Lewis Pass, NZ to Springs Junction, NZ

23.5 mi / 9.7 mph / 1374 ft. climbing
Home: Kathleen’s Garage AirBNB

By morning, the “snow” (“dandruff”?) from the kanuka trees (blurry, at top) had settled on everything. Here at the bottom on Rett’s seat and the black brim of her helmet, but also covering the tent, settling in our chairs, etc. It blows off just as easily as it blows on.

Today we just had a bit more climbing to do before we got to the top of Lewis Pass. Once again, since we had a short day of riding, and nothing to do before check-in at our AirBNB, we took our time getting on the road. I wasn’t sure if yesterday’s one-way construction would still be active and converting the traffic stream into on/off bursts, but we soon passed through another one anyway. However, the caravans that came through behind us were oddly unpredictable: widely spread-out (which would make sense if we were further from the one-way), or sometimes with a final car coming 30 seconds after the pack, like the Balrog’s whip slinging forth from the void after Gandalf thought the Fellowship had been freed of that menace. Annoying!

Riding up the Lewis River Valley. Like the Molesworth, but green!
I’ve been reading about the beauty of riding through the native beech forests in this area, and while I don’t really know what beech trees look like, we haven’t seen anything like these fantastic trees in the mid-ground (except in the Lord of the Rings movies), so these must be the beeches (of Fangorn Forest, in the shadow of the Misty Mountains).

The 10-mile climb, in classic New Zealand-style, had a lot of ups-and-downs, so along with the continued headwind, Rett was getting pessimistic on the way up. I told her that once we reached the top it would be easy the rest of the way, but her frustration wasn’t letting her believe that. But when I reminded her how much I dislike being wrong (and more-importantly, how much I don’t want to disappoint her with false hopes), I think she at least partly accepted that I wouldn’t be trying to put a positive spin on the remaining miles unless I was 90% sure that it would play out as I hoped.

A view of the St. James Range from Lewis Pass (with more of that beech forest in the foreground).
Another view of the St. James Range from Lewis Pass.
The transportation department doesn’t spend as much money marking passes here as most American states do; I only noticed this small sign when I looked back up the road in the opposite direction. But I guess if your pass isn’t even a-thousand-somethings tall, is it even worth noting? (compared to passes we went over in the US last summer that were ten-thousand-somethings tall!)

We eventually made it up the last climb to the top of the pass and made a 90-degree left-turn, and my prediction for the remaining miles was wrong: they were even easier than I had dared to hope! The initial 1000-foot steep descent was a locked-in -6% grade, completely different from the ascent (which varied between 9% and -4% grades and took 3 times more distance to achieve an equal change in elevation). It’s like American highway engineers built one side of the pass and Kiwis the other, though in reality I assume it was just a difference in how ice and water shaped the valleys on each side. The annoying overtaking vehicles had seemingly all been vaporized, but that’s mostly just what happens when you’re riding at near 30mph (60% of the speed of the cars) vs. 4mph (8% of their speed!)

On the “flat” (-1%) section we could still fly along easily, aided by a smooth-rolling mini-shoulder. We were embedded in tall beech forest, and there were moments where it had the atmosphere of riding through a redwood forest, despite them not being nearly as large. We still had a few assholes pass close for no reason, but there wasn’t time for many of them to do so before we reached the gas station at Springs Junction.

A forested ride down from Lewis Pass.
The forest turns to farmland and we see new mountain ranges.

The gas station is the only thing happening in Springs Junction (the cafe has closed), and it was hopping because it’s also the only thing for quite some distance (we’ve gone two days from Hanmer Springs without seeing another thing. Usually such isolated gas stations have a larger-than-normal food selection, but this one was fairly-limited, so that made it even more surprising when I glanced at their jumble of automotive supplies on a shelf and spotted a vial of Loctite 243! I’ve been looking for this stuff on-and-off for months, to stick our brake caliper adjusters in place (visiting multiple hardware stores in Auckland!), and here I find it in a 4-shelf gas station. And while it didn’t have fruits and vegetables, it did have plenty of calories for us, including more meat pies that we ate with some fellow travelers out around the side.

Having delayed long enough to not feel like we were abusing our hosts’ allowance of an early check-in, we rolled around to one of her 5 units (which seem to comprise about half of the buildings in “town”), this one in the rear of an old industrial garage. It was a nice bt somewhat dated unit that had an excellent new bathroom, giving it a mind-bendingly high bathroom-to-bedroom quality ratio. But it had no air-conditioning (not too surprising here), since opening the windows would have been sufficient to cool it, but the windows had no screens (even less-surprising here), so opening them allowed sandflies in. We had intentionally booked a roof for the night after our first experiment camping in sandfly-country to give relief if we needed it, so it was perfectly ironic that we had more sandfly trouble under this roof (either too hot, or too bitten) than we did camping! But, it was also the first time on the South Island where we’ve had a room to ourselves with an included bathroom (and for Rett, the first time we’ve had a TV), so it was still worth it!

The view from the porch of our AirBNB.
Inside our AirBNB; the piano and the massage chair were unusual amenities! (the chair got more use)


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