Blog // Tales from the trail

30 Jan
2016

Along the Buller Gorge, New Zealand

By Corallie

The Route

The Route!

The Route!

Route stats:

  • Total distance - 65 km
  • Time taken ~ 5 hours
  • Temperature - toasty
  • No. Road Cyclists - 1
  • Hills - 1 big one
  • Ibuprofen tablets - 4
  • No. antiques bought - nil

The Deal

"Down by the Bay; Down by the Bay,"

"Where the watermelons grow; Where the watermelons grow..."

We were packed up and ready to go but couldn't resist popping along to the Murchison's Country Music Festival 2016 that was in full swing by 10am at the campsite river spot. Jazzy deck chairs were lined up in prime position, sat in by an older yet very excited festival crowd in rhinestone hats and cowboy boots, drinking something a little stronger than coffee out of their flasks. The two little boys on stage, coerced by their mum on the guitar, conceded to sing 'Down by the Bay' "as long as Dad buys us an ice-cream" the littler of the two shouted into the microphone much to the amusement of the crowd, who were egging on a red-faced dad.

The judges had a hard job that day!

The judges had a hard job that day!

Murchison

Murchison's Annual Country Music Festival 2016 - Yee ha!

The smell of the sizzling sausages in the warm morning was very tempting but we had to make progress to Westport, preferring to split the journey in half because of yesterday's long ride, the rising temperatures and Keith's dodgy knee. We had ridden about 4 km before our first stop, wooed by the rather eccentric Murchison town - a flash back to the 1970s. After a[nother coffee] and procurement of a hefty slice of cake for later, we popped into the local antique shop, a feast for the eyes and surprisingly run by a youngish (younger than the average age of Murchisoners anyway) surfer dude who had moved to the land-locked town about 8 years ago and hadn't moved on. Alas, I wasn't able to buy any wonderfully musty wooden trunks or collectable enamel cookware so sufficed with a piece of locally-made soap before we headed off for our destination - the Berlins youth hostel and campsite.

The road to the 1970s

The road to the 1970s

One of Murchison

One of Murchison's many antique havens

This hadn't been our original plan until the campsite owner from last night advised us not to stay at the idyllic-looking DOC site on the Buller river that we had been planning to stop at because of the ferocious sandflies and rather basic facilities. 'Berlins' hadn't been flagged on our trusty campsite app so we were pleased of the inside information, particularly as it had a hearty cafe apparently. They also mentioned that, if we were so inclined to get involved in some of New Zealand's more adventurous activities, that we should forget Queenstown, because Murchison could offer it all at half the price.

Swing Bridge across the Buller River

Swing Bridge across the Buller River

Jet boating a popular extreme activity on the Buller River - and half the price of Queenstown apparently!

Jet boating a popular extreme activity on the Buller River - and half the price of Queenstown apparently!

Our route took us through the spectacular Buller Gorge, the twists and turns of the undulating road passing in and out of shade which was most welcome that hot day. Keith's knee was definitely becoming an issue, despite the ibuprofen - it wasn't often that I was able to outride him up the hills and then turn around to find him walking up them!

Road cycling ain

Road cycling ain't so bad when you have views like this

Keith

Keith's knee feeling the strain of the hills

We stopped at the top of a big hill for lunch to admire the view and take some relief from the sun which was easier said than done with no trees for shelter. Up top, we met another cyclist, a young lady who was solo-cycling around the country. Total respect. I couldn't and wouldn't contemplate doing it by myself knowing that any mechanical issues would be too much to bear, not to mention that I'd probably still be riding up those hill in our initial days on the North island if Keith weren't there to gee me along!

The three of us ate lunch quickly, the sandflies not wasting any time in taking advantage of our exposed, sweaty skin, much to our collective annoyance. We continued cycling together, although it didn't take long for Maria to build up a sizeable lead, her bike having actually been built in the 21st century! Less than an hour later we were dropping her off at the DOC campsite we had been warned against. We did pass on the intel we'd received but Maria had already done 30 km more than us that day and was pooped, so we wished her luck and made a loose arrangement to meet up somewhere along the west coast. As we had at least 5 hours of sunlight left, we ploughed on and it turned out to be a good decision. As the road made a U-turn around a bend in the river, the wind was suddenly behind us and made a massive difference in our cycling pace. We were being pushed up the hills, a welcome aid in the mid-afternoon heat and having left the tree-lined riverside, we were totally exposed to the sun.

We would have quite appreciated a dip in the river on such a hot, hot day

We would have quite appreciated a dip in the river on such a hot, hot day

Turning a corner - and making friends with the wind direction

Turning a corner - and making friends with the wind direction

We had covered the 30 km within a couple of hours, including a stop for the delicious piece of crumble cake we'd picked up in town. We were the only campers when we arrived and took advantage of a spot that was sheltered from the wind but would get the early morning sun to help dry off any dew quickly (+5 experience points). Despite feeling weary, our incentive to set-up and get organised quickly was to avoid the sharp, pin-prick bites of the sandflies, swarming over exposed bits of skin, even attacking through our clothes. Throwing the bags into the tent, locking the bikes up and gathering up our shower stuff, we raced inside, where we stayed for the entire evening. A constant stream of hostel guests and camper vans arrived, including a cheeky German traveller who tried to negotiate the price of a shower with the owner. "No problems! If you're not staying, it's $8 for a shower mate" the friendly Kiwi said. Thinking about this for a minute, it was apparently time to try and cut a deal. "What if I just have a cold shower? Is it cheaper?", the young German asked a little sullenly. Perhaps used to this question, or maybe just quick and naturally good at diffusing awkward situations, the owner pipped "Well mate, a shower's a shower. If you particularly want a cold one, there's a sizeable river just down there which has plenty of ice-cold water, and guess what - it's free!". The young German, unamused, walked back to his van and squealed off. Probably for the best we thought, cringing at the attitude of some travellers we'd noticed who seem to forget how to behave/what the normal port of call is when they are no longer at home.

The cafe, as promised served up hearty cycling food - everything came with proper fat chips - and icy cold beer, so we were more than content to chill-the-flock-out inside, having had our fill of the great outdoors for the day, feeling quite satisfied that the ride into Westport tomorrow would be a lot easier because of miles we'd travelled today.

Empty camp pitch at the Berlins Hostel - save for the bastardo sand flies!

Empty camp pitch at the Berlins Hostel - save for the bastardo sand flies!

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