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2000 Biking New Zealand

Day 03, 10 December 2000, Sunday
Queenstown – Wanaka; 77.1km @ 15kph, Wanaka Bakpaka, $44

Today we crossed the Crown Range – at 1 100m the highest public road in New Zealand. And pretty exhausting it was too – especially in light of the fact that we were both already / still tired from our previous two days on the road.

We were packed and ready to go by 7.30am. Just as we were leaving the motor park the Walls arrived and, yippee, relieved us of our luggage. We pumped our tyres and hit the road. And I knew immediately it was going to be a long day. Sore bum and hands; leaden legs.

But nice enough weather: Cool, cloudy, dry and windless. We spent our Sunday in a rural New Zealand: Cocks a-crow, mom and dad ducks watching over their young a-roam in the damp green grass, tourists and locals at their leisure.

Our first stop was on the bridge at Arthur’s Point (Arthur discovered gold in the area in the late-1800s) to watch the Shotover Jet Boat company scare the hell out of paying clients by zooming far too close to canyon rocks for safety. Despite a few steepish climbs – including one that led to a rural post box for someone appropriately named Strain – the road to Arrowtown, our breakfast destination, was basically pleasant. (We have been amused at the post boxes we have seen en route to date, particularly a brightly patterned version for people named Patton!)

Arrowtown, 19km from Queenstown, is a cute restored gold mining town with wooden buildings, lovely trees and tourist shops. We breakfasted in a café here on delicious lamb and satay pies, and coffee. And purchased some pastries for the eating of later. David made some enquiries on our behalf and found we could cut several km off our route if we walked Tobin’s Track rather than cycling back to the main road and then turning again to tackle the Crown Range.

Tobin’s Track is 2.2km long and leads from the town to the plateau part way up the Range. It is rutted dirt and steep. And cycleable only for those who have the strength and ability. In fact, the ‘Pub to Pub’ cycle race goes from an Arrowtown pub to the Cardrona pub on the other side of the summit along this track each year – and on this very day. We literally saw the back end of the cyclists disappearing up the heavily-bushed track as we turned onto it. I walked every shattering cm, brought nearly to tears at times by a daunting tiredness and a feeling that there was no way in hell I was going to manage the day.

I coped OK with the plateau despite it being fairly rough – corrugated, in fact – with gravel and dust and walked the bulk of the remaining 7-or-so km to the summit, the dirt road being just too steep for me to cycle. It was icy cold at the top where we were met by the Walls bearing our pastries which we ate with pleasure (though we stupidly forgot to have what would have been a very welcome swig of cognac from Kerrin and Hugh’s hip flask!) and where we were rewarded with fantastic views back down the mountain we had conquered and the surrounding countryside.

We also met a young man who had cycled the 40-uphill km from Wanaka “just for fun”. When I said I thought he was mad, he looked at my bike and I with raised eyebrows and asked the inevitable: “So what’s your excuse?” Mmmm…good question.

Then down t’other side – the first 14km exhilarating and fast despite the headwind we encountered this side of the Range. Down, down, down to the pub at Cardrona. For tea and our goodbyes to the Walls. (They got married in this pub and love the area. In fact, it was only because they knew for sure that the descent side of the Range had been sealed since Lonely Planet were there, that I had been persuaded to tackle the Range at all. And in the long run this proved a better choice than the busier, longer route via Cromwell.)

After the mad downhill rush we entered a gentler valley, the road following and crossing (11 times) the Cardrona River. We cycled sometimes in an almost-silence. Just the rustle of trees, the whirr of tyres on tar, the baah of surprised sheep, the murmur of running water. With poplars, and willows and conifers in greens and grey-greens. (Charl noted a particular poplar apparently planted by school children from a now non-existent school as a flag pole to commemorate the relief of Mafeking during the second Anglo-Boer War.) And a cemetery with a sign on the wall proclaiming “Telephone cables buried here”! The scenery in general less dramatic than on the south side of the Range, but prettier to me. All tumbled tumbling hills. The easy route made tough by the wind. But little traffic to ruin our day.

By the time we arrived in pretty laid-back Wanaka on the shores of Lake (you guessed it) Wanaka with its impressive backdrop of snow-covered peaks, we were very ready to call it a day… So showered and walked into town where we had a pretty good Thai meal and chatted later in the pedestrian street to American Jeff Phillips who paints and sells river rocks for a travel-living. He calls his artworks Chak-Roks after chakras, the “…spiritual / neurophysiological centres or vortices along the spinal column through which we receive and transmit the energies of life…” His rock paintings contain symbols “real or imaginary” and are dedicated to the “beauty, health and well-being of the myriad life-forms, the passengers / crew of Spaceship Earth and all of her Gaian sister planets elsewhere in the cosmos”.

Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Shotover Gorge
Arrowtown
Arrowtown
Tobin's track
Tobin's track
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Crown Range
Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
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