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Cycle camping: Part 3: completing the South Island circuit

Stephen Wood

My ride from Rangiora around the South Island had been interrupted near Hokitika, but I was determined to restart it. I chose to do that at Sheffield and head west from there.

Leaving Springfield, heading for the alps.

It was a persistent nor’wester as I cycled up past Springfield to the start of Porters Pass. 

The approach to Porters Pass

Porters is a long haul on the bike with the steepest part nearer the top. I felt safer walking beside my bike on the twisty climb, due to the lack of visibility around corners. Nearing the top of the pass was a section of road with a road work crew working on one side and temporary traffic control. I told them once I was past the main work site that I could stay in their work lane and didn’t mind oncoming traffic in the free lane, which they thought was a good idea. 

From Porters I cycled by Lake Lyndon, Castle Hill and Craigieburn. I had hoped to have got to Klondike Corner, but with wind slowing me down decided that the DOC campsite at Lake Pearson was more achievable. It was a basic campsite and the only water supply was to boil lake water. The next day it was 35km before getting to Arthur’s Pass village. 

From the village its a short climb to the pass itself. The descent required caution due to its steep gradient but is so much nicer with the viaduct bypassing the old zigzag route. After a brief refreshment stop in Otira I pushed on to Jacksons, where I had to decide which way to proceed based in where I could find a camp. I booked at a campsite in Kumara and made it there at 7pm, one of my longer days. I had the campsite to myself. 

The next day I cycled through Greymouth and on up the coast road. The campsite at Punakaiki make a good resting spot, and surprisingly there is now a bar and restaurant close by, as well as other accommodation options. 

More surprises the next day — a coffee cart at Fox River and a new café and tourism venture at Charleston.

I wasn’t tempted to head into Westport, but instead pushed on up the Lower Buller gorge passing Hawks Crag to Berlins where the pub had set up a basic campground. I got an early start the following day before the forecast rain, but by the time I got to Inangahua it was definitely raining. It was a slow plod continuing up the Buller through to Murchison. Although I got there very early afternoon, it was still raining solidly so I stopped at a backpackers, giving me time for a bit of washing and drying out. 

A fresh start the next day was in better weather, passing Owen River, Kawatiri junction. I wasn’t sure whether to head to a friend’s place near Mapua or a relative in Nelson, or even whether I could get to either that day. I climbed over Hope Saddle and down to Kohatu.

For a cyclist crossing Spooners there is now access to the Spooners rail tunnel, which was cool, literally. An easy coast down to Wakefield where I found my first open food outlet for the day — a bakery. While sampling the delights of the bakery I decided that the location near Mapua was achievable. After a quick visit to the Rutherford memorial in Brightwater I navigated across to my friends’ place. I’d decided that since that had been a long day I’d make it a short day and visit my in-laws in Nelson the next night. 

Since I was actually closer to Stoke than central Nelson, an early start had me riding in commuter traffic into Nelson’s CBD and then on to the Wangamoa Saddle. Once again l felt safer walking up the twisty climb, even though the speed limit had been lowered to 60 km/h.

Grazing stops in Rai Valley and Pelorus got me to Havelock, with time to shop for dinner and set up camp. There were a couple of other cycle tourists that had just come off the Queen Charlotte track. 

The next day took me through Blenheim and a bit of retail therapy. From there, possible campsites seemed limited — Seddon would mean a very short day, so I was pushing on and hoping to get to Kekerengu. However, the wind was building and slowing me down, so when I spotted that a motel in Ward welcomed campers, I decided that was for me. 

From here I’d figured that to get home to Rangiora should only take me 3 days. The first was down the coast to Kaikoura, much of it on the highway that was rebuilt after their earthquake, including some interesting art installations telling a version of the Māori creation story.

I found a campsite right in the centre of Kaikoura, despite a lot of accommodation being booked out for a weekend event. The next day involved a short bit down the coast to Oaro before turning inland. 

I was fortunate in getting through most of the Hundalee Hills before rain started, but by the time I got to Cheviot it was raining steadily and I was pretty wet. That prompted a stop in the tearooms, refuelling, and deciding I would get a cabin at the campground instead of camping. It was a good call, meaning I could dry my riding clothes a little before setting off the next morning.

I was within 100 km of home! 

The next day started wet but I was dressed for it and made it through to a welcome café stop in Greta Valley. Although there were several possible stops on the way home, I decided I didn’t need to eat at them all. 

A second stop at Amberley was in brightening weather so it was a pleasant ride down the road and turning at Waikuku to get home to Rangiora.

12 days riding, 960 km. 

This is the 3rd part of Steven’s SI cycle tour. Earlier parts: Part 1 | Part 2

3 Autumn 2023

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