Sunday, January 30, 2011

Omarama, NZ: Two Days, Two Passes

We heard  about the Crown Range Road from other bike tourists.  It is is the most direct route between Wanaka and Queenstown.  In the year 2000 the last dirt stretch was paved, and now claims to be the highest sealed road in New Zealand.  It is a popular route, for campervans and bicycles alike, and the morning we conquered it, there were plenty of both.

It was a quiet, drizzling Sunday morning when we left Arrowtown.  Campervans zoomed by from both directions, but neither the vehicles or the increasing moisture could slow us down any more than the 5 km/hr we were going.  John always pulls ahead on hills, and I saw him stopped at the top of the final grade.  Also at the top was a bus with a trailer with bike racks with the logo for Pacific Cycle Tours.  As we were desperately putting on all our layers to trap some heat before the wind sucked it out of us, cyclists on ultra-light racing bikes began to come up that final hill.  The driver of the bus was hooting and hollering for each one of them and taking their picture.  They would reach the top, and then dive into the bus.  All I could presume is that hot tea and warm clothes, and even perhaps a personal masseuse, awaited them.  No cheers for us, but then I guess we didn't pay for them.

View from the top looking south from where we ascended.  It was a cold night, and there was a light snow covering on the peaks across the valley.

The sun came out and the wind was at our backs as we cycled down the other side towards Wanaka.  It was 40 kilometers of downhill bliss -- we just had to coast and take in the scenery. 

The Crown Range Road goes through the former gold mining region of Cardrona, but now famous for its ski fields.  The racing cycles passed us at breakneck speed, collecting as group at the historic Cardrona Hotel.   As much we wanted to also stop of a hot coffee and peek inside, we decided not to mingle.  So we had a picnic in the park down the street and drank up the sunshine instead. 

They passed us one more time, but a sub-group slowed down to chat.  One woman said how much she admired what we were doing.  And when we learned that this group was on a trip that took them from Bluff to Picton, from the south tip to the north tip of the South Island, in 12 days, each of them cycling 140 kilometers a day. Learning this, our admiration was mutual.

Following the high of the Crown Range Road, one of our best days yet, was the ascent of Lindis Pass.  On this day the skies were gray and overcast, there a constant flow of cars and trucks passing us,a strong headwind, and a steady uphill.  There were no stores, no services, nothing but a few sheep ranches and endless fences to break the view of the dry landscape.  And nobody cheering us on, just a group of guys in a car at the top all getting out to pee.

Only 105 meters lower than the Cardrona Pass, the tough conditions made it feel like it should have been higher!

At the top, hoping we can find a campsite before it starts raining.
It was too far to get to a holiday park that night, so we descended, stopping periodically to look at potential campsites.  We finally reached a rest stop, and since it did not explicitly say "No Camping", we took advantage of the protection from rain and wind in the canopy of trees.  Dry clothes and a hot meal and we were renewed.  Only on car stopped all evening, and the driver stopped by to chat.  He was an Asian currently picking fruit on a work visa, but had just finished up 1 1/2 months of bike touring in Australia.  He gave us a box of cookies, a gift of admiration, which we accepted gladly.

Our campsite at the north side of Lindis Pass.
Although it rained a bit overnight, it cleared out the next morning before we were underway.  And like almost every day we have been in New Zealand, the weather today was nothing like the day before.  Strong winds blew us to Omarama, puffy clouds and the big blue sky of the Mackenzie District all around us.  No passes to cross today!

Bands of clouds pass by as the storm from the previous night clears.

Our first view of Mt Cook, the highest point in New Zealand.
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