Murchison to Christchurch, via Greymouth and a Big Detour-Causing Mechanical
After a restful day in Murchison (and much contemplation about tourism in NZ), we headed off down the road again. We had consulted with a number of bikey people on which route to take to Greymouth, and we opted to follow Hwy 65 out of Murchison, thus avoiding the worst of the Buller Gorge traffic and setting ourselves up to take Hwy 7 into Reefton (which was promised to be spectacular). As it turned out, Hwy 65 was full of lovely scenery, but still packed with way too much traffic. By the time we rolled into the small community of Maruia, we were exhausted and cranky and had spent most of the day whining about NZ roads. With no shoulder and insanely high-speed traffic (unwilling to be patient and pass safely), we spent most of the day looking at the white fog line and pedaling as fast as we could. Which was rather unfortunate, because when we got to Maruia and looked up, we were surrounded by some truly incredible scenery. In Maruia, we stopped for coffee and a snack, and then wandered over to the small motel to give in and pony up for a room. But the motel was full. And the motel owner was completely useless, telling us that it was only a short 19km down the road to Springs Junction and, no, actually, he didn’t have the phone number for the motel down there, maybe he should have that. Um, yeah. Somehow, we rallied the energy to tumble down the road to Springs Junction, distracting ourselves from the task-at-hand by whining about traffic and the wind. Arriving in Springs Junction, we were delighted to find a little motel (with vacancy) and a cafe – and be done for the day. The motel, it turned out, was quite nice. Simple and basic, and much more than we would have paid for a similar room in the US, but it was situated next to a small creek and was warm and cozy.
In the morning, we treated ourselves to breakfast at the cafe. The grey weather of the day before had turned into an actual drizzling rain, which did not inspire us to get going particularly quickly, and which also obscured most of the beautiful scenery that was the entire reason for taking this particular route. But we were delighted to discover that the traffic all but disappeared along the stretch from Springs Junction to Reefton, which almost made up for the weather. We rolled into Reefton early in the afternoon, cold and tired. After wandering around town a bit, we made our way to the motor camp, where we were delighted to discover that we could get a simple cabin for just $15 more than pitching our tent. Sold! We enjoyed a bit of a lazy afternoon, fishing and reading, and basically enjoying the fact that the rain had let up for a bit.
The next morning, however, the grey weather had settled back in, and we donned our rain jackets yet again. As it turned out, that weather is pretty standard, and the area just south of Reefton is actually known as The Grey Valley. After a short, steep climb out of Reefton, the road just rambled along, beside a sparkling river. The traffic was delightfully light along the highway, and was almost nonexistent on the parallel side road that we took from Ikamatua into Greymouth. Early in the afternoon, we came upon the turn-off to the small community of Blackball. We had heard so much about this small hamlet that we couldn’t pass it up, and we pedaled up the hill to check it out. The famous Blackball Salami Co was closed, since it was Sunday, but we were able to pick up some of their product at the market and enjoy a picnic lunch. And, of course, no trip to Blackball would be complete without a beer at the Formerly the Blackball Hilton. The independent spirit of the town was still thriving and it was a lovely rest in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, enjoying a pint on a warm afternoon has a knack for making any remaining hills feel worse than they are, so the rest of the ride was a bit sluggish, and we rolled into Greymouth ready for a couple days off the bikes. In Greymouth, we opted for a Backpackers for the night, and went with the one with free wifi.
We took our time in the morning and checked out just under the wire. With all the bags loaded onto the bikes, we pushed off to explore the town a bit. And, then, just as we were bumping off the curb, Russ stopped, looked down, and cursed. One of the bolts that holds the hinge together had unscrewed itself a bit and sheered off. The bike was completely unrideable. We pushed everything back into the yard at the Backpackers, and sat down to figure out a Plan B. We had received a generous homestay offer to stay with Kevin Hague, MP, and he was able to rescue us in his car. Over the next two days, while we worked out what to do about Russ’ bike, we were able to talk a lot about cycling in NZ and learn some of the backstory and hopes for the NZ Cycle Trail network.
We eventually worked out a plan to travel by train to Christchurch, which has a much better selection of bike shops and trained mechanics than Greymouth. The folks at Cheeky Transport in Australia would ship the replacement parts to Christchurch and we would wait it out with some lovely readers. We were bummed to completely change our plans to ride down the West Coast, but excited to check out the NZ train. The scenery along the ride (which crosses the Southern Alps) was truly spectacular, and the train even featured an open-air car at the back.
We’ve now spent a week in Christchurch, resting, exploring, and doing a bit of work. Christchurch is a fascinating city. There is still plenty of evidence of the destruction caused by the earthquakes, but there is also plenty of evidence of a thriving community spirit trying to put it all back together. We visited Re:Start, a pedestrian shopping mall downtown made out of shipping containers. We explored some art galleries and watched the hysterical outdoor play “The Complete History of Christchurch, Abridged.” We sampled some of the fantastic food and beers that can still be found in the city, if you know where to look. And we had a lot of great conversation, and even felt a few rumbles for ourselves.
It took longer than expected for the part to arrive for Russ’ bike, but it finally made it today and the installation was a breeze. The good folks at Cycle Trading had no fear taking on an unfamiliar job. And Shane, the mechanic, who happens to race Penny Farthings in his spare time, did an excellent job taking everything apart and putting it back together. Thank you Cycle Trading!
Since we lost a bit of time, we’ve had to re-arrange our plans a bit for the remainder of our time in NZ. The thing that we are most keen on experiencing is the Otago Central Rail Trail, which is the success story that launched the whole NZ Cycle Trail network. Tomorrow, we’re hopping a bus down to Dunedin, where we’ll get to meet up again with the cycling family that we met along the Forgotten World Highway. Then, we’ll be off to the rail trail!
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our 2012 2012 calendar or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing.)