28.8 mi / 8.9 mph / 1463 ft. climbing
Home: Karen’s WarmShowers House
Yesterday morning Rett got to talking with a friendly American woman, Andrea, at the campground bathroom. With her husband David, they had also traveled on their bicycles through New Zealand…42 years ago! Not only were they out blazing these trails decades ahead of us, they’re still out here doing things we hope to be able to do when we grow up, like just finishing up a 3-day backpacking trip around one of NZ’s “Great Walks”…and were now back in Queenstown sleeping in their tent! But there awesomeness goes way beyond their outdoor abilities; after hearing we were headed up to Glenorchy, they offered to help carry some of our load in their car! Since we camped last night, we needed to bring most of our stuff, but Rett managed to offload a surprising and significant amount of weight from her bags. Given what a challenge that the hills and wind and exhaustion were yesterday even with the lightened load, it very well might have been the difference between us making it to Glenorchy and not!
This morning they drove up for a day trip, and we met them for breakfast at Mrs. Woolly’s Cafe, partly to take delivery of Rett’s extra load, but partly to just spend more time with this very cool couple, now on their 12th trip to New Zealand!
Our lightweight luck would continue today, as we would be back to riding with our full loads only briefly. This was our fourth and final day of clear skies, so with rain coming overnight we didn’t want to be in the tent again, but the only roofed accommodations remaining in Glenorchy were quite expensive. I was surprised to find a WarmShowers host in this remote low-population area, and since it’s not right on the main bike touring route, I reached out a few days ago and Karen not only accepted our request to spend the night, but would let us drop off our bags this morning so that we could do our gravel-road explorations further up the valley much more comfortably.
We rode five miles of pavement, then a little bit of gravel, and then half-a-mile up Karen’s driveway, including a (mostly-walked) 14% hill that brought us to her incredible stone-walled house. And of course that hill provided why-ever-leave-your-house views.
We set off on our unladen bikes down the Glenorchy-Paradise Road, which turned to gravel after we crossed the Rees River. We had some strong winds whipping through the trees, but without the big sails of our panniers to catch it, the riding was much easier than it would have been (and it also meant that the dust kicked up by the rare passing car was quickly blown off the roadway).
A big part of why we were heading up this road was to visit ‘Lord of the Rings’ filming locations. Somewhere in the forest near Diamond Lake was used for a part of the Elven forest of Lothlorien; the random spot where we pulled off for lunch was a little short of where the tour company stops and gives their guests costumes to use for a forest photo shoot, but that meant it was our own private section of the enchanted wood.
Rett showed off her current confidence and skill by riding right through the first streams we needed to ford, not even pausing to scout them out. I don’t think I’ve even forded streams on my bike before! The third one (pictured above) was quite a bit deeper (the rocks under the water weren’t visible), and some guys in vans decided it was too much of a risk for them so they just parked and continued on foot. Another guy we had seen pass us earlier stopped on the way back and said he ripped up his undercarriage pretty good, and a pile of plastic bumpers and fenders stacked in the grass proved the risk wasn’t imaginary. But Rett found a path we could take slightly off the main road where we could lift our bikes down, and then do a quick pedal (just to keep our feet dry) across a much narrower stream. Bikes win again!
That brought us to the forest that was used for Amon Hen, near the end of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. Our vanished mobile reception meant that we couldn’t find the exact place, but the open forest we wandered into was unlike anything we’ve encountered in New Zealand so far, but felt very much like the place where Boromir died, so it was good enough for us.
Our last segment had us continue uphill through beech forest until it opened up onto one of the clearings used to portray Isengard. Before the uphill we had one last ford to cross. The water wasn’t deep, but it was wide and fast-flowing, and the rocks were rough, so I paused to scout a line, and then lost momentum before I made it to the other side and needed to put my feet down into the river. The problem is probably that I didn’t attack it with Rett’s confidence, I should learn from her! But with my feet already soaked, I just then walked both of our bikes across the stream.
Karen had warned us that the Paradise Road surface was the worst of the three main gravel roads heading up the valley, so we had been pleasantly surprised. Some washboarding at the beginning, but most of the rest was smooth and easy to ride, especially the parts through forest where the moisture allows it to compact into a smoother-than-concrete surface. But when we turned around and had the wind now pushing us and the downhill pulling us, the washboards became a lot more noticeable at 18mph than they had been at 8mph. At least we had only a couple of bags being flung violently about!
Back at Karen’s we shared her dinner table and got to know her better (she mostly rides her bike the 5 miles each way when she goes to Glenorchy) and what it’s like to live out here (she manages to only need to do the hour-long drive to Queenstown about once a month!), and certainly imagine for ourselves how wonderful it would be to live in this house on this land in this place!