friends to the North
-- Story by Erin --
April 1st was my (ahem, 25th)
birthday. We celebrated with a day of off-road riding with a very international
group of about 12 people. Tom and Kirstin's friend Steve Collie had a road
book route for some great tracks north of Christchurch. Each of us mentioned the
ride to others we knew or had just met recently. The day of the ride, about 10 other
people showed up: a German (Christian), a Norwegian (Arne) each on extended motorbike
trips, an English couple named Rich and Beth (Rich had just ridden overland from the UK to
NZ in 7 months), Stephen D, and Kiwi friends Garry and Jo (from the BMW
Safari), Barry (F650 rider from the internet), Steve Collie, his girlfriend Anna, and
of course Tom, Kirstin, and ourselves.
It was a fabulous day for riding and the roads and
tracks were in pretty good shape. After traversing a few farms, scaring some horses
and other farm animals, we ended up at the coast on some cliffs. The view was
terrific so we stopped there for lunch. After lunch we had a challenging afternoon
driving some gravel, twisty roads through beautiful steep valleys and gorges. There
were a few minor crashes during the day but, all in all, a nice way to spend one's
birthday (especially since I didn't fall!)
After all the excitement of my
parent's visit, Tom and Kirstin's wedding, the BMW Safari, and seeing old friends from New
York in Christchurch, we got down to the business of figuring out a plan for our next
several months in New Zealand.
As we had already purchased season ski passes
(NZ$299 = US$130/person) we were committed to staying until the beginning of
September. The ski passes are good for 3 mountains, 2 in the Queenstown area (the
Remarkables and Coronet Peak) and one near Christchurch (Mt. Hutt). We decided it
would be fun to use Queenstown as a base during this time. It reminds us very much of
Breckenridge, Colorado where we like to take our ski vacations back home. The town
and atmosphere of the place feels very much alive and full of excitement.
So we left Christchurch on March 29th and headed
for Queenstown to see about accommodation. We didn't know what we
wanted exactly or even what might be available. After 2 days of posting flyers
around town, calling about 20 different ad's in the local paper, and checking out about 8
places (both shared flats and single units) we met Sharlene and her lovely home in
Fernhill. Sharlene is a long-time Queenstown resident who has spent her last few
(NZ) winters working as a part of a crew on luxury riverboat cruises in France. A
worldly, energetic person, we hit it off with her immediately. We also fell in love
with her lovely two-bedroom house with a view of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.
I'm not sure if we chose her or she chose us but in the end the deal was sealed.
We paid her a 2-week deposit and took off for the
North Island. She would not see us again for another 3 weeks, and referred to us as
her phantom flatmates to all of her friends. We left Queenstown on Saturday,
March 31st and headed for Wanaka. Chris had been in touch with the local rugby
referee society, and signed on for when we returned to Queenstown. He found out
there were a couple of matches in Wanaka that afternoon and made sure to get there in
time. Hanging around the sidelines and chatting with some of the referees,
Chris was asked to touch judge the second match of the day. This was the first time
Chris had been involved with rugby in New Zealand and he was thrilled. For me,
it was just another beautiful day watching the match on lovely green grass with Lake
Wanaka and the mountains in the background.
Our friend Stephen D joined us in Wanaka.
While we were watching rugby Stephen was off sightseeing, where he met a very interesting
German couple. Frank and Jenny were riding a highly customized, BMW motorcycle with
sidecar around New Zealand and Australia. The sidecar looked similar to an off-road rally sidecar rig. The
bike had Volkswagen snow tyres, was originally set up for a handicapped rider, and had a
big tool box/storage chest with a padded cushion (seat) on top for the sidecar
passenger. Not the most comfortable looking ride I've ever seen but it definitely
had character. That night the five of us went to the cinema. This wasn't
any ordinary cinema. Cinema Paradiso is an eclectic mix of movies (Art House and
Hollywood), food (pasta and homemade, warm chocolate chip cookies), and fraternity-house
style furniture (everything from old sofas to airline seats to an old English Mini (its a
tiny little car!). Chris and I sat in the Mini until my legs ached too much from
being squished against the dashboard. The movie was Snatch and we really liked
it. For those who have seen it you will know how difficult it is to understand the
language. I'm not sure how much our poor German friends understood!
Anyway, it was a fantastic night, and the food was great too.
Sunday morning, we headed out towards Mt. Cook,
sort of the halfway point on our way back to Christchurch. We had passed Mt. Cook
several times before but either didn't have the time to stop or the weather had not been
good. This day the weather was absolutely perfect, a bit warm in fact for this time
of year. After finding a spot to pitch our tents near the base of a smaller
mountain, we hopped back on our bikes to explore some of the intriguing dirt tracks we had
seen along the way.
Following one of the tracks to the
Tasman Glacier the road became difficult with large rocks and was not maintained further
along. I decided to park my bike and follow some of the walking paths. Chris
and Stephen, spurred on by a few 4x4 drivers, pushed forward to see how far they could
get. It was a good decision on my part because the road got far worse for them and
Chris ended up getting himself into a spot where he had to be pushed out of by 4 other
people. Oh yeah, a bolt snapped on his left pannier, causing it to drag,
and he didn't even realize it for about 30 meters. He had a spare part, and was able
to fix it himself.
|View along the
some trail-side Repairs
That night there was a full moon,
which rose slowly and provided a picture perfect view of Mt. Cook and the surrounding
glaciers. After dinner (a vegetarian feast cooked up by Stephen on our gas cookers)
we went for a walk along one of the footpaths. It was a bit surreal walking by
moonlight with possums bounding along the path to keep us company. There was a
monument about halfway along that is at the top of a small hill. We climbed it to
see what it was. It's a memorial to all of those who have lost their lives scaling
Mt. Cook. We walked further along the path until we got to what looked like a huge
swing bridge. It crossed a big, raging glacial water river (Chris and I
returned to this spot the next day and the bridge didn't look so big, but the river was
just as raging!).
I could hear the wind outside our tent building up
over the course of the night. By morning it was a full-on gale. The force of
it was pulling the tent pegs out of the ground and we had to repeatedly re-stake it.
Finally, a big gust came along, ripped up the pegs and sent our 4-person tent
rolling across the stone covered field, with our gear still in it. The resulting
damage was a bent pole, about 4 big holes, and several tears in the top of the tent.
So much for staying an extra day! Apparently this kind of bad weather is
typical for Mt. Cook and so we were grateful to have at least experienced one special day
Chris, Gretchen, Ross, Erin, and
Thursday April 12th (day before Good
Friday) we left Tom & Kirstin's (again) and rode further north to Nelson. Again
Ross and Gretchen were the perfect hosts, especially with three Yanks in the house.
Ross organized a few rides with friends of his in town. There was a nice mixture of
bikes: couple of Harley's, a Suzuki Intruder, a Cagiva Elephant, and a new F650GS and
R1150GS. It was a great opportunity to see more of the Abel Tasman area and the
small towns of Collingwood and Kaiteriteri.
Easter Sunday (April 15) we caught the ferry back
across Cook's Straight to Wellington to start our tour of the North Island. Lucky
for us the weather was beautiful and not the usual windy conditions around Wellington.
The drive out on Monday morning was fairly uneventful even though it was Easter Monday and we
were in the middle of holiday-end traffic. We detoured through the Mangawhero River
Gorge, as recommended by Ross. It's a very historic area where missionary settlers
first arrived in 1840. They named their villages Jerusalem (now Hiuharama), London
(Ranana), Corinth (Koriniti), Athens (Atene). There are a good number of
alternative lifestylers living along this route.
At the end of the day we stopped in Ohakune, a
small town we stayed in exactly 2 months prior, Feb 16th. It has a magnificent view
of Mt. Ruapehu (an active volcano), located in the center of the North Island. As we
pulled into town, there was a large group of folks milling about, mostly dressed in
camouflage gear. A closer look revealed several flat bed trailers with
extra large clothing-style racks erected on top. The racks were loaded with deer and
wild boar carcasses, all headless and gutted. We have photos, but thought it
best not to show here. Apparently, they have an annual 3-day hunting/fishing Easter
competition in Ohakune. We arrived at the end of day 3 when the hunters all come out
of the woods with their catches, and to see whom won the competition. There were
several butchers present, willing to buy the carcasses from the hunters. This may
sound kinda gross, but the meat we all eat has to come from somewhere.....
An active volcano, Mt. Ruapehu, across
the valley towards Ohakune
On our way up to Hamilton the next
day we took the famous Desert Road. This winds around the backside of Mt. Ruapehu
through a barren, flat landscape. It turned quite cold through this section and we
had to hunker down behind our windscreens. There was little traffic except for the
Army tanks on maneuvers pacing us on the side of the road. I waved to the tank
driver and he gave me a big wave back. The road turns very windy after about 50 kms
of dead straight road. It was cold and damp so we took it very easy in the
turns. That night we stayed with Steve and Alison Bell in Hamilton, and again they
were very generous hosts. After a day of running errands around the
motorcycle shops in Hamilton we headed further north to Auckland.
It felt like a week of reunions. Our next
stop was a few nights with Arne and Ilsa in the Bombay Hills. We stayed with Arne
and Ilse when we first arrived in NZ. Arne and Chris delved into computer and
motorcycle issues, while Ilsa and I discussed food (Ilsa's a great cook.)
Friday, April 20th: 23 months and 52,000
miles (83,000kms) into our journey. We went by BMW NZ where we met up again with
Grant and John, the head-honchos of the motorcycle division. They had a new battery
for Chris' bike, and John spent some time checking out my clutch. He told us the
plates were probably dragging, and would need to be replaced soon. He also gave us a
demo on how the plates work, and what to look for if we were to do the job ourselves.
Later in the afternoon, we went to see Kerry
Davison, president of the BMW Owners Registry -- the BMW club of NZ. Aside from
being a huge GS fan, Kerry owns half of www.motomail.co.nz,
specializing in the tyre and service department while his partner handles the
accessories. We plan to see Kerry again in September to put some Continental
TKC-80s tyres (great Enduro tyres) on the bikes before we fly to South America. In
the meantime, Chris' front tire was dangerously worn (14,570 miles), and he wanted
something to hold him over. Kerry brought out a used Metzeler Sahara 3, with more
then half the tread on it, and mounted it to the front rim. Afterwards, he looked at
Chris' rear tyre, shook his head, and said we should really change that one too (6,620
miles). Chris asked him how much would it cost, he replied that they were used
tyres, and we could have them for free -- sure they were used, but they still had a fair
bit of life left on them. Kerry also offered us use of his workshop anytime we
wanted. Over the winter, we will send Kerry my front wheel to upgrade it to a
21" rim (like Chris') -- better for gravel roads, and much easier to find 21"
tyres (typical dirt bike) versus my less-common 19" wheel in most parts of the world.
We spent the
weekend with Jurgen Homann, a soon to be world traveler and really nice guy.
Jurgen had been in contact with us for some time by email, and we finally were able to
catch up with him. Jurgen has completely stripped down his 1992 R80GS (bought from
Ross Williams in Nelson) and rebuilt it totally with all kinds of goodies. He wanted
to know how to make ANY repair on the road himself, having very little m/c mechanical
experience. He and his friend Dirk are off on a world tour to campaign for polio
awareness on behalf of UNICEF. Check them out at: www.2-mad.com
-- T(w)o Make A Difference).
On Sunday, April 22nd we went on a ride with Jurgen
and Arne with the BMW OR club, a great group of folks. The ride was out to the
Coromandel Peninsula, a couple hundred kilometers east of Auckland. Stephen
D & Steve Bell caught up with us along the way -- yes, it really is a small
world. While the rest of the club made a loop back around to Auckland we rode north
to the tip. We stayed two days out on the peninsula, driving around the back roads
and exploring some of the walking tracks and beautiful white sand beach coves.