Blog // Tales from the trail
- Total distance - 35 km
- Time taken ~ 2.5 hours
- Weather - nice
- No. Road Cyclists - 1
- Rock slab tunnels - 1
- Ibuprofen tablets - 2
"Beware of the sand-flies," had been a recurring theme, nay, a recurring warning, in our conversations with travellers and locals alike when our trip itinerary reached the west coast of the south island. These little blighters, who outnumber the human population at a ratio of around a million to one in these parts were also infamous for their itchy pin-prick bites, which one should avoid itching at all costs.
This was indeed why we had opted to stop here in Berlins rather than the facility-less DOC campsite 30 km back up the road. Yet none of this information had fully sunk in, nor readied us for waking up this very morning to the sound of, what sounded like, rain. Only it wasn't rain, it was something much worse (even from a cycle-touring perspective), an army of sand-flies had found their way between the inner and outer tent linings and the gentle drumming on our taut tent lining was not the pitter-patter of rain but a scourge of miniature beasties excitedly bouncing about, giddy from the smell of morning human.
Crawling out as low as possible from the inner sanctuary of our tent on all fours, we sprinted across to the safety of the kitchen in the hostel, hoping the problem would have resolved itself once we had breakfasted and the sun was fully up and burned off the thick mist that had descended in the valley overnight.
Thankfully it did indeed and we were treated to another fine day as we wound our way out of the impressive Buller Gorge and towards Westport. My knee also appeared to be healing up, the combination of 'brufin, a slightly higher seat (in an attempt to mix-up my cycling position a little) and opting to split the ride from Murchison to Westport collectively paying off.
In fact it was a damn fine morning of cycling and we were really beginning to appreciate what all the hype about the south island was all about.
On a high we rolled into Westport and found a big supermarket to restock our essentials after a few days in the relative wilderness. Here we bumped into a young American cyclist heading up versus our down and so we duly exchanged notes. Whilst we had admiration for younger travellers, particularly those travelling alone, this guy seemed to be trying just that little bit too hard [read: living the dream]. He was both 'so happy' about what we were to witness on our ride south, but also a touch judgmental about our lack of free-spiritedness becuase of our plan to find a campsite and chill out there for the afternoon, when there were clearly more suitable (free) beaches around town, where one could strip naked and bask undisturbed.
Westport had a distinctly industrial feel to it, founded in 1861 with many flocking in the late 1800s in search of gold, however it was coal that became the main mining industry. Today whilst some still cling to the vastly diminished coal industry, fishing and dairy farming provide many of the jobs for the residents. The town also appears to be a little stuck in the last century with all sorts of characters popping out of shops and pubs to stare (and occasionally shout) at new visitors; at times we felt we could have been in a western movie.
Back at the campsite, who should make an appearance (and pitch his tent right next to ours) but our new young American friend. Corallie came over to tell me, as well as a small piece of her mind, about her recent run-in with him while he had patronisingly regaled his somewhat similar-sounding plan to 'hang out' and 'just enjoy some quality time reading his book' for 'the rest of the day', after he had sneered at our very same plan just an hour earlier. Unbeknownst to Corallie was that he was currently doing exactly that in the campsite common-room, next door to the kitchen (in which we were currently stood) and in all likelihood, within earshot.
Somewhat mortified we carried on with our BBQ, Corallie in particular trying not to glance back towards the common-room, feeling quite sheepish that she hadn't been more discrete with her verbal tirade. Nevertheless, by now we had become something of aficionados (may I say) in the rustico campsite BBQ feast and in no time at all (and with minimal equipment may I add) we had rustled up spiced lamb chops with a couscous and apricot salad, which was of course to be washed down with a full-bodied New Zealand ale - yum!
We also made plans for the next day to take in the apparently impressive Cape Foulwind, rather than take the more direct route south down the main road. Also - and most critically - this allowed us to plan lunch around getting some choice 'fush and chups', that we decided we had earned for cycling the Buller Gorge. This meant we had the morning to explore Westport a little further and check out some of the local beaches before moving south for lunch.
Rising early we took a turn of the eerily empty town to take some snaps and check out the local and very impressive beaches. Upon our arrival, having just set our bikes down on the sand to admire the view, we heard a chipper voice behind us, 'Hey guys!'; much to Corallie's horror our new friend was already there having had a similar idea, and now it looked like we were following him!
After a brief exchange, "Morning... yeah we just came to admire the view before we headed south," we muttered.
"You can do more than just look my friend! We are free to do what we want and this beach is big enough for the three of us!"
We beat a hasty retreat, Corallie setting off first in sheer embarrassment, me perhaps taking a little too much delight in reminding her of some classic words of advice, 'if one has nothing nice to say...'. Either way, our time in Westport was up and also time to put some miles behind us, farewell Westport you were an experience!
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