Cromwell to Twizel: Stunning Emptiness
After a lovely week puttering down the Otago Central Rail Trail (more complete write-up soon), we spent a few days in Cromwell to plot our last week in NZ. How has three months come to a close already?! After much deliberation, we decided to ignore all the well-meant pleas that we ‘have to’ go to Queenstown. We’ve become a bit burnt out on the all the overly-touristed spots in NZ, so we decided to spend our last few days simply rambling around the lesser-traveled Mackenzie country.
From Cromwell, we headed north along Hwy 8. It’s a long stretch of empty roadway with only one small community for over 100km. Amazingly, the sun came out for us, and we had a remarkably perfect cycle touring day. The road climbed ever-so-gently through endless expanses of grassland. Merino sheep bleated at us and we passed signs indicating we were in Icebreaker country. Shortly after noon, we came upon our turn-off to a small, basic DOC campsite beside the ruins of an old hotel, built in 1861 for the gold rush. Once again, we found ourselves riding down a bumpy gravel road (we’ve decided that we’ll soon be experts at riding the Bromptons through gravel!). Once again, the Bromptons handled the terrain fabulously. We spent a lazy afternoon by the river, just fishing and enjoying the warm sunny day. As evening settled in, I finally saw my first non-roadkill hedgehog. Later that night, I saw my second, as it tried in vain to break into our trash bag.
In the morning, we set off on what seemed like a brilliant plan. Instead of riding the 6km back along the gravel road and then doubling back on the highway, we would ford the river and cross the paddock on the other side and hop out on the highway there. From the side of the river we camped on, it seemed like it would be remarkably easy. It turned out to be one of the most absurd things we’ve ever done. Fording the river was the easy part. Crossing the paddock, however, was more like bush-whacking than a stroll across a park – the grass was shoulder-height, wet, and extremely dense. We had to stomp down the grass for several feet, then go back for our gear and continue on. By the time we reached the highway, we weren’t entirely sure that the way we went was any easier than simply riding the extra 12km. But, we decided, you have to do something completely ridiculous every so often, just to prove to yourself that you haven’t gotten soft as a bike tourist! From there, we slowly rambled our way up and over the spectacular Lindis Pass – definitely one of our favorite stretches of road riding that we’ve found here in NZ. Down the other side into the small town of Omarama, and into another free DOC campsite by the Ahuriri River.
From Omarama, we opted for a short day into Twizel. The road through this stretch surprised us by how utterly flat and straight it is. Mountains loom on either side, but the valley floor is grassland, with easy and fast riding. After bush-whacking and crossing a mountain pass the day before, we were thrilled to just take it easy and enjoy the scenery. Amazingly, we also met several bike tourists along the way. After coffee in town, we made our way to the holiday park by Lake Ruataniwha, and we watched as the sky slowly got darker and more ominous. We opted for a small cabin at the campground, which wasn’t much more than just pitching a tent – and we were extremely glad for our decision as a thunderous storm moved in and turned the campground into a swampy mess.
We are still in Twizel today. It is still grey and rainy. The weather forecast is definitely not in favor of exposed cyclists for the next couple days, but our fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to head on to Lake Tekapo tomorrow. Over the next few days, we’ll slowly be making our way back to Christchurch, via the inland route through the foothills, where we’ll catch our flight out of NZ.
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our 2012 2012 calendar or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing.)
Stuart Knoles February 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm
Seems this landscape will go into pleasant impressions in your mind.
KTB February 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm
I’m loving your photos. They are inspiring (-maybe you can work a deal with Tourism New Zealand?)
Looking forward to doing some cycling in the south next visit to New Zealand.
The Trickster February 23, 2012 at 1:26 am
Its amazing countryside through there. Love Tekapo too. Sad to hear you’re leaving soon though.
Neil Warner February 23, 2012 at 2:05 am
Ah Twizel. Stayed there on my NZ trip back in the 90s. A short ride after the previous days slog from Lake Tekapo to Mt Cook. We stayed in a lakeside hostel in Tekapo which was possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever woken up in.
Jody Smith Williams February 23, 2012 at 4:22 am
We made a similar bad decision while mountain biking in NZ near Wellington – trying to avoid back tracking a long uphill climb and thought we could ford across a river to save time. First we had to cross a thicket of gorse, carrying bikes overhead and getting eaten up by thorns. Finally made it to the river’s edge to discover it was much wider and more treacherous than it looked. So back through the gorse, and back up the hill we went… Also got a flat tire from the gorse, with no pump, so we improvised by filling the tire with grass. It worked, kind of.
Andrew February 23, 2012 at 6:05 am
Great idea to skip Queenstown. Although the scenery is like nothing else in our country, it is basically a tourist trap of the highest degree. DOC camping grounds all the way!
I have always wanted to cycle from Cromwell, through the McKenzie country. Will you go to Tekapo? Best skies in New Zealand (on a clear night).
Ruairidh February 23, 2012 at 10:41 am
Be sure to take the hydro canal roads to Tekapo rather than the State Highway. You might get a chance to get the fishing rod out too, ask in Twizel about permits etc.
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Hi how many times I have took the short route only to slog through mud or trees wishing I had taken the road . Its what makes the memorys . Path less bushwacked lol