Not sure I need to write anything really, this picture says it all….
Ok so here’s the full account for those of you with a bit of time on your hands…
Our friend Dean, who runs the climbing wall in Nelson suggested that we cycle through the Rainbow Valley rather than taking the main road. So we had a look and decided to do it. We left Nelson and cycled for 2 days to get to Tophouse, to the start of the Rainbow Ski Area road. Arriving late, after a long day, we were now surrounded by snow-capped mountains, trees and rivers. We spent our first night in the woods ready to set off in earnest the next morning.
Having already encountered a mouse in the tent 2 nights before, we were now greeted by big honey bees. I think they must be attracted to the bright colours of our clothes and bikes as there were 5 or 6 or them flying round us at all times. Chris is pretty chilled and unfazed by just about everything, except bees – he really doesn’t do bees! We set off in the hope that they would stay behind. However 2 mins down the road, through an icy cold ford, I got my first puncture and had to pull over. Whilst I’m getting the wheel off and trying to find the hole, all i can see out the corner of my eye is Chris running up and down the road trying to get away from all the bees (cue Benny Hill music). It was also a pretty windy spot so whilst being blown around I’m still trying to fix the puncture, but couldn’t see or find any hole, hmmn. Chris came over to help, during a bee-free moment, and luckily found that a thorn had gone through the tyre, but the inner tube seemed ok. After a bit more faffing we got the tyre back on and off we go again…
We got to the start of the gravel track and it was quite hardwork, bumpy, not surprisingly, but it took quite a lot of concentration – I was glad to be wearing padded shorts! There were some steep bits to climb and come down and I was still getting to grips with the gravel. You can’t brake as easily, on a bend you’ll skid if you brake etc. I was sat there thinking that i really should have done some mountain biking before we came away! Chris gave me a few tips though about keeping feet level, keep the weight back and lifting up over the bumps, which made a big difference once i got the hang of it. But I still struggled with the hills, you have less traction and the loose gravel makes you feel unbalanced and as if you will slip off the bike. So I was pushing the bike up the hills which is quite exhausting after a while. We had lots of water to cross, streams coming down off the mountains cross the track and it’s really cold water, but beautifully clean and clear. Towards the end of the day, I got quite tired and frustrated at how difficult i was finding it – why does everything we do have to be so hard? Why can’t we do something easy and fun rather than hard and fun? Why can’t I be stronger? After a few tears and me taking out my frustration on Chris, we headed towards the Hut where we would stay the night. I saw the sign CONNORS CREEK HUT and was relieved to be stopping for the day.
It was a lovely little hut, well stocked with wood, a fireplace, 6 bunks and a loo. It was set in a small clearing with the hills and snowy mountains all around. With the late afternoon sun, it seemed more like a scene in Austria than NZ. The hut was warm inside as the sun had been on it all day, and we had the place to ourselves. We lit a fire and used it to cook on and boil water. Over tea and chocolate we chatted and I cheered up a bit, once i had talked about how i was feeling and got over my frustration. I felt a bit more positive about the next day as at least i knew now what to expect and could prepare myself mentally for a tough day. I really wanted to enjoy this experience as it is a magical, beautiful place and such an opportunity.
CREATURES IN THE NIGHT
After fixing tyres and cleaning kit we went to bed quite late. I was almost asleep when i heard Chris get up from his bunk, with his head torch on, moving around the hut. I couldn’t fathom why he was making so much noise just to go to the loo. Then he said ‘there’s an animal outside’ ‘It’s trying to get into the dry bag outside’. We had left the big dry bag with the tent in, outside by the bikes. I couldn’t hear anything… but then i heard a rustle. Fearing the destruction of our precious tent, Chris decided to go and investigate. He opened the hut door a bit and i just heard him make a really funny low noise, almost like a tune but more animalistic. I knew he had got a fright! He closed the door quickly. There was a possum hanging at eye level right in front of him! The Hut has a small porch and we had hung up a water bladder and the rubbish bag so that they were out of reach. The possum had climbed up and was hanging on the water bladder with one claw and the rubbish bag with the other, attacking the rubbish bag. So it was right by the door staring at Chris with it’s beady little eyes. Not quite what we had expected to see in the middle of the night. What to do, we were trapped by a cheeky bloody possum! We could try and get rid of it, but didn’t really want to get bitten, so we decided to leave it and go back to bed and sort it out in the morning.
We both lay there, pretending to go back to sleep, but in reality we were both laying there listening to every single sound, our senses heightened now by the possum outside. I needed the loo too, but had no intention of going outside. In the end we decided to get rid of the possum. We looked around the hut for a weapon, Chris picked up a metal toasting device, but I said ‘you can’t use that you’ll get blood on it, how about the broom?’ it was quickly turning into a scene from Shaun of the dead (the bit where they are deciding what to chuck at the zombie in the garden). We decided on the broom and slowly opened the door. The possum had gone, phew! Considering the noise it was making we’d expected to see our rubbish scattered all over the place, but it had only managed a tiny hole in the bag so quite a pathetic effort really. Chris checked outside the hut and there was no sign of it, so we were able to go to the loo (still armed with the broom – ‘don’t attempt anything without the broom’). Once back in the hut, now about 12.30am, we both found the whole thing very funny and surreal at the same. Whatever next, mice, bees, possums?! We managed to get some sleep after that.
Next morning we got up a a little late due to our midnight adventures. It was a beautiful sunny day, not a single cloud in the sky. We cycled away from the hut and re-joined the track. Everything looked spectacular, so beautiful… how lucky we are to be here. Reflecting on the day before Chris said poignantly ‘Beautiful places can be hard to get to’ and I guess that’s right,not everyone gets to see this. I imagine that many kiwis haven’t seen this place… with that in my mind, I felt ready for the day ahead, I was ready for anything.
The first few miles were flat and I just kept taking in the mountains and colours, wondering if this was also how Mongolia might look. Chris filmed us cycling on his camera, our first attempt at filming ourselves, which was fun. We reached the Wainu Gorge and the water was so blue, opaque in places and gushing through the rocks. We followed the river for quite a while, up and down, before meeting two guys on motorbikes. Apart from one 4×4 van, we hadn’t see anyone else on the track, so it took us by surprise a little. One of them had spent 5 months in Mongolia which was interesting.
As we left the gorge the terrain changed becoming browner, dustier and more rocky, we struggled to cycle up some of it as the gravel was so loose. But I was much more confident on the downhills and was starting to allow some speed and enjoy it. After a nice lunch break we continued on knowing that we had the Island Saddle to contend with at some point. We climbed two big hills each time wondering if they might bew the start of the saddle, onlyt to reach to top and come down the otherside. At the Molesworth station boundary we saw a map and realised that it was still a way off. At 4pm we reached a small hut – Sedgemere Chalet and were both a bit tempted to stop. However I had spent some time wishing that we had got further yesterday so i knew we needed to carry on or else i’d be saying the same thing tomorrow. Plus we had a tail wind for the first time.
We scoffed a couple of mini mars bars and continued along the road, now feeling like we really were in the middle of nowhere. It was really hot and I was beginning to feel tired in the heat. As if by magic a steam appeared and i walked through it to cool my feet and ankles, then a cloud emerged out of nowhere and covered the sun for a while. I had some water, removed my helmet to let out some steam and started to cool down. Considering how high up we were, it was surprsingly warm. Along the track we were now alongside some of the mountain ridges that we had seen covered in snow earlier that day in the distance. There was some snow on the ground and I couldn’t resist throwing a snowball at Chris. A 4×4 appeared with an English couple, they said that the saddle was only 3-4km away and that’we’d know it when we see it’, which always bodes well. We reached it and they weren’t wrong. It looked a bit like Wrynose Pass (for those Lake District dwellers) but with gravel rather than tarmac.
With lots of pushing, pedalling, stopping, resting, singing and generally plodding we managed to get up it. Even Chris found it hard! In the background the landscape looked like a scene out of Lord of the Rings (Helms Deep perhaps) and i half expect an ork or two to appear at any moment. Chris filmed us reaching the top together, hurray we made it!
It was cold at the top, so after a few photos of the majestic view behind us and now in front of us, we set off on the downhill. I find the huge downhills like this almost as hard as going up ( i know it sounds ridiculous), but I have my brakes on nearly the whole way, you don’t have lots of grip on the gravel and it’s fairly terrifying. But I made it down and enjoyed the last bit whizzing down onto the straight, eyes steaming as I clocked 46km p/h. I stopped and quickly put on some more clothes, it was freezing. I looked back up the hill to watch Chris coming down and get a few photos. Where was he? He ususally flies down the hills. What if he has come off, what will I do, how long will it take me to run back up that hill to reach him? My mind was racing. Then I see him, a tiny dot coming down the hill. He keeps stopping but i don’t know why? I take some photos as he finally comes into view, the light is perfect. It turns out that he had attached his boots to the front panniers, but they kept falling off and so he had to stop to collect them!
We were nearly there now, just a few more k to Lake Tennyson where we could stop and camp. It was getting late and it had been a long day! On and on we go our eyes peeled, looking for the lake in the distance. Then we saw a sign LAKE TENNYSON 1.5KM yay! We cycled down to the lake and saw two cars parked and 2 tents. More human beings! We were both looking forward to some hot food and sleep. It was well earnt and I was pleased that I coped so well with everything that day and more importantly enjoyed it. It was exhiliarating and I still had some energy left. Such a contrast to the day before, I love surprising myself!
The next day was an easy day by comparison, we had 40km of downhill ahead of us, all the way to Hanmer Springs. Right at the end of the track is Jacks pass, a short climb and then a long downhill into Hanmer. Back on the tarmac, ah bliss. As we left the last few miles of the track I almost wanted to stay on it, but at the same time it was lovely to have made it to Hamner, 110km later. Hanmer was warm and sunny, with lots of people and families enjoying their sunday afternoon. We pulled up, still covered in dust, sweat and dirt and treated ourselves to a cold can of coke each. We sorted out a camp site for the night and then headed to the hot pools for a lovely 2 hour soak to soothe the aching muscles, followed by a nice dinner and a glass of cider. It was a fitting end to an amazing few days.