After a well earned day off in Wellington, trawling the bike shops after some new bottom brackets, and a lazy afternoon nap, we got the ferry across the Cook Straight to the South Island. The ferry crossing was really scenic, our first views of the South Island were pretty spectacular.
From Picton we had an easy main road ride to Renwick, where we enjoyed a game of tennis and a good sleep at a lovely backpackers campsite. The next day we followed the 63 south through a valley filled with vineyards, bordered with big hills. We stopped at a trailer cafe just before our campsite and met Karen, the very friendly owner. We had two amazing milkshakes, and got an invite to camp under her awning as it had started raining. We spent the afternoon chatting, very happy for some shelter from the rain.
Here we left the main road behind, taking the Rainbow Road up into the hills. It soon turned into a gravel track, with lots of cold rivers to ford, and some landslides to traverse. We travelled through beautiful, quiet hills, along a huge river. We enjoyed rocky gravel paths and not seeing anyone.
We climbed through Hell’s Gate gorge and onto some open moorland, leaving the Rainbow station (here farms are called stations) and crossing into Molesworth Station, the largest farm in NZ. The incredible views were soon hidden by a torrential downpour, as we climbed the last few km to the DOC Sedgemere Sleepout hut. Luckily it was empty, and Jim enjoyed chopping up some logs so we could dry our clothes and cook on the log burner.
The final few km of climbing were tough, the gravel became unhelpfully soft and slippy, and the track was steep. But the view from the top of Island Saddle (1347 m), and a homemade scone with jam, was worth it.
We had assumed the descent into Hanmer Springs would be quick and easy, but it was more of a rolling flat, and the road was washboard more often than not, so we didn’t get a fun descent. But the valley was pretty and the final climb up Jack’s pass rewarded us with great views across farmland.
A few morning punctures and a chance meeting with a local cycle tourer and warm showers host had us setting off quite late, and the days rolling ride through picturesque farmland was ruined slightly by a strong headwind. However the campsite we slept in, complete with old railway carriages and free eggs and fresh baked bread for breakfast more than made up for it.
We then skirted around Christchurch and joined the Christchurch to the alps trail, taking quiet back roads south towards the foot of the southern alps.
Jim’s words – Steps, South, Milkshake, Rainbow, Saddle, Sunshine and Petrol.