We cruised down the country to kick this thing off on 1 January 2013, departing New Plymouth at 7.30 am. This obviously necessitated something of a sedate New Year celebration for our crew.
We took the 2.30 pm crossing on the Aratere Interislander vessel. The Interislander is a well-oiled outfit, so the only mitigating factor to the trip was enduring the mood of Poseidon on the day.
Thankfully we had a lovely crossing. The gale force northerlies that buffeted Wellington had little effect on the swell, and I managed to fall asleep next to some tourists, lolling my head onto one of them mid-slumber.
We were back on the road by 6 pm and heading South. The beautful coastal road down past Kaikoura had us rethinking our route choice a little, and the grouse feed of fish ‘n chips from the local shop even more so.
We ended up dossing down in Ashburton, completing an 870km journey South. We slept well.
The next day we made the push right for the starting point. We were scheduled to start on 3 January, but when we arrived to the starting point at 5.30 pm we ran some quick calculations. It was a shade over 110 km to Balclutha, and we didn’t have a whole lot of light left to play round with. Nonetheless, we had the high-viz against which all other high-viz is measured, and some poxy lights, so gave it a good dose of the go on then and got stuck in.
We negotiated the very scenic SH 92 through Catlins Coast, an undulating (read: hilly) and winding road through some truly extraordinary country.
Huge plots of magnificent forest surround you, with mist whispering through the canopies as you whip along all but deserted roads. Occasionally we would zoom beneath a tree and almost a dozen wood pigeons at a time would take flight into the sky – it was a spectacle. The gravel roads that we negotiated in the beginning quickly filthied up our bikes, and us, but they were a hoot to plow along.
The rain set in almost immediately, and the temperature dropped to 6 degrees. The rain never really let up. This was bitterly cold, but a good few km in we rounded a corner and found Tim “Graham” Lynskey – one of New Plymouth’s finest Orthopaedic Surgeons, certainly one of its finest men – standing on the roadside with two hot chocolates. A most welcome treat.
The 115 or so km didn’t come easily, we earned our elevation and were forced to show restraint on the descents, being in a very remote part of the country. However, at the end of one of the day’s largest climbs we found a sweeping view back over the forest and down to a rugged beach being pummelled by waves. We were amazed to spot a lone surfer way down there, paddling out over the breakers. A good keen man.
The descents were still a hoot, and so long as we kept pedalling our core temperatures didn’t drop too much.
At one point Ben drew my attention to the lake we were passing to point out a dead and bloated cow floating near the shore. Its skin was taut and swollen and beginning to come away in large patches. We cringed and joked about what might come out of the thing if it were compressed – even cycling past we were hit by the thick, putrid smell wafting off of it. The upshot of that encounter was that the appropriate Stone Temple Pilots track shunted from my mind the woeful 80’s pop ballad that had been bouncing around in there for the previous hour or so. Small victories.
The last part of the journey was basically ridden out in survival mode. The darkness cloaked the road’s imperfections and the chill was really beginning to bite. I was pining for my long-finger gloves in a big way.
In the end we made it to Balclutha some 5 1/2 hrs and 115 km from Slope Point. Given the conditions, and the very late start, we were happy enough with that performance, and thrilled to be a day ahead of schedule. We slept very well.