Saturday, March 14th: Sometimes good things just go on a bit too long for their, and your own, good. So it was today. The first three-quarters of the day were wonderful; the last quarter was tedious Still, this all happened in glorious mountains, and on a bike, so I’m not complaining about any of it.
I began the day with a quiet ride from my Queenstown motel around a short stretch of the lakefront, through the town Gardens and into the town centre. This is my favourite quiet corner of the bustling tourist centre.
Along the way, I caught a view across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak, where the day’s ride would begin in earnest, and then as I came around into the town basin, I saw the Earnslaw, the 1912 steam-powered boat which would take me there. The landing spot is just right of centre of the photo where what looks like a light green paddock and a belt of trees touch the lake.
The Earnslaw , redolent of a past era of travel, is a very pleasant way to travel. But in the half hour crossing, I was rather preoccupied with changing my plans. Rather than three leisurely days to Bluff, I decided last night to make it two long ones…so I could get home a day earlier and thus be in time for Rob Fenwick’s funeral next Tuesday. I spent much of the crossing re-booking flights home, accommodation in Bluff and taking up an Invercargill friend’s kind offer to get me to the airport on Monday for the journey home.
It was just after 11am by the time I rode away from the Walter Peak wharf, the last rider to do so. The first part of the route was along the lake shore to the Mount Nicholas Station with brilliant views up the lake to Glenorchy where several of our most famous tramps start.
After 11km, the gravel road turns inland up a valley for another 15km before beginning the 300m climb to the saddle of Von Hill. Along the way was plenty of classic Otago scenery.
The top turns into a plateau of quite different terrain. It is vast, the track straight as far as the eye can see, the vegetation sparse and the Station’s cattle in just a few, small herds. I thought of Central Asia and the Silk Road, though I only know them from photos and maybe the scale I was experiencing was nowhere near as grand as that. Fortunately the weather was benign. Any wind, rain, snow, cold or combination of any of those would suck away at your soul as you pedalled for kilometre after kilometre.
The map says the route drops 400m over 60km from the end of the Von plateau down to Mossburn, my destination for the day. But a moderate headwind nullified that. You just had to pedal on. There was some respite in wind and scenery after some 10km at Mavora Lakes. Originally I’d planned to camp there but I needed to carry on to Mossburn if I was to get to Bluff tomorrow. However, Reg and Lyndal did camp. I envied them the scenery, but not the sandflies or what was, I’m sure, a cold night.
Meanwhile for me, the gravel road, which had stretches of larger, looser stones which made it hard work, went on and on. Somewhere in what seemed like the middle of nowhere there was a left turn in my route, whereas the right turn was to Te Anau. The signpost said 45km. I was surprised I was so close to the gateway to Fiordland. I need a break, so I stopped for some food and drink…and to take a photo of my dusty legs and bike.
It was about 5.30pm by this time…and I still had almost another three hours of riding ahead. The last half of that, some 20km into Mossburn, were back on the purpose built Around the Mountain Cycle Trail, rather than that route sharing the gravel road. The going was flat on good gravel alongside the upper reaches of the Oreti River.
But the track kept wandering around, with one curve continuously flowing into the next. After a while, I felt I was in a doom-loop. Surely I had been around that corner once or twice before? Or walked through that washout?
Perseverance finally paid off as I rolled into Mossburn with the sun now below the local hills. By the time I rode a few more kms to the campground the other side of town, it was dusk and almost 8.30pm – 9 hours of riding (including some stops) for 112km.
For the first time on the Tour, I put up my tent in the dark, rehydrated and ate two dried dinners, drank a bottle of beer I’d carried 630km from Ross (…my abstinence along the way was impressive, if perverse), had a shower and went to bed…all in a couple of hours. I was in good company, though, with a dozen or so other riders who were, Iike me, aiming for a rousing day to Bluff tomorrow to round off our great adventure.