In which we meet the wet west coast

January 18, 2017

We departed from our Christmas enclave after sending some messages home to friends and family as their Christmas Day dawned. We didn’t have time to cycle and tour all around the Abel Tasman park area, but we knew that it was worth heading up to the beach at Marahou before returning to catch our shuttle at Kaiteriteri Beach.

27 December 2016: Nelson Kaiteriteri for http://onlyamazingdays.com

The golden sands lived up to their legendary status. We’ll have to save the kayak adventure until our next visit to New Zealand, whenever that may happen.

27 December 2016: Nelson Kaiteriteri for http://onlyamazingdays.com

27 December 2016: Nelson Kaiteriteri for http://onlyamazingdays.com

George from Trail Hopper Transport was our shuttle driver/impromptu tour guide for the ride between Kaiteriteri and Nelson and gave us a really interesting overview of the stuff we missed being on the bike. It was amazing how quickly we were able to get back to Nelson when riding in a van. Bronwyn and I always have a strange perspective shift – a cultural shock, really – whenever we find ourselves as passengers on engine-driven transport. Bikes have been taking us where we want to go. But cars, vans, trains… they go fast.

Bike sculpture in Mapua, New Zealand

I guess that bikes still have a role to play beyond the Great Tasman Taste Trail.

Round two in Nelson was really about relaxing until the next morning, so we grabbed some bottled craft beer and took in a couple of films from the comfort of our hotel room. Ron Howard’s Eight Days A Week appealed to the Beatlemaniac that lives within me (especially since I haven’t had access to any of my music collection since the beginning of the trip – Bronwyn accidentally wiped my phone of songs before we left and I didn’t notice until we were on the plane leaving Toronto). If you haven’t had a chance to see Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, go and see it. I’m serious. Especially if you have kids or you’re thinking about having kids. I’m thinking about having kids one day, and part of me will be thinking about Captain Fantastic when I do.

As we’re gearing up to leave the hotel, Bronwyn notices that her helmet is gone – nowhere to be found in the hotel room. She’s fairly sure that she had it when we left our AirBnb in Kaiteriteri on Christmas Day, so it would seem that it’s been lost somewhere between Kaiteriteri and Nelson. As I mentioned, not a far distance when you’re in car, but a prohibitively long trip if you had to retrace your steps on a bicycle. If it flew off the back of the trailer when we were being shuttled home, it’s as good as lost.

If, however, it’s still hanging in the tree that it was absent-mindedly hung from after getting off of the Kaiteriteri-Nelson shuttle, then it’s not lost. It spent a night in a New Zealand tree, ignored by passing Kiwis and tourists alike, wondering if it had done something wrong and was being punished. Bronwyn and her helmet were reunited without incident. And we still made our bus to Westport at 7:45 a.m., helmet and everything.

Our bus driver gives us a lot of grief about having bicycles. “It’s a good thing you’re getting off at Westport,” he explains scornfully. “If you were going any farther than that, I wouldn’t take you.”

Here’s the thing that gets me, InterCity: if you really don’t want to encourage people to travel with their bicycles on your buses, don’t advertise that it’s something they can do. You’re charging for it as a premium service, so don’t advertise that one can pay more money (which we did) to book your bicycles on the coach bus with you, provided that one mentions it on one’s reservation at the time of booking (which we also did). Most of the drivers that see us with our bicycles have treated us like social pariahs. We’re not there to mess with your system. We’re just trying to take advantage of a service that you advertise.

Bronwyn was tired from the scorn we received and the stress of nearly losing her helmet, so she slept the whole journey to Westport. I listened to podcasts and ate banana chips, which really isn’t that different from what I would do had I been cycling to Westport. We just got their a lot faster. Again, there’s that engine-speed shock.

As soon as we arrive in Westport, the rain and the chill set in. This was the west coast – the wet coast – and the similarities between the Canadian and Kiwi west coasts were back to haunt us. Just like in British Columbia, summer heat’s not going to be a sure thing when you’re pinned between the mountains and the ocean. Sometimes you get rain.

We huddled up in a cafe on the main drag while we formulated our next move. It didn’t make sense to head south yet with the bad weather setting in. We grabbed some Indian food for lunch and decided that we’d settle into the last available room at the YHA hostel in town, which we booked online. Of course, when we arrived, they had no record of our booking and had already given away the last room. There was a delay, it would seem, between the booking website and their database. The rain had really committed to soaking us at this point, so we had a moment of worry as we realized that there wouldn’t be a warm bed in a dry room. The woman running the hostel told us that we would be welcome to set up our tent out back, however, so that saved us from having to travel. And it was about half the price of the hotel room to do that – we even had access to all their amenities. My favourite was the coal fireplace in the common room that we used to dry off while we waited for the torrential rain to stop.

Tent set up behind Westport YHA Hostel

It wasn’t a cozy hostel room, but it was our little spot in Westport out of the rain.

A young German couple hitchhiking around New Zealand also got caught in the rain in Westport before finding the hostel. They joined us out back as we put out our sleeping gear and the late-evening sun decided to show up to dry out the yard. They would leave the next day with the giant bus of foreign tourists – mostly Japanese – who were also staying in the hostel and taking up all those rooms we had been hoping to book. After a day of much stress and very little cycling, we slept soundly. We were the last to check out the next day, and our trip would take us as far as Punakaiki.

The weather had improved since the night before, and we passed a number of cyclists heading north – in the opposite direction – and happily cruising along with the wind at their backs while we struggled with a coastal southerly blast for the entire trip. We’ve already joked on this blog that the downhill rides are a struggle when you’re riding in headwind; we haven’t found this joke particularly funny, and the ride (often uphill, sometimes downhill) was a really difficult haul to push through. Most of the cyclists wished us well and promised that we had beautiful scenery up ahead as we cruised down State Highway 6.

North Entrance to Paparoa National Park

I know it looks downhill, but the wind will blow you right back up to the top.

Upon reaching the top of one particularly long climb near the summit of Mount Galileo, a pair of Swiss cyclists heading north stopped to chat with us. We told them that they were at the top of their climb (having just climbed it from the other direction). Roger and Stephanie were doing some long days and had started their tour together at different times. Roger (not Federer) would be heading back to Switzerland for work, but Stephanie had more time and was going to continue her tour up to North Island. She was the perfect candidate to receive our no-longer-useful copy of Pedaller’s Paradise: North Island Edition, so we shrewdly exchanged it for a Snickers bar and wished them well. Stephanie, if you’re reading this, we hope it came in useful. Thanks for the chocolate bar!

After a day of climbing a total of 726 m through challenging headwinds, we stop for a photo at what we think is the highest climb of the day and then coast (into more headwind) down to Punakaiki Beach Campground and settle in for the night. It’s a busy place but serves us well until the next day, which takes us to the famous Pancake Rocks and eventually to Greymouth.

Author: Christian

Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com

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