New Zealand, 2008

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Lake Hawea, Makarora, and Haast

On Saturday, February 16, we left for the west coast after a layover in Cromwell, where we had been before for a couple of days (page 7). At the Cromwell supermarket, one of the cashiers amazingly remembered that when we were last there, we had cycled about 700 kilometres. She asked us how far we'd gone since then. When we told her, about 2000 altogether, she was amazed and proudly announced that she had just cycled 150 km (on the rail trail). We were amazed that she remembered our previous visit so well!

We headed for Lake Hawea via Wanaka on Route 6, but shortly after the junction with Route 8A, we saw a secondary road to Lake Hawea, bypassing Wanaka, and decided to try it. It was our first "new territory" for this ride. It was a beautiful, quiet road, with snow-dusted mountains on the near horizon. We passed through an area called Hawea Flat— not an enticing name, and well off the tourism map — and we both felt it was the place we would want to live, if we were to live in New Zealand.

Riding from the hills down to Hawea Flat — possibly our favorite spot in New Zealand so far

In 65 kilometres we reached Lake Hawea, lined near the village with expensive vacation homes, much like Lake Wanaka, but a smaller place without all the clutter of tourism. We stayed for the night at a nice enough campground on the lake. It happened that a group of conservationists from Australia were there on a tour, and they had arranged a guest speaker in the recreation room. We were invited to sit in, and did so. The speaker was a retired New Zealand farmer, elderly and very knowledgeable. He told us about the impact of imported animals and plants on native species, and about New Zealand's efforts to eradicate some of the most destructive invasives and save endangered native birds and bush.

Fixing a picnic at Lake Hawea

Camping at Lake Hawea

On Sunday we set out for Makarora. After the first noteworthy climb of the day, we ran into a group of cyclists at the top, Hawea Lookout. One of them was Susan Hardy, from Norwich, Vermont! She's on the right in the photo below, but we didn't ask for a close-up since she had just suffered a faceplant the day before and was somewhat bruised and cut up. She was a game cyclist, however, and was cheerful and on the road again.

Cycling hills above Lake Hawea

American cycling group at Hawea Lookout
Also on this stretch of road, we were overtaken by a Kiwi cyclist on a road bike who offered to take our camera and ride ahead to take a photo of us as we approached. Wally hesitated only a second and handed it over; the cyclist soon disappeared in the distance. But sure enough, he was waiting up ahead, and the photo to the right (of us riding two abreast — something we never do ordinarily) is the one he took. We forget his name, but he was really nice, and he had just moved to Hawea Flat (lucky fellow!)

Us, taken by a Kiwi cyclist


Near Makarora, the wind turned against us.
We made it to Makarora before mid afternoon, only 55 kilometres, but the last 10 or 15 were in the face of a tough headwind. We discovered that the campground there had a swimming pool. (Barb didn't go in but Wally did; it was great!) The campground was a busy place, with backpacker buses and tour groups. Also, Makorora is where we met a few cyclists whom we continued to see for the next couple of days — a British couple on a tandem and a younger Swiss couple whom we'd also seen in Cromwell. (They would all invariably pass us even though we started earlier, but we seemed to end up in the same places.)

Our destination after Makarora was Haast, the southern gateway to Westland, also known as "Wetland," where it can rain 8 to 12 metres (24 to 36 FEET) in a year. It's also known for strong winds and annoying sand flies (like our black flies.) It's the least populated part of New Zealand, but also the most wildly beautiful, most people say.


Above: Clearing at Cameron Flats, soon before Haast Pass

Right: Leaving Makarora in early morning fog


Thunder Creek Falls, on the descent from Haast Pass


The principal obstacle on the way to Haast was Haast Pass. It is the lowest pass over the Southern Alps, but we still expected it to be a challenge. Climbing to the pass was work, to be sure, but it was much easier in the direction we were heading, north. When we started the huge descent (above) from about 600 metres (1800 feet) to sea level, we were glad that we had climbed the easier side! We were also glad that our brakes were working well.

Near the bottom of the pass we ran into a VBT tour group — headed up the pass, in what we take to be the "wrong direction." We asked the tour leader why they configured the tour that way, when it would be so much easier for guests if they arranged to cycle in the opposite direction. Interestingly, he said that he'd never thought about it. By the way, we passed lots of cyclists riding north to south and wondered why. We also wondered how many of those in the van-supported groups made it all the way up the pass under their own steam.

Between the pass and the village, we walked to a waterfall called "Roaring Billy." Not many of the falls are terribly impressive because the summer has been so dry, and this was no exception. However the walk through rain forest and bush was wonderful.

Haast Visitor Centre
At Haast, we ended up in the same campground with our British and Swiss acquaintances (photos of them in the next section.) The campground/motel had probably the best equipped communal kitchen and most impressive lounge of any campground we've visited, but we couldn't find anything we wanted to eat in the local store, so we bought fish and chips from a truck. Not that bad, reheated in the well equipped kitchen!

The lounge where we camped at Haast

The communal kitchen

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