Stage 1: Arthurs Pass to Hokitika, 97km
It’s hard to imagine a more exhilarating start to any Tour of New Zealand than ours today.
From the carpark of the Temple Basin ski field near the summit of Arthurs Pass, we set off around 1.30pm in eight bunches to crank out the last 1km or so of the climb to the summit. Then we plunged down the other side on grades as steep as 16 percent. Within a couple of kilometres we met the Otira River as it poured out of the mountains and followed it towards the coastal plain.
We shed some 550m of altitude in the first 10km before the descent eased and we followed a gently downhill route to the sea, a distance of some 75km, followed by the last 22km down the coast to the stage finish line in Hokitika.
Along the way there were some long, gently uphill ‘waves’ so we effortlessly clocked 450m of climbing on our descent through the magnificent Southern Alps.
A perfect day? Yes, if you scoffed at the torrential rain and howling wind in the first half hour of the ride, followed by a dryish spell then more rain to the finish line. Mercifully, it was fairly warm so being soaked was manageable.
Team Ākina, our racers, turned in a speedy first day. Geoff, Corrie and Russell weren’t far off the stage winners, clocking a very impressive 2 hours 30 minutes or so for the 97 km, an average of some 38km an hour. Nick was with them for much of the way, then eased back to a following group to conserve his energy for the four more hard days of racing ahead.
Team Ākina Too, our tourers, were true to their form of past tours. Katie, Donna and Rod rode together at the back of the peloton for the entire stage, helped by David of Dawn Breakers, who led them at a steady pace through the last three quarters of the stage. They too were pacing themselves for the days ahead. Their time was 3 hours 35 minutes, for an average of around 27 k/h.
Handily our overnight motel was just a couple of kms past the finish line. But dinner wasn’t so easy to secure. Hokitika on a dark, wet and windy Easter Monday evening was struggling to cope with the influx of some 175 Tour riders and support crew. Having failed to book ahead into one of the few restaurants open, we ended up at the Thai takeaway van parked at the petrol station on the main highway, just across from our motel.
What a treat it turned out to be! Pon and Klaus, the proprietors, cooked up delicious dinner dishes for us which we then consumed in a very convivial gathering in Nick’s motel room, replete with beer from the local New World.
Such delightful chance encounters rapidly become as much a part of oft-recounted Tour stories as exploits on the road!