Springs Junction, NZ to Reefton, NZ

27.6 mi / 11.8 mph / 1132 ft. climbing
Home: Reefton Motor Camp

Today was a rare occasion when an unheralded destination ends up eclipsing the journey as the memory of the day. Which was particularly impressive in this case because I had seen a cycling guidebook (at our Blenheim WarmShowers hosts) describe the ride from Springs Junction to Reefton as a world-class stretch of bicycle touring. And it was! But something about the atmosphere of Reefton on this summer Friday just put a perfect cap on the day.

The building in the middle is last night’s AirBNB. Yesterday I was standing out on the porch on the right side and looking up to this spot on the hill to confirm how rarely a vehicle went by.

We were able to take a late (~9:30am) start this morning both because the distance was short, and because this segment of SH7 doesn’t lie on the direct route between any population centers, so traffic was much lower (~500/day vs. ~1300/day of yesterday). And with little traffic to worry about, we were able to enjoy the beauty of the route. It was heavily wooded, with the beech forest allowing peekaboo glimpses of the mountains rising sharply around us. Those slopes produced frequent small waterfalls tumbling down to and then under the road to reach the river on the other side. And when the cliffs ran right down to the road, they were often coated in ferns, the first time we have seen that wet-climate foliage on the South Island.

The day started with this stout 700-foot climb, but the steep bits (8-9%) were interspersed with flatter sections, and our fresh morning legs made short work of it. So after 5 miles it was all downhill again!
Easy riding through forest and mountains.
One of the tall peaks that we needed to look behind us to see. The mountains here seem much taller than they are because they’re always unusually close to you. That also means that you can pass by one mountain and be on to a completely different view of another every couple of minutes.
At Rahu Saddle (on the west side of the pass, because there is one on the east as well), the canyon opens up into farmland and broader views.
Looking back at the mountains that have kindly let us pass through.
I’m not sure what’s happening so high up on this mountain. At first I thought a logging road, but that seems like way to much work for a few trees. So some kind of mining operation? Or, they’re working on New Zealand’s version of the Crazy Horse Monument?

By noon we rolled into our destination of Reefton, and passed the campground to go to the grocery store first for lunch accessories. Since we were so early, we briefly discussed continuing further to shorten tomorrow’s ride, but thankfully we decided against it because then we would have missed this town! (remembering that the road gets busier from here and it was now midday sealed the decision).

We went back to check in at the campground, which, despite the good reviews, I had been a bit apprehensive about because it mostly appeared to be an open field. And we’ve learned how unbearable the hours and hours of midday sun can be here even on an otherwise-comfortable day like today. Trees ring the open field, but with the sun directly overhead, they need to be super-tall, and on the correct side (which changes through the afternoon) to provide usable shade. But here, some genius many decades ago had planted cedar trees! Their broad evergreen branches hung down close to head-height, leaving a perfect place to pitch the tent under them, on ground that would stay shaded all day. And that shaded loose earth was the easiest spot on the South Island I’ve found to push tent stakes into.

That’s a whole paragraph filled with minutiae about tent-pitching, but it’s an accumulation of small satisfactions like that which make for a great day like this.

On the main strip of Reefton, the mining history of the town somehow speaks through the architecture. The buildings made it feel very similar to Santa Rosalia in Baja, an ocean away, but also a mining town. I don’t know why a mine nearby influences how a hotel is shaped, but apparently it does!

We walked back through town for a real grocery trip (the unusual coexistence of two mid-sized independent grocers speaks to the vitality of the small town), and toured both sides of the main street. There are enough art galleries and shops to show that the town knows a thing or two about culture, but not so many that it feels like an unlived-in “tourist destination”. Rett acquired a new fashion sun-hat, which added to her affection for the town, but made me sad that the “weight + hills = pain” equation hadn’t been internalized as much as I thought it had over the last couple weeks.

The fairy door at the base of this piano is the cherry on top (at the bottom)? Also, after the piano in last night’s AirBNB, I’m wondering if Reefton is also the piano capital of New Zealand?
I’m not quite that bald yet, and Rett only wishes her hair was red, but the artist had it right that I follow behind her, so, pretty accurate depiction overall!

We returned with a fresh-frozen chicken-and-cranberry pizza to bake in the camp kitchen, which, like all the rest of the facilities, was huge, clean, and well-equipped. In the bathroom were four shower stalls, four sinks, four toilet stalls, soap, paper towels; it felt a bit like some of the Western county fairgrounds we camped at last summer, designed to handle peak volumes greater than a normal summer Friday. Or like the Lander, Wyoming city park, where someone made the decision that allowing free camping would be a net-positive for the town (at NZ$15/pp, this is the cheapest “holiday park” we’ve camped in, which suggested to me that the town subsidizes it somehow).

There was a lounge area in the kitchen, and with the doors and windows open, the air flowed through making it plenty comfortable (and sandfly-free) for Rett to sit inside and watch HGTV while I wrote journals. On a walk back to the tent through the sun, I wondered if photons aren’t actually massless in New Zealand, such was their weight pushing me into the ground, demanding twice the effort to take a step as when under shade. But once I crossed the lava I could lie comfortably in our shaded tent and gaze at the branches above protecting me.

Our tent spot under the cedars at Reefton Motor Park.
My attempt to catch the swirling insects surfing on those heavy photons near sunset. The camera only captured a fraction of what my eye could see, but it got a good line of the cedars too!
A rather bothered kereru sat directly above me for a few moments, though thankfully did not do his worst.
Even these slightly-annoying kids with their super-cute dog brought nostalgic memories of the late summer sunsets of childhood.
The Inangahua River (that we had followed downhill into Reefton) flows directly behind the camp.
One of the cedars went a little wild here. Perhaps an evil wizard pitched his tent under it and this was the tree’s way of strangling him in his sleep?
A pretty badass skate/bike park next to the camp, where a small group of kids were hanging out with a perfectly-appropriate level of mischief in their attitude.
By sunset the perimeter of the park had filled in pretty well, but it was still quiet and peaceful.

If we could live in New Zealand permanently, I’d choose to come to Reefton!


Last Updated:


2 responses to “Springs Junction, NZ to Reefton, NZ”

  1. Selwyn Love Avatar
    Selwyn Love

    My wife and I moved to Reefton to live 10 months ago. Great decision, people here are generally very friendly, very peaceful town. Feels like at least 20 years behind the new culture in society all over the western world of fearing your neighbors, despise elderly, hate old school thinking. Iove it even visitors can sense quite peace here.

    1. neil Avatar

      Cool, thanks for the “local” perspective in return, with some evidence that I wasn’t just imagining the feel! Funny thing is that the day before you left this comment, we were chatting with some fellow travelers about our journeys, and they asked “So where in New Zealand would you pick to live?”, and we didn’t have an immediate answer for them. An hour down the road I remembered “Reefton, I should have told them Reefton!” 😆

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *