Turning My Back to Westland

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08/02/08
Hello friends from around the world. Today I made my way over Haast Pass, the lowest of the passes from west to east over the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Whew, it had some tough parts. Although the overall pass was only 564m, the first section was a killer, as everyone I encountered has agreed. I’m glad that I opted to do it in 2 days rather than only one, as now I can enjoy a leisurely ride in to Wanaka, and hopefully be there by mid-day. I’m hoping that once there, I can find a bar televising the Coast to Coast race, and I’ll then proceed to drink and cheer on all the local athletes rather than competing in it myself 🙂 I chose to play a bit of a tourist myself today, opting to do all the side trails on the way to Makarora, in order to break up my day and not finish off too early, which believe me, would be boring here in Makarora. Know what’s here? Nothing. Just the ‘resort’ I’m staying at, and a DOC information center, which I spent 40 minutes at already chatting about tracks around here. Anyway, read on for a bit more about the day and what it held for me. I also have a pile of pictures on the map for you to check out.

The day started out pretty awesome once again. I’ve decided I should stop saying the days started great, because, that’s just in comparison to a day at the office I suppose. The worst day on the bike is still better than a day spent in a cubicle working, don’t you think? I digress, back to the story at hand. The skies were clear and sunny once again, but there was definitely a chill in the air once again. I donned the arm warmers and jacket to ward off the cold yet again, and headed down the road. For the most part, the road leading up to Haast Pass was a normal NZ road. Undulating, with lots of little ups and downs, but nothing too crazy. The true climb didn’t start until around kilometer 50.

Long before that however, my friends the cyclists caught up to me somewhere around km 30. They were flying today, going along at about 32km/hr. As they passed, they told me to jump on the back and get the draft, which I did my damned best to do. I lasted maybe 2km, probably less. To put it in perspective, when they caught up to me, my average speed was only 15km/hr, so I effectively doubled my speed to keep up with them. I soon figured out that if I kept that pace, I would not have the steam to carry on for the whole day, which was still going to be over 80km in total.

The views along the way were plenty captivating. There were lots of overhanging bluffs, rivers, valleys, mountains, etc. etc. to keep me distracted from the fact that I was torturing my body yet again. There were no really interesting sites until I started the actual climb, after which, they came fast and furious. There was quite a few waterfalls right along the road to check out and little trails to follow as well. This road is only a little over 40 years old, and was built during the depression era for starters, but never completed until much later due to lack of money and the challenges of building in such a terrain. I’m glad they did build it though, because otherwise, I would have had to back track quite a ways to get to another pass 🙂

After the initial crazy climb, things became much more gradual, and the climb was actually more enjoyable. Once at the actual pass, it was a little anticlimactic, as there was only a little carpark with room for a couple cars, and a small plaque to commemorate the pass. However, there was a summit trail which was to take about 30 minutes, and I opted to hike it, with my new friend Martin from Dresden, Germany. He’s the guy I met yesterday, and we met back up at the peak. We hiked to the top, and were glad we did, as the view was pretty choice. Much more so than the pass, where you were just in trees. From there, it was mostly downhill to Makarora, a mere 18km away. Only one more real stop, which was the Blue Pools, which are some really sweet crystal clear blue waters along a river where you can often see some massive trout. However, it was the wrong time of the year, so all we saw was some clear water. However, it was still beautiful, until the sandflies found us. Then it got pretty annoying, so off we went.

Now I’m nice and cozy in my ‘resort’ dorm. There are 10 beds in my dorm, but last time I checked, I had the place to myself. It’s not that there is no one else around, as there is actually a whole tour bus full of little kids staying at the same place, but they were put into other dorms, thank goodness. I hope it stays this way, as I actually wheeled in my bike to keep everything nice and dry in case of rain. Well, that about does it for today, I’m off to enjoy a handle at the local bar, which yes, is part of the resort. Happy hour starts in 20 minutes, and there are 3 other cyclists joining me for a drink before bed. I’m excited about tomorrow, as I’ll be in mountain guide territory, and able to go to some real grocery stores for the first time in over a week. Yum, fresh produce! Take care all, and I’ll check in again soon.

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