Queenstown to Nevis
At 7am, the air is cool and clouds gather about the peaks as our water taxi rips across the dull lake.
Walter’s Peak Station is silent as we head for the glacial landscape of the Von. It’s long and flat; Julie’s tyre relieves the boredom by loudly disembowelling itself.
We pass various LotR landscapes before reaching the halfway point then our southernmost point; Mossburn for late lunch. The souvenir shop has good food and we take our time.
It’s seal to Garston although the wind is fresh. A few kilometres out, Steve’s knee craps out and we limp slowly into ‘town’ around 5.30. There’s a bundle of bikers at the pub who seem disinclined to leave the bar and the prospect of steak dinner. After a break, Steve’s knee is better; we head off and make our own time up the 600m climb to the historic hut.
The road dives into the Nevis and I chase patches of sun down valley across many fords. The landscape is empty and there’s no shelter. You can’t help think of the gold miners clambering around these hills and how miserable the poor sods must have been in winter.
The road finally drops to School House Flat. Lights are on in the scattered houses and it’s near dark by the time the bridge at Nevis Crossing and Peter’s tent loom out of the gloaming.
There’s no shelter so I roll out my biv as it starts to rain. It’s an uncomfortable night after a 225km day.
Steve unknowingly passes in the night and bivvies up the hill whilst Julie and Thomas pitch their tent beside a shack back up the valley.
Nevis to Lake Onslow
In the morning I cram a damp sleeping bag away and start climbing (550m). The mist is soon below and the sun catches the hills to the west.
As the sun clears the ridge, the iconic schist outcrops throw long shadows across the gold tussock; Central Otago at its best.
A few riders get misplaced near here but I have no trouble, catching up with Peter to follow pylons along a rough 4WD track. The tussock and Spaniard is gone, replaced by briar rose, thyme and low scrub.
We drop steeply to the Clutha below the Clyde dam and a dappled track beside the deep green river, arriving in Alexandra at 11am. My sleeping bag and biv are drying on bollards outside a café when Steve turns up.
The next section which starts with a 780m climb (Cardiac Hill) to Knobbly Range. We’re soon pushing with the smell of wild thyme crushed under foot.
From the top it’s easy going with a swift descent to the Clutha and another riverside trail to arrive in Roxburgh in rain.
At 4.30 there’s plenty of daylight, but ahead lies an 800m climb to Lake Onslow and little shelter. Steve elects to stay at the local motel and I head to the cafe. The owner is following the Brevet on his laptop; Peter asks where Steve is and before I can answer the owner chips in: “He’s stopped at the motel.”
Nathan, Peter and I set off about 6pm. The road turns to gravel then clay as it rolls and climbs. The rain has passed and the afternoon sun slants under the clouds. A decidedly cool wind picks up as we pass beside Mt Teviot around 9pm and look into the basin with Lake Onslow in the distance. We’re back in tussock country devoid of trees.
The road meanders to the lake with its small cluster of fishing huts. We eventually find shelter in a shipping container for a comfortable night. Not a long day at 140km but fairly hilly.
Lake Onslow to Kurow
It’s cold and calm. To the west the Old Man Range has a fresh dusting of snow. After a brief, unceremonious excursion over the bars (yours truly) we climb out of the basin and into the Tairei catchment which flows north-east, around the Rock and Pillar Range before turning south past Middlemarch. A break at Ranfurly then a short diversion around the Mt Ida water race (running 108km to Naseby from the Hawkdun Range; opened 1877 to wash away tailings).
4pm we arrive at Kyeburn Diggings (580m) and the Dansey’s Pass Coach Inn. It’s a beautiful setting with the stone building (1862) sheltering amongst trees.
The wind pushes us up the gravel road to reach the pass (900m) at 5.30pm and the transition to the Waitaki catchment. We roll through the foot hills into the green Maraewhenua River valley. The evening sun is again slanting in under the clouds and with a mostly following wind it’s very pleasant.
We cruise into Kurow at 9pm; the pub has kept the kitchen open and we have rooms booked. It’s typical; faded splendour testifying to days when the many rooms were full of guests and the various bars and dining room humming with punters. Our host lets us park the bikes in the back bar.
A group of riders turn up on dark including Steve. They’ve done a marathon day from Roxburgh. A few of them push on up the road but they’re welcome to it. Steve and I agree on an early start; I reckon I’ve earned a comfortable sleep after 193 km and Steve has come even further.
Kurow to Tekapo
When I knock on Steve’s door he looks, if possible, worse than last night. He decides to ‘sleep in’ and is hitting breakfast when I head away under lights at 6.
Across the Waitaki River the road slowly climbs the Hakataramea Valley. There’s a light head wind but progress is good on seal for over 30km. The valley is much larger than I expect.
The pass at 9.30 (950m; 740m above Kurow) gives views to snowy mountains on the horizon hemming the arid flat Mackenzie Country.
With the gravel roads behind, a head wind and slight uphill it becomes a bit tedious and I’m pretty much ready to be finished. It takes an age to cross the plain before I’m scooting down the hill and skidding to a halt outside the Church of the Good Shepard, about 6 days and 1,116km after leaving.
There’s a group of earlier finishers greeting arrivals which is a nice touch; some events you finish in an empty carpark before slinking off to your motel; a bit anti-climatic?
I’m feeling surprisingly chipper and, after a scrub up, head back to the finish to greet Steve who is next in. Julie and Thomas have stayed at Dansey’s Pass so have a longer day into a rising head wind giving them a tough finish.
All up, it was a great ride. I learnt that these things are designed to be achieved and enjoyed by people who are not super athletes. You’ll always get your hares racing ahead but leave them to it and everyone else has a bloody good holiday adventuring around spectacular country with many chances to yack with interesting bikers and locals.
For an expanded version of this article with more and higher-res photos, see Andrew’s Blog.