Monthly Archives: May 2015

Cycling the North Island of NZ – Part 11 – Wellington – Auckland

We arrived in Wellington about 5:00 pm. There is a cycle path from the Interislander Ferry Terminal into the city center. The backpacker hostels in the center were full due to ANZAC weekend so we spent one night at the Ibis Hotel and the next two nights at Nomads Backpacker Hostel. We did lots of walking, visited the Te Papa Museum, the Cathedral, the Parliament, etc. We ate lots of food on Cuba Street and we basically relaxed. On Tuesday morning we caught the train to National Park. The train is relaxing and gives a good snapshot of the scenery on the North Island.

A kiwi made of drift wood in National Park.
A kiwi made of drift wood in National Park.

Departing the train at National Park we were greeted with very cold temperatures, wind, and isolation. Almost nobody was there. We would call this the “mud season” – the time between a busy ski season and a summer hiking/camping season. It was dead. We contemplated riding another 35 km but the weather was so cold and the wind was so gusty that we felt it would not be safe. The local backpacker’s hostel with the climbing wall had a very friendly Canadian work/travel employee who “made” the place. For as isolated as we were, we had a fun time.

A view looking south to Lake Taupo.
A view looking south to Lake Taupo.

The next morning we were greeted with sunshine and a gentle tail wind so we cycled to Turangi. After a coffee/lunch  the weather changed and got quite cold so we found The Sportsman Motel, bought some groceries, cooked dinner, and relaxed with a game of billiards. We shared the motel with a fly fisherman who’d been on the river for 13 hours that day catching trout and braving the cold water and wind.

Turangi to Lake Taupo was a beautiful ride with a great tailwind. The last twenty kilometers into town on the Great Lake Cycle Path were peaceful, scenic and warm. Everyone else must have also thought it was a great day so lodging was scarce and expensive. We ended up with a room at an “adult” backpacker’s lodge. Adult meaning “handrails” in the bathroom I’m guessing. After checking in to our room we took our unloaded bikes on a track to see Huka Falls. After about 4 km of pushing our bikes with the sun rapidly setting we turned back for safety reasons.

The cycle track to Huka Falls was a little too challenging for late in the day.
The cycle track to Huka Falls was a little too challenging for late in the day.

After a good night’s rest we loaded our bikes and headed on the highway (with a bicycle lane) to Huka Falls and onwards towards Rotorua. The falls were powerful even though they weren’t tall.

Huka Falls.
Huka Falls.

The ride to Rotorua on the Thermal Highway led up to it’s name. There was steam rising from lots of rivers, small lakes, and cracks in the ground. The geology was quite interesting. About 20 km from Rotorua, just at the traffic started getting really heavy, a concrete cycle path appeared on the east side of the highway making the ride into town lovely. We spent the night at a very old,dated, spa motel with no “working” spa, but the price was right allowing us to dine at the Pig and Whistle – a pub in the city center.

Rotorua early in the morning.
Rotorua early in the morning.

The sunny and warm ride to Tauranga was up and down with hills but I didn’t seem to notice because I was excited to meet up with a sister of a friend from the US. I loved staying at a house, curling my feet up on a comfy couch and reading my book. I also love the conversation, delicious dinner at The Mount, sleeping in a great bed, homemade corn-fritters for breakfast, and an easy hike up Mt. Maunganui (Maunganui being the Maori word for mountain so it’s like going up “mountain mountain”.

Top of The Mount. Turanga is in the background.
Top of The Mount. Turanga is in the background.

We started cycling just after noon for Waihi but ended up stopping at Katikati because the traffic and hills were wearing us down. We found a lovely B&B at the edge of town and relaxed in the large living room doing research on the good wifi for Australia and Auckland.

Martha Mine
Martha Mine

After a good night’s rest we rode the next hilly 20 km to Waihi where we stopped for a bit a sightseeing. Cycling around the Martha Mine (a open-pit gold and silver mine) was an interesting diversion. A very large heavy industrial dump truck yields 9 ounces of gold. In other words, it’s a lot of work for a little gold but it must be profitable with the price of gold above $1600 USD per ounce.

One of the great bridges leading into a long tunnel on the trail.
One of the great bridges leading into a long tunnel on the trail.

We stopped in town for a meat pie and baked kumaras before starting the Haurtiki Rail Trail towards Thames. The first part of the trail to Paeroa is a lot of fun: tunnels, switchbacks along the river, suspension bridges, and great scenery. We arrived around 3:00 pm and decided to stay for the night. We found the Paeroa Motel and got a good off-season rate plus great conversation with the new owners.

A landmark from Pearor
A landmark from Pearoa

After a fair night’s sleep (the new owners are in the process of buying new bedding and mattresses which will help) we pedaled the remaining 30 km to Thames. Because the weather was so nice, and there was a convenient bus to Auckland, we decided to hop on a day early. The bus dropped us off at the Sky Tower Center and we found a great room at the Best Western just around the corner.

Arriving in Auckland a day early gave us extra time to go bike shopping for Eric. After several false starts (bike stores closed or with no touring stock) we ended up at Wallis Cycles. They staff was great and two hours later Eric rode away on his new Surly Orge. All his packs transferred from his old bike and they even gave him a little money on trade-in. Hopefully the new bike will help with his neck problems. If this smile on his face is any indication, I’m sure it will.

Eric and his new wheels.
Eric and his new wheels.

Late that afternoon we cycled to Taringi where we met up with more relatives of our long-time friends from the US. Being at their home, chatting with their family, eating delicious food and having a great car tour of Auckland the next day were like a mini holiday – lots of fun a rejuvenating.

A visit to the Arataki Center
A visit to the Arataki Center

Pouring rain greeted us on the day we rode to our airport hotel. We dropped our bags at the Auckland Grand Chancellor Airport Hotel and cycled (in the rain) the additional 3 km to Natural High, a cycle shop near Auckland Airport. This shop is great. We bought bicycle boxes and packed our bikes in their shop. Then the owner gave us a ride to the airport so we could store our packaged bikes until Sunday. (We had to do this because the shop was on winter hours and closed on Saturday.)

Natural High has bike boxes and plenty of packing materials.
Natural High has bike boxes and plenty of packing materials.

On our final day in New Zealand, we boxed our panniers and then caught the airport shuttle back to the Auckland City Center. We loved the trip to the top of Sky Tower.

Looking out the 51st floor of the Sky Tower.
Looking out the 51st floor of the Sky Tower.

We also enjoyed visiting the Auckland Art Museum in Albert Park where we saw the second Billy Apple exhibit. (The first was at the Turangi Gallery.) Our friends met us there, gave us a walking tour of Auckland University, and took us to the International Food Court for a SE Asian dinner.

Taken at the Maori Center of Auckland University.
Taken at the Maori Center of Auckland University.

We traveled over 3500 kilometers in NZ bringing our grand total to 10,000 km to date. On to Australia!

Our final night in New Zealand.
Our final night in New Zealand.

Cycling the South Island of NZ – Part 10 -Nelson to Picton/Wellington

Views from the cycle path heading west out of Nelson.
Views from the cycle path heading west out of Nelson.

The first 20 km from Nelson to Atawhai is a lovely ride along the Tasman Bay with most on a designated cycle road. From that point until Havelock, the road is hilly and windy with a narrow shoulder and a fair amount of trucks. En-route, we stopped at Rai Valley and devoured a fresh fruit ice cream. The owner of the campground in Havelock was not too friendly (maybe tired after a busy season) so we cycled on and found a beautiful motel with a mineral hot tub (nice and HOT).We also enjoyed a good home-cooked meal, and a great sleep.

We enjoyed scenes like this the entire ride along the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive.
We enjoyed scenes like this the entire ride along the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive.

On the following morning, ANZAC Day, we heard the bagpipes from the ANZAC parade and saw all the townspeople gathered around Memorial Hall. We cycled past and took a left onto Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive. We were about mid-way up the first hill when a couple we’d met near Mapua pulled over (They’d seen us cycling that morning) and gave us their contact information in Canberra, Australia, and invited us to stay with them.

View of the ferry 15 minutes before departure.
View of the ferry 15 minutes before departure.

Queen Charlotte Drive is lovely with very little traffic. We took lots of photos. As we were cycling downhill towards Picton we realized that we could probably make that day’s ferry to Wellington. We were the last people to get on the Interislander Ferry and patted ourselves on the back for our “good luck.” As it turns out, we probably would have been better to stay in Picton one night. It was ANZAC weekend plus a big cricket match so lodging in Wellington was scarce and expensive.

Sightseeing in Wellington
Sightseeing in Wellington

Cycling the South Island – Part 9 – Westport to Nelson

Beautiful Buller Gorge
Beautiful Buller Gorge

Westport to Murchison was a change of pace from ocean to river gorge views. The road had lots of twists and turns along the gorge sometimes even carved into the mountain side. It was also a long, undulating uphill ride for exactly 100 km to our campsite at the Murchison Kiwi Holiday Park. To reward ourselves we enjoyed a “handle” of beer and a basket of wedges (like chips only with a pint of sour cream on the side) at the local tavern.

One of many one-lane bridges on today's ride.
One of many one-lane bridges on today’s ride.

It was a good thing that the following day’s ride to Tapawere was also long and hard to work off the calories from the previous night’s basket of wedges. We stayed at the Tapawere Hotel which has a GREAT self-contained (bath and kitchen) room for a reasonable price. Eric and I basked in the private shower, fluffy towels (getting sick of the shammy cloths – light weight hiking towels), the side chairs and the tv.

After cycling north for about 10 km we crossed a bridge at Woodstock and joined the Great Taste Cycle Trail. We were pleasantly surprised that the “trail” was actually a paved road following the west side of the Motueka River. The trail was aptly named because of the apple, pear, and cheery orchards, vineyards, honey and jam stands, and hops. To makes things even tastier, we enjoyed a fresh fruit ice cream – I chose raspberry – at Riwaka. Then pedaling a little further brought us to the Hop Federation Craft Brewery where we tasted their Pale Ale and bought a 1.3 L bottle for happy hour at our camp. To make a great day even better, we arrived at the Motueka Top 10 Campground to the beginning of “off-season” pricing which meant a great 2-room cabin with a complete kitchen at the lowest price we’ve paid in NZ.

One of the many hiking bridges on the Able Tasman Trail.
One of the many hiking bridges on the Able Tasman Trail.

For a change of pace we took the Sea Shuttle to Abel Tasman National Park and hiked 11 kilometers. We enjoyed the hike, saw some beautiful scenery, and were serenaded by many great song birds. Our muscles appreciated the change in pace we and actually felt a little sore and tired in different places. A soak in the spa at the campground and a glass of wine took care of the fatigue and made for a great sleep.

Even though the ferry was closed at Mapua, we enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch.
Even though the ferry was closed at Mapua, we enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch.

The following day we took the long,scenic “Great Taste Trail” to Richmond. The trail, an intermediate Grade 3, was fine for our loaded bikes but did have more than a few steep hills and a long of unpaved roads. I like the the solitude and scenery of these gravel tracks but Eric prefers the pavement. The ferry from Mapua to Rabbit Island just changed to a winter schedule so it was closed for our weekday arrival. It would have been fun, but riding on Highway 60 was not a problem as there is a big shoulder. We stopped for the night in Richmond and found The Oxford Court Motel at a great off-season rate.

Enjoying the 360 view from the Center of NZ
Enjoying the 360 view from the Center of NZ

Cycling to Nelson was a short 15 km on a bicycle route along the bay. Near the airport we stopped at the WOW and Classical Cars Museum. I loved the WOW and Eric enjoyed the cars. We cycled another 6 km up a hill, along the cycle path into Nelson where we stayed at another Top 10 Holiday park. There we met up with two other cycle tourists and enjoyed some conversation and experiences. We spent the afternoon exploring downtown Nelson and hiking to the “Center of NZ” at the top of a hill.

Cycling the South Island of NZ – Part 8 – Franz Joseph Glacier to Westport

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Lush green scenery – very little traffic

The ride from Franz Joseph to Hokitika was beautiful, hilly and long. We also didn’t realize how popular Hokitika is as a tourist destination and all the campground cabins and motels were full. After using an I-site(the NZ tourist information places) to help us find a room at a backpacker’s lodge about 5 km north of town, we walked across the street to the local fish and chips shop and devoured a Blue Cod fish and chips – hot, greasy and delicious. This was just the fuel we needed to cycle to the store for dinner supplies and on to the Bird’s Nest Backpackers lodge which, by the way, was comfortable until all the young, inexperienced cookers started stir-frying and smoking up the place. Eric and I escaped by getting to bed early.

The road through Safford connects to the West Coast Wilderness Trail
The road through Safford connects to the West Coast Wilderness Trail

The following morning we set off early. Eric found a side road that wound through Safford and connected to the West Coast Wilderness Trail just north Kumara, a relatively new cycle track with sunning views. A highlight was stopping at the Theater Tavern in Kumara for a coffee before continuing on to Greymouth.

We stayed two nights in Greymouth for bike repairs – new bearings for my back hub (again) – which has to be ordered. We used the extra night to enjoy a movie (Fast and Furious 7 which was horrible) and a glass of wine (which was delicious) at the local cinema. (I love getting wine with my movie!)

We hiked to this park after this day's ride.
We hiked to this park after this day’s ride.

Greymouth to Punakaiki was start of some of the most spectacular coastal scenery to date. The owner of the Greymouth bike shop called it “iconic – among the world’s top ten coastal drives” and I have to agree. It was breath-taking. We checked into the Punakaiki Beach camp, left our bicycles, and walked along the beach back to Pancake Rocks National Park. The walk is dotted with amazing geological formations and, because the tide was rolling in, we got to see a few blow holes spout their ocean spray.

I love riding along the coast.
I love riding along the coast.

If possible the ride from Punakaiki to Westport or at least as far as Charleston was ever more beautiful than the day before. Maybe it was the man selling espressos from the back of his fishing truck about 20 km north of Punakaiki or the “best pizza in NZ” at Jack’s Pizzeria about 35 km north of Punakaiki at an isolated campground on the Waitakere Nile River, but between the amazing scenery and the great food and beverages, this was a great day. The final 30 km to Westport were not as stunning but still pleasant rolling hills and farm lands. We stayed at the Kiwi Holiday Park in Westport and enjoyed our little A-Frame cabin.

Cycling the South Island of NZ – Part 7 -Wanaka to Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers

Stopped for a photo by Lake Hawea
Stopped for a photo by Lake Hawea

The most important thing to know about this leg of the journey is to bring plenty of food. There are almost NO places to buy much besides a meat pie or some pasta. Even worse for us, it was the Easter weekend so the alcohol sales rules meant “no” sales on Easter Sunday.

We started riding on Easter morning thinking that the traffic would be lighter and everyone would be at church. It was a nice idea but not the reality. There was steady, but bearable, traffic to Makarora where we stopped for the night. The weather was nice so we opted to camp and the lodge with its shared kitchen facilities was comfortable, friendly and cozy with a stoked up wood-burning stove.

From this vantage one can see both Lake Hawae and Lake Wanaka
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The next morning we left in a drizzle but the weather cleared as we got to the top of Haast Pass. We met up with four other cycle tourists who were heading south and we both agreed that the pass was not too difficult.

Just west of Haast Pass
Just west of Haast Pass

The ride towards the town of Haast was beautiful, so beautiful that we stopped in the Hard Antler Cafe for a coffee and beer at Haast Junction to relax and pat ourselves on the back. This was a big mistake as the weather made a 180 degree turn and started pouring making our rush to find lodging a bit hectic. The Top 10 Holiday Park did have a lovely room AND a courtesy shuttle to a local restaurant which was a very helpful as the rain was now coming down in sheets. We couldn’t cook because we were out of food. (Re-read my note at the beginning of this leg.)

Thank goodness we did not take the bus. We had beautiful coastal views like this all day.

The rain was so bad that we were considering taking the bus to Fox Glacier, but when Eric was walking back from warming our meat pies for breakfast, the sun came out. “Let’s go!” he barked. I pulled myself away from Facebook and slowly put on my cycling clothes. (I was still in bed thinking we had until 1:00 pm for the bus.)

His decision was good. The light wind was at our back, blue sky was peaking out between clouds and there was little to no traffic. We arrives at Lake Paringa at 1:00 pm and recognized that the only thing to eat there would be sandflies. The price was right but the absence of food in our panniers made this an unviable option. We rode a couple of kilometers further where we found a honey stand with a honesty box sitting on the side of the road. I bought a little jar of honey and put my coins in the honesty box. Things were looking up as we now had honey to eat. Riding another 8 km brought us to the salmon farm and tea room. This place was great. It had an espresso machine AND fresh salmon and lemons for sale. Now we almost had a meal. We just needed lodging.

Riding another 30 km (We we up to 85 now..) we saw a sign for Hunts Beach Accommodations. We took the turn-off, rode another 800 meters down a dirt road and came to the end of the road strewn with old ATV’s, watercraft, a rusty bulldozer, miscellaneous dogs, and a sign pointing us to the “office”. I tentatively knocked on the door and was greeted by a very large, missing one tooth, 30 something, man. When I inquired if he had rooms, he said his mom was gone ( I guess the mini motel is her business?) but he thought they had a self-contained unit. (kitchen, bed, and bathroom). Surprisingly, the room was beautiful and clean. Is also had a view of Mt. Cook and Tasman Glacier out the front, and the crashing waves of Hunts Beach out the back. I cooked a delicious salmon dinner with a side of left-over spaghetti. We even scored some beer as Eric ran back to the owner’s house and asked the large son if he would sell us a couple.

A welcome sign- sights and food ahead.
A welcome sign- sights and food ahead.

The following morning we left in a foggy mist that lifted just as we were pulling back on the highway. The ride was not too difficult or hilly and we arrived at Fox Glacier earlier than expected. Unfortunately, by the time we found lodging at the Top 10 Holiday Park and bought food, the fog rolled back in. Luckily, we did get a glimpse of the glaciers the following morning. Inspired by the sun, we cycled the 6 km to Lake Matheson and were rewarded with great views for Tasman and Fox Glacier. We even met one local who said they’d been to Fox Glacier three times before and this was the first time they’d ever had good weather. We also managed a hike to the glacier – stunning- and a night trek to see the glow worms – totally cool and worth the effort even after two large beers.

View of the glacier
View of Fox Glacier

After two nights in Fox Glacier, we were ready to move on. We’d been warned that the 3 saddles (or peaks) between Fox and Franz Joseph were really tough so I guess we were mentally over-prepared. As it turned out, the 23 hilly km was not too bad and we arrived in Franz Joseph just after lunch giving us plenty of time to check in to the Top 10 Holiday Park and hike to the glacier.

The cycle path to Franz Josepf Glacier
The cycle path to Franz Josepf Glacier

 

After biking the 6 or so kilometers to the trail head we had just enough time to get to the edge of the glacier and snap photos before we got caught in a pouring/freezing rain.

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier

After long showers to warm up and a good dinner we went to bed to get ready for some big days ahead.