13 January 2020. Dunedin to Balclutha. 83km.
Getting out of DunedIn wasn’t the easiest….partly because my navigation skills are still in development and partly because the roads weren’t particularly well signposted – especially ones where bikes aren’t allowed. We had just joined State Highway 1 (SH1), when a friendly driver rolled down his window to tell us bikes weren’t allowed as it would soon turn into a motorway. Thankfully we could get off by pushing our bikes down a grassy bank onto a narrow pedestrian/cycle path and re-route ourselves out of town via some back roads. And the upside to that is that this route had some pretty stunning hill views. Once we got beyond the hills we rejoined SH1 on the non-motorway stretch and miraculously the road was fairly quiet so we had some lovely picturesque cycling for most of the day. Nigel has already said this but we feel like we could be anywhere in Ireland or Devon, and this picture might explain why….
The cows were even polite enough to pose for us!
Our two days off in Dunedin had obviously been good for our muscles as neither of us found the cycling particularly tough even though it was reasonably hilly and there as a strong headwind for most of the day. And we have already discovered a pattern to traffic volume on the roads….early morning is generally quiet, 9am-11am it gets busier with both trucks and cars, 11-3pm tends to be quieter and then from 3pm onwards it gets busy again. So our plan is, as much as possible, to start early and finish by 3pm to avoid the worst of the traffic and make life as easy as we can for ourselves.
Despite some lovely scenery en route, our lunch stop at a park in Milton was nothing special. But further down the road we came across Old Sod Cottage so stopped in for a look….
It’s a quaint old cottage made from earth sods that was built in the 1860s to accommodate miners as they travelled to the nearby Tuapeka Gold Fields during the Gold Rush in this region. It had been restored to give a snapshot of what life was like for travelling miners at that time but unfortunately it was recently burgled and many of the artefacts such as cast iron skillets and flat irons were stolen. So although it’s technically closed now we could still go inside and have a wander round the lovely gardens.
We then continued on to reach our final destination for the day – a campsite in Balclutha, right along the river. We were given a tour of the site by the very friendly owner and by the time we had set up and showered, two other sets of cyclists arrived and set up right beside us. It’s the first time in our trip that we have been part of a multiple tent line up!
None of the cyclists were particularly chatty or friendly (one French speaking couple and one solo German guy), so after dinner we went for a walk along the river into town and returned for our usual early night.
Tues 14 Jan. Balclutha to Gore. 80km.
Woke up to a very soggy tent and wet grass ……the overnight temperature had dropped to 3 degrees and with no wind it meant that there was very heavy dew. It was also very chilly. We haven’t had a camping experience like that in a while and drying out the tent was impossible so everything went into the tent bag wet, adding a few kilos to Nigel’s luggage. But every cloud and all that…the clear skies meant the sun was out early so we had a stunning ride through some lovely hills.
We managed to get find a route off SH1, but as we have already learned, getting off main roads often ends up on a gravel track. That was the case here with some hills thrown in, so it was a completely different riding experience to what we have been used to – and not one that I am comfortable with since my gravel skid in Vietnam. We aren’t exactly hill fit at the moment either as Australia was generally flat, but we took it slow and my confidence on the gravel eventually grew. And what made it absolutely worth it though was virtually no cars on the road and amazing views of the hills. We think they were in the Catlins Hills and Catlins Forest Park, but even after checking on Google we’re not entirely sure – but it was spectacular none the less.
Even when we eventually rejoined SH1 it was still a pretty spectacular ride into Gore, our final destination for the day. And we only had one traffic-related incident along the route…it involved a set of roadworks, which reduced traffic to one lane. When our lights went green we were obviously the slowest traffic in our queue and unfortunately the lady on traffic control didn’t inform her colleague at the other end that we were coming through. So half way through pedalling up a hill we were met with a long line of traffic coming towards us. Thankfully we had a place to pull in to let them pass, but not one driver waved or smiled, so obviously thought we had just ignored the controls and pedalled on. When we did get through we had a word with the lady on traffic control at the other end, but she just shrugged her shoulders in a “so what” kind of a way. Such a difference to Australia when we were once escorted by a van through road works to ensure we got to the end safely!
That aside it was a great cycling day and lunch in the centre of Gore was spent talking to a Kiwi motorcyclist Michael who came specifically to have a chat as we sat on benches in the middle of town. He is a retired undertaker and loves travelling alone on his motorbike or in a camper van with his wife, so we passed a pleasant hour hearing his travel stories before heading off to our accommodation for the night….the local show ground, which doubled up as cheap camping accommodation for tourists!
The sun was shining so it was the perfect opportunity to dry our our camping gear and while we were doing that the two untalkative French cyclists from last night’s camp site rocked up and camped next to us again – just as untalkative as the night before ….Adelaide Adrian we miss you!!
Interesting observation from today is how cows and sheep in the fields react when we cycle by. They seem completely oblivious to the multiple cars and trucks on the road, but the minute we appear the sheep scraper away from us and the curious cows come closer to have a look. Even cows that are sitting down get up into standing position for a better look!
Wednesday 15 January. Gore to Mossburn. 87 km.
We had another middle-of-the-night train thundering passed us experience, which in a country that has so few trains is just bad luck – or so we are hoping! It was another very damp and chilly morning when we woke, so on our way out of town decided to treat ourselves to couple of hot drinks at the supermarket as we had to stop off there anyway. Getting the camping stove out to boil water for a cup of tea was just too much hassle! I was dressed in thermals, a fleece, rain jacket and gloves and I still felt cold for most of the morning. We had expected the sun to come out mid morning but it was well into the afternoon before it appeared, so it was a pretty chilly ride for much of the day.
Although we start earlier here than we did in Europe, the rest of our day generally follows the same pattern, which involves a mid-morning break with a coffee and cake if it’s available and our own sandwich lunch to have along the route. Today we stopped in the village of Lumsden for lunch – famous for the biggest bank robbery in New Zealand on St Patrick’s Day in 1983 when the local bank was robbed of $106,000! Not much to see in the village itself so we were glad that we had planned to go a bit further to Mossburn.
Most of the cycling today was pretty flat along a wide valley and although we got glimpses of mountains here and there it wasn’t until after Lumsden that it got really pretty. We also had a slight wind behind us so we could speed along nicely but a local teenage cyclist Trevor still managed to catch us up and join us for a bit of the journey. He was a lovely kid – very chatty – and he and Nigel had a great half hour nattering away about cycling and New Zealand in general. He left us shortly before our campsite which was in an idyllic setting at the gateway to the Fjordland region. Surrounded by fantastic mountain views…
…..and plenty of alpacas like this one to feed!
We were only in and settled when who should appear? The two non-talkative French cyclists!! And in an empty campsite they one again chose to set up right beside us and then do the ignoring thing as if they had never seen us before ….all very weird.
We have both said that we find the scenery quite like Ireland, England and Scotland here and one thing that definitely reminds me of summertime at home is the number of daylight hours. It never seems to get dark! It’s bright from 5.45am until 10pm, which is great for cycling as we can start as early and finish as late as we need to. Mind you early mornings and evenings are chilly so we need to factor that into our planning too!
Thursday 16 January 2020. Mossburn to Te Anau. 64km.
Woke up to heavy fog and a flat tyre on Nigel’s bike, but once we got on the road it didn’t take long for conditions to change from this…..
….to this …
It was a really picturesque ride into Te Anau where the road hugged some huge mountains, some of which were still snow-capped despite being their summer. And with the exception of one hilly section, it was fairly easy cycling – and very enjoyable.
We arrived in Te Anau at midday and went straight to our accommodation. Our AirBNB was a sleepout (a garden bedroom) with lovely mountain views so we got settled and had lunch in the sunshine before a much needed afternoon snooze. We are here for three nights to have a base to explore the local area, including a daytrip to the Milford Sound, which is one of the top things to do in this area. We had originally planned to cycle there but Rhys, our WarmShowers host in Christchurch, told us that aside from some tunnels which wouldn’t be fun to cycle through, bikes aren’t actually allowed on the road. But we still wanted to visit it, so decided to base ourselves in Te Anau and take a tourist bus and cruise boat there.
In the early afternoon we went for a wander around Te Anau to see what the town had to offer. It’s the gateway to Fiordland National Park and a small town situated on Lake Te Anau, which with 5000km of shoreline, is the second largest lake in New Zealand. Needless to say it’s also a prime tourist spot. The permanent population of the town is 4,000 but rises to 10-12,000 people per day over the summer season with tourism being its biggest employer and fishing its second. The town itself is nothing special and reminded us of a ski resort in summer….lots of outdoor shops, cafes and agents selling adventure experiences. Saying that we still had a pleasant afternoon strolling around…me eating hokey pokey ice cream – a Kiwi speciality of vanilla ice cream with chunks of honeycomb toffee…
We had a pre-dinner drink in town and spent the rest of the evening back at the ranch enjoying the luxury of a garden as well as a proper couch to relax on to enjoy the views!
Friday 17 January. Te Anau to Milford Sound. 240km bus and cruise trip.
In true Lifecycler fashion we were first on the bus for our trip to Milford Sound, so got front row seats for the day. Our coach driver Reece was very witty and sarcastic as well as informative, so it made for a fun and interesting bus journey.
The whole trip into Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound was just breathtaking. We stopped off at Mirror Lakes, which were just as the name suggests……
..and Eglington Plains….
We even crossed the 45th Parallel again…which we had cycled across it in a different place a few days ago!
But we definitely saved the best until last with Milton Sounds – and it was everything we imagined New Zealand would be.
Fiordland National Park is the largest nation park in New Zealand and a World Heritage Area. The National Park consists of 14 fiords and Milton Sound is just one of them. From a geographical perspective, it is technically incorrectly named. A Sound is created when a river carves its way through rock to create a V-shaped valley, whereas a Fiord is when a glacier cuts through rock and creates a U-shaped valley. Since Milford was created by a glacier it is technically a fiord, but the name Milford Sound has stuck since it was changed from its original name of Milford Haven after the Welsh homelands of the man who discovered it.
It is the wettest place on earth at sea level but we were lucky enough to visit in one of the very few days that it didn’t rain – although apparently even when it rains there it’s stunning.
Even the effects of the Australian bushfires could be seen on the highest glaciers where ash has settled on the snow…
After our cruise we visited the underwater observatory which is a floating structure that allows you to observe the marine life 10m below the surface of the Sound. Because of the unique environmental conditions in the Sound, the marine life at 10m is the same as what can be found much deeper elsewhere including black coral (which is actually white) and lots of interesting fish and plants. Spot the fish in this photo. For some reason the photo makes the water seem much greener than it was in reality….
A stop off to view the Hollyford River on the way home was also stunning…..
….and then it was back to town for pre-dinner drinks followed by dinner and drinks with Sarah our Air BnB host in the garden.
There is only one road into Milton Sound, and current traffic is around 900 vehicles a day. Because of avalanches and rock falls or the risk of them, the road is often closed and it’s the only road in NZ where it’s compulsory to carry snow chains in the winter months (June, July, August) – there are even checkpoints to enforce this law. The tunnel is over 1km long and the road surface is fairly crap….
But saying all that, we still think we could have cycled it….we have definitely cycled ascents that have been as steep or even steeper, and the one-way tunnel has sensors that would signal to waiting traffic not to progress until the tunnel is clear. But it would have been a tough cycle tough and likely to have been a 5-day trip there and back so we definitely don’t regret doing it in a day like regular tourists.
Saturday 18 January. Te Anau.
Although NZ is stunning we are here in peak season and everywhere is just heaving with tourists which we just aren’t used to – especially coming from Australia where there was so much open space and wilderness. Our AirBNB was a real godsend as it was in a great location but also gave us the chance to interact with locals in a relaxing and comfortable environment, which we really enjoyed. Sarah and her son Jax were friendly and chatty and it was lovely to just chill out in agarden away from the crowds and still feel we were getting the real NZ experience. (Jax was away fishing for the weekend when we took the photo!)
Today we decided to visit the local bird sanctuary to get up close and personal with a Takahe bird. It is a flightless bird native to NZ and in the 1800s was thought to be extinct. But in 1948 it was rediscovered and this sanctuary is one of the few places in the county where you can see a few of only 418 in the country.
After that we cycled along Lake Te Anau and walked part of the Kepler Walking Trail to Brod Bay – a 16km return trip through some stunning fern forests.
A perfect way way to end the outdoor activities for our days off and it’s back on the bikes again tomorrow!