A pie is a pie and although hunger always makes the best judge some pies are just made more perfect than others. An early morning lambshank and watercress pie at the Makarora tavern is one of them. Pure genius.
So with happy hearts and a crunch of gravel under tread, Horse and I set off for the days short ride to civilisation. Rolling down the Makarora river to where it meets the Wanaka, and the gentle swoop swooping of the high road around the western shores to the Neck with Lake Hawea beyond. The supporting vistas a good menu match for the early morning perfection in the pasty casing. I was happy. Horse had a smirk.
We stopped, stooped and straddled our bars. Gazing out at a free quicksilver sky slick as it weaved through the crag and peak of the Huxley to the torment of the trapped lake below. Then went we, slipping silently down the black ribbon of fresh road as it cut and curled over broken rock and tussock into the world below. As free as the restless wind, we soon made the tiny windswept sanctuary of town.
It was New Year’s Eve and a fitting place to rest up for a time. We too were wind beaten, weathered and worn.
Opened the tent to a grey fog hanging around surrounding forest and moss like last weeks ghost. We spent a night sleeping below the winter high water mark so I was expecting cold and damp underfoot. I wasn’t disappointed and got up aching and packed to make our early exit. Dan the legend came over to say goodbye. We’d see him again.
“South, Due south Horse.”
The fog hung around for an hour as we made good time to Knights point for the early morning claw and scramble around the last great coastal climbs in the south.
Dropping down and through ships creek for the run in to Haast. This Westland passage has been carved from rock and stone by many braver men than me. Respect. Onward we raced across the expansive Haast river bridge in search of food.
What, no second breakfast?
We rolled into Haast and aimed directly for the biggest cafe sign we could find. It was huge and must have measured a good 8 x 2 metres. If I was peckish then Horse was ravenous, so big signs were good omens. We burst through the door at 10:30 in the morning with rapacious grins only to be met by a small man in a bad tie furiously polishing the brass handles on last nights pissant of a beer. Cafe closed.
We both stood there in a throng of ten hungry Germans, dazed and confused in our hyper-calorific haze wondering why dazed Germans, why the big sign, why the little man in a tie polishing his pissant knobs and why no menu with grease infused tasty things. I came to and demanded from the little man where I could get breakfast. Somewhat questioning his own reply he said “Back up the road at the village I guess?” And before you could say ‘two hash browns and a side of bacon’ we were out of there and back on the bikes.
Never a break, never a break. We got to the first available cafe… closed. Exasperated and lost for words we moved onto the next.. open, we burst through the door like two beagles on the hunt only to read a sign saying ‘breakfast from 8:00 at 10:30’. “Does no one have breakfast?” I demanded. The cafe owner with much chagrin suggested we go back down the road to a previous establishment that might open for ‘all day’ breakfast at 11. Un-flaming-believable. We stomped off and ended up at the local dairy waiting behind a que of ten hungry Germans.
“It‘s time to leave the coast Horse” I grumbled. Not surprisingly Horse was lost for words. I lifted my chin from the floor, “Steak and cheese pie please miss.”
Into the valley
The road follows the great and wide cleft that divides the Southern Alps up the Haast river into the interior. The wind at our backs, we were escourted into the valley by a number of dusty whirlwinds whipping across the river flats as we snaked our way along the heal of rough ridge. I’ve driven this road many times, but this time was different. We saw the scale of the near vertical wet polished walls of Webster Spur rising 900m above us, passed our 1,000 km milestone at Orman falls and pushed on Pleasant flat for a much needed break.
Crossing the Pass
We set off mid afternoon, with calm and a high sun turning the world to crackle. Approaching the gates to Haast bridge in soaring temperatures it felt like we’d ridden into a furnace. It was a hellish climb as we clamoured from shadow to shadow to escape the burn. Onward to the hinge and safety in the leeward shade of the ridge above. Resting and parched we peered down into the gorge to see the pure blue of the Haast river roar over rock and fall.
Thirsty, we crawled on to the top then made good our decent. The landscape opening like a deep gulping breath compared to the narrows of the constricted Pass now behind us. Riding on in the afternoon sun we arrived at the first great watering hole east of the divide. We made it to mighty Makarora tavern.
Never has iced cider tasted so good nor lasted so little. The first never touched the sides, but we made sure the others that followed did. We sat quietly at the window and watched the sun sink low over Turret peaks in the distance. “It’s my round Horse. Cider?” Our day was done.
Best sleep with dreamy shadows of cold crags and persistent passes in the back of my mind. I’ve been this way before and remember the three nasty pinches out of Franz we need to navigate to get to the deep of South Westland. I slept in a bit (for obvious reasons).
We packed (late), ate daring doo and hit the road, making initial steady pace uphill towards the first shop 1.5 km from our start. “Great effort so far Horse, cup of tea?”. We felt all a bit Ponsonby as it wasn’t really the bike adventure we had imagined in braver days, but we both needed a big cup of procrastination to start the day.
“Another tea Horse?”
After one more we saddled up, rolled along Fox glacier highway past a swarm of coffee infused pom-pommed Ya-ya’s cramming onto a bus for a day of mild adventure! We crossed the bridge over the Waiho and headed for the first of three climbs. It’s not that I’m adverse to going up… It’s just that inevitably it results in going down with more going up beyond that.
So up, down, up, down, up, and… screaming like men possessed we went down. All froth, mayhem and heaving on his handles Horse yelled “Cuppa?” Convinced we pulled into Fox for a fill-up.
The sedate of South Westland
“So that was it then?” Said Horse. “Yip” I responded. He nodded and took another sip. Peering out over his darjeeling with a cold thousand yard stare at another swarm of chattering pom-pommed Ya-ya’s this side of the three passes. “Better go then.” He muttered. I looked at him and nodded my head in agreement.
Quietly getting back on the bikes. “Due south Horse, due south”.
We rolled onto Jacobs river, then the queens of ice cream at the Bruce Bay before settling down for a crammed night at Lake Paringa. Resuscitated with generous libations from Dan and Sharon from Nelson.
Dan’s a mad keen fisherman, Horse was in his element. I ate to the grumble and splashy murmur of fish tales and trout. Legend Mr Dan.
We were behind and needed to go large, so got underway early and made good to Ross, venison pie and coffee. We sat under a lazy sun, listening out for the echo of a long distant swill swish of great great grand pappy’s gold pan over the hill in Italian Gully before Horse beckoned me on. We turned our bikes south and freewheeled out of town.
I’ve been wanting to ride this part of the country for a few years now. The expansive corridor of plains, trapped on one side by mountains and the roaring Tasman sea on the other. This was the Harihari highway and the way to South Westland.
I stopped to take a look at the landing overlooking Lake Ianthe. When I turned back to the trail Horse was gone. He’d been replaced by someone else. It was Jake from New York.
Jake was two months into a long tour of his home state plus New Zealand, before a planned trip south to tackle Patagonia. He was bronzed from days on the road, all muscle and sinew and he needed to be. He was riding a Surly heavy bike, with four panniers plus pack, but even under such strain the man moved!
After sitting back supping on coffee at the Pukekura sandfly, Jake had seen Horse and I race through on the way south and had decided to chase us down.
After brief introductions I told him we needed to track down Horse, so off we rode to find him and with no need for a ramble where a kia ora’ would do, we three rode onward towards Harihari at pace. Me on point.
Flying over the Hendes Ferry bridge we spotted another wayward traveller, I yelled “hook on!”. He did and now we were four. We flew into Harihari, shiny machines and gleaming sweaty men bits, leaving nothing in our wake but a trail of testosterone. It was time for decent introductions, coffee and a bite.
Graham was from the UK, just out of London, freshly retired (although he didn’t look it) and one month into a cycle tour down under. He’d recently only just completed riding across the U.S.A. (east to west).
Everyone was keen to keep rolling onto Franz Josef. So we saddled up, swung legs over our respective broncos and slowly rode south down a windswept ‘Main Road’ Harihari like an old time posse searching for justice. A few side street onlookers looking on, especially one little girl outside a store, who was staring us down with a glare that was all quiet cuss and scorn, as she continued to hoe through her double of hokey pokey ice cream. We made our exit.
Horse set the pace, then swapping for Jake, then Graham, then… where was I? I was nowhere. I couldn’t keep up, but my new posse abided at a wallow from Horse to “wait” that could clearly be heard from Haast.
We pushed on regardless, swerving through a stiff sou’ wester, traffic and two Germans coming the other way. We made Franz Josef at pace and with at least an hour to spare!
There was nothing for it, we tethered our broncos, made camp and thanks to Mrs O’ we even wetted our parchedness on a few fine ales. It was a night under tall crags sharing even taller tales. Good times and great company. Thanks amigos, travel well wherever your trails wander.
Today’s top track – Feel it still by Portugal. The man
We bid our farewell to whanau after xmas festive feasting. Time to get back on the trail – the WestCoast wilderness trail! Horse took point from Paroa, heading south then inland over the Taramakau bridge towards Kumara.
Horse is an apt description for Dean Ogilvie. He’s a strapping humble Maori bloke and an ex cross-country running champion which gives him the required minimals for touring, and after a morning feed of oats and coffee he can keep up a good canter all day long. A perfect companion for an old timer trek like this, both ambling along, excluding the occasional break for navigating, a pie or ale.
We moved beyond Kumara through the Kapitea reservoir and on up through stunning rain forest, trailing old mining water races to the Kawhaka Intake. Tumuaki and McArthur Crags shrouded wet, ominous and impregnable beyond. All trails I’ve ridden in New Zealand are unique with their own sense of self, but this one felt special.
We made the Kawhaka pass early afternoon.
The sign of the cowboy
There are signs all along the trail for something called ‘Cowboys Paradise’ and every time we passed one Horse would raise a steely eyebrow at me. I too felt uncomfortable about what a Cowboys paradise actually was and whatever it was, it was getting closer.
Downhill from Kawhaka we weaved through tree and track, over ridge line and scrub to burst headlong and confused into the middle of open ground, surrounded by a shambles of small shacks and a cowboy saloon complete with swing doors creaking in mid afternoon breeze.
We were at Cowboys Paradise but without a cowboy in plain sight. Where were they and did we really want to know? Thinking all the time of that old shop slogan in Mexico stating ‘get a little bit of cowboy in you’, I was perplexed. Horse was clearly alarmed! Neither of us wanted a little piece of cowboy anywhere near us.
We dismounted the bikes, looked at the ominous sign reading ‘Meals, shooting, refreshments and accomodation’ and peering through the swing doors into the haze to see Mike (the owner and chief cowboy) backlit against a confederate flag peering back.
After a brief chat we found out everything we did and didn’t want to know about paradise. Turns out Mike is a coaster, a Trump lover and the only cowboy in town that day, so after swilling down our non alcoholic beers (by choice) we backed out the door and got out of dodge.
Truth be told Mike is a character and Paradise a triumph of one mans vision realised. Well done sir.
We headed out of the Arahura river valley, over Pyramid hill and escape to the coast. It was a memorable day, not just for the lonesome trail, Mike and Paradise, but more for the impressive vistas in and around Tumuaki.
We rode into a dry and windswept Hokitika. Destination: the ‘Shining star hotel’. Pure coincidence.
Today’s top track – Far from any road – The handsome family