Queenstown to Kurow – Tuesday 10 March

Well, I wanted an adventure and today I got one.

My plan was to do Danseys Pass into the Waitaki Valley and then the Hakataramea Valley into Tekapo.

While getting petrol in Cromwell I pulled my map out and saw another track that went from Bendigo through to Omakau near St Bathans. That would link nicely with Danseys.

So, off I headed. My motorcycle atlas proved less than reliable. I turned off SH8 near Crippletown and headed up a very steep track to the old Bendigo diggings. 30 minutes later I came to a locked gate. So, I went back to the main road having wasted an hour.

I found another route up Ardgour Road. This looked more promising, confirmed when I came to a sign warning not to attempt the track in wet weather. Further on a hand painted sign said: “Bikes, keep on the track or PISS OFF”.

The track was the same one in my atlas just in a different place. It would take me past Mount Moka and through the Dunstan Range. The public road follows what is known as Thomson’s Track (Thomson Gorge Road). It is rutted and steep but perfectly passable with stupendous views back west to Pisa Range, and then near the tops east towards Raggedy Range.

There was a southerly front coming through. I could see it behind me. When I got onto the uppermost reaches of the track the wind was so strong I had trouble keeping my bike upright when stopping to open any of the numerous gates.

Thompson Track, Central Otago

Thompson Track, Central Otago

On the descent down into Omakau I passed a farmer heading the other way. Soon after I crossed several fords, one big enough to get my feet wet. By this time though I was feeling reasonably confident with my off road skills. The farmer overtook me soon after returning the way he came. And I had a clear unimpeded view into the valley. Destination in sight.

I came up to another closed gate on a steep descent. Because you can’t park a bike on the side stand facing downhill I turned to face back up the hill I opened the gate, returned to my bike and then proceeded to turn back down the hill. Disaster. In the blink of an eye the bike slipped and went over, facing down hill. This was a problem – a big one, weighing about 192kgs (wet).

I have managed in the past to pick my bike up when I dropped it, but not on a gravel road, or on mud (my last experience). I was stuck, high up a hill, no traffic, no way to get going.

I spent about 40 minutes trying to stop the wheels skidding by jamming big rocks under the wheels. I spun the bike round to use the slope of the track more effectively. No luck, except wrenching my back.

View towards Omakau - near where I dropped my bike

View towards Omakau - near where I dropped my bike

I could see farm houses in the distance and contemplated walking but they were a long way away.

I pulled out my mobile. There was coverage. Years ago I had taken photographs at the Omakau Garage. It was worth a shot – I figured it was about 10kms away. 018 gave me the number and so it was that I humiliated myself by asking for help. As luck would have it two of the garage workers were going off to fix a tractor. They would pass by and give me a hand.

Thirty minutes later two swarthy southern men pulled up in a white ute (symbolic?). The younger hopped out, walked up to my bike, grabbed the handlebars, and hoisted the bike up in one humiliating movement. I’m not called Skinny for nothing.

Thankfully they waited for me to load the bike back up, and we travelled down the mountain together. I drove to the Omakau Hotel and bought a dozen Speights and delivered it to the garage. Disaster averted, but the adventure was not over.

Riding out of Omakau the rain started. And then the wind. I headed towards Naseby ready to do Danseys Pass. The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to ride straight.

I had ridden Danseys Pass back in 1982. I remembered it as relatively benign. But this time was different. 10 kms in the hail started. And the wind blew harder. I looked down and saw my crotch filling with pellets of ice. And to cap it off the road was much worse than I remembered. It was corrugated and hard to ride with ill-formed tyre tracks making negotiating sharp corners particularly challenging. And the worsening weather only made it worse.

Danseys Pass, Central Otago

Danseys Pass, Central Otago

The pass itself was hair-raising. Exposed to the fierce wind on the tops I seriously wondered if I would make it through to the Waitaki Valley. The earlier hail was followed by torrential rain.

I did eventually make it to Duntroon. The road to Kurow runs due west meaning the southerly now becomes a cross-wind. This is the worst and most terrifying wind for a motorcyclist, especially when it’s blowing this hard. Shelter belts gave some protection but they also released branches and debris across the road.

By this time I’m absolutely freezing and determined to stop at the first motel I could find. Hence, Kurow.

I’m hoping like hell the southerly will blow through and that tomorrows weather won’t be as bad as the forecasters are predicting. I need to make it to Christchurch for Wednesday night, but I need to do it safely. This means avoiding wide open spaces – bloody hard to do now that I’m near the Mackenzie Basin and the Canterbury Plains.

Franz Josef to Queenstown – Monday 9 March

I rode out of Franz Josef and headed straight to Fox Glacier. This is the spot where two Australian men were buried by falling ice two months earlier.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

The track up the side of the river was shut due to rock falls but a new track had been formed across the riverbed. This gave a better ‘front-on’ view of the glacier without having to walk so far. Not that I’m lazy mind, but I was walking with all my gear on so I was laden down and getting quite hot.

From Fox Glacier the road south was uncharted territory for me. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it looked much the same as further north – but I was. The only break from this lowland rain forest jaunt was the winding road that led up to the lookout at Knights Point. While I was there a tour bus arrived. By the time I left ten minutes later the queue for the sole toilet was close to 15 people long.

Mental note to self again: don’t go on a bus tour!

The road to Jackson Bay

The road to Jackson Bay

I was determined to go to Jackson Bay which is as far south as you can drive on the West Coast. Back in Wellington when researching the trip Google Maps said the road from Haast to Jackson Bay would take 4.5 hours. In fact it took somewhere in the vicinity of 30 minutes, and has to be one of the most spectacular roads I have ridden. The stretch from Hannahs Clearing to Waiatoto was like driving through a tunnel, of native rainforest. And it was so straight.

Jackson Bay, West Coast

Jackson Bay, West Coast

Jackson Bay is a fishing community. There was one huge house on the hill overlooking the bay, and a few other dwellings which were for sale. But the thing I was there for was the legendary “Craypot” – a container converted to a restaurant. Open from midday to 8pm it was run by a woman who was cashier, cook and waitress. $15 for a whitebait fritter on white bread with salad Another motorcyclist I sat with had ‘fish of the day’ for $12 – a battered fillet and chips served in its own fryer basket. It looked delicious.

The Gates of Haast

The Gates of Haast

Petrol in Haast. Then a leisurely journey up to the Gates of Haast surrounded by stupendously tall and craggy mountains. I stopped at ‘The Gates’ and walked across the single lane bridge to get some photos of the Haast River thundering down between the rock walls.

Another quick stop at Camerons Flat where there was a stunning view north along the valley to (I think) the Bealey Range.

The road from there reminded me a lot of the Lewis Pass, transplanted further south. I stopped again at Makarora for a coffee despite the fact that there was a bus in the carpark.

Then a great ride down the shore of Lake Wanaka. I stopped for a few minutes to do a panorama of the surrounding mountains only to be forced back on the bike by several hundred sandflies.

I have been amazed by how many campervans and rental cars have been on the road. 90% of the traffic was tourist related. Every intersection, every layby had an arrow painted on the road to remind drivers which side of the road they should be driving on. Now I could see why.

The last time I had been to Wanaka was 1982, on a similar motorcycle journey. For all the development and wealth of tne area it was surprising that little had changed. The foreshore had been developed (in a pleasant enough way) and the campground that I had stayed in, and which I was sure would have been sold to a flash-harry property developer was still there. Some things change and some things stay the same. Wanaka had done both.

I rode over the Crown Range into Queenstown. In 1982 this was a gravel road the whole way – now it’s completely sealed from end to end making this ‘alternative’ route to Queenstown very busy and a lot quicker than the ‘normal’ route. The temperature dropped 5 degrees prompting a change to my thicker winter gloves, and activation of my heated handlegrips.

The Crown Range

The Crown Range

At 1063 m the Crown Range has the title “The highest sealed road in New Zealand”. I remember the ‘highest’ stat from 1982 but as it wasn’t sealed back then I can only imagine the claim to fame was highest public road, not highest public ‘sealed’ road. Whatever it’s claim to fame it is still a fabulous route and comes highly recommended.

Spent a very pleasant evening with friends near Arrowtown. Apart from the great company I now have a new recipe for cooking corned beef! Thanks heaps guys.

Apparently there is going to be snow to 600m and a southerly front coming through. Sitting here in Cromwell planning my route there’s no sign of the bad weather – yet.

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