34.7 mi / 9.0 mph / 2450 ft. climbing
Home: Boyle DOC Campsite
With a semi-early start (“early”, to be on the road when traffic is lower, “semi” to not be in camp too soon and fighting sandflies all day), the campground kitchen was far less-crowded. Hanmer Springs is a bit unusual in the New Zealand road network, in that it’s a 5-mile dead-end offshoot (via SH7A) from SH7, the highway that connects Christchurch and Nelson. Well, it’s not exactly a dead-end, you can continue north from Hanmer Springs via…the Molesworth road. But clearly less than 1/10th of 1% of visitors to Hanmer Springs use that road to “pass through” it like we did.
Christchurch and Nelson are the 1st- and 2nd-biggest metros in the South Island (and 2nd and 9th in the country), so once we crossed over a deep gorge on a cool bridge (the first of New Zealand’s many one-way bridges where we nearly had a conflict) and got onto the main thoroughfare, I was a bit concerned that the still-high summer-holiday traffic could make the shoulderless road a nightmare. But it seems like the relatively-low traffic count (~1400 vehicles/day) reported by New Zealand Transportation was fairly accurate, which left plenty of traffic-free gaps. We still had the usual share of New Zealand assholes who don’t give us space even when they easily could, but luckily there were only a few head-to-head squeezes. At least 50% of the cars were towing a trailer with some sort of camping or recreational equipment, so if it weren’t for the holidaymakers, it would have been really relaxed.
Today was the first of a two-day climb to 3000 ft. Lewis Pass, which doesn’t exactly loom over Hanmer Springs; we would only need to gain 2000 ft. over 45 miles, but those 45 miles gave room for 45 miles of New Zealand up-and-downs that doubled what a steady incline would have required. But at least that gave us plenty of downhills to rest our legs, cool ourselves in the wind, and enjoy the mountain views.
We were following rivers the whole way up, and after we crossed the Hope, we stopped at a picnic area that seemed like it would have good water access. No such luck, but it did have a spot of shade. And sandflies. While I’ve gotten plenty of itchy bites from them over the past few weeks, this is the first time they’ve come at us in numbers sufficient to bother Rett, so we tried some of the Picaridin repellent we’ve been carrying from the US, and it immediately proved to be quite effective.
For the last 8 miles, the headwind picked up, demoralizing Rett into pessimism. Worse, even though our route slowly made a near-180-degree turn, the wind somehow stayed in our faces (I guess it was just flowing down the channel between the mountains that we were riding up). A light-controlled construction zone helped a bit by turning traffic behind us into bunches (some of which we simply pulled off the road to let by), and the differing length of the lineups at either traffic light proved that three times more vehicles were coming towards us (returning to Christchurch) vs. coming from behind. With all that, we still made it to our campsite before 2pm.
Rett immediately ran ahead to find the swimming hole that was the main attraction of this vault-toilet/(boil your)water-spigot DOC campsite. While it was a quarter mile walk up from the camping area, wow, what a spot, what a river! A strong flow and waist-deep in places (with some even deeper sheltered pots), yet easy to walk across, cliff-edges mixed with shaded fairy beaches along its banks. Getting clean was never so beautiful or so much fun!
On the way back up we saw a young couple on the way down, he with a wide floppy hat that covered only a part of his blonde curly locks, she with wide flowy pants and a spare halter-top, all in browns and beiges and straws, and barefoot. I said to Rett, “I don’t want to stereotype, but those might be people who could help you with something you’ve been missing ever since we’ve been in New Zealand”. Later on, Hugh and Sasha stopped by to chat (turning out to be as cool as they looked), and Rett, within seconds of inquiring, was able to acquire some of what she was looking for, artisanally grown too (“stereotypes are usually based in truth!” they cheerfully conceded!)
We were able to get a spot (it’s self-register, choose your own vaguely-defined spot) that had plenty of shade from the kanuka trees (whose tiny white blossoms fell like snow every time the wind blew), so that meant we were able to cover up our skin with clothing as protection from the sandflies without getting too hot. That and a bit more repellent on exposed spots, and these sandflies (which I’m sure are far from the worst we’ll encounter) turned out to be much more-easily-managed that I’d feared. Unlike mosquitos, they chew into your skin, so they can’t really get through even thin clothing, and they’re easier to kill if you find one annoying you.