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kiwibound [userpic]

The Continuing Adventures

February 24th, 2011 (11:33 pm)

current location: Home
current mood: accomplished

I've setup a new travel blog at www.roamingchris.com. I've compiled a bunch of my ride / trip reports that were scattered around the web into one spot for better access, including all the posts in this blog. Also, and most importantly, it's where future travel updates are going to be posted. Hope to see you there :)

kiwibound [userpic]


August 10th, 2009 (07:21 pm)

current location: Home
current mood: embarrassed

I can't believe I forgot to update this page. Sorry for the ~3 month delay, but here's a video I posted of the New Zealand tour. Enjoy!


kiwibound [userpic]


April 12th, 2009 (10:11 pm)

current location: United States of Crap
current mood: depressed

Home and already bored.

Here's the routes, as best as I could make them, for the curious. All told it ended up being around 4300km, around 2700miles. That comes out to around 360km / 225miles on average for each day on the bike. Not much in terms of distance, but I'd say I was out riding / exploring around 10 hours on average, sometimes more, sometimes less. It was great.

Day 1, Christchurch:
No riding.

Day 2, Christchurch to Picton
Google Maps

Day 3, Picton to Nelson:
Google Maps

Day 4, Nelson:
Google Maps

Day 5, Nelson to Westport to Hanmer Springs:
Google Maps

Day 6, Hanmer Springs to Mt. Cook:
Google Maps

Day 7, Mt Cook to Queenstown:
Google Maps

Day 8, Queenstown:
No riding.

Day 9, Queenstown to Bluff to Te Anau:
Google Maps

Day 10, Milford Sound:
Google Maps

Day 11, Doubtful Sound:
No riding.

Day 12, Doubtful Sound:
No riding.

Day 13, Te Anau to Wanaka:
Google Maps

Day 14, Wanaka to Franz Josef:
Google Maps

Day 15, Franz Josef to Arthur's Pass:
Google Maps

Day 16, Arthur's Pass to Christchurch:
Google Maps

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 16 - Arthurs Pass to Christchurch, Final Day

April 12th, 2009 (03:52 pm)

current location: Christchurch Airport, New Zealand
current mood: sad

Got up really early this morning, earlier than any other day so far. I think it was either because I couldn't sleep too well knowing what today would bring, or maybe it was the guy snoring in the bunk under me. Either way, I got up and out the door by 7am, though I didn't leave then. Instead I walked around town, which in Arthurs Pass means up and down the main road. It was completely empty. I was out there for about a half hour and all I saw was about 3 people walking and one car driving past, and keep in mind this is one of the main (only) links between the east and west coast.

At first I walked west towards the sound of Kea and found a group of 5 investigating a parking lot. I watched them for a while checking out every little bit and piece on the ground, or on a car, or in the bush, or whereever. They really don't seem to have much fear of humans, actually. The 2 I met yesterday above the Orita Viaduct let me get really close and so did all these. In fact, I'd just stand there and they'd walk all around me checking everything out. Oooh, a pebble! Oooh, a stick! Oooh, a bottlecap! Hey, I saw it first, squaaaak! A couple of them even walked up to me and stood just a foot or two from me looking at me, checking me out. One of them even tried to eat my shoe, but everytime I looked down at him he'd back away and stare up at me. If I looked elsewhere he'd slowly sneak back and try grabbing it, and then back away when he saw me looking. The way he stood there slowly trying to grab me reminded me of a young kid being told not to touch his little sister or the car will turn around RIGHT NOW MISTER but the kid, watching his parents watch him in the rearview mirror, slowly, slowly, slowly moves his hand to see just how close he can get before he goes too far, but then quickly moves his hand back when he sees he's being watched.

There's a brief flash of that red under the wing that's so hard to get a good picture of.

The restaurant I ate at last night opened at 7:30am for breakfast so I had some there before finally packing up and leaving. The motorcycle atlas doesn't say much about the second half of the pass so I thought I was past all the cool stuff, but boy was I wrong. The narrow valley I was in opened up into a huge valley with a wide riverbed in the middle surrounded by vast fields of yellow grass and nothing else but a couple powerlines. All around, though, were towering snowcapped mountains. And it was quiet, traffic hadn't picked up yet.

The road was really nice, too, though I was a bit too tired to really take advantage of it unfortunately. There were some really nice parts including one section that ran along the top of a upside down V shaped hill, so looking down both sides of the road you're looking strait down a steep hillside, almost a cliff, to the valley floor below.

And then after about 70km or so the road smoothed out and I left the mountains. Crap, that's the end of the fun stuff. I did get to see a lot of bikes go by, looked like some large ride or something. I'd estimate around 30, from choppers to tourers to sportbikes.

Nothing much else to say about the ride after this. The road was long and smooth and strait and boring from where the mountains end until you arrive in Christchurch. Getting into Christchurch felt wierd. It's a large town, biggest in the south island, and by far the largest I've been in the last couple weeks. It's not a particulalry huge town by American standards, but it's massive by what I've gotten used to. Certainly not one you'd be able to ride thru in less than a minute or two, which is about as big as pretty much all the towns I've been in have been like. It actually had stop lights!

Oh yeah, forgot to mention this. It's really awesome riding around all day, 10 hour or so on the bike, and not running into a single stop light or stop sign and little if any traffic. The only reason you'd need to ever put your foot or kickstand down is to stop for gas, food or pictures.

When I called the rental company on Friday I said I'd try to be there by 1pm, but I ended up getting there just before noon. Normally I'd ride around town and maybe find some lunch or something but I didn't really know the town all that well and didn't want to get lost, so I parked the bike and read my book until somebody showed up. He came riding this beautiful black Triumph 1050 something. I packed up, got a taxi and now I'm at the Christchurch airport waiting for my flight in a couple hours.

Crap. I'm really not looking forward to going home, I had an amazing time in New Zealand and don't want it to end. Usually after a week or so on vacation, the rare times they've lasted that long, I'm ready to head back, sometimes even before the vacation is over. Maybe I'm missing something from home or the place it so different it's hard work all day just dealing with stuff or whatever, but not this time. You know when you're on vacation in another country and thru the vacation you keep finding little things that make you think "hmm, well, that's not how we do it, I like our way better" and even just a little, or maybe a lot, you eventually find yourself thinking you can't wait to leave this "backwards" country and get back home where everything is done right and civilized? Nope. This time it feels backwards. Everything I've seen, New Zealand seems to be on the right track, it just feels right to me. America, in comparison, feels like the backwards country. I honestly have no idea what's stopping me from turning around and skipping my plane, other than probably running into major customs and visa issues.


Anyway, if any of you reading this get a chance, I highly recommend visiting New Zealand, on or off a bike (but don't let me catch you renting a campervan). I've used this word plenty of times but since I don't have the largest vocabulary out there I'll use it again: It's an absolutely amazing country. The pictures and videos and descriptions I hope show that, but really, as Morpheous would say, "No one can be told what New Zealand is, you have to see it for yourself".

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 15 - Franz Josef to Arthurs Pass

April 12th, 2009 (03:45 pm)

current location: Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
current mood: happy

Well, here it is, my last full day of riding. Tomorrow I drop the bike off at 1pm and I've only got about 100km or so to my destination. Most of that is thru farmland and suburbs around Christchurch so other than the last half of Arthurs Pass I don't really expect much.


Oh well, best not to dwell on it at the moment.

Woke up kinda early this morning, which was good because I wanted to get an early start. I walked around town for a little bit, which didn't take long since it's only a few blocks, and eventually had breakfast at this nice cafe. I think eggs benedict with salmon is another of those foods that'll always remind me of New Zealand since it's what I usually have for breakfast, though that's probably because it always sounds (and tastes) so damn good. And before anybody thinks of surprising me with it back home, no worries...I think getting as much salmon as they come with here is going to get way too expensive.

Left Franz Josef around 9:30am. I know, I know, not much of an early start, but every little bit helps. Plus, I don't usually eat a normal breakfast, usually I just pick up something on the road so this morning I used my extra time for that.

A little out of town, about 15km, there's this small lake, Lake Manapourika. I didn't even notice it on the map and wasn't planning on stopping since it pretty much only had a boat ramp, but as I rode past it I noticed a really awesome fog effect on the lake. Not sure if it was fog or evaporating water or what but the lake had what looked like fog over it, but just in the right spots to make it look like...like...I don't know. Really cool, though. So, I turned around and took some pictures. I wasn't the only one that did that, either.

After backtracking to Franz Josef to grab some AA batteries for my camera I continued on north until the turnoff for Okarito, someplace I was going to go last night but decided against since the sun was already down when I arrived in Franz Josef. Okarita is about 15km or so off the main road, a small town on the coast that has beach access, kinda rare out here for some reason. It was really quiet down there, only a few houses and a couple hostels and a cafe and that seemed to be it. Considering it's so far off the main road, which itself isn't ever really busy, you can imagine how peaceful that town can get.

The beach was pretty cool. It was sandy, but on top of the sand near the water were these large stones. Each one was about the shape of a normal skipping stone, flat and round, but about twice the size as you'd normally try to skip. The whole beach was covered with them, it was pretty interesting. Even though I was at one of the few spots I'm aware of in the area you can get to the beach there were only a few people. Far off south I could see a group of 4 with a couple dogs, there was an elderly couple on a quad picking up stuff that floated up on the beach, and a group of about 5 (local?) kids playing in the sand dunes. That's it. You could see up and down the beach for miles. Behind you, a couple sand dunes, a couple houses, and behind all that large hills covered in rainforest and snow covered mountains in the distance.

A few dozen kilometers north, at Ross, I found another beach access road, and looking at my map it looks like the only other one I could have ridden down for a while. It was all sand and, again, you could look up either direction for miles. All I saw was two guys fishing and far off in the distance an SUV, though I never saw the owners. Off and on somebody would ride by on a quad, but that's it.

In, I think, Hokitika I saw a sign for a Historic Shantytown pointing down a side road. It wasn't a billboard or anything but the normal sign used to point towards places of interest, be it a nature walk or a view point or a historic marker or whatever, so I thought it was going to be something historic. Well, it might have been, but when I arrived I saw a huge, full parking lot with many camper vans and tour buses and what looked like a theme park of some kind. Not like Disney Land, but still someplace way too touristy for me to be interested. As I was leaving I saw something that confirmed it was someplace too touristy: a sign in about 10 different languages saying "Keep Left", since tourists tend to forget that. Oh well.

Next stop was Greymouth for lunch and then east towards Arthurs Pass...or so I thought. When I got there I realized I wasn't really hungry and it was still really early in the day so I decided to keep moving. Instead of heading east I'd continue on north 45km or so towards Punakaiki where I'd heard there's an awesome rock formation. I'm really glad I did, the road ran more along the coast over here so there was some pretty spectacular views. On top of that, they didn't just run along the coast, they ran along the edge of the cliff that overlooks the coast, so spectacular views and even better road. Lots of tight corners and long sweepers. There was a long stretch that went inland from the coast for a little bit, all the land near the coast was still farmland. Be honest, in the states have you ever seen farmland extend out to the coast, where the beach is farm property and not set aside for beach access or beach front property? Unfortunately, there were lots of camper vans, too. I forgot to mention, a little north of Franz Yosef I entered the part of the west coast that's been more developed and setup for tourists so there's more traffic and more freaking campervans.

A lot of motorcycles, too! When I got to the the rock formation, which I guess was popular enough it had a parking lot and walking trails around it, there was a lot of classic bikes (including a couple with sidecars) parked in a row. Off and on thru the day I'd see them riding past.

The rock formation is known as pancake rocks, and while I don't know if this is the only place in the world to see them, I do know from the information signs that it's still unknown how they form. It's not that the type of rock is special, it's normal...um...some type of rock...but it's how they get to be pancaked like they are that's special. It's an appropriate name, too, since the rocks look like a huge stack of pancakes. The ocean then carved this huge stack of pancakes into interesting caves, blowholes, towers, etc.

Something stupid happened when I was getting ready to leave. I parked in a normal car parking space off to one edge, which I normally do since I like to leave room for another motorcycle to park next to me if they want. As I was getting my helmet on this little car zoomed in, fast, and parked in that little space I left. What the hell? It was two young girls and they were laughing their ass off, they thought it was hilarious, but they were really close to my bike and at an angle that meant I couldn't back out. I tried telling them that but they never noticed I was even trying to say anything. They finally backed out and left, but I think the only reason they did that was because they realized there was no way for them to open the door and get out without hitting my bike and the car next to me. All that and if only they had waited not even one minute I would have been out of there and they could have taken it...

Punakaiki and the pancake rocks is as far north as I was going. Didn't really have anything in mind further north and I knew the hostel I was heading to closed early. I rode back south to Greymouth intent on finally getting some lunch since I was finally getting hungry. It was about 3pm now and I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast around 9am. When I got into town, though, everything was either closed or not interesting. I think it had something to do with it being a holiday weekend. So, I just picked up a couple meat pies when I filled up and decided to find a picnic site somewhere (they have picnic sites setup regularly along the roads...every few kilometers or so there's a turnoff, a small parking area and a couple picnic benches).

And then I left the west coast. Sigh. That marks the end of the second to last "stage" of my journey. Arthurs Pass is the last stage and it's not all that long.

Oh, today I got to see two road signs I've been wanting to see but haven't yet for some reason! On the road to Okarito I saw a kiwi crossing sign, and near Punakaiki I saw penguin crossing signs. Sweet. I also got to ride over the one-way bridges also used for rail traffic, which I've heard about but haven't seen until today. They're normal one-way bridges, all over in New Zealand, but they also have a rail track in the middle, so both directions give way when the train comes thru.

Found a spot in Moana along Lake Brunner to eat what was, to be honest, one of the worst meat pies I've had so far. Grrr... And the clouds came in and got everything chilly again. Grrr... Oh well, time to keep going east!

And east I went. The further east I went the closer the mountains came until finally I was riding along their edge. The landscape had also changed from rainforest to farmland to "normal" forest, though now the forest was towering above me on the mountain sides. A little past Jacksons the road started getting steep, real steep, even steep for me on a motorcycle. There were even signs advising against using this pass if you're towing anything. As I'm climbing up, up, up along some rather twisty roads I turned a corner and saw something awesome. The road was cut into the cliffside along a deep gorge and there was a massive concrete structure coming out of the cliff overhanging the road. It was protection against rock slides. There was another one a little further that redirected a waterfall over the road. I stopped further up the road for a better view and could see the top of the structure. Looks like a good thing they built it where they did.

A little further up the road was this huge bridge that crossed over the gorge to the other side. It was one solid piece, continuing the long sweeping turn on either side and, like the road on either side, was a steep climb as well. This is the Otira Viaduct which I've heard so much about. It's a remarkable piece of engineering, especially considering where it is, and it replaces some pretty dangerous (though I imagine fun on a motorcycle!) pieces of road that runs along the gorge. There's still a sign for Death Corner, which isn't there anymore.

Interesting side note from my motorcycle atlas: Otira, the small town around here, is so small that I didn't even notice it. It's also so small that it was sold recently, in its entirety, for less than that of an average home in Auckland.

There's a viewpoint overlooking the Otira Viaduct, so I went up there. As soon as I parked the bike I got a curious visitor. A Kea! He landed on a rock nearby and just watched me. These birds are smart, some say they're the smartest birds in the world. They'll just sit there and watch you, and they're sneaky little buggers, too. The one I was watching just stood there letting me get real close, close enough I could have reached out and touched him if I wanted, and as I was doing this another one snuck up behind me and tried opening my tankbag. I ran back to my bike and got right up in the Kea's face (not literally), close enough to sit on the bike if I wanted, and the Kea just stood there on the tankbag. If I looked away, he'd reach down and try to open the tankbag again, and he'd stop whenever I watched him. He knew what he was doing...

Just a little further down the road is this small mountain town with the same name as the pass, Arthurs Pass. This is where I'm staying for the night, in this small little hostel along the road. It's a cozy little place. I got some dinner up the road earlier, roast lamb, and am about to head to bed.

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 14 - Wanaka to Franz Josef

April 12th, 2009 (03:32 pm)

current location: Franz Josef, New Zealand
current mood: happy

Stupid sandflies apparently got more than just my feet. I'm itchy, dammit!

I had the whole room to myself, woohoo! There didn't seem to be many people staying at Wanaka last night so everybody was spread out and I lucked out by having the three-bed dorm all to myself. It was nice to have a little privacy finally, acted sort of like a normal hotel room but for only about USD$15. Yesterday was also my cool down day from the kayak trip, so having nobody else to snore, come in late, leave early, whatever, to ruin my sleep was very much appreciated.

Got up around 8am and walked around town for a little bit and grabbed breakfast. I got to play with some little bird while eating, he wouldn't go away so I fed him bread crumbs. Almost got him to eat out of my hand I think. The weather was nice, too, just the kind I was looking for. Not too warm, a little chilly (it was still early) but sunny and no hint of bad weather coming. So, I packed up and headed over the Haast Pass.

Haast Pass, leaving Wanaka, first runs along Lake Hawea, which had really clear water. Standing about 30 feet above the water I could still see pretty deep into the lake about 40 or so feet out from shore. It was pretty cool. The road then cuts across to run along the far end of Lake Wanaka before finally heading up into the mountains. There were some pretty spectacular views as the mountains got closer and closer since they had a fresh layer of snow on them. Flat green fields with herds of deer (deer farm) or sheep that sudden end at the base of a large granite cliff that shoots up a few thousand feet. The only thing wrong was the road was crowded.

OK, I should mention that when I say the road is crowded you need to keep in mind that my mindset is now set to New Zealand, so by "crowded" I mean that I had to pass a camper van here and there. Or a few cars. Or when I'm merging back onto the main road I sometimes actually had to wait for a car to pass first. Grrr...

I hate camper vans. They go fast enough on the strait stretches but it's the uphill or twisty sections they slow down on so that's usually where you run into them. You'll be riding a few kilometers on relatively strait roads, then suddenly you see one of those "Twisty roads next XXX kilometers" signs, get really happy, and then around the first bend there's a freaking camper van going 50km. Thankfully not too far into the pass there were a few turnoffs for hiking trails, which camper van drivers seem to like, so the road cleared up after those.

The Haast Pass is pretty cool, some really nice views. On the east side of the mountains, where I was coming from, it runs along Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka and then the river that flows into them. On the west side it runs along Haast River (is that the name?). In between there's some pretty fun roads that get really steep as the road goes thru the pass that links up the start of the two rivers. Around when you could say you've crossed from the east to the west side of the pass the forest you're in suddenly turns really lush and green as you enter the west coast rainforest. It's seriously dense stuff, I honestly have no idea how people used to explore thru it as there doesn't seem to be much room to even move. Even the tree trunks had stuff growing off them.

And then I arrived on the west coast. Woohoo, I finally made it, been looking forward to the west coast for a while. My first stop was Haast, though it was a lot smaller than I was expecting so I kept moving. This is something I'd find out shortly...a lot of the towns along the west coast really aren't anything more than a dot on a map, sometimes they have a school or cafe or something, but it seems to be someplace the farmers can point to and say that's the town they live in. No wonder I was having trouble finding someplace to stay while I was over here! It does make the whole thing more interesting, though, as the whole place seems...empty and still wild. Well, I have heard it's the least populated and most isolated region in New Zealand, so...

There's not too many places to actually access the coast on the west coast, or at least the southern part of it. It's still kinda rugged or part of farmland so a lot of the road actually runs inland. I stopped at Haast Beach for a little bit and got to pet this little mini-horse that was penned up near the trail out to the beach.

By the way, I don't think I need to worry about the weather too much anymore. I was pretty far south when the snow hit coming back from Doubtful Sound, not to mention it was a southern wind. I'm further north and I think the winds changed, but even if not, over here the temps are actually pretty good. I can walk around without a jacket and it's been sunny all day. There is some rain forcasted but there's a chance I could be far enough north before it hits so I miss it. We'll see!

After that it was time to head north. Not much to say about the road since it's miles and miles of nothing but sometimes strait, sometimes twisty road that runs thru nothing but dense rainforest and the occasional one-lane bridge (lots of those in New Zealand). Other than a couple scenic views, I did make a stop off at a salmon farm for lunch. It's someplace that's been recommended a couple times as someplace good to eat on the west coast, though I had no idea it was the only place for miles in any direction. Still, good food. Yum, eggs benedict with smoked salmon instead of ham.

Continued on north and then, about a half hour outside of Fox Glacier, I suddenly realized I needed to call the rental place and tell them when I was going to return the bike. During the busy season they're open all week, but in the off season they close on the weekends. My drop off time is sunday at 5pm but my flight is at 4:30pm so I promised them I'd call when I knew when I'd be dropping off the bike so somebody would be there. Unfortunately, I realized this at around 4pm. It's Friday, they close for the weekend at 5pm, I don't have a cell phone and not only have I not passed a payphone for hours it seems I haven't even passed an actual town for a hundred miles. Thankfully I pulled into Fox Glacier around 4:45pm, bought a calling card at the gas station and used one of the towns public phones just before the rental place was about to close. Phew. Now I won't be sitting outside the rental place waiting until after my plane leaves which is pretty much what would have happened if I didn't let them know.

Now that that's taken care of I can explore again, since the last hour or so I've been trying to make it to Fox Glacier in the hope they had a payphone. I backtracked a little bit and rode about 5km up a gravel road deep into the rainforest to a spot that has a good view of Fox Glacier. It's set deep into the mountain and I really didn't feel like hiking all the way up there just to look at it.

Then it was off to my final destination for the night, Franz Josef, the next down up the west coast road. It's named after the Franz Josef glacier, or maybe it's the other way around, I dunno. Either way, both these towns have large glaciers nearby and they're both very rare examples of glaciers that actually come down into rainforests. I got a good view of this one too, though it's also set far enough back that you have to go about 5km up a gravel road before you can see it. There was a signpost halfway up the road that marked where the glacier was in 1750. Geez, it's receded really far back.

And that's it for the day. I'm currently staying at the Franz Josef YHA for the night. I was planning on heading off to the coast, there's a side road that gives beach access about 25km away, but the sun was setting when I got here so I think I'll do that in the morning. I walked around town instead, though there wasn't much to see other than some restaurants. The town seems to be not much more than a base of operations for those hiking up to the glaciers. It was funny watching everybody whine and moan about the "no alcohol sales on good friday" law in effect tonight. Ha!

Interesting things:
- New Zealand does sales tax right, at least in terms of how the user deals with it at the point of purchase. They include it in the price. See something for $3 in the store? Cool, no problem, $3 will pay for it even though you're also paying sales tax. What an amazing concept and the only reason I can think of they don't do this in the states is because it does make the price look a little higher, so by not including it in the price the prices seem a little cheaper. In the end you still pay it, though, and you never get the nice, round price on the price sticker...
- Speaking of nice, round prices, I think they don't use an equivalent to pennies or nickels here. Everything I've seen has been priced to 10cents, sometimes they don't even add the extra 0. I've seen restaurant menus with prices like $5.5 instead of $5.50. Once when I got gas the clerk saw I had to pay something like $15.63 and told me "that'll be $15.60". Once again, nice and clean. Less change to deal with and you don't have nearly everything being sold at $X.99 leaving you with a penny you'll never use.

kiwibound [userpic]

PayPal: Spawn Of The Devil Pt 2

April 12th, 2009 (03:29 pm)

current location: Christchurch, New Zealand
current mood: annoyed

Damn you Paypal! They managed to kill my internet access again, this time for my final 2 days. Thankfully I already reserved room at the hostels and got all the information I needed, but it sucked not having access when I needed for a couple days.

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 13 - Te Anau to Wanaka

April 9th, 2009 (09:09 pm)

current location: Wanaka, New Zealand
current mood: calm

Overnight on the kayak trip the winds shifted so they're coming in off Antarctica. This, of course, caused the temperatures to drop and snow to come in. Most of the mountains I took pictures of the last couple days now have snow on them, a couple times down far enough it's on the side of the road. So, due to the cold temps and the rain we've been getting, I've been worried about the passes over the mountains to the west coast, my planned destination after Te Anau.

Weather around here is rather unpredictable, so add in the fact that weather forecasts in this area are more "this large region will get this" rather than "this city will get this", and me not having much experience with the local weather to know what things mean, I decided to play it safe and just head to Wanaka today instead of Haast. Wanaka is still on the east side of the mountains, an hour or so north of Queenstown. Shortly after Wanaka, though, you get up into the mountains, and since it's a national park there's no towns for over an hour. Ride to Wanaka today, see what the weather and pass is like, and if it's ok then continue on the next day. If not, head back east.

Things didn't look too good this morning. Leaving Te Anau it wasn't raining, but it was wet, and it was very cold. I brought all the gear I wear when riding in Reno even in winter, but even with all that on I was getting cold. I'm not sure if it's because the outsides of my gear (not the liners) were still damp (which, by the way, my damp helmet smelled like wet dog all day. Oh, joy) or because it was a wet cold and not a dry cold...

Off and on for the ride it did rain a little, but nothing more than a drizzle and not more than a few minutes at a time. Maybe the rain gods got scared because I started yelling at them, I don't know. But around Queenstown blue sky started coming out and it warmed up. I'm not sure if the weather changed or I finally got far enough north and away from Fiordland that I got away from the cold and wet stuff, but I'm glad either way.

Most of the ride today is the same stuff I did a few days ago. When I rode from Queenstown to Te Anau I took a detour to Invercargill further south, but other than that it's the same road I rode today so nothing really unexpected. It was interesting seeing the difference a few days made in terms of the snowline.

After having lunch in Queenstown I got onto Crown Ridge road, a really steep and twisty road (lots of 15kph / 10mph corners) that ended with a couple spectacular views of the valley near Arrowtown. After going up and over the mountains it was a long, steady but fun and twisty road down the other side. I got a startle when I came around a corner and saw sheep standing on the side of the road. Apparently the road goes thru a section of sheep farm with no fences. They may be dumb, but at least they were smart enough to stay out of the road.

That's Arrowtown in the above picture.

And then I arrived in Wanaka. It was a shorter ride than I've been doing, only a couple hundred kilometers, but my trip is winding down. I've only got 3 more days and I've got them all planned, at least the start and end points, and they're all shorter rides like today was. They should be more interesting, though, since they aren't roads I've already been on.

The weather is looking good. The pass to Haast is the lowest of the passes so there's not too much worry of snow, and the pass back to Christchurch is much further north. There looks to be some rain on saturday and sunday, but I'm out of Fiordland so it should (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc) be stuff my raingear can handle. So, off to the west coast!

I got into Wanaka pretty early, much earlier than usual. So, I checked in and walked around town for a while. Saw some massive fish, including a 3ft long eel, from the dock. Also saw a stunt plane doing some maneuvers over the lake.

I think Lake Wanaka is my favorite lake so far. Every one I've been to has been dramatic, has been beautiful...this one is all that but it also has a certain something I can't put into words that make it appear to have popped right off a postcard. Calm lake, green hillsides, yellow and red trees lining the river, dramatic snow covered mountains in the distance and a small town to the side. Later that evening, as I was eating dinner and reading the sun set turned the sky and mountains a bright pink.

Where did YOU have dinner tonight?

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 11 and 12 - Kayaking Doubtful Sound

April 9th, 2009 (06:35 pm)

current location: Wanaka, New Zealand
current mood: good

Early day today, earlier than any I've had so far on this vacation. I overheard some of the other guys in the dorm saying they had an early morning but they were still sleeping when I checked out for my 6:15am pickup.

Jess, our guide for the next couple days, showed up with a van and trailer. We, the 4 of us waiting outside the YHA, were the last ones to be picked up so after everything got put in the trailer we were on our way!

Our group, who's names I mostly already forgot since I'm so freaking bad with names:
Jess, our guide.
A couple from Slovakia, her a physics teacher and he does particle physics work for the LHC.
A couple from England, if I recall correctly she does English teaching and he does English workbook editorial work, both in Hong Kong.
Johan (did I spell that right?), an architect student from Sweden.

Our first stop was about 20 minutes south to Manapouri, which I had briefly stopped at a couple days earlier. Really nice lake, though I didn't get to see much since the sun had already set and all I could see was the outline of the mountains far off in the distance. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much more of the lake this time either since the sun wasn't really up yet and it was raining. Yup, another day of rain, but at least so far it wasn't as bad as it was in Milford Sound the day before.

Lake Manapouri is on the edge of the Fiordland National Park, New Zealand's largest national park (about 5000 square miles), and Doubtful Sound is deep in the park so the lake is the quickest way to get there. Actually, from my understanding there's really only 3 ways into Doubtful Sound: come in from the ocean, from the air, or boat across Lake Manapouri and drive over the pass. The ride across the lake is an hour and the Wilmot Pass, which is a steep, windy gravel road that only exists to connect Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound (vehicles have to be brought to the road via boat) is about 45 minutes. As you can imagine, there's not much traffic around here, which I'll mention again later.

After the boat ride we arrived at the visitor center / docks at the start of the Wilmot Pass. The place was technically open but it was empty, so we had it all to ourselves, which is good since Jess decided we should change into our kayak gear in the visitor center so we have somewhere warm and dry to change. If we change on the other side of the pass we do it at the boat ramp in the rain. Not fun trying to get all that stuff on, even when dry. Thermal layer, wet suit, shirt, fleece jacket, kayak skirt, waterproof jacket, life vest and hats. At least it did somewhat keep you warm, so long as you were moving.

From the visitor center it was a 45 min ride or so over the Wilmot Pass to the docks where, after a brief safety and how-to lesson, we packed up and left. Johan was my kayak buddy, me in the front, him steering in the rear (we switched sides the next day). It was good to finally get moving since it was starting to get a little colder and wetter.

The good news about all this rain is, like Milford Sound, it created a much more dramatic landscape with many more waterfalls than there normally would be. All the beech trees growing up the mountainsides all around us also seemed to look more lush since they were soaked. Unlike Milford Sound, though, it didn't really matter too much for me since I actually had good waterproof gear this time and nothing on underneath I didn't want to get wet anyway.

Not really sure what to say about the view other than what I've already said, however I really feel as if I should say something else. They were magnificent, but really, there's not much more to say other than describing them and showing pictures, neither of which begin to explain what you'd see if you were actually there. Massive, towering granite mountains on both sides, rising strait from the sea all the way into the clouds thousands of feet above you. Large beech trees growing on the mountain sides all the way up, massive and tiny waterfalls flowing thru the forest, sometimes so you could see the entire thing but sometimes so you could only see small sections, the rest of the waterfall flowing under the canopy layer. Look strait up and you see the mountains on both sides of you peeking into the clouds, all this without needing to turn your head. Look strait ahead and you see the same thing continued along a giant granite hallway for miles. And here we are, a small group of seven in four kayaks and we have the whole thing to ourselves for two days. The first day we only saw one other boat, the next day we saw three boats and one helicopter. That's it. And beyond our campsite and the boat ramp we initially left at there was not a single sign of humanity anywhere. Not a cabin, not a power line, not a buoy, not a road, not a sound...nothing.

We kayaked down the main channel for a while, occasionally doing a group up (all four kayaks along side each other so we don't drift apart) to talk about some history or geography. We learned about tree avalanches, which is where all the trees on a part of the mountain lose their grip on the rock and slide into the sea, and how to spot where one has been and how to estimate how many years ago it happened. We also learned all about the history of the area, both from the Maori and European side of things. Apparently Doubtful Sound was named because Captain Cook was doubtful if he entered it he'd ever get back out, so he named it but never explored it. Also, he didn't know the difference between a fjord (carved by glacier) and a sound (carved by river), so Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are technically Milford Fjord and Doubtful Fjord (same with the other Sounds in Fiordland).

Since the weather wasn't really great (cold, some wind and rain, even a few minutes of hail) we decided to not stop at the normal lunch stopping point and instead head off to our final campsite for lunch. Our campsite for the night is far inside one of the arms that branches off the main channel, called Hall Arm. We were all expecting to find just a beach we could get out of the kayaks on (very rare in Doubtful Sound) that was also large enough for a couple tents. Nope, it was a large flat area near a river that had a large bug net and a couple trails setup. At this point in the trip even that felt luxurious, especially since there was a porta-potty deeper in the forest!

Oh, I forgot to mention why they needed the bug net. Sandflies. I encountered a few of them on the trip so far but I thought they were just an annoying little bug and that's why everybody hates them so much. They are annoying, they'll fly right in front of your eye, around your ears, everywhere. Wanna know why? They're bloodsuckers, like mosquitoes. I think. Either way, they bite and leave itchy bumps just like them. Unlike mosquitoes, though, you can feel these things crawling around on you. And they swarm. Jess said, partly joking and partly in reference to the Maori legend about their creation, that they were created so people would be able to come and enjoy Fiordland but not stay long enough to destroy it. I used bug spray but my feet still itch (I wore sandals).

After lunch we got back in the kayak for another hour or so of kayaking deeper into Hall Arm. Thankfully it not only stopped raining but the wind also stopped, causing the surface of the water to look almost like a giant mirror. Johan and I thought we saw the end of Hall Arm so we kayaked out near the end.

And then it was time to go back. Since high tide comes up pretty far we had to haul all the kayaks into the forest, then we emptied everything from the kayaks so the Kea (smart alpine parrots) don't get into it and setup the tents. Oh, and we were able to also get into dry clothes so we could warm up. Yay! ...or so I thought. Remember, I just got back from Milford Sound the day before and was soaked. I put my clothes in the dryer, but evidently I forgot to check them before packing them. They were still a little moist. Not wet, but a little moist. Stupid, stupid thing to do while camping in the middle of nowhere in near freezing temps, I know. Anyway, I wasn't exactly warm while having dinner. Thankfully there were plenty of hot drinks to go around.

It's kind of funny that given the situation we were in we got into some pretty deep conversations during dinner. We merged the Slovakian guys and mine fields and talked about the programming practices at the LHC, or at least the section he works at, we talked about editorial processes, we talked about the merits and pitfalls of capitalism, etc. It was pretty nice. One thing I did find interesting was everybody's reaction when they found I was only traveling for 2 weeks. Everybody else I've met is traveling around for at least a month it seems. First they were wondering why I'd take such a short vacation, then they were shocked to learn 2 weeks was all I could get off after saving up for a year (minus a couple extra days for graduation and a small trip to Portland), and then saddened to learn that the vacation time my company gives is actually good enough to be used as a selling point when recruiting. New Zealand, for example, requires employers to give at least 4 weeks, and that doesn't count the fact there's more holidays you get off work than we have in the states. Oh, and if they land on the weekend then you get one day off in the week to make up for it. And there's bridge holidays, so if one lands on a Thursday then you get Friday off as well. After discussing what everybody in our group knew about benefits, hours and working conditions Americans worked it was agreed upon that working in America is akin to slave labor.

The next morning was busy. We had to be back at the boat ramp at 1:30pm so we could change, unpack, clean up, drive over Wilmot Pass, load and board the boat by 3:30pm. If we missed that deadline the boat would leave without us. There's no road out of there and there's no more boats for the day. But, Jess also wanted to give us as much kayaking as we could for that day so we needed to get on the water around 9am. I think we did ok, we all were doing something up until we were ready to go.

It's a good thing we hauled the kayaks all the way up near the bug tent. We all thought that was a little overkill, bringing them so far, but in the morning the tide was so far up we only had to move them about 15 feet. We could board and paddle out while still under the forest canopy even though the day before we had landed on a beach a good 30ft or so from the forest edge.

That morning the weather was much nicer. A little colder, but no rain and the sun was off and on shining. Apparently the night before the winds had shifted, changing the winds from coming in from, I think, the west to coming in from south, strait from Antarctica. This meant it was dryer, but it was colder. The tops of a lot of the mountains also had snow on them, making the view that much more dramatic.

We kayaked out to main channel and then took advantage of the wind by grouping up, trying some fabric to our oars and turning ourselves into a three kayak sailboat. It seemed to take about the same time to cross to the other side, but we didn't have to do any work other than just holding on. We sailed out to Elizabeth Island, back up the south edge (against the wind, which wasn't fun) and out along the east edge. After hanging around in there we found a beach to land for a small break and then started in on the journey back to the boat ramp.

In that last picture you can see, near the bottom right, the boat ramp and the only buildings in Doubtful Sound. That V shaped section between the mountains to the left is Wilmot Pass and, other than by sea or by air, it's the only way in or out.

On the way to the boat ramp it started raining a little, but thankfully it stopped when we landed which allowed us to unpack and change into dry clothes without the rain. Once all that was finished we loaded up the van and headed on up Wilmot Pass. We made one small detour to a viewing area that overlooked Doubtful Sound and portion of the area we'd been paddling. As we were about to leave, two unexpected things happened. First, three Kea landed a little in front of us. Earlier Jess had mentioned that some photographers spend their entire lives trying to get a photograph of them in flight because they have brilliant red feathers under their wing, but they like to walk and hop around. We got to see the red as they landed, and one of them even flew over and around us. I wasn't quick enough with the camera, though. Jess said she's never seen the Kea on Wilmot Pass before.

The second unexpected thing was it started snowing on us.

Oh, crap.

I tried timing my trip near the end of summer, when it would still be warm, but late enough so the tourists were mostly gone and things were more empty (for example, the hostel I'm typing this at is so empty it looks like I'm going to get the entire dorm to myself tonight). I was told by a number of locals that the weather would still be pretty good while I was here and wouldn't need to worry about snow. Well, they do say the weather in New Zealand, especially down south, is unpredictable. This cold front, I guess, is unusual. Still, seeing snow on the Wilmot Pass (especially since I don't know how high up we were or how high up the roads I'll travel in the next few days are) made me worry I might run into some later.

Anyway, we got back to the visitor center and boarded the boat for the hour long ride back to Manapouri. On the way I could finally see the lake in the sunlight and clear weather, and it did not disappoint. It seemed to me to be similar in "construction" to Doubtful Sound, except not a narrow channel but instead a huge lake. On the boat ride we all exchanged emails so we could share pictures when we got home, so hopefully later on I'll have better pictures than I have right now. My camera was still wet from Milford Sound so most of my pictures have wet spots on them or are blurry.

And that's it, the rest of the day was pretty much resting, getting dinner and returning the rented sleeping bag. I really enjoyed the trip, certainly one of the highlights of the entire New Zealand vacation. If you're down here for a couple days I'd highly recommend it, though do expect to get some exercise in. The first night my arms felt like they were going to fall off, though it did get better the second day. I think I twisted my left wrist wrong on a couple strokes, though, since for most the day today I couldn't move it in some directions. Still, a lot of fun and definitely worth it.

I'm not going to be getting my own kayak, though.

kiwibound [userpic]

Day 10 - Milford Sound : Pictures

April 8th, 2009 (10:49 pm)

current location: Te Anau, New Zealand
current mood: tired

Back from the kayak trip so, while my riding gear which is still wet is in the dryer, I'm going to post some pictures from the Milford Sound trip. By the way, I think I mentioned the annual rainfall in the sounds (actually, they're fjords, but Capt. Cook didn't know the difference when he named them) are measured in meters. Well, I found out. It's over 8 meters, which is around 27 feet. Keep that in mind when you see these pictures. Also keep in mind that most of the waterfalls only show up an hour or so after it starts raining and then disappear when it stops, so yeah, it's all from the rain.

Something else to keep in mind is that, like I've said a couple times already, there is no way these pictures can begin to capture the scale of all this. Looking at these pictures after coming back and they honestly look dull to me, they don't capture any of the scale or the magnificence. The mountains (not large hills, these are all about half the height of Mount St. Helens, but from sea level) came strait out of the water and disappeared into the clouds, sometimes just a few yards away from you and you had to look strait up to see where they disappeared. And it's not like there's just a couple of these, Milford Sound is completely lined, from front to back, with these vertical walls of granite. Waterfalls everywhere, a lot of them massive, on Multnomah Falls scale. Look for boats in some of these pictures, it helps you begin to understand the scale when you realize some of these are large cruise ships. You really have to see it to understand.

Oh crap, I'm going to get (more) wet.

And the obligitory shot of my bike next to the Homer Tunnel.

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