New Zealand

New Zealand: Westcoast – the last stage

Juni 2016
Westcoast – the last stage

The westcoast receives me with sunshine, the sea glitters blue and wild and I want nothing more than to feel sand and water under my feet. But the access to the sea is blocked by barbed wire and paddocks. Only after 10 kilometers I find a possibility to get to the water and to greet the ocean on this side of the island. A kilometer long beach and the warm colors of the afternoon sun look very inviting for a tired cyclist and I settle on a piece of driftwood. I scratch my foot. It is nice here, I could spend the night maybe. Again I feel a stitch on the ankle and this time I look down. Sandflies! A good dozen small gray flies sit on my foot. Sandflies. There was something. Oh yes, other travelers had warned me of the sandflies, some assured me there was nothing worse and more annoying and they would hate the little plague ghosts like hell. Until now my acquaintances with these flies were limited to a few exemplares. They sting to suck blood and leave a small red itchy stitch. No worse than mosquitoes. But the west coast is sandfly territory and a sand fly never comes alone. I shake the flies from my feet but at once others sit in their place and bite. And there are more and more. After only five minutes, I´m surrounded by small swarms of sandflies which use every free spot of skin to settle down and taste my blood. I reject the plan to stay here any longer and push my bike hastily back to the road. You have to be prepared here, with long clothes or insect repellent – or extremely hardened – otherwise the sandflies suck you out and you end up scratching the itching stitches for days.

About 500 km are in front of me. The road is always near to the coast but it goes up and down a lot. The west coast is sometimes gentle with flat curving farmland and quiet beaches and sometimes wild. Powerful streams of water rushing over rugged rocks towards the sea, which is, propelled by the winds of the Tasmanian Sea, hitting against the steep cliffs with full force. Rivers come from the mountains in broad valleys, and large, mostly empty stone river beds testify the power of the water during floods. After heavy rains these rivers can swell to a multiple of their normal volumes and carry everything away that happens to be in the way.

A new destination
The coast on this side of the mountains is known for rain, huge amounts of rain, but I seem lucky and get spared by the wet weather for now.
It is lonely, distances between places are relatively far and there is hardly any traffic. Bridges are narrow and usually one lane ones to save building costs but rarely do I have to stop for a car.
Actually everything is how I like it but somehow I feel exhausted. The last few weeks were beautiful and nice but also exhausting and sometimes I have the thought that I would like to be at the other end of the west coast already without knowing exactly what I would do there. It is this feeling no longer wanting to be where I am but rather wanting to arrive somewhere else. It is a good thing that I get an email from my friend Harry, whom I met in Melbourne in the Crunchytown community. He’s already been in New Zealand for a couple of months and he writes to me that he and two other Crunchys had just rented a house in Wellington to start a kind of community house. I now have my next destination and cycling is easier for me, knowing I can be with friends in a few days.
Other countries where I was traveling by bike were all transit countries, my destination was always the neighboring country, the next border. A large island like New Zealand is missing this geographic parameter. I just have to decide if I go left or right around the island.

Among tourists
On the way to Wellington there is a lot to see. The west coast is varied and spiked with beautiful places, I take many photos and in between wonder about the raw beauty which nature displays here and which attracts the tourists.
Fox Glacier is one of these places and I decide to have a look at this one, because in town itself there are only a few hotel facilities and the usual trio of pub, village shop and gas station, not much to see. I cycle through dense green forest to the parking lot where the glacier trail starts. A sign informs about dangers in the mountains such as avalanches, rivers, weather, and recommends to be well prepared. It is a good hour to get to the glacier viewpoint, you can´t go on the glacier ice itself for safety reasons. This is reserved for the more prosperous tourists in helicopters: Round trip, landing on the ice and a glacier tour with an experienced guide can be bought for a few hundred dollars and many people seem to attend these offers. It is not only the noise that disturbs me but the fact that this type of tourism is not exactly climate friendly and takes place in a place where global warming can be seen very clearly. Glaciers worldwide are melting and shrinking several meters per year.

On the track warning signs are displayed every 200 meters. Danger! Stay on the way!
The signs are really everywhere and I consider it a little exaggerated. The glacier itself is disappointing for me. Like a shrinking greyish fruit lies the ice tongue between the mountain masses. I turn back soon.

Lake Matthieu sounds more promising for me. There you can see the perfect reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, the two highest mountains on the South Island. Wooden boardwalks give different perspectives on the peaceful lake in the forest. The evening clouds are hiding the high mountains and I decide to come back for the sunrise to take some nice shots. This night I hide my tent behind a cafe at the parking lot where at daytime the tourist groups stop for cafe and souvenirs. There are public toilets and a water tab, all I need. Other Freedom Camper (people who travel by car and stay in free places) stay here also overnight, I count about 10 vehicles. During summer it would be much more people.

It is still dark when I crawl out of the tent and vainly try to boil water for coffee. The almost empty gas cartridge doesn´t have enough pressure in this cold. Warmly packed and my headlight pointing the way, I make my way to the sunrise point to hunt the perfect reflection. For an hour I walk through the quiet forest andt reach the wooden platform in the water for the coveted look as first. It dawns already as I set up my camera for a timelapse with frozen fingers and gradually a few more people appear, most of them equipped with cameras. It is absolutly calm and the light of the sun shines gently over the freezing landscape. Fog starts to rise and steams up the scenerey as well as the lens of my camera. The perfect reflection is perfectly dimmed.

It is really time for a hot coffee and breakfast and I make my way back. Just in time before a busload of 20 young backpackers overcrowd the small platform completely and stir up the peaceful mood with loud conversations and mobile phone flashlights.

The cyclist friend in Hokitika
I continue to Hokitika where the smoke from coal fires in the chimneys merges with the gray cloud cover into a single haze. Rain is in the air and I haven´t found a place for my tent yet and I`m too tired to cycle out of town neither do I want to spend 25 Dollar for a bunk bed in a hostel room with sometimes up to 10 other people.

I think of the cyclists network of Warmshowers and check out the library because it is warm and dry and there is free internet. In fact, there is a warmshower host in Hokitika and I write him a message. Less than ten minutes later, I have a reply. Kevin is at home and he can accommodate me for tonight. He sends his address at once, and half an hour later I stand still dry in front of his front door. Luckily!

Kevin is not a cyclist. But somehow he found the warmshowers network and since then he has been accommodating numerous cyclists in his small house. “All good people,” he says, for him it always means company. He shows me his guest room, tidy and welcoming. On one of the beds is his guestbook. When I look through, some of the names flash up, cyclists whose webpages I know or even cyclists I personally met. Buggi, with whom I was traveling in Myanmar and Malaysia, stayed here with Kevin and another German couple I know as well. I feel right at home here and spend two rainy days with Kevin. We cook each other alternately and tell stories – me from cycling and Keving from tramping. In younger years, Kevin was a lot in the mountains and later involved in search and rescue activities. When he showed me old photos and detailed maps I realized once again that I never really get into the wilderness with the bike, I depend too much on roads.

Wild Westcoast

There is a little wilderness on the Westcoast Wilderness Trail, which takes me through fields and forests to Greymouth. The largest city on the west coast, about 10,000 inhabitants, gives me another warm and dry night. Felippe and Marianna take me in. The Brazilian couple is working here to make money for a long cycle trip. Felippe had already been cycling in Brazil for a year and would now like to tackle the whole world with his girlfriend. The equipment has already been bought and we are talking and exchanging informations late into the night. Very exciting to see how two people have a dream and purposefully work to fulfill it. (Meanwhile the two are off on their adventure,

I cycle up the west coast. Up and down goes the road along the rough coastline, spectacular views alternate with sandy bays. The beaches are wild, full of driftwood – and again full of sand flies.
A small side adventure is the Old Ghost Road, a fairly demanding mountain bike trail, which has been completed in recent years with the help of many volunteers. It follows a planned connection between two old gold mining settlements, which was planned around 1870 and was never realized because of the inaccessible terrain. Today it is possible to cross this 85 km wilderness by bike or on foot and for me it was 3 strenuous but also wonderful days.

Back on the coastal highway is hardly any traffic so far up. The road ends in Karamea, a small, sleepy place with a few hundred inhabitants. From here, the Heaphy Track, one of the most famous hiking trails in New Zealand, leads through the mountains to the east coast. About 80 km it is, a small thing for me in contrast to the over 400 km it would need to go to the same place by road. In winter season the Heaphy Track is also open to cyclists and not just for hikers. With my bike, however, it is a great challenge to get up the mountains. Rain and wind challenge me in addition and I’m glad to be able to stay in the huts instead of in my tent. After three days I arrive on the other side and have only one goal: To cycle the 250 km to Picton as soon as possible, from there the ferry goes to Wellington on the North Island.