Friday, 29 January 2010


Sunday, the 24th, dawned overcast and rainy. After our croissant, flat white, and free internet fix at Patagonia Chocolate, we rode out on dry roads to Kawarau Bridge to see where commercial bungy jumping began (and continues today). After watching several jumpers and seeing how bungies are made in the flash visitors’ center, we started south along Lake Wakatipu on our way to Manapouri. About 25 km out of Queenstown my bike (now named Zeke after the rego 83ZEK) started to handle strangely; a flat rear tire brought us to an unexpected stop. It wasn’t a very good place to stop with a rock face on our side of the road with virtually no shoulder and the other side having a steep drop-off to the lake below. Luckily, there was cell phone service and eventually we were able to contact the Automobile Association (AA) and a flat bed truck was dispatched. The AA has agreements with the American Automobile Association and no money changed hands. While waiting for help, a NZ Highway Patrol car stopped to see what was happening--the officer was a Brit named Jim and his badge number……N007! Nice guy who told stories about riding bikes in England and had a good time “gassing” with us while on his Sunday afternoon shift. The AA truck arrived about three hours after the flat occurred. An hour later the bike was in the shop at Queenstown Motorcycles Limited (not normally open on Sunday, but the owner, Duncan Smith, was there working on a project in the new building). RA rode her bike back to the hotel and Duncan gave me and my bike luggage a ride in his car promising to have his guys fix the flat first thing in the morning.

At 0800 on Monday, RuthAnn and I rode two-up to the bike shop; RA stayed there with her luggage and I went back to the hotel get my top box and panniers. The bike was ready when I got back. Finally we were on our way to Milford Sound and our overnight stay on the Milford Mariner.

The ride into Milford from Te Anau got better as we rode north with the valley narrowing and mountains getting more rugged and high. The virtually unlit Homer Tunnel (10% grade/1.2 km) added to the riding experience. The long white cloud was gone and we were able to see all of the rugged peaks towering above us. The sound is really a fjord since it was formed by glaciers; whatever you call it, it is impressive.

At one point we anchored and were given the choice of a short tour in one of the tenders, or a chance to go kayaking or swimming. We opted for the tender ride to explore more of the shoreline and get commentary from our guide. The meals and cabin were very nice; we slept well on the water. The next morning we motored out to the Tasman Sea and on the way back saw fur seals and blue nose dolphins swimming along the side of the sound.

We spent most of Tuesday morning riding the 120 km back to Te Anau and ate lunch at The Fat Duck; fresh blue cod seems to be the catch of the day and it is delicious.

On Wednesday we did a day trip to Doubtful Sound (10 times the area of Milford). To get there was a bit more complicated than just driving to the wharf; an hour boat ride across Lake Manapouri, a 22 km bus ride over the Wilmot Pass (gradient of 1:6 going up and 1:5 down the other side) to the wharf at Deep Cove on the sound. Part of the tour was a visit to the underground (inside a mountain) Manapouri Hydro Power Station which included driving down a two kilometer spiral tunnel to see the station’s power hall. Very impressive!!

So from a deflated tire to the elation of visiting both sounds in near perfect weather, we are nearing the end of an exciting time in NZ. There is a lot to see as we proceed around the bottom and up the east side of the South Island.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand meaning Land of the Long White Cloud, finally had some meaning for us on Thursday and Friday as we rode from Franz Josef to Queenstown via Haast. The long white cloud was omnipresent and obscured the tops of the mountains.

It rained all night Wednesday, often heavily. By dawn, however, it had stopped. After taking my shower, I looked out to see the tops of the mountains clear of cloud and heard the sound of helicopters buzzing in the early morning sky. I hopped on the bike and rode into town to see if I could arrange a flight. Mt. Cook was in cloud, but I could do a flight/landing on Franz Josef and twenty minutes later was in the air. The chopper could take six passengers, but there were only three of us, so we all had a window for a great view of the glacier. We hugged the waterfall laced side of the valley (seemed a little too close for comfort for a fixed-wing jet pilot!) above the glacier as we headed for our landing spot. New Zealand and Chili are the only places in the world where glaciers meet vegetation; in this case, a rain forest. Through the magic of flight, we were over the terminal of the glacier in about a minute (it had taken us 45 minutes to walk there the day before). The view of the crevasses from the air was awesome. We set down at the 7000’ level and got out to look around. The two Aussies from Western Australia (WA) had a little snow ball fight while I snapped pictures and talked with the pilot. The snow was tinged in places with a light reddish-brown color--dust from Australia! The flight was a thrill and one of the highlights of the trip--not soon forgotten.

I went back to fetch RA and we rode to Fox Glacier Township (town) and rode out to Lake Matheson where on a clear day Mounts Tasman and Cook are reflected in the calm waters of the lake. That long white cloud was in the way and the only reflection was of cloud and fog; I did get a great picture of a poster showing what we were missing! I rode to the view point for the Fox Glacier so did get to see it from a distance--the river walk to the terminal was closed due to the heavy rain from the night before.

We had a pleasant stay in Haast with a nice motel and good dinner in the Hard Antler Pub decorated with red deer antlers--reminded us of the décor in some of the places in Jackson Hole, WY, that use elk antlers for the same purpose.

On Friday, accompanied again by the long white cloud, we spent all day riding 230 km to Queenstown. We made several stops to view waterfalls and take pictures of the scenery. In Wanaka we rode out to the airport to visit the New Zealand Fighter Pilot Museum, small, but very well done. Its main purpose was to honor the NZ flyboys from WWII. Nice examples of a Tiger Moth, Hawker Hurricane, and a de Havilland Vampire fleshed out the museum visit.

The Crown Range Road to Queenstown took us up to 800+ meters (close to 300 meters higher than Haast Pass), through Cardrona and then a quick descent via seven very tight hairpin turns to our destination.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of NZ and where bungy jumping was invented. If there is an outdoor activity to be had, you can do it here. The town itself makes one think a bit of Aspen or Vail with the mountains and town crawling with tourists. Our activities consisted of taking the steam-powered TSS Earnslaw (built in 1912) across Lake Wakatipu for tea and a farm tour at the Walter Peak Farm. The old girls hits about 12 knots under a full head of steam; it is interesting to watch the stokers at work shoveling coal into the belly of the beast.

On our return to Qtown, I signed up for a jet boat trip on the Shotover River while RA declined the high speed adventure. These jet boats are built here, need less than four inches of water to operate in, hit 50 mph, and are powered by two Buick supercharged, 3.8 liter V6s producing 520 hp!!! Talk about a rush when the throttles are advanced! Fourteen passengers make a boat load, and the driver takes the boat within inches of the narrow gorge walls at high speed, usually in a major skid. Several 360s punctuate the thrilling ride--add it to your list of must-dos if you visit NZ.

Our next ride was almost straight up 450m on the Skyline Gondola for an incredible view of the town, lake, and mountains. From there we were able to watch bungy jumping, luge riding, tandem paragliding, airliners steeply climbing out from the airport, and the Earnslaw docking down below. The long white cloud finally disappeared today and the range of ski peaks called the Remarkables was clearly in view.

A short note about the many one-way bridges (we had several in OZ as well). When you approach one you see painted on the road: ONE LANE BRIDGE accompanied by a sign with two arrows on it, one large and one small. If the larger black or white arrow points in your direction of travel, you have the right of way; there will be a smaller red arrow pointed in the direction of the on-coming traffic. If the red arrow is pointed in your direction of travel, you must give way (yield); it is simple and works well.

Frequently we see large white arrows painted on the road to indicate the proper direction of travel, helpful for the many tourists here who are not native left-laners.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

North to South

Friday morning arrived in Napier with mizzle and drizzle, but that did not diminish the lovely breakfast served to us at our B&B, the Manor on Parade. Two of the rooms were occupied by bikers, so the conversation flowed. Before leaving town, we spent some time at the local museum to educate ourselves about the 1931 earthquake.

The 144 km ride to Dannevirke was a damp one, but not long. We soon found the home of Tony Barnett’s (Heather’s husband) parents, Robin and Richard. We’d met them at the 2003 wedding in New York and were greeted warmly as we rode up on our bikes.

The Barnetts were wonderful hosts; the tasty Friday night dinner featured lamb from the farm. Saturday morning we got a short tour of the sheep/cattle farm; Richard trusted me to drive his little two seater four-wheel drive truck while he rode in back and jumped on and off to open and close the gates as we went from one paddock to another.

As we were leaving we discovered that Zele had a flat rear tire due to a horse shoe nail. A call to one of the local bike dealers set things in motion and soon the bike was on its way to the shop in the back of a small pickup. Zele was kind to us by having her flat tire in the Barnett’s garage only delaying us for about an hour.

Next stop: the Duncan House in Foxton, the home of Angela and Dave Pilgrim. Dave and I graduated from Albert Lea High School together in 1964 and share the same birth date! RA and I had a good time visiting with Angela and Dave last fall at my 45th high school class reunion in Albert Lea and warned them of our planned visit. Dave has lived in New Zealand since 1979 and has some great stories to tell about his time Down Under. He has been instrumental in getting an authentic, operating Dutch windmill up and running in Foxton; we got the full miller’s tour before riding to Wellington to board the Interislander ferry to the South Island. If you come back in April, you will be able to ride the blades of the windmill!

Windy Welly was exactly that with a cold mist in the air. The Aratere was a little late in departing and the Cook Strait was not the glassy smooth sea that RA had ordered. The evening ride from Picton to Nelson was a pleasant one with plenty of daylight to spare (sunset at 2108). The Cedar Grove Motor Lodge offered comfy digs and the Vic Brewery Bar served up tasty fish ‘n chips which we enjoyed alfresco.

On Monday the 18th, Zele got a new front tire which had been sent to one of the Nelson bike shops by Te Waipounamu (they didn’t have one in Auckland and did not want us to do the whole trip on the current tire even though a fair bit of tread remained); we appreciated their concern for safety.

The ride to Westport through the Buller Gorge is rated four smiles (out of five) by Peter Mitchell in the New Zealand Motorcycle Atlas which is the motorcyclists bible for riding in NZ. It was the best ride to date in NZ; the warm sunny weather had something to do with it as well.

The Bay House Café in Tauranga Bay on Cape Foulwind served delicious fare with a view to die for. Thanks, Paul--it was well worth the short ride. After dinner we took a short walk out to see the fur seal colony--many pups still with their mothers.

The run from Westport to Franz Josef Glacier took most of the day with stops for a couple of nature walks and aviation related historic sites. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki showed off the geological stylobedding giving the rocks the appearance of stacked limestone pancakes.

Some of the snow-covered peaks above the village were peeking through the clouds as we ate dinner and explored one of the tourist meccas of New Zealand.

Today, the 20th, was a lay low/catch-up day as we awoke to a steady rain. The rain stopped after lunch so we geared up and rode 5 km to the beginning of the walk to the Franz Josef Glacier terminal. It was an easy walk through the moraines accompanied by on and off rain showers. I had entertained the idea of a helicopter flight to and landing on the glacier, but the weather grounded the aircraft today.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Te Waipounamu

Sunday, the 10th, was a lazy day that started with an alfresco breakfast on Parnell Road and ended with a presentation by Ted Simon, a British motorcyclist/journalist, who spent four years riding around the world in the mid-1970s. Ted is accompanying a tour group that was staying at hotel and leaving Auckland a day after us.

Te Waipounamu (Land of the Green Stone--jade) is the Maori name for the South Island, and the name of the company we are renting our bikes from. On Monday morning, they gave us a ride to the depot to pick up our BMW F650 singles. RA was to have a bike with a low seat, but the two bikes are the same which means she is a little tippy-toe and I am a little cramped, but it all works; at least RA’s blue bike, Zele--named after the license plate (25ZEL)--is more comfortable than Miss Piggy!

The ride out of Auckland was easy, and we headed for the Coromandel Peninsula and Coromandel Town. It felt good to be back on two wheels and the twisty roads got us back in the groove. On Tuesday we continued around the peninsula with a stop in Paeroa to see the big L&P bottle. Lemon and Paeroa is the “world famous in NZ” fizzy drink made of Paeroa mineral water and lemon. It is now produced in Auckland and owned by……..Coca-Cola; we’ve had a couple of bottles and it tastes pretty good, especially the “dry” version which is similar to ginger ale.

Next stop: Mount Maunganui and the beach home of Zeta and Richard Robertson. We met the Robertsons in 2002 at the wedding of the daughter of one of RuthAnn’s best high school friends. Heather married a New Zealander and there were several Kiwis at the wedding in upstate New York. I kept the business card Richard gave me and when I sent them an e-mail last fall promptly received a reply. We were invited to visit them on our trip and had a wonderful evening with them and Fay, a Rotary exchange student from Germany, who was staying with them for a week.

At Richard’s suggestion we visited kiwi360 on the way to Rotorua to learn about kiwifruit. We took a very informative tour in the kiwicart and as a result will be looking for the kiwifruit more often in the supermarket when we get home.

The short ride to Rotorua took us to the Agrodome and very entertaining show centered around New Zealand’s sheep and wool industry. Nineteen champion rams were on stage along with one who got naked during the shearing demonstration. Sheep (and duck) herding, sheep auctioning, cow milking, wool carding and spinning were all part of the fun.

The North Island is volcanic, and in the Rotorua area the thermal activity and Maori culture are the primary attractions. You can smell the sulphur in the air when you approach the city and soon see wisps of steam rising into the air all over town. We had a nice soak in our hotel’s thermally heated pool before going to bed Wednesday night.

Napier, on Hawke Bay, was leveled by an earthquake in 1931 and much of the rebuild was done in the Art-Deco style. The Marine Parade along the beachfront makes for a very interesting and pleasant evening stroll.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


When checking in with Aerolineas Argentinas at the the Sydney Airport, we were asked if we minded taking an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland; the AA flight was “very full” which I took to mean overbooked. We accepted the airline transfer, but had to hustle as we now had less than two hours to check in, and clear immigration and security. We got to the gate with about twenty minutes to spare, so all was well. We arrived in Auckland about ninety minutes earlier than originally scheduled.

We took a group shuttle to the hotel in Parnell; the shuttle is a large, shared van that drops off people at their homes or hotels and tows a small luggage trailer with a clam shell lid.

Our hotel is located in the up-scale suburb of Parnell and our room on the fifth floor has a great view of the harbor and downtown Auckland. There are many excellent shops and restaurants within easy walking distance, so we have everything we need in this quiet neighborhood.

On Friday we took the Link Bus (runs in a big loop around the central areas of Auckland) downtown and wandered about visiting the Viaduct Harbour and the Sky Tower. The tower is the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere (328m) and has several lofty eating and observation levels. RA decided to skip the 40 second ride to the top, so I headed up to the Sky Deck to get a bird’s-eye view of New Zealand’s largest city (1.2 million). Very impressive!

Even more impressive (I think) was the Sky Jump, a cable-guided base jump from one of the decks to a bulls eye painted on a platform on the ground. We watched several of the jumpers from the ground, and when I was on the Sky Deck watched a couple bodies go hurtling by the deck’s window!

We took a short walk on Saturday morning to the the Domain (a huge green space/park near downtown) and visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The ground floor is devoted to Maori (the people living here when the Europeans arrived) and South Pacific Island displays complete with a Maori cultural performance. Five and a half hours after entering the huge building that has the appearance of a Greek temple, we headed toward the hotel, sitting down for a well deserved dinner along the way.

Friday, 8 January 2010


After spending a quiet January 1st in LB’s digs, we packed our bags for the next venture--Tasmania.

It took us an hour to get to the airport on the train; after a short weather delay, we were on our way south. We picked up our Nissan Tiida at the Launceston airport and ventured down the road to find our B&B in town. This was our first experience driving a right-hand drive car since our Peace Corps days in Kenya back in 1969/70 and navigating down the left side of the road did not present any problems except when we had to make a turn: The car went where it was supposed to go, but instead of signaling a turn we were wiping our windshield. At one point I even had the rear wiper doing its thing too! On a right-hand drive car the signal light and windshield-wiper stalks are reversed and it took a day of driving to get used to using the right one.

After checking into the Hillview House, we headed off to find the major natural attraction in Launceston, the Cataract Gorge. After about twenty minutes of walking through some charming neighborhoods, we came to the place where the South Esk River joins the Tamar River in a very impressive gorge. The walk back along river included a suspension bridge and path along the edge of the gorge--very nice. The Star of Siam provided us with a very tasty dinner before we walked back to our lodging.

After a hearty English breakfast, we were on our way to Beauty Point and two interesting attractions: Seahorse World and the Platypus House. Both had very interesting tours that lasted about 40 minutes each; we saw several very active platypuses (cross between a bird, mammal, and reptile) and thousands of seahorses in the seahorse nursery.

We then drove to the tourist town of Bicheno on the east coast and started to look for a place to stay. Bicheno is a small town of 700 souls and 3200 hotel rooms and the during this time of year the “No Vacancy” signs never come down. After trying about a half-a-dozen places, we thought we might be sleeping in the car that night. Soon after returning to one of the hotels to see if they could help us find a place, we were following Bruce Troode to his home overlooking the Tasman Sea. His wife Pam and daughter Shelley made us feel right at home. These are very kind people who like to help out those, like us, who show up in Bicheno at this time of the year without a lodging reservation. When we returned from town after a nice seafood dinner, the Troodes invited us for an after-dinner drink. The conversation flowed and new friendships were made. Thank you, Troodes!!

On Monday we visited beautiful Wine Glass Bay in Freycinet National Park before driving to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula.

An aside here: the McDonalds in Oz have free wi-fi and that is where we have been stopping to get on-line with our iPhones or laptop. The McCafes here are almost stand alone coffee bars similar to a Starbucks; after buying the token food/drink we settle in and do our internet “business.”

Port Arthur was the site of large penal institution for repeat offenders from England and its colonies in the mid 1800s. It was closed in 1877 and is now one of Tasmania’s most visited tourist attractions. One of the more impressive things we witnessed there were three twenty minute plays dramatizing some of the true prison stories. Very impressive and entertaining.

On Wednesday morning Jet Star flew us back to Sydney where we reorganized for our departure to New Zealand. We had a great farewell dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant with Lady Jane, Lord Brian and Brian’s brother, Piet, and his new wife, Kim. Kim’s mom very kindly took us to the airport on Thursday morning.

Our three weeks in Australia have come to a close; we saw and experienced a lot, but it is a huge country (a continent unto itself) and we only scratched the surface. We hope to return someday to do dig a little deeper.