After five days in Wanaka, it is time to go. I leave my pretty corner at the Glendhu Bay campsite, Sunday February 26, under cloudy weather. Forty minutes on the hilly road to reach Wanaka and I set off towards Aoraki / Mount Cook, my destination in three days. About two hundred kilometers separate me from one of the places I absolutely want to visit during my stay in New Zealand. I leave Wanaka on a hilly road. The clouds have disappeared replaced by a blazing sun. Around me the mountains are almost desert covered with yellow grass. I feel like they are thirsty. It is beautiful but as often, I have the headwind! It seems that whatever direction I take, I always have the headwind! As if driving on the New Zealand roads full of ups and downs was not difficult enough. Along the way, I meet a Quebecer woman with whom I chat for thirty minutes. She has been traveling for a year on her bike and is going to join a friend in Wanaka. She comforts me a little by telling me that the first weeks on a bike are always difficult. And that I chose the hardest part of New Zealand to start with.
I arrive in Tarras around the beginning of the afternoon. The village is made up of three barracks, a school, a shop selling merino wool clothes and … a golf course! Lunch break in the shade of the trees then I continue. Passage on a gravel road in good condition which offers me a climb of two hundred meters high, long and in full heat. At the top, when I thought I was completely alone in the area, I see a caravan of people riding on horseback coming my way. I do not know if it is a reenactment or something like that but I feel like I have been thrown into the past for a few seconds. I rejoin the road that sinks uphill in the Lindis Valley and I camp at the edge of a small stream just before the start of the big climb to the pass.
The next day, I start the climb early. The road climbs very slowly through the valley covered with yellow grass. With the morning sunlight, it looks like the place is covered in gold. I do most of the cycling except the last two kilometers, which are far too hard for my taste. A little tired of all these climbs! It is very hot again. While I rest for a few minutes in the shade of a sign saying “attention, dangerous corner, many accidents, be alert”, a car overtakes me, a little too close for my taste, before suddenly zigzagging on the road then hitting another sign! Nothing serious, only the mirror is damaged. I do not know what happened, but I have the impression that it is karma. I continue the climb pushing the bike and I reach the top with relief. 965 meters above sea level. The pass marks the boundary between the Otago region and the Canterbury region. The ascent was not easy but less difficult than the ascent of the Cardrona pass after Arrowtown.
I go downhill, smile to my ears. What a pleasure to spin down the slope without pain, the wind whistling in my ears. I cover the thirty-two kilometers separating me from Omarama quickly. Of course, my dear friend, the wind is here and here I am again pedaling like crazy. On the road, I see the Clay Cliffs, large cliffs of clay. A good ice cream, Passion Fruit-Yogurt, gives me a little deserved pleasure as well as a little rest. Not much in Omarama except … a golf course. Again! Definitely, it must be a sport dear to Kiwis.
I cover the thirty kilometers that separate me from Twizel with a little difficulty. My legs are tired. A car overtakes me then stops a few meters further. And who I see head out the window: Marex !! One of the cooks at the Kepler Restaurant in Te Anau where I worked for three months previously! He took advantage of several days of rest to visit Mount Cook too! Life is definitely full of surprises! A little exhilarated, I cover the last kilometers. A salmon farm appears on Lake Ruataniwha and I am dazzled by the color of the water. Turquoise. In the background I see the snow-capped peaks of Mount Cook and the surrounding peaks. It makes me happy without really knowing why. It is in the meadows of the surroundings that the famous battle opposing the armies of Gondor and Rohan to those of Mordor was turned. No matter how hard I scan the surroundings, I can hardly imagine the Pelennor Fields appearing in the Return of the King scene. The weather is too good. It does not match the atmosphere of Peter Jackson’s movies. I turn just before Twizel to spend the night in the very nice Holiday Park on Lake Ruataniwha, located just next to the lake. I spend the early evening strolling along the small lagoon amazed by the beauty of the place.
I would have stayed at the campsite for several days because I find it so pleasant, but Mount Cook is waiting for me. As a precaution, I go to Twizel to buy me some food. A priori there is not much food shop where I go. Then I continue on the road. I cannot wait to see the turquoise water of Pukaki Lake, the big lake just before Mount Cook, appear. But I will still have to pedal for almost twenty kilometers before seeing it appear at a turning point. The perspective is misleading. But that’s it, there it is. The lake and at the bottom Mount Cook. A small rest area allows to enjoy the landscape. A huge incredible blue expanse with the superb mountain range in the background. Two young Japanese on bike arrive and we chat a little. They are coming back from Mount Cook. They are not the first Japanese I see cycling in New Zealand. It must be said that Japanese people like to cycle and that cycle tourism is popular among young people.
The road along the lake to reach the Aoraki / Mount Cook national park (Aoraki being the name of the mountain in Maori) is visually imposing but very hilly. My legs are trembling. At the beginning of the afternoon I arrive at the Glentanner campsite located at the mouth of Lake Pukaki and about fifteen kilometers from the village of Mount Cook. This is where I decide to establish my base for the next few days. Staying in the village of Mount Cook is too expensive and the DOC campsite at a reduced cost offers nothing except toilets and showers. The Glentanner Campground is very nice. The pitches for tents are located in a meadow with large pines fifteen minutes walk from the lake. I pitch my tent and rest for the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view of Mount Cook and its eternal snow. The place is definitely one of the most beautiful area in the country. My next few days will be spent exploring the surroundings.