Part 5 NZ cycle – Mt Cook via Danseys Pass

We left Queenstown, and Lari, on boxing day and headed east. Lari caught the bus back to Christchurch while we continued grinding away at the pedals.

After spending up big in Queenstown (in relative terms), we did the 442 km run to Mt Cook, and for that matter the whole 815 km distance back to Christchurch on the cheap. I know, the whole trip was on the cheap, but this was next level.

Rather than opting for the fastest route to Mt Cook we took an off road detour over the Danseys Pass – and it was one of the best decisions of the trip! The riding was absolutely awesome. A smooth gravel road over a classic backcountry mountain range with barely any traffic.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! How could I forget the Central Otago Rail Trail! Another highlight of the trip. We began the rail trail at Clyde and rode it for 77km to Wedderburn, so all up we did half of the trail.

Riding the rail trail
Riding the rail trail
We celebrate making it to the highest point of the rail trail
We celebrate making it to the highest point of the rail trail

The unsealed and untrafficked trail made for enjoyable and relaxing riding, and with small country towns dotted along every 20 or 30 km, refueling was never an issue. It was really cool riding through the pitch black 200m long railway tunnels. Definitely something out of the ordinary.

Upon reaching Wedderburn we bailed off the trail and headed for nearby Naseby, a small holidaying town in the foothills of the Kakanui Range and the starting point for the Danseys Pass. A strange fact about Naseby is it has a world class curling rink, however we weren’t interested in that. We made our way for the golf course!

The Danseys, as I said before, was fantastic. We agreed the best leg of riding of the whole trip and what made it so was its sense of remoteness, yet at the same time its nearness to facilities. It was only about 70km between Naseby and Duntroon but they felt a world apart. I guess that’s what happens when the landscapes change so rapidly.

Matt rides ahead as we begin the Danseys climb
Matt rides ahead as we begin the Danseys climb
That's where we came from. 10km of twisty inclines.
That’s where we came from. 10km of twisty inclines.
Danseys
Nearing the top of the pass

From Duntroon, where we had the most satisfying meat pies, we set our sights for Kurow which was unfortunately straight into a headwind! We gave ourselves a break in Kurow and as it happened, that’s where we spent NYE.

The quiet town of Kurow from Kurow Hill
The quiet town of Kurow from Kurow Hill
Artistic haybales
Artistic hay bales

Further along the ‘Alps 2 Ocean’ cycle route we passed through Omarama and the ‘town of trees’ Twizel, which was like a cool oasis amongst its desert surrounds. The landscapes around Twizel, and for that matter, all the way to Lake Tekapo, were so barren. It really was strange riding through desert-like plains and then around the next corner, BAM – a brilliant, vibrant blue lake!

The day we rode up the one-way road from Twizel to Mt Cook was one for the memory bank. At 70 km it wasn’t that far, and sure we had the captivating Lake Pukaki beside us all day, but the headwind! The closer we got to Mt Cook the stronger the wind blew. The last 2 km into camp were horrendous! We were pedalling strong and yet our speedo’s were only reading 6 km/hr! All we could do was put our heads down and go one pedal stroke at a time.

Scenic but tough riding towards Mt Cook
Scenic but tough riding towards Mt Cook

On the other side of the coin, we were literally blown out of Mt Cook by the same winds. No joke, we didn’t pedal for the first 6 km. The winds sent us sailing along at almost 30km/hr! It was absolutely brilliant – as was Mt Cook.

We spent two nights at White Horse Hill campground (great place with Mt Sefton as a backdrop), during which time we tramped up to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. I definitely recommend this to anyone. Just take a look at the scenic factor!

Snow in summer!
Snow in summer!
Mt Cook from near Mueller Hut
Mt Cook from near Mueller Hut

After Mt Cook we longed to get back to Christchurch and relax. It had been a big effort and the end was so close. So we rode five consecutive days and took the fastest route, the number 1 highway. It was busy but there was a good 2m shoulder so it was OK.

A few days at Spencer Beach, a day catching up with Lari, and a couple more exploring Christchurch and Lyttelton, and it was all over.

55 days, 2400 km and a very rewarding first cycle tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this 5 part series. Until next time…