Add a handful of hiking to a large dollop of cycling, sprinkle with stupidity and serve.
The day was going to be relaxing, one of the two relaxing days preceding the tackling of the Haast Pass and the ride to Wanaka. It was going to be only 43 miles of gently undulating ground to be completed in no more than 3 1/2 hours.
For this reason I decided not to set the alarm and not to get going with great haste. For this reason I also added two tourist destinations in Fox before I really hit the tarmac.
I left the campsite at nearly 8:30 and slowly rode agains the direction of travel to Lake Matheson.
Lake Matheson is, I believe, a world heritage site. Due to his location and the fact that is very sheltered it is possible, and indeed I did, have the water perfectly still and see the mountains beautifully reflected in it.
As all site of interest, and indeed many site of lesser interest, this place is kept in a fabulous way. There is a path that goes all around it and helpful indications showing which way to go, the distances, what to expect and the locations of the better spots to take pictures.
I am only saying this as, if I had any brain, I could very well have acquired all the information necessary to prevent my stupid choice well before I made it. But that was not to be so here I go merrily cycling along the pedestrian ONLY path with the bike in full load.
After the first 500 yards the first obstacle comes into view, a suspension bridge just wide enough for the bike, not a problem, nobody being around I went past it and thought this was going to be easier than I thought. This statement in itself is also very misleading as, having not read any sign I really did not know what to expect at all.
Another 500 yards on, by now I have met many people but no bikes, and there is a fork in the road. One direction, the one in which I see most people walking has a no bikes sign, the other has not. Well this is quite clear, isn’t it? there is a path for pedestrians, and one for bikes. Sadly this turned out not to be the case, there is only one path, the one bikes cannot take, the other one is simply the other side of the loop, it’s where the path rejoins after taking the people around the lake.
Strong in my wrong belief, I turn down the path with no signs and start riding at a leisurely pace. This pace only lasts for another few hundred yards as, not in sight of the lake yet, the path takes a rather hilly turn and climbs onto the east bank. It is now more than ten minutes since ‘i started this and, while I had not yet had to dismount the bike, i am mostly riding in the small gears. The faces of the people I meet, in a path that now shows to be not big enough for both people and bike, are wearing more and more puzzled looks.
This comes to a head after another 10 minutes, the path is now steeply descending and after a couple of hairpin I am met with, on one side, a sign saying “views of views” and staircase going upwards, on the other by a sign saying west bank and car park and a stairways downward. Not Good.
I was systematic about the way to unravel the situation: first I parked the bike, took the camera and went to take a couple of pictures from the Über-Viewpoint, then I calmly shepherded the bike down the stair. This, I am sure, will now add to my Chinese celebrity status a Germany celebrity status. While I was intent in this rather risky manoeuvre a group of German OEP at the bottom of the stairs was laughing, taking pictures and shouting phrases that will most probably translate to “look at this looney”. I’m sure I’ll be in their village paper as soon as they get back.
But I did it, and I rejoiced for the whole of the next 37 seconds of riding, after that I discovered that there was another staircase, 9 steps, but this time it was going up. There was no way I was going to push the bike up so it was down to taking all the bags off, taking them up and then come back for the bike. Luckily this was the last staircase and only another 10 minutes of riding around the lake took me back to the car park where I now could see the clear sign saying pedestrians only.
Well, if you live, you might learn, I say. I’m sure, as usual, I have provided good entertainment to the people that saw me.
This detour took a little more time than I expected so I was now in a quandary over the next detour that I had planned. This was to go and see the Fox Glacier. I rode to the entry point of the cycle route to it and I passed it, it was late already and I still had 43 miles ahead of me. Another mile and the road to the glacier was on my left saying that the distance was only 2.5 miles. I stopped and thought that, while I’m sure I’ll be back, I’m not sure when, and if the rate of retreat continue at this pace there might not be a glacier for me to see next time. I turned in.
The road to the glacier front was remarkably flat and added to the already existing disbelief that I could get very close to a glacier given the temperature and the altitude I was at. When I got to the carpark it was full of camper-vans but there was another cycle-tourist that had parked the bike to complete the last part forbidden to bicycle on foot. Having this time read all the signs, I did the same. I locked the bike, took the handlebar bag and the front pander that has the laptop in it and started hiking the side of the glacier bed that was opened as a path to the glacier front.
The hike was not easy especially as the two bags i was carrying are not really made to be carried over long distances. I however got there and took a whole bunch of photographs. The glacier has retreated great deal in the past few years, and in facts I think the front was nearly at the car park only ten or so years ago. To that you can add the fact that half way up the road to the car park, so nearly 2 miles before the current front, there is a sign that says that the glacier front was there in 1935.
The glacier front itself is not massive but it is very impressive none the less. It is less of a novelty to me as I was in Chamonix only two months ago and from there you see quite a few of them. The problem though is that those too are living on borrowed time.
Having read yesterday about the grinding effect of the glaciers, I was looking both while walking up to it and while walking down and it is true, you can really see the very fine dust that gets suspended in the water just lying there on the banks.
It was midday before I got back to the main road. This time I took the bike track and while I was at it I took some footage with the GoPro camera too. By now I had already cycled 13 miles, and hiked a mile or so, and yes, I still had all the 43 miles for the day in front of me.
I set to it with some urgency and it was not long before the pitiful 6.4 MpH I had clocked to this point moved up to a more respectable 10 MpH. I took a break around 14:00, just to eat something and drink but there was really nothing to look at other than green pastures an fat cows.
Round about 15:00 I got to Bruce Bay and here i stopped for a while. While it was not as spectacular as other coastlines I have seen in the past week, it had a inexplicable beauty and I stopped for a good 1/2 hour just watching the sea and all the other tourists that were coming and going.
After that there were only 12 miles left to the DOC site and I was not worried anymore about making it in time to miss the rain. 5 miles from the site I spotted a road side coffee and thought of stopping for something. It turned out to be a Salmon farm and caffe and they had all sort of salmon delicacies. I thought of anticipating dinner and had a lovely smoked salmon sandwich a slice of lemon drizzle cake and a glass of white wine.
Picking up the pace after that was not easy and in fact I was pausing only 2 miles later when I got reached by another cycle-tourist that stopped and told me he was going in the same place I was. His name was Guillem from Majorca. He, like me, started from Aucland but took a slightly different route as he is not going back up there.
When we got to the camp we only managed to have the briefest of conversation before the rain put a stop to that. He nevertheless gave me some tips about South America cycling and I’m sure they’ll come in handy when I move to that part of the world.
The camp itself is very basic but it has toilets and a view to die for. On the down side there is obviously the rain but even more the quantity of sand flies. I am now wearing my 80% DEET cream as well as my citronella bracelet but I fear they might not be enough against these monsters.
I am currently in the tent writing this, not the most comfortable of thing, but that is nothing compared to the mental discomfort I feel when I pat the bottom of the tent. It has now been raining for a couple of hours and when I pat the bottom of the tent it feels like I’m on a water bed. Let’s hope I don’t spring a leak.