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Speed of Sound

07 June 2022

Sounds to Sounds
Meretoto Ship Cove to Piopiotahi Milford Sound

Words: Cherie Rusbatch
Photos: Cherie Rusbatch, Katie Rusbatch & Jonathan Kennett

Sounds to Sounds is the latest Kennett Bros cycle touring route - a Te Waipounamu South Island version of Kōpiko Aotearoa. It sets off from Meretoto Ship Cove in the Tōtaranui Queen Charlotte Sound and finishes roughly 1500km later at Piopiotahi Milford Sound. Luckily my sister Katie and I were allocated two of the 120 coveted spots on the inaugural 2022 bikepacking brevet.

There are lots of ways to approach a brevet. We decided to aim rather than train for a slow and steady 100km per day. It is always a bonus to take the weather with you. It sure was a grovel on the one day the gods didn’t play ball. We rode the bikes we had, shortish travel 29ers. Brilliant on the techie rough stuff and comfy on the Ngā Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail. On the road sections, the mind went to that place where you thought it would be a whole lot easier on a hard tail.

Sunrise boat trip to Meretoto Ship Cove.

It was an early morning boat trip to the start at Meretoto Ship Cove. Jonathan Kennett saw us off with a karakia and the journey began. Once over the first hill and settled on the deck at Furneaux Lodge with coffee and cake, it was quite the realisation that we were only 15km into a 1500km journey. A long way to go but no hardship when travelling through our beautiful country.

... and so it begins.

....and so it continues. Seaside latte and slice at Furneaux Lodge.

A few hours later pizza at The Portage in the sun fuelled us to the end of the Queen Charlotte Track, where the Green Caravan Cafe was watching the spot trackers closely and stayed open into the evening. Hot chocolate boosted us to the Havelock Garden Motel for the night.

Most excellent public amenities at the end of the QCT.

Riding through wine country on day two with no time allocated to wine tasting was regretful, but made up for by Hayley from Mt Gladstone Station who pedalled down the track to welcome us at dusk. And then fed and watered us with legendary rural hospitality.

Wine, or at least vineyards, and canine companionship en route up the Awatere Valley. 

Day three and no tent meant no sleepover in the Molesworth. A leisurely yarn with the farmers before a longish day made for a late finish. The Jollies Pass descent to Hanmer Springs in the dark was exciting for us and our dot watchers. Was a relief to find the pub still open on our arrival in town.

Gazing back down the Awatere from the start of the Molesworth.

After three big days of climbing and finishing in the dark (that could have easily been avoided by lurching out of bed earlier and skipping the pre ride coffee ritual) the inland route from Hanmer Springs to MacDonald Downs via the Pyramid Valley was more chilled. A long morning tea with the locals in Amberley set us up nicely for day five, meeting the whanau to pedal into Christchurch along the new and rather magnificent 'cycle superhighway'. 

Deluxe 'cycle super highway' with the Rusbatch extended whanau into Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Katie, Naledi and me in front of the Christchurch Cathedral ruins.

Then followed another two days of spinning the legs. Day six into the infamous Canterbury nor’wester and day seven a wet ride to the Geraldine Top 10 Holiday Park, and the best shower of the trip.

Our gang on Mackenzie Pass.

'Essential' steak and chups in Tekapo.

We hit the hills again on day eight. It was also the halfway milestone. Phil Brownie appeared as a trail angel and plied us with water and snacks. We celebrated International Women’s Day with the ride over Mackenzie Pass to Tekapo. 

Aoraki, Pukaki and me. Photo: Jonathan Kennett

Aoraki watched over us on day nine as we cruised the Alps 2 Ocean. After overnighting at Ohau Lodge and fortifying ourselves with fruit cake at the Wrinkly Ram in Omarama, we presented ourselves at the bottom of the daunting Omarama Saddle climb. This was day ten. It was hot, the chat zone was fully engaged the whole way up, and the numerous river crossings of the West Manuherikia River a perfect cool down.

Ellen, Catherine, Katie, Bronnie & Jonathan resting on the push over Omarama Saddle.

Katie corralling the troops.

After an overnight stopover at the Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans, a day eleven tailwind propelled us along the Otago Central Rail Trail to Clyde for a luxurious reset at Olivers.

Reaping the hard earned DH off Duffers Saddle.

We strived to make day twelve as difficult as possible. First the magnificent Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail followed by a long lunch at the Black Rabbit in Bannockburn. Then a long afternoon riding up and over Duffers Saddle and through the Nevis, refusing all offers of accommodation. In the evening we occupied ourselves with riding up and out of the Nevis, and down to Garston in the dark, always a thrill.

Garston's world-famous-in-NZ Coffee Bomb caravan.

With the sniff of the finish we ambled along the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail via the Mossburn Railway Hotel, rolling into Te Anau in time for the cinema.

Almost The Last Supper in Te Anau.

Day fifteen dawned bright. The cycle into Piopiotahi Milford Sound was peaceful and beautiful. We felt grateful to be on our bikes on our nation's most famous road at its quietest.

Loads of people have asked me if I’d recommend the Kōpiko, which Katie and I rode in 2020, or the Sounds to Sounds. I think the events deliver different things to different people. As a South Islander, the Kōpiko journey is less familiar to me, and I loved that aspect of it. The Sounds to Sounds had me often revisiting familiar country. When there was no chat to be had, I was kept fully occupied trying to remember what year it was, who I was with, and how many times I’d been this way before. I didn't find one harder or easier than the other, but I know some folk who did!

The road to Milford.

Due to the lack of training and our holiday approach to the Sounds to Sounds Katie and I imagined we’d be dropped by the rest of the field on the first hill. We were stoked to find a delicious bunch of folk that were on a similar 100km a day regime to us. Thank you Catherine & Ellen, Bronwyn & Jonathan, Justine & Duncan, Bart & Sarah and Ana & George. Katie and I loved the ride because of you.

Loads of mates and family popped out of the bushes to say hi which always made our day. Big ups to Ground Effect for letting me have time off the mahi to ride my bike for 15 days during the ‘all hands on deck’ phase of the pandemic.

And a massive thank you to the Kennett Bros for another excellent journey. There is a guide book coming, Bronnie spent a lot of time editing it whilst stoking the tandem.