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Published: April 24th 2006
Mind the gap 19-23/03/06
We're off down the West Coast on State Highway 6, the road rolls gently for the first few miles, then we crawl up Costello Hill, before finding out what 40mph rain feels like freewheeling down the other side. We struggle over three more vicious hills and reach the sea, the views are amazing, beautiful little bays with waves rolling in; we want to live in every house we see. We reach Punakaiki in the late afternoon, our progress having been slowed by photo stops at every bay. The backpackers is full so we pitch the tent in their garden and say hello to the German guy from St Arnaud, again!
The next morning we head for Greymouth, we're undecided if we will stop there or get as far as Hokitika, it all depends on the road and how fast we go. SH6 rolls fairly easily for the first 10 miles or so, then we're back in headlands again and our progress slows. Thankfully after Rapahoe we're back on nearly flat roads and it's an easy ride into Greymouth. We get lunch at a little cafe and decide to carry on to Hoki as it's still quite
early. About 2 miles out of Greymouth we come to a one lane bridge which has a rail line running down the middle of it, so not only do you have to watch out for cars coming the other way, there's also the possibility that you may have to avoid a train!!
Just before the bridge is a sign showing a cyclist flying off their bike which has its wheels caught in the tracks, we find this quite amusing and stop to get a photo of it. Shortly afterwards we're starting to cross the bridge when I hear THUMP, "s**t" as Vern re-enacts the sign for all the waiting traffic. He skillfully avoids a 10 foot drop onto a dry river bed by hitting two steel girders. Thankfully the injuries look worse than they are and after a few minutes he is able to carry on. We have to cross another of these incredible bridges before reaching Hoki and take it very carefully.
The next morning Vern has pretty much seized up and we decide to have a few days off to allow him to recover before heading south again.
We try jade carving; Vern produces a very
nice jockey wheel with a bird's head carved on it, it's a replica of one of the Shimano jockeys on the bikes, so in an emergency we now have a rather fancy spare! I make a couple of really shonky lace bobbins - Mum stand by to receive some pretty rubbish bobbins when I get round to posting them, they're more "Blunt End Man" than "Bobbin Brown"!
Sadly the armpit lump is back, so I'm on Fluclox again, which is a pain as they have to be taken on an empty stomach and we tend to graze when we're cycling rather than eating three meals per day, the nurse was impressed with Vern's bruises though!
We're walking on the ice 24-28/03/06
We're off again, this time we cycle up to Lake Kaniere to have a look at it, before getting back onto SH6 and heading for the glaciers. Leaving Hoki we have to ride across a rather long bridge, on the south-bound side there is an Armco barrier which is only 2 feet high with a 20 foot drop to the river on the other side so we ride in the middle of the lane to give ourselves
room to manoeuvre if neccessary, neither of us wants another accident. A car goes past, horn blaring and the driver sticks his hand out of the window and points to the side of the road. Another car passes and the female passenger leans out of her window and screams "Argle, blargle, blargle, argle, blarg" Neither of us know what her actual words are, but it doesn't matter "Get off the road you worthless pieces of excrement" sounds the same in any language. We're glad to finally clear the bridge and get back to near the road shoulder.
We have a nasty headwind all the way to Kakapotahi where we are stopping for the night in a converted old church, called The Old Church surprisingly enough. It's a gorgeous place and has a fantastic position next to the river. We spend a pleasant evening chatting with Mike from New York and Carly from Fareham.
In the morning we're off towards the glaciers, we expect to get to Whataroa today and then ride over the big hills to Fox Glacier tomorrow. The road is fairly flat and we make good progress to Harihari where we grab a coffee in the store/cafe. The
couple at the next table ask us where we're headed and we chat for a while about our route and what road conditions we can expect en route. Bruce provides us with an AA map of the area before they leave. Our route continues over Mount Hercules before becoming fairly flat for the rest of the way to Whataroa although we have spectacular views of snow capped mountains on our left hand side. We pull over to get some photos and a car pulls up next to us, it's Bruce and Marg from Harihari.
We do stop at Whataroa and get a cabin for the night before heading to Fox Glacier, the road to Franz Josef is fairly flat and we reach the town in time for lunch before the ride over the hills to Fox. While we're eating Carly and Mike appear, they have just done a heli-hike to Franz Josef Glacier and give a glowing report of it. We're going to have to do a similar trip at Fox.
The road from FJ to Fox goes over three 400 metre hills, we ride up the first one, ride and push the second one and push up the last.
On the plus side once we've cleared the top we don't pedal again all the way to Fox Glacier.
On the 27th we take a heli-hike on Fox Glacier, the crampons we are provided with fit across the instep of our boots, so we have to walk very flat footed to have any grip on the ice, I use an ice pole as well which helps me to keep balance. The glacier is amazing close up, the ice is an incredible blue colour and there are a number of caves and crevasses which we climb through. The photos show it better than I can describe it.
Dodging the rain in Haast 29/03/06-03/04/06
We set off towards Haast although something tells me I don't want to ride today, progress is very slow and we stop regularly so I can lie down and not feel too good. We pass a motel with a "No Vacancy" sign, then at Bruce's Bay we find a lodge, but they want 200 Kiwi dollars for one night so we head on. At Lake Paringa the motel is full so we finally stop at the DOC campsite by the lake (12 dollars); this one is
particularly well equiped with two long drop toilets and a sink. We pitch the tent, sort out the bedding and reapply the DEET as the world sandfly mountain appears. Vern cooks dinner, pasta and pesto with a sandfly garnish I eat a small amount then crawl into my sleeping bag and sleep. At about 3am I finally discover what's making me feel so rough as I run to the loo. It amazing how a total hatred of smelly long drops can be overcome in certain circumstances!
In the morning I'm very reluctant to get up, but I manage to eat a small amount of porage and we finally get packed up by 11.30 and set off, very slowly, to Haast. Usually we try to do about 10 miles before our first stop, this morning I manage 4! There's the headlands at Knight's Point to get over (and I walk most of them), before we reach Haast and check in to the backpackers. There's a couple in front of us at the desk - Bruce and Marg!
Finally a shower, some clean clothes and a decent bed to sleep in. I feel more human in the morning, but we decide
to stay put for the day so we can be sure I'm over whatever is ailing me.
We're planning to leave Haast on the 1st or 2nd of April, but the weather has got the better of us and we sit out gales on the 1st and torrential rainstorms on the 2nd. As we watch the weather forecast in the evening there is a heavy rain warning for our area for the next 24 hours. Sure enough it's still raining heavily the next day and we spend another day in Haast, before finally heading for the Haast Pass on the 4th.
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