Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Zealand (Part 3)

The third part of our journey through New Zealand took us slowly north through the magnificent South Island. From a previous visit we knew that the South Island is the most spectacular one, so that's where we wanted to spend most of our time in New Zealand. And we did! We continue the story at St Bathans, the tiny little historic town where we were camping. St. Bathans is high in the mountains. The summers aren't really warm here; and we were there in autumn. It was bloody freezing that night. Literally! 

We woke up to a white world. Waterpipes were frozen and so were we. Somehow we hadn't expected that! Getting up in the morning was a slow and painful process. I'm getting older and at days like this it sure shows… Still, frost means a clear sky and we only had to wait for the sun to climb above the trees and defrost us. St. Bathans is a wonderful place. Life goes by at a beautiful pace, also known as nice and slow. 

We did spent quite a few hours there. Most of the buildings are fully restored and open for a visit. No entry fees required, just a warm welcome. We had lunch at the local pub, which is well worth doing too! The Blue Pools, remnants of a special way of gold digging, are just opposite the pub. They blasted the soft sandstone away for decades with high water pressure, which formed the Blue Pools. All in all, we like St Bathans very much! The only unfriendly person we know in St Bathans is the farmer next to the DOC campground, who had a sign on his gate that read 'trespassers will be shot'! Maybe he was joking… maybe not?

Going east from St Bathans is farming land. Industrial scale farming makes for boring landscapes, big open country and not a tree in sight. Luckily it's very different here! Small scale and in landscapes which are weird. Typical New Zealand style I'd say. We were loving every minute of it. Took lots of photographs and looked in amazement at this wonderful world. If God created the world than he must have had a good laugh when he created New Zealand! The landscape apparently also has an effect on the people that live here, as lots of weird things have come out of New Zealand. Bungy jumping, Jetboats and what have you…

There must have been some sort of rally further south somewhere as we met lots of weird motorhomes, better known as house-trucks in New Zealand. Apparently anything is possible on a house-truck, as we saw the weirdest contraptions going by. We took the inland route to Darfield and Arthurs Pass once more. It's such an amazing ride and we had a bit of time left, or so we thought, so why not? The Pancake rocks between Greymouth and Westport are amazing to see. The name is fitting, they really look like a pile of pancakes made from rock! From Arthurs Pass we returned back to the East Coast via the Buller Gorge, Lewis Pass and Hamner Springs. Another amazing ride!

In Hamner Springs I made a phone call to the shipping company, enquiring about sailing dates to Vancouver, to plan the last part of our trip through New Zealand. They had given me a quote, also told me how long it would take, but never said they only go once a fortnight! To catch the next sailing we had to be in Auckland in 3 days to get the bikes crated… for the one after that it was 17 days! We made some quick calculations and realised that the first sailing would be the better option. If we would take the one after that, 17 days later, plus the 4 weeks in transit and a week in Customs hassles… We would be seriously late to go up north to Alaska and might miss most of their short summer. It threw the plan to do a loop from Blenheim to Nelson and back to Picton out of the window! It's a pity but we had seen that part very well on our last trip. We had to get the crates made, organise flights and there was a small matter of riding up to Auckland to do…

Pope Packaging was the easiest to organise. 'Sure, come on Friday and we'll sort it out!' The shipping required about a tonne of paperwork, which luckily could all be done via e-mail. Tip: before you leave, scan everything that is even remotely related to you or your motorcycle and put it on your computer (plus a backup!). The best format to use is pdf as anyone can read that. Stuff we have needed ranged from birth certificates to proof of motorcycle insurance from two years ago(!) Never, ever tell the authorities that you have it on the computer though as they will only accept originals. Just say you haven't got it with you and need to pick it up where you are staying, then go to the copy shop and have it printed!

Getting a plane ticket from Auckland to Vancouver via Amsterdam, was somewhat of a problem. It took flight centre 3 hrs to find them for a half decent price, and then we still had to fly via Shanghai (not my favourite stop over) and leave in the middle of the night. We simply had no other options at such short notice. Why did we fly via Amsterdam? Because this year was my mum and dad's 50th wedding anniversary! With the tickets arranged we rode up towards the ferry terminal at Picton on the South island.

Riding up along the main road, we saw stunning beaches and looked onto the ocean we would be flying over in about a week. Hard to believe we would be riding our own motorcycles at the other end of this vast ocean too! In New Zealand every second motorcyclist you meet asks where you are heading for; when we replied Alaska, they looked somewhat surprised… :-) We followed the coast with it's many inlets and bays, especially as we got closer to Picton.
I'm not much for boats. No, let me rephrase that: I hate being on a boat! The ferry crossing from Picton to Wellington is beautiful though. Gliding through a maze of islands and inlets is breathtaking. You might want to bring your own straps to the ferry as they only have ropes to tie the bikes down. We took the early sailing, loading was somewhat chaotic but nothing unusual there. What was unusual is a Maori family that stayed in their car. It turned out they had a dead family member with them… in the car! The Maori will not leave the body alone after death, so it will be taken to the Marae where it will remain with family and friends until burial. 

The minute we entered Wellington, it started to rain. It sort of set the tone for the next 2 days too… We stopped at the well know places like Craters of the Moon, but most of it was unfortunately so wet that we didn't see much of it. It's a shame as the road through the centre was one we had not done before. The previous time we were here we came down along the east coast and went up further west. Still, what we could see was beautiful. Not as spectacular as the South Island but still pretty enough. During our wet ride up I was thinking about the bikes. Despite getting tons of water they performed flawlessly. We were on one of those trips that nothing could go wrong, or we would miss the boat. Nothing did go wrong. We arrived in Auckland, thinking we would take a Formula 1 motel at the airport. 

It was booked out… the only ones available were 'somewhat' above our budget. The map showed a campground a bit further into town. Of course we took a couple of wrong turns but in the end did get there. It was dark, we were tired and this wasn't a campground… Still there were more motorhomes there so we plunked the tent down and fell asleep.
The last motorcycle day in New Zealand with Auckland Airport in the background

The next morning we found ourselves in a park in Auckland… and the entry gate was now locked with a big chain and padlock! Hmmm. We manoeuvred our bikes through the small side gate, which is for visitors on foot… and rode to Pope Packaging. The first thing Mike did when we arrived at Pope was tearing off the L-plate he hates so much! He is still on a learner license, which in Australia and New Zealand means he had to display the bright yellow L. He figured that displaying the L-plate in Canada and America with a foreign plate, was asking for trouble with the Police.

He tore it off and stashed it under the seat, figuring he had done enough km by now anyway. The bikes were filthy! Riding through the rain for days had not improved their looks. Our bike gear was wet too. We dismantled the bikes while Pope made the base of the crate and had our gear hanging everywhere! The crates would remain open overnight so that everything could dry and the next morning everything was packed in, wrapped in cardboard and shrink-wrapped. They did a great job. How good it was done showed up 4 weeks later, when severe damage to the crates had been done by a forklift but the bikes were undamaged! Money well spend!

We had a couple of days left before the flight to Amsterdam and so hired a car to go to Hot Water Beach. Hot Water Beach is another weird thing in New Zealand. It looks like any other beach, absolutely nothing special. Until you start digging in the sand at the right spot, and hot water comes up from mother earth… Really hot too! Literally a couple of metres away from the ocean, which flows into the hole at times too. People are frantically digging holes to find the best spot…
A little bit further north is a far better beach to visit. Quite a long walk takes you to Cathedral Cove. The pounding sea has eroded the sandstone away to form a hole in the shape of a cathedral. At low tide you can walk across to the other side. The bays around it are quite nice too and as no-one is frantically digging, there is not much chance of getting hit by a shovel. In Auckland we visited the shipping company to make sure all the paperwork was in order and to pay for the transport. Everything was under control they said but the invoice wasn't ready yet. The bikes were already at sea by then! 

Our last glimpse of New Zealand were the gannets at Muriwai Beach. Thousands of them have their nests there. The young ones are practising all the movements they have to make to fly, building up their strength in the process, and when they think they are ready, they leave from the cliff their nest is built on. They better make sure before they go that they can fly, or it will be a long flight down with a hard landing.

Next to Muriwai Beach is a simple but good campground with free wifi (so that I could send more paperwork for the shipping… Grmbl) A couple of hours later they suddenly needed more paperwork from New Zealand Customs… which was proof that the motorcycles had entered the country…! Thinking something must have gone wrong somewhere I replied they were not entering New Zealand but leaving. NZ Customs still needed proof they entered the country… You would think that as they had already left by then, this was all a bit academic… I ended up sending forms via e-mail right up till half an hour before boarding the flight to Amsterdam…

The Bearded Mining Company...