ACROSS THE DITCH: Christchurch to Wellington 06/04/18 to 13/04/18

ACROSS THE DITCH: Christchurch to Wellington 06/04/18 to 13/04/18

2018-04-16T03:12:02+00:00April 16th, 2018|Lee & Paul Update|

It’s a crystal clear day as we leave Christchurch and the temperature soars to 27 degrees C across the Canterbury Plains, not bad for April and it’s now quite evident we won’t be seeing any snow-capped peaks before we leave the South Island! The Lewis Pass is the northernmost of the three major alpine passes and a fabulous motorcycle road, especially for a couple of adventure travellers who’ve been in a car for two weeks! We realise how much we’ve missed the adrenaline…and how New Zealand roads are made for riding.

Buller Gorge on the way to Westport

After a night in Westport we visit Denniston, home to one of the richest, high quality coal seams in New Zealand. The road up to the mine is a series of steep, tight corners rising 600 metres above sea level with wonderful panoramic views of the Karamea Bight and the west coast plains. For decades it was the country’s largest producing coal mine, but it was definitely not a place for the fainthearted. The work was dangerous and amid the notorious climate and bleak living conditions on the barren windswept plateau, a  proud and busy community of over 1,500 people carved out an existence.

The head of the famous incline at Denniston, West Coast back then

The Denniston incline was recognised the world over as a remarkable feat of engineering falling 510 metres over 1.7 kilometres with dramatically steep gradients. In the early days when the only way up was via the coal wagons, some of the wives were known to have never left the little town as they couldn’t face the ride down!

Looking down the Denniston incline, West Coast

Spectacular views of the coast and plains from Denniston mine today

The weather is glorious as we continue up the coast as far as the road will go and meet up with the start of the Heaphy Track, another of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”.

Beautiful conditions on the far north West Coast

Weekend bikers where the road ends, Kohaihai, West Coast – the pick-up point for Heaphy Track walkers

Inquisitive wekas at Kohaihai, West Coast

Native nikau palms on the Kohaihai road, West Coast

My second cousin Paul couldn’t make the recent family reunion as he has a dairy farm and it was too hard to find milkers at Easter so we time a stay at Little Wanganui. Their farm borders the beach and nearby river where Theresa catches whitebait so her fritters that night are a special treat.

Touring the farm on the agbike is fun up the beach, Little Wanganui, West Coast

Paul’s cows respond to his “talking” – no dogs or whistles!

The road round the Karamea Bluff is very rateable and it was a buzz to be able to ride it both ways and in perfect conditions.

Beautiful “cuppa” stop in the Buller Gorge, Westland

We ride the scenic Dovedale Road through the Moutere Valley and find the church in Appleby where Paul’s ancestors are buried, the original O’Connor’s who came from Ireland five generations ago.

Patrick O’Connor was Paul’s ancestor who came from Ireland

Paul finds more awesome back roads and the twists and turns around the Sounds are quite breathtaking as we take in the Tennyson Inlet and Kenepuru Head. April is marching on and a heavy storm front is coming in with a prediction of snow down to 500 metres – just as we are about to leave!

Mahau Sound from Cullen Point Lookout

Mahau Sound on the Kenepuru Head road

Here he is – Mapman – the master of back road navigation!

We bunker down in Havelock in a cabin for a couple of nights and the wind gusts reach 120km/h and it’s very cold.

Our last look at the South Island down to Oyster Bay (snow on the distant peaks behind Paul’s head)

Farewell to the South Island, Interisland Ferry, Queen Charlotte Sound

It is time to say farewell to the South Island…wow, what an amazing journey it’s been (9,200 kilometres). It seems such a long time ago that we were heading down to the Burt Munro Rally, then enjoying Southland and the beautiful Catlins, Queenstown and magic Lake Wakatipu, majestic Central Otago with it’s snow-capped peaks, the gorges and forests of the north and west – the riding has been remarkable, especially those incredible passes.

Tip of the Day

Electronic pricing – we’ve never seen this before! What a wonderful idea that a central computer can change the prices at the click of a button to every Fresh Choice (New Zealand-owned) supermarket across the country!

Amazing electronic pricing, Fresh Choice supermarket, Picton

Favourite of the Week

Kath O’Connor and Paul in Westport

We ride over to Westport as Paul has contacted Kath O’Connor who is connected on the other side of his family tree. Her husband was the brother of John O’Connor and Paul’s Mum (Lesley) always talked about John. In the late forties, when she was around 19, Lesley hitchhiked round the South Island doing tomato picking and Kath remembers the brothers talking about her. Paul rings his Mum to share this news and she admits she “knocked around with John for a while”! Only three weeks ago, John O’Connor died and we would have loved to  have met him. Kath shows us the local newspaper clipping for his large funeral and says “Here Paul…this could have been your father!!”

Show Me A Sign

Kenepuru Head road, Mahau Sound

Story of the Week

We are trying to book on the ferry to cross back to the North Island and hear a huge storm is coming. It happens to be the exact day and the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s worst modern-time maritime disaster. On the 10th April 1968, the worst storm in local history devastated the Wellington region causing the interisland ferry, Wahine, to founder at the harbour entrance after it struck rocks.


The Wahine after she struck rocks in Wellington Harbour

The boat would eventually sink and 51 lives were lost. My Uncle Doug had just started work as a captain of the pilot boat Arahina and he and his crew tackled the conditions, put a scrambling net over the side and rescued 55 people from the water.

Survivors being helped ashore on the Eastbourne coast, Wellington Harbour

Many survivors and 49 of those who died were cast up on the coast and the local community around Eastbourne provided crucial assistance and support. A memorial has been erected so we decide to ride out along the waterfront and find it opposite the Eastbourne bus station in Korohiwa Bay where some grateful family have placed their own plaque.

Wahine memorial at Korohiwa Bay, Eastbourne, Wellington (the Wahine’s mast)

It is very special to find a plaque mentioning Uncle Doug placed by grateful family, Eastbourne, Wellington

A local lady walking her dog recalls the day to us and how hard it was for the survivors to come ashore on the treacherous rocks so I’m sure the 55 people Uncle Doug saved at sea will have never forgotten his bravery and efforts.



  1. Mal April 16, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    HI Lee, Paul,
    The west coast is a great ride when the weather is good. You have found some interesting roads north of Westport. It must be good to be back on the motorcycles. The photo with the coastline and contrasting unsealed (metal?) road looks terrific.

    • Lee April 17, 2018 at 4:23 am

      Thanks Mal, yes the stretch north of Westport was a treat – especially with unbeatable weather. Now we’re back in the North Island and enjoying some roads all over again!! The rain has set in today but should clear tomorrow – bikers are ever the optimists!!

  2. Chris April 16, 2018 at 9:15 am

    Love it .hope you guys are having a ball
    Cheers chris

    • Lee April 17, 2018 at 4:20 am

      Sure are good buddy! Starting to look and feel a bit feral but bikers know that’s OK! Heading north and time is starting to run out…back to share a beer before you know it! xxxx

  3. Susan Hird April 16, 2018 at 3:56 am

    Well, that’s the South Island done!! Great stories & photos as always.
    Lee, we were in Eastbourne last May and saw the memorial there, but not the plaque to Uncle Doug. Bugger.

    • Lee April 16, 2018 at 5:14 am

      It was easy to miss as it’s on a post – Paul spotted it first. You really got an essence of the disaster at that spot, especially after just doing the crossing. The local lady reckons a cop blocked the road and wouldn’t let them down to help for ages – she said he has to live with that every day! Heading north…xxxx

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