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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.