Blenheim, NZ to Seddon, NZ

20.9 mi / 8.3 mph / 1200 ft. climbing
Home: Blarich Reserve Campsite

We’re heading off on a real “bikepacking” adventure, of the sort we’ve rarely (if ever!) done. The Molesworth Muster Trail is a 125-mile mostly-gravel route from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs, through the epic dry valleys of the Awatere and Acheron rivers and up over the high passes that divide them. I had originally set aside four days to cover the distance, but rain is expected three days from now, and our first planned stop at the Camden Cookshop is the only one with a roof, so we decided to split that 41-mile day into two. That would delay our arrival to align the roof with the rain, and had the nice side-effect of making the ride easier. The downside was that we then needed to carry another day’s worth of food with us.

With the relatively-short ride today to a no-amenity campsite, it made sense to start later than normal. So we took a good long sleep in our hosts’ guest bedroom, had a leisurely breakfast and a bit more visiting with Sue and Dennis (along with a host of friends and helpers who turned their house into a bustling, energized meeting place this morning), and finally headed back down into Blenheim for errands.

First stop was Countdown, where we collected the 5 days of groceries we would need from our carefully-curated list; balancing calories and edibility with weight was the challenge. Then a walk over to Unichem for a low-probability check for a skin-care product. No dice, and worse, Rett’s rear tire was completely flat when we returned to the bikes. That’s twice in two days, but luckily this one was less-mysterious than yesterday’s, with a bit of glass revealed as the culprit. Then a return even further the “wrong direction” for Rett’s skin-care product, but that at least brought us in range of the bike shop, and this time both Rett and I had success: I got a new multi-tool to replace the half of mine that I had left behind in Rotorua a few weeks ago (it seemed like a wise thing to do as we head off into rough and remote lands). Then it was late enough to eat lunch before we left town, so we found a nice park in which to do that. And then a stop at a gas station to top up our fuel bottle for the crossing. And then, then, we finally set off for real.

When rewatching Lord of the Rings over the last couple days, I remarked how cheap and fake the white stone buildings of Gondor looked in comparison to the lived-in, wooden structures of Rohan. But this bell tower in Seymour Square would have blended in perfectly in Osgiliath or Minas Tirith (I can totally see the top being shattered as a giant boulder catapulted from Sauron’s army crashes into it), so maybe Peter Jackson used existing New Zealand architecture as an inspiration for the look of Gondorian architecture?

As we approached Blenheim yesterday, we were surprised to see dry yellow-brown hills rising to the south. It’s a landscape that felt like eastern Washington, and something we didn’t even think could exist in New Zealand, but it makes sense that the Southern Alps to the west have a similar rain-shadowing effect here as the Cascades do in Washington. So today we continued into those hills, on a road out of Blenheim that felt like leaving Tauranga: the further out we got, the newer the houses became, until they sharply stopped and it was just us and the empty road and the hills.

The road out of Blenheim to Taylor Pass.
In some places the hills were more golden than brown.

When the gravel started, it was quite difficult for the first two miles. Loose, deep, and large-grained, we had to do a lot of walking, which made us wonder what we were getting ourselves into. Still, whenever conditions would slightly improve, Rett would re-mount and start pedaling again, even if we were on an 8% (gravel!) hill! It doesn’t feel like it was too long ago that she would be unwilling to stop on a 4% paved hill because she didn’t think she would be able to start again.

Following the dust of a passing car (for which we essentially needed to stop and pull over) up towards Taylor Pass.
In the flatter, smoother sections, the rewards definitely made the challenge worth it.

It feels like we have had several occasions where good-quality gravel will “trick” us into its lair, and then once it knows we have reached the point of no return, will morph into an unrideable rockscape. Luckily this was a rare example of the opposite, where the surface got much better as we went along. That was a necessity as we hit the steeper section up to the pass, so we were able to ride nearly all the way up. We still needed to walk a bit for the steepest part of the downhill, but after that we were able to cruise along at 16mph for a good stretch!

Rett pushing the bike up the final rise over Taylor Pass.
Some pretty epic scenes on the far side of the pass.
The hills are beginning to turn into mountains.
The hills are beginning to turn into mountains.

Taylor Pass Road eventually brought us to the Awatere Valley, where we returned to pavement, more vineyards, and the Awatere River that had cut through mudstone cliffs and now runs braided through gravel flats. Rett was pretty sure that she saw Arwen on her horse, carrying a mortally-wounded Frodo across the river to rush him to Rivendell.

Rolling more smoothly up the Awatere Valley.
Top to bottom: mountains, mudstone cliff, the hidden Awatere River, and vineyards.
A few rows in this vinyeard had these purple flowers filling the spaces between.

There is a free campsite at Blarich Reserve that normally only allows self-contained camping (you need to have a toilet in your vehicle), but in recognition of the popularity of the route for cycling, the Council allows cyclists to stay as well (but in reality, the three other parties using the site for the night did not appear to have self-contained vehicles!) The only facility is a vault toilet, so we needed to collect water from the river for cooking and drinking (we boiled some and used purification tablets for some). We also took rough showers with our water bladder hung from a tree. Dinner, cooked from our chairs on the ground, was a new-to-us idea: powdered pumpkin soup. It was surprisingly filling and quite good, especially since the croutons somehow managed to stay crunchy in the water!

Blarich certainly wasn’t an ideal place to stay, but it definitely was worth the $0! (there was a rotting animal-something on the path to the river, which looked vaguely like a giant turkey, but I performed no closer inspection to figure out what it actually was).

When we first turned up to the Blarich Reserve campsite, there was a car in this spot, so we had grabbed another area, but when the car left the improvement was worth moving for.
A beautiful “weed” near our tent.


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