Queenstown has been an idyllic place to take a break, fix Paul’s bike and spend some valuable time with our daughter, Chelsea, but the West Coast is beckoning and it’s time to move on. Unfortunately for Paul, after 140,000 kilometres on the clock, it’s time for his clutch to move on as well! The mechanic was unable to fix it so we need to head to a main centre – and the most logical place is Christchurch.
The Crown Range is the highest “main” road in New Zealand and ascends rapidly after Arrowtown in a series of really tight hairpins. It’s well regarded in the motorcycle community and the views are stunning with the half-way stop to the ski-fields the iconic Cardrona Hotel, a perfect place to meet for a beer with my cousins Keith and Carolyn. Fifteen helicopters are sitting in the paddock opposite that have flown in a bunch of builders from Aussie on a conference – so the pub is buzzing.
We stay the night in Luggate, a small town just out of Wanaka, on a property where we are able to sleep in an old retro caravan out the back. The mountains rise up all around us and a new suburb out of Wanaka makes you appreciate “views” as these houses are on flat land but everyone has a view “up” – something you don’t think about when you have have mostly lived on a hill to get a view of the water. The scenery is jaw-dropping as we head north and once again, New Zealand just keeps delivering.
Lake Hawea is a visual treat and the cooling weather casts a wonderful mood over the lake with every corner presenting another “shot” – but you just can’t stop for them all! The road twists and turns and then we are riding beside Lake Wanaka.
The mountains seem to be all around us again – still no snow as yet, but it may not be far away. It’s a pleasant 18 degrees C and sunny so we have lucked in again with the weather. The ride through Haast Pass is just glorious with views of Mt. Aspiring – which does have a snow cap – and the alpine rivers are all wonderful shades of turquoise. We come out at the coast and are now in Westland….
The trees are once more slanted by winds but the weather is not too bad for a region which hardly has a day without rain of some kind. The coast road is interesting and winds it’s way north to Glacier Country. We come into Fox and meet a biker from Australia who is the runner for a group of cyclists who are riding from Dunedin to Christchurch in a loop. There are two support vans and this guy on the motorbike rides ahead and sorts out cafes and accommodation – what a cool job! We can see the top of Franz Joseph Glacier as we ride past but both glaciers have retreated substantially over the years…and it reminds me of another story… The weather is holding but the overnight low expected is only 4 degrees so we check into a backpackers behind the pub at Harihari and have an interesting night talking to the locals. Paul’s clutch is NOT happy so we need to limit the stops and hope he makes it into Christchurch. The weather is fine through the Arthur’s Pass and it’s so cool to ride this stretch again (what a blast), then straight into the workshop in Christchurch. The parts will have to come from Austria so we leave both bikes, hire a small car and catch up with Philippa and Mark, who we met at New Year.
They take us on a fabulous tour around the city showing us sights we wouldn’t have found on our own and we have a few pints at Smash Palace, a wonderful pop-up bar that started after the earthquake and has become an institution. It’s Bike Night, so motorbikes are riding right in amongst the patrons!
Evidence of the earthquake seven years ago is very evident but Cantabrians are getting on with it. AMI Stadium sustained massive damage and devastatingly for Christchurch, it was just prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, so all the games to be played here were moved to other locations in New Zealand.
We walk around past C-One, an eclectic cafe where sliders and fries are delivered through a chute system, and then dine at Little High, a wonderful funky food court with a great assortment of food. There’s an Argentinian Grill, Mexican, Pizzas, Japanese and live music is being piped through the place. Our South American food and wine was to die for. We drove to Little Regent, a precinct of quaint cafes and shops with a refurbished top facade and had the most amazing gelato with such unique flavours.
Everywhere you look, there is old and new. After the earthquake they commissioned street artists to do massive murals to distract onlookers from the chaos. The vibe in this city is one of massive refurbishment but done with a careful and creative flair – Christchurch will become a city like no other!
We take the Dyers Pass Road over the Port Hills out of the city and can see the Christchurch Adventure Park which boasts the most extensive lift-access mountain bike trails in the southern hemisphere. It has the longest chairlift in New Zealand and world-class zip-lining, the design of which came from the owners of a similar park in Whistler, Canada. The $24million park was forced to close only eight weeks after it opened due to an extensive fire which destroyed all the forest but they reopened this summer.
We head to the Banks Peninsula which was formed by several volcanoes and was once home to many Maori people. A French whaling captain negotiated with the Maoris to purchase the whole peninsula but when the colonists returned, they discovered the Treaty of Waitingi had been signed giving the British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. The French settled anyway giving the tiny settlement of Akaroa the French flavour it retains today. Fish and chips down by the wharf are a wonderful treat with our first try of fresh warehau, a moist white fish caught locally.
We spend a day visiting peaks and bays and getting the essence of the area, which although quite remote is less than two hours from Christchurch.
Show Me A Sign
Favourite of the Week
On the Banks Peninsula we drove down to the Purple Peak Reserve on a little gravel track and just on the ONE corner was a “Careful Blind Corner” sign – we thought we must be in Ireland because every corner was a blind one!
There were many native birds up in this reserve, like the massive wood pigeons, and you notice their sounds, as bird-life in New Zealand is so quiet after Australia.
Story of the Week
We spent New Year in Whiritoa with Paul’s brother and his family and it was good to spend some quality time with our niece Mary, and her fiancé, Christian. Both Mary and Christian’s families have been going to Whiritoa for years – and this is how the two met. We have drinks with his parents and family and discover that his Mum, Philippa, was raised in Colac Bay at the bottom of the South Island – and my cousins came from down there, and it’s a very small settlement. It turns out that while my cousins family owned the store and school bus run, Philippa’s owned the pub! She remembers my cousin, Aynsley, looking after her on the bus to her first day of school!
Philippa and Mark invited us to visit them if we were in Christchurch and as we are having bike issues and need to stay over in the city, we contact them. Aynsley also happens to be touring the South Island so we all arrange to meet and after 54 years – these two get to see each other! What a wonderful evening we had sharing many stories of the south and growing up in a tiny community…and how there’s always someone in New Zealand that knows someone, that’s related to someone – and on it goes!
Story from the Past
Back in the late seventies, Paul and I did a tour of the South Island in a car and checked into a campground at Fox Glacier where the reception asked us to pay a “noise” bond. While we were putting up the tent, we discovered everyone was charged a bond, but at different rates – depending on what – no-one could ascertain! Was it the length of Paul’s hair, the colour of our skin, our age? I wrote a letter to the TV network on the return home and we appeared as guests on the Fair Go programme which screened live right around New Zealand. The host had a great time questioning us as to what sort of noise a young couple in a sleeping bag could really make!