Thursday, 7 May 2015

Trip Notes

Cycling Alps to Ocean Trail
Really nice trail, well done, some lovely sections up to Mt Cook, around Lake Ohau (excellent food at the lodge) and again through the farmland heading to Oamaru, so nice to be off the road for awhile!
Best done starting from the ocean and going to the Alps, change of elevation is not that great and that way, the view of the mountains is in front of you
Some sections around Kurow are not finished yet, on the highway for 40km, but the traffic is really light and you pass a really good fruit stand
Oamaru is a neat little town with a love of penny farthings and industrial railway warehouse turned boutique cafe wine tasting antique shop

Cycling Oamaru to Dunedin
Some long-ish sections on the highway, quite busy, mostly there's a shoulder to ride on, but the noise and the wind from the traffic is still really unpleasant, the side road section through Kakanui is very quiet farmland and then the Karitane Coast has beautiful views of the ocean (hilly though), from Waitati there is a very quiet secondary road option that gradually climbs a hill, and then has a long descent with great views of the peninsula and the city, takes you right into Dunedin

Otago Peninsula - three days, two nights
Really beautiful ocean-front road the whole way to the tip of the peninsula, and generally flat.  A bit twisty with some traffic, but the route is quite popular with road cycling groups from the city, so they are working on putting in a bike lane (maybe 1/3 finished?), and the cars are aware there are cyclists
Definitely visit the south side of the penisula too - quiet dirt roads along coves filled with birds, so peaceful, we saw yellow-eyed penguins at Victory Beach at sundown and sea lions the next day
Visited the albatross colony at the very tip (expensive, but worth it on a windy day in late summer when you might see the chicks on the nests and the adults in the air)
There is a high road option that you can take on the way back that is supposed to have beautiful views of both sides of the peninsula
If you get caught out on a windy day, you can speak very nicely to the bus driver in Portobello and get a ride back to the city with your bike

Cycling Dunedin to Balclutha
Getting out of Dunedin is a pain, whichever way you go, there are steep hills, but you get nice views of the ocean
Camped at the Brighton domain, from there onwards, there's just quiet open road beside the ocean - beautiful 
Even after Taieri Mouth, when the main road goes inland back to the highway, you can keep going on the country side roads (gravel and a bit hilly) that take you through the sheep-covered hills
You must go inland near Milton to cross a bridge, from there, if you've had enough hills, you can stick to the flat fields til Balclutha - nice to be away from traffic!

Cycling The Catlins - one week from Balclutha to Invercargill
One of Michael's favourite sections, quiet, tucked away beaches full of wildlife, rugged, windswept coastline with cliffs, forested sections, short walks to beautiful waterfalls and sheep
Not as touristed - the last on the list, as the locals told us themselves, and we were there at the end of the season
Many branches going down to the coast from the main road that's often a few kilometres inland, good to drop the bags before turning off, or pick a spot on the main road to stay and do some day trips (we stayed two nights at the old maternity hospital turned hostel in Owaka- very comfortable)
Gravel road from Curio Bay to Fortrose a pain on a bike - the gravel is either very deep or very rutted
Free camping in Fortrose and in Waikawa (easy distance away from Curio Bay, where there are dolphins and penguins)

Hiking South Track - two days, one night
20km walk into the beautiful Port Craig School House Hut, easy trail that crosses lots of beaches, but a bit of a long walk
Saw Hector dolphins  
Access from Tuatapere
There is a beach track option at low tide, but it is actually closed due to a slip (landslide) on the trail up from the beach, it's navigable but tricky.  It's supposed to be 2km shorter than the inland trail but doesn't really save you any time because walking over the rocky beach is slower.  
Track is part of the Humpridge, a privately run trail that you can only walk by booking it, but this section is shared with DOC, and Port Craig is a DOC hut
Don't picnic on the beach - sandflies!

Hiking Green Lake - two days, one night
Beautiful, new hut on a lake surrounded by mountains
Started from Lake Monowai, a free DOC camping (left tent and bikes here).  Hike was 7hrs (one hour longer than posted), very difficult, trail not well maintained, lots of deep mud, windfall, and difficult creek crossings, entirely in the forerst except for the last hour and a half or so.
Exited the other side (stayed in the hut on the weekend, so it was busy, and were offered a lift by some Kiwis), a 2 hour walk to the carpark, alternating tussock fields and bush, some beautiful views, a few steep sections, but trail drier, no windfall
This trailhead is just over the Borland Saddle, there's a two bunk shelter at the carpark
Access is about 30km south of Manapouri, Borland lodge is another cheap accommodation option, located 5km from Lake Monowai

Cycling Tuatapere to Manapouri
A long, very quiet, mostly flat section of paved road through mountains - what could be better? 
Most people must skip Invercargill and get to Te Anau through Gore, means this road is very un-traveled, often Michael and I road side by side for kilometres at a time
No shops though - bring your food
Manapouri is where the boats leave to take people on tours to Doubtful Sound.  Also some small hikes near Manapouri, but you need to have a boat take you across the river to the trailhead
After Manapouri is Te Anau, where the Kepler (Great Walk) starts - apparently worth it in good weather.  Then the road to Milford Sound - 250km roundtrip, with a steep, one way traffic tunnel at the end.  We didn't end up going, as it's a bit daunting on a bike.  The road is busy, but apparently if you time it right (ie wait in the morning until all the buses have passed), it can be ok.  There are lots of DOC campsites on the way (in Milford, though, it would be good to call ahead) and lots of short hikes, but it will probably be raining for some or all of time 
Just before the tunnel, is a 4WD/mountain bike route called the Gertrude Saddle, takes you about 5km up, from which you can see down into Milford Sound
The Milford Road also takes you to the start of the Hollyford, a multi-day trek that ends at the ocean, and then you take a jet boat or helicopter back

Cycling Lower Princhester Hut- one night
Standard hut in a convenient location, accessible by road, about 30km from Te Anau
Only accommodation option if you are headed to Mavora Lakes - didn't see any other campings or B&Bs, maybe one fancy lodge
Road from Te Anau is busy!  Tour buses going to and from fijordland to Queenstown, don't give you any space.  Should be alright though if you time it right - we were leaving Te Anau in the evening, so traveling with the traffic.  Probably it's lightest in the middle of the day.
Acts as an access point to the Takitimu mountains, and is part of the Long Walk (the trail that crosses New Zealand)
Hut is an old forestry hut, serviceable, no rodents, but we got smoked out
Access is via Princhester Road, on the right about 7km before the turn off for Mavora Lakes, when you're coming from Te Anau.  Road crosses private land, must call ahead of time, get phone number from DOC office in Te Anau. 

Cycling Mavora Lakes and Carey Hut, two days, two nights (rest day)
Standard hut accessible by 4WD track on a long lake surrounded by low mountains 
Nice location, hut has been a bit mistreated (grafitti etc), and rodents heard at night in the walls and under the floor, but very servicable -  made a nice fire at night 
Access is 50km along a decent gravel road, that gradually climbs, and then 20km into the Mavora Lakes park, first 10km are DOC campsites, and then 10km of 4WD track, more suitable for mountain bikes, esp if it's rained
There are plenty of hiking options around Mavora lakes and it connects to the Greenstone valley to the north with a series of huts, part of the Long Walk (the track that crosses NZ)

Cycling Around the Mountains to Walter Peak station
Some of the most beautiful riding in NZ on a flat valley with mountains on either side, vast completely empty except for the sheep
50km from Mavora Lakes to the end, where you take the ferry across to Queenstown, much better than the option of over 100km around on the highway
A bit stressful because the boat should be pre-booked, have to make it on time, and the last regular crossing is at 4:30pm (although apparently there is a dinner crossing at 6:00ish that they would stick you on if you were late); best to get a very early start and enjoy the day

Cycling Queenstown Trail
Beautiful cycling trail, takes you along the river and through areas that you can only access on the bike
Unfortunately ends about 45km outside of Cromwell, and drops you on a very busy, very narrow road through a gorge - not good for cycling!

Cycling Road to Glenorchy
Beautiiful ride of about 48km, not a bit of it flat, along the Queenstown lake (Wakatipu)
DOC camping 12km outside of Queenstown, and 20km past Glenorchy
Glenorchy has some cafes and two general stores (one exclusively organic) that are very expensive and numerous pricey hotels, a backpakers at $40 per person

Hiking Greenstone to Routeburn - 6 days, 5 nights
62km of hiking, up a river valley, then over a mountain pass to almost make a loop
Beautiful new huts on the Greenstone, camped the Routeburn because it's a "Great Walk"
Day 1: Left bikes at Sylvan Lake camping, 5km from Routeburn trailhead, and paid for a transfer to Greenstone trailhead, 20km away (35$ each) - met people hitchhiking this, they got lifts as far as Kinloch, but had to walk the last 12km.  Might have more success in high season.  Walk was mostly through bush, trail easy
Day 2: Trail over the valley floor, good views up and down the valley, long though - 6hrs of solid walking, trail difficult in some places (rocky, muddy, tree roots)
Day 3: Rest day, walked only 2hrs to the Greenstone Saddle camping just 20mins below Lake Howden hut, slept in, took the morning off, climbed up to Key Summit - cloudy, could have climbed up the Caples saddle here
Day 4: Tried Key Summit again, still cloudy, walked to Lake Mckenzie, mostly through bush, beautiful waterfall halfway, camped
Day 5: Walked above the treeline most of the day, unfortunately still cloudy, went over Harris Saddle - beautiful, walked down the other side to Routeburn flats, clearer, camped
Day 6: Walked out two hours through the bush, trail VERY easy, hitched a ride to our bikes, and biked into Glenorchy, stayed asfft backpackers ($80)
Variation : Caples to Routeburn.  The Caples and the Greenstone make their own full loop, up one river valley and down the other.  We were told the Caples has steeper valley walls, so you see less, but it is shorter, and at the end, you go over a saddle with good views
On the Divide side of the Routeburn, it seems to be often cloudy - you would be lucky to get good views of the other side

Hiking Rees - 5 days, 4 nights
Beautiful walk up a river valley with big, snow-covered peaks in front of you, up to a saddle with beautiful views, trail has lots of side options
Day 1: Biked out to the trailhead, 25km from Glenorchy, started hiking in the afternoon, only went as far as Kea Basin, a side trail up the lefthand valley wall, stayed in a basic hut that was mouse infested, option a little higher to sleep under a rock - might have been better
Kea basin trail is signposted at the bushline, but there appears to be no real access across the paddocks - everyone we saw was carefully climbing over the electric fence and then walking through the midddle of the cows
Trail along the valley floor is good for about an hour, and then turns awful - long, poorly marked, lots of deep mud, places where you are seemingly supposed to wade through swamps.  We gave up eventually, waded across the Rees, and just followed the  4WD track
Day 2: Kea basin to Shelter Rock hut (new), trail once you get to the park boundary is really good
Day 3: Up to Rees Saddle, beautiful!!
Day 4: The long walk out, camped at trailhead
Possible to go one hut further, to Dart hut, and then from there, if the weather is good, you can day trip up to Dart glacier and Cascade Saddle - just didn't have enough time
This tramp used to make an almost loop - up the Rees Valley and down the Dart, or vice versa, but it has been closed for a few years due to a landslide, which created a lake.  Should re-open soon. 
Other hikes in the area: the Earnslaw burn : hike up a river to a basin right below Mt. Earnslaw, where there's a rock shelter where you can sleep, a challenging trail, but supposed to be beautiful

Hiking West Matukituki - 3 days, 2 nights
Hiked up to French Ridge hut - a very challenging trail to a hut with a very beautiful view, hiked 45min past the hut up to the snow and had a veiw of Mt Aspiring
Day 1: carpark to Aspiring Hut, 2hrs, mostly following the dirt road, we started at 5:30pm and finished in the dark with no problems, could do a side trip up to Rob Roy glacier view point (1hr-ish), hut is large and modern, but had mice
Day 2: Aspiring Hut to French Ridge, walk up the valley is easy and beautiful, even though the clouds were low and we couldn't see the mountains, at Pearl Flats, the river crossing is signposted (bridge 1km further up), and was cold but easy, trail up to French Ridge is pretty much vertical, often using tree roots to pull yourself up steep sections, would be terrible in the rain
Day 3: Beautiful day, lingered at the hut and walked up further to the snow, then down - hard on the knees!, walked out the last hour in the dark
Good tramp with lots of options - ie. Rob Roy glacier lookout on the way to Aspiring Hut (add 1h30), from Aspiring Hut daytrip up to the Cascade Saddle Pylon (or even over it, if you're ambitious!), walk up the valley to Scott's rock biv, or climb to Liverpool Hut, a DOC hut located across the valley from French Ridge

Cycling Cromwell to Wanaka
A nice ride, especially when the Pisa mountain range is sprinkled with snow
Begins with a marked trail along the shoreline, takes you almost to the top of the lake, but then ends suddenly in a quarry (maybe we missed a sign?  Or maybe they are still working on finishing it?)
You pass through what seemed to be a domain camping just outside Cromwell.  We stayed in Luggate, a town with a nice pub and a $5pp camping in the cricket grounds 
Would love to come back in winter and ski tour the Pisa mountains - apparently there is a whole system of huts and trails along the top of them

Hiking Day Hikes around Wanaka
Loads of options, we only did two of them - Grandview Ridge and Rob Roy mountain - beautiful views from each of these
Would be easier with a car, as the trail heads are up to 20km away and the hikes take all day
Download DOC brochure, "Outdoor pursuits in Wanaka," lots to do here - plan to spend some time, there are so many options available

Cycling Haast Pass
Biked it in a light drizzle with low cloud cover, and found it beautiful, probably even nicer in good weather when you can see the mountains, lots of DOC campsites beside the road
From Wanaka, you start with a beautiful day along Lake Hawea, before reaching the top of Lake Wanaka and then following the Makarora river valley - all of this is flat to gently rolling, you don't begin to climb until after Makarora, and even that is not too steep
Stayed at Boundary Creek, Pleasant Flats and Haast
Lots of trails along the way - a bit intimidating because they go straight up the valley wall to a hut and back, but Brewster Hut would be a good one to try - only 3 hrs one way, nice hut above the treeline and below a mountain, could stay two nights and climb a smaller peak called Mt Armstrong, from which you can apparently see the ocean. 
Also passed the trailhead for the Young-Wilkin, a multi-day hike, which starts with you crossing the Makarora river (quite large) or doing an extra 7km of walking to use the bridge at Blue Pools, but also takes you up to the Gillespie Pass, which we heard was beautiful, and to some nice huts. Possibility of taking a jet boat instead of hiking out

Cycling South Westland
Remote, with glimpses of ocean and forest different from what we saw elsewhere - more like a rainforest
Flat, and then three big hills coming out of Haast, but not terrible.  They slow the traffic down at least.
You're lucky if it's not raining, and if you find a spot to stop with a bit of a breeze, to keep the sandflies at bay
Camped at Lake Paringa, and had a bag chewed open by a rat!

Hiking The Copland Valley - 4 days, 3 nights
A fairly easy trail up to hot pools, and then up to a mountain pass, coud have used one more day!
Day 1: A long walk through bush to Welcome Flats hut, some dramatic bridges over streams, and some mountain views, although since it's the West Coast, you'll probably be doing this in the rain, but the hot pools make it worth it!  A lot of people do a one nighter there and back
Day 2: Walked up to Douglas Rock hut (standard, but nice) in the Upper Copland Valley (download DOC brochure by this name as well as the Copland to Welcome Flats one), hut is just at the edge of the treeline, 3 hrs or a bit longer, trail becomes quite challenging at the end because of three or four landslides, then walked another hour and a half without the bags towards the Pass - this trail is lightly marked and sometimes difficult to follow, very dramatic views of glaciers hanging above your head and eventually Mt Cook, would have liked to go further but had to turn back before dark.  Ideal would be to spend two nights at the hut to get as high as possible up the pass
Day 3: Walked back to Welcome Flats, had a soak in the hot pools for an hour, and then continued 2hrs to Architect Creek, a simple two bed hut - small but no rodents!
Day 4: Walked out 3 hours, and then biked to Fox Glacier, 25km away

Sitting The Glaciers- Fox and Franz to Hokitika
Supposed to have beautiful views of the tallest mountain peaks in NZ as a backdrop to the glaciers, you can hike up to a high point to see the mountains and the ocean, or head out to the coast and see the mountains reflected in the lagoons, but when we were there, the mountains were hidden by cloud
Five days of rain, we biked through three of them and sat two of them out.  When the rain cleared on the sixth day, and we saw the mountains from Hokitika, we felt like we'd missed out on something spectacular
Best to watch the Westland weather report, and when it's looking good, get there as fast as you can

Cycling The West Coast Wilderness Trail
Only did the section from Hokitika to Kumara (one day), very nice trail, good surface, across farmland, up a river valley, through forest, views of low mountains, but not of the ocean or peaks
So nice to be off the road for a bit

Cycling Arthur's Pass
Hardest cycling we did in New Zealand, extremely steep - comparable to hills in Southeast Asia
Ride from Kumara to Otira is very beautiful, climbs very gradually, following the river valley, had a lovely stop at the Jackson's Tavern
Even after Otira, you have another 4km before it really starts to climb, then it's about 350m of elevation climb in 4km to the Pass.  People will tell you about the viaduct, but in fact it's one of the easier sections because the grade is less steep than the sections cut into the hill
The village is a few kilometres further (and 200m lower) 
We cycled past Otira around 3:30pm, and made it to Arthur's Pass Village before sunset at 6pm, so it's definitely do-able

Hiking Avalanche Peak to Crow Valley - 2 days, one night
Beautiful walk up to a peak on the Scott track (3hrs), along a ridge, and then down a scree slope to the head of a valley with a glacier above you, and out the valley following the river the next day
Trail to the peak is demanding but not as tough as French ridge, although there are some narrow sections on the edge of some steep drops
Ridge trail is not marked but easy to find if you follow the route guide carefully (Arthur's Pass, Route Guide 5)
Hut is modern with a wood stove, walk out the next day is only 4hrs, all flat and mostly easy, although it does require 3 river crossings and lots of rock-hopping
End up at Klondyke Corner, we tried hitching for an hour, but the sun was setting and we were having no luck, so we started to walk the 7km back to Arthur's Pass Village along this narrow, winding road, and got picked up almost right away by a Kiwi-Canadian couple
Another popular hike in this area is the Cass Lagoon Saddle (Arthur's Pass Route Guide 12), which is two long days or three shorter ones, lots of huts but only the middle one (Hamilton Hut) is big and modern, the rest are in the basic category and apparently quite tiny and rustic

Cycling Porter's Pass to Christchurch
High alpine landscapes with a gently rolling road for 50km that makes you feel lucky to be on a bicycle, so you can enjoy the view for hours
Waited out the rain for two nights at Flock Hill Station, a high country farm which was hired by the makers of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a film set for a year, very nice lodge with backpackers accommodation at $31pp, but there were many many camping possibilities (Lake Pearson, Craigieburn Recreational Area, Lake Lyndon, etc)
Lovely sheltered lunch spot at the exit of the Cave stream
Castle Hill rocks (not the village) is definitely worth a stop - huge limestone formations that you can climb all over
Porter's Pass can hardly be called a pass coming from the West, as you don't drop below 700m after Arthur's Pass.  From Lake Lyndon, there is a gentle climb to gain the last 100m, and then you have a beautiful descent down to the Canterbury Plains
From here, it's flat or downhill all the way to Christchurch.  We had a tail wind to boot, and sailed into Sheffield hardly touching our pedals
Camped in the Sheffield domain, Springfield also has a domain

Best time to go: summer-autumn
Students get their summer holidays over Christmas, so January is peak season for locals to travel as well.  By February, most of them will be heading back to school, and things will get quieter.  March and April are really beautiful months, and the weather is "more settled", as the locals told us on multiple occasions,  By the end of April, the nights are getting colder (down to zero degrees at night sometimes).  Early May can still have beautiful days, but snow is starting to fall in the mountains, and the days are very short - less than 11 hours of daylight, which makes it hard to get in a decent amount of hiking/biking in a relaxed way (although the Great Walks revert to regular walks starting in May, so all you need is a backcountry hut pass/hut tickets to stay in them)
If you arrived in the spring, you would face problems with a lot of the hikes in mountainous areas, as the snow poses an avalanche risk and the snowmelt makes river crossings dangerous

Some Scottish and hiking vocabulary: a bluff is a cliff, a burn is a creek, a saddle is a mountain pass (a col in France), a spur is a ridgeline heading up a mountain slope (the side of a mountain is made up of spurs divided by gorges), a station is a high alpine farm, the true right bank is the righthand side of a river when you are looking downstream

A note about river crossings - a lot of hikes in NZ have them, and have lots of warnings from the Dept of Conservation about them.  Don't let this stop you!  We waded across the Rees, the West Matukituki, the Crow, and the Waimakariri rivers, and none of them were more than knee deep.  Kiwis tramp through in their boots (and then spend all night in the hut trying to get their boots to dry, which they won't).  This is fine if the trail is muddy and you're going to get wet boots anyways, but Michael and I preferred to bring a sturdy pair of sandals and change our footwear before and after crossing.  Newbie move maybe, but it's hard to dry things when you're living on a bike.

River-crossing tips we picked up, but didn't really need: Look for a place where the river is flat and wide, no rapids.  Don't cross at a corner - rivers are deepest there, or above/across from trees - the roots and branches in the water could hold you under.  If it is deep, cross in a group, with your arms around each other, holding on to one another's packs to increase stabiity.  Most importantly, check the weather, and don't go if the rivers are high.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like way too much work. And quite scary. Good thing we didn't know you were doing it.