New Zealand Motorcycle Adventure in prose
By Paula Keezer (copyright 2004)
South Coast and two passes back up the South Island
Te Anau is a tourist town on the way the Milford sound. Most expeditions are based from here. Food is over priced and the better restaurants look down their noses at anyone who did not arrive on a tour bus. Here, I book by kayak adventure into Milford sound with a day before plan to ride in and tramp some tracks.
Well, wet is wet but Milford sound is wetter. Half way, I say, to myself, “do I have enough gas?” I didn’t top off at Te Anau thinking the next town, Te Anau Down would have a station. Half way to Milford, a rest stop called Knob creek, I stop for a rest out of the pouring rain under cover of a newly build tourist center. Sitting pondering my gasless fate while reviewing books and maps for a hint that Milford may have that fire baring liquid, a voice asks where I am headed. The tourist site keeper, a woman in her early fourties dressed in warm clothes and wet gear is looking down at me in my brown bag looking frog togs. “I’m headed to Milford but I’m not sure I have enough gas to get out. “well sometimes Milford has gas” hmmm sometimes I think to myself.
“I’ll call” she sez and invites me into her wood stove warmed office for a coffee.
Milford has gas and off I go, thanking her for helping me peace of mind!
Cloud capped peaks cascade water down nearly vertical walls in white streams. This is what you see as you approach the dead end mountain lined Homer Saddle in the rain. Not until you approach the saddle wall do you realize there is a tunnel, Homer Tunnel that goes through the mountain.
Homer Tunnel is a rough hewn tunnel nealy two kilometers long carved through the mountain. It took the Kiwis almost 50 years to cut this tunnel which has a single sparkly populated line of ceiling light bulbs and whose interior leaks constant water and absorbs all light.
This is a single lane tunnel with a stop and go light at either end allowing only one way passage one at a time. I arrive just as the light turns red and have to stop in the pouring rain.
My visor steams up, my glasses steam up, I raise my visor and get rain on the inside of the visor and on my glasses. This is not good. But the cascacades of water droping out of the sky along the bare rock walls of these mountains is mesmerizing. Finally the light turns green and I drop my glasses lower on my nose and partially close my visor. Into the abyss. All that guides me are the few lights on the tunnel ceiling. High beams have no affect on these light absorbing walls. I sense the tunnel going down hill slightly but still not ‘light at the end of the tunnel’
Finally, a light, or is it a tourist bus! I break out into the clouds and immediately into tight switch backs on water drenched chip seal. The clouds resede and views of Milford sound, a spectacular fiord land where 3000 meter mountains meet the sea in the most steeply angles mountain walls I have ever seen.
First things First, gas up (a story in itself) and off to see if I can get some lodging at the back packers. No luck, the backpackers is full but they have campsites and a camper can use all the facilities (yeah)
Warming and drying off in the lodge while my riding gear gets an added dryer drying I cook up the meal I expected to use and settle in until things dry out a bit before setting up camp. The sun comes out for a couple of hours and I’m able to set up a dry tent.
It rains and the wind roars through the night. I’m dry and warm in my little tent. The next morning a few rays of sun shine through and yield a totally different landscape at 1000 meters and above. Snow, and lots of it. Stories from tourists coming throught the tunnel tell of slush on the road and land slides. Great…
Kayaking in Milford sound gets you up close to everything. The nearly vertical rock walls, dolphins, seals, penguins and water falls. Our Mauri guide gives us all the folk lore of the place and warms us up with an afternoon break on one of the few rocky beach landings.
I take pictures while trying to keep my camera dry but finally, my salty hands gets the best of my digital camera and my digital camera is a camera no more!
Getting out of Milford was my number one priority late on that day. Milford sound felt like that kind of place which could close in on you. I packed and headed up to the tunnel by 4:30 that afternoon. No slush on the road, just a few snow flakes. Down the other side out of the tunnel and back into the pouring rain……
Another drying session in Te Anau then off the next morning for the south coast. First stop Invercargill where I had a latte at the Global Byte café. My GPS maps were not loaded for the southern part of this trip so I broke out my laptop and connected up my GPS. As my pc came up, all of my Internet connections lit up! Oh baby, an open access wireless connection! Time to catch up on emails and chat with my son who just said ‘hello’ on IM. He was looking for a plane ticket to the East Coast for Xmas but couldn’t get it charged. So, 10000 kilometers away, at a café in South most South Island I booked a ticked for him!
I could feel the tail end of my trip coming. I had to get back to Nelson in eight days but wanted to stop at a few places on the way, so I zipped through the south coast along the Scenic Southland Drive through the Catlins and into a little unknown place called Kaka Point.
I almost didn’t stop but my body was demanding a pee break so I double backed to the little store and discovered a backpackers sign. Looking through my lit, there was nothing listed. I wondered up a path that led to a ridge top house where the backpackers was. With a fabulous view of the southern ocean (Antarctic?) I decided this was the place to stay.
Next stop was to see if I could score a replacement digital camera in Dunedin. Unfortunately, the markups over the net were on the order of 30%, much more then I could justify so I settled on a disposable film camera and made my way to the Moreki rocks.
These are rocks that seem to be accreting from soft mud banks. A form of orange crystal, probably quartz forms octagonal designs on the surface of a spherical boulder. A cracked open one lies on the beach where the octagonal shapes yield what their inner surface has been doing. Bespeckeled with orange colored crystals, the insides are an incubator for these jewels.
North once again to Christchurch and a two day lay over at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. Once French, this township has an odd mix of names. The weather is fabulous here and the zen garden with barbeque made my lamb chops delicious.
I had hoped to pickup a dolphin adventure here, it is less money then Kaikora, but it was to windy. Instead I took the unladed Tiger for a spin on the summit road and out to some of the lesser bays on Banks Peninsula. A 40 knot side wind made one such excursion down a gravel road a bit more exciting then I reckoned for. Making it back to sealed road was a relief. No more gravel today.
A nice rest bit but it was time to go across the island and back to Hokitika to hand make some jade presents. Two nights and a Koru and Hei Matau later I headed to the Abel Tasman Marine reserve for a two day Kayaking adventure.
Leaving Hokitika the weather was threatening but dry. The further I made it east and north the wetter it got with breaks in the distance eluding to better weather. By the time I made it to within 50 klicks of Motueka, base camp for expeditions into Abel Tasman, I was drenched and still had not put on my rain gear.
Dripping wet, I got to the backpackers I had made a reservation at. The place was to new and to clean with mostly plastic people populating the premises. (mental note, only go to older smaller backpackers)
It rained most of that night but the sun rose into a party cloudy sky the next day. With two dry bags preprared for a kayak adventure and the rest of my gear stowed in my givis I headed to the departure beach.
As the crow flies we did about 20 kilometers in those two days. As a kayak hugging the coast we did much more! Highlands separated by arched golden sand beached in clear aqua water doesn’t even come close to describing this park. Distant snow capped mountains with beach protected lagoons and the ever present Kiwi “bush” make this one of the most beautiful parks in New Zealand.
We paddled along ocean carved arches and caves, through 20 knot head winds around highlands with one meter waves breaking over the kayak. We had catered hot lunches and dinners on sandy beaches and forested campsites. We walked on carpets of tiny muscles encrusting giant boulders. We swam in warm waters, the first I had come upon in New Zealand.
It was hard to leave Abel Tasman. It was my last stop before Nelson and my trip home. I had a wonderful time in NZ. The people I met were quite wonderful, even if they did drop there r’s and made there e’s go away. The other visitors I met, of many nationalities, were all warm and friendly, even the few Americans!