Having climbed the east side of the pass, it was time to descent to the west. Every new turn brought a fresh view of the scene laid out before me, and it was a challenge to keep my focus on the road. After a wonderful series of sweeping turns, one punctuated by an active road construction crew, I entered the final portion of this descent, a series of tight hairpins reminiscent of my descent of the Poggio on the Ligurian Coast last fall. I knew I was riding these too slowly, but taking the turns a bit easier had the benefit of extending their duration, and they were worth savoring.
The descent done, I was ejected onto Highway 6. I expected this would take me to Arrowtown just down the road: a few km at most, based on my reading of the route profile before I'd left.
But I'd misunderstood the route profile. What had been so close to the Crown Range was Arrowtown Junction, not Arrowtown. It was still 5 km to the town. So down the side road I went.
When I arrived at the town, it started to rain, lightly but steadily. I first went into a Holiday Park (RV Park) for directions, which were trivial, then continues into the quaint, Los Gatos-like downtown where I rolled along, counterflow on the one-way road, until I found a bakery. Looking past all the meat pies I noted they sold French bread. I got a wonderful baguette, which would serve as my calorie source for the return trip.
It was still raining as I returned to Highway 6, but cleared by the time I'd returned to Crown Range Road. And so I began the highlight of this ride: the ride of its western slopes.
click on image for expanded view
It was a hard climb, longer than I'd remembered from the descent. Finally I made a push for what I thought was the summit, but it was not... several more steep segments remained before finally I reached the lookout at the pass. It was never super-steep, but often uncomfortably so, and I spent plenty of time in my 34/23 even if I resisted the 34/26. But the summit finally arrived, as it usually does.
A curious characteristice of this climb are the flat portions, which take up close to 3 km of the 10.8 km total distance. These really hurt VAM numbers for the climb: far better would be a steady grade of the same distance and total altitude gained. With the exception of a 200 meter break, what I had initially thought to be the finish, the final 3.0 km are sustained at 10% or more.
This would make a fantastic Low-Key Hillclimb. My rating algorithm scores it at 172% Old La Hondas of difficulty. This puts it between Montebello Road and Sierra Road in the climbs I've rated from the Low-Kehy Hillclimbs.
As I'd approached the top, I'd noticed a dirt road snaking up past the summit lot, so when I reached the finish of the paved climb, I went to check it out. It was fenced off, but a stair provided pedestrian access past the fence. After a bit of recovery, I carried my bike over the stair, and walked it up the first portion of dirt: the surface was too rought and steep to clip in. At the first switchback, it was evident the road only got worse further on, so I admired the view there and returned the way I'd come.
I'd hoped for tailwind on the return to Wanaka, but to the contrary, I battled a headwind the whole way. When I finally arrived, my baguette long since eaten, battered and a bit broken, I pulled into the Racer's Edge bike shop to fill my tires to their target 80 psi (they were down around 40... so much for getting an easy 100 psi from my hand pump). I asked the mechanic whether it was always this windy in Wanaka.
He looked outside, paused. "It's not windy today," he finally responded.
That basically answered my question.
Even the winds, and getting lost heading back to the holiday park, couldn't dampen the euphoria of the Crown Range. If you come to New Zealand, this climb is a must.