Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Haast (NZ part 14)

(NZ part 1 here)

The hike out Douglas Rock Hut turns out to be quite a slog, but still incredibly scenic. The Copland River has gone down a bit after the rains of several days before and many of the smaller streams that ran across the trail are no longer visible. The long day of stepping down takes a toll on my right knee, sensitive from an old ski injury, and I am very glad when we reach the trail head. And even more happy when we are offered a ride to Fox Glacier to return the hiking boots. A pint of Speight's on the porch of a pub in town does wonders for aching bodies.  We return to camp to fight off sandflies, which we have little success with short of cooking and eating as quickly as possible, then climbing in to the tent for the night. During the night they find the tiny whole where the two zippers of the door meet, and mount an attack. In the morning, we decide we've had it with them, and we will forgo the rest days we truly need in hopes of making it off the west coast, and out of sandfly territory, as quickly as possible. We figure two medium days should get us over Haast Pass.

We make camp near a small river south of Lake Paringa on the first night. We wash in the river and repeat our routine of a quick meal and retreat into the tents. Even an easy day of riding was painful, but eventually helped ease some of the aches. The ride into Haast the next day follows the coast line more closely than we've been in a while. We reach Haast in early afternoon, and with a forecast calling for rain and strong winds, we opt for a night in a Backpacker. The next morning things have not improved much, so we take the rest day that seems to have been granted to us and stay for another night.

When I finally hit Haast Pass, I am exceedingly grateful for the pace we have taken over the past several days after the beating I took coming down the Copland Track. The road up the Pass is decent, and the traffic is not too heavy, and we climb on and on. Every now and then there is an encouraging shout or honk from one of the cars, and I keep pedaling. I vow to pedal until the final crest, which isn't that impressive as this is the lowest of the three Southern Alps passes. The bike has been working fairly well since the repairs, but this climb, with the weight of the trailer and the need to shift out of the bottom gear on occasion, the rear derailer starts to get fussy. After switchbacks, I reach the crest of the Pass. Dan is there already, as he usually is, but I have stayed closer than usual. Maybe I'm built to climb...  I pull over in a turnout, park the bike, let Dan know I need to give the shifting components a look. After a short road side tune, we are rolling again, down the gentle east side of Haast Pass, into the Lake Wanaka drainage and the more arid Otago climate we've been looking forward to. As the descent slows to undulating, we pull off the road to break for a snack. I am crushed when I realize that I have left my leatherman, a gift from my father, at the top of the Pass, being careless during my bike repair. I can't really stand the thought of riding back up the west side of the Pass. Dan says he will wait, and I decide to walk and hitch hike, and am quickly rewarded by a ride to the top by a friendly young Kiwi who chats quite knowledgeably about Vermont. He insists on turning and driving me back to my bike after I grab the leatherman off the guardrail at the top, and I don't put up much of a fight. Dan is surprised and happy to see me back so quickly. We make camp south of Makaroa, which is a cluster of only a few buildings.

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