These first three biking days in New Zealand were really an easy ride. I had “postcard weather” all the way except on the last afternoon. My plan was to ride the “Inland Scenic Route” from Christchurch heading South-West to Lake Tekapo, a beautiful azure lake at the foot of the Southern Alps.
Day 1: Christchurch – Rakaia Gorge (87 km)
A sunny, flat, easy ride on excellent asphalt roads. At first the landscape is totally flat. This area is called the Canterbury plains.
Looking at a map of NZ, it is really funny to notice the mix between UK-inspired name (Canterbury, Queenstown, Dunedin, …) and Māori-inspired names (Rakaia, Wakitapu, Wanaka, Ororata,…).
The only vertical elements in the landscape were the huge edges between farmlands. I guess that the place can get very windy, but fortunately for me it was not at all the case today. Endless straight lines made the ride a bit monotonous.
Fortunately, there was an engineering curiosity on the side of road to keep me awaken: a tower with only two high voltage conductors, meaning that it is an High Voltage Direct Current overhead line. Sweet! I wonder where this one starts from… (answer in the next post 😜)
Slowly, the Southern Alps appeared in the distance. The ride was so easy that I was thinking about making a really big day, when suddenly, after a surprisingly long downhill (I didn’t even noticed that I had climb anything), I saw the perfect turquoise waters of the Rakaia River.
The campsite there was just the ideal place to stop and after pitching the tent, I hiked for two more hours to explore the Rakaia Gorge. It is impressive how every tree seems to be able to grow here in New Zealand. There are eucalyptus like in Australia, but also many trees common in Europe (poplar trees, willows, oaks) and many endemic trees such as manuka and cabbage tree / tī kōuka.
Day 2: Rakaia Gorge – Pleasant Point (113 km)
While eating my oatmeal after a cold night, I met Sandra, from Christchurch, who wanted to exchange one of my quick oats sachet against two tomatoes and one apple in order to make a surprise to her friend staying in the next campervan. The three of us spoke together for more than an hour. Some people in New Zealand have a very weird accent that is sometimes really tricky to understand: they tend to mumble their words, and to pronounce the “e” like “i”. Once you have understood that “tin cints” means actually “ten cents” and “bike shit” has nothing to make with poo but just is “bike shed”, you will be fine, I guess 😋.
I finally left the campground at a late 11:00 AM. After the 4 km-long steep climb out of the gorge, it was all the way down or flat for nearly 80 km until the little town of Geraldine, with beautiful sights on Mt Hut and Mt Somers on the right.
The ride had been so easy that I decided to bike another 25 km to Pleasant Point on quieter and slightly ondulating countryside roads, casually breaking the 100 km in a day psychological barrier. I had the chance to fill my panniers with free apples on the way.
I arrived a bit late at the campground, wanted to hurry to prepare my dinner but was “disturbed” in this plan by an old weird American guy from San Diego travelling with a VW van probably as old as himself. We talked about sheep and astronomy, and he finally left the place after giving me two eggs. I ended up cooking and eating my meal with the headlamp. The days are getting shorter here, so it will be more and more important to be efficient in all the packing & cooking activities.
Day 3: Pleasant Point – Tekapo (91 km)
In the first half of the day, I had still excellent weather and a mostly flat ride. The Canterbury plains progressively left place to the Mackenzie country, an isolated land of high country plateau and yellow tussock hills.
I had lunch halfway at the nice little town of Fairlie. I bought a delicious porkbelly and apple pie to complete my usual wraps. I ate my lunch with a young French couple, and after 10 minutes of a nice conversation we realised that we had common friends in Belgium. Again, what a coincidence!
In the afternoon I had to climb Burkes Pass to reach the high plateau of Mackenzie country 400m higher. The climb was really well graded and I could clear all of it on the middle chainring. Too easy compared with Tassie!
I then had to bike another 20 km on a mostly flat, very exposed to wind terrain to reach Tekapo.
Meanwhile the sun had disappeared behind more and more threatening grey clouds. Tekapo was a deception for me: ugly buildings, lots of (Chinese) tourists, an expensive campground and a not-so-blue-as-expected lake. I felt obliged to take some pictures of the Church of the Good Shepherd, NZ most photographed church, located on the lake shore. Managing to take a picture of the church without any other tourist on it was probably the most challenging part of the day 😜.
At the campground I met Anke & Torsten, a couple of German cycle tourists who travel around the world with their bicycles. We had a very nice chat, they provided me some useful information on their itinerary in the South Island and I gave them some tips for their bike trip in Tasmania. Meeting other cycle tourists is always a pleasant moment, because whatever the age or country of origin, we share the same mindset, the taste for adventure, discovery and gentle travel.