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.