Part 3. New Zealand, South Island, Week 1
Friday, 25 November, 2011
We were to accept delivery of our rental bikes (from a local rental company) at the Sussex House B&B, where their other bike rental customers (on a guided tour) would be staying as well. Our taxi dropped us at the B&B and we checked into the charming place.
Next up was another taxi to the local hospital. The people there refused to even see me, and they sent me walking to a neighborhood clinic a half-mile away. There, I explained to the receptionist that I had already had a New Zealand doctor's examination and prescription, and that I even had the 3rd dose of antibiotics with me. She was unimpressed, and told me that I would have to pay NZ$110 for their doctor to examine me again. My presentation of the previous doctor's instructions that accompanied the IV dosage went ignored. The new paid-for doctor's examination was cursory (there really wasn't anything new to examine), and his opinion was that the 3-day IV antibiotic treatment had been unnecessary, and he refused to administer the 3rd dose. He told me to hold on to that extra dose, in case I might ever need it in the future. It was worthless trying to argue what good that was supposed to do me, so I left the clinic with his prescription for $76 worth of oral antibiotic pills and other pills that enhanced and prolonged the antibiotic's effect. A taxi found us a pharmacy and then returned us to the B&B.
The "quick, inexpensive" administration of the 3rd IV dose ended up costing me a couple hours and $226 (including the taxis). Another example of New Zealand's public health system. Keep that in mind when you go to the voting booth on such issues in the U.S.
Scott and John delivered our rental bikes to us, parking them in front of the B&B. I had originally booked a BMW F800GS, but had been upgraded to the F1200GS since the 800 had been crashed. Laurie had the F650GS twin, and Scott even installed Laurie's Chatterbox power cord for her.
I hooked up my own power cords (Chatterbox radio, GPS, and an accessory power line), but we would have to wait until morning to do the official inspection and rental agreement signing.
In the B&B, we met some of the other riders who will be touring with John and had a chat with them. One of the couples was from Bogota, Colombia, and we talked briefly about my visits to Bogota and my ride around South America. Laurie and I had a general plan to ride around the south island clockwise, and the others were going anti-clockwise. We might have a chance to meet them on the road somewhere along the way.
We walked down to the center of town and found a restaurant that served its signature meals on super-heated slab of stone. You let the meat cook on the stone at your table. We had the light portions, and they were tasty but quite small. The beer was good.
Saturday, 26 November, 2011
We got up early to do some packing and be ready when John arrived for the final sign-over on the bikes. The minor damage already on the bikes was documented and photographed by each of us.
Breakfast in the B&B was a decent Continental affair. We checked out of our room and got the bikes loaded up. The other two couples on the R1200RT bikes were getting ready to go as well. John would carry their luggage in his van and follow them around the island. They were on a scheduled tour, and John had pre-planned their route and motel bookings. We wished them a good ride and made our way out of town.
The GS bikes took a little getting used to, having spent the last two weeks on the Honda cruisers. Footpeg positions were the biggest issue, and it would have been great to have some highway pegs to stretch the legs out. Still, the big 1200GS was nimble and responsive.
We rode east along the north coast toward Picton. The scenic byway was very nice.
When we stopped in Picton, a rider on an old BMW R100 stopped beside us for a chat. His name was Peter and he was a 70-year old Aussie who had been living and riding in New Zealand for several years. He currently lived in a place on the coast, and had spent the last three years riding all the dirt roads he could find on the north end of the south island. He had spent seven years on the north island. He wished us well and we wished him the same.
We grabbed lunch near the water, and walked a bit amongst the arts and crafts vendors.
Once we got to riding again, we turned south along the east coast. It was obvious that the terrain and climate was very different from the north island. Drier and rockier.
Even along the coast there was less foliage and less of a forested feel to it all. Pretty much all the conifer forests were planted by lumber farmers. Pine trees were introduced by European settlers long ago, party for aesthetics, partly for lumber, and partly for firewood. Sometimes for windbreaks, too.
The winds coming off the ocean were brisk and chilly. Both BMW's had grip heaters, and that was very nice. Believe it or not, there were surfers out in those waters (although I didn't get any photos of them).
The chilly day ended with us in Kaikoura, and we settled into the first motel we found. The motel managers recommended a restaurant in town, and we made reservations there. We learned that "crayfish" is a type of lobster down here, and what they call a Tiger Prawn is nothing more than a small shrimp. It was an expensive dinner, and that was typical. We'd have to do better if we hoped to stay near our planned daily budget.
Sunday, 27 November, 2011
I had worked out my complex schedule for the two sets of pills, which cannot be taken together. One set must be taken with food and the other cannot be taken within a couple hours of eating. I had a 10-day supply, so that would be a management issue for a while.
We had placed a breakfast order with the motel the night before, and it was delivered to our room--that was different. A typical "full cooked breakfast" consisted of eggs on toast, sausage (usually bland, like a hot dog), "streaky bacon" (rather than ham), hash browns, and usually a fried tomato or mushrooms. Sometimes juice, but always coffee and tea. Here, my potatoes were on a separate dish.
Our host couple, him from The Netherlands, her from Russia, were chatty and talked with us before we departed.
New Zealand often has narrow roads or bridges, and the right-of-way is determined by signs. The bigger arrow has the right to pass, and the other must wait.
The ubiquitous yellow-flowered bushes are a weed, introduced long ago, maybe as an ornamental since they are bright and very aromatic. The farmers and ranchers hate the damned things, and there is some controversy about poisoning them. We saw these things everywhere, and sometimes whole mountainsides were covered in them.
The day was almost warm, but Summer was still weeks away. The roads on the south island weren't as well-maintained as they were in the north, but they were still good overall. They had a different version of chip seal down here, a bit rougher.
As usual, lots of sheep and cattle, but we saw more deer and elk farms. Some of the sheep were brown and some were black-faced, but most were the same ivory color as in the north.
We opted for the inland route south towards Christchurch, rather than the heavier-traveled coastal highway. A good choice, I think.
Since the earthquake devastation earlier this year, ChCh (Christchurch) has had a constant series of aftershocks, some of them very strong. There is still damage being caused. The central downtown area is cordoned off, and demolition is bringing some of the hazardous buildings down. Occupants of the no-entry Red Zone have been relocated, and there is currently an effort by the government to buy the residential properties that have been condemned. A lot of political and financial fighting over that issue, since the amount being offered is low by some estimates, and many evacuees don't want to leave. Tough times, but they are a tough people. There's little wonder that ChCh is losing about a thousand people per month.
We stopped for lunch at a local Denny's. Colin had warned us that is was not a budget restaurant in New Zealand. Duh.
Even the basic burgers were about $15.
The road up onto the Akaroa peninsula looked interesting, so we headed that way. It turned out to be a popular weekend drive, and we saw a variety of motorcycles and classic autos cruising and zooming along. There were even some home-built hot rods.
This California-plated auto was with us for a while. The old gal in the passenger seat was slumped over in her sun hat, and the driver was just as casual. He let us pass several times, and we did the same for him when we were taking photos. An old Cadillac, I think.
The view from the crest of the peninsula was nice, and we chose a slightly different route for the return to the mainland, ending up on the same zoom-zoom cruising road that others were also enjoying so much.
We again chose the inland scenic route over the busy coastal road as we continued south. Lots of flowers of all kinds, including fields of lupins that were usually some shade of purple. For an hour, we rode in windy but heavily-scented bliss.
To get to the inland scenic route, I chose to zig-zag through some farmlands, using the GPS as a general guide. It was shorter, but slower than heading back to ChCh to pick up the main roadway. Most of the farm property lines were defined by tree lines and hedges. As on the north island, the tree lines are sometimes tightly groomed as windbreaks. We've heard about the tall vertical mowing machines that trim these trees, but we have yet to see one.
There is a bird similar to an American magpie in New Zealand. A bit smaller, and the black-white pattern is different. I saw one on the side of the road with a not-quite-dead mouse in its beak. The mouse was struggling, but the bird had a good hold on it. I hadn't thought of these birds as predators, so maybe the mouse was the victim of a passing car. Either way, the bird ate well that day.
The wind persisted, but it got up to about 28C, which is about 80 Fahrenheit. We stopped for the night in Timaru, which had its Christmas decorations up. It's still hard to think of Christmas as a summer holiday.
Monday, 28 November, 2011
The prediction was for weather coming for the coast, so we headed inland. Yesterday had been a long riding day, and we planned another for today. If the weather got too bad, we'd find a town to stop in along the way.
Breakfast was at a petrol station. Most of the full-service stations (BP Connect, Shell) that had a convenience store also had a cafe inside. We ate at these a few times, since getting a meat pie was always quick and easy (and cheaper).
I saw a hog farm, and the beasties were huge indeed. Actually, I could smell the farm long before I could see it.
Our planned route took us over the Southern Alps to Mt. Cook and almost to the other side of the island. We were told that it would be socked-in with weather and no visibility, but we took our chances.
Sometimes, there were long stretches of single-lane roadway with traffic lights. The deep gravel was difficult at slow speeds, and I would rather have been going faster in most cases.
More broom bushes everywhere.
The day was cool, and got cooler as we gained altitude. A lot of sun got through the high clouds, but it wasn't enough to warm anything up.
Crossing Burke Pass (709 meters) was chilly. There was more tourist traffic after the Pass and as we got nearer Mt. Cook.
Lake Tekapo, I think.
Laurie's bike was chain-driven, so we were lubing the chain every now and then. I tried some of her chain lube on my squeaky boots and that really helped for several days. For those who don't know, the R1200GS is shaft-driven.
At one scenic stop, Laurie chatted with a guy from New Jersey. We ran into him several times that day.
In moments of greater visibility, we could see glaciers on the distant mountains.
On the final approach to Mt. Cook, rain was threatening, but it only managed to sprinkle.
A bird flew into the side of Laurie's front wheel and came out the other side as a flurry of feathers and pink goo.
The very tip of Mt. Cook was clouded in, but we got to see most of it before turning around and heading back over the Pass to the east coast.
My headlight bulb died somewhere along the road to Mt. Cook, so I continued with my high beam (which is something I often do during the daytime anyway).
The winds became nearly gale-force, and we got buffeted all over the road. There were spots of sunlight by the time we arrived in Dunedin.
I bought a replacement bulb at a gas station. NZ$29 for a standard H7 headlamp! There must have been a wire retainer for the bulb that I removed, but I hadn't noticed it and it was nowhere to be found. We called John's cell phone and he assured me that he would reimburse me the cost of a replacement bulb. He also said he would find a BMW service station in Dunedin to help get the lamp installed.
A guy in the gas station recommended a hotel for us, so we headed for the Law Courts Hotel near the center of town. It was an old building, as many were, and it had its own bar and restaurant. In the distance (photo below) is the famous train station of Dunedin, and between that and the hotel is the Courthouse.
They let us park our bikes in their kitchen service alleyway in the evening. We just had to get the bikes out early for the morning deliveries.
Tuesday, 29 November, 2011
We got the bikes moved out by 07:00, then walked around the local part of the city a bit.
Lots of cafes and bars. If you wanted Whisky and Haggis, here's your spot. As the sign suggests, What more could you ask for?
Breakfast was in the hotel, and we opted for the full cooked breakfast in addition to the complimentary Continental breakfast items.
John contacted us with information on a local BMW service shop, so I took the bike there. There were expecting me, and rolled the bike straight into their shop. They took a bulb retainer off another bike and got mine working. The agreement was that they would send John the bill, so I was soon out the door.
We had decided to spend another night in Dunedin, so we had the whole day to do touristy things. We walked to the central Octagon area, and signed up for a bus tour that included the Larnach Castle and a narrated route around the city. While we waited for the tour, we did some local sightseeing. The Occupy movement was present here, with tents and a small stage area set up on the grass of a small park in the Octagon.
You can see one of the tents in the next photo, but mostly I was taking a shot of the cathedral and the statue of Robert Burns. Burns had somehow endeared himself to the earlier residents of Dunedin. He had a nephew who was the city's first Bishop, but there must be more reason than that for the statue.
There were only six of us on the castle tour.
Our driver narrated local lore and stories about William Larnach's rise to fame and fortune in New Zealand. Primarily a banker, he made himself wealthy enough to build the only castle in New Zealand. Finished in 1871, it was quite a residence, situated on a treeless hilltop across the bay from the center of town. (The center of Dunedin is far off to the left in this next photo.)
The above photo was taken from the second-highest rooftop, seen below. The glassed-in areas were originally open verandas, but sometime in the late 1800's the owner closed them in to create more year-around space and to capture the sunlight for solar heating.
The tour through the castle was brief but nice. The current owners were in the continuous process of restoring it from having been abandoned for a long time. It is mostly tourist fees that pay for the restoration, but the site sometimes gets used as a movie location. There was a platform being built for a movie that was to begin filming here soon. Maybe part of The Hobbit's production? No one would say.
After the indoor tour (no photos were allowed), we wandered the gardens for a while. All the trees have grown since Larnach built the castle. He might have seen them today as a nuisance, blocking the views he had deliberately sought. A great variety of plants in the garden, and a huge, tightly-trimmed holly hedge. I don't know where this door-in-the-tree led to, but it was interesting. Maybe down to Zork.
The stables had been recovered from ruin and had been converted to guest rooms. You can book a stay here, but we didn't get any details.
The ballroom had been added to the original castle when Larnach's daughters were old enough to socialize. It's a cafe now, but special events are held here on occasion.
After returning to the city, we took the in-city bus tour that wound around various points. The University here is a major component of the city, but classes were not in session, so the crush of students was gone. Our bus driver made a point of pointing out Baldwin Street, which apparently has the distinction of being the steepest street in the world. That title has some controversy, as you might imagine. Well, I'll leave these important decisions to those who take it upon themselves to make such decisions--in this case, the Guinness Book Of Records.
We got off the city tour at the train station, which was only two blocks from our hotel. Built during the 1860's gold rush boom in Dunedin, the station is supposedly the second-most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere (the Sydney Opera House being the leader).
Aside from freight, the only rail traffic here now was the daily scenic loop.
So, we learned that Dunedin was a very Scottish city, that Dunedin is the Scottish name for Edinburgh, that there were about 150 thousand people who lived there, that 24,000 of them were University students, that the University was the first in New Zealand, that the new stadium there is one of the largest anywhere and that Elton John had just earlier in the week opened the stadium with a concert there. The Otago Daily Times was New Zealand's oldest newspaper, having recently celebrated 150 years of operation. The Speight's Brewery is here, so that's another point in the city's favor.
After relaxing at the hotel and doing some writing, we went out for dinner and a movie. There weren't many movie choices, and The Immortals sucked badly enough that staring at a brick wall would have been time better spent. Dinner was expensive. Back at the hotel, we had a quiet toast to ourselves, since this was our 30th wedding anniversary.
Wednesday, 30 November, 2011
The street outside was noisy by 07:00. We moved the bikes out of the alleyway and had breakfast again in the hotel's restaurant. We were packed and on the road by 09:30.
We stayed on the coastal road, and we saw lots of small and large beaches with no one on them. The air was a bit chill for most beach-goers, so maybe they would have people on them once summer gets a grip.
Flax bushes were all along the coast. Many were still in bloom, but most had their flower stalks barren. This bush was almost ten feet tall.
Our map and GPS showed a nice road that was supposed to be sealed. We rode the first couple of kilometers hoping it would become paved, but there was no regular traffic and it stayed gravel for maybe twenty kilometers. We saw one other car, an SUV that split off onto a side trail. I think this road mostly serves some farms in the area. It was a nice road for the GS bikes, but Laurie was nervous about our lease agreement that prohibited us from riding gravel roads. Bah.
I would ride a section, then wait for her to catch up.
Back to the coastal road. Low tide, I think.
As we neared the south end of the south island, the road went inland a bit. We passed through a small town that had a house with the sign, "Teapotland," posted in the yard. Here's why.
To get to Slope Point (the southern-most tip of the south island), we again had to ride a lot more gravel. Laurie wanted to send a SPOT locator signal from here, since she had sent one from Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the north island. There were several nice overlook points along the coast and in the area of Waikawa and Curio Bay.
The tank bag on my R1200GS was huge. This was nice most of the time. One problem with each of our bikes (Laurie also had a tankbag on her bike) was that whenever we turned the handlebars fully to the left, the tank bag would hit the horn button. We unintentionally beeped a whole lot of people in parking lots for two weeks.
The gravel road was high-crowned and covered with deep gravel, so it was very difficult travel on the bikes. Also, some of the curves on the gravel farm road were very tight--tight enough to need a huge convex mirror at some of them.
It was sunny and warm, with only a moderate breeze when we reached Slope Point on a dead-end road. To actually get to the shore overlook, you had to walk through a sheep field, but we decided that the parking lot was good enough.
There was some evidence that winds were strong and persistent here at the south end of the island. There's a huge barn built under those severely wind-blown conifers. It's hard to get a sense of scale in the photo below, but those trees are probably thirty feet high (or more).
We got to Invercargill at about 18:00. Christmas decorations were up, as usual.
After cruising through the center of the city, we pulled over at a park entrance to consult a tourist guide for accommodations. In the end, we went to a gas station and asked someone there.
We were given direction to a Backpackers hostel/motel near the center of town. Right next to a small plaza.
If it hadn't been closed, we could have eaten here for one hell of a pizza.
Instead, we chose the Ale House next door to the motel. Much better.
The room was decent, and the price pretty good. There is a chain of motels called Backpackers, but the term "backpackers" is also used all over the place for a variety of motels and hostels. We got fooled a couple of times and had some fairly mediocre rooms at times. Still, a room with a roof, a door, and a bed was all we were looking for at times.
They let us park the bikes with the dumpsters in the enclosed back patio.
I took a shower and washed my synthetic riding clothes at the same time (a common traveler's tactic). Synthetics almost always dry out overnight if you hang them up.
The Backpackers motel also has bunk rooms for a cheap cost, but you share the room with whoever else is there. This was common for all the twenty-something college kids who were tramping around the world.
The drinking age in New Zealand is eighteen, so every popular bar or pub has its share of knuckleheads learning how to drink and behave in public. Sometimes the lessons weren't having much effect, but at least we never saw any violence. In the States, there would have been fist fights all over the place. Those who crowded and hooted and hollered into the brewpub were in a good mood and were letting it show.
Thursday, 1 December, 2011
The weather was clear and sunny when we finally got up for breakfast. The Backpackers motel had a cafe in their lobby, so we ate there. It was a good meal for about US$10.
There were stories about The Hobbit being filmed in the area of the Fiordlands. Everyone in NZ was high on Peter Jackson and his Lord Of The Rings movies, so they were happy that production had (finally) gotten underway for the prequel movie. (BTW, if you've only seen the movies, you have missed a lot. Read The Hobbit, then read the LOTR trilogy. Then, if you really want to understand the complete mythology that Tolkien created, read The Silmarillion. All of the events of the Hobbit/LOTR books is contained in a brief few sentences in the history of the complete mythos.)
We rode west along part of the coast, which was designated the Southern Scenic Route, if I remember correctly.
Once we started riding north, terrible winds came up and shoved us all over the roads. The gusts were horrible and it was hard to stay on the road sometimes. Staying in a single lane was a bigger challenge. It was tiresome riding, since a lot of attention and work went into keeping the bike stable.
As we neared Queenstown, I stopped to read the signs explaining some of the hydroelectric dam history.
I think this was some guy's mailbox.
New Zealand seems to have an aversion to trash cans. We sometimes had to walk all over the place to find a trash can. You'd think that a tourist stop's parking lot and toilets would have a trash can, but no. You have to walk over a hundred yards on a trail to toss your trash. It's even more amazing that there isn't trash all over the place, but NZ is a very clean country.
We passed through Te Anau (pretty, tourist-centric town) on our way north to Milford Sound. The plan was to do the Milford Sound in-and-out and return to Te Anau or further east for the night.
The winds continued to buffet us around, but the further we went north, the less gusty the winds were. The mountains started looking big again.
There is a 1.5 kilometer one-lane tunnel up high, and you have to wait up to fifteen minutes for the green light to proceed. This place is famous for Kea parrots, and we had seen many signs warning people not to feed the birds. We had also seen signs and literature telling stories of the parrots carrying off people's car keys and other small items. These are very smart birds, and they know who has food and who doesn't. The birds were startled when Laurie slid her bike on the gravel and tipped over. They saw that there was no food spilt, so they ignored her after that.
A bus load of Japanese tourists were feeding the parrots and taking photos. They must not have seen the billion signs.
One of the things that Keas are known for is tearing up cars. They have been known to pull off window wiper blades and rip out the rubber strips around car windshields. In the photo below, I managed to catch a Kea just after it landed on a tourist's rental car. The Kea immediately bent over the edge of the car and started ripping at the rubber and plastic trim over one of the windows. They have very strong beaks and can really do some damage.
We got our bikes in line and soon got a green light, so we went into the tunnel. In this direction, it was a steep, damp downgrade.
Out on the west end of the tunnel, the weather was a bit chillier and mistier. The road wound down to Milford Sound.
Like anywhere in New Zealand, there were hiking and camping trails all over the place. Lots of eco-tourist things to do, and some of the half-day cruises sounded interesting. Alas, our timing was bad, so we had a snack at a cafe and headed back up and through the tunnel. Along the way, we stopped in a parking lot for one of the hiking trails and saw more Kea parrots. One of them was persistent in his efforts to pull the aerial from the roof of one of the parked cars. He was really going at it. After a moment, I saw that there was a woman in the car. I don't know if she was resting or was just waiting for someone to come back from a hike, but the ferocious bird made it look like she was trapped inside the car. (You can't see the woman through the windshield glare, but she's there.)
The ride back down to Te Anau was warmer and faster. We ate at a Subway sandwich shop and headed for Queenstown. The ride was very nice, especially along Lake Wakatipu, but the road was so narrow and twisty that I didn't take any decent photos.
Once in Queenstown, we looked for accommodations, but the first couple of motels we checked were locked up. We had arrived fairly late, and regular office hours were over for the small operations. We found another motel with someone in the office, so we took a room there. Not a bad price, and only two blocks from the center of the town. The place was again very touristy, but there were a wide variety of things to do, so we planned on staying a couple of nights.
My gas cap broke off at the hinge, so that was something I'd have to deal with. The bit that broke sure looked under-engineered, and it came off in my hand as soon as I opened it, so it must have already been about to fail. My guess was that the Bagster (tankbag attachment cover) over the gas tank was partially obstructing the gas cap, and every time someone opened the cap, they would have to push it back against the opening in the thick Bagster material. This put a lot of strain on the gas cap's thin hinge every time it was opened. The hole in the Bagster should have been designed bigger to allow the gas cap to open without conflict. Oh, well, it's just another broken part. Nothing serious. We called John and told him about the problem and he said that he would work on a solution and that we would talk about it again in the morning. (He was currently south of our location with the riders he was guiding around the island.)
We spent the evening having dinner and listening to some live musicians in one of the many popular restaurants. Every restaurant and pub was doing lively business for a Thursday night.
A crowd of young men in American cowboy attire came in and whooped it up. They tried to dance in an American western style, but it was more energy than talent. One young tight-butt gal in sprayed-on jeans and a Bolero jacket danced with them a bit, but they knew they were outclassed and they gave up trying to keep up with her.
It was an easy, fun evening after a hectic day of riding. We had all day tomorrow to do as we pleased. A nice break after our first week on New Zealand's south island.
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