Seddon, NZ to Awatere Valley, NZ

22.7 mi / 7.1 mph / 2352 ft. climbing
Home: Camden Cookshop

We were both woken at 2:45am by the first thing larger than a bird that we’ve heard outside our tent in New Zealand, rustling in the dried leaves. When we sat up, it stopped, never to be heard again. Did it simply freeze in place for the rest of the night? Who knows! But at least it wasn’t near our food, which we’re going to need for the next four days. And since we were awake, we got out of the tent to pee, and were wowed with some stars shining incredibly-brightly, even in the light of the half moon.

We woke for real at 6am, though lazed a bit before getting out of the nice dry tent and into the comfortably cool morning to make an oatmeal breakfast. I used the vault toilet for the first time (a couple reviews had made me unexcited to visit it), and while it was filled with a lot of flies circling about, it was relatively clean otherwise and didn’t smell at all. We had seven miles of pavement to start the day, so I pumped our tires back up (I’d lowered the pressure for yesterday’s gravel) and we rolled out at 8:30am.

Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the snow-capped peak that’s the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Southern Alps, would tug my camera in its direction all day.
One of the greenest views of the day, but still nothing like the North Island’s incessant greenery.

We were gifted an extra mile of pavement vs. what RideWithGPS showed, and then while the gravel wasn’t as smooth as the end of yesterday, it was better than yesterday’s start. Even better, it only lasted for about two miles, with the first 500 feet of a 700-foot hill being paved! The top 200 feet was again gravel (presumably because the grade slackened a bit), but then we got to fly down more pavement on the other side. This was completely unexpected, and the pattern continued (pavement on the steeper inclines) for many of the subsequent hills, greatly speeding along our super-slow day.

The views were tremendous, we were passed by maybe 20 vehicles in the 5+ hours we were out there, and I was able to get more awesome #FindRett photos than I have since Baja, the last place where a combination of low-traffic and epic backdrops allowed me to feel this comfortable stopping in the middle of the road and letting her ride far ahead to the next curve. I felt bad that she was always out in front, and thus unable to see how cool she looked riding against these backdrops, but I tried my best to get photos that would let her see.

Now we’re really starting to get into it. If only the road stayed on the inside of the river-carved cliffs like this!
Rett didn’t need to walk much of this paved section, but it just got too steep here (you can see another part of the road straight behind and far below her.
The river has carved out some giant mudstone cliffs on the opposite bank. You can also see why wines from this small country are so widely available!
Even at maximum stretch, Rett is no match for this endless space.
We’re above the moo-cow line.
Hey, Tapuae-o-Uenuku, I see you there sneaking a peek at my hot wife!
Tapuae-o-Uenuku and a couple of his smaller siblings.
#FindRett heading downhill toward Tapuae-o-Uenuku.
Our lunch spot, up a steep farm path to the shade of a big tree. Tapuae-o-Uenuku in the right rear.

But after lunch, the grades began regularly hitting 12%, the pavement became less reliable, and it became a real struggle. Pushing the bike up a 12% grade isn’t really any easier than riding it, but it’s at least slightly less-risky. We did multiple bike-ferries, with me riding ahead, coming back for Rett’s bike, and riding that up, to allow her to walk unencumbered and let her heart rate go down slightly. She continued to want to get on and go back to riding, but the more-exhausted she got, in the now-baking sun, the more-likely that our overall-great day could turn from draining to disastrous. Earlier if the heavy bike slipped out from under her on the loose stone, she could let it down in a graceful controlled fall, but now her reduced strength and reflexes lowered the odds of success on such a maneuver.

#FindRett heading toward a non-Tapuae-o-Uenuku mountain.
While the road and the Awatere River both wind in parallel, sights of the river were relatively rare.
Here the road-builders decided to put in a steep hill to take us 250 feet above the river, just so we could get a nice view. Thanks, jerks!

We plugged ahead as best we could, with the final miles ticking down ever so slowly (at least we didn’t “waste” any of our treated water; we finished the last drop just before the end!) Finally the Camden Cookshop appeared, a private oasis and cyclist-haven, almost as necessary to allow this route to be bikable as the Jeffrey City Church in Wyoming is for the TransAmerica Route.

There were a couple of mountain bikes carrying a small fraction of our load leaned against the fence, and we found a 60-something couple inside the common-room, not staying the night but just having a 2pm lunch and a water refill before carrying on in the opposite direction. We found Kelly, one of the owners of the farm property, in their main house and she came over to show us around. We had booked via AirBNB, but the standard method seems to be to just turn up, grab one of the several rooms in the old sheep-shearers lodge (NZ$50/pp) or pitch a tent (NZ$30pp), and pay honor-system cash or via NZ bank transfer.

In addition to a full-kitchen + lounge area (like in a NZ holiday park), they have chips, cookies, milk, and Sprite available for sale under the same honor system. We lucked into a couple of beers, and I agreed with Rett that they were some of the best beers we had ever tasted, which had nothing to do with the particular beer and everything to do with the day. The temperature was 82F, which doesn’t sound that extreme, but it was easily the hottest day we’ve had in New Zealand, and it felt ten times hotter than that in the sun.

We also began downing water to start rehydrating ourselves, and took refreshing showers. Our room has two beds (with sheets and pillows), but essentially nothing else since the bathroom is shared, and it’s perfect. In short order Rett was able to pet puppies, lambs, and horses, all of which have free reign of the farm.

These (merino) lambs were poking around our bikes, and we realized it’s because they wanted to meet Lamby!
Lamby was very excited to finally meet some sheep close-up, who didn’t run away from her!

For humans, a solo northbound woman arrived midafternoon, sufficiently exhausted from the downhill version of the overall-uphill ride we’ll need to do in two days, that she not only nixed her hope to continue further, but took a room instead of pitching her tent. A little later another northbound guy stopped in just to refill water before continuing on. Then, well after the three of us had finished dinner, and after I said “it seems like there won’t be anyone else tonight, since they would have had to come from further than the Molesworth campsite at this point, and who would do that?!”, Johan appeared. And he had come not from Molesworth (one day’s ride for us), not from Acheron (two days), but all the way from Hanmer Springs, doing three days in one. At least he had the decency to appear more-exhausted than any of us had been. But that didn’t stop him from setting up his tent rather than taking a room!

With all these riders coming from the opposite direction, we got some good intel on the trail ahead (it’s not going to get easier), and all of their much-lighter loads tell us that our weight is likely an even bigger challenge for us than our skinny tires or lack-of-suspension. But at least we’re here for two days, so not only will our bodies get a good rest, we’ll have substantially lightened our load food load!

Day 2

We slept long and well, and while the northbound woman was gone before we got up, Johan was still in his tent, and would not even get started until 11am…and he planned to go all the way to Picton today! Another one-day ride that we did in three! At least he had the benefit of it being much cooler today, as the temperature barely broke 50F! But the coolness came with the rain that started at midday, and while he was happy to make that tradeoff, every drop of rain here made us happier to be under the roof. The forecast was right, and the rain continued for the rest of the day, It was never terribly heavy, so if we’re lucky it will have just glued down the gravel a bit rather than turning it into a muddy river. Unlike yesterday’s Grand Central Station, today we had the Camden Cookshop entirely to ourselves. We spent most of the day in the kitchen/lounge building (they have good WiFi in this no-cell-service zone), and also did a load of laundry (they have laundry too! That we could hang on a line they have strung up in an open-sided shed). And Rett got to say hello to all the animals again, so it was a really good day relaxing on the farm!

Rett pets the puppies…
Rett pets the little horsie…
The simple but has-everything-you-might-need common space at the Camden Cookshop. Today it was the main wing of our own personal compound; not bad place to wait out a rainy day for US$65/night!
The (many!) well-socialized dogs on the property are trained not to come inside, but apparently someone forgot to tell this lady, who wandered in in the afternoon to helpfully pick up a few crumbs from the floor.
And then she decided she’d hang out on the couch for a bit, exhausted from a day’s work. Join the club!




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