Cromwell to Twizel: Stunning Emptiness
After a lovely week puttering down the Otago Central Rail Trail (more complete write-up soon), we spent a few days in Cromwell to plot our last week in NZ. How has three months come to a close already?! After much deliberation, we decided to ignore all the well-meant pleas that we ‘have to’ go to Queenstown. We’ve become a bit burnt out on the all the overly-touristed spots in NZ, so we decided to spend our last few days simply rambling around the lesser-traveled Mackenzie country.
From Cromwell, we headed north along Hwy 8. It’s a long stretch of empty roadway with only one small community for over 100km. Amazingly, the sun came out for us, and we had a remarkably perfect cycle touring day. The road climbed ever-so-gently through endless expanses of grassland. Merino sheep bleated at us and we passed signs indicating we were in Icebreaker country. Shortly after noon, we came upon our turn-off to a small, basic DOC campsite beside the ruins of an old hotel, built in 1861 for the gold rush. Once again, we found ourselves riding down a bumpy gravel road (we’ve decided that we’ll soon be experts at riding the Bromptons through gravel!). Once again, the Bromptons handled the terrain fabulously. We spent a lazy afternoon by the river, just fishing and enjoying the warm sunny day. As evening settled in, I finally saw my first non-roadkill hedgehog. Later that night, I saw my second, as it tried in vain to break into our trash bag.
In the morning, we set off on what seemed like a brilliant plan. Instead of riding the 6km back along the gravel road and then doubling back on the highway, we would ford the river and cross the paddock on the other side and hop out on the highway there. From the side of the river we camped on, it seemed like it would be remarkably easy. It turned out to be one of the most absurd things we’ve ever done. Fording the river was the easy part. Crossing the paddock, however, was more like bush-whacking than a stroll across a park – the grass was shoulder-height, wet, and extremely dense. We had to stomp down the grass for several feet, then go back for our gear and continue on. By the time we reached the highway, we weren’t entirely sure that the way we went was any easier than simply riding the extra 12km. But, we decided, you have to do something completely ridiculous every so often, just to prove to yourself that you haven’t gotten soft as a bike tourist! From there, we slowly rambled our way up and over the spectacular Lindis Pass – definitely one of our favorite stretches of road riding that we’ve found here in NZ. Down the other side into the small town of Omarama, and into another free DOC campsite by the Ahuriri River.
From Omarama, we opted for a short day into Twizel. The road through this stretch surprised us by how utterly flat and straight it is. Mountains loom on either side, but the valley floor is grassland, with easy and fast riding. After bush-whacking and crossing a mountain pass the day before, we were thrilled to just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. Amazingly, we also met several bike tourists along the way. After coffee in town, we made our way to the holiday park by Lake Ruataniwha, and we watched as the sky slowly got darker and more ominous. We opted for a small cabin at the campground, which wasn’t much more than just pitching a tent – and we were extremely glad for our decision as a thunderous storm moved in and turned the campground into a swampy mess.
We are still in Twizel today. It is still grey and rainy. The weather forecast is definitely not in favor of exposed cyclists for the next couple days, but our fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to head on to Lake Tekapo tomorrow. Over the next few days, we’ll slowly be making our way back to Christchurch, via the inland route through the foothills, where we’ll catch our flight out of NZ.
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