The Wairu Valley

30&31/1/16. With a long day ahead of us it was up early (sort of – 7.30!) and we were soon under way. We were heading south west (away from SH1 thankfully) initially on SH6 to Renwick and then on the much quieter SH63. Except that we didn’t. In the ladies loo Christine had spied a map which showed the Old Renwick Road running parallel to the main road all the way to Renwick (about 10 km) so we took that and it was much quieter even if it still had its share of inconsiderate drivers who find it too much effort to move the steering wheel even a few degrees to give cyclists even a modicum of room regardless of the fact that there is nothing coming the other way! Ho hum.

There were vineyards all the way along this road and, in fact, we were passing them for most of the first 50km of the day. There are an awful lot of grapes grown around Blenheim! However, there was one vineyard from where we will not be rushing to buy wine. It was called Te Puke! Nice.

In a book of cycle routes we had seen that the whole day apart from the first few km was uphill and as we had over 75 km to go to the campsite (there was a nearer one actually but Christine had ruled it out – “Absolutely not. No way. I am not going THERE.” It was a naturist site!) we were a little apprehensive, despite Val’s reassurance that it was not very steep. Well, we needn’t have worried. It was uphill but until the last 10km of te day you barely noticed it and, in fact, we reckon it would have been harder going the other way as we benefited from a tailwind which grew stronger as the day went on.

And all the way it was very pretty to look at. We were in a broad valley formed by the Wairu River with steep hills on either side, the tops of which were in the low cloud. Near the end of the day, when the vineyards were left behind and there one or two climbs that were noticeable, the countryside became a little more rugged and reminded us of Canada (Christine) or Scotland (Stephen).

The campsite is one run by the Dept of Conservation (there are many DOC camps around the country – we had stayed at two previously in Waipoua Forest and at Lake Okaro) which is very basic – a couple of composting toilets and water from the river are the only facilities but it does only cost $6 per night put in an envelope in an honesty box. There was an added feature though not included in the description in the book – clouds of sandflies! As a result we had to cover up quickly and get the insect repellent on PDQ. This was not much of a deterrent to the little b******s and so we hastily cooked dinner and then hid ourselves in the tent from 5.30. Every time the inner tent door was opened a killing spree followed to get rid of the 5 or 6 of the so and sos that managed to slip in! The outer tent was Sandfly City – see photo.

In the morning it was a case of getting up and going as quickly as possible to spend as little time as possible in the locale of the flies although Stephen did make a quick trip down to the river for an early morning bathe. In reality it was more of a quick dunk of the body because the stream was very fast flowing and the bottom was quite slippery.

Breakfast was delayed because of the flies and, it being pill day, Christine is not supposed to eat or drink (other than water) before taking the tablet. We figured that we could get to our destination of St Arnaud (only 26 km away) before either of us passed out with hunger.

And so it proved. The first 20 or so km were uphill – steeper than the previous day – but we topped out at an altitude of 725 metres where there were signs to Rainbow Ski Area. We find it difficult to believe that there can be an easier way to climb about 2,400 feet on a bike than we had had over the two days.
The last few km into St Arnaud were a mixture of flat and gentle downhill which was very welcome especially as the early morning clouds had been burnt off by the time we reached the steep final section to the top. While grinding up that section Stephen was “dripping” all over the road and even Christine was “glowing” as she pushed her bike!

In the village, the Alpine Lodge provided a lovely place to stop for a late brunch for Stephen and somewhere quiet for Christine to sit while the tablet did its work. In addition the sight of someone’s lunch of pizza got Stephen thinking about dinner as the campsite was only a few hundred yards away.

A couple of minutes after we arrived a group of 5 “proper” cyclists turned up and it turned out that they had cycled the 100km from Blenheim in the morning (we had taken a full day and a morning to cover the same distance.! They are on a two week ride from the top to the bottom of NZ (2,400 km) – but they have the support of a friend in a van so they have no luggage to carry. Today was an “easy” day for them as they are averaging 167 km and left Cape Reinga 8 days ago (we were there on 5 December!).

St Arnaud calls itself an “Alpine Village” and looks to be thriving, providing accommodation and food for skiers in the winter and hikers, mountain bikers and sailors in the summer. It is located right on Lake Rotoiti, which is drop dead gorgeous. There is a little chapel which has a picture window behind the altar with a stunning view over the lake which could take worshippers’ thoughts away from the main purpose!

The site is again provided by DOC but much more organised than previous ones because it is more popular and pre-booking is generally required (we had done so), and hot showers and proper toilets are available. Sandflies are also a non-optional extra but thankfully not in the quantities of the previous night!

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