We awoke the next morning to the delightful sound of thunder and the rain hammering on the roof so I promptly went back to sleep for a bit longer. By the time I awoke the lightning and thunder were so close together I'm pretty sure it was right on top of us. It sure didn't look good for cycling so we started trying to come up with some plans ranging from staying another night in Haast to seeing if it cleared up by the afternoon and just biking 40km down the road to the DOC campground at Pleasant Flat.
Found at the Haast Visitor Centre! Somewhat fitting don't you think?
Come 10am though the rain had eased (eased, not stopped) and there hadn't been thunder and lightning for a good half an hour so we thought, what the hell, let's give this a go.
The road from Haast makes its way inland following the Haast River before you begin the steep climb up to Haast Pass. The mountains drop steeply everywhere you look and the benefit of a bit of rain is that the waterfalls come out to play. Even better is being on a bike where you can see it all in its magestic glory. About half an hour up the road we caught up to a couple of cycle tourists from Austria who were also out enjoying the weather! We were riding a bit faster than them but tended to stop more as we weren't under a tight deadline (they were aiming for Wanaka that night) so spent most of the day with them which was pretty cool, especially huddling under the shelters at Pleasant Flat (along with the sandflies) for lunch! By this point the rain was starting to return in full force and the temperature was definitely not tropical!
Hiding from the rain at Pleasant Flat.
After lunch we passed through the Gates of Haast and started the climb. It's pretty fortunate we like climbing as this was one pretty big, steep hill. At least there were a couple of waterfalls to visit and rest the legs at. At one point during the climb some guy pulled his car over and jumped into the middle of the road to take photos of us! I imagine to those passing in vehicles it probably looked like a miserable experience, riding a fully laden bike in the pouring rain but actually I was quite enjoying myself!
A wet day on the way to Haast Pass.
We made it up to the pass in pretty good time with high hopes that the sun might reach us (you know, having left the West Coast and all that) but it was not to be. In fact, it was a ridiculously cold descent to Makarora where we arrived to find the cafe had no power and therefore no hot drinks (tragic!) but they did have a fire so we sat there for a while trying to defrost before heading off again. We finally pulled into our campsite at Boundary Creek just as the rain was starting to ease.
Camping amongst the trees at Boundary Creek.
After several days on the road we hadn't really seen many cycle tourists (we defined it as being self-sufficient and carrying all your own gear) until today...where we saw at least 20 others, even another tandem. So basically we came to the conclusion that cycle tourists only come out in the wet weather, especially when it comes to the West Coast!
Anyway, despite it being New Years Eve we went to bed once the sun went down and slept through the night. We are clearly nanas (I think it's been a while since we've actually had a New Years where we've been awake)!
The next day dawned sunny but cold. We set off along the road only to find that we'd managed to brake a spoke. It had probably happened early the previous day (we had heard a strange sound, like the sound of a twig braking but hadn't seen anything amiss at the time although we didn't check the spokes as it hadn't occurred to us). Not so good. Luckily it wasn't a huge distance to Wanaka (about 50km) but it was New Years so we weren't super optimistic about finding a bike mechanic.
It was a pretty cruisey ride into Wanaka with glorious views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea but I have to say I was glad to arrive in Wanaka, especially to find not 1 but 2 mechanics on duty at Racers Edge Torpedo7. Thank you so much guys for fixing our bike!! They were joking that it was so fancy it was from the future so I think we gave them a little bit of excitement.
It was hot by the time the bike was finished so it was time for a swim in the lake (cold!) and some lazing in the sun reading my book (a kindle is absolutely brilliant for this kind of trip).
Wanaka is beautiful but in summer it is so ridiculously busy and noisy and really not for people like us who don't like partying or staying up late (makes us sound so old!). We were pretty glad to be leaving and heading towards quiet roads and exciting adventures the next morning. The plan was to head over Thomson Gorge Road to Omakau. We checked out the Clutha River Trails on the way but after 2 frustrating obstacles (a fence we couldn't get through without removing all our gear and a bridge with steps on either side which also required removing our gear) we bailed and continued along the highway. Once finally onto the gravel roads our mood started to rise and I felt a sense of relief. Wanaka had been so busy that it almost felt like I'd been holding my breath the whole time.
The start of the Thomson Gorge Road.
Thomson Gorge Road is a remote high country 4WD road across the Dunstan Mountains with early gold mining and pastoral history. It starts off nice and gently through mostly flat, open farmland but you can see the Dunstan Range rising steeply in front of you. Once it starts climbing your legs soon know about it. Fortunately the views are spectacular and there are a few old batteries to have a look at.
Parked up by the "Come in Time" Stamper Battery.
It wasn't too hot for the ascent which was a relief but it was pretty windy up at the saddle and then the sun came out in full force for the descent (which actually has a lot more climb than I expected...like A LOT more!).
Clockwise from top left: "Come in Time" battery, the Thomson Gorge, an old stone hut just after the saddle, chilling at the saddle.
Once the descent proper began we had to stop a few times to stop the discs (our tandem has cable disc brakes - they may be super big but we were also fully loaded so that's a lot of force going through the discs to slow us down and keep the bike under control) from overheating too much as it was pretty long and steep. My wrist was ridiculously sore by this stage which was frustrating but it was a fantastic day.
I had been a little apprehensive of how our tandem would handle the Thomson Gorge Road but it ended up being a piece of cake for it (well, apart from the discs overheating a bit but that wasn't very surprising considering just how steep it was). The real test of just what our tandem could handle was yet to come...