Those amongst who have done a few of these rides agree that day-6 is the toughest – fatigue is high, but you don’t have the adrenalin hit that accompanies day-7 and the final ride for home. And so it was today. Tim Chadd (our tireless ride director) has a wicked, and glorious, route through the mountains planned for us – with almost 2,000 metres of climbing across 160kms of winding roadway.
Having enjoyed the hospitality of Haast last night we began the day just after sunrise with a team time trial on the Haast-Jackson Bay Road – a 5-kilometre test of team power and co-ordination. For the record the results were as follows, 6th Hutchies, 5th KordaMentha, 4th Sunkids, 3rd Katarzyna, 2nd Gowdie and 1st place was won by Limitless McDonalds.
There can be no doubt that your riders have been tested physically and mentally during the ride so far. Equally they have been rewarded with spectacular scenery at every turn. Whilst this has been true of every stage, today has been the absolute stand-out to date. Following this morning’s time trial, we headed east, towards the mountains that have been a constant presence on our left as we have travelled down the west-coast. Instead of enjoying our last ‘easy’ kilometres before beginning our ascent of Haast Pass, we were greeted by a howling south-easter which reduced the pace of the peloton to a crawl and threatened to blow more than one of our number off-course and onto the verge. Riders with cliched teeth and determined grimaces battled on and were not able to enjoy the sweeping view of the river to our left as concentration on the wheel in front was the first and only priority.
As we approached our final river crossing before beginning our ascent, the shelter of the valley walls began to have an impact and the force of the wind began to tail-away. Memories of our day-2 headwinds faded and riders turned their attention to the approaching climb. With a final glance across our left shoulder we caught a glimpse of Mt Hooker further up the valley, a snow-capped peak of some 2640 metres which had some of our riders thinking momentarily of skis rather than bikes.
As we began our climb, all concerns of headwinds were quickly replaced with pressing matters such as lactic acid build-up and shortness of breath as we tackled our 460m ascent of Haast Pass. Our climb was interrupted more than once by the ever-present road repair crews, who have been a common site on our tour, as they variously made surface upgrades and repaired sections of road-surface washed away in one recent deluge or another. On our climb, we rolled past all manner of photo opportunities and tourist hotspots, many with appealing names such as Roaring Billy Falls, Fantail Falls and Blue Pools (which seemed particularly popular based on the number of cars parked along the highway), and many of the riders were overheard by your bloggers commenting on the rainforest, it’s density, lushness and complexity. On several occasions, we found ourselves rolling down roads lined with stands of tall timber, cloaked in moss and standing amongst endless tree ferns and dense undergrowth. And, for city folk, the most noteworthy aspect was that apart from the ribbon of roadway that defined our route, the region seemed almost entirely untouched by human hands.
Those familiar with road trips will understand the importance of timing and location of lunch breaks. The lunch break is both essential from a refuelling perspective and vital in terms of its ability to influence the overall feel of the day, and when you get it just right, can in fact be the defining moment of the day. And so it was for us today – having completed our climb and taken water at the top we rolled across almost 30kms of glorious country before cresting one more hill and getting our first glimpse of Lake Wanaka. If you haven’t seen Wanaka on a magical, cloud-free day, you are truly missing one of the great sights. This was our setting for lunch – and we bathed it in for just over an hour. Photos were taken, conversation was noticeably reduced and every one of your riders sat facing the lake, quietly enjoying their refreshments. It was only a week ago that many of us were concerned that we might be battling wet and windy conditions for much of our journey and so today we rejoiced that the weather-gods had been kind and that we have, for the most part, enjoyed picture book conditions.
Our afternoon was spent rolling along the shores of Lake Wanaka the lesser known but equally spectacular Lake Hawea. These are inspiring bodies of water. With lengths of 42 and 35kms respectively, they are the result of glacial erosion and have been in their present locations since the end of last ice-age. Riding along a significant fraction of their shores today must be counted amongst some of the best riding most of us will ever enjoy. If you only watch one of the videos published during the course of this week’s ride, make sure it is today’s – the footage is simply stunning.
We rolled into Wanaka this afternoon after 4pm having spent almost 7-hours in the saddle and our group definitely were in need of some R&R – and our massage therapists have never been so popular (although, to be honest, they’re always very popular). We had a special guest at tonight’s dinner and we heard a heart-warming and challenging story from the parents of Darcie who as a four-year-old spent 160 nights in Ronald McDonald House as part of her journey to ‘beat cancer’s butt’. It was a timely reminder for all the sore and sorry bodies around the room tonight that we’re all here for a greater purpose - to raise valuable funds for our charity partners and the vital, life-changing work they do.
Tonight’s competition jerseys were awarded to; Luke McKew (Red), Cath Daly (White), Rusty Fryer (Polka Dot), Wes Ballantyne (Green), Jarrod Villani (Panache) and John Berlese took out the Yellow for his outstanding personal fundraising total which as at the time of writing stood at $149,657! In terms of fundraising the group also enjoyed a quick celebratory cheer tonight as we clicked over a grand total of $1.4m.
Your bloggers would also like to acknowledge the support of several key sponsors without whom our ride would not be possible. Please join us in thanking and recognising KordaMentha, Transurban, Hutchinson Builders, Gowdie Management Group, PwC, Katarzyna, Apollo Property Group, PHE, Limitless, McDonalds and Sunkids.
Wish us well tomorrow – it’s a day we’re all excited to see and to complete, but it will have two very big challenges in store for us, and one in particular called Coronet Peak! Stay tuned.