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Couple travels New Zealand by motorcycle - Part II -


Above the Queenstown waterfront.

For Part I of this series click here

Submitted by Joan Barnes

The Cook Strait separates the South and North Islands of New Zealand. The relics and remnants of wrecked ships that are housed in the Wellington Maritime Museum are testimony to how turbulent and treacherous it and the gigantic rocks on the shore can be for sailors.  On the day we crossed in a large car ferry, the sea was calm and the three and a half hour trip went quickly as we talked with fellow passengers and watched the passing landscape of hills, cliffs and pastures.

When we docked at Picton on the South Island and started our climb up the hillside from the sea on the motorcycle, I thought the South Island was out to prove that she is prettier than the North Island. As I looked down on the inlet dotted with white sail boats on the calm, azure sea and the blue and white Blue Ridge Ferry heading back to Wellington and then at the green foliage marching down the hillside to the bay, I understood why people like the South Island so much.

The Maori people believe one of the early gods went fishing in the ‘canoe,’ or South Island. He caught a very large fish; the North Island. The North Island runs North and South with the Northern part the closest point to the Equator. It has no snow and very little, if any, frost. The South Island is farther away from the Equator and less tropical. It boasts the beautiful snow capped Southern Alps.  Exploration ships to Antarctica depart from her Southern Shore.    New Zealanders (locally called “kiwis”) believe the South Island is the prettiest due to its mountains and dramatic coast lines. I think the North Island also has special beauties.

From Picton we climbed, climbed through mountains, then raced down into valleys and climbed again. We went through Havelock, the mussel capital of the world, and chuckled at the oblong stones that ‘marched’ along the main street.   They stood on thin metal “legs” and were painted green to resemble animated green lipped mussels.

We continued along coastal areas and through mountains until we crested a steep hill and saw the tiny village of Kariteriteri at the ocean’s edge on the valley floor below.  There was a “natural” pool at our B&B. The water was filtered by water lilies, grasses and other plants rather than cleaned by chemicals. The same water was constantly re-circulated. It was a beautiful example of how dedicated the Kiwis are to conserving their environment.

The next morning, we rode through the small town of Murchison. We did a short tour of the Murchison Museum that was dedicated to the victims of various earthquakes. Most of the people were killed by falling rocks and some of the killer rocks were on display with their victims’ names carved on them.

The afternoon ride was glorious. We followed the Stony Creek Gorge down a canyon.   The vegetation was lush and often concealed the white boulders and rocks that lined the creek. The occasional glimpses we got were breathtaking. The road was curvy and perfect for motorcycles. A biker described the road as a “Five Smiley” in a rating system of one smiley being okay and five smileys being nirvana.

Things got even better. The valley opened up and the creek became a large blue river lined by white stones. The roads remained hilly and curvy – a five smiley all right.  As we rose out of the valley, we approached Panukiki where we were greeted by the ocean. This sea was active, alive and agile. It rushed to shore and crashed against gigantic rocks and boulders. Its blue waters churned and sprayed white plumes into the air. My finger was so exhausted from snapping so many pictures from the back of the bike.Pancake Rocks

That evening we could see the famous pancake rocks and blow holes from our balcony.   Palms and other trees led down to the ocean from our room and their lushness added to a scene that defied adjectives. White mists rose over the stacked layers of black “pancake” rocks as blue waves crashed against them. White plumes “blew” skyward through holes in the rocks.

Just before sunrise the next morning, a Kiwi Bird (the national bird) walked across our balcony. Kiwis are nocturnal and rarely seen, so I took this as a good omen. Ely attempted to turn our overloaded bike around, but it decided to take off down the steep drive on its own with Ely somewhat on board. The hotel proprietor and I were able to throw our weight behind it and stop it just inches from a stone wall and a tree trunk. Maybe the Kiwi bird’s karma gave us strength and saved our deposit on the bike.

As we drove down the coast we were again mesmerized by the rugged, rocky coastline.  After a long, wet ride of almost 300 kilometers, we were in the area of the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. Hikes to and plane rides over the glaciers were available. We spent the night in the small village of Fox Glacier.  We learned that the proprietress had driven a long haul truck in the states for eight months and knew Georgia’s roads and cities.  We found other New Zealanders who had toured the United States the same way, thus earning money while seeing our country.

She told us about nearby Matheson Lake. Its tannin waters provide a mirror for the surrounding countryside. She shared a picture with us of the lake that showed a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains, including snow-capped Mt. Cook, trees and white clouds. I noticed that most bodies of water in the area had the same reflective quality.

Again we had mist and rain in the morning. Not far from Fox Glacier, we rounded a hill and dropped down to a valley floor and saw dolphins playing in Bruce Bay. We were the only witnesses to their frolicking and it was a delight to watch them.   We forgot the cold and rain as we were warmed by the peace and tranquility of watching such beautiful creatures.

As usual, the weather soon improved and we had a spectacular ride along the glacier lakes, Hawea and Wanaka. The mountains surrounding us and the lakes had an almost spiritual grandeur. We seemed to be in their embrace as we rode along the curvy road between them and the lakes. Their hillsides were covered with yellow-green grass and white sheep. Black rocks that had tumbled down their sides glistened in the grass and sandy shoreline. I wondered how deep the base of these giants reached below that gray-blue, glacial water.

That night we stayed on top of a high, high hill in Queenstown. The views of the mountains: Coronet Peak, and the Remarkables, and the bay were fantastic. The flower gardens around our B&B would rival any in England or Europe. And, the cat, Gizmo, was the funniest looking creature I ever met. At 19 he had one remaining tooth protruding from his lower lip up to his smudged-in nose. His Persian long hair had been shaved into a lion “do.” He looked fierce but loved to climb onto laps and be petted.

A nearby ski lift carried adventurers to the top of the mountain. We watched from our balcony as they jumped with a guide off a platform with a parasail floating them down to a grassy field beneath our room.   Queenstown is noted for its daredevil sports, like bungee-jumping, jet boating, white water rafting and rocket like plane rides. We stuck to enjoying the scenery and people.

We had dinner on the Queenstown Waterfront. The changing sunlight on the mountains beyond the bay, the vibrant green weeping willows on the public square, the blue waters of the inlet, and the people enjoying the adjacent park made a post card perfect scene.

The next morning, we awoke to pouring rain and howling winds. We waited for the storm to pass. And, the sun did appear for brief intervals, followed by more rain. By 10 a.m. we knew we had to leave regardless of the weather. We stacked on our five layers of clothing, loaded the motorcycle with luggage that seemed to just keep growing, and headed out of town in the cool, crisp morning air.

We inquired about an art gallery in Invercargill housed in an old bank building where Gwen Muno Henderson’s paintings were on exhibit. We were told it was not in Invercargill but in Tauperepere. Even though it added a couple of hours to our ride, we decided to go by there as we had so enjoyed meeting Gwen (the famous bike racer, Burt Munro’s daughter). That decision and other events made this day’s ride the most memorable of the trip and probably of our lives.

Find out why in the next segment, availiable in this week's print edition.

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