6-8/2/16. As anticipated Saturday saw us leave the bags behind at the campsite and take the cycle trail along the coast and then inland to Kumara. It is the West Coast Wilderness track, one of NZ’s equivalent of the Sustrans National Cycle Network in the UK.
To be perfectly frank, it was a good day’s cycling but not as good as we were hoping. It started beautifully alonside the beach with the waves crashing against the pebbles. There was a sign warning that dogs were a danger to the penguins but we saw neither. Christine was not disappointed that there were no dogs but we both wished we could have seen penguins.
The route then turned away from the beach to run on a track alongside the main road for a spell before a short (say 1 km) stretch actually on the road. It then headed inland towards Kumara along an old tramway, presumably from the days of forest clearance when these crude tramways were built to get the timber out of the bush to road, rail or sea.
It was a gentle but steady climb on a gravel surface and we were pleased not to be carrying 20-25 kg of “stuff” with us. At one point the track crossed a deep chasm with a tiny stream at the bottom using a very new looking suspension bridge – obviously constructed specially for the cycle trail. There was a sign saying that the maximum load is 10 people and it was only when we stopped in the middle for photos that we realised that it swayed significantly if the weight was slightly off centre.
We soon reached Kumara where, with the temperature steadily rising, we bought very welcome cold drinks and had a choice of the NZ national specialty, meat pies. We plumped for a bog standard, and very tasty, Chicken & Mushroom and a different, obviously more acquired taste, Chicken Pizza(!). There were several noticeboards and signs explaining the town”s history as a gold rush site and home of NZ”s longest serving Prime Minister, “King Dick” (Richard Seddon).
Turning round, the ride back to the tent was better (probably because it was gently downhill!) where we rewarded ourselves with most enjoyable meal of grilled vegetables and steak cooked on the barbie. (Many of the campsites have BBQ’s use of which, like the kitchens, is included in the cost. We may have said it before but the facilities at many of the commercial campsites (not the DoC ones – but this is compensated for by even lower cost) put those at European sites (including our one experience of a UK site) to shame for similar, or cheaper cost.
While Christine was in church the next morning Stephen made himself (sort of) useful food shopping and trying (but failing) to check the bikes in for the afternoon’s train journey to Christchurch. We had been told to take the bikes to the station any time after 9 o’clock but it transpired that they would only be stored on the platform and we would have to return once the railway staff (as opposed to the tourist information office staff) turned up at 12.15 to really deal with formalities! To vent his frustration he went for an extra dose of caffeine!!
The train runs on a single round trip from Christchurch to Greymouth and back every day taking about 4.5 hours each way. However, if the weather is too hot the speed is restricted for safety reasons (probably due to expansion of the rails?) and so timings can be a little “variable”. With the 30°+ temperatures in Greymouth journeys werw taking about 30 minutes ectra each way so we were glad that we had pre-booked our campsite in Christchurch as it was after 7 o’clock when we arrived.
The line crosses the Southern Alps and reaches xxx metres above sea level. It passes through an 8.5 km tunnel which, usually, is not level as the builders on the west side were slower in the construction than their counterparts! After we had booked our tickets to Christchurch we had talked to some cyclists who had explained that their plan was to take the train as far as Arthur’s Pass (the highest point) and then cycle down the other side. Stephen, especially, was impressed on hearing this idea but actually it is not quite as smart as it sounds because, while the train journey up from the west coast is very pretty, the views down the other side are something else with spectacular river crossings and jaw dropping cliff faces almost all the way to the Canterbury Plain. The road and the railway followed pretty much the same route up but, after the top, they diverged so perhaps the views from the road were equally lovely – we don’t know, but we were happy with our decision.
The campsite in Christchurch felt a little cramped in comparison to others at which we had stayed, but it’s excellent for a city centre site and a very pleasant owner showed us to our site (very much a first).
Although Monday was a national public holiday, the centre of Christchurch was bustling. However, we were left slightly uncomfortable that some of the interest (and ours?) was a dark interest in the effect of the 2010/1 earthquakes, the aftermath of which was widespread with many shored-up buildings and fenced off roads. Although there was little visible rubble, the empty lots brought to mind similar sights from last summer when we were crossing Croatia.
Having said this, we would like to reserve judgment on Christchurch because we will have more time here before we fly out to Australia on 21 February. Our plan (that unusual, for us, word again!) is to spend some time on Bank’s Peninsula to the south east of the city before returning to ready the bikes, equipment and ourselves for Oz!