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.
Today’s top track: Open – Peter Gabriel