9.45pm The Art Hotel, Westport.
Stunning, absolutely stunning. No I am not going to be facetious and talk about my calf muscles or even my noticable thigh enlargement now I’m cycling (maybe later!), I am talking about today’s journey following the Buller river down to Westport on the west coast. AW man, I am such a lucky person to be able to be here and experience this in such perfect conditions. Felica and others had said it was a lovely ride and they were so right. If you are going to spend a day covering 100kms on a bike then this is the place! Ill not say it was easy, when they describe terrain as “pretty flat” in NZ then take this to mean “a bit hilly” in English terms. I took it steady as I wanted to stop so often to just check out the views.
The day started a bit disappointingly with cold low cloud and I delayed setting off until 10. Within half an hour the sun burned its way through and was unrelenting until I got nearer the west coast and even then it cleared again as I came into Westport itself.
What can I say, it is just a pleasure to be exerting oneself, and in so doing to feel that you have earned your right to be surrounded by such beautiful natural grandeur. The river is just captivating as it winds its way through the steepest and tallest of majestic bush clad mountains. Sometimes the river is broad and braided into many fast shallow channels, other times it is brooding dark and deep, sometimes its surges explosively through grounded out rocky canyons. The road hugs its banks practically all the way but often gives you a physical test by throwing in a long drag uphill followed by a “whhheeee” inducing downhill reward for your efforts.
I took the time to visit the swing bridge which I’d not appreciated was a fee paying attraction but I didn’t want to disappoint you my dear reader. In fact I thought I’d treat you to the spectacle of not just the longest swing bridge in NZ but also to the “Comet” which is essentially a seated type of flying fox that propels you back across the the river on your return trip. In all this I sacrificed my life, my integrity and not least 35 bucks to bring it to you in the comfort of your home (or wherever you are currently located).
It was a pretty nice place to be fair and there were a few pleasant and informative walks around the area including the historical gold mining settlement, native bush plants and birds,incredible river level rises, and the tectonic fault line running through where in 1928 the ground on one side of the fault line lifted 4.5 metres in one earthquake.
Interestingly I probably spent most of the time sat with a Weka watching it get used to me being there and it preening itself once it became happy with my presence.
Another great thing about places like this in NZ is there is no after sales pressure. Here they film and take photos of you on the Comet and say these are available if you want but also offer to take pictures for you on your own camera and there is absolutely no push to get you to buy theirs (even when the PIC they took of me I ended up looking like Ian Rush’s uglier brother! )
Whilst saddling up for departure i had a quick chat with three attractive young ladies who were driving around together, one was English, from Lancaster, one a kiwi from Alexandria, and one Welsh but now lived in Wanaka. Girls chatting to me is another thing that only seems to happen in NZ too?! Maybe it was Rex who appealed to them as I couldn’t come up with an English welsh and kiwi joke at the time.
I stopped for lunch at a scenic lookout but the sandflies had more lunch from me than I had so moved on quickly.
I stopped again at Lyell for a look round at what used to be a fairly big gold rush mining town with loads of hotels, banks, post office, suppliers etc. All gone with hardly a trace left of it other than the display boards. Some colourful characters ( BIG “Peter the Greek”, Little Biddy the 4 foot tall female prospector who spent all her gold money on booze, Fighting Doug Quinlan who was murdered) and events took place in these times so come on Peter Jackson can you make a film, also learned about a guy called Brunner who with Maori guides took 550 days to travel up the Buller valley to Nelson and back and had some tough adventures en route, his guides leaving him early on.
My only disappointment of the day was getting to Inangahua junction where there was a store mentioned in my Pedallers Paradise guide to the South Island. Alas the shop was closed down along with the only other shop in town which was a second hand shop. Whilst looking dejected about being deprived of a long anticipated and much deserved ice cream three ladies arriving separately to pick up their mail all informed me that the shop just closed its doors about a year ago and it was really sad that the town (population = 50!)no longer had a store and I had to agree with them. One lady offered me a granola bar as a token compensatory offer for not having an ice cream.
So it looked like another 50km to the next store in Westport itself. However my guardian angel up there was looking out for me and another 20km down the road was the unmentioned Berliner Cafe and bar where I met owner Deano and also his best mate from school. They had only reopened the place in December after it had been closed for 3 years previously. They also offered backpacker and camping and I was tempted ( it was nearly 5pm and Westport was at least another 2 hours away). Had a flat white (of course) and chatted a bit. Told me there was a German family cycling who were staying there. They had young children, one about 18 months, who were in those kiddie trailers behind the bikes. This is something I just don’t think you should do on NZ roads and my body shivers when I think about what could happen. Deano had a farm too about an hours drive away, had tried to make a fresh start with his wife but not worked out, they split but he had his 13 year old son living with him and this was working out well with the boy just getting into rugby and also getting on with his much elder brother who lives nearby. We talked about getting the place on pedallers paradise and the I site as it is a really good spot and I wished them well.
I was keen to get to Westport as it was what I set out to do today plus I have a little challenge formulating in my head that I could maybe get to Bluff in time for my 50th birthday on April 11th and maybe in so doing this would be my 3000km target achieved too. Need to investigate the feasibility and sanity of this undertaking over next few days. The next 20kms were absolutely stunning and when the mountains receeded for last 10km or so this was tougher as i was getting weary and sorer but I eventually rolled into town before 7pm. I gave Lionel a call to update him on progress (his thought for the day text is “the purpose of life is to live it”)
I’ve found a little gem of a place here at the Art Hotel. Its a lovely old hotel building with many original features intact. Owned by Cassandra and Zunka and their young family it is a super friendly place. Cassandra showed me all around and sorted out where my bike can go even though I think she was in middle of putting the kids to bed. I’ve got a double room to myself and all for 30 dollars. I had a shower to freshen up and decided not to have chips again and get something from supermarket instead. Bought lots of salads from deli counter plus fruit salad and a yoghurty raspberryey, marshmallowy dessert to bring back to eat at hotel. Got chatting to a multinational array of fellow guests including a delightful Swedish girl who was woofing there, a German lad who had been hiking a lot and was thinking of staying longer, and two French lads who were really pleasantly nice and lived near Cholet in the Vendee Bocage region. Had a bit of banter with them including how NZ wines were better than French (shared a bottle of merlot id bought with them) and how the english had grabbed the place before french could get a look in, all in a nice way and I think they quite enjoyed it. The Swedish girl was interested in what I’d been doing and I came away quite flattered for an old man. I’m beginning to like the idea of backpackers more and more, some of them are charming, and especially if can get a single room. it also brings you just that much more in contact with people than camping and its the connecting with others which I am loving.
Cassandra had also shown me a map of the area and warned me I was in for a fair few hills between Westport and Greymouth. She said there was a camp at Punakaiki about half way so maybe that’s the best option for tomorrow. I must also go to the place just up the road called Cape Foulwind as it is bound to be up on my lavatorial humour spectrum. There’s a seal colony there too which is probably the reason it got its name.
Weather is looking good for next few days changing at the weekend so I may need to make hay while the sun shines.
Finally the scores on the doors after today are
Total km B/F 1210
Today’s kms 101 ( I checked this again! I’ve done my first 100km day with Rex my trusty companion)
Kms left 1109km
There are 15 days to my birthday so i will need to average 74kms a day! Mmmmmmm? I can feel my perineum rejecting this proposterous notion outright!