Day 1: Te Anau to Arrowtown (146.5km, 1074m elev)
Our New Zealand bikepacking adventure started in Te Anau, a small town on the west coast of the Southern Island. After surviving days of treacherous rain while hiking the Milford Track, we were hoping the sun would be shining. We woke up to views of snow on the hills and a very crisp breeze blowing, but it was sunny and there was no rain so we were happy! Already a day behind plans because of the extra night we had to spend on the hike, we were just going with the flow and didn’t have set-in-stone plans for where we would end up that night. So easy to do when you are carrying everything you need on your bike!
Our route took us on the main bitumen road out of town towards Queenstown, but we took a sneaky left turn which headed us onto the dirt and towards Mavora Lakes. The mountains around us were impressive and made the backdrop on the horizon such a nice distraction. We passed Jane Peak (2022m), a popular tramping and climbing and mountain, covered in snow from the fresh dump over night. We rode for about 70km up the valley against one of those gradients which you never really see, but by the end can definitely feel it in your legs. The ever-so-slight-upwards grind combined with loose gravel roads and icy cold wind off the snowy peaks made for a slog of a morning. I was really struggling with a head cold I got while hiking and was crawling along at caterpillar pace.
My remedy: CookieTime! These things are the yummiest cookies I have tasted and the best bit is that they are about as big as your whole hand. We bought them in bulk from a girl at the supermarket who was as crazy- excited about them as we were. I think this day I munched at least three of them.
After a quick detour to check out South Majora Lake, we returned to the road, climbed a little hill and were over into another hugely vast valley. The downhill was short lived however and we were back to battling the slow gradient and odd temperature changes from freezing to sunny and back to freezing again! This part of the road was far less travelled as it was a dead end for cars. The ferry at the end takes you across to Queenstown, but only by foot, not car. The only people we really saw were the same farmers, driving up and down between their properties doing routine looking stuff. One ute had a little wagon on the back and was pulling into all the farms collecting dead sheep. They were tossed in upside down, this way and that, the poor things bouncing around from the corrugations. I think we saw the same dead sheep about 10 times that day.
We were on a bit of a schedule as we needed to make it to the ferry in order to get across to Queenstown, but my snail pace meant that we had already missed the first of the only two trips for the afternoon. So, in the nicest way possible, Seb told me to get those pedals cranking over a bit more of a lively fashion! The road became a little more undulating with some more noticeable ups and downs but what we didn’t expect was at the bottom of one of the downs: a freezing water crossing with no bridge and far too wide and raging to ride across. With our shoes off, we waded through, and I learned that what I had previously called cold feet was far from this current numbness.
Eventually after some more riding up the valley…
and after another freezing river crossing we got to a massive and wicked decent,
and then after some traumatic experiences with heard of cows on the road, we made it to the ferry!
The TSS Earnslaw is the last operational coal-fired steamer in the southern hemisphere. It runs daily trip between Queenstown and Walter Peak Station Lake Wakatipu, saving tourists a 300km long drive around. We enjoyed a venison pie while watching men shovel filthy coal into the ships fiery boilers for the 90min journey across.
Once at Queenstown we met my brother and his girlfriend and all made tracks for Fergburger, the most popular burger joint I have ever heard about! The line was epic and we waited 30 mins before we could munch on our burgers, but woahhhh they were worth it. Melted blue cheese and garlic aioli, yes please!
After coffee we had to decide which way we would go. We originally had planned to head south towards Kingston and then up over the range but everything was covered in snow and snail pace Beth had put us quite behind schedule. We could have stayed somewhere in Queenstown but our bikepacking adventure had already turned into a lazy lunch ride. We decided to change tactics and headed towards Arrowtown.
We joined up with the Queenstown Trail which is a signposted and totally awesome trail and only opened in October 2012. We felt like practically the first ones to ride it! It would be amazing to see more dedicated cycling tracks like this in Australia! The trail took us across some huge bridges while we wound our way through the historic gold mining district. Eventually we made it to Arrowtown and by chance stumbled across a mountain biker who advised us of a good spot for some ‘free camping’. Generally free camping is allowed in NZ, but as you get closer to towns they have big ‘NO FREE CAMPING’ signs, so we snuck quietly into the bush across the river on the other side of town. Perfect.
After what was a long, adventure filled and exhausting day for sick Beth, I was glad to finally be able to rest. This was our trip to test out all the new gear we had been procuring over the last year, so out our new Revelate Designs Sweet Roll we pulled our sleeping gear and fell straight to sleep our cozy new Western Mountaineering sleeping bags in our new Tarptent tent. We were not sure what Day 2 would bring, it would be decided based on how I felt in the morning. The route had already changed so much due to the snow that we were open to trying what ever took our fancy and that made it exciting!