Haast, NZ to Makarora, NZ

48.6 mi / 10.2 mph / 2977 ft. climbing
Home: Wonderland Makarora Lodge

We stayed in Haast under a roof for two nights because the 3rd round of heavy rain in just over a week was scheduled to crash down on the West Coast on our second night. Unlike the previous one-to-three day events, this one would blast through in just a few hours, but with the ability to drop a few inches of rain in that short period. That means it came with some serious wind gusts (unlike the previous events), and while we could hear the whistling by our window as we went to sleep, our 2nd-floor shelter felt solid, warm, and dry.

By morning it had all stopped, but a couple in the kitchen who had spent the night in their campervan sounded nearly-traumatized, saying that the van was rocking, they barely slept, and it was the worst night they’ve experienced in their van. I can’t even imagine what it would have felt like in our tent!

Quantitatively, Franz Josef (where we waited out the first of these three rounds) got four inches, bringing its total over the last 10 days to nearly 20 inches! Haast got “only” 3 inches overnight, but the lack of damage, flooding, or even puddles this morning speaks more to this land’s experience in handling heavy rain than to the idea that 3 inches of rain is generally inconsequential.

The common area of the backpackers building at the Haast Lodge, the safe and dry shelter from the storm. I think only 3 of the ~10 rooms were occupied last night, the people staying out in their vans in the parking lot probably should have just sprung for a room!

There was still a bit of a risk in us moving on today. While the heavy rain was definitely done, there was a chance of light showers all day, and we had a big mountain pass to climb (and we’re still big inexperienced wussies about riding in the rain). But more significant rain is coming again tomorrow, so rather than extending our 2 nights here to 4+, we chose to push forward (and upward!) Also we would have ideally taken two days to get to Makarora, with a night of camping halfway, but since our non-shitty-weather window was only a single day, the push would be a big one.

Thus, it did not help that when we were all ready to go at 8am, our bikes were not. I had chosen the option of storing them in the woodshed, rather than outside under the stairs (more for weather-protection than security). The clerk had said someone would be around at 8am to unlock the shed (at least I’m 90% sure that’s the time she said), but then I noticed the signs said reception opened at 9am. Ugh. There was an after hours phone number listed, but when Rett called it, we could hear the phone ringing inside the office whose locked door we were already peering through (that’s not an after-hours number, guys!) I was just roaming the property looking for anyone, while Rett was fuming in frustration, partially at me. Then, at 8:37am, we saw a guy enter the office. A knock, a wave, a quick explanation, and we had our bikes. Phew!

We set out back onto highway 6, following the Haast River upstream. Traffic was absent, the clouds were low, and the river was high. And tying those gray clouds above to the gray river below was a network of brilliant white streamers. Waterfalls, dozens of them, spilling off the tops of the high valley walls on either side of us, and then eventually churning below our tires, under the road, and contributing to the Haast’s mighty flow. The only time I’ve seen anything like it was when I explored a bit up the Franz Josef valley a week ago, but the quantity and variety of falls here far exceeded those, especially since we would be riding up this valley for some 30 miles. And like at Franz Josef, being here right after a deluge was surely one benefit to the rain that’s been slowing us down, improving the quality (and maybe even the quantity) of the falls.

Entering the Haast valley, broad to start, but with the walls closing in ahead.
A huge forest waterfall, high up on the mountainside above us.
Coming down in multiple stages (and eventually feeding these trees in the foreground), Rett pointed out that even that topmost stage (only the top 30% of the sections above the cool tree-bridge crossing in front) would be an impressive waterfall on its own in most other contexts.
Multiple falls joining, splitting, fanning out, I don’t even know what!
Rett thrilled to be riding by all these waterfalls.
Hey, it’s another waterfall! We were stopping every three minutes, and that’s after resisting the urge to stop at the other 50%!
Ok, now there are two totally unrelated networks of white filaments connecting cloud to river?!
There were loads of super-cool roadside falls, much smaller but much closer than the mountainside falls high above us, but this one was both close and huge (#FindRett for scale), but still only a fraction of the height of the distant ones.
The same falls as above, showing the huge fallen tree bridging in front of them.
#FindRett, winding up the narrowing Haast Valley.
Amidst the mountains and waterfalls, the trees were still able to grab our attention too.
A wishbone waterfall across the valley.

We were stopping every few minutes to look at a new waterfall, so at one point I had to tell Rett “no, let’s skip this one”, because we still had a long way to go with the huge hill to climb. But Rett, who always prioritizes getting the day’s “work” done as soon as possible (and much more than I do), said “no, I don’t care how long it takes us today!” That’s a better indication than any photo I could take of how great the scenery was.

This mountain face was something entirely new, topped with a treeless, broken face, with water running down every wrinkile.
Water water everywhere, and all the drops good to drink.
An even-closer view of the same mountain face, looks like a tropical jungle, except with snowfields at the top.
A view with the wide Haast River included.
The color spectrum from top to bottom is amazing even without the waterfalls.
A higher peak of the same mountain, creating its own clouds.
And a broader view looking back downstream.

At the confluence of the Haast and the Landsborough, we turned south to continue up the Haast valley (a small cell phone antenna provides a spot of service there!), where we passed some amazing slot-canyon-style roadside-waterfalls, and eventually opened onto a broad plain. The “before the climb” Pleasant Flat campground is situated there, and we considered lunch, but decided to move on to Thunder Creek Falls.

It was funny to cross the one-way bridge there, and remember that I had looked at this route before we even arrived in New Zealand, and feared that it might be dangerous or even impossible to ride our bicycles across such a bridge. By now we’ve been across hundreds of one-way bridges, and they’ve been barely a concern. It’s a good lesson that I can become too concerned with preparations.

The view from our campsite, if we had decided to camp at Pleasant Flat.
A zoom down the valley reveals a mountain plastered in white.
We walked a short path to Thunder Creek Falls, eating lunch as we walked and stood, in avoidance of sandflies and imminent rain. The falls were thundering with much more force (and the river was much higher) than we saw in photos from our friends Anna and Moritz a week ago.

We’d been rising very slowly for the first 30 miles, but after lunch the real climb came on immediately, hard and fast. 10-12% grades most of the way, initially with a continuous 2-inch wide drain grate running along the left side of the road near the cliff that otherwise would have sent a river down the roadway.

Crossing over the river at the Gates of Haast, which sounds like a place from a fantasy novel, or the debut album from
The Haast River, suddenly descending much faster.

It was a seriously challenging climb, not improved by the arrival of our first actual rain of the day. But with frequent pauses to catch our breath (allowed by Rett’s ability to now restart her bike on 10-12% grades!), we made it 700 feet up to the top with only 100 yards of pushing, and that only because at one point passing cars made Rett too nervous and she had to stop.

Unhappily taking a break in a pullout halfway up the climb.
Fantail Falls, another marked-on-the-map (with parking lot) spot that all the drivers stopped at, but wasn’t necessarily better than all the “unofficial” falls.
At the top of the big climb, the Haast River is still here, now flowing flat again!
A final relatively-easy push brings us to Haast Pass Summit!
At the last moment, I noticed that Anna and Moritz had left their mark behind, it was exciting to “see” them again!
The river on the other side of the pass starts up quickly!

There had been a French bike touring couple in the Haast Backpackers with us this morning, though we didn’t really talk with them. They left a bit before us (since their bikes weren’t locked up!), but near the end we caught and passed them (and a little earlier we passed a couple of guys riding the other way, precisely at Haast Pass, all of us excited for a downhill!) But then for some reason the guy left his wife behind and raced past us again (later he said we inspired him for the final push, which is cool I guess?)

But the push got both of us under the roofs of the Wonderland Makarora Lodge just as the heaviest rain of the day began, quite contrary to the forecast, but perfectly timed for us.

Day 2

An entire day spent inside our cute A-frame, when again contrary to the forecast, it rained nonstop until evening. The on-site restaurant and small-but-useful grocery corner at the lodge did a fine job of keeping us fed for five meals without needing to lug up groceries from Haast.

Shelter for the bikes, a kitchen, and a waterfall behind, what more could we ask for?
When the rain finally cleared we got a nice sunset over the mountains.


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