Glacier country: Harihari to Franz Josef - Tackling the West Coast of Te Waipounamu - CycleBlaze

March 20, 2022

Glacier country: Harihari to Franz Josef

Today's destination is the sleepy township of Franz Josef, named after the glacier on the town's doorstep, itself named after the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. Julius Von Haast was a busy man in these parts in the 1860. The German explorer spent most of his adult life in New Zealand, commissioned by various provinces to conduct geological surveys. He 'discovered' and named both the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers (though they were well known to Māori) and later was credited with founding the Canterbury Museum, in Christchurch.

We were never going to ride the full distance from Kumara to South Westland. The state highway leaving Kumara is too narrow, with no shoulder to ride on.  So, a bus ride later, the whole group is deposited at Ross where the high-mileage whippets are let loose on their bikes. The rest of the group  carry on in the bus to a more civilised start point, Harihari.

Here we meet the lovely Lifeboat team again, ready to serve us stroopwafel and drip filter coffee . . and to hand over our pre-packed lunches. Lifesavers, indeed!

That's me in the clashing kit in front of the coffee queue at The Lifeboat.
Heart 3 Comment 0

Bruce and I take off a little early to get ourselves a head start on the day's biggest hill.  A bunch of riders soon catches up, giving us a chance to tag along for the ride up to Mt Hercules. We soon scatter though as the gradient increases. It's a gentle climb and I'm not fazed by it - as I would've once been. And descending is more exhilarating than terrifying. (Thanks to Arthur's Pass for putting all future downhill rides into perspective for me.)

Old mate Head Wind turns up in the Whataroa river valley and I'm  gradually dropped from the bunch. Bruce is still in there though, and I'm willing him to stay on, to enjoy the ride. Jonny, the tour leader, is lingering a good distance behind me, trying not to look like tail-end Charlie. Eventually, he takes pity on me and comes up to "take some wind".

Woohoo, we're away! We fly down the valley, crossing the Whataroa River, and are blessed with a tail wind when changing direction. I'm on a high  when our Sky train pulls into Whataroa for lunch.

Just hanging onto the bunch here
Heart 3 Comment 0

From Whataroa, the road skirts around the Õkārito lagoon, another area of great natural beauty.  It seems wrong not to take the time to explore the lagooon, home to an abundance of birdlife, but tired legs prevail. We have to  return another day  - but not in lycra. 

This small part of South Westland is the only breeding ground for the rare white heron or kōtuku - image courtesy of Creative Commons
Heart 2 Comment 0

Most of the bunch decide to ride out to the coast at Õkārito, a 20 km out-and-back deviation, but we have our hotel room in our sights and are both  happy to stick with the 60km target.

Our (first and) last photo stop is at the placid Lake Mapourika. Not long afterwards, Franz Josef turns up  - and we are off the bikes for a day of rest. See you when the laundry is done!

Lake Mapourika
Heart 5 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today's ride: 62 km (39 miles)
Total: 457 km (284 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 5
Comment on this entry Comment 0