1-3/2/16. Because there are so few towns in the area we indulged in some planning of our stops en route from Blenheim to Greymouth. Because it looked to be hilly and the locations of campsites we built in a few shorter days so that we would take a week to make the trip.
Things went to plan for the first three days but then Christine got the bit between her teeth and decided that she could manage if we combined four days of 40+ km into two! So that is what we did. And here we are in Greymouth two days earlier than expected!
Stephen had an early morning dip in Lake Rotoiti before we left St Arnaud on Monday. You will be pleased to hear that, as there were other early risers around, there were no naked buttocks on display! It was a glorious first 20 km beside the Buller River to the junction with SH6 at Kawatiri Junction – gently downhill, no wind, very little traffic and lovely sunshine. Perfect!
At the junction there were information boards about a railway that was built from Napier (on the north coast) to join up with another line that went to Christchurch. It took about 20 years and never reached the other line before being abandoned.
There was more traffic on SH6 than we had been encountering but it could not be described as “busy”. It was the start of the Buller Gorge (previously the river flowed through a broad, open valley) and the road started to undulate and the temperature rose both of which slowed us down somewhat. Eventually the gorge opened up (temporarily – it became even more rugged downstream as we were to see the next day) and we reached Murchison where we found a lovely (and very reasonable) campsite on the edge of town next to the cemetery.
Whitewater rafting, kayaking and jet boating are all big business for Murch (as it is called) but there is not much to the town other than a very smart rugby pitch (this is NZ after all). It did, however, have a supermarket where we topped up on supplies before heading back to camp to get some fuel for our cycling legs.
Tuesday promised to be another warm day and Christine had by now aired the suggestion of heading for Reefton, nearly 90 km away, rather than heading for the DoC site some 50 km closer so we were under way relatively early.
The walls of the gorge soon closed in again and the road was very narrow and sinuous. The traffic was also heavier (and larger) than the previous day and we both had a close encounter with an Owens Transport truck, the driver of which obviously couldn’t be bothered to turn his steering wheel to give cyclists more than 2 feet of space even though there was nothing coming the other way.
Despite us heading downstream, the road had an increasing number of climbs, some of them quite steep and long. This was not what we signed up for (although we had been warned in a cycling guide that there were some hills on this section)! Around lunchtime we reached Lyell, the campsite where we had thought of staying. An old gold mining town, there was nothing there other than the basic campsite and many, many sandflies so we were glad that we were not staying.
The gorge was lovely but hard work until we reached a one lane bridge controlled by traffic lights. There was even a special button for cyclists! After this the valley opened up again and the road levelled out a bit. e soon reached Inangahua where we had a very welcome cold drink and chocolate bar in the first cafe we had encountered in 50 km from Murch.
We couldn’t stay for long though as there were still nearly 40 km to go and time was moving on. Leaving the SH6 to head towards Westport, we joined the very quiet SH67 and headed upwards – but only at a very gentle rate thankfully as the road followed the railway line up the Inangahua River valley. It was still very warm and we were both beginning to get tired but we soldiered on. The km ticked by and eventually Reefton hove into view. Stephen “sped” ahead to sort out accommodation – we had decided to reward ourselves with a “proper” bed after cycling that far! We had been recommended to a guesthouse called The Old Nurses Home (we didn’t see any, or any young ones for that matter!) and were happy it had plenty of room.
Boy, were those showers welcome!! As it was almost 7 o’clock when we arrived, we just had time for a quick plate of pasta before Christine needed to head off for The Land of Nod.
The sun was still shining the next morning but, after a small but steep climb to cross the watershed at Reefton Saddle, we were expecting an easier day as we were heading down to the sea at Greymouth and it was “only” 80 km.
The morning met expectations as we rolled along at a good speed helped by a gentle tailwind. However, the sun was warming things up nicely and we were glad to stop for drinks at a small supermarket and sit in the shade.
After lunch the wind changed direction by about 180° and strengthened significantly. We also encountered a couple of short, sharp climbs. At another drinks stop the man serving us told us that this was the usual thing for the wind to do at this time of year and it would keep blowing until 8 o’clock when it would suddenly die. This was not welcome news!
The route continued down the valley of the Grey River with the railway for company, however the headwind and the occasional short climb made it much less pleasant than the morning’s ride. Also, as we neared Greymouth, there was an increasing amount of traffic although it still was not exactly busy.
It was again nearly 7 o’clock when we arrived at the campsite in Greymouth. Initial impressions of the town were not particularly encouraging but the campsite, a couple of km out of town, right by the beach, is very good, albeit a bit on the expensive side at $47