Zen On Dirt

Old Woman Hut via Nevis Road: Proving the locals wrong

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The women in the cafe had laughed at us.

‘You’re trying to get where tonight?’

‘Old Woman Hut.’

‘You’ll never make it! It’s too far, and it’s too hot out today, and those river crossings can be chest deep!’

Lucky for us, 74 km on roads is semi-reasonable, even if there’s heaps of climbing, we’re from the desert and like the heat, and it hasn’t rained hard in days, so we were feeling pretty good about the river crossings. Plus, we’d just had the best night of sleep that we’ve had in NZ. We were ready!

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One would think that with a big day ahead of us, we’d get up early and get moving. One would be wrong. Prying ourselves out of that bed in the morning was the hardest thing we had to do all day.

Then a leisurely breakfast and a pedal over to the cafe to replace the 80% of our chocolate supply that we’d eaten the night before. And also to eat some pies. It’s been a little while since we’ve had pies.

10:15 we were rolling. There’s nothing romantic about alpine starts.

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We had about 19km of NZ Cycle trail to roll to Garston before we’d diverge from the groomed and head into the mountains over the Ben Nevis Road. The goal was the hut, which was 60+ km away with a 3,000 ft climb, then drop, then 1,700 ft climb, then drop, then an 800ft climb. (We’ve adopted km for distance, but we can’t seem to shake using feet to measure altitude) Somewhere in there would be some river crossings.

Garston was a quick jaunt down the trail. Long enough to digest the two cups of coffee and make the public restrooms a welcome sight.

Then the climbing started for real.

It probably would have hurt worse it it weren’t for the massive views looking behind us.

And the road was actually reasonably graded…by New Zealand standards at least. It was still steep.

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We made a quick stop at the historic ski hut. We’d pondered trying to get there last night, but neither of us were feeling a massive climb in our legs when we’d rolled into Athol. The views would have been nice, but the beds not quite as comfortable.

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From there, we rolled along the ridge for a while before dropping into the Nevis River valley. None of the river crossings were chest deep, in fact, they were all rideable (although our chains definitely needed lubing when we were done), but there were 21 of them, some of them more adventurous than others. We could see how after big rains or during the spring melt out, the rivers could rage, but today, it was downright pleasant.

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There was some more pedaling to the base of the next climb, and then some steep-ass uphill climbing away from the river.

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The correct way to measure distance, pub to pub.

The landscape was stunning though. Open grasslands dotted with giant black boulders of various shapes and sizes. Behind us, the Remarkable Mountains came into view, separating us from Queenstown. The sun stayed strong (and lovely), the wind reasonable, the the roads just pedalable.

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Up and up and up, first to a little saddle, and then down a lesser used two track where suddenly we started seeing tire tracks. One, two, five, seven? Based on their lack of wobbling on the steep sections, we deduced that they were going the opposite direction from us. But there were so many…

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When we finally got to the hut (perched high in the hills at 4,600 feet) we discovered why.

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Yes. Heli fat biking is a thing here. We had to laugh.

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It was only 7pm and we’d done what the women at the cafe had deemed impossible. I have to say, we’re pretty proud of ourselves. It was a darn good day of cyclo touring.

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