Fairlie, NZ to Geraldine, NZ

29.2 mi / 13.3 mph / 1309 ft. climbing
Home: Geraldine Top10 Holiday Park

We had two ways to get to Geraldine. The “short” route would be on the direct Christchurch-to-Queenstown highway (SH79) the entire time (with no bike paths alongside it like our last ride), and hillier, but 13 miles shorter. The longer route would loop us south through Cave and Pleasant Point, on potentially-quieter SH8 (since it’s a longer route between population centers), with a gradual downhill most of the way, and then on country roads back north to Geraldine.

I’d been researching and internally-debating for days and couldn’t choose, so it was nice that the weather essentially decided for us. If we went straight east on the “direct” route, we would have a big tailwind behind us, whereas it would be much less-favorable on the longer zig-zag route. Not only would the wind make the “short ride” even faster, our higher speeds also make the traffic-battling easier.

The “hillier” definitely turned out to be true, at least in the beginning when we had a 300 foot 9-10% beast to get up. But traffic was light enough, and our morning energy strong enough, that getting to the top wasn’t too bad.

The view back down towards Fairlie.
Now that we’re off the scenic trail and just riding between towns on the highway, I kind of thought there wouldn’t be many scenes, but no, it’s New Zealand, there are still scenes.
A cool view-identifier at the top of the hill; I’m surprised more places don’t have something like this.
Hill-climbing almost always brings new views.
Winding down into the next valley.
Traffic turned out to be lighter than expected (though all the Rett-riding photos are with my phone, while also riding, meaning that I wasn’t comfortable stopping to take pictures with my real camera, like I do on actual low-traffic roads).

Over the 29 miles on SH79 between Fairlie and Geraldine, there were around 10 times when traffic from behind had to slow down to wait for oncoming traffic before they could pass us, which is a fairly small number of conflicts. 90% of the drivers passing us (whether or not there was oncoming traffic) were excellent, either moving far over, slowing down, or both. There were about 3 assholes, who either blew past when it wasn’t safe to do so, or failed to move over an inch when it was safe to do so. And there were only about 8 heavy trucks. I asked the Reverend we talked with yesterday if he had any opinion on the two different highways, and he didn’t have a strong vote, but he did theorize that trucks might take the flatter, less-curvy, but longer highway, and perhaps he was right about that. Either way, SH79 turned out to be a pretty good road for us!

Not only were yellow leaves fluttering down into the road here, the air had the familiar scent of fall, the comforting mustiness of early decay.
More changing leaves on this Northern Hemisphere equivalent of September 5th.

The wind and overall-downhill (we’re back down to 400 feet above sea-level) got us into Geraldine early enough that we got relatively-fancy lunch at Barker’s Foodstore, where they conveniently served beer from the country-road brewery (House of Hop) that we’d passed 5 miles outside of town (and would have stopped at had they been open!)

The Top10 Holiday Park was covered in huge trees (including giant sequoias), smelling like Christmas-on-steroids, but still had a nice family-run feel.

Day 2

Two rides from here we’re due to turn west up another mountain valley. But two days from now the forecast says winds will be pouring down that valley (and my now slightly-significant experience with mountain valleys on the east side of New Zealand’s Alps tells me that the forecast may be understating the actual conditions). If we were “bike touring”, we would have just said “welp, that’s gonna be a shitty day, but I guess we’ll just have to grind through it.” If we were the Sounds2Sounds brevet riders racing across the length of the South Island (some of whom are camping and stiffly-waddling around here), we would do (at least) two days in one and make it up the mountain valley tomorrow. But we’re neither of those things, so we’re simply delaying for a day. And since Geraldine has more resources than tomorrow’s destination (Mount Somers), we’re inserting the delay here.

Ranger Rett finds a quiet friend in the Geraldine Top10 Holiday Park, in front of a giant sequoia.

Four nights in Fairlie got us rested up, so we didn’t need an off-day again so soon, and that meant we could take a walk around town, and then up through Talbot Forest, a rare bit of ancient podocarp forest hiding in the east. The podocarp forests we saw on the west coast had an unusual structure where 1-of-100 trees were 100 times taller than the rest of the forest. That was also the structure here at Talbot, so I’m starting to think that’s what “podocarp forest” means!

Ranger Rett inspects a giant king, surrounded by its tiny worshipping subjects.
One of the giant species is “matai”, known for its “hammered” bark. And unlike something like a ponderosa pine, which can have somewhat-similar scalloped shapes in its cracked bark, this stuff isn’t on the verge of flaking away, and feel more like cast concrete!
Golden sap flowing down from a matai, just waiting to catch a dragonfly.
Ranger Rett inspecting a Totara, the second of three giant species in this forest, in perfect deep-forest light.
The small-scale denizens that filled in all the gaps between the giants were incredibly warped, twisted, and darkly-chaotic.
Comparing braids.

It was a pretty incredible short walk (we made it a longer loop that included more-boring non-native forest), and such a surprise to see a forest like that hiding in plain sight on the edge of town.

Looking down onto Geraldine near the end of our loop that took us up and down some steep hills.

Earlier we had stopped at the fancy cheese shop (more than just a shop, you can see them actually making cheese through an internal window!) and came away with a goat gouda, a deer havarti, and a 13-year cheddar, so dinner was the best version of a “charcuterie dinner” we could assemble here in New Zealand, where their cured-meat game comes up a bit short of modern US standards. No matter, the cheese stole the show!

Even well-equipped holiday park kitchens tend to have a fairly spartan construction (mostly for ease-of-cleaning, I’m sure), so the monumental wood table in this one is a real standout! (I’m guessing it came from one of their own specimen trees, and not taken from Talbot!) Also note Rett’s new L&P socks!


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