina to the right to get a sense of size)…

And finally, this one…

Our French counterparts passed us just after the halfway mark and then we were on our own again right down to Lake Wakatipu, where Queenstown is located…

We made it to Walter Peak fifteen minutes before the next ferry departure, so Martina raced to get tickets and then we boarded the TSS Earnshaw (Tourist Steam Ship – and yes, it’s still powered by steam!) and made the 45-minute crossing into Queenstown…

For me this was one of the best riding days we’ve ever had.  Absolutely epic! Thank you Rhys and Jen in Christchurch for suggesting this route.

About 10 minutes before arriving at the ferry we passed the French couple yet again as they’d both had punctures and we’d caught them up (they’d had four that day already before we passed them). But they still made it to the ferry in time.  We also saw them again later in Queenstown, but it looks like our paths are going in different directions at this point as they are off to Christchurch after Queenstown, whereas we head towards the west coast.

We found our digs, a cabin in a campsite just out of town, settled in and headed into the centre to look at Lake Wakatipu and have dinner out  to top off a very special day!

Tuesday 21 January 20 – Queenstown – 0km

We’d come to Queenstown with fairly low expectations as we’d been told that ‘it’s a young persons place’ and that we wouldn’t like it because it’s full of backpackers wanting to indulge in beer and adrenaline-fuelled activities (we have nothing against either I hasten to add). I came here 20 years ago on a kayaking trip and may well have been one of those people indulging in beer and adrenaline sports, but now I’m just a touring cyclist! It turns out that Queenstown has grown a lot since I was last here and actually it’s quite a nice town. Yes, there’s a few not-so-nice bits (such as our campsite!), but in general it has a feel of a ski resort to it and is no worse than any other holiday resort. It’s situated right on the northern banks of Wakatipu Lake and has enormous mountains surrounding it, which makes for a fabulous backdrop regardless of what you think of the town.

Yes, we could have gone jet boating, skydiving, whitewater rafting, the list goes on, but in the end we opted for what we thought was more ‘us’ – a walk up Queenstown Hill! Turns out that this was actually a steep 500m+ climb straight out of town and quite tough work! We were glad that we were there in the morning because it was cooler and there were only a few other people around. We passed the ‘Basket of Dreams’ sculpture…

….and carried on to the top where there were fantastic 360 degree views…

We stayed up there for at least and hour and for much of that time we were the only ones there, which was great. On the way back down there was a steady stream of people going up, so we were really glad that we went when we did. Martina wanted to walk more and set off around a loop track whilst I went into town for a coffee and to people watch (it was top sport!). The loop track didn’t amount to much and Martina joined me soon after and we hung out in the middle of town until the early afternoon. We stocked up with food on the way home, had a snooze, ate dinner and watch another episode of House of Cards before an early night.

After Queenstown we’d initially planned to go up to Lake Pukaki to get a glimpse of Mount Cook, before going to the west coast.  But this would mean back-tracking our route for a couple of days, which we aren’t  that keen to do. So, we have decided to head straight over to the west coast now rather than in 5 days time.  This should also free up time towards the end of our overall time in New Zealand.

Wednesday 22 January 20 – Queenstown to Bendigo – 85km

There was a bit of a tough climb out of Queenstown, but the scenery continued to be fantastic so the grunt was definitely worth it! We’d been told that Arrowtown, 20km northeast of Queenstown, was worth visiting, so we decided to head that way first. It turns out that it is the site of an old gold mining town and has retained a lot of its old 1800s buildings…

Gold was discovered in the mid-1800s and as with other gold rushes it drew people from all over the world looking for their fortunes. Amongst those that made the journey were some Chinese who built their own settlement on the edge of the town. Some of their very basic houses have been restored so we went for a look around the old historic village…

All we can say is that it must have been very cold and miserable here during the winter, and as the Chinese were not very well treated by the locals it was probably a very difficult existence. As well as finding the Chinese heritage village interesting we also really liked the town itself, and had it been a bit further away from Queenstown we might have stayed overnight.

About another 10km down the road we met David, another cyclist from the U.K., who we stopped and had a chat with for 15 minutes. He’d travelled from the most northern point of North Island and had another few days to go to Christchurch before going home. It was really nice to meet him and a bit of a shame that it was just at the side of the road and not in a campsite as we definitely had lots to talk about!

We turned north to follow the Kawaru River and about 10km down the road we came to a suspension bridge which is the site of AJ Hacket’s bungy jumping business. AJ Hacket is credited with being the person who brought bungy jumping to the world after throwing himself off just about all the bridges in New Zealand in the 1980s. In 1987 as part of a publicity stunt to globalise the “sport” he also bungied off the Eiffel Tower and was promptly arrested! We watched a few jumpers, but didn’t bother having a go as it’s not our thing.  And at £100 for a 90-second adrenaline rush, we didn’t think it was worth the money!

The picture is taken from under the jump bridge looking upstream.

We continued along the river and went through the Kawaru Gorge which, once again, had fantastic scenery even if the winding road wasn’t always nice to cycle as it was quite busy. We passed Nevis Bluff, which is famous in kayaking circles as a very tough piece of water to paddle…

…and had our lunch break at Roaring Meg, which is a mere whimper of a rapid in comparison to Nevis Bluff!

It’s very difficult to keep on saying that the scenery was fantastic, but it was – and around every corner was another wow! Once through the gorge the land flattened out somewhat and we came to the town of Cromwell, which from what we could tell has absolutely no centre – it is just a very bizarre place!

Our destination for the day was a freedom campsite at the northern end of Lake Dunston – freedom camping is a bit like wild (Europe) or bush (Australia) camping. There will be more about camping in our NZ round up, but suffice it to say that we’ll never be alone whilst we’re freedom camping in NZ as there are just so many other tourists! There were already a fair few people at the Bendigo freedom camp when we got there and as the afternoon and evening wore on more people arrived and the camp started to feel a bit like a car park! Luckily as we were one of just a few tents, our small patch was away from the majority of the campers. And though there were a lot of people there the camp was surprisingly quiet and we both had a good night’s sleep. The lake itself was beautiful…

Thursday 23 January 20 – Bendigo to Lake Hawea – 67km

The cycle from our campsite to Wanaka was mainly flat, but no less spectacular than the hilly cycling we’ve done recently. Once again there were plenty of wow moments that pictures don’t do justice to…

Rather bizarrely we saw the French couple going in the other direction so we said hello, but didn’t stop!

As we had a relatively short cycling day we decided to go into Wanaka, a nearby tourist town, to chill out and to stock up for the next leg of our journey, which will take us to the west coast. Wanaka is a cross between Te Anau and Queenstown. Bigger than Te Anau, picturesque but definitely not as cramped and hectic as Queenstown. The town is spread out along the shore of Lake Wanaka and despite the scores of tourists it had a nice vibe. Interestingly the main thing that Wanaka is famous for is a tree, which is rather aptly known as ‘that Wanaka tree’! The tree in question is a little off shore and in recent times has become an Instagram hit.  And people visit Wanaka just to have their photo taken in front of the tree…

To be honest the tree does make for a great picture and has a fantastic backdrop…

We met a local lady down by the foreshore who said that the onward journey to Lake Hawea, our destination, was flat…well she very obviously lied! There were in fact, a number of quite tough hills, but we managed okay and got to our campsite by mid-afternoon. We found a nice spot overlooking the lake…our fifth big lake in five days.  It’s no wonder it’s called the Lake District!

Whilst we were making our dinner we got into a conversation with Kylie, a local on holiday in the area with her family. She mentioned that they’d brought their small speed boat with them and that her dad would be happy to take us for a spin around the lake after we’d finished our dinner (though he actually didn’t know about it at this point!). We found them later and true enough Kylie’s dad, Roger, said he’d take us around the lake. We thought that we’d be out for 5-10 minutes but we were gone for a good half an hour! Apart from it being great fun, Roger has loads of knowledge about the local area as he’d been going there since he was a boy so it was a great way to round off our evening.

A top bloke from a lovely family!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Go top