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Day 17 – South Island!

Mar 5, 2020

Wednesday, March 4th: It was fun feeling like a Wellington cycle commuter as I rolled down the hill from Hataitai to the CBD on this warm, grey and windy morning. But unlike them I was escaping the city. I headed to the docks and boarded the Interislander ferry for Picton.

The strong wind caused the open top deck to be closed but I was thankful the sea was still pretty smooth. So, I used the three and a half hour trip to almost catch up on these blogs and to do a bit of real work.

The first photo below is the view from my seat of the Wellington dock, to give you an idea of the weather at 8.30am, shortly before we departed. The second is my view as we entered the Tory Channel at the top of the South Island for the slow, no-wake steaming down the narrow waterway to dock at Picton.

Though only 90km south of Wellington across the Cook Strait, Picton was a lot colder, windier and slightly wetter than the capital. And my South Island ride started with a fairly steep, winding climb up from the dock along the Queen Charlotte Drive which runs around many bays in that part of the Marlborough Sounds. I know the road well, but in the other direction, because the last South Island day in the Tour of New Zealand is often a short stage from Blenheim to Picton along it.

Once I gained some height, the road pleasantly dropped down to bays and rose again before the next. The first biggish community was Havelock, pictured below.

Down in the town, my Tour social life kicked in again in a local cafe over a meat pie and tea chat with three riders I was meeting for the first time – Rex and his wife Anita and their friend Steve, all from Wellington. We were chatting about the day ahead, which is known as the hardest day in the SI half of the Tour – the 600m climb from Pelorus Bridge up to the Maungatautari Saddle which has an elevation of 740m.

They confirmed what I already knew – the rough track was even tougher for people like me on a gravel bike with fairly heavy bags. I’d already decided to skip the scenery and take the designated road route around it down the Rai Valley. Moreover, Pelorus Bridge only had a camping ground, whereas I needed a motel room so I could write my Newsroom column a day early because tomorrow is going to be a long day.

I rode on beyond Pelorus Bridge for another 25km to the Mount Richmond Motel just beyond the settlement of Rai Valley. All up I’d had a 75km afternoon.

The motel was a delightful place, and the manager, Robert very kindly cooked me a big fish dinner even though he’d already closed the cafe. Ensconced in my comfortable unit I did a good evening’s work and turned in early enough for a big sleep before tomorrow’s long ride.

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