Along the We(s)t Coast

In Cycling tour 2018, New Zealand, Travel, Update by Cassie & Cédric7 Comments

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Note: this was written for the dates Feb. 1st to 6th … reliable internet has been a bit of a bother to find (I’m using grocery store Wi-Fi right now).

Over the course of the two nights we stayed in Greymouth, the storm that we endured turned out to be quite damaging for the South Island. Thursday’s high winds blew down thousands of trees and the storm surges and heavy rainfall washed out several parts of Highway 6, our planned route, on the coast. (cyclone “Fehi”). Cédric, Matt -a fellow cyclist, and I, feeling rather intrepid (and cooped up in the hostel) ventured out into Greymouth Thursday midday to see the ocean in action (although once we walked out into the category 1 winds, I kept muttering about how we were going to be impaled by flying sign posts). On the coast, nearly the entire beach was swallowed by the king tides.

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Friday, we awoke to heavy downpours and had to wait in the hostel living room for the storm to finally pass. As we bided our time, Cédric and I started scrolling through New Zealand news sites, the cyclone’s aftermath appeared more serious than we anticipated – tourists were trapped in cities on our route and mudslides destroyed sections of the highway. Our plans to continue the West Coast Wilderness Trail southwards were becoming bleaker the more we heard about the current situation. As the storm cleared, and discussion with other cyclists at the hostel, we decided that we were going to forego the Wilderness Trail, as it seemed that the chance of coming across fallen trees was more than likely.

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Instead, we decided to bike a short flat 40 kms to the next city, Hokitika. Being a little restless after two days locked indoors and annoyed at a heavy traffic of people probably feeling the same, Cedric decided to do the 40km non-stop as a time-trial. Cassie asked in Hokitika if we had headwind or tailwind, as it felt easy and pretty fast (we had continuous headwind…). After we arrived at our host’s house (thanks Kevin!), Cédric and I inspected the city and the storm’s damages. Apart from a few damaged sheds, it seemed (to us at least) as though the city was already on the mend and the streets were no longer flooded. That night after sunset, Cédric and I checked out the glow worm dell near the city.

The next morning, after hearing about the continued road closures and trapped tourists south of us, Cédric and I decided to push south anyway, figuring that the fallen trees and washed out roads were a minor disruption for cyclists, as we are more maneuverable than cars and trucks. Since it seemed that the closed-off towns might have food shortages for a few days to come, we loaded up the rig with seven days’ worth of food supplies in Hokitika and set off down south in sunny weather.

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In spots along the road, we could see spots where trees had fallen and the earth had given way. Our night was spent at a campsite in Harihari, at a near-empty, Shining-esque hotel (seriously, I heard kids laughing and running around although none were to be seen the entire time we were there). A good night’s rest seemed promising, as the hotel was eerily deserted, but we were woken up by some meth-heads (and patrons of the campsite) partying at 3am. After Cédric asked them to be quiet, their response was that only the manager could tell them to shut up and proceeded to turn up the music in spite. Alas, since we were camping on the lawn of the creepiest and emptiest hotel known to this side of the West Coast, no manager could be found. So, as our neighbors were sleeping off their high the next morning, revenge was served hot and steamy on the door of their truck, thanks to Cédric. (for clarity for our international readers, we’re talking about a digestive by-product). (We know that these people were drug abusers because they were screaming about “P,” which is slang for meth in New Zealand – meth is also a big issue in the country).

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Our Sunday ride started a bit early for two reasons: 1. To avoid being caught as shit-smearers and 2. To avoid as much rain as possible. Out of the 60km to Franz Josef, we managed only half was without a rain poncho and arrived, damp, at 1:30 pm at our hostel. After a quick lunch, Cédric and I set off on a Tour de Franz Josef Glacier, but found it a little lack luster due to low-hanging clouds and a washed-out trail. We could only see a sliver of the glacier from 2 km away… let’s just say that the glacial views in Patagonia were much better.

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The next day, we set off in more rain to see if there was anything worth seeing at the Fox Glacier. The start of our journey was challenging, as three long ascents were between both towns. The sun greeted us for a small bit of time as we arrived at the Fox Glacier town – enough to enjoy a coffee. As the weather changed to rain again, Cédric and I hopped on the bicycle and made our way to the Fox Glacier viewpoint, but found the road closed due to flooding and fallen trees. Our plan B became riding down “Glacier View Road” in what soon became a downpour. After our soggy lunch, we were able to see a small section just below the rain clouds. Although we couldn’t see much of either glacier, I found the ferny forests more impressive. Our day ended at a motel in the middle of nowhere, where Cédric and I were keen to use the room’s heater and hot shower.

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Today, Cédric and I continued riding southward along the West Coast and were able to experience everything this area has to offer: ocean, mountain, and lakes. With the sheer lack of inhabitants here, everything looked untouched. I particularly liked cycling through the forests, as they are some of the last vestiges of the flora that existed in Gondwana- you can almost imagine dinosaurs emerging from the ferny, moss-filled rainforests.

Tomorrow, we will be cycling up the Haast pass and leaving the West Coast behind.

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Comments

  1. Hi Cassie and Cédric,
    Nice to read you again. South does not sound so appealing but we look forward to watching your pictures… Keep cool with drug addicts as you never know their reaction. Here we got snow and Paris and two thirds of France were snowbound. People stuck in the cars over the night (as usual in France since seldom). Thus winter is still quite present. Family is ok. Next week-end, there is the festival of the bike trips here where you are supposed to present next year (Marcellin, who had travelled the world with his family for one year, is also one of the organizers and reads carefully your blog..). Big kisses from both.

    1. Author

      The South is definitely wilder and more scenic – however people do not seem to be the nicest ones here. In touristy area, locals pretty much tell that they hate tourists (although all work in tourism-related jobs… and there’s about nothing else to do), in rural and farming areas they hate “people from cities” (that include New Zealanders and tourists), and in lots of places it feels a bit like “I’m in my piece of land, I can do whatever I want on it, but don’t dare coming here”.

      Luckily there’s not many inhabitants, roads are fairly quiet, few trucks, tourists drive well on roads (I can spot crappy local cars in the mirror, and have mastered the technique of biking in the middle of the road to slow people down, and veer to the left at the end) and we’ve been biking with a few other cyclo-tourists those last past weeks.

      1. Author

        But okay, we’ve had some similar not-very-social encounters in rural parts of France (between Ardeche and Herault…) and that would be likely similar in some parts of the US (or elsewhere) as well.
        Tourism seem to be growing at a very fast pace in NZ, and it may take a few years to realize that it has become the first source of revenue in the country (before the dairy industry… and there are a loooooot of cows!).

  2. Never heard of ‘glow worms’ before, so I just checked it out: https://www.newzealand.com/au/article/hokitika-glow-worm-dell/
    Interesting, but I probably will never get a chance to see them and will only have to say that at least I experience fireflies every summer here in the midwest (which still consider to be amazing little bugs)! Also, I larned from this blog to never I upset Cedric as he’s a good feces flicker! Take care – love you two!😗

    1. Author

      They had really pissed off the entire village that night! We saw a local confronting one of those junkies in the morning… but that “town” (few houses around a liquor store) is literally 2h driving away from the closest police station, so I guess there’s not much they can do at 3am.
      We thought that our souvenir was still nicer than lashing two tires (one would have been too easy with a spare wheel… two is more fun when 150km away from a mechanics). 🙂
      And I’m pretty sure they were too stoned to see anything until late that day!

    1. Author

      There is one, but we’ll better send it to your private email 🙂
      Also, it may not be very visible but we chose particularly the door edges and handle! That made us laugh the whole morning.

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