Day 17: from Wanaka to Queenstown and our highest climb.
Our guidebook provided two routes to get to Queenstown from Wanaka. Route A: 112 km via SH6 or route B: 75km through the Crown Range. Aside from being the shorter way, route B’s elevation profile made it more appealing:
I was a little intimidated but Aaron reminded me that the first 30kms or so would be a meager 1% grade and that 750m was less than some of our combined climbs in a day, and of Mount Seymour’s 1000-some metres in 13kms (which wasn’t so bad…on an unloaded bike).
So we set off into the Cadrona Valley, where the activity of choice seemed to be horseback riding.
Only a few days from the “Wet (West) Coast”, the dryness and heat was quite a drastic change but the steady gradually climb was barely perceptible.
It was so gradual that, as the distance on my bike computer came closer to our halfway mark, I started to get anxious about “a final climb”. It was difficult to tell from the small elevation chart, but it looked like the last stretch before the top would be steeper.
And indeed, in the last few kilometres, all my hill-climbing skills developed thus far were put to shame. I panted, I stopped, I guzzled water, I pushed my bike up a considerably steep stretch, I tried to photograph the steepness but it’s one of those things quite difficult to capture. My attempt:
But we made it. Up to the “highest sealed road in New Zealand”.
And the view was spectacular. Oh it would be a shame to climb this on a cloudy day.
Our victory shot. The road in the background would be our way down. The drop on the left-hand side and lack of railing had me a bit frightened.
Especially when we turned round the bend at high downhill speed and another spectacular view distraction me from paying attention to the road and traffic.
Luckily (unluckily?), the descent was short, ending with an amazing section of switchbacks winding us down from the ridge. Oddly, approaching the bottom there were signs saying “Test your brakes now!!” but no obvious detours or other solution in the event that they didn’t work.
Despite the challenging final bit of ascent and quite an intense descent, it was a pretty good climbing experience with a most satisfying summit. I can’t speak for the other route between Wanaka and Queenstown, but I can definitely recommend the shorter one