The Takaka hill is already a challenge to an inexperienced cyclist - so why not attempt it during a severe national weather warning?
|Beyond Farewell Spit, the West Coast weather finally begins to advance...|
As much as I tried hard not to obsess about the weather on this much-looked-forward-to holiday, from the moment I looked at the very unpromising long-term forecast the weekend prior, I just couldn't help it.
It's no news that New Zealand has enjoyed a spectacular summer. Clouds seem to migrate elsewhere at Christmas-time and have remained almost unglimpsed for over two months. Although this makes me very happy it's tempered by the fact that that my neighbours are farmers, and drought is a very serious matter for them. To a much-lesser extent for us also, as keeping our many trees alive has proved a challenge in these conditions.
But being intrinsically selfish, the promise of almost the first rain all year for our week in Collingwood did result in some pouting. The region badly needs it, I tried to tell myself, while really not relishing days spent inside gloomily observing my favourite place on earth rendered in sad, soggy shades of grey.
|The weather differed from what we'd been led to expect.|
However, as the photographs I've published show, this was not to be the case. By a massive stroke of luck which my whining hardly deserved, the wet weather seemed to keep moving back a day, until finally bottle-necking on Saturday, 7 March. This was the day that I was to leave and cycle the 85km to Motueka, so I reasoned that if I left early enough I could avoid the storm, Golden Bay would finally get its much-needed water, and everyone would be happy.
|The time had arrived for these spindly legs to do some work...|
On the road around 6.20 am, I was enjoying the dark quiet and smug in the fact that there wasn't a rain drop to be felt. I stopped for a light breakfast in Takaka, keen continue not repeating my mistakes of the last time I did this cycle trip (too late a start on too hot a day - and too big a breakfast). While I sipped my coffee the first wave of rain lashed the street outside, but was gone by the time I pedalled out of town.
The weather system was coming from the north-west, which meant that I actually had a tail wind and was making great time, almost reaching the base of the hill before the storm finally caught me. I could see the horizontal rain sleeting across the paddocks on my left side as if rushing to cut me off, before hitting me like the wall of water it was.
Bike, panniers and rider were instantly saturated. I put on another layer but already the water had seeped through to my skin. There was suddenly no sensation of distinction between my body, clothes and the air - I was an insignificant drop in the airborne ocean. My only saving grace was that this was a warm front, and the drenched air which pushed me along was in the cosy mid-to-late twenties degree range.
My legs protested as the road began to slant upwards, but I think the weather actually took my mind off the ascent. In fact, if it weren't for the wind and stinging rain on a couple of upper corners blowing me out into the middle of the road, I might have made the climb without a single stop (unlike last time when the hot sun was relentless and energy-sapping).
All too soon I was whizzing down the other side of 791m summit, cheated of a final view back across my beloved Golden Bay - actually, cheated of a view of anything beyond a few metres.
|Looking back from the start of the hill - Golden Bay is full of |
I say 'whizzing' but I actually had to ride the brakes all the way down the hill. I was so completely waterlogged that the cold rushing air of a full-speed descent would have turned me into a popsicle by the time I reached the bottom.
Wrenching off my all my clothes and trying to find something dry to put on in a MacDonalds toilet cubicle brought my adventure to a distinctly unglamorous close, but the simple pleasures of dry underwear are never to be underestimated.
Leaving Motueka I tried to dry out my cellphone, and couldn't help but notice with some amusement that the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to come out.
|The rainfall at the end of the first week of March saw flooding around central New Zealand, |
and people kayaking down the streets of Greymouth on the South Island west coast.