Tour Aotearoa Day 14 – Wellington to Belgrove – A Late Night Ferry and Tough Riding

It was the dead of night as I rolled my bike onto the ferry beneath an inky sky, blinking under the bright floodlights of the harbour which stunned my sleepy senses. ‘Welcome Aboard’ read a big message on the back of the ferry, which reminded me how exciting it was to be finally heading to the South Island. I tied my bike against a railing and headed up my private cabin.

Taking a night ferry was more advantageous because it wasn’t wasting time when I could be cycling, but it did compromise the quality of my rest and recovery. I washed some clothes in the sink, and then headed to bed. Almost no sooner had I closed my eyes than I sensed the engines of the ferry quieting and the ferry slowed. I looked out the porthole to realise we were easing into Picton and the first rays of colour were illuminating the eastern horizon and hinting it was almost morning again. It had been one of the shortest nights of my life and the thought of a full day’s riding made me feel nauseous.

Reluctantly I got out of bed, headed to the lower deck, rolled my bike off the ferry, and prepared to ride the 40 kilometres to Havelock for breakfast. The ferry had effortlessly covered 92 kilometres south in three and a half hours. After my bakery breakfast, I’d bought three jelly snakes to incentivise me to keep going when it got touch, but the first one didn’t last long and I chomped it as my motivation wavered at the first hill in the pouring rain.

The route continues to Nelson over the Maungatapu Track, graded a level 4 mountain bike ride, ‘advanced’ with the 36 kilometres taking between three to six hours. The incessant rain made it harder still as the mud was wet and claggy, sucking at my tyres so they lost traction and slid. The mass of water flowed in rivulets down the track.

After each tough climb began a technical descent that was at the absolute limits of my abilities on a loaded gravel bike, bumping and skidding down the steep slope avoiding the loose rocks. My hands tired from the vigorous braking while the brake disks were hot and smoking. I thanked myself for changing the brake pads in Masterton yesterday. At least the rain wasn’t cold, as it would be in England. It was quite a welcome to the South Island, known for its wilder landscapes and weather.  

Amazingly, this challenging cycle route was once an everyday trading route, which made me think how tough life used to be here. Not to mention, there were added challenges previously. I stopped by a large rock to read a sign that recorded the gristly details of the Paar Murders which happened here in 1866. Five men were ambushed and murdered here by the Burgess Gang. The men were travelling from the Wakamarina goldfield, and the gang mistakenly believed they were carrying lots of gold. It was a crime that shocked the locals at the time, until the gang were caught and hanged. I’m thankful I only have the weather to contend with and not highwaymen or bandits!

From Nelson, the route continued along the old Nelson Railway, which began construction in 1873, when across New Zealand there seems to have been a fervour of railway-building. Little did those architects and engineers know that they were accidentally building some of the best cycle trails of the future. Many of the railways have been decommissioned and repurposed as ‘rail trails’ for cycling. They make particularly good cycle trails because they utilise the old railway infrastructure such as the gentle gradients, the tunnels and cuttings through the hills, and the bridges over the valleys. After the sleepless night and the struggle of the Maungatapu Trail, I particularly appreciated the effortless 40 kilometres of cycling, passing through small villages to Belgrove.

After 13 hours in the rain, I appeared drowned as I arrived to my accommodation in a small modern lodge situated on a golf course and paintball arena. I knew even the thrills of golf or paintball wouldn’t be able to wake me up. The kind owners invited me to join them for dinner, which I gratefully accepted. I don’t normally drink much, but a glass of red wine helped put me straight to sleep.