Nelson to Murchison: Entering Sandfly Territory
Of all the towns we’ve visited in NZ so far, Nelson (and surrounding communities) definitely stood out for us. And not just because we finally got some real summer weather there. Nelson is smack in the middle of the path between the inter-island ferry and the West Coast of the South Island, so it sees a LOT of cycle tourists. For years, we’ve been told, cycle tourists have rambled in and out of the Nelson area, making residents accustomed to seeing them and the councils interested in supporting them. It may not be perfect, but they’re trying – and we enjoyed riding around on the bike paths, popping into the bike shops, talking to bike-friendly businesses, and generally surveying the impact of cycling on the community. We also took some time to enjoy Nelson’s other claim to fame – being the craft beer capital of NZ.
After a few days of good food, good beers, good cycling, and digging for clams on the beach, we headed out of Nelson, bound for the West Coast. The ride will take us about a week, and we’re currently breaking it up with a day off in Murchison, where we have found internet for the first time in the last few days.
From Nelson, we made use of some good local knowledge to head out of town on the bike paths and back roads. The sun came out as we rambled beside farms and wineries. We stopped for coffee in the small town of Brightwater, and stopped for the day at a small regional park in Wakefield. We decided to break up the ride to Lake Rotoiti into two days, rather than slog it out in one long day – which turned out to be a prudent decision that allowed us to camp that first night beside a beautiful small stream.
In the morning, we headed out of Wakefield, into the hills, along the backroads. Finally, we had found some quiet country riding! Eighty-Eight Valley Road led us through rolling countryside with very little traffic. We wound our way over two good climbs and gradually gained over 2000 feet of elevation. It was a beautiful day that was also a lot hotter and harder than we thought we were in for (yes, we keep forgetting that NZ is full of hills). As the sun beat down, we drank our way through our water a lot quicker than we expected, and we were forced to catch and treat some water out of a road-side culvert (which, thankfully, did not seem to be downstream from a cow pasture). A few kilometers before we reached the lake, we took the turn off to Tophouse, home of NZ’s smallest bar. A beautifully restored old hotel and restaurant, Tophouse serves lunch on the front patio and features a tiny “honesty” bar (where we pulled our own pint of beer and settled up later). Refreshed by our afternoon snack, we rode on into the town of St Arnaud and Rotoiti Lake. The lake is stunningly gorgeous and great for a brisk swim. It’s also swarming with sandflies, an annoying little insect that travels in hordes and bites with a vengeance. Legend says the sandflies were created to keep man from endlessly staring at the natural beauty. Whether that’s true or not, we certainly enjoyed the beauty of the lake quickly, from behind several layers of clothing, and then hid out in our tent.
In the morning, we packed everything up in lightening fashion to run away from the sandflies, which do not seem to rest while it’s light out. We chatted over breakfast with some trampers from Oregon and another cycle tourist writer. We had intended for that day to be a rest day, but we just couldn’t stand to be around the hordes of sandflies or spend another night in the packed-like-sardines campground. So, we headed down the road toward Owen River. Along the way, we stopped at an access point to the Buller River, and Russ threw his line out. Watching from the road above, I was hoping that he’d be able to snag the monster trout for dinner, but the trout proved to be too smart. We camped for the night at the domain camping ground at Owen River, just down a short gravel road from a pub. The camping was perfect, nestled beside the river, amongst a row of enormous fir trees, and nearly empty (there were only two other people in a campervan at the other end of the park). We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon by the river and then moseyed up the hill to the pub for some dinner and beers. When we got back to our tent, we discovered that the wind had died down enough to bring out the sandflies, so we ended our evening (again) by hiding in our tent and reading.
And, again, we awoke to sandflies everywhere, and hastily broke down camp and headed out. This morning, we had a ridiculously short day into Murchison, broken up once for some coffee at an animal park about halfway to town. We found a great deal at the Riverview Holiday Park, and are enjoying a (sandfly-free) cabin for just $40 (and a much-needed catch-up afternoon). With any luck, the rain that’s predicted for today with blow through while we’re indoors, and it’ll be clear again tomorrow.
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