Saturday 18 February, I leave Glenorchy behind to return to Queenstown. But I do not have the strength to go backwards after the difficulty I had to come here a few days earlier. Too hilly and too long. So I take a bus. Or rather a minibus for myself. The lady driving the vehicle attaches my bike to the back and here we go. In just fifty minutes, we reach Queenstown. While the journey to go there took me seven long difficult hours by bike. Some negative thoughts cross my mind, should I have bought a car instead?, Which I leave aside for now. Now is not the time to give up. Not at the start of my three month of bicycle touring. I go shopping in Queenstown and finally buy myself a Fergburger. During my previous visits to the city, the queue was so long that it discouraged me. But this time, I go there at ten in the morning. Only fifteen minutes to get my hands on the famous burger with is almost world renown. My choice is made on the Tropical Swine: beef, bacon, cheddar, pineapple, salad, tomato, onions, aioli and tomato sauce. It is very good. And it filled my stomach well. But it is not the grail of the burger that everyone’s brainwashed at me. No big deal.
I take the road, along Lake Wakatipu on a bike path. The Queenstown Trail takes me along the Kawarau River in strong heat. I cycle through the fields rocked by the song of the cicadas. Unfortunately big steep climbs await me and I arrive at the Kawarau Suspension Bridge completely flat. Bungee jumping equipment hangs from the bridge but the activity does not seem to be open. I do not know if it is the ride combined to the heat but I have exhausted all of my resources. I barely covered twenty-six kilometers! I spend a good hour resting in the shade and admiring the crystal clear waters of the river flowing down the gorge. The song of the birds and the bluish reflections gently cheer me up. This is where Peter Jackson implanted the Pillars of the Kings (huge statues) that the community sees when he navigates the waters of the Anduin River in The Lord of the Rings.
I take the road towards Arrowtown at the end of the afternoon at the pace of a snail. It is still very hot. I had in mind to quickly go to Arrotown, take the Cardrona Road and start the hard climb of the Crown Range in order to camp in a quiet corner, but I have the impression that it will be difficult. I pass the beginning of Cardrona Road (Arrowtown being located a little further) and my last strength abandons me. The road climbs damn hard! My thighs are screaming at the torture and it is already the end of the day. I decide to stop in Arrowtown for the evening at the only campsite in the village.
The next day, I do not have the strength to attack the climb. Nine hundred meters of climb separates me from the pass located on Cadrona Road. And Arrowtown seems to be calling me from its visit. So I change my plans. I spend a quiet morning resting and letting my thighs recover. The campground is quiet and pleasant. At the end of the afternoon, the heat having dropped a bit, I go for a short hike on the Tobins Track. The dirt road climbs along the mountain to reach the top of the Crown Range. From the top I have a nice view of the surroundings. I even distinguish Lake Wakatipu in the background. The small path continues to assault the mountain then join the Cardrona Road. I decide to follow the path there by bike the next day, rather than the main road. There will be less traffic.
I go back down to the village and visit its main street, with preserved architecture houses. Arrowtown is a gold rush village. The entire area, from Glenorchy to Cadrona, was built on the gold veins found around 1860. In 1862 gold was found in the Arrow River and this was the start of the village. 15,000 people came to prospect, including many Chinese who built a small, out-of-the-way community whose remains are visible today. What a pleasure to stroll through a village with preserved architecture! Even if it is only the main street, it makes me happy. Houses and stalls are far more charming than today’s New Zealand homes. With the forest-covered mountains surrounding the village, I have no trouble projecting myself back to the days of yore.
The next day, I have to resolve myself, today is going to be the day of the climb. I start early in the morning, not too hot yet, on the Tobins run. It is summer in New Zealand and the temperature is around 30°C at the moment. I do half the ascent by bike before surrender to the weight of my luggage and setting foot on the ground. The climb is too steep and my equipment on the back of the bike is too heavy. I equip myself with my backpack and push my bike along the slope. I met several people doing their “morning sports session” who encourage me every time. A lady even takes my bike from me to push it on a hundred meters! I move slowly but surely, my arms a little sore. Finally the top appears and I rest for about thirty minutes before attacking the rest. Thirty minutes on a gravel road through the plateau to reach the Cardrona road. A young German also on his bike joins me and we chat a bit before entering the traffic. The road climbs gently until the big climb. A dozen steep laces are revealed to me. I resolve to push my bike again with my bag on my back. It is long. Since there are still two bags left at the back of my bike, the load to push is still heavy and my arms need regular breaks. In addition, the sun beating hard, I feel hot quickly. And the traffic doesn’t help.
Around three-quarters of the way up, a viewpoint allows to observe the valley below and I take this opportunity to take a break. A couple of Kiwis, also cycling enthusiasts, come to chat with me, impressed by my load. A young woman, also on her bike, appears but she is on a racing bike. She is accompanied by a young man in a car and tours New Zealand by bicycle to collect donations for a Cancer Society. I resume the climb, still pushing, watching the young woman who moves away and I finally arrive at the pass at 1119.7 meters above sea level.
The descent on the other side is a real moment of pleasure but that does not last long enough for my taste. The landscape is starting to change a bit. The mountains become almost desert, only covered with tussock. The small village of Cardrona (also a former gold rush village) appears with a nice hotel and a renovated church. The road is wavy again and as usual I end up with the headwind. The difficulty is back. I pedal with my spirit a little tired, watching the landscape goes by. At the end of the afternoon, I finally arrive in Wanaka. Small break on the banks of the lake to enjoy the view before settling in a campsite near the center. Only two days of travel but the difficulty was felt. I am very happy to have arrived.