Tour Aotearoa Day 16 – Murchison to Reefton

Today looked set to be a good day. The weather forecast promised the rain would keep away while the guidebook suggested only 72 of the 122-kilometres would be on smooth, paved roads. Though I was warned there was only one food stop along this remote 122-kilometre section, that wasn’t a problem as I stopped at the cafe – I imagine it does a roaring trade with cyclists – to fill my panniers with sandwiches and cakes before setting off.

From Murchison, the route rose through the valley, gaining height slowly while passing through an airy beech forest that was a mesmerising shade of green. Few cars passed and the silence was only ruptured by the distant rumble of the Matakitaki River coursing through the valley. I got the best view of the river as the road crosses Horse Terrace Bridge at the same moment the river narrows into the rocky Matakitaki Gorge and the violent water erupts through the canyon beneath.

Shortly after, I had an explosive puncture that was too big for my sealant to fix, but I plugged the hole and was soon pedalling towards the Maruia Saddle, rolling through six small river crossings, and enjoying the woodland tranquillity. Eventually a wooden plaque attached to a mossy tree-stump signalled I’d reached the pass at 580 metres elevation.

After a descent to the village of Maruia, I rejoined the highway and enjoyed the fast pace of the road. After so long on bumpy gravel, it felt as frictionless as ice skating. Though the route climbed to the 696 metre-high mountain pass of Rahu Saddle, the road quality made this a quick and enjoyable climb. Nearing the top, the temperatures began to drop, and the scorching days of cycling on the north island seemed a distant memory. From Rahu Saddle, 36 kilometres of sweeping descent on paved road led to the village of Reefton. The empty road transformed this from a fun and effortless descent into one that was truly epic. I flew down the road with a child-like thrill at the rush of freedom of riding my bike.

I reflected on what a great day it had been. I love these isolated stretches of the Tour Aotearoa, where life slows down and feels simpler. Riding smooth paved roads would get boring after a while (I imagine!) but today it felt like a luxury after all the tough gravel kilometres I’ve endured and overcome!

I arrived at Reefton early and checked into my accommodation at the Lantern Court Motel. Rich veins of gold were discovered near the village in 1866 which caused the village to become a major gold mining centre. It has retained much of this historic charm, with well-preserved buildings and an elegant main road called, the Broadway running through the centre. A pamphlet offered the opportunity to pan for gold in the Inangahua River that bubbled lazily near my accommodation, but I was already beyond satisfied with the day and contented myself with a big, tasty bowl of pasta.