Te Anau, NZ to Lumsden, NZ

48.5 mi / 13.5 mph / 1352 ft. climbing
Home: Lumsden Camping Ground

Nearly every day of riding in New Zealand has taken us through beautiful landscapes, but our arrival to the South Island turned the already-high level up several more notches, to the point where we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to not ride through an epic fantasy film. That streak may now be coming to a (temporary) end, as we planned to set off across the farm country of the southeast corner of the South Island, on our way to Dunedin.

A little bit of farm, a little bit of hills.

The Tour Aotearoa route ends at Bluff, a peninsula sticking out of the south of the South (though not actually the southernmost point on the island!) I had unconsciously been thinking that we would head roughly that way before turning back north, but recently had realized there was no particular scenic reason to make that our goal, and we could save time to spend on more interesting things if we cut more directly eastward through Gore, the heart of the farming region. The advantage there was that we actually love riding through farm country, partly because the scenery just feels “comfortable”, but also because there are usually more roads to choose from, more small towns with supplies, and most of all, because everything is just more relaxed. Without the spectacular sights, the places aren’t overwhelmed by tourists, so it’s easier to find uncrowded and inexpensive places to stay, and it just feels more like we’re experiencing a true local place and culture.

Well, last night that theory all got blown to shit.

Back in the other direction, some of that forest/tussock mix we went through on our ride from Mavora.

When I looked for places to stay in Gore two nights from now, literally nothing was available. They have plenty of motels, and plenty of availability Monday night, but then suddenly zero for Tuesday (and the next few days)! That’s the opposite of farm-country ease! Even in 99%-tourists Queenstown, the place whose high-voltage center-of-gravity we’re trying to escape, the remaining bookable places might be insanely expensive, but there would still be places available. In unremarkable Gore, zero! On a Tuesday!

It took a bit of searching and then confirmation from a WarmShowers host I messaged, but it looks like the cause was “Southern Field Days”, essentially an agricultural “state fair” happening for three days nearby. So ironically it was the exact “real, local culture” we were seeking that was blocking our ability to experience it!

By the time I heard back from the WarmShowers host (who graciously responded with helpful info despite her grief from a recent death in her family), I had already been looking again at doing the longer loop along the southern coast, so when she also suggested that as the best option (believing that the roads around Gore would be no fun to ride on during the fest even if we could somehow find a place to stay), that confirmed it. Today we would head mostly east to Lumsden as planned, but then turn south after all, instead of continuing east. Definitely not a deal-breaker, but an annoyance at having to develop a whole new plan for the coming days.

Tailwinds across the grasslands.

For our third morning camping at the Te Anau Holiday Park (a near-record tenting-in-one-spot for us), more kitchen randomness had a giant tour group filling all but one table at breakfast, compared to us being the only people in there yesterday morning. It was clearly payback from the seemingly-nice couple whose quiet space our tour group had invaded yesterday!

In another brief moment of stress, Rett couldn’t find her biking gloves just as we were ready to leave; they had somehow gotten dropped in the handoff between washer and drying line when we did laundry a couple days ago. Crap, it would be a couple days until the next bike shop. But miraculously, a worker Rett talked to at reception had seen them sitting on a rock, and she led her right to where they were still sitting. Phew!

More of the native tussock vegetation.

On our bus tour yesterday we had already done a long return to Te Anau from the dead-end of Milford Sound, but even Te Anau is at a dwindling of New Zealand’s road network, so we had an unusually-long bike ride over roads we had already covered: 20 miles! But of course with new lighting, new weather, facing the opposite direction, and unfortunately, facing the oncoming Milford Sound tour buses coming from Queenstown, it didn’t feel old and boring.

We also had the advantage of perhaps the best tailwind we’ve had in New Zealand so far, so by the time we reached the top of the long hill shortly after the end of our backtrack, our average speed was still double-digits (10.4 mph), and it only rose after that, as the big tailwind plus gradual downhill let us easily pump at 20 mph for the next 28 miles (actual moving average, including the couple of uphills at the end of those 28 miles was 16.7 mph). Definitely a day where biking feels like fun and not a chore.

A grid of purple-wrapped hay bales make this field look like some sort of (cancer?) charity drive.

The Lumsden Camping Ground has no website and no reservation system, so I had been somewhat concerned that early-arrivers for the Field Days could be packing this place before we even arrived, but I needn’t have worried. Upon our early-afternoon arrival, the tent sites in the big central area were all open, and only long-term RVs (most without owners present) ringed the edges. Payment (of the very-cheap NZ$15/person) was honor-system cash-in-a-slot, but the kitchen was well-equipped and empty except for us while we ate lunch (that’s how early the tailwind got us in) and got Rett warmed up, and a fellow camper gave us the code to get into the nice showers (it seems otherwise we would have had to call a number posted on the wall). In short, it was exactly the sort of relaxed, no-stress, wide-open, anti-Queenstown experience that we’d been hoping for in farm country, and had found for at least one night.

Alpaca? Llama? Panda? Hayao Miyazaki creation? Anyway, a cute-animal pen was an extra bonus at this farm-country campground.
90% chance this guy isn’t actually alive, and is just a Jim Henson creation.
On our half-mile walk to the grocery store in town, a hedge wall like we haven’t seen since the North Island.
And just like the North Island hedge walls, a peek inside showed this one was also protecting an orchard of fruit trees.
The nice kitchen at the Lumsden Camping Ground. Just a reminder that most of this is “standard” at New Zealand private campgrounds: sinks, stoves, microwaves, kettles, toaster ovens, refrigerators, tables and chairs, and all sorts of cooking/dining utensils (though half of places don’t provide the latter). All for US$18!
Despite the four RVs visible behind our tent, if this was the Te Anau Holiday Park we had just left, there would be at least 20 more parties camped in the area of this photo.
Again, RVs are closer than they appear. We basically felt like we were alone here, which was so nice.


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