I was awoken by what sounded like a hippo slipping over in the shower and falling down a flight of stairs, but when I peeped around my door a few minutes later, I couldn’t see any large animals or dents on the walls. Must have been something else. I was feeling pretty good, considering the fact that I RODE OVER SOME MOUNTAINS YESTERDAY, and I was keen to get going because today was likely to be quite hard – I was booked to stay tonight at the Omakau Hotel (about 100km away) and I would be following a route described in the Kennett Brothers book “Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails” as “adventurous”.
When I packed up the Off-Roadrat and started to push it down the driveway of the hostel where I’d spent the night, I noticed there was a rubbing sound coming from the rear of the bike. The rear wheel was slightly out of true. Fortunately, at the last minute when I was leaving Auckland, I had put a spoke key in my pocket – just in case. So I quickly trued the wheel and then rode off on the trails that would lead around the lake to Albert Town.
It was another beautiful day. I rode along a mountain bike trail that runs around the edge of Lake Wanaka and took me most of the way to Albert Town. I stopped at the dairy for a cup of coffee, but the coffee machine was broken (“again” apparently) so I had a nice cup of tea instead, sitting at a table outside watching a lot of nothing happening.
From there I rode down the road to the Clyde River trails. This took me (unsurprisingly) on a trail next to the Clyde River. It was, of course, lovely. The trail was good, the scenery spectacular and there were no people to spoil it. On the side of the trail about a quarter of the way along, I saw a dead hawk. It had it’s wings spread and it’s head to one side – it looked like a crashed, feathered aeroplane.
I saw a sign warning me of rabbit poison and “helicopter shooting”. I tried not to think about all the rabbits being silently poisoned all around me, and kept a look out for helicopters.
For lunch, I sat on a wooden bench donated by “The friends and family of Brian Thompson who loved this track.” I understand why – it’s a very scenic spot looking out over the river. I sat on Brian’s bench and ate left-over Indian food.
Eventually the trail ended and I continued along the highway, finding my way to, and then down the Luggate-Tarras Rd. This was fine to ride along – good surface and not much traffic. By the time I turned down Maori Point Rd I was starting to worry a bit about the amount of water I had brought along. I was getting thirsty and didn’t have much left to drink. Along that road were several vineyards with signs outside inviting passersby to come in and try their wine. I went in to a couple of these looking for water. But all I found were labradors.
It was at the end of Maori Point Rd that things went all wrong. I should have turned right on to the Tarras-Cromwell road and then left in to Ardgour Rd. Instead, I inexplicably turned left and blindly trundled off in the wrong direction. All this time I had a topo map sitting in front of me, under the transparent plastic on the top of my handlebar bag. I love topo maps. Not least because if you follow the curves and bends of the real road, on your map, it gives you the reassuring feeling that you’re going the right way. But I was starting to get the feeling I was going the wrong way. The map did not seem to match what I was seeing. Where was Ardgour Rd? And why did I keep seeing buses that said “Lindis Pass” on the front? Eventually I came to a tourist stop with a couple of shops, so I bought a few bottles of lemonade and asked if Thomsons Gorge Road was nearby. The directions I was given started with ‘go back the way you came’. So I rode back down the highway. After an hour or so, I started to get that feeling again. So I checked the map, I had gone right past the Ardgour Rd turnoff again and was heading toward Lake Dunstan. I couldn’t face going back again, but on the map I could see a shortcut. I just needed to ride down to a place called Bendigo, and then another road would take me across to meet Thomsons Gorge Rd, and save me retracing my steps again. OK.
Bendigo consisted of a dusty looking house and a sign put up by DOC describing the mining that used to go on there. I found the turn-off and rode (and then walked) up a really steep gravel road littered with used shotgun shells. Not a good start. From there it got worse. Sections of this “road” and been recently covered with deep coarse gravel that was almost impossible to ride on. There was another section that had been bisected with an electric fence and sheep were grazing on it. I lifted my bike over the first fence, but when I saw the incredibly steep hill just ahead, I gave up. Realising I would have to ride all the way back down this horrible road, through Bendigo, and back down the highway made me want to cry. But it seemed the sensible thing to do. So I did it.
Finally I made it to the elusive but perfectly nice-when-you-finally-get-there Ardgour Rd. This led through some pleasant countryside to a gate with a somewhat ominous sign next to it which read “Road Not Suitable for General Vehicles – Self Recovery Required”. I opened the gate and pushed my bike through. I was now on Thomsons Gorge Road. This led me through some amazing countryside, to the base of the Dunstan Range. And then the road started to go up. And then it continued to go up. At this point I started to worry a bit. I was only part (a quarter? a half?) of the way up and it was 4 in the afternoon. It seemed likely that it would get dark before I made it to Omakau. This wasn’t a total disaster – the Roadrat does have dynamo lights, so I would be able to see. But how was my clearly, kind of shit, navigation going to work in the dark? Would I even make it to Omakau?
I kept going. And it was hard, really hard. The road was steep and crappy, and I was really tired. I had to walk up the steepest bits. I also didn’t know where I was. The topo map showed so many bends that I was unable to work out where on the road I was. It was also getting cold. Eventually the sun went down and the wind came up.
I could still see the road in front of me, but I couldn’t read the map. I also had to keep stopping to open & close gates (the road crosses lots of land belonging to different people). At one point I was at an intersection wondering which fork to take, when I saw headlights coming towards me. It was a guy in a ute. I opened the gate for him and asked if I was on the right road to Omakau. He told me I was. I asked him how far away it was, he said “Oh, a wee way yet.” Yes, but how far? He thought maybe “10 or 15Ks?”. Then he drove off. I put on my puffy jacket & kept riding. By now the road was mostly heading down, which was lucky because I had almost run out of energy. I could only keep going by walking up the hills and pedalling gently on the flats & downhills. Then the road suddenly disappeared in front of me. So I stopped, wondering what the hell was going on. I walked forward a little and then lifted up the front wheel of my bike & spun it, so the light would come on. It seemed I had reached a river. I was confused – why would there be a river running across the road? Had I come the wrong way? I decided to keep going but to walk, pushing my bike in case the water was deep. It wasn’t deep, just cold. When I crossed the river a second time later on, I kept riding through it.
Finally I spotted a light in front of me, I rode towards it thinking it was a farmhouse – was it too late to knock on the door and ask for help? Then I got closer and realised it was just my light reflecting off another gate. I kept riding. Gradually I started to see real lights in the distance, the lights of a town perhaps? Maybe I was going to make it. The road levelled out, and then became sealed! I must be through the mountains! I got to an intersection with a sign – Railway Rd straight ahead. I remembered this from the map – Railway Rd leads straight in to Omakau – I was nearly there. The flat sealed road was luxurious to ride along, I felt a surge of energy and pedalled harder, maybe I would make it to the hotel before it closed. Omakau was promisingly quiet when I arrived. I found the hotel, and it was closed. I checked the time – it was 11:20pm. Oh. I knocked on the door a few times, but no one came. So I walked around the streets a bit to see if anything was open. Nothing. I was getting cold, and I was exhausted. So I walked back to the porch of the Omakau Hotel, put on my warmest clothes, and went to sleep on a bench outside.