Bike tour part four

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cromwell, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Franz Josef

Sometimes, it makes sense to take a bus. After three days of sometimes-freezing headwinds on the rail trail, we decided to spend a relaxing two days biking the 80 km to Queenstown. I'm not even going to bother making a map and elevation profile for this segment, but I'll make up for it with plenty of pictures.

It took us a good 2 hours or so to bike the 20 km from Clyde to Cromwell, but in our defense, we stopped at the edge of the lake to make tea. The lake in question is Lake Dunstan, apparently created in 1990 when Clyde's "famous" hydro dam was built. Ryan was excited to see it.

Look, a dam!

I was more excited by the fruit in and around Cromwell. Apparently many of the orchards are being converted to vineyards, which is somewhat sad (though at the same time, wine is delicious). We stopped at a cidery that made delicious "Wild Cider"; definitely the best cider I had in New Zealand!

We spent the night in a hostel created from an old military barracks. We had the place mostly to ourselves, as is apparently typical for the off season, and we had a pretty good night despite the lack of heat. Most of New Zealand is less heated than Calgarians are used to (pretty standard for the West Coast), but this particular building actually had no heat. Someone showed up to try to fix it at some point, but they didn't have any luck. In any case, I slept with my sleeping bag under the covers.

In the morning, not only was there heavy frost (it stuck around until 11 am), but there was even ice on the puddles. We took our time and had a nice hot breakfast before heading out.

Vineyards are beautiful in the morning
I want to eat it alllll

By the time we'd pedalled most of the way to Queenstown, things were looking up. The temperature skyrocketed to around 12 degrees, and we came across this beautiful lake on the side of the highway. You can just see a hint of the fall colours; apparently if we'd detoured to Arrowtown, we would have seen more, but alas, we opted for the "get there in time for dinner" option.

Gorgeous roadside stop

When we got to Queenstown, Ryan decided to go for a run. He'd found a pool in Cromwell and swam 2km before we biked, so he was determined to do a full triathlon! Semi inspired, I managed a 5k run - my first in the Southern Hemisphere. It was unremarkable.

Queenstown really is the Banff of New Zealand. The official population is about 5000, but there were probably three times that number of tourists. We stayed in our first party hostel, which wasn't super awesome. However, we got mysteriously upgraded to a room with an ensuite and fridge, luxuries! If only there wasn't a wet T-shirt contest directly below us...

We only stayed in Queenstown for two nights, and didn't really see much of it. On the first morning, we caught a tour bus at 6 AM and headed off to Milford Sound! It really is a gorgeous place, though I have to admit that riding a tour bus is probably not my choice of transportation. They did make several stops along the way to spew out us tourists and let us take the same photos that everyone else takes.

Mirror lakes - on calm days, they are perfect mirrors

We got very lucky with the weather in Milford. It was a calm and clear day, but it averages over 6.5 metres of rain annually! I didn't quite understand how much that was until I looked up some places in Canada. Vancouver: 1.2 metres. The wettest part of Haida Gwaii: 4.2 metres. No wonder there were so many waterfalls in Milford sound.

Generally just a beautiful place
Uh oh... we're those people.
One of many streams
The sound itself
Sunlight, mist, and waterfalls

We took a tour boat out to see the sound. We were promised seals (they're everywhere), but we lucked out again and saw dolphins! I think I might have seen them before as a kid at home, but I might be confusing the memory with porpoises. In any case, as the tour boat captain said, "I could watch them all day and never get tired". I can't believe how fast they can swim!

I'm terrible at taking pictures of dolphins
Rainbow falls, unsurprisingly
Looks just like the other side of the Pacific
Going under a waterfall!
Wet lens makes for interesting pictures

After the Milford adventure, which took up most of the day, we again got up early and found ourselves on another bus. This one took us up and over the Crown Range past the Cardrona ski resort. I'm sad it didn't stop to let me take a good picture, because the road looked fun, and very switchbacky. We'd talked about biking it, but it was just too cold! The warning signs about ice on the road made me pretty happy with the bus decision.

The bus to Franz Josef took 6 hours, including a stop at a salmon farm and a crazy cafe. I thought I took pictures, but apparently not. The cafe was covered in possum furs and government protest signs, mostly against the usage of 1080, a pesticide that they drop from planes into the forests to try to control the possum population. The Bushman's centre's solution is to turn the possums into pies and chair covers instead. They sell the pies "by donation", because apparently you can only sell possum meat from a government approved source - of which there are none.

At Franz Josef, we got some info about hikes in the area, as our weather continued to hold and it seemed like the thing to do. Since we arrived in mid-afternoon, we only had time for a short walk on the first day, and we chose to go to a cave to see glow worms! It was almost like seeing them in the wild, except the cave is artificial. It was built in the 40s as a diversion channel for water for a now defunct hydro dam. In any case, there was no tour or anything official - you just walk up an old overgrown road for a ways until you find the cave.

I promise, there are glow worms in this picture. See them?
This is what they look like in the light and out of focus
Looking out from the structure attached to the cave
Ferns everywhere!

On our full day in Franz Josef, we went for a real hike to go see the glacier. You aren't allowed to walk up to the ice itself, but there's a nearby hike up Alex Knob that gives you "a better view than the helicoptors". For some reason, all the trail descriptions were listed in units of time instead of distance and elevation, and this was an "8 hour hike". Garmin tells me it was 17 km and about 1100 m elevation gain. It ended up taking 5 hours, both for us and the German backpackers that we leapfrogged up the trail.

We reached the top of the hike just in time to see the whole glacier and valley slowly filling up with clouds. We had lunch, sat around for a bit, and melted some snow to drink (I forgot my water bottle and Ryan's was only half full... oops), and by the time we left the glacier was almost invisible! A beautiful hike, and a nice break from biking. Aside from the 8 km bike ride to and from the trailhead, that is.

Watching the clouds roll in
Fog on the glacier
Looking back towards the ocean

From Franz, we continued our bussing adventures and skipped all the way up to warm and sunny Nelson, at the north end of the island. Including stops, our bus ride took 10 hours - almost as long as the flight! Again, I didn't take any pictures while bussing. Oops.