Spectacular South Island

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24/01/08
Well, I’ve finally done it. I got on a ferry and made my way to the spectacular South Island of New Zealand! I’m not really ahead of schedule, but I’m also not behind schedule either. I’m pretty much right on time 😉 Isn’t that nice? You see, you can’t really worry about schedules when you haven’t created one to follow. Tee hee. I’ll have a good 8 weeks to explore down here, and from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like even that might not be enough, especially if the first 35km of biking over here is any indication. As per usual, I’ve put together a map of my days journey. Note that this map also includes the ferry crossing on the map, but the statistics I’ve put up reflect only the biking on either side of the crossing, so the numbers are accurate for the biking. Check it out, and read on for more about another great day in the saddle.

The first big decision I had today was what time to catch a ferry. There aren’t that many options, so it basically boiled down to whether I’d get up early to catch an 8am boat, or catch the 10:35. Well, I opted of course for the slightly later one, which gave me some extra time to get things packed, and to get a good night’s sleep, which was more important for my knee. The ride took a little longer than I had anticipated, so it was definitely good that I opted for the later boat. I should also point out that this is no cheap ferry. For me plus the bike, I handed over 77NZD! Yikes. Guess I’ll have to scrimp the rest of the day…not! Luckily, my hostel was only 20, and I had a cheap lunch and supper. The weather today has been fairly outstanding, with mostly clear skies, a bit of a wind, and sun.

The Wellington side was just a ride through the city, so nothing of any note to fill you in on. The ferry ride itself was pretty smooth, but I was amazed at how much you could feel the bigger swells even in a big boat like the one we were on. Food was, of course, horribly overpriced, so I had to forego my original plan of eating while on the boat. I also didn’t have my computer to work on any posts or stuff. However, I did take my atlas, and biking guide with me, and spent some time getting acquainted with the routes of the South Island. I’ve decided to head down the west coast, which is definitely a weather gamble, but will have the better scenery. The east would have been flat and safe, but not likely as rewarding. I plan to go all the way to Invercargill, then figure out what the plan is depending on how long it takes me to get down there.

Even before docking, the journey revealed that I was definitely going to have some pretty spectacular scenery to bike through, even today, and I haven’t even gotten to the Southern Alps yet! The Marlborough Sounds area is a very beautiful area, and in some ways not unlike the west coast of Canada. Perhaps a little more mountainous right at the coastline, but geographically similar. As a bike, I was lucky enough to be the first person to roll off the ferry, which was pretty sweet. I needed the head start to try and get away from all those crazy drivers! To get the best chance, I decided to stop at a cafe/bakery and grab some lunch, to let all the ferry traffic die down.

After lunch, I headed straight for a scenic drive which headed due west from Picton, rather than following the predictable route of going south to Blenheim. I’d booked a hostel further west, in Havelock, in order to put me closer to Nelson for tomorrow. The scenic route was definitely the right decision as this road was spectacular. I had a hard time not just stopping and gaping at the views and snapping picture after picture. If this is a sign of things to come down here, I’m going to be spoiled. I won’t have time to think about the aches and pains or hills and winds, I’ll be too busy staring at the beautiful views. Of course, with good views and coastline, it’s also going to be difficult choosing where to stop to do some kayaking and tramping as well. I’ve already decided to spend at least two nights in Nelson, and hopefully do some kayaking in the sounds, or in Abel Tasman park. I may also opt to go a little further northwest before heading south, in order to do some tramping.

The road I was on was twisty, mildly hilly, and was clinging to the sides of the slopes along the coastline for most of the way. I was surprised a few times at how seemingly more friendly the drivers down here were already. I was serenaded by a car of people singing Oh Canada, and was also cheered on a few times. Even the road works people smiled, waved and said hello to me. Cars actually slowed down and passed me carefully too. It was a very welcome change. It was probably more because this was strictly a tourist road, but either way, it made the riding that much more enjoyable.

Havelock itself, in the words of a kiwi, is a one horse town, and the horse is missing. I think the population is between 400 and 600, but it still manages to have a couple backpackers, as well as a couple Inns and B&Bs, as well as several cafes and a little grocery store. Amazing. So, I managed to find some breakfast food, have a reasonable meal, and even finish off with ice cream. The walk around town took all of 20 minutes, including side streets. The hostel is not bad, and I’m in a 6-bed room, but I’m only sharing it with James, a fellow from England. Tomorrow will be much different, as Nelson is fairly large, and has tons of backpackers, and most of those were already full when I called. Luckily, I found a spot for the next two nights for only 22 NZD in a brand new building that was recommended to me for its soundproof rooms, and great lounges.

Well, that’s pretty much it for me today. I’m going to turn in soon, as I’ve got a pretty strenuous day ahead tomorrow. The distance is only about 75km, but will take me over a couple really big hills. One of them will be about 375m of vertical gain, which is a fair bit on the bike. It’s been a few days since I put in a full day on the saddle, so hopefully my legs will co-operate with me and get me there in good time. Luckily, it looks like the weather will stay good for at least the next couple days too. With that, I’ll sign off, and go to bed dreaming of great days biking on the South Island. Two more months of the grind before I get to take a real break 😉 Adios, amigos.

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