Wānaka to Fox Glacier
If you travel up the West Coast of the South Island (arguably an easier gradient than travelling down it), it pays to check prevailing winds. With a good southerly behind you and a few fine days, this trip can be idyllic. Given headwinds and foul weather it turns into a gruelling trial of grimly endured kilometres between misty, isolated townships.
It pays to sit out a day or two in Wānaka and wait for perfect conditions. Then you will experience one of the finest cycle trips anywhere in the world. There is no doubt this is a hilly ride. Yet it rolls along beside lakes and many snow fed rivers that widen and spread as you approach the sea.
Take the first day easy and head for Makarora. There is a good camping ground here, a well equipped store and information centre. The day takes in a long lake front road alongside Lake Hawea before skirting the eastern shore of Lake Wānaka. Gorgeous country.
Day two begins with a steepish climb to the ominously named 'Gates of Haast', this is a narrow pass on a winding road through bush clad hills and over box girder bridges that cross fast running rocky streams and rivers. After the 'Gates of Haast', the road is a glorious downhill stage that will roll you eighty one kilometres of easy cycling into Haast township. Again this is wonderful country with the Haast River on your right broadening into the white sands of the West Coast.
Haast township has backpackers and a decent sized store/supermarket and pub. The campground proper is a few kilometres further on, near the information centre.
This is a long day's cycle but there are several places you can camp along the way. Lake Paringa (basic DOC camp) is fifty odd kilometres from Haast. You will also pass Jacobs River, Bruce Bay (great takeaways on the beach, including whitebait fritters in season), and Karangarua.
The contours are hilly as you pass through Knight's point, and there are three distinct and quite steep saddles. But generally the road is even from there to Fox Glacier. The road skirts both lakes and the sea and the backdrop is always mountain and distant snow. Beautiful cycling.
Fox Glacier is a well established township with camping grounds and restaurants and backpackers. This, like Haast, is a tourist town and a good base to spend a day exploring local scenic spots. Most notable is the Fox Glacier itself, a frozen river of ice a few kilometres up a side road outside the southern end of the township.
Take your camera in the evening and head down the lane from the campground to Lake Matheson, also known as 'the mirror lake' for its clear reflections of mountains and bush.