Dunedin was the launching pad for some longer days on the road as we planned to cross the South Island twice in the next few days. We spent the night of the 30th in Twizel (pronounced with a long “i”, not like twizzle) at a self-contained cabin in a holiday park. I asked at reception if Mount Cook (Aoraki) was visible and was invited in to look at a web cam image of the mountain clear of cloud with the early evening sunlight reflecting off the snow covered slopes. So, despite being tired from a long day on the road, we rode the 60+ km to the
Mt. Cook village to get a closer look. The mountains were in view for most of the ride and finally gave us our first good view of NZ’s tallest peaks. Definitely worth the ride!
On the last day of January we crossed Arthur’s Pass (NZ’s highest at 924m) and rode through the incredibly deep and rugged Otira Gorge. A new and impressive viaduct eased the passage through the gorge on our way to Greymouth.
February 1st we headed back across the mountains (from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean) via the Lewis Pass to Kaikoura with a short detour for lunch at Hanmer Springs. As were about to depart Hanmer Springs, we heard a familiar voice. It was Jan, an 80-year-old BMW riding Dutchman, whom we had met on the ferry to the South Island two weeks earlier. He immigrated to NZ when he was 22 years old and spent many years working in the paper industry so we had much to talk about.
From Kaikoura we headed south of Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa, a small town that touts its French heritage with “essence” available at the petrol station and the police station labeled “gendarmerie.” The Banks Peninsula was created by two huge volcanic eruptions and the drive around the edge of the crater on Summit Drive was literally breathtaking (not only due to the immense beauty, but also because of the narrowness of the road, steep drop-offs, and intermittent strong winds and fog). We “ate in” that evening after buying a baguette at the supermarket and supplementing it with cheese, salami (pepperoni) and red wine.
Christchurch is the main departure point for Antarctic expeditions, so a visit to the International Antarctic Center was in order. After a quick ride in a Swedish built Hagglund all-terrain vehicle (it swims as well as goes up and down ridiculously steep inclines) we entered the display area. I donned a parka to weather the Antarctic Storm (child’s play as it only got down to a wind chill of -1! Go green Bay--we get colder than that on a calm day!!) We watched the tiny blue penguins from above and below the water during their feeding time. Cute little buggers--most of them have been rescued so several challenged but contented birds were on display.