If you’ve driven the west cost of New Zealand’s south island, you will know, as we do, that the scenery is spectacular. It is green, and lush with rainforest and some of the most productive pasture you could imagine. The towns along the way are quiet but reflective of the gold rush era with buildings of substance being seen more frequently than one would normally expect from our out-of-the-way rural setting. Of particular note was our first water stop of the day, a hugely significant port-town of a bygone age by the name of Hokitika. Of course, whilst driving, even on these relaxed, sometimes narrow roads, you inevitably miss so much. This is one of the joys of cycling - you can still cover reasonably large distances, but you see so much more of the detail.
Today, for example, we learnt that every bridge in New Zealand has a unique identifying number, proudly displayed on a small yellow sign at the ends of each bridge. Today’s bridges were all numbered in the 5000s - there seemed no larger logic to the system - at one point the numbers we getting lower as we rode south, later in the day the opposite was the case. Of course seeing numbers like 5,961 all day had at least one of your bloggers reaching for Google to answer the question; “How many bridges are there in New Zealand?” For the record, the answer is more than 17,000! And presumably a significant number of these are in these parts as much of the Alpine melt waters empties via a seemingly endless array of rivers and creeks into the southern end of the Tasman Sea.
We also enjoyed a virtual green-and-gold carpet as an almost constant companion for much of today’s ride as growing amongst the bright-green grass of the verge was a multitude of golden wild flowers in bloom soaking up the last of the summer sun (although down here, ‘summer’ is perhaps a bit of a stretch). The other botanical highlight of the day were the walls of ferns we were surrounded by whenever we rolled through a cutting in the roadway as the rainforest spilled downwards impressing us all with its vigour.
In terms of riding, we tackled several smaller climbs - which given some of the terrain we have already seen, and some that is still ahead of us, was of some considerable relief. Of course, where there’s a climb, there’s a descent - and we enjoyed several of those today as well. In particular, a little hill called Mount Hercules, which we tackled just after our lunch stop at Hari Hari, provided a solid test of our group climbing and descending skills, although there can be no doubt that there were far bigger smiles on the way down. In between the hills we were blessed today with a relatively flat route through the valley floor snaking our way between steeply sloped hills on each and very side.
Speaking of snakes, and the oft repeated statement that New Zealand has no snakes. Well Karl Butterfield can tell you a story about the day he bit a snake (of the Allens variety) and ended up visiting the dentist! (Sarcasm alert) Funnily enough, his appointment was back at ‘Grey-mouth’ at the very convenient time of ‘tooth-hurty’.
With some early morning rain further justifying the various wet-weather gear purchases of many of our group, the peloton experienced a cool, overcast, but fine balance of the day. In fact the next time we saw rain was as we crossed this afternoon’s finish line in the centre of Franz Joseph - our home for the night. To give you some idea of the weather here, our hotel has a bar called ‘the monsoon’ and it has drink coasters displaying the following… “it rains, we pour”. Even so, just before sunset the clouds cleared, and we caught our first glimpse of the famous glacier. We look forward to making further progress south tomorrow!
Tonight the jerseys were awarded as follows… the maillot janune (Yellow) went to Steven Morris; White (new rider) to Sue Pennells; Red (the entertainer) to Jon Erbacher; Blue (panache) to Michael Bona; Polka Dot (“climber”) to John Barton; Green (sprinter) to Scott Butler. We were also treated to a panel interview featuring Peter Forbes, Nashie (our totally awesome mechanic) and Michael Bona - their special subject… “what’s better, ‘Campagnolo’, Shimano or SRAM?” Needless to say, no one is any the wiser, but each presented their case with equal measure of passion and wit… and the debate rages on.