Thanksgiving 2011, we embarked on a long-awaited cycling trip on the
South Island of New Zealand. After a long (12.5 hrs) flight from
Los Angeles to Auckland on the North Island - crossing the
international date line and losing a day - and the long "follow the
green brick road" walk between the international and domestic terminals
at Auckland (it was nice outside, at least), we flew on to Christchurch
on the South Island. There we met up with our VBT group (with leaders Nial, Josey, and
Tim), and had a morning to explore the city a bit before going on our
first short bike check-out ride.
Sadly Christchurch was still in rather bad shape from earthquakes (Sept 2010, Feb 2011) and aftershocks. Most of the core downtown area remains cordoned off, buildings are still being demolished, and the latest word while there was that the fine Anglican cathedral, severely damaged, would not be rebuilt. Such a shame. Some businesses at least were able to re-open, with creative use of large shipping containers (think a container ship, or what a semi truck-trailer hauls...) in a pedestrian area.
The cycling trip proper started with a scenic ride on the TranzAlpine Express, from the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmlands to the gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. Up and into the Southern Alps and thru Arthur's Pass, stopping finally at the village of Jacksons for lunch at an historic tavern. (Venison pie, yum.) After lunch - and nearly too full to ride! - we got on the bikes in the coolish weather and made our way past Lake Brunner, "lake of the white heron", on to a pub in Taylorville, before shuttling to Hokitika on the Tasman Sea.
Subsequent days we cycled steadily down the west coast of the South Island, slapping a few sandflies (no-see-ums) en route. We had a couple of nights at the Franz Josef Country Retreat outside the town of Franz Josef and the FJ glacier. On our "free" day in Franz Josef we enjoyed a morning boat trip on the Okarito Lagoon for a little birding, then in the afternoon cycled over to the glacier trailhead parking lot and walked the trail through lovely forest then onto the river valley to nearly the glacier's edge. (Well, Robert never got out of the forest; he was enjoying the birding too much.) We also visited a Kiwi Wildlife Center...not a home for the originally-named chinese gooseberry fruit, but the native flightless bird (see photo above) which is seriously threatened by introduced predators possum (different than that in the Americas) and stoat. Difficult to see in the wild - low numbers and they're nocturnal - we were happy to see them in the center and hear about the breeding/release program.
After leaving Franz Josef, we cycled on to the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge, a beautiful property surrounded by beautiful native forest. Liza cycled through a brief soaker rain shower to get there after Robert wisely got into the van after our lunch at a salmon farm. We had another free day at Lake Moeraki, which we spent birding (great views of Fiordland Crested Penguin on the nearby beach!) and hiking, while others enjoyed kayaking and other activities, including doing laundry. :-)
From Lake Moeraki we had a brief shuttle along dramatic cliffs above the Tasman Sea, and began cycling again along the clear blue Haast River traveling east. We optimistically decided we would do the difficult Haast Pass, despite warnings that it was a 17% grade. The worst part of the climb was a 2-3 km stretch, after which it "levelled out"...and it did...but I was walking well before my Garmin bike computer topped out at 19%. Robert fared much better, although he had to make a couple stops and hoof it a little bit himself.
Descending from the pass we arrived in Makarora, from there shuttling along the Makarora river valley and Mt. Aspiring National Park, continuing past Lake Wanaka toward Lake Hawea. There the group broke into smaller groups and we stayed at various homestays in the area. Our hosts were Jerry and Lesley Burdon on their property Glen Dene, a sheep and deer ranching operation. We had a lovely tour of their property, learned what "rattle your dags" meant (you'll have to ask), felt some fine merino wool (amazing how much comes off one animal), and enjoyed a scrumptuous lamb dinner.
Our last day of cycling took us through Tarras (where we got to hear all about Shrek the merino sheep, who once sheared produced nearly 50 lbs of wool!), and eventually made it to Queenstown. We made a stop en route to see bungy jumpers, including one of our group, Erin! We were content to watch.
The cycling trip officially ended in Queenstown with a lovely dinner on the Lake Wakatipu shore. We had a couple extra days in Queenstown following that, where we enjoyed the gondola ride up a nearby peak with spectacular views of the city and the Remarkables mountain range. Up at the top too we had a few runs on the "luge" - not a real lay on your back and hurtle downhill experience, but a wheeled sled on a couple of courses where you could get up some decent speed. It was fun in any case. We also enjoyed a long morning forest/lakeshore walk with a local guide, and had fun deciding which of the either 60 or 120 restaurants in town (depending on who you asked) we'd go to. We did have a nice afternoon at a place called Wine Tastes, where we sampled many NZ wines plus a few from Australia. (Nice system - the bottles were temperature-controlled and counter-filled with argon to keep them from going bad, in an interesting setup that dispensed the desired amount of wine.) Add some local NZ farm cheese, bread, and fruit, and it was a most pleasant time. We also enjoyed our Fergburgers - "the best burger in the world" - well don't know about that, but Robert's venison burger and my lamb burger were huge, very tasty, and quite messy!
There are six pages of trip photos linked below; the Home link takes you back to this page.
The GPS link will take you to a map of the first day of cycling on the Garmin Connect website; click Next on the Garmin page to view the subsequent days.
Map courtesy of VBT- click to enlarge.
Click here for daily GPS data / maps / satellite imagery.
On the Garmin page that comes up -
click the Next link in the upper right to
see subsequent days.
Outside Fergburger, Queenstown
Click photos to enlarge...
Daily GPS data / maps / satellite imagery