The climb out of the gorge was nowhere near as daunting in the dark the next morning, and was well timed for another magic red dawn as we started out across the Canterbury plains—hugging the foothills of Kä Tiritiri o te Moana/Southern Alps. We made time at Mt Somers for an obligatory pie and coffee, followed by several more successful apple stops on the ride to a relaxed cafe and resupply break in Geraldine. From here things got surprisingly hilly, as we began the traverse inland via climbs over Mount Gay (small but sweet apples) and Rockwood Roads to a creekside camp before Mackenzie Pass. It was a peaceful Friday evening, apart from the locals out hunting wallabies after dark who insisted on speeding back and forth through the nearby fjord. I guess there’s not much else to do for fun out there.
In anticipation of the view across the expansive grassland of the Mackenzie Basin we were pedalling early, passing two dead wallabies and one live one that had escaped the hunters’ guns. Early light on the Southern Alps while we were on the descent from Mackenzie Pass was ample reward for the sometimes steep climb. I was keen on the optional mountain bikers’ direct route to Twizel, but my legs voted against me, and my stomach confirmed second breakfast was the better choice as we rolled up to the Greedy Cow cafe in Tekapo and ordered a table-full of flat whites, croissants and cinnamon rolls in the sun. Tekapo marked the start of the Alps 2 Ocean route via lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau. A sharp change in weather was forecast and by the time we left the glassy Lake Pukaki, took a decent stop for lunch in Twizel, and reached the aptly named Lake Ohau—Place of Wind—waves were whipping across the lake. An early stop was debated and when it turned out accommodation at Ohau Lodge included a three-course dinner and breakfast, and they had a guest laundry, a rest-day was declared with a 5:30pm finish.
By now we were over 1000km in and we finally got some nasty South Island weather thrown at us to see what we were really made of. After warming up with our only hot pie for the day at Omarama, and Rachel and Debbie had bought some warmer socks and gloves, we decided to push on and find out. It was a heads down grunt up the steep rough road to Omarama Saddle (1260m / 4134ft), battling into a rather unpleasant southerly front. With our field of view narrowly focussed by the rain it didn’t seem to take too long before the brakes were on for the even rougher descent to Top Hut. It was more sheltered from the storm in the upper Manuherikia Valley, and realising that the river wasn’t up as much as feared, we ploughed on. It was a super slippery ride, with approximately 20 river crossings to wash the mud off us and the bikes. The road briefly turned to the worst kind of mud—incredibly sticky peanut butter—stopping us in our tracks until a suitable tool could be found to scrape enough off to move on. The day ended with a friendly welcome in Oturehua— many thanks to the locals at the Railway Hotel, Gilchrist's Store (owned by Debbie’s mother’s cousin!) and Crows Nest Accommodation for looking after riders as they passed through at various times during the event. They even have an apple tree on the main street!