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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
PUBLISH TRAVEL STORY