Day 10 : Canvastown – Picton 47km

The final day!

I struggled to start writing this post. I’m not sure why, perhaps I didn’t want to accept that this fantastic adventure was over. Although I will be quite happy to not jump on the bike tomorrow.

While I was getting my bike off the motorhome in Canvastown a motorhome with bikes on the back pulled up. The driver wandered over and said he assumed there was a good cycle trail nearby that I was getting ready to ride.

Well, no. Ahead of me was 9km of busy State Highway, followed by a trail that was going to test my (admittedly limited) technical ability, and had caused 2 crashes that I knew of – one resulting in a broken wrist, the other a broken rib. So I was a little apprehensive about my day.

Ah well, can’t stand here chatting all day, better get on the road. The section of Highway 6 from Canvastown to Havelock is a continuation of yesterday’s final stretch – busy but with a good shoulder and considerate traffic. Flat and relatively scenic as it runs alongside the Pelorus River, it was not unpleasant and half an hour later I was riding through the small town of Havelock, “Gateway to the Marlborough Sounds”.

At Havelock I said goodbye to Highway 6, which I had largely shadowed since day 1, and rode onto The Link Pathway – a fairly new 38km walk/cycle trail connecting Havelock and Picton. The trail largely follows the route of the old Bridle Trail as it twists its way through the sounds, winding around every inlet and headland, providing some fantastic views of the various sounds and bays. There are some reasonably long climbs (more than I was expecting with about 700m of climbing), but most of them are fairly gentle slopes that I could just grind my way up.

It is a single-track trail, mostly dirt, with a few rocks and roots thrown in. As I mentioned earlier, there are sections of it that are just on my technical limit, which kept me focused, especially as the last 9 days of riding had me physically and mentally tired.

The trail starts straight onto the first climb – about 4km up the Moenui hill. This is a glorious piece of trail through lowland native forest, that has been largely rebuilt since suffering major storm damage 10 months ago. It is a credit to the Trail organisation that the significant rebuild has been completed so quickly.

This was when I realised that although the trail shadows the road through the sounds, it did not stick right beside it. Where the road tops out at the Cullen Point Lookout and drops down to Moenui, the trail keeps climbing for another kilometre before descending quite sharply. I was mentally prepared to start descending when the road did, and my knees did not appreciate the extra height gain. It was worth it for the fantastic views down Pelorus sound though. I stopped 3 times to take photos of this, as each time the view got better and better.

Then I lost all the height I had just climbed, and dropped back down to sea level. This is the area that suffered the worst storm damage 10 months ago, and a few nearby roads are still only open to residents. There are several places where half the trail has slipped away, leaving a narrow track to negotiate. Nothing too hairy, just a bit of care and concentration required. At this point I had done 20km for the day and noticed that the bike gears weren’t changing up properly. I stopped for a combination rest/photo break and decided to look at the gears – not that I know much about how they work or how to fix them.

The problem was easy to spot – a bit of stick was wedged inside the cage on one of the shifting cogs and was jamming against the chain. Getting it out was tricky, it was stuck in tight and did not want to budge. It eventually succumbed to some gentle swearing and I was on my way again.

From here the trail leaves the shoreline and runs alongside the road through farmland for 10km. It is a wide gravel cycle trail for this section, flat and straight and into a headwind. It is the least interesting and least technical part of the trail, and I took the chance to put my brain in neutral and eat a couple of sandwiches as I rode. I also missed the trail fork at the Anakiwa turnoff, and had ridden a few hundred metres down the wrong trail before I woke up. At least it was all flat, better than having ridden uphill unnecessarily.

A couple of kilometres later the road and trail started winding through the bush again, and I was soon at the Grove Arm jetty. Perfect excuse for another rest and photo break.

Then back onto singletrack and into the bush right above the water for 2 kilometres into Momorangi Bay. There is a large campground and store here, and I was looking forward to enjoying a coffee on the beach. The campground was reasonably busy, being the last week of the school holidays, but I was disappointed to find that the store was closed. Never mind, back on the bike and the lovely trail to Ngakuta Bay. There were even small patches of beech trees scattered along this section, which helped me forgot my missed coffee break.

I checked the time and remaining distance and decided that I was still on track to meet my reception committee in Picton at 2.00, so sent them a text to let them know. What I didn’t know is that the climb out of Ngakuta Bay was steep, and long, and tricky. The surface alternated between damp slippery clay and damp slippery rocks, and would have challenged me when I was fresh. At this stage of my journey I found it extremely difficult, and there were a few places where I had to use the second assist level on the bike for 50 metres or so to get me up the slope. The trail kept climbing after these steep sections, although on a gentler angle that I found easier to manage. I was again surprised that the trail climbs well above the road, and then loses 40 metres of height to cross the road at its high point.

The trail was winding around every nook and cranny in the hillside, with a lot of tight blind corners. The surface was still lumpy, and I had to assume that each blind corner was a hairpin with an obstacle lurking to unseat me. This made for slow travel and I dropped behind my ETA. Just as well I didn’t get that coffee break at Momorangi Bay. Conscious that I had people waiting for me I lifted my pace, and when I finally started the descent from Wedge Point I was pushing quite hard. Physically I wasn handling the pace OK, but my technical skills were lagging a bit, and after a couple of scares where I nearly introduced myself closely to a beech tree I decided that it would be stupid to have an incident this close to the finish and backed off a little. Better to arrive in Picton a bit late on my bike than to arrive in hospital in a helicopter.

Finally down at sea level for a short section of boardwalk in Shakespeare Bay, before the final (and thankfully short) climb to the lookout overlooking the Picton Ferry Terminal. I was already late, so a few minutes for the obligatory ferry photos would not matter much.

A final 2km cruise down a lovely forest trail, then 2 km across town to the waterfront and it was all over.

David, Mel, Jayden and my father were there to meet me, with Margaret on a video call to watch me roll into the finish. It was a lovely welcome, and I was grateful that everyone had given up their time to come and see me. And that they gave me a lift back to my motorhome in Canvastown.

It was a good day on the bike, despite my hips thighs and knees complaining about the accumulated kilometres. The Link Pathway is moderately challenging for my skill level, and I would like to ride it one day when I am fresh. But that will have to wait, I don’t plan on riding a bike for a very long time.

619km over 10 days. Phew.

The whole journey was fantastic, made better by everyone who helped out with logistics and support. Margaret and Dad did the bulk of the driving duties, I owe a very special thanks to both of you.

Ride day 9 : Maitai Dam to Canvastown 38km

38km with 1,100metres of climbing – not bad for what was originally planned as a rest day.

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog I decided to do the final ride over 2 days, with the first part on the planned rest day (today), leaving a shorter ride for the final day.

This turned out to be an excellent decision – the incredibly tough climb up the Maungatapu saddle (600m in 8km) took quite a toll on both my body and the bike battery. Neither had enough energy left to ride the remaining 45km to Picton. I was shattered and the battery only had 23km left in it.

The Maungatapu (Maunga = Mountain, Tapu = Sacred) saddle forms the boundary between the Nelson and Marlborough districts. The track is a steep four wheel drive road with a loose rocky surface for most of the climb up the Nelson side. Adding to the difficulty from the steep slope and rough surface, the loose rock makes it easy to lose traction, and then forward momentum, and then I fall off. I had a practice ride up the saddle about 9 months ago, so knew how tough it was going to be and didn’t really want to do it again.

The day started with a small setback at 7:00 am, when I woke up and realised that I had not charged the bike battery overnight. My gentle sleep in was abandoned while I sorted that out – find the bike key so I could remove the battery, wander out to the motorhome to get the charger, go back inside to get the key to the motorhome, back out to the motorhome and finally back inside to put the battery on the charger. By this time I was fully awake although still deeply tired.

The battery takes about 6 hours to charge fully. Fortunately I had only used around 50% yesterday, so I had a leisurely morning getting ready for the day while I waited for the battery lights to come up. Looking at them every 10 minutes did not speed up the process at all.

By 10:30 I had run out of patience and decided the battery was full enough. We loaded the bike and battery onto the ute and Dad drove me to the dam. After a bit of faffing and procrastinating I got on the bike around 11:15. .

I have mentioned (boasted) in earlier posts that I only use the first of the 4 assist levels on my e-bike. Well not today. I knew from my previous ride that I would be using the second assist level for a lot of time.

The climbing starts immediately from the carpark, with two short and gnarly warm up climbs before the main event. The first climb had me in granny gear within the first few hundred metres, and I stayed there most of the way to the saddle. From the top of this climb there is a lovely view of the Maitai reservoir, part of the water supply system for Nelson City. It was a gloriously fine day, and the reservoir looked stunning.

Then it was a quick downhill to the reservoir, splash through a small ford, and onto the second short climb. This was also the start of the steep and rocky track, and the first place I used the second assist level. This gave such a power boost that the front wheel of the bike lifted slightly and I had trouble steering around the large rocks and ruts. It made for a few tense moments, but I managed to stay on the bike up this section. This was followed by another steep bumpy hairy descent, then the main climb started at around 3.5km. Which meant I had 4.5km of unrelenting uphill ahead of me. Granny gear and assist level two were quickly engaged, and on I puffed.

I had my first off-bike incident about 1km later. The track gets steeper, which I didn’t think was possible, and the surface looser, and I lost traction and stalled.

A word (OK, several words) here on my unplanned (but not unexpected) dismount. My brother Dean is a very serious cyclist, and 4 months ago he talked me into the benefits of getting proper cycle shoes that clip into the pedals, so that you are effectively tied to the bike. There are some serious benefits, but a few pitfalls – like when you need to disconnect in a hurry. The pedal clips have an ankle-twist quick release function, much like ski bindings, that take a lot of practice to master. I have had a few low speed topples while trying to work it out, and I am still not proficient at it.

Before starting today’s ride I expected I would stall on the uphill and need to dismount quickly, so I decided to ride in my plain shoes, not clipped onto the bike, which made it easier leap off the bike when it stalled. To make my load a little more difficult, I carried my clip-in shoes in my backpack, so I could change into them after the climb.

The steepness of the slope and suddenness of the stall still made it touch and go, but I managed to dismount without any damage, and took this as an opportunity for photo session.

The track was so difficult that I could not re-start on the bike, so I pushed it 50 metres to the top of this section. The bike has a “walk” mode, if you hold the right series of buttons it will move forward at 3kph. But holding the right buttons while balancing the 25kg bike and trying to walk up the steep hill in the loose stones was still a tricky and tiring job.

Did I mention that it was steep?

And that the surface was loose?

Back on the bike, granny gear, assist level two, grunt and sweat.


After a couple of eons and one more kilometre I had my second stall and walk. In some ways the extra motor assist led to the dismount. The slope was too steep for me to ride without it, but the extra boost meant that the obstacles came up a lot quicker and I had trouble avoiding them. My tiredness and slower reactions probably didn’t help either.

I again managed to dismount without any damage, and again it was difficult to even walk the bike up this section. More grunting, a little bit of cursing, and the surface smoothed enough for me to brace the back wheel against a rock and push off.

Surprisingly, this second dismount and walk was also my last. I managed to stay on the bike for the rest of the climb. On my previous ride I went over the saddle and back again. I remembered a section going down this side that I found too steep and rough to ride DOWN , and I wasn’t looking forward to riding up it today.

I was quite surprised to recognise this section when I was already halfway up it, and sheer pigheadedness kept me on the bike to the end of it. There is a large level area here by a power pylon, and I cruised around the pylon in celebration.

For most of the climb the track goes through native bush, predominately my friend the beech tree. The odd time that the red fog lifted from my eyes, and I could lift them from the handlebars, I was rewarded with some beautiful scenery.

Finally, after another 100 years of puffing and sweating, I finished the 8km climb to the saddle. I was surprised to see that there had been some warp in the time-space continuum, as the clock said it was only an hour after I had started.

I had quite a long break at the top using the excuse of taking photos and eating, but really I was just catching my breath and reluctant to get back on the bike.

I finally found the courage to start the descent into the Pelorus valley. I remembered that on my previous ride I had to walk the last 500m up this side, so I knew it was steep and rough. I decided not to put my cycling shoes on for this section, in case I needed to get off the bike in a hurry. This was a good decision, as the track was in worse condition than I remembered (or perhaps had deteriorated since I was here 9 months ago). Although I didn’t have to get off the bike, there were several moments where I did have to put a foot down to balance myself. My average pace down here was almost as slow as the climb up the other side. The 3km down to the second ford were steep, rocky and loose. I was on the brakes and doing less than 10 kph the whole way.

Trying to pick the smoothest line was almost impossible, with rocks, ruts and loose gravel everywhere. At one point the smoothest part was right on the verge beside the drop off, which was fine until an un-noticed rock bounced the front wheel sideways and I thought I was going over the edge. Only the uncontrolled use of a few curses managed to keep me from plunging down the hill side.

After a few more hair raising moments the track surface improved slightly. It was never good, but it was better than terrible, and I stopped to change into my clip-in cycling shoes. I had more control over the bike once I was clipped to it, and with the slightly improved track surface I was comfortable letting the brakes cool down for a while. I even managed to touch 30kph for one brief moment.

The track surface had changed form rock to clay, which was a lot easier to ride, apart form the enormous water channels that would appear suddenly and zig zag at random across the track, often cutting it in half completely. These were around 30 centimetres wide and up to a metre deep in places, quite a hazard. I need to concentrate carefully to pick a line around them, and occasionally got blocked in, requiring a fairly quick brake-unclip-dismount procedure.

After 8km of descending the Maungatapu track ended, and dumped me onto the Maungatapu Road. I was moderately relieved to be off the Track, I was tense for most of the descent and had not really recovered from the grunt up the Nelson side.

The quiet Maungatapu Road runs through the Pelorus River Valley, and goes on up the valley for several kilometres past the start of the Maungatapu Track . All very confusing. The road at this point is a narrow gravel-dirt road, in good condition and a pleasure to ride. Especially as I was going down the valley and generally losing height.

The road crosses the Tinline river bridge before a steady climb over a bluff that gives lovely views of the Pelorus river and then a great descent through farmland. After about 10km of gravel the road is sealed for the last 2km to State Highway 6 at Pelorus Bridge. It was a beautiful and quiet road to ride, the only traffic I saw between the Maitai dam and the highway was a farmer on a quad bike.

I was moderately rested from the cruise down the valley (and well behind schedule) so I only stopped briefly to ease my backside before heading down the highway for my final 9km of the day. The highway drops very gently down the Pelorus river to Canvastown, and it was an easy ride despite the stiff headwind. The traffic was fairly heavy, with a lot of trucks, but the shoulder is pretty wide and it was an uneventful half hour.

A tough day out, with a gentle finish to even it off. As I wrote at the start, I am glad I decided to split this day in two. Neither I nor the battery would have made it to Picton.

Dad made the 2 hour return trip to pick me up from Canvastown and we were back in Nelson in time for tea.

And yes, I have put the battery on the charger.

Ride Day 8: Norris Gully – Maitai Dam 80km

Yes, 80km!

When I was looking to replace the distance I lost from the Waiuta/Big River detour on day 4, I added in two side valleys at Belgrove and Wakefield, and measured today’s amended route as 75km. So it was a shock to discover at the 60km point that I had 20km to go, not 15. The diversion at Wakefield was not necessary. Just as well it was mostly downhill today.

It was another cold night in the motorhome, the outside temperature was only 4 degrees while I was getting ready to ride, and I was not keen to get on the bike. I did not get started until 10:00 which wasn’t really a problem, I didn’t have anything else to be doing today.

I used the Taman Great Taste Trail all the way to Nelson City, only leaving it twice to do the additional km mentioned above.

From my start point in the Norris Gully it was 5 km to the Spooners Range railway tunnel. At 1.4km long it is the longest decommissioned tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. The tunnel slopes gently downward, with an increase in the slope about 400 metres in, so you can’t see the exit for the first third – and even then it is 1 km away and just a small point of light. I have ridden through it a few times, on my own and with others, but for some reason today I found it a little spooky. So I ignored the suggested 15 kph speed limit and put my foot down. I was doing 30 kph when I went over the crest, and 40 kph by the time I exited. I did not stop for photos inside, if you want to see it you will have to go and look for yourself. Or find some on the internet.

The trail then goes down the perfectly graded railway embankment for 5km. This is a great bit of trail, and lovely to cruise down. As I emerged from the tunnel gully I rode into brilliant sunshine.

Once the downhill cruise stopped I started to warm up. It is always chilly in the tunnel, so I had several layers of clothing on and I soon had to stop to remove all of it – long gloves, beanie, raincoat, long sleeved cycle top, long sleeved merino base layer, leg warmers. That was a lot of gear that I had to stuff into my backpack and carry into Nelson.

My two detours on very quiet back roads had a few more lumpy uphills than I expected, but nothing too challenging. Then I was back onto the cycle trail, and heading across the Waimea Plains. I was now only 20km from my home, well and truly in familiar territory.

The Great Taste Trail does a good job of avoiding roads, and there are 2 purpose built bridges across the Waimea River. This is much more pleasant than a narrow path tacked onto the side of a road bridge, as I have seen in other places.

Usually when I ride along here I am heading for home after a day ride, and it felt odd to know that I would still have 15km to go once I passed home, with another 75 to finish the whole trip.

The trail passes within 800m of home, so it seemed sensible to call in for a cup of tea, having been away for 9 nights.

It was while I was here and organising to be collected at my end point that I realised I had another 20km to ride, not 15. The shock of that called for a second cup of tea. Fortunately for my mental state David joined me here and rode the last bit with me. It was great to have his company, and the km just disappeared behind us. Even what is normally a grind up the gravel road at the top of the Maitai valley went by effortlessly. Thanks David, I really appreciated the support on what could have been a tough section mentally.

Dad collected us from the dam, dropped David at home, and took me out to Norris Gully to get the motorhome. I am home tonight, after 9 nights sleeping in the motorhome.

Only 75km to go, I am starting to think I can actually finish this. Although I still have to climb the monstrous Maungatapu saddle, that has been ahunting me for a while.

With that on my mind, I have decided to change the plan for the next 2 days. I was originally going to have a rest day tomorrow, theoretically leaving me refreshed to tackle the Maungatapu saddle on the final 75km to Picton. But I am concerned that this might be a bit much to do in one hit, even after a rest day. So instead I will cut the remainder into two short days. Tomorrow I will ride over the Maungatapu and down the Pelorus valley to Canvastown. The next day will be a scenic 44km through the Marlborough sounds to Picton. Hopefully.

Ride Day 7 : Lake Rotoroa – Norris Gully 77 km

I had a great ride today, despite a reluctant start. I was feeling the strain this morning, and did not want to go biking. I kept finding silly things to do as excuses to not ride, until the vicious sandflies at Lake Rotoroa chased me onto my bike.

And of course once I got going everything was fine. Over half the route was downhill, and most of the uphill was very gentle river valley, with only 4km of actual hill climb up the Kiwi Saddle.

The 11 km from Lake Rotoroa to State Highway 6 at Gowanbridge was a great way to start the day – The Gowan River is one of the fastest flowing in the country, helped by the steep drop between the lake and the highway, and this is of course matched by the road which looses over 100m of altitude over an 8km stretch.

From there I turned onto State Highway 6. This is a very busy road, the only link between the Tasman, Nelson and Marlborough districts in the east and the Buller and Westland districts to the west. It is also one of two major transport routes south, and has a lot of trucks. The 6km section to Kawatiri junction is narrow and twisty, with blind corners and no road shoulder. This 6km of highway, equal to 1% of my total trip, was the part that worried me most when I was planning the route, but there is no alternative suitable for me to ride.

So I took a deep breath and started pedaling as fast as I could. And the universe was looking after me today. Only 4 cars passed me on this part and they were all very considerate. My big worry over the last few months passed without any issues at all.

At Glenhope I turned off the highway onto what is officially the Tadmor-Glenhope Road, but is more commonly known as “Dry Weather Road”. This name comes from the 4 fords on the road, and I was looking forward to some adventure. The fords turned out to be a non-event as they all had concrete bases, and none had any water over them.

The road starts out as a narrow windy gravel road, through a mix of native forest and farmland. The climb up the Kiwi Saddle start almost immediately and after a steady 4km of uphill I was at the saddle, having regained all the height I lost dropping down the Gowan river. The morning mist had cleared by now, and it was a perfect day for riding – clear but cool. There was no sign marking the saddle, my GPS says the height was 469m. It’s not a high saddle, but the short climb up warmed me nicely.

About to start the climb to Kiwi Saddle

The drop down from the saddle was another great blast. The road was more dirt than gravel, with some of it quite damp in the shady spots. There was no traffic and I was shifting from one side of the road to the other to get the best line around the tight turns while avoiding the greasy muddy bits.

At the bottom of the hill the Tadmor valley opens out, the slope eases, and the gravel ends. From here it was 25km of easy travel dropping gently down the valley through lovely farmland with a gorgeous blue sky. The road has very little traffic, and it was an enjoyable cruise down the valley.

At the 62km mark the Tadmor river flows into the Motueka River at the township of Tapawera. I was joined here by Mel, David & Jayden who had biked from the Norris gully to meet me for lunch. And it wasn’t my usual peanut butter and jam sandwiches, warm and squishy after a morning in my backpack. Between them they had managed to carry containers of quiche, brownie and biscuits, along with a thermos of coffee. Now that is cycle touring in style!

I was just getting over the shock of the catered lunch when Margaret rode up to join us. I was not expecting her to make it today, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see her.

After a very lengthy lunch break we all headed off for my final 15km of today, following a section of the Tasman Great Taste Trail. The Great Taste Trail is a fantastic 177km loop through the Tasman district, and I will be using it to get all the way into Nelson City tomorrow.

It was great to have company for this last bit of the day, and I hardly noticed the steady climb up Norris Gully. Then it was another piece of brownie and sponge cake all round, and off to collect the motorhome. What had started reluctantly turned out to be one of the best days, and probably the easiest so far.

Ride Day 6 : Rappahannock Rd – Lake Rotoroa 77km

Today was a tough day, with a hill at each end of the route, the Maruia and Braeburn saddles, for a total elevation gain of 1,540 metres.

Most of the ride was on back roads, about 50/50 seal/gravel, with just two short sections of State Highway.

The day started cold and grey, with a persistent drizzle. I did not want to get out of the motorhome and had to give myself a stern talking to in order to get on the bike.

Here’s some important clarification of the route. The Maruia Highway runs down the Maruia Valley, beside the Maruia River, past the Maruia Store (where my great grandmother was postmistress way back), and then over the SHENANDOAH saddle. Most locals (including myself before I researched the route) refer to this as the Maruia Saddle.

Maruia Saddle Road is a lovely narrow and twisty gravel/dirt road that turns off the highway at Frog Flat Junction, crosses the Maruia Saddle and drops into the Matakitaki Valley. The climb to the saddle started about 5km into my ride, just as the drizzle turned to cold rain, and went steadily up for 3km, which warmed me up nicely. It was never steep, but this far into my ride I was tired enough to make hard work of it. I stopped for a photo at the saddle and was visited by a very friendly Robin, that wanted to have a ride on my bike! A great excuse to stay and catch my breath for a few more minutes.

Then it was a fantastic 7km blast down the other side into the Matakitaki Valley. The first 4 of the 6 fords had a solid sandstone base and I barely hesitated before charging through them, but the last two were slightly more interesting and required a bit of care. Great fun.

A few km further down the valley the road crosses the Matakitaki River at Horse Terrace Bridge. The entire river volume squeezes into a spectacular canyon only a few metres wide, a very impressive sight.

Once across the canyon it is almost 30km down the valley to Murchison. I was feeling quite tired by now, and found it this bit of a slog, even though I was loosing elevation. The rain had stopped and there were patches of sunshine, although it didn’t warm up much. I stopped for a look at the historic 6 Mile Power Station (as an excuse for a break) and was very pleased to get into Murchison after 45km and stop for lunch.

I took my time eating lunch in the park, then treated myself to a coffee in a cafe as the rain started again. I finally decided that the rest of the route was not going to ride itself and reluctantly got on the bike and headed out of town.

The afternoon section climbed gradually up the Mangles and Tutaki valleys for 22km before starting the climb to the Braeburn Saddle. The road up the hill is very similar to the Maruia saddle – narrow and twisty, with gorgeous beech forest crowding in. The 4 fords on this climb all had concrete bases, and although the water was reasonably high after all the rain, they were not dramatic or photogenic.

The hill is about 7km long, and I found it hard going. I was very tired after a couple of long days on the bike, and had to work quite hard to keep moving. The climb is not quite steep enough to need granny gear, but I had very little left in my tank, so I used granny gear anyway. And I continued to stubbornly keep the motor’s assist level at the lowest setting. To borrow Antonia’s ultra-marathon running phrase, I “got my plod on”.

The top of the hill eventually arrived, as they do. There is no sign at the top, but the elevation is around 600 metres. From there it was an awesome 2km drop down to Lake Rotoroa where Margaret was waiting patiently to drive me back to my motorhome.

It was a long tough day, and I was very tired at the end of it. Frankly, I would be happy if this was the end of my journey. Hopefully a good night sleep will recharge me for tomorrow’s ride.

I owe another big thank you to Margaret who had a 4 hour return drive to help me shuttle my motorhome, and brought a kitset dinner with her that we got to eat together before she headed home.

Ride day 5 : Reefton – Rappahannock Rd, 76km

The ride out of Reefton was a big step up in distance from the ride into Reefton. And the first 35km was uphill*. I’m pretty tired this evening.

My father helped me shuttle the motorhome in the morning, which involved him doing a 5 hour return drive from Nelson. Thanks Dad, not sure what I would have done without your help.

The route was all on the road, with 5km gravel and the rest sealed – and the majority of that was on State Highways. Overall the traffic was light, and all of it was considerate.

After the to-ing and fro-ing I rode out of Reefton a bit after 10:00. The morning mist had burnt off, but the temperature was still only a brisk 9 degrees. I kept my long pants and sleeves on all day, and often wished I had worn my long gloves instead of my usual fingerless ones.

My knees were stiff and thighs tight, and they never really eased, but they were uncomfortable rather problematic, so I just ignored them.

* “The first 35km was uphill” – while technically true, this is not as dramatic as it sounds. From Reefton the road goes up the Inangahua Valley to the Rahu Saddle, with a net altitude gain of 483m. The first 25 km is a fairly gradual climb up the valley, with the gradient increasing for the final 10km to the saddle. It is never steep, it’s just that every few km are steeper than the ones before, and by the time I got to the saddle I knew I had been climbing (gently, on an e-bike) for 2 hours.

I paced myself up the valley, and had a handful of photo stops. One of the benefits of cycle touring is that you see and stop for a lot of things that you speed past in the car.

My first stop was fairly early on, at the Jack Lovelock Memorial. Deep down I am a distance runner long ahead of being a cyclist (I just can’t run at the moment), so any NZ running history is going to grab my attention. Jack Lovelock set the world mile record in 1933, and more famously won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics Gold, winning the 1500 metres at the 1936 Olympics – in world record time. I did not know (or had forgotten) that he was born in the district.

After about 15km of picturesque dairy farm country the road enters the glorious beech forest of the Victoria Forest Park. The lowland native forests of the West Coast Wilderness Trail are magnificent, but my personal preference is for a mountain beech forest. Although today’s road ride was not up close and personal like you get with a forest trail, I was still very happy to be surrounded by beech trees. Here are some photos so you can share in my enthusiasm. And for any international readers surprised by the fact that I was riding on State Highways, New Zealand Highways are nothing like the US Interstate (or even State) highways. Some of the photos include a bit of today’s road, State highway 7, as an example of a typical NZ highway.

It took me 2 hours to cover the 36 km to the saddle. Perhaps I did overdo the photo stops. It was nice and sunny, but a very chilly 8 degrees, so I did not hang around long. And I wasn’t yet halfway through the day’s distance. From the saddle the road drops quite quickly, loosing 250 metres over 7km. It was a fun twisting high speed ride, and I hit 52 Km per hour as I approached a hairpin signposted at 15 Km per hour. I went around it as 32 kph, great fun!

I stopped at the Springs Junction settlement at the bottom of the saddle and thought I would treat myself a coffee to warm up, but the only cafe is closed on Saturday’s due to covid-19 staffing issues. Oh, is it Saturday today? I have no idea what day it is. Ah well, that saved me a few bucks.

Theoretically the ride was downhill from here, drifting down the Maruia valley, but of course there were a few sneaky climbs to keep me working. Just out of Springs Junction I took a lovely scenic back road, more beech forest and burbling streams, and a bit of gravel road to give me a break form the tarseal.

The road is so seldom travelled that the sealed section has moss and lichen growing down the centre. I saw 2 vehicles on the 15km road, and one of them was a farmer on his quad bike. Fantastic riding.

Then it was back on a State Highway for the last 17km.

With 5km to go I passed into the Tasman District. Having ridden in the Westland, Grey and Buller Districts, this is the first boundary/welcome sign I remember seeing. I still have to go through Nelson and Marlborough Districts to get to the end. There’s no sign in Nelson (my home town), and I will enter Marlborough on a remote four wheel drive trail, so might not see a sign there either.

It was about here that the road leaves the Maruia river valley and climbs gently up a side valley – so my last few km had a small increase in altitude. That’s not fair!

I am very happy with how my body handled this long day. I took 5 and a half hours to cover the 76km, with 3 and a half hours of riding time, so there were plenty of rests disguised as photo stops. My final 4 rides are all going to be similar distances, and the hills are going to get bigger, I hope my body holds up. Hey, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Yesterday I had come up with a revised route to replace the missing km from day 4, but was not happy with it. On the ride today I came up with a better potential option, and tonight I confirmed the distances on line. It will have less hills, more even daily distances, and more cycle trail than yesterday’s option. I have one more day before I have to commit to it, maybe I will think of an even better option tomorrow.

Rest Day 1 – Reefton

I put two rest days into the schedule when I planned the trip. I don’t think I have ever ridden more than 4 days in a row, so it seemed like it would be a good idea to give my legs and body a break. I do not want to risk overdoing it and triggering another post-viral syndrome melt down that would force me to abandon the trip. And mess me up for the next 6 months.

I think reality agreed with the plan for once. I’m not going to say that I couldn’t have ridden today, but my legs appreciated the break, and I can feel that my energy level has benefitted from a day of doing very little.

I did some laundry, wandered into a coffee shop for a few hours to update the blog, bought some groceries and then went back to the motorhome and ate most of them.

At 5:00 o’clock I was rested and bored so went for a gentle 5km run. I have signed up for a 12 km run in a few weeks – having not run any further than 5km in almost 10 years. Over the last 2 months I have managed to build up to where I can run 8km comfortably (at the expense of bike training for this trip) , but I am not going to get much running done between now and the 12km. Ah well, it I’m sure it will be fun on the day.

Reefton is a lovely little town to spend a day in. A dozen years ago it was just another dying country town where you only stopped to use the public toilets and maybe get a take away coffee if you were desperate for some caffeine. The town has done a good job of revitalising itself, and it is now almost a destination on its own. I spent a very pleasant day and two nights here, and am keen to come back for longer to explore more of the running and biking tracks around.

I also want to test myself against the Waiuta/Big river track when it’s dry.

My big challenge today was trying to re-plan my route to replace the distance I missed with yesterday’s alternate route.

One problem is that I had deliberately set slightly shorter days of around 60km for the first 4 days, and slightly longer days of 70 – 75 km for the final 4. And they have the bigger hills. so adding extra distance to them is going to make for a long tough day or two. Not to mention messing up my carefully planned (and mildly complicated) logistics. I think I have found a route that doesn’t involve simply riding in circles to add distance, but it does add two tough little hills. I will think it over for the next couple of days in case a better alternative occurs to me.

Ride 4 : Pike Memorial – Reefton 41km

A heavy rainfall warning was issued yesterday morning, and the rain arrived during the night. I woke several times to the sound of very heavy rain hitting the roof of the motorhome, half a metre above my head. I found it quite pleasant, apart from the interrupted sleep and the fact that I was planning to ride on a technically difficult forest trail through remote hills.

When I was planning this ride I looked at the Waiuta/Big River track and decided that it was a little beyond my ability, so I planned to ride into Reefton along the highway. This is a lot less interesting but within my comfort level. Then I spoke to a few biking friends who know my riding ability and they convinced me that I would be able to cope, so I put the Waiuta/Big River track on the route. An added bonus is that this is longer than the highway, and bought the total km to a shade over my target of 600.

This morning I reluctantly decided that I would go back to my original plan. I gave it a lot of thought, and decided that after a night of heavy rain, with flooding and slips in the valley, it would not be sensible to ride into the hills on my own along a track that would stretch my abilities when it was dry.

Margaret was heading home today, but not before another set of bike/vehicle/rider shuttles. Our second weather related problem arose as we tried to leave Greymouth. There are two roads up the Grey valley, one each side of the river – and they were both closed. One had a large slip full of rocks and trees blocking it, the other had slipped from underneath. We managed to kill two hours wandering around Greymouth in the rain, and then joined a very slow convoy of backed up vehicles through the one lane that had been re-opened. Driving past the damaged areas I was impressed that the road maintenance crew had managed to get even one lane open so quickly.

The heavy rain caused flooding, slips, road closures and power outages throughout the entire district. I am grateful that my problems were just minor inconveniences by comparison, and I feel for all those affected.

Once we were past the slips we still had to do the bike/motorhome/rider shuttle, and it was almost 3:00 o’clock before Margaret got to start her 3 hour drive home and I started to ride. The only good thing to come from the delays is that the weather had eased from heavy rain to light showers.

Apart from the odd shower, the ride itself was uneventful – just 2 hours of grinding along tarseal roads through the countryside. There really is nothing to report from the ride itself. The road slowly gained altitude as it continued up the Grey Valley, with a short sharp pinch over the Reefton Saddle about 10km from the end. Then a swift drop into the Inangahua River valley, a few km to Reefton and the day was done.

I owe a huge thank you to Margaret for taking time out of her holidays to keep me company and shuttle me around the countryside. The awkward logistics would have been so much more difficult without her. And she has foolishly agreed to help me relocate the motorhome on two more days later in the trip.

Now my problem is finding some extra distance for the trip. Today’s wet weather route was 20km shorter than the Waiuta/Big River route, and I need to replace the missing kilometres to keep my total at or over 600.

I didn’t take any photos today, there wasn’t anything worth photographing. Here are newspaper photos of the two closed roads that held us up –

Ride 3 : Kumara – Pike River Memorial 68km

This was my longest day so far, with the morning spent on the last section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail, and the afternoon on sealed roads up the Grey river valley.

It was another cold night in the motorhome, but at least I had thought to wear my beanie so unlike the previous night I did not wake with cold ears at 3:00 a.m.

Today’s pre-ride logistics included a 2 and a half hour round trip drive to drop the motorhome at the end point and get me and my bike to the start point in Kumara. You would think that I would be organised enough to get this done early, but no, my usual faffing meant I didn’t start riding til 10:00 – which is when the rain started. The rain was light by West Coast standards, but it was persistent and chilly. My rain coat went on after only 1 km, and stayed on the rest of the day.

The section of Wilderness Trail from Kumara to Greymouth is the least interesting – which is not to say that it is boring, or lacks scenic spots, it’s just not as stunning as the rest of the trail. About 2 km from Kuamara the trail crosses the Kumara Chasm, an unexpected gash in the earth that drains away to the Taramakau River (which we will see again shortly). I was a bit creaky starting my 3rd consecutive day of riding, so this was a good excuse to hop off the bike for a photo and a leg stretch.

From there it was a very pleasant ride along another tramway through native bush, until the Trail goes through an underpass below State Highway 6 to cross the Taramakau River on a bike/foot path built on the new (ish) bridge. I don’t know whether it was good design, or a happy accident, but the path is on the coastal side of the bridge giving a great view of the bluffs and river mouth.

The riding had been so gentle and smooth to here, I was surprised to note that I had already covered 10km. I was not feeling much impact from the previous two days of riding and enjoying myself despite the weather.

The final section of Wilderness Trail is a 15km stretch along the coast to Greymouth. Although it is all flat, I was riding into a stiff breeze that kept me working. It also kept driving the steady rain into my face, so I had to keep my sunglasses on despite the gloomy conditions. I really should get some clear lenses to put in the glasses on days like this.

The breeze was getting stronger and I was starting to fade, which made it a bit of a grind along this stretch. So I took any excuse to stop and take photos. Here are a couple of shots of a stream about 5km from Greymouth. It might be Mill Stream, but it might not – I did not get the name of it at the time.

And then I was in Greymouth, riding alongside the beach. Although the trail took me “up the coast” from Ross Beach to Greymouth Beach, it spends a lot of time inland, and there are not many views of the sea. I took the opportunity to stop here and say hello and goodbye to the ocean – I won’t see the sea again until I get to Nelson in 6 days.

The Trail follows the coast North to the mouth of the Grey river, then does a moderately annoying loop South to get around the harbour basin before going back North to the river. It’s only 500 metres each way, and it was interesting looking at the commercial boats at their berths, but it felt like a long way to backtrack in the middle of what was already a long day.

The Wilderness Trail start/finish point is on Mawhera Quay, the historic commercial quay that serviced the town and district, with some interesting historical panels and a few lovely old buildings in the background. And the rain had stopped long enough for me to get a few photos.

I had a great time on the West Coast Wilderness Trail, and I would jump at the chance to ride it again, in either direction.

Although it’s the end of the Trail, at 30km so far I was still slightly less than halfway through today’s ride.

Once I left the Trail I also left Greymouth, crossing the Grey river and heading up the Northern side of the valley.

My route for the rest of the day was all on sealed roads, relatively free of traffic. The next 20km was moderately scenic, with enough sections alongside the river or through native bush to keep it interesting.

I took a short break at the Brunner Mine Memorial, which is the site of New Zealand’s worst mine disaster, and one of its worst workplace disasters. In1896 an explosion in the mine killed all 65 people who were working underground at the time, and there is a fitting memorial to them here.

This is also a fascinating historical spot showcasing some on New Zealand’s industrial heritage. The Brunner coal mine was one of New Zealand’s most productive, operating from the 1840s to the 1960s. There are several historical buildings with some very good information panels.

The swingbrige across the river was of special interest to me. It was originally built in 1876 to take horse drawn wagon loads of coal from the mine on the North bank to the railway on the South bank. During the 1900s it was refurbished/strengthened, and was used as a public road bridge after the mines closed. The bridge was closed to traffic after the nearby Stillwater road bridge was built in 1978. It remained open as a footbridge for a few more years, before being closed completely about 40 years ago.

It was refurbished and re-opened to pedestrians (and bikes) as part of the historical site development in 2003/04.

I am interested in the bridge because over 40 years ago, in my late teens (remember, I’m about to turn 60) I used to run across this bridge when it was on the route of the Greymouth Two Person Relay. This running race was always a great excuse for a weekend away with mates, and a fun course to run on. When the bridge closed to pedestrians the race course got extended by a few kilometers as we had to run further up the valley to the Stillwater bridge (This bridge is now 44 years old, but I still think of it as “the new bridge”). I stopped racing in 1982, so I know that the Brunner bridge had closed to pedestrians by then. It is great to see it re-opened, and I cycled across it today just because I can.

For the final 15km the road left the river and forest behind, and ran through farming country. It is quite pretty, but not as stimulating as the river and forest views, and I found it a little tedious at the end of a long day. There are no major hills, but by definition going upriver meant that I was gaining altitude, and there were a few short sharp climbs to test my legs.

I took another short break at the Moonlight settlement rest area and read the information panels while I gave my backside a break from the saddle. I was considering removing my raincoat when it started raining again and kept raining for the final 7km push to the end of the day at the Pike River Mine Memorial.

In November 2010 an explosion in the Pike River coal mine killed 29 people. As is quite common with mining disasters, the bodies have not been recovered. A memorial to the 29 has been created here at the turn off to the mine. It is a very moving memorial, created by the affected families with personal tributes to each of the victims. I had a moments silence then took a few photos, but could not capture the spirit of the site so have decided not to post them here.

I then loaded the bike onto the motor home and headed off for the 1 hour drive back to Hokitika through the increasingly heavy rain.

Ride 2: Kanerie Power Intake – Kumara 59km

Another good day on the bike. More fantastic scenery. I am shattered.

Too tired to write a full blog, here are some photos from today in the meantime. They are in chronological order, so they track the day’s route.

I have a rest day planned for Friday (after 4 days riding). I will write a full blog then.

EDIT – I’m now in Reefton for the first of my 2 planned rest days, and it’s time to update the blog.

Day 2 Route

I was fortunate, and pleased, to have my friend Margaret help with logistics for a few days. It made the whole thing a lot smoother, and after a chilly night in the motorhome it was nice to use the heater in Margaret’s campground cabin while getting sorted for the day.

After a complicated logistical exercise dropping off bikes, motorhome and rider we took a side trip to the beautiful Hokitika Gorge and did the short loop walk. It’s a gorgeous place, and I enjoyed walking for a bit after a long day sitting down the day before – between driving and biking I had been on my backside for about 8 hours.

Then it was time to get back on the bike and tackle the next section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail. From the Kanerie Power Intake the trail heads through more thick native forest for 8 km, crossing the Kanerie river about halfway through.

Kanerie River

Then it is a delightful cruise alongside the water race that feeds the power intake before popping out at Lake Kanerie.

Lake Kanerie

After a pleasant lunch stop for lunch here Margaret biked back to her car while I carried on. From Lake Kanerie the Trail is on a good wide gravel road for about 12 km. There is a short sharp climb followed by a fantastic 5km sweeping descent into the Arahura Valley. Being conscious of the late start and the potential to be in the forest when it got dark (I had forgotten my headtorch), I pushed hard down the hill and hit 59kmh at one point. Exhilarating stuff!

Most people ride the wilderness Trail southbound. I was riding northbound, so was going against the flow of traffic. The only advantage of my late start was that I met most of the oncoming riders along this stretch of wide road – much better than meeting them on the single-track trail hemmed in by trees! Several groups headed past, grunting up the hill I was flying down.

After crossing the Arahura River, the trail starts on the long gentle zig-zag climb toward Cowboy Paradise. The slope is gentle and the switchback corners are wide, so the riding is not technical or difficult. It was surprising to look back and see how much height the trail gains along this section.

Looking West down the Arahura Valley, after climbing from river level

The trail levels off as it enters a short section of bush, then pops out at Cowboy Paradise. This is a privately owned re-creation of a Wild West town, complete with saloon and shooting galleries, which has had some poor reviews recently. Still conscious of the time, I did not stop for any more than a photo. The place looks unfinished and had a slightly seedy feel to it, although I may have been influenced by the recent negative publicity. There was a pair of cyclist unloading their bikes, apparently about to stay the night. It will be interesting to see whether they post a review of their experience.

Cowboy Paradise felt a little seedy. I only stopped long enough to take the photo.

Then it’s back onto single-track trail and into the bush for a short descent to the MacPherson Creek swingbridge. This crosses the creek at an impressively deep and narrow chasm, which I could not get a proper photo of – the perspective just would not come out right. You will have to take my word for it, or go and see for yourself, it is well worth a look.

MacPherson Creek Bridge

The climb out of the MacPherson Creek gully has half a dozen very tight switchbacks which I knew were beyond my technical ability. So it was ride the straight, hop off for the corner, ride the straight, hop off, repeat. Once I was through the tight turns I powered up the rest of the hill, really flying. The photo stop and micro-rests walking the corners must have seriously boosted my energy, I was on fire here. Oh, wait – somewhere in all the on -and-off the bike I must have bumped the control button, and the motor was now in its maximum assistance mode. No wonder the riding was so easy!

I have had an e-bike for less than a year. 18 months ago I was happily riding a standard bike, doing semi-regular 3 hour rides. Then one day I finished a flat gentle ride completely exhausted, and could barely walk for a week. The post-viral syndrome that has been lurking since my 50×50 runs had flared up.

It took 6 months of not riding and sulking about not being ready for an e-bike before I accepted that I could either not ride again, or get an e-bike.

I still feel guilty about riding an e-bike, and stubbornly try to use it in the first of its 4 assistance settings.

So I corrected the setting here, and grunted up the rest of the hill.

Fortunately the gradient soon eased off a bit and it was a short ride to the high point of the entire Trail. At 317m the Kawhaka Pass is not high, but it was a still good milestone. It was also roughly halfway though my ride for the day, and in terms of the late start and not wanting to be caught in the forest at dusk, it was good to know that it was largely downhill from here to today’s finish at Kumara.

Highest point on the trail. It’s all downhill from here.

My legs were feeling good, and knowing that all the serous climbing was behind me, I flew down from the Pass, hitting 30kmh at one point. Then I had to slow as the trail wound its way through the forest on another lovely bit of single-track. Although it is only half an hour from a road crossing, it does feel like being deep in the wilderness.

A lovely trail through beautiful forest

The trail then crosses an open wetland on a nice smooth boardwalk, and it felt good to know that I was nearing the Kumara and Kapitea reservoirs, with around 10 km to go and plenty of daylight. Pushing hard up the Aruhura valley and Kawhaka Pass had got me through the forest in plenty of time.

Boardwalk across wetlands above the Kumara reservoir

I was surprised to see how low/empty the reservoirs are. The West Coast traditionally has a high rainfall, I had not realized how dry it has been here. This is due to change over the next 2 days, with heavy rain warnings in place for the district – great for the reservoirs, not so much for me biking in it.

A very empty reservoir

From the reservoirs it is a pleasant 5km drop into Kumara township, where my motorhome was parked. From there it was a short drive back to Hokitika for a well earned shower and beer.

Yesterday’s 9km Mananui tramway is still my favourite section, but today’s route is my favourite full day. The mix of scenery is stunning, there are enough climbs to keep me (and the bike motor) honest, and the downhills are great fun.

Another fantastic day all round.