Day 13: Te Anau to Milford Sound - From Ship Cove to Milford Sound: the length of the South Island the hard way - CycleBlaze

March 18, 2023

Day 13: Te Anau to Milford Sound

Final leg

This was always going to be an emotional day. So many Sounds2Sounds riders have had to pull out of the event - some with Covid, or broken collarbones, saddle soreness, or for whatever other reason. So, to make it this far has  been an achievement in itself. 

It was also to be a challenging day for Bruce and the gang. The road to Milford Sound carves through spectacular landscape but has one last climb for these weary riders to face. The Homer Saddle rises to 945 metres above sea-level, with a 1.2 km long tunnnel at the top and a steep descent to Milford Sound.  The Department of Conservation website warns motorists of this "challenging and, in places, narrow and winding drive. The scenery can be distracting – take your time, be aware of other road users and if you wish to enjoy the views pull over with plenty of warning."

Perhaps DOC should have added a warning that 400-odd cyclists would also be presenting themselves as potential distractions ...but who would have thought this possible until the Kennett brothers dreamed up the Sounds2Sounds route? Let's get the big day underway, Bruce.

"The last day. All on asphalt but with lots of traffic going to Milford, including many tour buses. It was another early morning start with Jude. We missed out on great views across the lake because it was still dark, though I eventually saw them from the shuttle bus on the return journey.

" Jude is my preferred riding buddy. She has a similar cadence, preference for intervals between rests and is very consistent. There was a slight head wind and we were swapping the lead as often as necessary. About 40 km down the road, we caught up with Greg and Chris, so the old team was reunited and we continued working our way up the valley. I should have stopped to take more photos [Ed: what can I say??] because the scenery was stunning, but the team was on a mission to complete the ride and all of us were thinking ahead to the 600 vertical meter climb to the Homer tunnel."

The gang of four, together again (assuming one was taking the photo!)
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The Eglinton Valley
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Meanwhile, back in Te Anau, drama was unfolding. Drama surrounding Bruce, as it happens. Robyn was in her own happy place on this Saturday morning. People who know me would assume that place was at a parkrun . The Lake2Lake Trail parkrun course is on the route of the S2S, just outside of Te Anau. I had just finished my single-handed slow jog of the course when an alarming message flashed onto my phone: "Mmm, Bruce not cycling today? All OK?"

Our friend Dawn, who has been avidly following Bruce's progress all the way, had noticed that Bruce's official S2S tracker had failed to make an appearance this morning. I thought back to last night when he'd stripped the bike of extraneous gear, including - oh yes - that bag with the tracker attached.

Action stations! I got a lift back to town, found an emergency takeaway coffee, met up with Jude's husband Tony in his motorhome,  and retrieved the tracker. Disaster averted. We were soon on the road to Milford, knowing that the group was already some 60km ahead of us, making great progress.  A quick parking-bay stop ensured the transfer of the tracker before they pressed on. Not long before the ascent began, we pulled over again, set up camp, boiled the kettle and waited for the team to arrive.

Dash is snatching a break from stick- fetching at our lunch stop, The Divide.
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Here they come
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Back to Bruce:

"It was great to ride alongside lots of trees, mostly beech, after the desolate scenery of Central Otago. Lunch was at the 90km mark. Tony had the campervan parked up and the kettle on. Robyn had joined him for the drive into Milford. Which was convenient as in the reconfiguring of gear I had left my tracker behind in Te Anau. [Ed: Convenient?? How about 'thanks so much, you saved my bacon'?!]

 "After lunch, we had a fun little descent and then the big climb.  It was not difficult as it was spread over 12 km, but most of the elevation gain was in two short sections. You knew you were getting closer to the tunnel when the near-vertical rock walls around you were closing in. It was just Jude and me by this stage, as Greg and Chris had climbed a bit quicker than us."

They had an interesting ride through the Homer Tunnel. Tony and I had parked up and watched the traffic flows before going through the tunnel ourselves. Because of a cable-laying operation, the tunnel was under traffic light control. We also noted the large signboard warning motorists of cyclists in the tunnel - and even heard a warning given over a loudspeaker - very impressive pre-emptive procedures to ensure cyclists' safety.

"It was just the two of us in the Homer Tunnel for its 1200 m length. As it’s one way, there was a queue of traffic waiting for us as we emerged. Now for one of the best bits of road to cycle. We lost 950 metres in 20 km so it was not too steep. But 40 km/hr without pedalling!

"Spectacular scenery. Mountain river to our left, beech forest and towering rock mountains. 

The Homer Tunnel portal, Milford end
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"With big smiles, we rolled into the finish. We had done the full length of the Sound to Sound, Ship Cove to Milford Sound. There were congratulations all round.  Tony and Jude had organised champagne. Big hug from Robyn.

"Thirteen days, 1,500 km, 16,700 vertical metres of climbing. Lots of different riding conditions. Kudos to my bike, a Specialized Epic, full suspension, carbon frame, designed for cross-country. It handled everything with no major breakdown. Credit also to Aeroe rack system: rock solid and easy to use. And finally to the Kennett brothers and Eric Westra for making it all happen.

"The support along the way was great. Thanks Adrienne, Dawn, Bruce, Lee, Trevor, Jennie, Jill and Brian. My family have been fantastic as usual. Huge thanks to Andrew, Kimmi, Simon and my wonderful wife Robyn, who knew being at the finish was important. Looking forward to telling you all about it, Isabella."

I can't let Bruce have the last word. It's been a challenge ghost-writing this journal, reporting on a trip I wasn't a part of, but a good one. And sometimes making do with scraps of information. Bruce was keen for me to do this so that he would have a record of his epic trip. I, however, love writing for a wider audience and find it hard to keep myself out of the narrative  - as you may have noticed! Between us, I hope you've found this journal entertaining.

Europe 2023 flights are booked...see you then!

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Dawn HunterGreat shot Bruce! Congrats on completing such a huge cycle journey! Now for a rest!
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11 months ago
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Today's ride: 122 km (76 miles)
Total: 1,486 km (923 miles)

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Ann HutchingBravo! What a ride. And a great read too!
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9 months ago
Robyn RichardsTo Ann HutchingThanks, Ann! I may not have ridden this but it was probably the most challenging journal to write.
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9 months ago