We set out for Wanaka at 9.30am under dark cloudy skies and drizzling rain that looked like it might soon turn into a deluge. Not another rainy day… please no! Thankfully it never materialised. The first 10km was slightly downhill and we rode that in 23 minutes, but we did not hit the 20km mark until 65 minutes, reflecting the number of steady climbs we began to encounter.
From around 5km out of Makarora Lake Wanaka appeared on our right side and we followed it south for circa 30km before the road cut left over the hill picking up the top of Lake Hawea. We were travelling down highway 6 as there were no off road options and the traffic was constant though largely considerate.
From 20 through 45 kilometres the hills got steeper and as this was our 13th straight day of riding, the lactic build up in our thighs coupled with our sore bums made the hills mentally confronting. Today I set a new team downhill speed record of 66.8km – my larger build gives me an advantage of Virginia and Tony in gathering speed on a downhill run, although Virginia broke 60km earlier in the tour. Of course flying down the other side is a wonderful reward for the hard climb but our joy is always tinged with dread that what goes down must go up again soon.
We arrived in Lake Hawea township around 1pm and stopped at a local café for lunch. 30 minutes later we were back on our bikes and pleased to be riding off road on the Hawea River Track. The locals must enjoy having a track like this that links Lake Hawea with Wanaka hugging the bank of the river most of the way. Later we crossed the swing bridge over the Clutha River and were double checking our map to ensure we took the right turn when a guy came over the bridge and we asked him if he could give us directions. He said he was a bit lost himself so while conversing over the best way to go, discussion arose over why we were out riding. His name was Bruce (from Wellington) and was in the area holidaying with his wife. An avid biker and fitness disciple by the look of him. When we told him what we were doing he exclaimed… “You're the guy I hear on the radio” and “you are the people doing the South Island Ride to raise money for Hospice. Oh you've made my day!” It was so spontaneous and funny that we should have that meeting on an off road bike track in Central Otago. Carrying his bike back up the stairs of the swing bridge he again retorted “You've made my day” followed by “I'm off to make a donation, good on you guys”.
The final few kilometres through Albert Town and round the back of Wanaka to our accommodation were arduous, not tough in terms of the gradient, simply that we were all spent physically. The rest day tomorrow in Wanaka could not have been more welcome and needed. One more obligation before we could sign off on the day. Local Member of Parliament for Waitaki, Jacqui Dean (Parliamentary Private Secretary for Tourism and Parliamentary Private Secretary for Local Government), made contact and was eager to assist our cause. She popped by grabbed a couple of photos to go with a press release she had prepared and submitted them to the local media in the hope they would get in behind the ride… thank you from all of us Jacqui for your support and efforts.
Virginia and Tony had appointments at the hotel spa for full body massages at 4.45pm and mine was for 6pm. We all needed some serious TLC by now and while they were on the massage tables I went into Wanaka to buy a couple of bottles of wine from the local wine shop. We had struggled to find a reasonable bottle of wine in the bottom half of the West Coast to be frank and we weren't being overly fussy, so it was nice to be in good Otago wine country.
Today we had broken through the thousand kilometre barrier (1,031kms to be precise) and can sense the finish line is close. A day off in Wanaka precedes our ride over the Crown Range and down into Queenstown. We have a second day off there where we hope to drum up local support for our fundraising cause. Then it will be 3 straight days of riding to get us to the finish line in Bluff. Thanks to everyone and please keep spreading the message as wide and far as you can. I will be live on Newstalk ZB at 11.15am today (Thursday) with Leighton Smith if you can tune into 1080am.