New Zealand cycle trek, Chapter 10: Riders find themselves up Kaka Creek

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 28, 2016 07:25

Bateman’s Blog

Makarora (Pop. Small, Elev. 980) to Wanaka (Pop. 7,390, Elev. 950 feet)

Distance: 40 miles

Elev. loss: 30 feet

 I went into our motel bathroom and inventoried the usual stuff – soap, shampoo, conditioner, earplugs.


 Yes, I wondered the same thing when I saw those plugs next to the sink at Base Wanaka, our Tuesday night accommodation. But my priorities – as they always are after a day of cycling – were getting a shower and something to eat. So I quickly forgot about the earplugs.

But even before we checked into Base, I had noticed that Wanaka (pronounced WAN-aka) was different from the sleepy villages we had stayed in since pedaling out of Christchurch more than a week ago.

Its population is nearly 7,500, about 20 times larger than any place we have passed through so far. Not only that, but it is trendy.

Once a sheep and logging town, Wanaka has rebranded itself as an “extreme sports” mecca. Bungee jumping, hang gliding, zip lining, sky diving, kayaking, para-sailing, jet boating, off-roading and more are all on the town’s menu.

The place that once hosted New Zealand’s first sheepdog trials in 1867 has tripled in size in just a decade and now hosts hordes of thrill-seeking 20-somethings looking to scare the sense (or what sense they have left) out of themselves.

“Embrace the Fear!” blares a poster in the Base Wanaka’s elevator. It shows a shrieking young woman leaping from a plane flying at about 16,000 feet.

Which gives me a clue about those earplugs.

Think about it: After a day of death-defying adventure, how do you imagine a few thousand pumped-up young daredevils might decompress?

Try “Embrace the Beer.”  Then embrace the shots, rock ’n’ roll, rap, punk, metal, screaming DJs and runaway hormones that go with it.  Until 2 am. In a thin-walled, subway-crowded club only 15 yards from our room here at Base Wanaka – which just happens to be packed with adrenaline junkies from around the world.

We don’t stand a chance against its high-decibel assault. We shut the windows, take sleeping pills, ram in those earplugs and pull pillows tight over our heads. But sleep doesn’t come until after closing time – not great prep for climbing the Crown Range the next morning.

But it is a lesson in reserving a room from 8,000 miles away: First ask if it comes with earplugs. If it does, dump it and instead check into a quiet place at least 10 miles away.

In Wanaka’s defense, however, it has a beautiful lakefront setting, a great Indian restaurant and an ice-cream parlor that serves thick, American-style milkshakes that are very hard to find in New Zealand.

Not only that, but today’s ride from Makarora is beautiful. Just like yesterday and the day before.

“Another day in paradise,” Ben and I joke, like jaded assembly-line workers putting together an endless procession of Ford Fusions in Detroit.

Yet there we are, riding our bikes in perfect weather along the shore of Lake Wanaka. Next we climb a ridge and settle in for a ride along Hawea Lake, equally spectacular. At lunch, we crest the day’s steepest divide, stopping at a lookout from high above Hawea.

Finally comes a long glide into Wanaka.

Among a string of alpine lakes flanking New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Wanaka and Hawea are big, blue and inviting. Yet we see no Jet Skis, Wave Runners, ski boats, speedboats, party boats or houseboats. The two lakes seem eerily quiet.

Just one more shift at the office for us?  Not exactly, but Ben’s photos will have to tell that story.

I’ve already spent more than 500 words railing like a get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon about earplugs, loud music, 20-somethings and Wanaka’s general lack of consideration for geezers on bikes.

So I think you’ve heard quite enough out of me for today.

Kiwi Notes            crikey-creek-sign

 “If you run out of water biking in New Zealand, would you fill your bottles from a creek?”

That was my question to Ben after a long afternoon’s ride that nearly depleted our supplies.

This is no trifling matter. Water is lifeblood for cyclists, and on hot days and during steep climbs, it disappears quickly. Without it, you can overheat, cramp up and even risk heat stroke.

Usually, there’s a town or shop every 20 miles or so, but on occasion we bike many hours without seeing one. So it could come down to carrying extra water bottles with us (not light), knocking on a sheep farmer’s door or, easiest, dipping our bottles into a creek.

The creeks we cross all tumble down from upper reaches of the Southern Alps and look cool, clean and delicious. They are tempting to be sure. But are they safe? Or teeming with bacteria or possum poison?

“You mean any random creek?” asks Ben, setting me up.

‘No, I mean Random Creek itself,” I rejoin. “And you really can’t get more random than that.”

Ben gave me a look.

Typically, he listens to podcasts on politics, history or economics while riding. Thus he often doesn’t notice creek signs, which New Zealand’s Caltrans counterpart puts at every bridge and culvert.

Obviously he missed Random Creek. But if forced to choose between Random Creek and, say, Clear Creek, we agree, you go with Clear.

But we never crossed a Clear Creek in our South Island travels. Which left these options:

Crikey Creek: Crikey! If Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin drank out of it, we might. But wait a minute: Wasn’t Irwin the guy who was killed by a stingray? Who knows what critters might lurk in Crikey Creek?

kaka-creek-for-chapter-10Snapshot Creek:  Sure, I took its photo (and I probably wasn’t the first). But a snapshot doesn’t mean it’s clean.

Stew Creek: Stuff might be floating in it., and I don’t mean carrots or lamb. No thanks.

Dismal Creek: Not exactly inviting. I’d pick Mildly Depressed Creek first, but we never crossed it.

Dizzy Creek: I quit drinking in back 1998. Would a sip from this creek shake my resolve?

Roaring Swine Creek: OK, a pig drank out of this creek and commenced to roar. I think we’ll pass.

Chink Creek: If you drink from a politically incorrect creek, can you still vote for Bernie?

Gout Creek: Believe me, I’d pick Common Cold Creek or Headache Creek over this one.

Kaka Creek: Yes, “kaka” is the Maori (native New Zealander) word for parrot. But that doesn’t mean you want to be up it without a paddle. Or, certainly,  drink from it.

The Windbag: This is perhaps the most fascinating creek name we came across, but I couldn’t find its origins.  Nor could I shake the feeling that drinking from it might make you write incredibly long blog entries on highly inconsequential stuff.

But, evidence above notwithstanding, I never had a sip.

Read past chapters, and check back for updates in the coming days, at Bateman’s Blog.



Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 28, 2016 07:25
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1 Comment

  1. Wells February 29, 13:23

    This is hysterical..I love it!!

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