Halswell Domain

Halswell Domain
View from the Model Engineers' site in the Halswell Domain

Friday, April 27, 2012

A bike ride from Halswell

Someone suggested that I could write this post as a trial for the new Halswell community website.  I think the relevance of it to Halswell might be a bit tenuous, unless you are interested in knowing about some quiet roads west for cycling; or perhaps you might be interested in the antics of a crazy scientist who likes to fly off mountains (that’s not me, I hasten to add).  If so, read on.

My friend Michael from Dunedin is a paraglider.  He and his wife Karen are the only ones I know personally, and true to form Michael threw himself into the sport with all the energy of a freight train, persevering after shredding his glider on a gorse bush (“I could kick my butt for an hour”) and even after collapsing the glider metres off the ground and ending up in plaster.  Obviously, spending time in his company while he has these adventures is potentially entertaining, so I was quick to agree when he suggested a trip up Mt Torlesse, near Springfield, which he would then fly off (and I would watch from the safety of terra firma).

According to the original plan, he would stay with us Friday night in Halswell.  However, the plan changed during Friday: we would now meet in Springfield on Saturday morning. I shrugged and thought “might as well bike then”.

The drawbacks of my new plan weren’t that apparent until 0530.  The prelude to a perfect autumn day was a fog so thick you could lose your hands in it.  In fact, I nearly lost Quaifes Rd a few times before reaching the bit where there are a few painted lines to follow while you’re pedalling.  Quaifes is a good route to Templeton, and from there SH1 must be followed for a bit to the Cookie Time factory.  The first right after that is Kirk Rd; turn left off this near the prisons onto Newton Rd, then take Weedons Ross Rd (where the fog ended, thankfully) to West Melton.  Early on Saturday morning you will probably get there without having seen a moving car.

An alternative to Weedons-Ross Rd, which would save 8 km on the main West Coast Rd, would be Railway Rd.  However, it isn’t sealed, and by that time I was falling behind schedule, thanks to the fog.  Some grim determination on the straights to Darfield was warranted in order to claw back some time.  It is 45 km from Halswell to Darfield, which is about 1.5 hrs on a bike with a bit of gear.  Then I realised that Sheffield was 10 km further than I thought – time for some more grim determination.  I eventually rolled in to Springfield 3 minutes late after 70 km.  Michael hadn’t realised I was biking, but he said “I would have bet my salary on that”.  Damn, have I become that predictable?

Michael introduced me to his companion (and PhD student) Stefan.  It turned out that Stefan had extensive Red Cross experience.  “Some paragliders bring a film crew, but I take a paramedic.”  Clearly Michael himself was worried about the entertainment potential of his little adventure.   

The walk up the Kowai River to the old research huts was very pleasant, particularly from my position of companion-at-leisure, unburdened by the weight of the paraglider.  My own bag was light by necessity for the bike ride, and although I offered to take a turn with the sack, I already knew the offer would be refused – so I can’t really claim to be an altruist.  Once heading up the mountain – about a 1300 m height gain from the road – I could relax periodically in the gentle autumn sun while waiting for a sweating madman weighed down with kit. 

We really were lucky with the day.  Only the slightest of northeast breezes blew on top; most of my prior visits to Torlesse’s peak were in howling gales, when the weather was too bad to do anything further west.  Michael laid out his glider, careful to ensure that none of the strings (I’m using the technical terms here) were tangled or caught on stones.  He handed over a two-way radio for contact on landing, had a bite to eat, took off impressively, and proceeded straight down the valley.

I recorded a very budget video on my cell phone (if I’d known how bad the quality would be I would have made the effort to take my proper camera).  Nevertheless in this short clip you can see Michael launch, then fly in front of Junction Peak and Red Peak, past the Gap and Castle Hill Peak before escaping the attention of the 1.3 megapixels.  It isn’t worth expanding to full screen size, trust me.

Stefan related stories of his Red Cross and SAR career on the way down the hill.  These skills wouldn’t be needed that day, which was good news for us but bad for the journalists.  It wasn’t long before a crackle came over the radio, with the words “the chicken has landed”.  “Looked more like a turkey to me,” I remarked.  I learned later that Michael had hit a thermal and flown high enough to get vertigo – hence a quick descent and the reference to poultry.  He’s a brave man, putting so much trust in a glorified hanky, though apparently not as brave as a friend-of-a-friend, who flew a paraglider through the Gap itself (by coincidence we saw a helicopter do just that not long after Michael’s departure).

After an hour or two we regained the carpark to find Michael eating, reading, and lying in bed in the back of the van.  A seasoned campaigner, obviously.  He seemed happy with his flight – a definite improvement over a recent attempt to fly off a mountain near Queenstown.  The wind had been so strong that they had carried the gliders back down again.

To get home, I bludged a lift to Charing Cross.  From there, a quick ride along Wards Rd took me to Rolleston without many cars at all (on northeasterly days this route also offers some protection from the wind, although 8 km straight into it at the end is the penalty).  Rolleston to Templeton is not a nice ride: either you share SH1 with the trucks (I’d like to see traffic engineers maintain the wide shoulder at passing lanes) or you take Jones Rd (which is quieter but narrower and the cars can get a bit close).  I’m pretty sure the former is safer, actually.

Then I was back on Quaifes Rd from Templeton, and home, tuckered out.  Hats off to my good friend Michael for getting out there and doing the flight – and if you’ve made it this far through the story, hats off to you too!

- Phil N


  1. Good yarn - if a little tiring .... but just goes to show the utility of a trusty bicycle in getting about!

  2. "A very enjoyable read - laugh-out-loud in places. I almost feel brave enough to cycle further afield than I usually would from Halswell, but feel there would have to be a very good incentive at the other end for me to go as far as Springfield. Does Michael come up this way often?"

    1. Hi Angela. Mike is always tempted, mainly because the two best flights he's had have been the two he has done here in the Canterbury foothills. We used to go on bike missions before he became so interested in flying...