Tour Aotearoa Day 20 – Franz Josef to Haast

Blue skies and a splendid sun signalled the end of the bad weather, and it felt good to be able to jump back on the saddle. Bizarrely, yesterday’s ‘rest day’ had made me feel more tired, as if the fatigue had finally caught up with me. It was a challenge to regather that lost momentum.

The morning’s elevation profile once again resembled the teeth of a saw, with three sharp passes to climb up to, before immediately swooping down the other side, losing all that height gained and having to begin again. I find these shorter climbs much tougher, both mentally and physically, that a long climb where you can sink more easily into a gentle and sustainable rhythm. The brief respite provided by each brake-squealing downhill seemed to be all over far too quickly. Mercifully, today’s journey was mostly along paved roads which made the climb’s easier.

From Fox Township, I got my first view of the Fox Glacier from glacier viewpoint. Fox Glacier is a humbling sight; for 13 kilometres this jumble of ice, nearly half a kilometre deep, spans the width of the valley and tumbles 2,600 from its rocky stronghold amongst the high alpine peaks, all the way down until its glacial snout is intruding into the rainforest zone. At this southerly latitude, the glacier flows down to just 300 metres above sea level. Sadly, the glacier is in rapid retreat, and is set to be one of the victims of our changing climate.

After lunch, the route continued along Highway 6, which is recognised as a World Heritage Highway because it passes through one of the best-preserved temperate wilderness areas of the world. I’ve cycled through native forest several times on the Tour Aotearoa, but today’s journey was particularly impressive as the road passed beside towering kahikatea trees, which can grow up to 65 metres and their lineage can be traced back to the Jurassic period 180 million years ago. Favouring the wet marshes of the lowland swamps, these trees border rivers and lakes, living for up to 600 years old. Maoris found diverse uses for these trees, from their edible berries, to using their timber for canoes, weapons and medicine, and the ash for tattooing.

After crossing the Paringa River, I was rewarded with stunning views of Lake Paringa, a scenic reserve tucked within pristine rainforest. The lake is popular for salmon and trout fishing, and I could see several people fishing from boats. I opted for the easier way to enjoy the local fish and stopped at the Salmon Farm Café, which seems to be something of a rite of passage for riders on the Tour Aotearoa.

My legs were tired by the time I reached the final climb to Knights Point Lookout, but the viewpoint stretched along the coast and out to rocky pinnacles at sea. Supposedly down below the viewing platform was a resting place for New Zealand fur seals and elephant seals, but I didn’t see any. This was originally the terminus of Highway 6, completed in 1965, but now a series of twists and turns in the road continue along the coast, each bend revealing a pleasant surprise, until crossing the wide, narrow bridge over the Haast River and emerging into Haast. After nearly 9 hours, and with 143 kilometres of New Zealand’s finest scenery having spun beneath my wheels, I was happy to fall from my bike and into tonight’s accommodation.