In the morning snow blanketed the ground and thick cloud hung around the tops. Every so often snow would start drifting thickly down again. After a day spent dragging our bikes up through thick forest with no track, it was a little disappointing to have finally reached the ride-able part only to have it become unrideable again due to being covered in about a foot of snow. We made a big bowl of porridge for breakfast, then coffee, then heated up two minute noodles for morning tea. We were unsure whether to call it a hut day, or to continue.
|Cozy times at Ghost Lake Hut|
|Interesting riding on the ridge section|
Shortly after arriving there we heard voices, and then two trampers arrived. They had been amazed to see our fresh tyre tracks in the snow, because we had clearly come from the opposite direction to them - which meant we must have somehow come through from Ghost Lake Hut. We confirmed their suspicions, and they were rather amazed given what they had heard about the route through. They asked us if it was now quite bike-able. We grinned and explained that it really wasn't.
From Lyell Hut we continued the massive descent down to the Buller River. The track is amazing, beautifully ride-able even when coated in a layer of snow. Occasionally we had to hop off and run with our bikes to try and warm up. Eventually the snow started to turn to rain and the track became leafy and green instead of white and black. Then we popped out at the car park at the end of the trail, and amused some road workers stopping for a smoko by running around on the grass wildly flapping our hands trying to warm up.
We ate cheese and crackers under the shelter while the next rain shower came down, then rain around in the sun outside when it peeped its head out for a few minutes. Time to get moving again, it was 4 pm and we had about 50km of road riding to reach Murchison. The ride was a mixed bag, moments of "this isn't so bad" riding along in the sun interspersed with misery as the rain poured on us, our toes and fingers froze and the cars and trucks roared past.
We were in one of these misery spells as we pulled into a campground at Murchison and requested a warm cabin. After a hot shower we were rejuvenated and headed down to the pub for a delicious feed.
|Finally made it to our warm cabin in Murchison|
Breakfast in Murchison consisted of porridge, then a vege pie and coffee at the cafe. It was still raining, and very cold. There was snow on the hills above Murchison just a few hundred meters above us. I was starting to feel frustrated about how cold it was, and I wasn't looking forward to 100km on the main road with trucks swooshing past. We set out in over-trou and jackets, but soon had to stop and strip has the sun came out.
Half an hour later, as we neared the turnoff to Lake Rotoiti, we found ourselves in heavy rain which turned into snow. Thoroughly sodden, we huddled at the road shelter and a friendly campervan driver boiled some hot water for us. Revived by the hot drink we continued, making good progress with the southerly tail wind. We reached a roadside cafe at Tapawera and enjoyed a big pile of spicy wedges and coffee.
Further down the road we hunted for the road bridge the map showed us crossing to get access to Flora Saddle. It seemed to be non-existent, so in the end we ventured reluctantly out onto a swing bridge which had a "Unsafe - do not cross!" sign attached to it.
The climb to Flora Saddle was steep and unrelenting. Chris towed me for a while, but started to run out of energy and I suggested we could just go a but slower. The rain turned to snow now, and before long we were back off the bikes pushing through ever deepening snow. This was all starting to seem a bit ironic, we had spent all winter hoping for snow like this and now, when our skis were packed away in our garage at home, here we were with our stupid bikes in the snow!
Chris had to stop and chow down some squeezies and food as he ran out of energy. We kept on up the snowy road, and reached the car park at Flora Saddle. There was about a metre if fluffy powder on the ground and the beech forest was dropping under the weight of all the snow. It felt like we had been teleported back to Norway - never before had I seen the New Zealand forest as snowy as this. We pushed our bikes on to the Flora Saddle Hut, which was fairly cold and uninviting, but we soon had the fire going and dried out some of our gear. We snuggled into our Spoonbill Double Sleeping bag as the snow continued to pour down outside.
|Flora Saddle Hut|
During the night the temperature must have risen, because we awoke to the sound of big blobs avalanching from the hut roof. Outside the snow was soggy and we were suddenly back in typical NZ snow conditions. We rode and walked down the track toward the Gridiron Rock Shelter, stopping to chat and share stories with trampers coming the other direction. There was a lot of windfall on the track which made travel slow.
Eventually we climbed up onto Barron Flats and the snow petered out, turning to mud bogs. Still, the riding was good as we traversed the flats and the temperature was still increasing. We were able
to ride again in shorts and polypros for the first time in days. We rode past our friends place 'Moonsilver' way up on Barron Flats, then navigated through a maze of tracks to the ridge high above the Cob River.
From there it was a steep, rocky descent down to the warm lands of upper Takaka. The last 20km into Takaka felt a bit like hard work with a head wind, but finally we reached the town and found ourselves a comfy cabin - given this was our 'honeymoon' I decided we could afford some luxury! Dinner was some delicious falafel wraps at the local takeaway shop. The weather seemed to be improving - it was mild and dry, but the lady at the campground told us that gale force winds were expected tonight - great!
Sure enough, the wind came up in the night. The tin roof on our little cabin banged around, and the trees outside swayed. At least the sun was out in the morning, and after a nice breakfast we set out on the final stretch of our big Kahurangi Loop. Today we would return to Browns Hut at the start if the Heaphy Hut where our car had been parked for the last 6 days. We thought the ride would be pretty easy, but a howling head wind and the occasional freezing rain squall ensured that even this day was no easy ride. At Collingwood we turned left and headed up the long valley which leads to the start of the Heaphy Track.
We spotted the turnoff we had taken years ago when we headed up to Boulder Lake on a tramp through the Dragons Teeth. We stopped at the funky cafe at Bainham and had a long chat with the owner of the cafe, and then a farmer from the Mackenzie Country who was very interested in our journey.
The very last stretch of the ride was tough, the wind determined to stop us from reaching Browns Hut. But finally we did, and we had connected a great loop. Weather conditions had definitely made a challenging trip into a very challenging trip, but a true adventure it had been and I couldn't have wished for a better kind of honeymoon.