Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Zealand (Part 2)

With the damage to Jeanette's Bonnie Black, caused by a nasty fall on a nasty bridge at the West Coast repaired, we went back on the road again. Heading for the most southern tip of New Zealand via the Mouraki Boulders, the Catlins, Invercargill and Bluff. Te Anau, Milford Sound and Queenstown were next on our list. Luckily the magic summer continued. 

It hadn't been all work and no play while we were in Christchurch. We did day trips in between the repairs and servicing of the bikes too. First stop when we left Christchurch was beautiful town of Akaroa. We took the dirt road that brings you to the other side of the peninsula. A narrow but very quiet road and well worth doing. The movie 'World's Fastest Indian', a true story about the remarkable Burt Munro, made me want to go south. The story is wonderfully portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.
I really wanted to see the original bike, which is in Invercargill. Jeanette was looking forward to the Catlins, Mike just wanted to ride… as far as he could, so the southernmost tip of New zealand sounded good to him :-)
Going south from Christchurch along highway 1 is not fun. It's boring. Mind numbingly boring. Why is it that Highway 1 in most countries around the world is so boring?
Surely someone should be able to come up with something better for the number 1 road? If they can't, then there should be no speed limits, so you're at least off it asap. Riding along highway 1 suddenly the Pink Floyd song Comfortably Numb sprang to mind. First stop were the Mouraki Boulders. What are the Mouraki Boulders? No idea. They look like petrified turtles which for some reason came together at a beach, which is now named after them. According to Wikipedia the Moeraki Boulders are unusually large and spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach… According to the Maori they are the remains of eel baskets… I stick to petrified turtles, simply because that's what they look like.

We stayed a couple of days just outside of Dunedin, at the quiet showgrounds of Mosgiel. Strictly speaking it's for New Zealand motorhome club members only, but they didn't mind us being there. We made day trips to the only mainland place in the world to view the Northern Royal Albatrosses in their natural habitat at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula. The ride from Dunedin to the end of the peninsula is a good one. Nothing but curves along a beautiful bay.
By now we had unfortunately found that New Zealand has become very much a 'pay for everything' society, but at least we didn't need to spend a small fortune to see the Albatrosses. A local man told us where to go, which is at the viewpoint on the right hand side of the building at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 'The wind is just perfect for the Albatrosses' he said 'North East and strong, they should be coming just around the corner there, do a loop up the cliff and then glide right over your head'. Within 10 minutes they were gliding just metres above us…! Amazing birds and the size of them is just unreal A wingspan of 3 metres! To the left is a walkway towards the water, where we saw sea-lions coming ashore. I had a magic moment when a sea-lion came out of the water, did the 'catwalk' towards me till almost touching distance and started washing himself. Twice he gave me a grumble and showed his teeth, but then settled down and accepted me, I think.

We wanted to have a look at the castle on the peninsula too. Not a big castle, more a modestly sized house with a small tower. I'm looking at the sign next to the entry which tells me it's $28,- per person to visit the castle… I looked again, maybe I had looked at the price for a guided tour… but no, just entering it would costs us almost $90,- 
We opted to go to the centre of Dunedin instead and have a look at the Settlers museum, which is very much worth a visit. Beautifully setup displays and… free! The 8-shaped centre of Dunedin is obviously enough called 'The Octagon'. It's lined with shops, cafes and beautiful churches. Unlike current Christchurch, the city centre of Dunedin has a very relaxed feel. We visited Tunnel Beach and the Botanic Gardens as well and had a couple of very enjoyable days in Dunedin. Tunnel Beach is a smaller version of the Great Ocean Road, without the thousands of Asian tourists. The reason for that is the access to it, which is a narrow, long and extremely steep path. It's so steep that it made my toes hurt from being squashed against the shoes. Well worth the effort though!

Mike's Yamaha started playing up again. After a water pump leak, which Yamaha New Zealand didn't want to rectify under warranty(!), it now boiled in the overflow tank… We've worked out that Yamaha New Zealand should honour warranty issues, as there is an agreement between Yamaha NZ and Yamaha AUS. So we took it to the Yamaha dealer, who diagnosed it as a malfunctioning temperature sensor.
To keep the bike going, I hard wired a switch and a temperature sensor from a computer power supply in. Whatever the computer 'decides', the fan now comes on at 90° and in heavy traffic there is the manual override as well. It works fine. The manual override is also great on wet muddy roads, simply switch the fan on to prevent it clogging up with wet mud. Later I found a workshop manual on the net (sorry can't remember where) which explains how to do a full diagnostic on the LCD screen. The temperature measured by the sensor was the same as what my 0.1° accurate temperature gauge said it was, so the sensor seemed fine.
I took all the plastics off and found they had swapped two hoses around at the dealer in Christchurch… resulting in a cooling system that was no longer under pressure… no wonder it started to boil…!

Next on the 'menu' were the Catlins. Beautiful swooping roads through forest like landscapes. Great! Nugget point has a nice lighthouse right at the end of the 8 km gravel road on the small peninsula.

The ocean we were looking at from the lighthouse is scattered with little rocky islands. We looked at the ocean pounding on the rocks, the birds diving for fish and young seals playing in a rock pool below us. At Purakaunui is a beautiful beach campground. The road in (and out) is 9 km of narrow and rocky gravel… but the views and seals playing on the beach more than make up for it. 
Unfortunately the trip from there to Curio Bay was somewhat 'clouded' by the rain. Luckily the rain cleared the next day and we had a couple of beautiful days at Curio Bay. We celebrated Jeanette and Mike's birthday on the lush green campground. Jeanette started the second half of her century and Mike was so excited that he wrote his age on the beach…17 in BIG print.

Curio Bay has remnants of a petrified forest. Whole trees lie petrified in the rocks, as if they were 'pushed' in the rocks when the rocks were still soft and gooey… weird. We had a look at the most southern point of New Zealand and then moved to Bluff, the end of the road on the South Island of New Zealand, took the snapshot and rode back up to Invercargill. According to Burt Munro 'the most beautiful city on earth'. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad place at all, but there are plenty more spectacular places than this.

Invercargill is also the home of The Worlds Fastest Indian, Burt Munro's motorcycle. It's not, as I had expected, in a museum; it's in the Hayes hardware store… A very special hardware store… Burt's whole workshop is there and the story behind the motorcycle is even more unbelievable than I thought. First of all, everything said and showed in the movie is true, which for a movie is unbelievable. Looking at his 'offerings to the god of speed' made me realise this guy made everything himself; pistons, con rods, flywheels, the cylinder heads… and by hand! We spend quite a few hours there! The museum in Invercargill has a display on Burt Munro… so guess where we went next :-)
The campground just outside Invercargill has probably been built by Burt as well… at least the water heater! Normally showers get hot water from a gas fired water heater. Not in Invercargill. It's a monster of an installation, housed in a 20ft container(!) which is coal fired…! The whole campground was filled with the sweet sooty smell of coal, like we're camping at a steam festival. We've camped at a few weird places during our lives, had cold showers, electrically heated showers and even wood fired showers
in Tasmania, but this was new for me too.
It's also the first campground I've been to which is situated next to a racetrack… a public racetrack. Burt Munro's spirit lives on. After Invercargill we went further north to the famous Milford Sound; New Zealand's Fjord centre. Te Anau is situated on Lake Te Anau. A beautiful place. The last time we were here, 14 years ago, it was nice and quiet. Things have changed somewhat since then… It's now a busy tourist place, where even going to the toilet will cost you… I guess they call it tourism. Still, the lake is nice. 

Imagine: 200 Mph on this...

Milford Sound, described as the 'eighth wonder of the world', was carved by glaciers. Fjord cliffs rise vertically from the sea, some as high as 1000 metres and waterfalls thunder down from them. Beautiful place… if the weather is holding up. In our case it did, but with over 6 metres of rain annually and 182 wet days a year, it's not hard to imagine that we were extremely lucky… again! We had some rain at the highest point but that was it! Only afterwards, when a storm did set in, did we realise how lucky we were!
It's difficult to describe what Milford Sound is. Yes, it's a beautiful winding road and yes it's also spectacular with beautiful lakes, vistas, waterfalls and of course the fjords. Just look at the photos with this post! Camping on the many DOC campsites along the Milford Sound Highway is not to be missed either. We camped along a beautiful lake with magic sunsets. Pure serenity. No sounds but the birds.
Milford Sound is much more than 'just' a fjord. The fjord itself is at the end of the beautiful Milford Sound highway. Is it a highway? Not really, although some of the touring coaches seem to think so. The road leads you through forests, past beautiful lakes and cascades. There is no fuel at Milford Sound, so make sure you fill up at Te Anau. We camped halfway, made a day trip from there to Milford Sound and rode back the day after.
The cruise into the actual fjord is extremely expensive but beautiful, depending on the weather that is. Halfway between Te Anau and Milford sound is the 'Chasm'. According to the dictionary a chasm can be a couple of things: A deep, steep-sided opening in the earth's surface; an abyss or gorge or a gap. The chasm at Milford Sound New Zealand is all of that. Jeanette ended up with a couple of chasms in her tank bag cover and Mike had a chasm in his dashboard… the locals, better known as the KaKa birds, had been trying to break in..!

Back in Te Anau the storm has changed the mirror like lake we saw a couple of days ago in a wild water rafting event. We heard that the tunnel we went through yesterday was closed after another earth quake… how lucky were we? The road from Te Anau to Kingston is somewhat boring. Not really bad but compared to what we had been presented with the last weeks, not really impressive either. It has a couple of small towns along the way, in 3 homes and a dung-heap style. One of them is so mind numbingly dull that I've taken a picture of it.
Virtually every second house was for sale, as if anyone would want to pay to live there… Farmers work with antiquated equipment and in small fields. According to a camping guide we could camp at the Kingston Flyer, which is true if you have a fully self-contained and certified camper van or motorhome. New Zealand has gone berserk with grey water. Grey water is seen as the evil of all that is camping and needs to be contained in certified tanks and fitted by certified people that have to be certified by certifiers. Complicated? You bet! All you need to remember is that it's expensive and totally useless. If you don't have a grey water certification and you are 'free camping' then you'll be fined… NZ$200,- The Kingston Flyer was free camping… but as grey and black water tanks in a tent is somewhat complicated, we rode on to a state park campground.

The lake we're following to Queenstown is unbelievable pretty, so we stopped a lot for photos! Queenstown is a very busy tourist town, but a pretty and bustling town at the same time. We liked it very much and spend a couple of days there. The campground, north-west of town is at the end of a long dirt road, which is pretty bad in places but leads to a magically quiet campspot along the lake. We made day trips to the Kingston Flyer and Arrowtown, a beautiful historic town, and spend a couple of lazy days along Queenstown's lake.

As I've said before; New Zealand is expensive. Very expensive. The money, money, money mentality is going to cost them. We found tourists doing all kinds of things to save money while in New Zealand, just to be able to afford their holiday. People arriving en masse late at night at campgrounds to avoid paying for instance, or sleeping by the side of the road. These people will all go back to France, Germany, England or wherever they came from, with stories on how expensive New Zealand was. which is a shame as it is also beautiful and well worth a visit.

Meanwhile New Zealand Tourism was already openly complaining to us that the tourists were staying away... Waikarau Gorge, between Queenstown and Cromwell is beautiful, as is historic Cromwell and the road to Alexandra. At the end of the day, with the sun slowly settling over another strange landscape we found a Department of Conservation campsite near historic St. Bathans. Nothing special, just a grassy field and a couple of pit or vault toilets. The only noise is from a herd of sheep being mustered in the distance somewhere. We're high up in the mountains, it's cooling down pretty quick. The sunset is, again, amazing to watch.