It is difficult to overstate how empty South Island is. Imagine a country the size of England with a population just one fiftieth the size. Even Scotland, which we think of as sparsely populated, has five times as many people. To make matters worse, one third of all South Islanders live in Christchurch (after all with so much space where else would you live but in an area of major seismic activity?).
Of course much of the land is covered with pesky mountains (actually almost 70 percent) and the result is a geography with ‘major’ towns 50-100 miles or more apart and with populations of just a few thousand.
All this is my way of saying that I rode through an awful lot of nothing again today.
Last night’s hostel was very lovely and I had a good meal and watched The Departed on TV. While chatting with two Merican cyclists I discovered that they had met Frank on the Picton ferry – a weird connection between him and I. Frank, by the way, spent yesterday getting his frame welded but is so far south he could walk to Bluff if necessary.
Today I got further than I had planned thanks to slightlylesshillythanusual terrain and vaguely neutral winds. I passed through Greymouth at lunchtime and pressed on for a further 40 miles to Ross from where I write this. It is funny (to me, not you obviously) how the daily song title reveals itself to me. I had come up with several before arriving in Ross and suddenly it was decided. All day I have been passing the sites of old gold rush towns, long gone apart from a tourist sign. Well Ross is the gold town that refused to die. There are a handful of very old houses and the wonderful Empire Hotel – like something from the Wild West. To make the experience truly authentic there is a motorcycle club staying here – like a modern day outlaw gang hitting town.
I am in a ‘cabin’ out the back. Cabins can range from quite fancy to ‘shed with a bunk bed’ – mine is definitely at the shed end of the spectrum. As you will see from the photo my neighbours have all tethered their horses outside. Still for 10 quid what’s not to like?
Tomorrow I must get to Franz Josef Glacier, a day of steady climbing including the worryingly named Mt Hercules and about 70 miles to cover. I can see the peaks on the road ahead and today they are dark and foreboding.
It seems that the hotel is offering a $20 eat all you can buffet so guess where I am heading. Hopefully I can eat and get back to my shed before the bikers kick-off.
PS I have just realised that in along list of civic amenities that Ross lacks a mobile phone signal features highly. No idea when this entry will eventually get posted.