The wild west: eaten alive

Time to go see the west coast, known for its rain and the many sandflies. To get there from Wanaka we have to go over the Haast pass, which actually is not a very high pass and very doable from the east side. We follow the bike trails along Lake Wanaka and the Hawea river up to Hawea Lake. While stopping for lunch we meet with Marc and Katharina, 2 cyclists from Germany who are following more or less the same route as we do and who we will come to see quite often along the westcoast. When we ride along Lake Hawea it seems as if suddenly someone has pushed a button to turn on the wind. Just like that, strong gusty winds. At the campsite the owner assures us that there was really no wind that day, just a breeze. Uhuh. From the Haast pass (with no lookout) we ride down through green rainforest along a clear blue water river and unexpectedly the glaciers appear at the horizon! From Haast northwards there are not that many facilities and even in Haast the shop has only limited supplies. We are happy to hear that there is a cafe down the road 60 km from Haast. Typically a meeting point for hungry and thirsty cyclists as both we, Marc and Katharina, and now also 2 Austrian cyclists (Stefan and Alexandra) stop there. That evening the 6 of us fill the campsite (with only 3 spots for tents), while later in Hari Hari we hide together from the sandflies in the campsite’s cosy kitchen. In between we pass the glaciers of Fox and Franz Jozef. As an early birthday present for Ivar we go for a helicopter ride and land on the glacier. Amazing ride and way too short! In the village of Franz Jozef it is much busier where you can constantly hear the helicopters coming and going, one does not want to live there.
The road along the westcoast up to Ross goes mainly through rainforest and only every now and then you see the Tasman Sea. From Ross we take another cycle trail, the westcoast wilderness trail, that goes inlands from Hokitika to Cowboy Paradise and back to the coast to Greymouth. The trail itself is beautiful, a small trail right through green bushes and rainforest. Winding, zigzagging, up and down, and every now and then it opens up allowing for great views. We just love it.
The weather unfortunately has become a bit unpredictable and we face occasional (heavy) showers and even a thunderstorm. We don’t use our tent for a couple of days, but go cycling anyway and shelter whenever the sky turns dark. With the northern (and later western) wind and the Tasman Sea on our side we can see each shower coming. The stormy weather makes for good pancake rocks and blowholes watching though. The power of water! It could even be better as you actually need to be there at high tide to see the blowholes come to life.
In Westport we meet up with Mathijs and Petra, 2 friends from NL, who are also enjoying their holidays in NZ. Good times! We spend an afternoon underworld rafting, i.e. walking in a wetsuit with a big inflated tube through an extensive cave with beautiful salt formations, floating on that tube in the dark admiring thousands of glowworms followed by rafting of the river leaving the cave. Awesome.
The westcoast has treated us well. Yes, there are sandflies, yes we got eaten alive, and yes we did have some rain. But we did have the wind in our backs most of the days which allowed us to cycle a lot of kilometers while not being exhausted in the evening. From Wanaka to Westport it took us only 10 days, even with the not so nice weather from Hokitika to Westport.
Next destination is the Abel Tasman park, before we take the ferry to the North Island. As the weather is ok again, that should be an easy ride.