Words by Karen Richardson
If you missed the first installment, click here.
Otago Peninsula had spectacular mountain riding, with lots of sheep dotting the hillsides below us. John thought it was pretty funny to see 100 km speed limit signs on a twisty, narrow road full of hairpin bends and sheer drop-offs on either side, with no guardrails.
The group reassembled for lunch one day on the sunny patio of an orchard farm in the central southern region. The farm was a large apple orchard, with a wonderful collection of perennial gardens, greenhouses and huge walnut trees, plus a large barn devoted to the restoration of classic cars and motorcycles. Most interesting.
My favourite part of the trip was when staying two nights on a sheep farm in the mountainous south-western region (our group was divided among a half dozen farms). We had two lovely lamb dinners, with lots of fresh vegetables, all grown on the farm. The farmer, his wife, and daughter were very hospitable and we talked for hours about life on the farm. He drove us to the top of the mountain behind the farmhouse, so we could get a good view of his 8,500 acre property. Wow!
We saw sheep being drafted (lambs and ewes separated into two separate flocks). There were 7,000 sheep and 300 beef cattle on the farm. The farmer gave us a sheepdog demonstration, with both types of dogs, eye dogs and huntaways. Huntaways move the sheep by barking and running at them, and eye dogs are silent but control the sheep by staring at them and running. On the last evening, some neighbour lads came by in their pickup truck to show us the big wild boar they had killed on our farmer’s land. It was a black monster with huge tusks.
After the first night at the farm, we took a side trip to take a cruise on
Milford Sound, which is a large fjord in the rainforest region of the west coast. Riding there and back was magnificent, like being in a smaller version of the Canadian Rockies, complete with tunnel. The steep mountain walls of the fjord were incredibly high. The large sailing ship we were on took 3 1/2 hours to go from one end of the sound to the other and back again. We saw seals sleeping on the rocks, and long white vertical scars on the mountains, caused by tree landslides.
Queenstown is a small town on a mountain lake, home to every daredevil sport you can name. We were there for two days, and managed to fit in a walk all around town and through the botanical gardens; a gondola ride to the restaurant and lookout above Queenstown; an exciting ride on a 350 hp jet boat on the Shotover River; a motorcycle ride to the top of a nearby ski hill to see the view over the valley, and to lunch in Arrowtown (a
refurbished village from the gold rush days); and a thrilling but gruelling ride on mountain trails on four-wheel ATVs. Some of our fellow tourers went bungee jumping there, with mixed reviews. We decided not to risk it. New Zealanders are very active and involved in outdoor sports of all kinds. We saw lots of cyclists and backpackers during our tour.
We drove through a typhoon between Queenstown and Fox Glacier. It rained all day, and some bikes had to take a detour when an underpass flooded. By the time we reached our hotel that night, everyone was soaked through no matter what waterproof gear he or she had on. We were driving through rain forests thick with fern trees and waterfalls, beautiful despite the weather. All the rivers we passed were brown and overflowing with floodwater. We saw glowworms that night.
There were many lovely souvenirs available in New Zealand. Greenstone (jade) is mined there, so I bought several pieces of jade and paua shell jewellery. Of course, wool sweaters were everywhere, and I brought home a hand knitted Merino wool pullover, soft enough to wear over bare skin.
Hanmer Springs had a lovely spa at a natural hot spring, and we spent several hours treating our stiff muscles to a soak in the warm pools there.
Queen Charlotte Drive along the north coast was very pretty, winding around the mountain curves, overlooking the soft blue ocean. We got drenched day we walked all over the city, looking at interesting homes, gardens and excellent craft shops, and enjoyed the local seafood.
We spent our anniversary in the hamlet of Westport on the northwest coast, and were presented with a heart-shaped cake that said ‘Happy 20th John & Karen’ after dinner that night. We took a side trip to Cape Foulwind to see the seal breeding colony there. The pups were only a few months old, so the mother seals were still there nursing them. Very interesting (and noisy).
The pancake-like rock formations at Punakaiki were very impressive. Wave action has carved the cliffs into unusual shapes. The west coast of New Zealand looks very much like the west coast of California.
We rode from the west coast back to Christchurch (on the east coast) by going over the central Alps at Arthur’s Pass. The hairpin bends were pretty nasty, but John managed fine. The sun shone, water tumbled down rocky creeks, and the mountains on all sides were carpeted in green forests, punctuated with red-flowered rata trees. It was a ‘diamond day’, and the last day of our motorcycle tour.
We hope to explore other places in the world on the back of a bike. You meet the nicest people on motorcycles, and you really experience the land when you are out in the elements. We wouldn’t mind a little less of the wet variety next trip, though!