Wednesday, March 11: If you think a 126km recovery ride is an oxymoron, bike at a leisurely pace from Fox township to Haast on a beautiful day with long stops for excellent coffee and food. I was hoping for only a double digit average heart rate for the day. It turned out at 103 but that’s still a lower rate than a couch sitting All Blacks’ fan watching them play a very good – or very bad – game.
The first 45km were gently down hill, made even easier by a pace line of eight of us led much of the way by Rex from Wellington. Many of us are so focused on the long haul we just trundle along at our own pace so we usually ride much of the day on our own or with just the friend or two we’re travelling with. It was fun to have company this morning…united in the common purpose of getting to the famous roadside food caravan at Bruce Bay.
It was everything we’d hoped for…thanks to the proprietors, Solomon and Catherine and their daughter Holly. Previous appreciative customers had left their messages of thanks on a pile of white rocks from the beach which is steadily accumulating alongside their caravan.
Our second objective of the day was just another 16km down the road…the South Westland Salmon Farm and Cafe, where I had an exquisite three-egg salmon omelette. I wasn’t the only creature with an eye on the fish swimming in the tanks in front of the cafe. Perched in a nearby tree was an opportunistic kotuku, one of the rare white herons which only breed in New Zealand just up the coast on the Okarito lagoon.
From there, we rode another 30km to the beautiful coastal lookout at Knight’s Point.
…with more gorgeous scenery a bit further down the road at Ship Creek:
…and 20km beyond we came to the Haast River with its long bridge spanning the classic braided river near where it meets the sea.
Haast was my destination today, as it was for many other riders. I, and I’m sure many of them, took the day very easily, revelling in the beautiful scenery and flat to gently rolling road with only one climb of some 200m up over Knight’s Point. We were resting up for the big ride over the Haast Pass tomorrow.
But for me the idyllic day ended on a very sad note. Just over the bridge I stopped and turned on my phone to check where I was staying in Haast township. The first text message that popped up was from a friend telling me Rob Fenwick had died earlier in the day after a five-year battle with cancer. With Jeanette Fitzsimons’ death last week, we’ve lost two of our greatest environmental leaders of the past couple of decades. While both had had long and effective careers, they were still very active and had much more to give us. Rob was a year younger than me.
After dinner, I spent the rest of the evening writing my weekly Newsroom column…mostly about Jeanette and Rob, while adding in some observations from my Mainland ride about some of the environmental issues they were so passionate about.
As it happened, today was also my 23rd Kiwi birthday…the anniversary of the day I landed in Auckland as an immigrant. Countless things make me very grateful that my family and I are Kiwis. Some of them are people like Jeanette and Rob, days like today, and the utter conviction that even better is coming for us and our country.
Riding along today, I was reciting to myself a pithy poem from Denis Glover, which he wrote in 1936:
I do not dream of Sussex Downs
or quaint old England’s
quaint old towns —
I think of what may yet be seen
in Johnsonville or Geraldine.