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Saturday, 23 July 2011

50, 60, 70…

Punakaiki – Greymouth (bike 50 Km), Greymouth - Darfield (Tranz – Alpine Railway), Darfield – Methven (bike 60 Km), Methven – Geraldine (bike 70 Km). Sunday 17th – Thursday 20th July 2011.

It has been great to get back on the bikes after a prolonged stay in sunny Nelson and we were in good spirits after a few days of relaxation at the YHA in Punakaiki, tucked away in the jungle by the sea. We were able to do a spot of hiking and also to catch up with Sophie and Alex Ricketts for lunch and a walk round the ‘Pancake Rocks’ the day before we left. It was such a nice surprise to find that they were enjoying a few days off together in a similar part of the island. The rocks themselves are yet another awe inspiring, natural phenomenon - of which there are so many in New Zealand. After enjoying the Pacific Ocean thundering into the caves and overhangs of Punikaihi’s geology, the four of us dined together. Not surprisingly, the café does very good pancakes!


The ride into Greymouth took us about 3-4 hours and it’s a good road to cycle on as it hugs the coastline for the most part. With the sun eventually rising to the point where we could feel the benefit from it, we didn’t mind the hilly nature of the terrain in the early part of the ride. However, once the road turned inland we were caught on the hop by the bitterly cold winds which were coming directly off the snowy mountain ranges, burning our extremities. The flip side of the cold weather is that is keeps the summer sweats at bay.

Greymouth YHA was much as we had remembered it from our hitch-hiking trip during the Easter break, except that this time we were in 4 bed dorm situated next to the double we had shared the last time we were there. Mel and I were excited to see that Harry Potter 3D was showing at the local cinema that night, so without much ado, we booked our seats for the 8:30pm showing. It’s a good job we did as well, as the entire cinema was packed, everyone itching to see the last film in the biggest selling movie series of all time. We were especially chuffed as the waitress at the restaurant opposite the cinema had given us free warm chocolate to drink just prior to going in. The machine had stopped working properly so the ‘Hot-Choc’ was just luke-warm. It was a lovely surprise and we appreciated the gesture.

It was a cold night in Greymouth and we were pleased we had a proper roof over our heads as we held hands on the walk back to the YHA. There wasn’t anyone else staying in our room, so we had done well again, just $38 for our own private room. We went to sleep with thoughts of the following day; another of the worlds great train journey’s – the ‘Tranz-alpine’ from Greymouth to Christchurch.

It turned out to be a brilliant journey; we spent the entire trip with our mouths open, staring at the mountains, lakes, blue skies and charming townships which are dotted around the central ranges. The train stopped off at ‘Arthurs Pass’, a full 750 metres above sea level. Everyone got out to throw snowballs at each other, whilst Mel and I took photos of an inquisitive Kea and the 6 inches of snow on top of the Morton’s Bach. We both remarked at how unbelievably cold it must be in there at this time of year.
Lake Brunner taken from the TranzAlpine







It was almost dark when the train rumbled steadily into the small town of Darfield which has an absence of backpacker accommodation, so we booked into the Darfield Hotel, situated just across the road from the station. The Darfield Hotel is a mishmash of many different things; bar, casino, take-away and restaurant come coffee-shop. It is ideal for people who are travelling through on business and such like. It was $80 per double room with ensuite, not bad for what we got. We enjoyed some hot chips from the take-away and they were really nice.

We managed to get away by around 10am the following morning and we were pleased with our progress. It took us 4 hours to get to Methven and to check into the YHA there. The roads are noticeably flat this side of the south island and we were enjoying the open landscapes with the ever present snow-capped mountains to our right as we cycled south. The only real challenge of any note that day was a gorge we had to get through; easy free-wheeling down, but a massive effort to climb out of.

Methven YHA is a good place. Run by an Aussie named George, it is set out over 2 buildings, both identical in design. We were in a 3 bedroom dorm with another girl. There was free tea and coffee as well as Sky TV, big wood burner, friendly cat (called Honey) and lots of nice backpackers who have arrived for a season in the snow. All the lads with their carefully manicured ‘just-got-off-the-peaks’ mops of hair, designer stubble and branded clothing. All the girls with DG printed on all their clothes and bags. People on the slopes have money, that is something you can be sure of.

It was noisy in our room due the positioning of it in relation to the stairs which go up to the TV room directly above the beds. Mel didn’t sleep much. $40 for the night is not something to sniff at though.

The next morning we enjoyed a free breakfast of toast and porridge, before managing to get away on the stroke of 9am. Despite having to stop and repair our first puncture on this leg of the tour, we still managed to complete upwards of 70 Km in just 4 hours of cycling. It was entirely flat for almost the entire trip. It was the coldest day so far though, which made it tough going and we were happy to arrive in Geraldine at lunchtime and enjoy a hot drink with our lunch.

So, here we are at a very, very quiet backpackers, in another 3 bedroom dorm. It is called ‘Rawhiti House’. It started life as a maternity hospital and went through various incantations before ending up as a BBH Hostel back in 2004. The proportions of the rooms are really good and I love the 1950s joinery on all the doors and windows. Mel has been religiously doing her 90 minute yoga routine whilst I have been writing this blog. I think it’s time I had a shower now, before we enjoy our baked kumara and salad for dinner.





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