Wednesday, 9 February 2022

South Island Trip - Nov/Dec 2021 - Part 1

It’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog. The truth is, we have not done a lot in the way of interesting cycling trips away. We did have a trip to Whanganui in February 2021, which I promised to write up here, but I haven’t yet. Perhaps I will do that later.

Of course, 2021 was another year that was blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, we thought of taking a “Round the Mountains” tour with Pure Trails, as our tour of the previous year had been cancelled. For various reasons, we decided not to go ahead.

John has not been terribly well for quite some time, and there have been many medical appointments for which we needed to be in Wellington, so we couldn’t go away. But he always ‘rallies’ and is still keen to go biking, even if we don’t go very far.

For a while, life was pretty “normal” Covid-wise, but then we had the August lockdown, which stopped people moving around the country. Just before we went into lockdown we had started looking at electric cars, as our little Micra was getting to the point where it would need to be replaced (it was 17 years old!), and the government was offering a financial incentive, which appealed. 

John spent much of the time during lockdown researching electric cars online. Of course, the question of whether we would be able to fit the bikes into it was paramount. He created an extensive spreadsheet, with all the details about every brand available in NZ. And so, at the end of September 2021, we became the proud owners of a Kia Niro. The first time we had ever owned a brand new car! It now goes by the name of “Roberta, the Niro” (as opposed to Robert de Niro). 

Roberta the Niro

So of course, we just had to go on a road trip! By late November, with spring well established, good weather forecasts, no Scottish dancing commitments for me, and no medical appointments for John, we were finally able to plan a holiday in the South Island. We decided it would not be a cycling holiday, but we would be ‘tourists’ in our own country, with a few bits of cycling thrown in. The fact that the Delta variant of Covid was keeping Aucklanders in Level 3 lockdown, and the country was still closed to overseas visitors, meant that there would be far fewer tourists around than would ’normally’ have been the case. A great opportunity to see the country while it was quiet.

I will write up this holiday in several parts. Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here.

[Note: Almost all of the photos were taken by John. Just a few were mine, and are marked with “(DP)”]


Part 1 

Kaikoura to Twizel

Monday 22 November

The early morning ferry crossing on the Bluebridge was - thankfully - a  flat calm sailing, which got us to Picton just after 11am. We planned to go only as far as Kaikoura that day, so had time to dawdle. About half-way between Picton and Kaikoura, we side-tracked to Ward Beach.

This is a geologically significant area, with interesting limestone formations. Not only that, but in the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, the beach was uplifted by 2.5 m, exposing amazing rocks and concretions, similar to the Moeraki boulders, but smaller.

Concretions raised to the surface when the beach was uplifted in the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake

We walked some distance along the beach. It was very heavy going. High up on the beach, the ‘sand’ was very coarse - a bit like ballbearings - a fine, very round, gravel that your feet sank away in. Further along, where the seafloor had been raised, the surface was almost like a moonscape in some places, very corrugated and lumpy.

Very coarse ‘sand’ and uplifted rocks
Other rocks had weird and wonderful shapes. John compared them to some of the ventifacts ( shaped by wind-driven sand) he had seen in Antarctica. These rocks here would have been shaped by the action of sand and water. 

I thought these rocks looked like a couple of elephants (DP)

Wonderful shapes
Uplifted beach, with concretions

We even spotted some banded dotterels, flitting among the rocks. These cute little birds are on the endangered list, and this is the ideal environment for them.
Can you see the dotterel, in the top right quadrant, in front of the grassy growth?

Tuesday 23 November

This was a long day, as we were driving to Twizel, where we were going to be staying for the next three nights. It is a 460 km journey, and this was the first time we had driven such a long distance in our new electric car. Our Niro has a theoretical range of 450 km on one full charge.

We were impressed during this trip that there were so many places where one could charge one’s EV. We found that many charging posts were near supermarkets. When we arrived in Kaikoura, we charged the car by the New World supermarket, and because you can only charge up to 80% at these rapid charging posts, John topped it up to 100% by using an extension cord through our motel window.

Charging the Niro

We stopped three times to charge the car on the way to Twizel - in Amberley, Geraldine and Tekapo. Although we could have done the whole trip with just one re-charge, John was quite anxious that we should not run out. Obviously running out of charge in the middle of nowhere would be rather awkward. It’s not as if one can hitch a ride or even bike to the nearest charge station and bring some back in a jerry can.

We got to Tekapo by 6 pm, and we decided to have dinner there, before continuing on to Twizel. We found the EV charge station by the new Four Square, and set it going. There are several new buildings along that strip of land, including a flash new YHA (Youth Hostel), only three years old - which I noticed on the news a few days later, was about to be closed, because of the lack of customers during the pandemic - what a waste!

We had a walk near the lake first, the lupins were looking gorgeous. Unfortunately none had set seed yet, as I wanted to take some seeds home, but that would need another week or so … 

Lupins on the Lake Tekapo shore

The Church of the Good Shepherd

After dinner, we went to take a closer look at the Church of the Good Shepherd. John wasn’t keen as “we’ve seen it before”. Yes, but not like this - with absolutely nobody around. Amazing - no buses, no camper vans, no tourists polluting the place. The last time we were here, six years ago, the place was overwhelmed with people and vehicles. This time, it was utter bliss. 

Not a soul around!

This photo is about the view, not about me

Nothing but silence and the place completely to ourselves! It was wonderful! So beautiful in the early evening light. There was one couple way in the distance, taking selfies among the lupins. So we tried to take some of ourselves with the view in the background! 


On the road again, heading to Twizel, we stopped at the Lake Pukaki Information Centre, which was closed of course, but we got a beautiful glimpse of Mt Cook.  

Mount Cook catching the last rays of sunshine

Wednesday 24 November

Over a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and coffee, we deliberated as to where we would bike that day. We could bike the cycle trail alongside Lake Ohau and have lunch at Ohau Lodge, or we could bike up the other side of the lake, on Glen Lyon Road, where we biked five years ago. I rang Ohau Lodge to see if we could book in for lunch and was very disappointed to be told that they didn’t do lunches anymore. I suppose this was another victim of the toll Covid has taken on hospitality this year.

Breakfast at “Hydro Café” in Twizel (DP)

We decided on the Ohau cycle track (part of the A2O trail). We drove along the Pukaki and Ohau Canals and parked near the dam. We unloaded the bikes and and rode the track along the bottom of the hill. It was as lumpy and bumpy as I remembered it - quite the worst part of the Ohau track. We should have gone “over the top”, but we knew it to be just as bad. The problem is the very round, rolling, quite large stony gravel on the track, that is very skiddy, and makes you feel very unsafe. You also have to avoid getting caught by the matagouri or briar roses.

I found that five years make a big difference as you are getting older. I am less agile, and more fearful of falling. I really felt that I was enjoying it less than the first and second times we biked this (seven and five years ago). Still, I love Lake Ohau. I think it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

Lake Ohau seen from the bit of track we didn’t like

Eventually we got to the Ohau track proper, by the weir, and from here the track is fine gravel, much easier to bike on, but some sections are very narrow. We only met three people on the whole ride, one of them nearly collided with John as she came around a corner from the opposite direction. Apart from these three people, there was no-one around. We had the whole world to ourselves.

What a perfect day (DP)

We stopped when there was a bit of a way down to the lake, and we sat in the shade of a lovely old willow. The “beach” consisted of large round stones - very hard to walk on, especially with my quite unsuitable Sketchers, and my sore feet. But it was lovely sitting there - complete stillness, if you discounted the “racket” the birds were making! The water was flat, and the reflections gorgeous, snow on the mountains beyond the lake, and complete silence. Perfect.

Under the old willow

Beauty and silence

The Glen Lyon Road runs along the bottom of this hill
We made it to the end of the track, and went on the road as far as Lake Middleton. Beyond, we could see the remnants of the devastating wildfires that had raged in and around the Ohau Alpine Village two years ago. 

Contrast between the burnt trees and the flowering lupins

We biked back the way we came, and stopped again at the same tree to eat some chocolate. We should have brought a picnic.

A few minutes later, the wind had ruffled the surface
Going back to the car, we went ‘over the top’, which, as expected, was horrible. The car was very hot, of course, so we had all the doors open while we loaded the bikes in, and it was nice to have a functioning air-con to cool the car down as we drove back to Twizel. 

For dinner that evening, we decided we didn’t want a big meal, so we went to Razza’s Takeaways, and ordered a pizza, which came as a ‘deal’ with chips and lemonade. That was a big mistake. The pizza was horrible, covered in a rubbery substance that might have been ‘cheese’ and topped with a spiral of a nasty sauce of some sort; and the chips were dreadful too. Oh well, it was an experience in itself. We ate a bit of it, and dumped the rest. 

Razza Takeaways - big mistake!

Thursday 25 November

This was our last day in Twizel, and we went to Mt Cook. It was a beautiful day, and we wanted to get there before Mt Cook disappeared into the clouds that seemed to be drifting towards it, but luckily, it remained clear all day. 

Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook

The approach to the Hermitage and Mt Cook Village (on the far left)

Mt Cook, seen from the Hermitage carpark

We went into the Hermitage building - posh hotel on the left, plebs on the right. We, of course, went to the right, passing the statue of Sir Edmund Hillary, on our way to the café, where, I regret to have to say, lunch was not much better than last night’s pizza! 

A young Edmund Hillary, looking towards the mountains where he trained for his later exploits

Mt Cook, 3724 m, in all its glory

Mountains to the left of Mt Cook - Mt Sefton, I think

From the café one could look down into the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Museum where an Auster airplane, with skis attached to its wheels, was suspended at about our eye level. 

Looking down into the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Museum

We had not visited the Museum before - it had been too busy the last time we were here. But today, we were the only visitors. It was very interesting, and we spent nearly two hours there. All about Hillary’s climbing and Antarctic pursuits, lots of photos, memorabilia, and a couple of Ferguson tractors that he used in Antarctica, that really took John’s interest. He was particularly tickled by the “NZ number 8 wire” adaptations that had been used on them.

One of converted the Ferguson tractors

Some of the “number 8 wire” adaptations, and the “big boys’ Meccano” Dexion strips at the top of the cab

There were also displays about how the Mt Cook area was accessed in the early days - by horse, then by horse and carriage, finally by cars, and planes, detailing the story of Harry Wigley, who started a bus service and later the Mt Cook airline.

An early Mt Cook Motor Co Ltd vehicle

We watched a 3D film about Mt Cook and its climbers, with very clever special effects. Some of the images gave me the heebie-jeebies - climbing up a steep ridge in deep snow, nearly falling into crevasses etc. Cripes!

After all that, we looked into the Visitors’ Centre down the road a bit, for a further browse of mountaineering feats by others. We wanted to stop at the café next door for another coffee, but the place was closed. 

A perfectly framed view of Mt Cook, through the window at the Visitors’ Centre

Friday 26 November

We were heading to Clyde to stay for the next three nights. We were keen to bike some of the new Lake Dunstan Cycle trail, which was opened only six months earlier, and which had received great reviews.

On the way to the Lindis Pass, we saw great swathes of colourful lupins, but we didn’t stop to take photos of them this time. I will just have to remember them in my ‘mind’s eye’. We did stop at the summit of the pass, however. There is a newly developed parking area (much improved from the patch of gravel that used to be the summit), where, of course, we stopped to take photos.

The Lindis Pass summit car park

Such a remote and wild landscape

It is such a beautiful, remote and wild-looking landscape. I love the bronze-green colour of the hills, the stubbly texture of the tussocks, and the drama of the ridges. The hills were looking much greener than we have seen them before - gorgeous greys, yellows, browns and greens, as the ridges changed colour with the light.

The drama of the ridges

The moody sky added to the drama

We stopped for coffee at the Tarras Country Café - always a welcome stop on the way south. A few days later, we were surprised to hear that the café would be closing it doors because of the owner’s stance against the Government Covid vaccine mandate for hospitality premises, which was to come into effect on 3 December.  
The Tarras Country Café  

When we got to Cromwell, we found it was blowing a gale, so we thought biking would not really be an option. We wandered around the Heritage Precinct, which consists of lots of old stone buildings which were saved and transported from the original main street of Cromwell, before it was flooded to create Lake Dunstan when the Clyde Dam was built in the 1980s. The reconstructed buildings now house a variety of cute, twee little shops, artisan studios and cafés.  

Cromwell Heritage Precinct

The old Post and Telegraph Office is now a restaurant …

… the Globe Hotel houses a gift shop, and the Blacksmiths offers bike rentals
A model of the smithy (DP)

Gold mining machinery

The Heritage Precinct is also the starting point for the Lake Dunstan Cycle trail.

The map of the trails

Despite the wind, John thought we could just take a short bike ride as the track seemed to be more sheltered than the carpark. We started out going towards Smiths Way, in the opposite direction from the track I wanted to do. But we had not gone very far, when we got to a place where the wind was really strong, and John would not go any further. 

So we went in the other direction, along the Kawerau River, towards Bannockburn Bridge - 5.5 km away. A really good track, smooth sandy gravel, and very lovely surroundings - varying between riverside, to hillside, to forested area, to open fields of yellow lupins and California poppies.

A lovely, smooth track, alongside the Kawerau River …

… wild thyme and views of vineyards …
... forested areas ...
… yellow lupins … (DP)
… and California poppies (DP)

It was a very pleasant ride - and not too windy on this part of the track. A total of 11 km, just right for an afternoon ride. We got back to the Heritage Precinct at 3 pm, and treated ourselves to an iced coffee at one of the cafés.

Then a search in the modern part of Cromwell for the local EV charging post, after which we headed towards Clyde, where we had booked a small house for the next three nights. 

John is getting to grips with the EV rapid charger. Note Cromwell’s giant fruit sculpture in the background


  1. I’ve just discovered your site and want to thank you! We too are a couple who have ‘rediscovered’ cycling and now cant get enough! I’ve made lots of notes from your trips as inspiration for us!

    1. Hi, I'm glad you've been able to get some ideas for trips from this blog. I have been a bit remiss in writing up our latest adventures in the past year. But I'm planning to get back into it again before long. Watch this space.