And now that I’m at the bottom, the only way is up.
The last day in the Catlins was truly a multi faceted one. On one hand there was dealing with the recovery from the big freeze, then there was the dealing with the killer gravel, then the big bore and finally to see what Invercargill had to offer.
It took me a little while to pack up this morning, I was cold and the cover of the tent was wet. I was not in a big rush as the road ahead did not present major obstacles so I threw a last glance down at the beach to see if there were any penguins ready to be photographed.
The other bit of good news, Andrew will rejoice, is that I did not get assaulted by sea lions, I suppose the toilet complex they like is the one closest to the beach and I was pretty far up the hill.
The route to Invercargill is mostly inland and I was not expecting great scenery today, what I did not expect was fresh gravel. By fresh gravel I mean gravel that has not been compacted yet by car traffic, that is, in effect quite loose and presents great challenges for bikes or enormous challenges for loaded bikes.
The first 13 Km, helpfully signposted, of today’s ride were on such a surface. They included flat bits, bad, uphill bits, awful, and downhill bits, terrifying. The problem is that on such surface a loaded bike is unmanageable, it really is driven by the camber of the road as the steering has to be used simply to counteract the sliding in the gravel. The net result of this is that, especially downhill, you really need to pick your trajectory well as your only hope is that the momentum will carry you through to the destination you want rather than the abominable ditch. the truth is that once you are going downhill you can neither turn or break without catastrophic consequences.
To break the stress of these 8 miles I stopped for a picture of what was going to be a recurring theme of the day, livestock.
After this first stint, which also included the only steep hill of the day, it was back to the tarmac and to nearly 4 more miles of flat cycling in the countryside.
Ten miles into those I stopped for some brunch in Fortrosa village that has probably more letters in the name than inhabitants. While there, enjoying some food I was accosted by the police who questioned me to know if I had seen a couple of people that had gone missing in the Catlins. It all sounded a bit dodgy to me as it was a a middle age caucasian man with a young asian boy, who knows what’s behind that one.
From Fortrosa it was 30 of the least eventful miles I have ridden so far, unusually flat and only accompanied by either sheep or down on either side of the road till Invercargill where I arrived just short of 16:00.
I am staying in an Hostel tonight. I want to convince myself it’s because it’s not great to camp in towns and I want to be close to bus stop in the morning, but the reality is that I was really cold last night and I’d rather wake up dry and defrosted as I have to be at the bus stop at 8:40.
After I checked in and got tidied up I went for a walk round town and I discovered that Invercargill is very different from any of the town and cities I have seen so far. The closest resemblance I can find for it is a Western gold rush town.
The architecture of which many examples are below, is really interesting and the wide roads and slightly grid based town layout show that the whole thing has not been in existence a long time.
After the walk I stopped din a pub and had a couple of beer while talking to one of the members of the band that was going to play tonight. I did not stay and after getting a takeaway I got back to the hostel.
I had dinner with some of the people here and had a chat with Jörg, a German chap that has just come off Te Araroa, a 3000 km hiking trail from the topmost point of the north island to the southernmost point of the south island. If you want to know more about it here is the blog, and if you still think I’ve got cohoes for doing what I’m doing, let me tell you, this guy is the real deal.
Tomorrow morning I’m off back to Dunedin, albeit with the bus. It is meant to rain so I’m not too unhappy of the choice but on Sunday it’s back on the bike and after 5 more riding days I’ll be in Christchurch where I’ll finally meet Mary and Hamish and also catch up with Mike whom I have not seen in some 15 years, on the whole, I’m really looking forward to all that.