Arthur’s Pass is the main route over New Zealand’s Southern Alps between Christchurch on the east coast and Greymouth in the west. The road rises to an altitude of 920 metres (3000 feet) before dropping into Arthur’s Pass Village then back to sea level on the west coast. I left Christchurch having plotted a route that took in two gravel road detours and with no particular destination in mind for somewhere to stay that night headed for the hills. Accommodation is easily found, for me that means a campsite or occasionally a hostel. The route out of Christchurch was interrupted by a number of diversions around closed roads that were being repaired following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The severe structural damage to Christchurch looks like it will take many more years to repair.
I took the Old West Coast Road with long straight sections through an agricultural landscape and virtually no other traffic to share the road with before joining highway seventy three and starting the climb into the Southern Alps. The climb was the first serious hills I had encountered in New Zealand which had me changing down through the gearbox of the Honda CBR 250 to maintain momentum.
Stopping for a warming cup of coffee and a burger at Arthur’s Pass Village I was surrounded by snow-capped mountains and considered staying the night to explore the area but decided it would get pretty cold for camping through the night and opted to wind my way down the west side of the alps.
Once more or less back at sea level I took my first planned gravel road detour to Lake Brunner and didn’t see another vehicle until I re-joined the main highway. I had to backtrack on myself and travel a short distance east again before picking up another gravel road to the west coast. I ended up camping in Harihari where the first pilot to fly solo across the Tasman Sea from Australia crash landed in 1931. His biplane ended up upside down in a swamp but the pilot, Guy Menzies walked away unhurt.
Gravel Road Detour From Arthurs Pass
There was a strong wind blowing when I headed south towards Franz Josef with the intention of stopping for breakfast somewhere along the road. I pulled up and parked outside a café and when the waitress came across to my table with my breakfast order she was commenting on it being a strong wind for motorcycling. As we were discussing the weather and looking at the motorbike through the window the wind slowly blew it over onto its side on the pavement. The clutch lever was bent and had to be replaced later but fortunately there was no other damage.
The short walk to the Franz Josef Glacier was a pleasant stroll along the valley bottom. It is thought that rocks torn from the mountain by the glacier has caused the river bed in the valley to rise over thirty metres (ninety-eight feet) since 1965. I was a bit disappointed not to be allowed to walk closer to the glacier. There was a fence erected several hundred metres from the head of the glacier with a cut out of a park ranger advising of the dangers of venturing any closer.
A Park Ranger Cutout Prevents Getting Closer To Franz Josef Glacier
Crown Range Road On The Way To Cromwell
From my campsite in Te Anau to Milford Sound was a distance of seventy five miles (120 km), a short ride, maybe a couple of hours with plenty of photo stops. There is only one road in and out so I would be heading back to Te Anau on my return from Milford. Rain was forecast for the following few days so I planned to stay in Milford until there was a reasonable chance of riding back without getting wet. It was baking hot as I packed up the tent and loaded the bike so I was only wearing light summer clothing. Had I done my homework I would have known that the road climbs up into the mountains before dropping back down to sea level at Milford. The top of the pass was only 540 metres (1750 feet) above sea level but the snow line wasn’t much higher than that and a strong cold wind was blowing. My warm clothing was buried in the middle of my bag so I kept going looking forward to a hot cup of tea in Milford. It was the coldest I had been in New Zealand. Sipping my tea in the café I got my second lesson about reading up and planning your trip. I assumed there was a town or at least a village at Milford where I would be able to buy supplies and that there would be plenty of things to do. How wrong I was! There is one café, a car park and a ferry terminal building for buying tickets and boarding a boat for a cruise in Milford Sound. There was a campground a few kilometres away but there were also lots of sand-flies and/or midges wanting to drink my blood. Had I realised that there was no town at Milford I would have left the tent up in Te Anau and done the bike ride as a day trip without the luggage. After a short walk to the boat terminal and back I dug my warm clothing out of the bag and headed back towards Te Anau. Being warm on the return journey I enjoyed it much more and was able to appreciate the scenery. Definitely a worthwhile trip but I wish I had left the tent up at Te Anau and travelled on a luggage free bike.
I was on a quest to see wild penguins in New Zealand. I had seen wild penguins years ago in South Australia and as there are numerous penguin colonies in New Zealand I felt confident that I would catch up with some somewhere on my route. They did however prove to be almost as elusive as the kiwi bird which I now believe to be either, a Maori mythical creature or extinct. A number of visits to penguin colonies produced pretty but empty beaches. The Yellow Eyed Penguin colony at Oamaru had a number of seals sprawled out on the beach with others swimming in the surf but no penguins. I took a seat and settled down to watch the seals from the cliff top. You weren’t allowed any closer to avoid disturbing the non-existent penguins. Half an hour or so later a solitary penguin came ashore after a day’s fishing, waddled up the beach, stood in the sun, presumably drying itself for ten minutes then disappeared into the bushes behind the beach. It was far too far away to get a photo with my camera but at least I had finally seen a New Zealand penguin. My second and final sighting was at Curio Bay which has the added attraction of having a petrified forest on the beach. Fossilised tree trunks are lying embedded into the rock. There were a couple of penguins on the beach, both looking very fluffy but a bit rough round the edges as they were moulting. Signs said that you weren’t to go within ten metres (33 feet) of the penguins but one of them was completely surround by a ring of photographers moving in to form a tighter and tighter circle as they jostled for position. As much as I would have liked a decent photo myself I wasn’t going to break the ten metre guideline and definitely wasn’t going to be part of the crowd that had a penguin trapped without an escape route.
Moulting Penguin At Curio Bay
I arrived in Oamaru two days after the hundredth anniversary of the announcement of Scott’s death in Antarctica. Two expedition members, Harry Pennell and Edward Atkinson came ashore from the Terra Nova in a dingy into Oamaru harbour in the early hours of the 10th February 1913 guided by the light of the nightwatchman. This was the first contact with the outside world on the return of the expedition. The two rested in the home of the harbour master until daylight without revealing the news of the deaths of the leader, Scott and four other members of the expedition who formed the final push to the South Pole. This information was sent in code from Oamaru Post Office when it opened. The pair then continued to Christchurch by train to re-join the Terra Nova which had sailed on to Lyttelton. By the time the ship arrived at Lyttelton the world had already learnt the fate of the expedition.
The nightwatchman’s hut still stands in Oamaru harbour and a plaque had been unveiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary a few days prior to my visit.
Commemorative Plaque Unveiled Just Before I Arrived In Oamaru
By far the most impressive glacier I have seen so far was the Tasman Glacier near Mount Cook. A large lake, the Tasman Glacier Lake has formed at the leading edge of the glacier since the 1990s when a number of smaller pools joined together. The lake had dozens of large icebergs that had broken off the melting glacier. The existence of the lake, the retreating glacier and the icebergs form a picturesque example of global warming in action. It seemed strange on a very hot day to be looking down at so much ice floating in the lake. The icebergs weigh hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions of tonnes, the biggest recorded which calved the previous summer weighed 30 million tonne.
Tasman Glacier (The Boat In The Foreground Gives An Idea Of Scale.... IT IS BIG!!)
Burt Monro was probably made a lot more famous than he had been during his lifetime when the film about his exploits, ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ starring Sir Anthony Hopkins was released in 2005. He is certainly a huge posthumous star in his home town of Invercargill. Working from a shed on a normally quiet suburban street the neighbours were regularly treated to the roar of his unsilenced vee twin race engine. With limited cash but an ingenious approach to engineering he tuned his 1920 600cc Indian Scout to increase its top speed from around fifty five mph (88 kph) to over 200mph (320 kph) having increased the engine size to 1000cc. He was the holder of numerous New Zealand and world speed records set between 1940 and 1967.
The World's Fastest Indian
Approaching the end of my trip around New Zealand I started looking into selling the Honda CBR 250R motorcycle I had bought in Auckland three months earlier. The first place I tried was the Honda dealer in Invercargill but discovered that there was very little demand for road bikes in the area. The dealer estimated that 90% of their turnover was in motorbikes and quad bikes for farm use, another 6% was for motocross bikes, leaving a mere 4% of bikes sold for the road. The dealer recommended that I tried selling the bike somewhere ‘further north’, advice I couldn’t help but follow as there was nowhere further south in New Zealand to go!
Burt Munro's Shed Interior With His 'Offerings To The God Of Speed', His Collection Of Blown Engine Parts
Baldwin Street in Dunedin claims to be the steepest residential street in the world. With an average slope of over 1:5 and a scary 1:2.86 on the steepest section it does look pretty awesome. Before I got there I thought I would potter up in first gear but once I saw the hill I wasn’t sure the engine would have enough torque so I took a hard run at it in third. The street ends at a tee junction and there isn’t much space for braking once you get to the top. I overtook the postman on the way up who was walking up carrying his bag of mail. Does he have to do that every day? If so I guess the round keeps him fit.
The Steepest Residential Street In The World
Safely Returned To The Bottom Of The Steepest Street In The World
Dunedin was the final destination of my trip around New Zealand. I planned to continue riding north with a ‘For Sale’ notice on the bike and to visit any motorcycle shops I passed hoping and expecting to sell it before reaching Auckland. I had a buy back agreement with the dealer in Auckland but didn’t want to spend the time or money riding back north. It didn’t take long to find a buyer. From Dunedin I travelled to Port Chalmers which was the final port visited by Scott and his ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. I then returned to Timaru, a town I had visited on my way south. A dealer in Timaru bought the bike enabling me to get a bus north to Christchurch airport and fly to Australia.
Scott Leaving Port Chalmers, His Last Port Of Call Before Antarctica
Leaving My Honda CBR250R In Timaru
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