St. James Range, NZ to Hanmer Springs, NZ

16.9 mi / 8.1 mph / 734 ft. climbing
Home: Hanmer Springs Top10 Holiday Park

Our final day on the Molesworth Muster Trail was a short one, with a huge downhill dropping us into the town of Hanmer Springs. But by now we were wise enough to know that didn’t mean it would be easy. Before we started, we figured there was a chance that we would just want to tack the final 16 miles onto Day 4 and just get it done. LOL. Good thing we hadn’t done our food shopping based on that assumption!

A morning photo of the campsite, because this truck did a good job of illustrating the insane grades we’ve been climbing (ok, we went down this road to the campsite, but I think the “up” on the other side was a mirror-image).

Still, we were the last ones out of camp in the morning, unlike yesterday when we were some of the first. At the last minute I discovered that I didn’t have my merino buff that I wear under my helmet, and I realized I must have left it somewhere down at the river yesterday after our bath. I ran down the hill, and yeah, of course it was still hanging from the tree that I’d left it on, because this isn’t exactly a place where someone else would even see it, much less take it for their own.

Maybe due to our late start, it was already hot. And the road surface did not do one of its daily switches this time, it generally continued as bad (or worse than) yesterday, with washboards when there weren’t large rocks, and large rocks when there weren’t washboards. But somehow Rett was flying over it all; I would stop for a photo, put my head down to reel her in, and then look back up in confusion as I hadn’t drawn any closer. I guess she had caught a scent of the finish line!

We switched to riding upstream again, this time along the Clarence River.
We made an earlier-than-usual stop at this river crossing to wet down our clothes.
Riding the hot, bumpy, dusty road, but it’s still a great place to be!
I was set up to take this shot of Rett emerging from the pyramid mountain, but a car passed, and when I turned back I couldn’t even see her in the cloud of dust (thankfully the wind was mostly blowing it away from us).
#FindRett riding around a bend in the river as the mountains close in again.
An unusual stand of mostly-dead trees above the Clarence River.

After 12 miles of gradual-uphill river riding (of course still with embedded up-and-down spikes), we reached Jacks Pass. It’s a slightly longer route than Jollies Pass, but 100% of the recommendations we received told us to take Jacks, because Jollies is truly a rocky 4WD track. Not that we expected the 1400 ft. down from Jacks to be smooth rolling!

The view down to Hanmer Springs from the top of Jacks Pass.
Looking ahead to the downhill, I see matching pairs of cyclists approaching each other. A red and a yellow-green top in the uphill couple, and the same on the downhill!
A section of the downhill from Jacks Pass too steep and loose to ride.

So as expected, we did need to walk a few sections of the downhill when it got too steep (again, 14% down, while a challenge on gravel, is at least better than 14% up!), or too deep and loose, but I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to ride most of it, brakes squeezed and modulated to balance between skidding out and becoming a runaway load. Before we started the downhill, our average speed was 8.01mph, and at the bottom, it was 8.04mph, indicating that on steep gravel, going downhill is barely an advantage. And it makes our hands sore! And probably burned through 10% of our brake pads in 15 minutes!

When the gravel solidified unceremoniously into pavement, we almost didn’t believe it, but then brought our own ceremony to the transition, letting out whoops of delight. We made it over the Molesworth! 129 miles with 10,500ft of climbing, mostly on gravel. The combination of multiple days with no supply options, the remoteness, and the unpaved surface made it a (near-)week without comparison in our riding history. Tough, but totally worth it, and it will probably be one of our touchstone memories of New Zealand.

It was genuinely weird to turn onto a town street and see regular humans strolling around. After six days we were finally back in a place where we could exchange money for goods and services! So at 12 noon, we pulled into the first restaurant we saw, mostly for shade while we plotted where to actually go, but then said “fuck it, this place has beer, that’s good enough!”

The beers came in 3 sizes, with “pint” as the middle size, but I saw a couple whose beers were definitely more than a pint, at least 24 oz. So “jug” must be what I want then. Nope, apparently “jug” means pitcher. Whoops! Well, if there was ever a time to mistakenly order “too much” cold beer…

While eating (and drinking!) we booked a site for two nights at the holiday park, paying $10 extra to choose our site once we saw that there was a single maybe-shady site available. And yes, it was so shady that other campers were laid out in it when we arrived. Because it had turned into a ridiculously hot afternoon, “only” 86F, but something about the summer sun here made it worse than that. While Rett showered, I needed to just sit in a chair and not do anything, while afterward she was the one feeling sick in the heat (our mega-caloric, alcohol-filled lunches probably weren’t doing us any favors either).

Luckily some clouds began filtering the sun as the afternoon wore on, because the shaded part became a smaller and smaller section of our site. We decided to forego the plan of a hot pizza dinner (the campground has a pizza oven), and went with a cool salad instead.

Our site (#5) at the Hanmer Springs Top 10 Holiday Park.

Day 2

The holiday park was packed to the gills, and that led to lines in the kitchen of people waiting to do their dishes. Up until now we had had holiday park kitchens nearly to ourselves, so despite the fact that the host at the Cob Cottage said that yesterday (Monday) would bring a big dropoff in holiday traffic due to many offices reopening after two weeks around the holidays, clearly there are still many people out. I later overheard a conversation between locals (rare in this dozen-motel town) where they expressed surprise and confusion that the dropoff hadn’t happened.

The core of what draws people here is the hot pools, and while we were hot-spring virgins just six months ago, we have unintentionally slid down the slippery slope and become raging hot-spring sluts today, so, we partook in the hot pool delights. This place was the most-developed so far, and ranged from 40C hot sulphur pools to giant water slides. We stuck mostly with the mineral pools, and despite the crowds, were generally able to still find shaded spots in which to soak. Afterward we stopped at a hand pie shack for our first New Zealand hand pies, and they were super-good.

The day was still sunny and warm, but not nearly as insufferable as yesterday, so this time we went with yesterday’s plan of fresh-made pizza baked in the campground’s pizza oven. Taking advantage of all those holiday park amenities we’re paying for got us our best New Zealand pizza so far!


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