Wanaka to the West Coast: Cycling New Zealand – Part 3

West Coast
New Zealand’s traffic

After quite an ordeal the day before, we woke early in Glendhu Bay on Lake Wanaka. Almost every day on this “holiday” we were up before 7am. No rest for the wicked. The previous day’s cycle literally broke us so we decided to spend a couple of days tramping. For those of you from Europe and unfamiliar with the term, tramping is the Kiwi word for walking/hiking and it’s hugely popular over here. First up was one of my favourite walks, a two hour climb to breathtaking views of Rob Roy’s Glacier and down again. Mum just had to see it.

 

West Coast
Mum’s first hitch hiking experience

This track and those leading into Mount Aspiring National Park start at Raspberry Creek Car Park, around 55km from Wanaka. Cycling 55km on a gravel road didn’t appeal to me in the slightest so I suggested we hitch hike. When I first told Mum about the ease of hitchhiking in NZ she didn’t quite believe it. After standing at the side of the road with her hand out for five minutes she started to become rather sceptical of the idea. As I expected, not long after we were picked up by an Austrian triathlete who was competing in the Triathlon taking place that weekend. He was the first of many kind people who picked us up on this trip including an old couple from a small town close to us in England who even knew our cycling buddies. Small world eh!

 

West Coast
Tramping in Mount Aspiring Valley

We were pretty tired after four hours of walking and my knee injury was giving me grief but we wanted to stay overnight at one of the many Department of Conservation (DOC) huts in the area. DOC maintain literally hundreds of huts and trails all over the country and are, in my eyes, the best thing about New Zealand. Another three hour walk away, Mount Aspiring Hut was pretty flash for a mountain hut with padded mattresses and cooking gas. The views out to Mt Aspiring were sublime, particularly at sunset where we enjoyed our soup and hot chocolate before retreating to the land of nod at 8pm. Shattered.

 

West Coast
Outside Mount Aspiring Hut

The following morning we had a three hour walk back to the car park and then what seemed the near impossible task of hitchhiking back to our campsite. I say impossible because the morning traffic would be coming in to the national park, not out. Thankfully there was a couple of young local girls who were dropping some other hitchhikers off at the start of the track so we took their place on the ride back. Still unable to muster up the enthusiasm to get back on the bike we decided to rent a car for a couple of days for the drive up the West Coast. The West Coast has a notorious reputation for strong winds, heavy rain and not much in the way of amenities. We agreed that if we were to rent a car on any part of this trip to free up some time, this would be it.

 

West Coast
Lake Hawea

Of course nothing is ever easy and it took us a whole day of walking around Wanaka and making numerous phone calls to rental companies to find a bloody car. With what appears to be a shortage in accommodation, New Zealand also has a shortage in rental cars. We had no other option than to pay over the odds and travel all the way back to where we had reached four days ago just to get our hands on some wheels. Unable to hitchhike with the bikes, we had to drive another hour to collect the bikes before we could continue up the coast. What a nightmare. Luckily with an empty car this gave us the opportunity to return the favour and pick up some hitchhikers ourselves, some young lads from England.

 

West Coast
A very disappointing Fox Glacier

It only took us a day to drive up the West Coast to Hokitika, mainly because each lookout or coffee stop took place in lightning speed. The sandflies were out in force and we were held prisoners in our tin box on four wheels. THANK GOD we weren’t cycling. We did stop off at Fox Glacier as one of the “must do’s” in New Zealand and to be honest I was rather disappointed. It was a fairly long walk to see what looked like a dirty rock face in the distance, nothing compared to Rob Roy Glacier. After a much more scenic and enjoyable visit to beautiful Lake Matheson we attempted to wild camp.

 

West Coast
Reflections at Lake Matheson.  

Yes, yes I know Freedom camping is illegal but what were we to do? Everywhere was booked up online and it was way past reception opening hours. There’s a scene from Lord of the Rings where one of the characters looks over the fields of New Zealand and says something along the lines of “ride freely for miles and miles”. Now, Lord of the Rings paints a rather distorted picture of NZ because what you’ll find when you get here is that there is a fence around everything. I’m afraid farmers are the culprit for this and as well as keeping the cows in, it also keeps the tourists out. Understandable I guess. So in the end we had no option than to sneak into Top 10 Holiday Park, pitch our tent in the dark and make a swift exit the following morning. It was sneaky but that’s what you get if you show no availability online when there is clearly plenty of space to pitch a wee tent like ours.

 

West Coast
Enjoying a glass of wine on Hokitika Beach

I’ve always thought as motels as rather seedy looking places where people go to have sex for a couple of hours (or more if it’s good!). In New Zealand motels seem to be everywhere and not because the country is sex mad. Motels are perfect for cycle tourists or those needing a bit of space to rearrange belongings or dry a tent out. Motels are also great if you want a quiet night in as they are quite often equipped with wine glasses and cheese knifes. This is exactly what we did, although we did go down to the beach to watch the sunset so it was more of a quiet night rather than a quiet night in. We got a selection of break-the-bank cheese from the local deli, some fancy crackers and a nice bottle of red. Life can’t get much better. What’s more, sunset painted an almighty picture and we were left admiring the deep colours and unique tide patterns well after dark.

 

West Coast
Stunning West Coast Sunset

It was getting late and we were tired – driving actually makes me more tired than cycling which is why I prefer to cycle – but my German friend Chris told me about a glowworm dell just out of town. I’d never heard of a glowworm dell before but this is basically where glowworms live. I can’t comment on what it looked like because it was in total darkness apart from the millions of glowing lights around us. It looked like someone had put a wall of fairy light netting up like you sometimes see in nightclub or fancy restaurants. Of course the lights were in fact glowworms. This included, most cool things in New Zealand can be experienced for free.

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