Around the mountains

I started my cycle circuit of Northern Southland’s Eyre Mountains from Cromwell at 7am on a Saturday morning. But traffic around these parts has increased markedly and 7am was at least an hour too late for a quiet road. It was not until just past the Nevis Bluff in the Kawarau Gorge that a cycle path allowed me to get off the road.I put my tent up in the Arrowtown motor camp. $20.

Next stop Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu. This is where the advertised ride begins. (campsite $15). Then to Mossburn and a proper bed for the night at the Railway Hotel. A very good room and as much cereal and toast as you can eat for breakfast for $60.

The only other cyclists I came across were two Australian women going in the opposite direction. We stopped for a chat. They were unimpressed with the track surface. Like me, they were carrying food, sleeping gear and clothing on their bikes, definitely not compatible with loose gravel.

My next camp, finally into bush and mountain country, was Mavora Lakes. I last camped here about 30 years ago. The long-drop hadn’t changed but the near absence of South Island Robins, friendly birds that used to be all over the place was disappointing. Their place has been taken by chaffinches. However, the sandfly population has not declined.

Another cyclist appeared late in the evening having cycled from the opposite direction.  A Dutchman living in Bali, he arrived in New Zealand (Queenstown) the day before with his bike. He had two weeks and he was going to make the most of it. His next ride was going to be Alps to Ocean. Hot, tired and dusty he said he’d been dreaming of diving in the lake.

As he  stripped off I asked him if he knew how cold South Island Lakes were, but I don’t think he was listening. He ran in, dipped his pale backside in the water, shrieked and ran out.

The next morning I set off early on the part of the trip I had most looked forward to, the  inspiring ride to Walter Peak Station on the edge of the Wakatipu, where the Earnslaw ferry would take me to Queenstown. It was hot and dusty. I stopped to boil my billy a couple of times. There’s something satisfying about sitting in a remote place watching the steam rise. And it’s a practice that ensures a decent break.

The Australians had warned me part of the road had been re-gravelled. The planners had intended to avoid this farm road and route the track elsewhere but there had been objections, funding problems and even a locked gate. The fact is, despite the glory of the website, the track was never completed. While the scenery is magnificent, the track surface is mediocre at best.

That’s a fact which a Kiwi character defect finds unpalatable. It has to be ‘world class’ and if it isn’t, don’t mention it. Yet when we produce genuine quality, not only world class but a product that has set the international standard for decades; the All Blacks, there are snide remarks about them getting too big for their boots. Perverse, I say.

On the boat from Walter Peak Station to Queenstown I was entertained by a Japanese or Korean woman posing while giving her companion camera imperious instructions. She was all over the place like a film star playing a hugely conceited film star, without a flicker of humour or awareness. I wonder who she’ll punish with these films.

I spent a night in an 8-bunk dorm in the YHA in Queenstown. $40. Not my most comfortable night but it gave me an insight in modern communication. I entered the dorm in the middle of a hot sunny day.  Three young blokes were lying in their bunks staring at their electronic devices. Eventually I did have a conversation with one of them, a Londoner who seemed to be skipping about this part of the world because his mate had done it. He was a car salesman.

“If you go to work knowing you’re going to do a deal you’ll do one.” His trip was financed by a well earned bonus. His conversation seemed to be limited to selling cars. I wondered if he had mates or workplace competitors and felt sorry for him. All the bunks filled up. No one was unfriendly but their devices removed the need for face to face communication.

Travelling used to be more sociable.  The little electric motor on my bike is wonderful for hills. Still, I decided an easy ride to Arrowtown before tackling the Crown Range was in order. And here, finally I met a friendly bunch of people from Malaysia who were eager to engage me in conversation. They were Jehovah Witnesses.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.