10 Days »
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Allastair and I decided that this trip around New Zealand's
picturesque South Island would not be done on the main roads (sure you
can see whales at Kaikoura, penguins at Oamaru and albatross at Dunedin
but we had seen them) but we would instead explore the back country, the
majestic mountains with their untouched beauty.
We followed State Highway 1 north from Dunedin the 55 kms to Palmerston before turning inland on Highway 85.
The 77 kms to Ranfurly passed all too quickly. This road is also called the pig route because in the days of Central Otago's gold rush (1861-1870) the stage coaches came this way and encountered wild pigs. The country is still pretty wild and back over the first range of hills wild pigs are still to be found. This is farming country but its steep and snow covered hills in winter coupled with often long droughts in the summer make farming a challenge. The road is good with plenty of nice bends to allow our adrenaline to set and the heart to pump.
About 30 min towards Ranfurly my heart almost failed when a dog appeared from nowhere and decided he would see just how slow my reactions were. I grabbed for everything I could find and prepared for a bang and then a (not so) good long slide down the road.
Fortunately he must have been able to read my mind (or perhaps he heard what I said) and decided to retrace his steps. I slowed to let my heart find its rightful position and also in the hope that Allastair might also slow in case he got tuned up as well.
But no such luck, Ali came barrelling alongside to see what the trouble was "Well if you haven't seen the dog, you're sure passed him now, so let's go".
We called into Ranfurly to see the excellent information booth set up in the old railway station. The railway doesn't go to Ranfurly anymore, but that story you need to hear from them. A milkshake (my first since I was a teenager some 35 years ago) refreshed us and after refuelling we were off to St Bathans some 50 kms away to see the old gold mining site and lake. About 10 kms of this was gravel road, something that I am familiar with but not so happy when a grader is up ahead. My fully laden bike ducked and dived through the thick loose metal (gravel).
From St Bathans we doubled back towards Ranfurly again and then turned left to Naseby. This quaint little town also has a gold mining history and more recently timber has provided a number of jobs. The shops are old and filled with old relics of the past. It fills with visitors in the summer as its temperature roars and in winter they come to ice skate on the frozen ponds.
From Naseby we sort out the route over Dansy's Pass. We guess that it is about 50 kms over the mountain range so as the day is drawing to a close we decide to refuel again.
After a little while we came to a magnificent stone building. It's low, stone, and it seems to curve with the flow of the hills under which it sits, and it is right on the edge of the road. It imposes upon the traveller and says "You can't possibly drive past me, I'm far too beautiful to ignore, you had better come in and have a look around and of course we eat and drink while we are there.
It's another relic of the golden age and last month (June 2000) some floor renovations revealed a cache of gold nuggets that a former inhabitant had hidden away to be retrieved at a latter date. I wonder why he never went back for them, perhaps he got swept away in a flood or did he just freeze to death in this isolated place?
The pass is a picture. The river winds down the steep valley, bouncing off rocks as it goes. I glance over the edge and decide that this is as close as I want to get.
The road is gravel now, but it is good and provided I keep in the smooth car tracks there won't be a problem. This country is farmed but the tussock indicates that snow lies heavily here in winter. The road becomes very windy and I fear meeting a car on one of the many blind bends.
Speed is forgotten as I cautiously peer around every bend looking for that telltale plume of dust indicating a vehicle is coming. We meet four cars as we cross the pass and apart from Ali nearly losing it over a cattle stop at the bottom of a steep hill we emerge on the hills overlooking the Waitaki Valley.
The sun is starting to set and the hills have a blue hue hanging over them. We must find somewhere to put our tent up for the night.
The Pass meets the Waitaki Valley road at Duntroon. We turn left and scoot the 23 kms to Kurow where we will spend the night. At Kurow we decide to cross the mighty Waitaki River and look for a camping spot.
At the other side of the bridge there is a road that leads along the river bank. It looks a lovely spot and as the weather has been fine there is no danger of getting washed away in the night by a flood.
The tent is soon up and the little white spirits burner is doing its thing. After a welcome meal we sit on the river bank and watch the millions of cubic metres of water swirling and gurgling by. We wonder just where it has all come from. We will explore those reaches one day but not this trip.
The air beds are blown up, we pile into sleeping bags and the noise of the river takes us into another land. We are woken in the morning by the barking of a dog, and he is very close to the tent. I scramble out to have a look and find an embarrassed young man out for his morning exercise. If he had known, he assures us, that we were camping around the corner he would have held his dog and we wouldn't have been woken up. Still its 8 am and time for another cup of tea.
Ali knows of a friend of a friend at Ashburton Forks so we decide to go and see if there might be a decent bed for the night. Waimate is the first goal though, so we head up the Hakataramea Valley for about 10 kms before turning right towards Pentland Hills. It's another gravel road but its not too bad and we can make up some time on the good roads later.
The hills are not so high here so the farming is better. The weather is good and the riding is great. From Pentland Hills we wind through gravel roads. By now we are hopelessly lost but it doesn't matter because all roads lead to Waimate.
We see a sign post to Waimate lookout, where we get a great view of the town. It starts to drizzle so we put on our rain gear. We refuelled in Waimate and set off up SH 1 to Timaru some 44 kms away.
We find our way down to Carolyn Bay on the outskirts of the city. The holiday makers have all gone home now as school has started and we have the beach to ourselves. It's only 6 kms further to Washdyke and the turnoff to Pleasant Point. We cover the 12 kms quickly through the rolling farm land. Sheep and cattle graze peacefully until the noise of the bikes send them scurrying away. I make a mental note of the way that sheep react and hope that I don't encounter one on the wrong side of the fence.
Another 16 kms brings us to Cave. Ali is very keen to get here because he has heard of the great caves to be seen. I haven't heard of these caves so I am not quite so keen. We hit the tiny main street and look out for the sign to the 'caves'. No sign can be found so Ali unpreturbed asks a local farmer. We know he's a local former because he has just come out of the dairy in his muddy gumboots. He scratches his head and peers into the distance.
"Once heard that old blue McCormack (or some such name that I forgot as soon as I heard it) found a hole on his property - not sure that you could call it a cave though".
Ali is starting to get a little frustrated by the ignorance of the locals.
"Why is this place called 'cave' if even you don't know where they are?" A grin breaks out on his face - he has got the line now -
"ahh" he says "Someone from Cave in England once settled here, that's why".
Now its my turn to grin, I won't let Ali forget this story for a while. So putting the caves behind us we set off the 28 kms to Fairlie. Here we turn onto HW 79 and make good time through to Geraldine 46 kms away. Small streams meander through the valleys. Forestry makes a pleasant change. The sun has been shining for the last hour and we are warm. The afternoon is nearly over but food and fuel is still available.
We spy a museum of old machinery and cars but they are just closing. From Geraldine its not too far to Arundel, Mayfield, Valletta and Ashburton Forks.
We find the farm house we are looking for. Now this is real farming country. Crops are everywhere, many of them I don't recognise. Some are grain crops, others have flowers, many are traditional seed crops.
We roll up the long driveway past huge grain storage bins. The noise of the bikes brings out the farmer. We introduce ourselves and make the connection.
He stands staring at the bikes.
"Bit hard on the bum riding those things too far", he suggests.
Being the skinny one I quickly agree, upon which he wanders over to the shed and produces two squares of sheep's hide. They are untanned but the deep fleece looks great to me.
We go inside and meet the farmer's wife. She invites us for a meal but we can see that they are nearly finishing theirs so we produce our own cans and start a cook up. By the time we have finished they have downed their meat and veges and are ready to share the raspberries, ice cream and pavlova.
The offer of a bed for the night is soon forthcoming and we unload the bikes.
"Want to see a real bike" Mr farmer asks, and we politely agree. He takes us out to the shed, we pass the Lexus and see the Gold Wing. He backs it out for us to see better. It has reverse gear and all the bells and whistles. I was standing behind it when he started it up, it twinkles like a Christmas tree. We go for a ride, the stereo plays in the helmet, the windshield goes up and down. Great, till I think of the mountain passes still waiting for us and the brilliant twisting road from the west coast through to Hawea and I decide I'll stick to the 600.
The day starts with an early morning tour of the farm, then with our new sheepskins attached to the seats we set sail for the ski town of Methven and Mt Hutt. A friend lives at Windwhistle just over the Rakaia gorge. It's another beautiful day as we duck and dive down the twisty road that leads to the bridge over the river. The views are breathtaking. The river looks wild and restless and in the distance stand the mountains with a majesty of their own.
Michael isn't home so with the thought of a swim in the famous Hanmer Springs we hasten on through Homebush, Waddington, Oxford to Rangiora to where Ali's sister lives. She isn't home either (not everyone it seems has discovered the joys of early retirement) so we push onto SH 1 again and quickly get rid of the last 108 kms before Hanmer. The road is excellent with some great bends.
The temperature is rising quickly as we move inland and I start sliding down the zip in my jacket. We later heard that it was over 30 in Hanmer and the hot springs are still to come.
Millions have been sent recently on upgrading the pools and it shows. The entry fee is the first indication ($8) but the pools are wonderful. We moved from round concrete pools at 38 degrees C to more natural rock pools surrounded by native ferns. Then when the temperature threatened to cause a coronary we headed for the relief of the cooler pools. We chatted to people and some had come up from Christchurch for the day. We had a big room at the Backpackers to ourselves and after tea returned to the pools for some more punishment.
We had been looking forward to this day. Just a short distance out of Hanmer we turned off up the ski field road and head for our first destination, Lake Tennyson. It has started raining and I worry a little as the first 100 kms is all gravel and nothing more than a four wheel drive track through the mountains. But its still summer and we haven't had much rain so the rivers shouldn't be up.
Gravel roads in the rain aren't much fun and I can feel some very cold water running into one boot. I stop and correct the problem before it gets any worse.
As soon as we leave Hanmer we start climbing steadily. The mist is down all around us, my glasses have got wet and visor is fogged on the inside. It's only 30 minutes till we reach the summit of the first pass and look down on the flats below. Steep hills flank the tussock filled valley.
I've been this way before in a four wheel drive and I know that we won't see another settlement before St Arnaud some 100 kms away. We enter St James station and admire the old buildings. The road branches here. The road to the right goes through Molesworth Station. Cars are allowed through here during summer but it is not as interesting as the left branch to Rainbow Station. So we go left.
The turn off to Lake Tennyson soon comes into view. We have covered nearly 40 kms. It has been easy riding and we are not in a hurry. This is beautiful country and we are going to enjoy every minute of it. We have crossed a few streams but they have all been low, even the low slung XJ hasn't had a problem. We open the gate and travel the 3 kms to the lake. It is desolate and barren. The wind is howling but it looks great for a photo.
We boil the billy (again) and make tracks. Ahead lies the real mountain pass and there is still 60 kms before we hit the tarseal again.
The rain has gone and a weak sun tries to peep out from behind the clouds. The hills start to close in on us as we make our way around the narrow winding road which hangs precariously above the river. We thread our way through the boulders which have recently crashed off the hill onto the road.
We come across a couple on horses. They have trekked through the mountains. We stop and talk. They reckon horses are the best way to go - well they won't need much petrol and they won't break down.
The road starts rising again as we head up the pass. It's tussock and snow grass. Here and there a Spaniard sticks its spiky shoots heavenward. I note again that if I am going to fall off to make sure that it is nowhere near one of those.
It's getting near midday and we spy a four wheel drive van parked off the road under some trees. It's the first vehicle we have seen so we head down to them and discover that it is a tour group of 5. They started yesterday in Blenheim and have come down through the Molesworth valley and over-nighted in Hanmer before returning to Blenheim via the Rainbow valley. They will look around St Arnaud before continuing back down the Wairau Valley. They are two retired farming couples from the central North Island and have longed for years to make this trip of a life time. They turn down our offer to really see the sites and hear the sounds from the backs of our bikes - too old for that they reckon.
We start passing over huge shingle screes that have poured millions of tons of rocks from off the side of the mountains. 4wd's have packed a rough path across the slope. We pick our way carefully across, the weight on the back of the bike is wanting to push us in a direction that I don't care to go.
Another gate causes us to stop and we hear the sound of another bike approaching. It's a good place to meet and we share our itinerary. He is on an R80 and even has a spare tyre draped over the back. He has come from Hamilton and is headed for the BMW rally in Central Otago. He's had a great trip so far.
We were later to read that the rally was cancelled due to the extreme fire risk in Central. We are through the mountains now and stop to gaze down the long winding valley that lies ahead. The river is flanked by long stretches of green, sheep and cattle feed peacefully.
Soon a locked gate bars any attempt to go further, but that's okay for we knew we would have to pay to go further. There is a little cottage not far away so we yell for attention. None is forthcoming, so I climb the gate and go searching. My calling brings him from his afternoon siesta and he unlocks the gate. We ask him how much and manage to haggle the price down to $7.50 each.
It's an easy run now and 10 kms away we can see the hills of the Wairau valley. Once on the valley road we turn left to St Arnaud. I have been to the lake before. The beauty is indescribable but I struggle to enjoy it as the sand-flies threaten to eat me alive. The sun is streaming down, it is very hot but I don't dare strip any clothes off. We kill sand-flies for 30 minutes then promise that we must bring our wives back to see this place sometime.
The road is calling once more and although we have covered only 100 of the 200 kms for the day the next bit is all down hill. We race down the perfect but twisty forest roads. It's all seal now and the bikes are hot and wanting to be cooled off. Nelson is reached in little over an hour. We indulge ourselves with relatives and enjoy scrumptious fare. It's sure better than the baked beans of the last few days.
After a day's R & R it time for some more riding. Just a day trip this time. It's raining a little as we set off and I am more than a little apprehensive. We make our way through the main street of Nelson, pass the cathedral and look for the road which will take us up the Mitai Valley. The rain gets heavier and my adrenaline increases.
I have been over this track in a 4wd but it was dry and I'm not sure how we are going to get on in the wet. Ali has only had his foot out of plaster for a week after breaking his ankle in 3 places during a Christmas off road ride and can still barely put any weight on it. We reach the top of the Mitai Valley and I find the sign indicating the way to the Mangatapu Track.
There are clear warnings that it is 4wd only. My adventure bike should be okay but I'm not so sure about Ali's XJ. I console myself that his 20 years of enduro riding will see him through and we push on up the increasingly steep and slippery track. We are in the beautiful native Beech forest now but I am concentrating on the rivulets of water running down the track. The big single is starting to become a bit of a handful in the increasingly rough conditions. I just make it up one steep hill only to find that it is still going up even more steeply.
I stop where I can to dry my glasses and get a better view of the trouble ahead when there is a thunderous roar and the XJ slithers and bounces past. "Boy that was close, he nearly hit me". Ali is giving it all its got and fighting hard to stay on. It's a wonderful sight but I don't have my video camera.
There is loose shale over the rock track. He hits something that grips and the XJ dives sideways. Ali knows that it is all over for him so graciously dives over the bars and down the bank. He could have tried to control it by putting his foot down but the pain in his ankle persuaded him not to try.
I inch my bike back down the hill till I can find somewhere where it won't take off on the stand and scramble up to give some help. We decide that it is better if Ali rides the bike up (I certainly wasn't offering!) and I will push.
I get the bike upright, drag him up the bank and help him on his mount. I push and sweat, and sweat some more, I get sprayed with dirt and mud and rocks. Whose crazy idea was this trip. We finally make it and I wonder what lies ahead. I go back for my bike.
My prayers have been answered and I make it uneventfully to the top. Fortunately this turns out to be the last hill and it is much easier going now. We cross the summit but can't see much through the rain. We stop at the memorial cairn and read the inscriptions to those who had been murdered there long ago. It's raining even more heavily by the time we arrive at Pelorus Bridge. We find some shelter and have another cup of tea. The rain eases and we make our way back to Nelson on SH 6.
We leave Nelson heading SW through the suburbs of Stoke and Richmond following HW 6. Soon we are into the Golden Downs Forest, the gentle curves in the road making for pleasant riding. We have a long way to go today so we hasten on through Motupiko, Kawatiri to Murchison.
We stop here to learn a little about the great earthquake that devastated the town in 1929. Scars on the hillside caused by landslides can still be seen. From here the road turns due west and we head for the coast. Great forests abound in these regions.
The sun is still shining but we don't know for how long. The West Coast averages 25 mm (1 in) of rain for every day of the year but we hope that the next few days will be different. We follow the Buller river to the junction just south of Westport but decide that time constraints mean we must head south and visit Westport some other time. Greymouth is our destination but the famous Punakaiki blow hole will hold our attention for a while.
It is a wonderful trip down the coast. The sea is wild, seagulls fill the sky and the smells are altogether different. Perhaps it is because of the many holidays I had at the seaside as a child that a new song is welling in my throat. I start to sing and a terrible noise reverberates around inside my helmet. Who cares, the sun is still shining and all is well with the world. I am loving this but I know that my concentration is starting to lapse, the sights, the sounds and the smells are taking over.
We stop at Punakaiki and marvel with other travellers we meet. Greymouth is less than 50 kms away and we have to find somewhere to stay for the night. We call on friends and get invited for another cup of tea. Then suddenly, without warning the skies open and water comes down like I have never seen before. I worry about my pyjamas in the saddle bags and our host gets the message and moves his car forward in the garage so our bikes are out of the storm.
We had planned to cruise on down the coast a bit and look for somewhere to put up the tent but this weather convinces me that not even mad dogs would step outside let alone try to ride a bike. I couldn't even begin to comprehend putting up a tent. Graciously our hosts ask if we would like to sleep in the lounge for the night and we have no hesitation in accepting.
We go to bed and listen to the thunderous crash of the rain on the roof. I don't think that I have ever seen rain as heavy as this. Well, since we have had 75-100 mm of rain overnight surely we can't get anymore tomorrow. I sleep fitfully dreading being put out tomorrow morning in this storm. Whose idea was this trip?
To my amazement the next morning reveals that the rain has stopped and the sun is trying to make an appearance. We make our farewells and slowly cruise through the town. Our first stop is Shanty Town just a few minutes down the road. The mist is lying low around the fern covered hills. It is a beautiful sight. The rain yesterday has painted a completely new picture for us to enjoy.
Shanty Town comes into sight and we look for some cover for the bikes as we have felt a few spits of rain. An old hay barn beckons, so cross country a bit and find good shelter. The town consists of a collection of old buildings from the gold mining days. All are beautifully restored and give a good picture of life back in the 1860's.
We stroll through the town, and admire the relics in the pub, a TV set is showing a replay of the All Black's game from the previous night, we can resist anything but temptation and All Black games so we stay too long.
We ride the train into the bush and watch the tourists pan for their little bit of gold. We talk with the guy that runs this part of the town. The gold has been mined from the hills and a little put into each pan. This guy is NZ's gold panning champion and is soon off to pit his skills against the best that the Aussies can offer.
It's back to the bikes and the barn offers a great place to brew yet another cup of tea. The ride south is exhilarating. Sea mist lies all along the coast. We don't stop now as it is still 250 kms to Franz Joseph glacier and we want to at least get that far. The long NZ summer nights are in our favour and we know that it won't be dark till 10 pm. The sun has finally broken through and we are quite warm on the ride south.
We park our bikes at Franz Joseph Glacier and strip off some gear. We are told that it is 30 min walk to the glacier so we decide to risk leaving coats and boots next to the bikes. There are many tourists around so we hope that all will still be there when we return.
It is a lovely walk in the sun and we chat to people from far off countries. They admire our courage at riding motorbikes, while we wonder why they don't. Our gear is all still where we left it when we get back so it is off to Fox Glacier just 25 kms further on.
We have a quick trip in there because we want to see Lake Matheson just 10 minutes down the beach road from Fox. Although it is 6 pm the car park is nearly full. It looks as if it is going to take us an hour to walk around the lake so we hurry off. The lake is beautiful and the late afternoon sun strikes us through gaps in the bush that surrounds the lake. The track is board-walked in many places so the going is easy.
We get half way around to where Lake Matheson's famous reflections can be seen. There is no wind. Mt Tasman towering high above is perfectly reflected. We are still a little worried about all our gear strewn around the bikes so we make good time back. Well at least the tourists are honest in NZ, everything is still in the heap we left it in.
It's time to eat so we empty everything out on the rough sawn table in the car-park and have yet another cup of tea. It's 9 pm before we finish and tourists are still arriving.
We look at the map and decide against continuing on down the road we have come in on to Lake Matheson. It's not too far to Gillespies Beach but the road is gravel and we don't know whether we would find a good spot to camp. We decide to push on to Bruce Bay 46 kms down the SH where the road hits the sea again. We don't waste much time in the fading light.
At Bruce Bay the sea is pounding in and we look forward to the thought of going to sleep with the sound of the sea crashing in our ears. We find a flat area and put the inner part of the tent up. No sooner had we started than we began to be bitten by sand-flies and their bigger cousins, mosquitoes. I have heard that it is only females that bite. That's probably a story made up by some guy who came off second best in an encounter with one of the opposite sex. These can't all be females, there are too many of them. They have got teeth an inch long.
Not wanting to share the night with them we leave the tent firmly zipped up till we have cooked more baked beans, then quickly open the zip a little, throw our gear in and dive in after it. Two or three make it through the doorway with us but we soon fix them. The pounding of the surf sends us into noddy land.
We wander the drift wood strewn beach early the next morning. The sea mist is still hanging low. I look out to sea knowing that somewhere out there lies Australia and I wonder if I will ever get to see its rocky shores. We cook breakfast on the beach and the cup of tea has black things floating in it. I am not sure whether they are tea leaves or drowned sand flies. It tastes okay. It's only 30 kms to Haast and more fuel. From Jackson Bay we travel through native forest that hugs and overhangs the road.
It's not raining but deep ditches are running with water. I make another mental note not to end up in one of them. It's beautiful, it's spectacularly beautiful and I know why the tourists flock to this part of the country. But it's too early for them, they will still be packing their bags back at the glaciers.
We decide to take the side trip to Jackson Bay. It's about 50 kms each way but we have seen great pictures so must do it. Sea mist rolls in on our way down and we have to hunt for the wet weather gear again. But that soon stops and the sun breaks through as we ride into the picturesque town. We explore (it only takes 5 min!) and then ride our bikes out onto the wharf.
A camper van pulls up and a fisherman comes to try his luck. His reel soon screams and a look of joy crosses his face. He finally gets his catch to the wharf and discovers that it is an eel. I hope that it is not an electric one and decide that it is time to leave him too it.
The trip back to Haast passes quickly. We refuel and head for the hills. The Haast Pass follows the rough and tumbling Haast river. It looks grey, no doubt because of the snow melt it contains. It is big and braided.
It is a wonderful ride up the pass, and I am glad that during the past year the road was finally completely sealed. We catch a few cars and blast passed as we make our way through the windy steep hills.
Ali is leading and suddenly waves frantically and pulls over. I stop along side and ask what is wrong.
"Did you see that thing back there" he asks?
"Do you mean the cable-way" I reply.
It turns out that he hasn't seen one before. We ride back and he listens in amazement as I tell him that I worked in hydrology for 10 years and have ridden hundreds of these.
I explain how it all works although the telemetry is all new to me. I ask him to check the padlock to see whether they are still using RKD'7s. He finds that stamped on the bottom and wonders who would be bothered remembering such things.
We soon come to a notice indicating that there is a waterfall to be seen up ahead. We park next to a CBR and follow the track the 5 min to view. We meet a couple decked out just like us.
He is very excited and tells us that he nearly came off on a bend just 5 min back.
"Oil all over the road, we slid and I feared that we would plunge over into the river, but I got it back just in time."
We make a mental note and button the speed back for at least the next 5 minutes. We soon found his 'oil'. A waterfall was cascading down right onto the road and it was this that they hit.
That danger passed, we relax and enjoy the mountain pass. A black Subaru comes into view and as soon as he sees two head lights in his mirrors he goes for another gear. All my senses warn me of danger. Ali sticks behind as this guy tries to wring the last ounce of muscle out of his machine.
I'm starting to get a little impatient and have to keep talking to myself. Ali has had enough and gives him both barrels. I hear the XJ burst in to life and decide to follow. The guy swings out to dissuade Ali from passing but he is too late the XJ is gone. I see a huge gap open up on the inside of the car and for one awful moment consider taking him on the wrong side. Thirty years ago I wouldn't have hesitated but I'm older and just a little wiser now. Then just as quickly, I envisage Ali cutting back in and taking me out as I rocket through on the inside. Two way radios would be great here. So I change my mind and follow on the outside. I change up a gear as I pass to show him that I still have bags of power left.
We cross the pass and come down the other side into the Makarora Valley. It is beautiful and the sun is shining brightly again. I make a mental note to come back and camp here some time.
Soon after the tiny settlement of Makarora we meet the top end of Lake Wanaka. It's an exhilarating ride around the lake. The bends are all marked at 65-75 kph but we are rocketing through at +25 with a very strong NW wind on our backs. I see the sign that says "Beware of falling rocks" but not today, this ride is just too much fun to be looking for rocks. I'll just have to depend on my reaction time should we encounter any.
We don't, but I soon get an awful fright when something pretty big whacks into my left footrest. I grab for the anchors expecting sometime far more terrible is about to happen. I stop and survey the damage. Everything appears to be okay, I look behind and in a cloud of feathers I see something flapping its last on the road. Just a quail (small bird) but it felt the size of a dog.
I'm glad we didn't meet any rocks on the road. The great ride continues down the side of Lake Hawea and soon we are in Wanaka. We find a backpackers where we can store the bikes in a shed and check out the town. It is a really beautiful evening, with the now gentle warm breeze blowing in off the lake. Although it's 9 pm the temperature is still 30 C (86F).
Everyone is in party mode and the clubs and pubs are full. One more mountain pass tomorrow and we are home so we head back to the lodge and chat to the overseas guests. They are as delighted with Wanaka as we are. None of them have a bad thing to say about NZ, except that their time is running out and they must soon go home to work. We agree that that is enough to make anyone depressed.
The thought of being home today takes over and even Ali doesn't take too much encouraging to get up. We leave at 9 am and head for Cromwell 55 kms away. We head into the township for we have to find our way through to the road to Bannockburn. We refuel as it will be a while before we can do so again. Bannockburn is an old gold mining settlement and well worth exploring. But I come with a school camp here each year and have seen it all so we don't stop today. The sealed road winds up the valley till the road forks. We take the right turn and look for the Nevis turn off. This road is new to me so I am a little apprehensive.
Still if Ali reckons he can get the XJ through I should be okay with my extra clearance. We follow the signs and start up a road that can be better described as a track. It is gravel and very windy, second and third gear stuff. And it just keeps going up and up. Hairpin bends demand caution and I am determined to make it home alive. It's about 15 kms from Bannockburn to the Nevis saddle.
We stop and admire the view down the valley where we will soon be passing. The hills are steep on both sides and I can see little streams flowing across the road. Ali assures me that I will be okay. We soon pass the two big sheep stations that farm this area. The flats on either side of the river have feed for stock but after that it looks pretty meagre. Tough country in here in winter and with the pass snow bound for parts of the winter you wouldn't want to run out of supplies.
We make our way down the valley and the road isn't too bad. It's lunch time and we spy an old stone cottage. It is really hot so we strip off our gear and lie in the long grass. A small stream flows past. I have never seen such crystal clear water before. The tussocks sparkle in the sun and I make another mental note to come back here sometime.
The beauty of this place is challenged by the call of home so we are off again. Gold tailings can be seen left from former days. They must have been tough to live in this place in winter.
We come to our first stream crossing. I have plenty of clearance and it's no problem. Soon there are more but it is the last one that really catches my eye. I see a hub cap off a car that someone has lost mid stream. It appears about 60 cm (2 feet) deep and quite swift although only 8 metres wide. Ali goes first and the XJ dances all over the place as it fights against the current and the rocks. He emerges okay and now its my turn. I contemplate taking off the saddle bags and carrying them over first but the thought of wet feet puts me off. I'll give it a go. The XT has bags of clearance and I worry for nothing.
Another mountain range to cross and this one is as steep as the last. But it's all down hill now and I must check my speed or I'll wipe out on one of those hairpin corners. Ali stops and shows me where an old ski lodge used to be. I thought we must be quite high. But this is mid summer and there is no snow to be seen today.
We make it off the Nevis Pass at Garston and we haven't seen another vehicle all day. HW 6 takes us to Lumsden where we stop for a bun and cuppa. Ali's niece owns it so we chin wag for a bit.
Lumsden to Gore is a good road with long straights so I can relax a little after the mountain section. But its now very very hot. The nor-wester that we met in Wanaka is now blowing strongly and the temp is well over 30. We come to road works and are stopped. The temp with all our gear on must be over 40 now and I wonder how long I can last.
Finally we get a green light, oh the joy of some slightly cooler temps. Gore is home for Ali but I must now complete the last 150 kms back to Dunedin. I consider staying the night but the thought of my own bed is too strong. I have my last cup of tea and set sail for home. It's been a great trip. We agree to do it again, but with our wives next time.
1. Our trip was in late February. The gravelled mountain passes described are subject to snow in winter and should not be attempted outside the months of November to April unless you have local knowledge.. They are also subject to slipping and flooding after heavy rain. Information on the Rainbow Valley (100 kms) road can be obtained by ringing Rainbow Valley Station or from the Information Centre in Hanmer. This road is being improved and some cars are even starting to venture through.
2. Backpackers accommodation can be found even in small towns and cost is around NZ$10-20 per night. You will meet many other overseas travellers. Accommodation is basic but good. Ask if there is a lockable shed for your bike.
3. My XT had a fuel range of only 200 kms + reserve but fuel is readily available even in outlying areas (though they may not be open at night). There is no fuel for the 100 kms of the Rainbow Valley. Many push bikers use this route.
4. There are many places where you can put up a small tent. If in doubt ask and don't hesitate to ask a farmer. He will probably offer you a bed instead. Because NZ is so isolated we are fascinated with overseas travellers. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has many sites around the country set up with nice new clean toilets, restocked with toilet paper every week. For a small fee you can camp here. There is always a clean water supply. Call into a DOC office and get a brochure detailing all their sites. Many are in superb outback areas. It does pay to take insect repellent.
5. NZ got wise some 30 years ago and switched to metrics. 30C is about 65F. The North west wind is our equivalent of the hot sirocco of Africa. When it blows, especially in Canterbury, the faster you go the hotter you get! It is a very dry wind and temps often reach 35C. Fortunately it doesn't blow all the time. Further south there may be only 5-10 days of hot nor-westers all summer.
6. Speed limit in towns is 50 kph and open road 100 kph. You will be given a ticket if you exceed this by 10 kph. NZ has speed cameras and unmarked cars travel the roads with radar guns.
7. NZ has unleaded petrol only (91 and 96 octane). Prices are fluctuating wildly in 2000 but count on at least NZ$1.10 a liter.
8. Email me if I can be of assistance.
9. Motor-biking around the South Island is much better than the North Island so plan to spend 2/3 's of your time in the south. You can do the south in a week but two weeks are better and if you have a month drop me an email and I will tell you of some more great routes.
10. The South Island in midsummer has long days. Daylight breaks at 5 am and darkness closes in at 9.45 pm. Being a small island country NZ can experience rapid and extreme temperature changes (up to 15 degrees over one day is not uncommon). So while your summer trip is likely to be in good weather a sudden blast from the south can drop snow on the mountain tops and can bring southern SI temps down to 10 C. mountain passes in these conditions will be even colder. But as fast as the storm comes it is likely to go.
Story by Roger Hogg