Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Canterbury (NZ part 25)

(NZ part one here)

Leaving the Mt. Cook camp is hard, but we have gotten so accustomed to breaking everything down and heading onward that we fall into the routine. We retrace our ride from the previous day, heading south along Lake Pukaki, then turning east when we reach the southern end of the Lake. Again, we ride mostly along the contours, so the pedaling is easy. It is another brilliant morning, and we are greeted with huge panoramic views of the snow-covered Southern Alps. We are now riding on the Canterbury Plains, and the climate feels distinct from the more humid and cool points we've hit along the southern coast. By mid-day, we will be quite hot, and water consumption is once again on our minds.

Since we are returning to areas that have higher population density and more tourist traffic, we find ourselves on larger roads again. One of our main objectives of route planning at this point is sticking to the smallest roads we can find on the maps in order to avoid traffic. We zigzag onto a canal service road between Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo, make a brief stop at the southern end of Tekapo, then ride on northeast, along Route 8 and then 79. We don't feel in a rush, but we are coming to the end of our trip, and we need to make sure we are within easy riding distance of Christchurch the day before our flight. The riding is also much easier here in the plains, so we cover many more miles than on some previous days.

We ride through the larger towns of Fairlie, Geraldine, Mayfield, and Ashburton Forks. Looking ahead we see two main options for crossing the Rakaia River, one closer to the mouth of the river on the eponymous town of Rakaia, the other farther upstream, near the town of Mount Hut. We set our sites on Mount Hut, but throughout the afternoon the winds dropping down off the Alps are hitting us at about 45 degrees off head on. When we reach an intersection to head to Mount Hut, we realize we will be riding almost directly into the winds, and at the last minute opt to bear east, for the lower bridge. The turn converts the slight headwind into a perfect tailwind, and we sail along easily on the straight, quiet country road. We cross the bridge in Rakaia in the early evening, and easily spot great camping spots all along the large boulder channel of the river.

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