The Queen Charlotte Track (or QCT for short) is a 4 to 5 day walk at the northern end of the the South Island of New Zealand. It is stupendously well built and managed track that is a cool collaboration between landowners and public bodies. The track is mainly well built, wide fire trail that makes for very easy walking that is not challenging except for the grade of some of the hills.
The walk is largely along the ridge lines that divide Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound. In good weather is it ludicrously beautifully, in bad weather the winds and rain on the ridges can be intense. On my trip I was lucky to have a wide range of weather including persistent rain for a few days, beautiful warm sunshine, and sunsets worth staying up until 10pm to see.
I am not going to write much about this trip because to be honest the walk isn’t one worth writing all that much about. There are views, hills, bays and sounds etc. There are fancy bars and resorts, campsites and the odd bench. Basically it is a super long walk along headland – but that is not to say that it isn’t worth it. It is great. So, instead of reading have a look at some photos.
What a year… I mean really… What a year!
There hasn’t been anything that has happened this year that I really expected, or planned to happen when I was thinking about what 2015 was going to hold in store. It has been a year of epic changes in life and circumstances. They’ve been almost entirely self instigated, and generally speaking I didn’t really consider the consequences of the decisions and actions I have made in advance which may in hindsight have been a mistake but that is what happens sometimes I guess.
Looking briefly ahead it seems as though 2016 may have to be a more responsible and considered year, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be lots of adventures and good times so I think I will be able to manage this. I certainly hope I will be able to.
So onto the potted summary of 2015…
To make it easier I have added a favourite photo (not the best but my favourite) from each month, and have linked each photo to a blog post I didn’t dislike.
January to March
I pretended to have a normal life, with a job, a house, a girlfriend and very occasionally a social life.
I went for some rides, a few short walks, snorkeled and did quite a few canyons. Oh and I went to Fiji!
January – a very wet walk on Middle Head
March – Fiji and cyclones
April to May
I stopped pretending to have a normal life, planned to go on an adventure and spent a fair bit of time in Western Australia. Continue reading
So after 4 months on the road it seems that it is now less than four weeks until I go home. I am really not sure how it has passed so quickly -especially given how long some stretches of the trip have seemed. Still it will soon be time to pack up the bike and confront whatever life throws at me when I get back to Sydney and the dreaded “next”.
For the past few days I have been massively bludging in Basel at my friends house which they have super generously let me stay in, so I have been considering two things:
– the rest of my ride to Vienna; and
– how I will feel getting back
The rest of the ride is probably going to be very weather dependent as I had planned on going straight to St Morit by train but there is a cold front coming through this weekend so being up high doesn’t seem like a good plan. So now I am going to revert to Plan A and head east until it looks like there will be a break in the weather and then head to St Moritz and the River Inn.
As far as what I’ll think about getting home that is a completely unknown quantity. For the past month I have been at a point where I knew I could accept going home, but going to the alps challenged that view substantially! I am itching to get riding again so despite my legs still feeling shite after descending too much mountain I am going to get going tomorrow. What I will do when I get home and the solution to everything isn’t just “ride” or “ride later” I am not really sure. That said there are a lot of day rides and weekend tours to be done so perhaps I will maintain some level of activity this time….
I am also a little concerned about post ride depression, of which a similar condition is pretty well documented for hikers (discussed well here). When I cycled around Tasmania for a month I decided to quit my job in Sydney and move to Brisbane and then Alice Springs which possibly wasn’t the expected outcome of a holiday. This time I have already quit a job, moved out of a house and ended a relationship so I am not sure I am creative enough to make other big changes but it does mean getting back to Sydney (or my parents place) with a clean slate and no plan. Some things not to think about right now!
So anyway after a little rant that hasn’t really gone anywhere expect to give an idea of a state of mind it is now onwards for another three and a bit weeks of riding to get to Vienna! There will be mountains, rivers, fields, sunshine, rain and probably snow – so that is enough to think about for now.
Thanks for checking in!
(Note: This is a continuation from day 1, not that you’ll notice any continuity)
Day two woke with rustles and shouts from the hut next door about missing breakfast! After a super chilled night in the hut with a group of exchange students playing “the verevolf game” and drinking beers 7:30am really didn’t seem reasonable for a last call for breakfast, but it did mean we could all be up and have eaten before the sun rose about the Jungfrau. In the end there was even enough time for three coffees to find off the cold!
I am without word as to how cool the sunrise was, but to compensate here are some of the 60 photos I took!
After sunrise I packed and departed for what would turn out to be an epically long day. I am yet to check my gps but I am pretty certain that over 24km I did about 600vm ascent and 2000vm descent which was ludicrously hard on my legs compared to the ascent.
Anyway from the hut it was down into the clouds for an hour or two before the sun burnt them away. My route took me down to the Sous river and then back up to a track below the Soushorn and Chometboden on the way to Murren.
From here it was properly down, way more than my legs could handle with a 17kg pack as cycling really doesn’t help with down hill fitness! Eventually after lots of breaks and futile stretching I made it Stechelberg and I was in the famous Jungfrau valley full of paragliders and base jumpers as well as more spectacular views.
I camped here overnight and discovered that using my tent without the inner in high condensation conditions is a recipe for being dripped on all night, but thank god for water resistant fabrics on sleeping bags! Pulling the sleeping back out in the morning all of the water immediately turned to ice so i guess it had been cold….
The highlight of my very short day 3 would have to be watching four base jumpers do there thing and then walking past them five minutes later to hear them discussing how they needed to do their tax. Turns out any crazy adventure can become vaguely normal doesn’t it!
Ah the mountains. I thought I liked mountains based on my very limited experience from Tasmania, Scotland and Iceland; but after a few days in the Swiss Alps I think I have fallen in love with them.
From my base here in Basel my hosts Toby and Lucienne gave me a travel pack in which I stuffed a whole lot of gear into and so off I set with no real clue. Luckily my hosts had told me to head towards Interlaken, and the visitors centre had a topo map for sale with a few basic comments like “those are the mountains” and “the clouds are up to 1800”. So I was on my way!
My initial route was thoroughly unthought out as I took the “which path is closest to me” option and found myself climbing what I thought was a steep hill at the town. Now at this stage I was still below the cloud level but I could see the dense fog like clouds not far above my head. After a brief stroll the hills started in earnest. My lack of planning meant that I had found myself on a track that would take me from the lake at 570m towards a lake at 2000m. To add to the fun the map was at a scale of 1:60000 which I am not particularly good with so as I climbed and the route got steeper and steeper, and I climbed into the clouds, I began to realise this might not be a leisurely stroll I was getting into.
Up and up I sweated my way through the clouds which were thick and wet such that I could often only see 50m and at one point through a large grass area was a little concerning when my track disappeared. However finding the track again and ditching my shirt because it was just too hot I kept climbing and slowly the clouds started to break and the promise of blue skies became a real prospect.
Eventually I broke through into the sunshine and was rewarded with bright clear skies as I found myself above the tree line.
Realising my route was to take me across a scree slope on the cold northern side of the mountain I decided to push on and cross the route in case the path iced up at all overnight (the forecast was for -2). The views crossing this path were spectacular, and the reward on getting to the other end was my first view of the Eiger, the Matterhorn and the Swiss Alps proper.
Having crossed the shale slopes also meant I had the option of staying in the Lobhornhutte west of Sulwald.
Well it has been a pretty spectacular week riding up Basel slowly meandering my way between historic cities, vineyards, old villages, great campsites and three countries.
Not long after my last post I arrived in the small wine village of Sankt Martin in Germany which is nestled into a valley surrounded by forests of pine and chestnuts. Every building in the village is heavily involved in producing or consuming wine, typically both, and I was luck enough to meet a new friend Ingrid at the campsite my Garmin choose for me. A native german, but with a mixed accent mostly consisting of Irish and Canadian twangs we spent a few days hanging out and chatting about adventures. As with so many long term travelers (in this case through guiding) Ingrid seemed to be able to recall visits to every place I have been to on this trip which only served to provide inspiration to see some of the many things I have missed!
From Sankt Martin it was time to head south, and the French Alsace wine region beckoned with its beautifully marked cycle routes twisting through the freshly harvested vines that became more golden and autumnal as I headed further south. These trails and flat roads were to dominate the rest of the week with great little interludes to such beautiful cities as Strasbourg and Colmar. I have a feeling I have been particularly lucky with the sunny weather and enough cloud to stop me getting too sun burnt over the past week.
Last night I finally arrived in Basel which is a pretty spectacular city full of old buildings, bustling streets all situated on a magnificent cliff lined bend in the Rhine. Switzerland is phenomenally expensive, but Basel is so close to France and Germany that tomorrow morning I’ll ride over the border to do a big grocery shop and then I’ll be catching a train somewhere to go hiking!
I have been avoiding writing this post for a few months because everyone writes one, and I have been super happy with my gear (a few part failures excepted) that it seemed like a redundant activity,however as I leave summer (ish) touring behind it seems like a good time to do this. Beware it will be edited!
Tent: Exped Venus 2 Extreme
I bought this tent for the trip on yhe basis it could be free standing if need be, was four season but still fairly light. So far everything has been great. I broke a tent pole in the first week of touring through laziness by not making sure the new poles were fully home, and both poles are now notably bent thanks to an early autumn storm in the Icelandic Highlands that was ripping almost everyone other tent to shreds (think 6ft star pickets being ripped out of the ground while they attempted to hold down a marque). The ability to take down the inside of the tent while the shell is still standing has been a godsend and has meant i have had a dry tent inner to sleep in every night.
Sleeping Mat: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Extra Large.
In summary, I have been sleeping on a plush king single matress for the whole trip. It is comfortable, lighter than my old thermarest was and so so big! An exped schnozzle bag makes it super easy to inflate and hugging the bag is a nice comfort each night in a weird way. It is funny the little routines you get into.
Sleeping Bag: Mont Brindabella
This bag is super warm, I’ve only zipped it up fully twice. Once because it was genuinely cold,and the second time because all my clothes were damp and I wanted to wear them dry.
Handle Bar Bags: I have a conventional Ortlieb handbar bag hanging off the front of the bike which is great as always, but on this trip I have also been using an Oveja Negra top tube bag and a Bike Bag Dude chaff bag. The tt bag holds my battery cache, and the chaff bag holds a water bottle, snacks or Niew Vine depending on the day. It has really made a difference, particularly on the days with strong wind where reach down into the frame triangle is a little hairy.
Bike etc is all super normal otherwise. A Surly Bike, Ortleib panniers, Optimus stove etc etc.
Generic Thought: Mould
This trip has been wet, constantly raining or heavy dews or any number of other things and I have noticed a few items going a bit mouldy. My sleeping bag developed a small mould patch near the feet which is the bot of the bag that often has damp dirty feet plus is also stuffed into the sleeping bag first and rest up against the end of the tent so I am not at all surprised.
More surprising is that my rain coast is going mouldy whilst I wear it. It has been on and off every day of the trip, bit has been washed a few times so there you go. A little spotty but all good!
The Rhine is long. It is roughly divided into three parts, so I’ll blog each section as I ride it and as I am starting from Utrecht which is no where near the end it won’t be complete but I think the bottom 250km that I didn’t ride were probably much like the 400km I have ridden.
First let me get this out of the way. It is boring.
Now let me get onto why. Firstly it is flat. I am going to hate myself for writing this ince I get into the alps I am sure, but it is a ling hard slog riding 80+km a day on flat ground with or without a headwind. Now I am riding a decently heavy bike with silly tyres and although i hold it is the most comfortable tourung rig out there I won’t deny the rolling resistance is noticable. Also flat ground is hard work as you never get a break which is why I am having a half day today 6 days after leaving Utrecht and having covered 420km. The temptation to push on/faster has strained a few muscles I think I need to take care of for the next 7 weeks.
Next, the Rhine is industrialised. Up until Bonn the Rhine ias basically a continuous band of factories and power stations with farming on the opposite bank, then there are the boats and trains. Whilst corn fields, canals and cows are scenic and the indusyrial works make my inner engineer impressed it is a bit wearing. Also the noise is constant so bring your ear plugs, seriously!
Finally campsites on the lower Rhine are few and far between. As soon as you reach Bonn and the middle Rhine they are everywhere but until then theu can be hard to find or are often a long way from the river. This adds distance and means at the end of the day you have to navigate country lanes hoping to find a campsite that accepts tents as a lot don’t. My illusion based on other blogs of millions of options (as long as you accept the odd nudist camp site) has been dashed!
That said I don’t want to deter anyone. As a wise well travelled cyclist explaindd the reason you ride the Rhine from the mouth up is so when you do reach the middle Rhine you really appeeciate it. It is worth it people! I got to the middle Rhine and was gobsmacked and it is getting better as I go.
A week ago I arrived in continental Europe after my three months in the UK and Iceland to sunny skies and a whole lot of hope about what the next two months had in store for me.
The first weekend proved a massive success and I have been riding on a bit of a high ever since thanks to good company, four nights in a row in beds and a swim at the beach. For any non-aussies reading this post it is easy to under estimate just how important salt water and swimming is to the average Australian, and I am certainly no exception so the swim did me a world of good.
Anyway after that great weekend the weather set in and it has been raining ever since. I have been wearing my full rain gear (helmet cover, jacket, pants, overshoes, GTX shoes) the entire time and I am still getting wet occasionally. Yesterday the weather was so bad that on my way to Thomas’ house I had to stop twice to poor the water out of my shoes.
I am now in Utrecht staying with Thomas the slightly crazy dutchman who I met while cycling in Tasmania, and who stayed with me in Sydney and Brisbane as he rode around the country. In the next few days I will finish the replacement of my brake pads, chain and front chain ring and then I am off to finish this little tour of mine with a 1600km slog through to Vienna along the Rhine and Danube (if I don’t change my plans).
For now though here are some stats on my trip so far.
Distance: 3,113.26 km
Time: 216:47:08 h:m:s
Elevation Gain: 30,991 m
Avg Speed: 14.4 km/h