Posts tagged: Kurow

Kurow to Christchurch – Wednesday 11 March

Great news this morning. I woke to blue skies, sort of. Rain looked highly likely but it wasn’t raining yet.

I asked at the motel about the road conditions on the Hakataramea Pass road According to the motelier’s husband all rivers on the route were bridged. This contradicted what little I had read on the web, so I tried to confirm that at the garage when I refuelled.

“Mate, don’t worry. The fords won’t be deep. You’ll get through no probs. That’ll be $17.63.”

Great. Conflicting reports. I chose to mentally prepare myself for the garage owners version.

The road was sealed for about 25kms then turned to easy gravel. About halfway (40kms) I came to a gate. On the other side there were five 4WD vehicles and around 20 fully armed army personnel in camo. It was a surreal site – they blended perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Body-less arms waved me through.

The road narrowed, markedly, and a sign warned of steep grades, fords and unpredictable weather conditions.

As I climbed upwards an army truck rattled by, and then later three more 4WD’s with more army waving me on. The temperature dropped further and a light dusting of snow became apparent on the tops of the surrounding hills.

I crossed five or six fords, one of them giving me a bit of a fright and a flashback of my experience the day before.

At the pass (965m) snow was falling, lightly, but enough to leave a dusting on the ground.

Hakataramea Pass

Hakataramea Pass

I was nearly at the other end. The last ten kilometres was almost the worst of the trip. A wide, open and flat road but absolutely no formed tyre tracks – just a two or three inch layer of gravel. It was like riding on marbles.

Hakataramea Pass, Mackenzie Country

Hakataramea Pass, Mackenzie Country

Once off the track it was a 26 km trip to Fairlie. I stopped at a café and warmed my feet near a two bar heater.

My last detour of the day took me on the inland scenic route via Geraldine and the Rakaia Gorge. I wanted to visit Mount Somers. My great grandfather opened the first general store there in 1892 until he sold it in 1923.

The current store was not the original. In fact it wasn’t even in the same location. But I asked the lady that owned it about William Thomas Doak. She phoned a lady who was a volunteer at the local museum. That lady would meet me there in 15 minutes and show me what they had on my long lost relative.

William Thomas Doak, Store-owner, Mt Somers

William Thomas Doak, Mt Somers

When I arrived at the museum her brother turned up as well. He had photographs of my great grandfather – a sepia of him standing outside his store with a small child, and a wedding photograph. I also discovered there was a rail siding (now dis-used) named in his honour – Doak’s Siding.

From Mount Somers it was a quick dash via the Rakaia Gorge to Darfield. A pie and a flat white and the last 30km into Christchurch.

Then it rained, and rained, and rained. I’m hoping it’s rained itself out and that tomorrow will be a clear run through to Picton.

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.

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