From Hanmer Springs, we planned to ascend to New Zealand’s longest dirt road, the historic Awatere River Road, also known as Acheron Road or Molesworth Road. This road, open only in the summer months, stretches 128 miles from Hanmer Springs to Blenheim through remote and forbidding landscape.
To climb up to the road, we had two choices: power line trail or dirt road. We chose the power line trail, which might have been wrong. We hit some of the steepest grades of the route along this loose, rocky path, at times barely able to push our bikes upward.
We reached the top, finally, and the road unfurled before us. Riding alongside the Awatere River under a relentless sun, we only found shelter from the heat at the Acheron Accommodation House, where travelers would stop along this road in the late 1800s, and under a lone tree, where we stopped for lunch. Up and over Ward’s Pass we went, over the highest road in New Zealand.
We made it to Cob Cottage exhausted, sun-weary and dust-covered. A small waterfall-fed pool near the campsite rewarded us with a refreshing cool water to cleanse off the dust from the road. We hiked up a nearby hill after dinner to take in a beautiful sunset turning the Inland Kaikoura mountain range shades of orange and pink. Tapuae-o-Uenuku, the highest mountain outside of the New Zealand Alps, towered in the distance.
The next morning was spent rolling through green stands of trees surrounded by jagged mountains. However, despite a net elevation loss from Cob Cottage, the rest of the Awatere River Road was slow going. The descents were steep and felt so short, while the climbs, equally steep, felt long.
Unable to find potable water among the cattle pastures, we ran out. The dust covering our skin and clothes, its taste in our dry mouths, we headed directly into a headwind (perhaps an introduction to those famous winds they call the Northerlies). Quenching what we could with apples from roadside trees, we made our way over Taylor’s Pass Road and wound our way into Blenheim.