We figured out a route from Queenstown. Not much to figure, though, as there is just one road going north to the west coast: Crown Range Road which connects to State Highway 6 running north along New Zealand’s west coast. There is a cycle route on paths and small roads to Arrowtown and from there a mountain bike track leads us up to a gravel road that connects to Crown Range Road.
The climb to the pass is a fairly steep, narrow paved road that’s busy with traffic but most cars give us the space we need as we grind our way to the summit at 1076 metres above sea level. We take in the view and have a short break to let our heart rate settle down before the delicious 40-kilometre-long descent to Wanaka, the reward for nearly 20 kilometres of climbing.
We mostly ride Highway 6 all the way to Hokitika, with the exception of the Upper Clutha River cycle trail from Wanaka to Lake Hawea, where we are forced back onto the highway. We pull off early as a nice lupin-studded camp site beckons on the lake shore.
Highway 6 threads its way through the mountains over Haast Pass. It takes us two days to ride through the mountains to the coast. We spend a night at Fox Glacier but hurry through Franz Josef Glacier as we can’t stand the noise of helicopters and tour buses. There is a lot of motorized recreation going on. Not our kind of thing. Instead, we go to Okarito, despite the 12 km out-and-back to the coast. It’s a tiny town on the shore of New Zealand’s biggest untouched wetland, famous for its bird life, particularly the extremely rare eastern great egret. Okarito Lagoon is the only place it breeds. We don’t see any egrets. There isn’t much in Okarito except an ice cream stand that has just run out of ice cream when we show up. The guy is very apologetic but offers to make us some berry smoothies instead. We accept.
We’ve met another cyclist along the way. Heiko is from Germany and he’s cycling some routes he wasn’t able to cycle on previous trips, and the four of us continue north to Ross where we pick up the West Coast Wilderness Trail.
It’s not the kind of wilderness we’re used to but it is a great ride through some beautiful and varied country. The main thing is that it’s not on the highway.
The weather is turning and we are in need of a rest day, so we spend two nights in Hokitika at a hostel while it pours with rain. Good timing. We do laundry, eat out and rest from the previous eight days and 550 km of riding.
The west coast wilderness trail takes us to Greymouth where Jan and I decide to ship some stuff to Auckland to have less weight on the bike. It’s mostly things we can do without and have been carrying for four months. Besides, we have more mountain passes ahead and it’s better to be lighter.
We say our farewells to Heiko, as he’s headed to the northwest corner of the South Island, and we have our sights set on the Molesworth Muster Trail, one of the longest off-road routes on the South Island.
We head east on Highway 7 which, thankfully, is lightly travelled. From Reefton, we carry on over Lewis Pass and after three days arrive in Hanmer Springs, famous for its hot springs.
We decide to rest and take the waters. Conveniently, the weather turns miserable again but we are comfortably camped in the back yard of a hostel in town. We decide to wait for nicer weather before tackling the Molesworth as it would be a shame to ride that mountainous track in poor conditions and not see anything. And so we wait.