32.3 mi / 10.2 mph / 1643 ft. climbing
Home: Haast Lodge Backpackers & Motor Park
With a short-ish day today, we didn’t set an alarm, and took our time getting up and out of the tent. But that wasn’t enough to avoid the sandflies! Since our skin was again well-covered for the 45F morning, they had a minimal chance of actually biting us (thankfully they don’t seem to go too aggressively for faces), but we ate a non-zero number of them after they landed in the boiling pot of river-water for our coffee, or in our oatmeal, etc. Luckily they’re small, and don’t seem to have a noticeable taste!
The campground has 12 reservation slots, but there were at least 20 parties who spent the night, mostly in camper vans. No rangers ever came by to confirm our registration, so as long as there is physical space (it felt “full” but not “packed-to-the-gills”), I guess there is nothing to stop the “extras”? There was a payment post, and I saw some people using that (vs. registering/paying online), but I would not be at all surprised if there were some freeloaders. It at least it makes us feel better about just claiming a spot if we ever turn up to a campsite that is numerically “full”.
Yesterday we had a New Zealand rarity of riding 44 miles without ever doing a hill-climb. Yes, there were certainly inclines we went up, but never a time where we said, e.g., “ok, here’s the start of hill #2, 300 feet to the top of this one” like we do nearly every other day. Today we return to “normal”, where the big hills would oddly come just as we hit the coast. But the first half was a visual continuation of yesterday, where the entrancing New Zealand forest surrounded us, with its king specimens looking down on us from high above.
For most of the 200 miles of the West Coast highway between Greymouth and Haast, SH6 runs some five miles inland from the Tasman Sea, and we know from the sections around Greymouth that the dense bush can make the water invisible even when you’re close enough to hear the waves. But looking at the map, the second half of today would finally have us running along the water, and several hundred feet above it at times. That caused me to predict that we might finally get some USA West Coast Oregon/Northern California views.
Well, not really; we only got a couple of brief peeks. The strangest topographical thing was crossing the outlet of Lake Moeraki, a mile an a half from the coast, at 30 feet above sea-level, and then climbing a really-steep 300 foot hill to take us to the sea! That’s not how the boundary between land and water is supposed to work! From there, continuing down the coastline, we had to climb to another high point of 600 feet above sea-level! And while the first peak had a big parking lot with a viewpoint down to the rocks and water cliffs far below (which was very Oregon/California), there was nothing to see at the top of the second peak (or the third).
Once we found our way back down to sea-level, a pulloff at Ship Creek took us to a second view of the water, but even there they built a 20-foot tower to help the view. We ate lunch there, but man, that was easily the most-aggressive sandfly attack we have weathered. Even though I pulled my pants over my shorts relatively quickly, I got at least 6 bites just in the changing process, which is about 6 more than I got in the entire 18 hours we spent like sitting ducks in camp from yesterday afternoon to this morning. It didn’t help that as we were leaving, we ran into some of the most interested-in-us people we’ve met in New Zealand (including a couple who bike toured here 40 years ago, and a woman who declared us “the most adventurous couple I’ve met in New Zealand, and here, that’s saying a lot!”) When showered with attention like that, it’s difficult to just run away, so you tell yourself that maybe your blushing will hide the additional sandfly bites?
A few miles after Ship Creek, we hit a most-unusual bit of New Zealand road: more than two miles of dead-flat, straight-as-an-arrow highway. On the right was an open lawn a couple hundred feet wide separating us from the (still mostly-invisible) ocean, and on the left, an open fence of sea-twisted trees. It reminded me of the road up to Torrey Pines outside of San Diego, except there were even more of the trees-of-character on this West Coast.
We crossed the mighty Haast River on a long one-way bridge with two pull-out bays (areas for cars on a collision path to beg off their game of chicken, but for us, areas to stop for photos!) Haast is another super-small town catering mostly to travelers (it marks the southern end of the West Coast highway), and here we went for another backpackers accommodation, with a very-spare two-person private room.
We got some groceries at the On The Spot (plenty of choices, including a small produce section just like in Fox Glacier), but then went out for dinner to The Hard Antler, basically the only place in town. Thankfully it was good, and surprisingly had sourced (what seemed like) a healthy population of locals to fill its tables (including New Zealand’s answer to Norther Exposure’s Holling Vincoeur holding court at a table of 5 old-timers drinking bombers of Speights beer). In what was likely my last chance, I got the famous West Coast specialty, a whitebait dinner, which is patties formed of juvenile fish netted out of the rivers here in the springtime. For NZ$49, it didn’t quite do anything to my taste buds to make me regret waiting until the last moment to try it, but it also didn’t make me regret paying NZ$49 for it.
On the short walk back to our room, the couple of big beers we’d each had (along with the shared bottle of wine earlier) inspired us to try out all the equipment in the playground.
We knew the West Coast was rainy, but it seems like we “lucked into” more than even the “normal” amount. We’re here for two nights to wait out some more rain (mostly a fast-moving deluge coming on our second night). That means we’ll have done seven days of riding vs. six days of not-riding since we hit the coast at Greymouth. But the amazing thing is that if we set aside the one day of riding 20 miles through the rain, the other six riding days have had perfect, sunny, blue-sky weather. There haven’t been any marginal or even just “slightly blah” days. Which means that if you just look at the photos, you’ll get a rather skewed perception of what the weather is actually like here. But given our ability to stop and wait out the rain, the photos actually end up doing a good job of what it felt like for us on this out-of-the-way West Coast excursion that was totally worth it.