Out of the Wilderness

The difference between constant rain and relatively normal weather in New Zealand is just a few miles and a few hundred metres of climbing.

Or, in a very close, but parallel universe, the difference between constant rain and normal weather is being an extremely lucky Swiss / German pair of cycle tourists.  Who’d only got wet twice along the whole west coast.  How they managed this is a bit of a mystery.  And even their luck wobbled a bit when they met me.

I met Roli and Christian in Fox Glacier, after another aborted attempt to make progress down the west coast.  This time, I got as far as getting a coffee before hitting the road.  Then the scene below unfolded:


I went back to the hostel, defeated.  And just checking in were Roli and Christian.  They were soaked, too, but this was apparently such an unusual experience for them that they were raring to go the next morning.  Rain or no rain, wind or no wind.  They were making the 125km run to Haast, regardless.  Then they were going over the pass.  Then they were going to Wanaka, then Queenstown.  And nothing was going to stop them.  They are relentless.

And, as a result, it’s been just a little tiring riding with them.

20141128RTW_6You might notice that the picture above is taken in sunshine.  This was a remarkable change of fortune in the afternoon of the long ride to Haast.  The morning had been notable for a weather forecast which had suggested sunny spells, and weather which had delivered a monstrous deluge just as we were out of range of any shelter and entering the wilderness.  This picture marked the point where my luck with the weather began to change; clearly, speaking German is the key to making the sun come out in New Zealand.

The Wilderness.  There’s nothing between Fox Glacier and Wanaka.  In around 250km, there is one village (Haast), one ‘Tourist Centre’ / campsite / petrol station (Makarora), and that’s it.  Nothing else.  No mobile signal.  Virtually no shops.  Virtually no people.  Nothing.  Except some stunning scenery, and the pass away from the west coast, which was my best hope of staying dry for more than a couple of hours at a time.

As the Germanic weather charmers’ skills really kicked in, the ride to Haast became one of the more stunning days of my trip so far, with some lovely seascapes (albeit paid for by some tough climbing):

20141128RTW_10After a night in Haast village, it was off to the pass.  No messing, no flapping around for hours getting ready (my usual style).  Up, breakfast, pack, go.  No excuses.  I felt a bit like I’d just joined the army.  But it got me moving, instead of moping around watching rain.  And it was dry, anyway.

It started raining ten minutes up the road.  It rained for the whole ride up Haast pass.  It was miserable.  I might have jacked it in and gone back to Haast to cry if I’d been alone, but the relentlessness was obviously rubbing off.  Three extremely damp cyclists on three sodden bicycles finally crested the top yesterday (Saturday) lunchtime.


And the rain stopped.  Immediately.  Almost magically.  Sunshine, a long downhill, and (unbelievably) a tailwind, drove us to Makarora and dried us off at the same time.  Absolutely astonishing.  More astonishing, is that it hasn’t rained again since.  Yet.  But we’re heading in different directions tomorrow, and I can’t be sure that the Teutonic rain whisperers will still be able to keep me dry.

Still, today’s run down to Wanaka took place in sunshine, pretty much all the way.  Not a hint of getting wet, and south island was finally showing itself off without low cloud, mist, or drizzle getting in the way.  What a result!

20141130RTW_11I can’t explain how good it is to think you’ve got a reasonable chance of a day’s ride without getting a soaking again.  The eastern side of the mountains is much drier, so it should stay that way.  You may be lucky enough not to get too many bad weather reports from me from here on.

And as we go our separate ways, I wish Roli and Christian all the best.  Not that they need it; they’ve already talked someone into driving their bags to Queenstown for them tomorrow.  So while I wobble off in the general direction of Christchurch with a full load, they’ll be scooting gleefully along on almost weightless bikes.

Their luck really is amazing.  I want some.  But my German is awful.  And I still can’t get out of bed in the morning with much enthusiasm.  Since these appear to be the main attractants of outrageous good fortune, I guess I’ll just be muddling along as usual for now…


The Occasional Alps

This might sound a little familiar.  Sitting in a hostel, gazing forlornly out of the window at astonishing quantities of driving rain.  And much twiddling of thumbs and pacing up and down until the skies (maybe) clear.

I’m sure someone else was doing that yesterday morning (Tuesday).  They may even have experienced a flicker of sympathy for any cyclists plugging away outside.  I, however, was busy multi-tasking.  I was out on the Beast, getting soaked to the skin and climbing hills.

The west coast of New Zealand is proving tricky on a bike.  Towns are spread unevenly and without much between, so you sometimes need to ride a short repositioning day before a longer run.  And the Southern Alps, which are a constant companion to the left of the road, have been getting bigger and bigger, which means the foothills are bigger too.  Oh, and I might have mentioned that the weather is a little bit fickle.  To say the least.

Yes, the Southern Alps are always there, but you only get to see them occasionally.  Usually (at least with me seeming to attract moisture from the air wherever I go in NZ), they’re either hiding their heads in low cloud, or are completely obscured by heavy rain.  They’re always there, but you definitely wouldn’t always know.

When you can see it, the scenery is spectacular.  As I’ve meandered south into glacier country, the sun has sometimes bothered to appear, and the snow-capped peaks, lakes and icy rivers are absolutely beautiful.  And the sun is strong when it comes out.  I’ve actually had to dig out the sunscreen a couple of times, which must be an improvement, mustn’t it?  Until you look at the forecast for the rest of the week…

I got to Franz Josef Glacier on Monday.  This is both true and slightly misleading, as I only got to the town of Franz Josef Glacier.  Not quite to Franz Josef Glacier itself.  Hope that’s all clear enough?  And then I got soaked on the short, but hilly, run to Fox Glacier yesterday (again, that’s Fox Glacier, not Fox Glacier, but then I guess you’ve worked that out already).

This morning (Wednesday), and a now all-too-familiar scene repeated itself.  I was, once again, the one in the hostel, watching the hills disappear and reappear between sheets of torrential rain.  Given that the nearest hill is only half a kilometre away, it takes some fairly serious precipitation to make it vanish.  I was set to push on to Haast today, which is a long day’s ride, and then over the Alps tomorrow to, hopefully, better weather.  But the rain’s not ready to let me go just yet.

That may be just as well.  It would have been a shame to leave glacier country without seeing a glacier.  And as the rain became a little more showery around lunchtime, I commandeered a Swede’s car (OK, OK, he was going anyway, and offered me a lift), and we drove up to have a look.

The glaciers here come fairly close to sea level, and are surrounded by temperate rainforest.  That’s RAINforest.  Appropriately enough.  Makes a pretty frame for the hills and glaciers, mind you.

So, in theory, I should hit the westernmost end of the Kiwi leg of my trip tomorrow, before cutting over the mountains (sounds easy, right?), and then swinging north toward Christchurch and my flight to Australia.  Don’t be too surprised if nothing of the sort happens, though.

I’m also pretty determined that my next post won’t have anything negative to say about the weather.  Don’t be too surprised if that’s not the case either…