Update 22nd December 2007
We turned inland to the pleasant if touristy Hanmer Springs where, courtesy of the discount tickets in the free tourist guides, we had an upgrade to ½ an hour in our own private pool in the hot springs, very nice. We then soaked with the rest of the plebs in the public pools, which were also very pleasant!
On to the East Coast town of Rangiora to meet the Australasia moderator for Horizons Unlimited & HelpXer, Nigel Marx. We were made very welcome & soon realised we’d found a kindred beer drinker as he introduced us to a number of local beers, principally from Harringtons brewery just down the road in Christchurch. I sadly have to report that Harrongtons’ ‘Beez Neez’ honey beer is actually better than the UK honey beers we’ve had. Nigel also has a strange obsession with Suzuki A50 mopeds, I think most of the surviving examples in NZ are in his garden! We’d arrived during his busiest week of the year - his business is taking the photo-finish pictures at most of the racecourses in the area & it was New Zealand Cup Day - so we moved into the city to the hostel of Andy & Gerti, other HelpX hosts who’d invited us to work at their hostal for 3 months. We didn’t have enough visa time for that so booked in for a Sunday night in Christchurch.
New Zealand Cup Day is the Kiwi version of Ascot race day, famous for the punters getting dressed-up to the max (about the only time Kiwi’s ever dress up) & getting blotto to the point where they spend most of the afternoon falling on their arses. Courtesy of Nigel we got to experience this first hand & even got to watch the racing from 3 floors above the presidential suite on the finish line (that’s where the photo finish picture is taken). Unfortunately the weather turned cold & wet in the afternoon so the fun was literally dampened. Nigel then drove us to meet Andy & Gerti for a good night out at a couple of the best real beer pubs in Christchurch, marvellous.
Unfortunately that night one of my teeth decided to split open for no apparent reason so the next day started with a panic dentist visit. What a racket dentistry is in NZ! It cost me $325 (£126) for a temporary filling & the advice that it would cost $500 to get the tooth out or $2000-4000 (£775-1500!) to get them fixed, what a rip! The antibiotics knocked me sideways so we stayed on & took a somewhat depressed walk round town. On a small side street there was a sign “Britten merchandise available here”. If you don’t know John Britten is a classic of Kiwi ingenuity. He put together a team that created a V twin motorcycle in the 90’s that he took to Daytona & beat all competition hands-down, you can see the bike at www.britten.co.nz. I decided to take a look & it turned out to be the offices of Brittco Management, who now do commercial property but still have all the tools & rights to the bikes AND in their back office have the the 2 bikes he took to Daytona. The original bike he built which didn’t do so well and the one that walked it. AND the nice lady who took us through it said “Go ahead, have a sit on it” Oh yes! Paranoia is sitting on someone else’s $500,000 bike.
Further South is the small town of Geraldine & another HelpX stay with Tussock & Alex. One reason to be in the area was for Anita to get another ‘ringorak’ fix - Mount Sunday, the stunning location used for Edoras, King Theoden’s hall in Rohan. A roche moutonnée (hill created by hard rock & moraine left behind by glacial movement) it’s a very low key tourist spot. We had to ride 15 miles up a gravel road, park up, walk for about an hour across private land (the owners have given consent to walkers) & wade 3 freezing glacial rivers to get to it. As we finally puffed our way to the top we met the local tour group who got to drive in! Oh well, we got the benefit of their $200 tour info for free & we got to hang around, eat our picnic & sunbathe for an hour or 2 after they got whisked off for more bouncing around in their minibus.The river was still bloody freezing on the way back though.
Geraldine hosts the world’s biggest knitted jumper - you can see their Guinness Book of Records certificate! However as you walk to the back of the shop you also get to see the entire Bayou Tapestry replicated - in hundreds of thousands of small metal pieces from old knitting machines. Actually it also contains 27 feet of extra tapestry as the original is missing some, so they re-created their version of the end - based on accurate historical research. The tapestry is actually a follow on from the numerous black & white knights in armour also on display, also done in knitting machine parts. The owner was in the shop & we listened in on some of his description of this prodigious feat, tuens out there’s 10?? Word/number puzzles hidden in the tapestry - if you work them all out you get to join their honour roll. Then he started showing his CD of the tapestry - you can zoom in on just about every person & animal in the tapestry & bring up their name, lineage & relevance to the story, all accurately researched through dozens of historical text books, several of which are transcribed onto the CD. Then there’s a complete star gazing chart, highlight any star & it gives you name & astronomical data. Then there’s the number puzzles, word puzzles, etc etc etc.All created by him, his son & his daughter. This CD just goes on & on. I asked how long it had taken him to create it - 17 years - when does he have tome to run a business? We just had to buy it.
Dunedin was on our way South & deserved a stop for the tours of the Cadbury chocolate factory & the Speights brewery tour. It was also one of the more scenic towns to arrive at, spreading over the hills surrounding Otago Harbour. We ate lots of chocolate like the big kids we are then cringed as we were hustled round all the terrible things Speights do to rush their beer by the most contrary guide we’d experienced. To recover we were heading for town to find some Emerson’s beer (Dunedin’s real ale brewer) but got sidetracked by a pub selling a large number of UK beers & got into a chat with an Australian biking couple. Then everything was suddenly shut!
We had to rush through the rest of the East Coast to arrive at Invercargill in the very South for the weekend of the Burt Munro Challenge, motorcycle racing & rally weekend. As we approached the town the sun disappeared, the temperature dropped & rain poured down. We rode across the large camping field trying to decide where to camp up & a figure stepped forward & waved, our friend Dave from Te Awamutu! He & 2 friends decided to ride to the rally, 1350km, in 1 day - and they did it! Bear in mind the speed limit in NZ is 100kph (60mph (which they strictly adhered to, officer) & the ferry crossing takes a minimum of 5½ hours.
We camped up & indulged in traditional rally arrival behaviour - cracked the first can of beer. The evening was livened up by beach racing nearby which included a nutter on a v-max mixing it with the moto-crossers & super-motards, at least until he lost it on a corner & took down about 4 other bikes! Then the rain came lashing in again so the rest of the night was spent more traditionally with beer & rock bands in a large marquee. Unfortunately I also developed a really nasty cold so spent most of Saturday in bed saving some energy for the evening Speedway racing next to the campsite. Mercifully the sun decided to shine, making it a much pleasanter experience. On Sunday I was feeling much worse so sadly we missed the street racing & instead rode 2 km to the nearest campsite which although rather weather beaten had acceptable en-suite cabins for a mere $50 (£19.55) a night & a wonderfully friendly owner who did everything possible to make us feel at home.
While we were there we took a few trips into town to see the museum exhibit on Burt Munro, another classic of Kiwi ingenuity & the subject of the film “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins. A rather strange & obsessional man who gave up on his job, wife & family to devote his life to getting his 1920 Indian Scout to go as fast as possible. He still holds the world record for “up to 1000cc streamlined modified engine (fuel) motorcycles” (see www.scta-bni.org) set in 1967 at Bonneville Salt Flats. 183.586 mph is the official 2-way time but unofficial top speed estimates are up to 205 mph - on a bike that did 50mph as standard!
He also summed motorcycling up as neatly as I’ve ever heard it put, see our quotes page. We also visited the wonderful ‘boy shop’ of E. Hayes & Co, home of every tool, nut, bolt, tent, camping gear * kitchen item ever made (or so it seems). They also have, amongst other motorcycling exotica, Burt’s actual Indian & Velocette bikes, Haksore Customs to the Nth degree!
This was the turnaround point for us. At that point we had reached the opposite side of the world. As we rode out of the Invercargill rain & cold into the heat wave that the rest of the country was enjoying we were on our way home!
The town of Te Anau is on the edge of Fiordland, an almost roadless area in S.W. South Island. A pleasant if touristy town, we settled in as a base to take the ‘must-do’ trip to Milford Sound, the most accessible fiord. We signed up for one of the many tourist boat trips & rode the 80 mile dead end road into gruesome cold rain again. Milford Sound is noted as one of the wettest places on earth, raining 3 out of 4 days & it lived up to it’s name. Visibility was almost zero but what we saw of the waterfalls cascading from immense vertical rock faces was impressive. We returned to wonderful sun & warmth at Te Anau. Unfortunately Anita then developed a nasty cold so we stayed on to let her recover, it gave me a chance to catch up on some bike maintenance & fit a ‘loobman’ chain oiler supplied by Nigel in Rangiora. A simple device it costs a 5th of a Scottoiler & is much more user fixable. If you like the look of it you can get one at www.chainoiler.co.uk or contact Nigel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While we were there a couple of travelling KLR 650’s pulled in (you can always tell a traveller bike by the amount of stuff piled up on it!) & we met Richard & Kathleen, British & Belgian respectively but resident in Australia, travelling NZ & possible off to the USA after. We got on instantly & swapped contacts. They were planning to ride to Milford Sound the next day- we found out later they had a glorious sunny day there, lucky sods!
Further North is ‘tourist central’ of the South Island, Queenstown. This is where everyone goes to bungee jump, paraglide, jetboat,, tandem skydive, white water raft, or just about anything else that can be devised to separate tourists from their dollars. Undoubtedly a beautiful location it is now packed with motels, hotels, bars, cafes, shops, etc. A bit of a shock after the empty roads of the South. We checked out the activities but they were all hugely expensive for our dwindling budget so we settled for a trip up the Gondola & a ride down on the luge, a tea tray with wheels & a handle bar that lurches round corners on a downhill concrete track as fast as you dare let it go, most entertaining! We also managed to catch up with Richard & Kathleen again, so in traditional British style went out for a curry!
After a few days we headed to the tranquility of Glenorchy, 25 stunningly scenic miles up a dead end road, for some more ‘ringorak’ action. Near Lake Sylvan in the Nature Reserve is the woods used for Lothlorian in the film. It was truly magical to walk through & the leaves you see falling like snow in the film are not an effect, the woods really do ‘snow’ leaves as you walk through.
After a party night in Queenstown we wandered North over Haast pass to the West Coast, famous for rain & sand-flies. The sun shone as we visited Jackson Bay, at the very Southern end of the West Coast road, for Fish & Ships at the tiny snack van there. Unfortunately the 4 week dry spell ended that very night & we woke to low cloud & pouring rain. We persevered in travelling up the West Coast to the Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers but couldn’t see them as the cloud cover was so low. The rain poured down. On the road again we took a rain break near Hokitika, at an out of the way place called the Bushman’s Retreat, to try ‘Pete’s Possum Pie’. They are actually quite tasty & the meat is lean, another weird food added to our list! The rain poured down.
At Greymouth the sun shone through for a few glorious hours as we took the tour of Monteith Brewery. These guys are resisting the bean counters of Dominion Breweries who now own them & still producing reasonably natural beer, their honey spiced Summer Ale was particularly appealing. Then the rain poured down.By this stage we were utterly sodden, our boots, our riding gear, our stuff in the boxes, even our waterproofs were wringing wet, somehow the rain seemed wetter than normal?
At Punakaki there’s a unique rock formation with blow holes called Pancake rocks & we had a West coast drought for a few hours - a mere drizzle. Next day the rain poured down as we rode to Westport & followed us as we turned inland to a small ex-mining town called Blackball, where a historic (by NZ standards) hotel is situated.It’s actually called “Formerly the Blackball Hilton”. It was called the Blackball Hilton until some U.S. outfit got stroppy about it, so they changed it! We pulled up out of the rain about 11am for breakfast & were treated very nicely so gave up on the wet day & stayed the night, they opened their garage for our bikes As we were settled in we decided to have a beer, then another & unintentionally started an all day session that emptied the pub of all it’s Summer Ale! Fortunately they were very nice about us being up very late the next day, even keeping breakfast open late for us!
At last the rain clouds cleared & we started to dry as we rode towards Golden Bay at the very top of the South island.