Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Tekapo

Day 107 (Sat 6 March): Lake Ohau to Lake Ruataniwha

Started sometime around 9.30am, finished sometime around 1.30pm, 35k (by bike).

Pain in the head status: Nothing – hallelujah!

Word of the day: Bespoke, made to order.

By the time we got going, yesterday’s rain had retreated from Lake Ohau, and the dense clouds lifted to reveal a topping of snow on the mountains. No wonder we had needed the heater on all night to keep warm.

We had elected to cycle the next section on the Alps to Ocean cycle track, from Lake Ohau to Lake Tekapo, which is recommended by Te Araroa trail notes. This saves a couple of very long days of walking. The section from Twizel to Lake Tekapo is particularly gruelling, with no accommodation and no freedom camping allowed, meaning you have to walk 58k in a day. Not something I’m up for trying. We talked to one woman who did it – she said she was in so much pain at the end that she cried, and when she reached her room for the night she was unable to move, even to eat or have a shower.

Snow on the mountains we had come from

We engaged the services of BeSpoke Bike Tours, as they were able to deliver bikes to Lake Ohau Lodge and transport our packs to Lake Tekapo (and the pun is funny). We were going against the tide of the usual biking flow, by cycling towards the Alps and away from the Ocean, and not many bike hire companies would cater for this. But Annie, from BeSpoke, was very accommodating, if rather scarily disorganised.

Fire-damage closed the campground at Lake Middleton

Tony took the bulk of our gear in two panniers, in an attempt to slow him down, but for me it was still like being in the Tour de France futilely chasing the yellow jersey (yellow high viz vest in this case). Once I had mastered the gears on my bike (which Tony couldn’t bear to watch), it was an easy day along roads, gravelled cycle paths and finally alongside the Ohau and Pukaki canals, part of the huge Waitaki hydroelectric power scheme that channels water from the region’s lakes into dams which are remotely controlled from Huntly in the North Island.

The only part I was uncomfortable with was around the shoreline of Lake Ohau, with a narrow and twisting cycle path that looked very one-way to me. When other cyclists came barrelling along in the other direction, I was obliged to stop and crowd up against the matagouri to give them space to pass. Whoever made this trail probably did not anticipate the existence of northbound TA walkers-temporary-cyclists.

Confluence of Ohau and Pukaki canals

Otherwise, it was a fun ride and did much to heal the trauma from the Timber Trail in the North Island. My confidence in riding a bike started to be restored.

Lake Ruataniwha

We stayed the night at Lake Ruataniwha campground (in a cabin so we didn’t have to lug sleeping bags and the tent on the bikes). This was an enormous campground that pretty much needed a bike to traverse. The adjacent rowing facility was closed due to the recent shift to Covid-19 level 2, and ironically was the reason we were staying at the lake and not in Twizel, since at the time we looked (pre-level 2), accommodation was scarce due to the rowing events and the cavalcade. So we had a 4k cycle into Twizel for dinner, against a punishing headwind, but we compensated by eating an enormous amount of food – a second lunch at the bakery, ice cream, then Indian curries and naan bread. In the light of cancelled events, Twizel was scarily quiet, but then it seems like a place where nothing much happens at the best of times. Built to house the dam construction workers, it was slated to be dismantled but the residents mounted a resistance and the town was left to be the star of the Mackenzie district it is today.

Obligated to visit this place

Annoyance of the day: At the campsite I realised I’d left my long sleeved merino top back at Lake Ohau Lodge. And the  outdoor shops in the bustling metropolis of Twizel were only open for limited hours on the weekend. Here’s hoping Lake Tekapo can rustle up a replacement for me.

Day 108 (Sun 7 March): Lake Ruataniwha to Lake Tekapo

Started 8.50am, finished 2.40pm, 58k (by bike).

Pain in the head status: Still nothing. Feels like some kind of celebration is in order.

Word of the day: Cyanic, blue, azure.

Stunning. That summed up today, with the snow-draped alps filling up our eyes as we rode across the arid plains from Twizel to Lake Pukaki, then along the canals with brilliant, almost luminescent cyanic and turquoise water. What with near perfect weather, this was a highlight of the trail so far, and the relative ease and speed of our travel only added to my appreciation.

Although my buttocks suffered some torture from the bike seat, the exclamations of amazement at the scenery were interspersed with sighs of thanks that my feet were being spared the monotonous pounding of the roads. I’ll take a saddle-sore butt over throbbing feet.

There was only one challenging part, where we had to cycle up the road from Lake Pukaki to the canals, which was so steep there was even a warning sign for cars. It did momentarily defeat me, as I had to take a short break half way up, but cyclists speeding down the other way cheered encouragement (or ridicule for us going the wrong way, it can be hard to tell) and then of course we had to keep going or would have felt like lame ducks. Tellingly, there was a wide cycle lane going down the road, but not one going up, because who would be silly enough to use that?

Cars being warned of steep road gradient

On the canals, we were mostly able to cruise along in top gear, except for one or two bumpy gravel sections. Lots of people were trying their luck fishing but we saw more fish leaping out of the water than being reeled in on a rod.

Another dam on the network

On the last few kilometres before Lake Tekapo my thighs went on strike and we had to walk up the final small hill after the Tekapo dam, but then it was a glorious fly down into the town. We exchanged bikes for backpacks again and it was weirdly comfortable to have my Osprey pack strapped on again. The last couple of days I’ve been constantly thinking I’m missing something – and realising it’s my pack.  

Lake Tekapo

We stayed at the new YHA in Lake Tekapo which has outstanding views from its lounge and kitchen, and not many clientele to enjoy them.

Views from the YHA. Five star.

Wildlife encounter of the day: I saw my first ferret, dashing across one of the canal roads to dive down into the canal bank. I stopped briefly, thinking… what – to chase it down? Throw a rock at it? I didn’t even have my walking poles with me. So I carried on and hoped that at least it was eating a lot of rabbits.

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