Winding down…

This morning I rode through Whangarei to a little town in the north of Auckland to return the bike to the rental company. The ride was mostly over the motorway and pretty dull. I started off feeling pretty gloomy that the dream was finally over. I filled the gas tank up before I dropped it off. My suitcase had been sent over from Christchurch, so I quickly packed up.

They gave me a ride back to Auckland where I had booked a spot at Base Backpackers where I splurged and booked a private room for the next two nights. I spent the next evening and day exploring downtown Auckland. It was so much livelier on a normal weekday. There were lots of cute stores where I could buy some presents to bring back home. I also found some great cafes and Asian restaurants which were a welcome refuge from the days spent on the road subsisting on deli food and homemade sandwiches.

And that’s it. It’s done! I will post a summary of the entire ride soon.


All done!


Russell Road and Whangarei

This morning, I headed out of Paihia to Opua and caught a ferry with Fiona – a local rider – and crossed over to Russell. We got some coffee and hung out and then rode Russell Road – a beautiful twisty road winding through farmlands that you could just throw the bike around. It was a brilliant couple of hours!!


The ferry from Opua to Russell.



The bay off of Russell.

We rode to her place and got some lunch, then rode back out to another friend’s place near Whangarei.

Tomorrow would be the last day of my ride. :(

The Kauri Road

Auckland to Kaitaia today! It was going to be a long day, made a bit more stressful by the fact that I had no idea if Kaitaia would be my final destination or whether I’d need to hunt around to find lodging. Bad planning FTW!

The ride from Auckland on the motorway was full of cars and borrrrrrrrrring. It finally got better after the road forked off onto Highway 12. One of the highlights was going through the Waipoua Forest with its endless tight turns surrounded by beautiful trees.

Towards the end, there was a ten minute ferry crossing from Rawene to Kohukohu. The final stretch took me back on Highway 1 but it was nice and twisty this time.

I managed to find a really overpriced room in Kaitaia but it was the last one they had and I was grateful to get it.

Coromandel to Auckland

Today I rode from Whitianga to Auckland in one shot. The latter half of the Coromandel Loop was as fantastic as the rest of it with lots of tight corners and beautiful views. The rest of it, from Thames to Auckland was dull and passable. The line of cars backed up going towards the Coromandels on the other side of the road for the long weekend was a little horrifying and I was glad to have missed it.

I reached Auckland mid-day and stayed at the YHA downtown. The place was a ghost town with all the shops and malls closed and lots of confused tourists hanging out, not quite knowing what to do with themselves.

The Coromandel Peninsula

This morning I left Matamata to ride the Coromandel Loop. I wanted to do the entire loop in a day but it was a bit tricky to do all of it and still get to an interesting place to stay the night without doing a ton of kms. Also, it was going to be the Easter weekend soon, which meant that finding a place to stay would be a big hassle, if not impossible. I ended up finding a place in Whitianga for that night, and the next day I would ride all the way to Auckland, where spending a night would not be difficult because everyone would get out of the city for the long weekend.


Leaving Matamata


The ride to Whitianga was gorgeous and it wasn’t difficult to see why this was the go-to ride for Auckland motorcyclists. It’s fun, twisty, gorgeous with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean, and the entire loop is do-able as a day ride.


Stunning ride all the way.


This time I was determined to do more things than just ride so I marked a couple of hikes to do on the way. The first hike – if you can call it that – was going up to Mount Paku to see a 360 degree view of the surrounding bay. I rode pretty high up, parked in a parking lot, and walked the remaining 15 minutes to the viewpoint. It was a bit steep going up but nothing too bad.


Mount Paku summit.


My second hike was to see Cathedral Cove, a natural rock formation in the form of an arch right on the ocean. The hike was 45 minutes one way and had some gorgeous scenery. I’m so glad I did it!


When the beginning of the hike looks like this, it looks promising. :)



Cathedral Cove


Visiting the Shire

Visiting the Shire was a real dream come true. I’ve been a Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan ever since I first read the books. I didn’t care very much for the Hobbit movie (okay I loathed it with a fiery passion) but the idea of seeing the Shire brought to life was brilliant for a Tolkien geek like me.

You cannot just go park and wander around Hobbiton by yourself (because how else would they make money on it?). You need to sign up for a tour at the Matamata Visitor Center, get taken there by a tour bus, where a guide walks you around and talks you through the making of the set. It was interesting but not a $75 value. They know they can charge that much because which Tolkein fan who has spent a bunch of money flying to New Zealand would not pay that to see the Shire?


The Shire!

It was a great day for it and the Shire looked lovely. I’m really glad they didn’t tear down this movie set. It would have been extra cool if the hobbit holes were actually furnished, even if they just did Bilbo’s house. The only furnished place was the Green Dragon Inn where we got a complimentary drink at the end.


Bilbo’s house is right at the top.



Rotorua – geothermal wonderland!

Rotorua was incredible!! I had almost decided to skip it because I’d heard that it was a tourist trap. In the end I’m glad I decided to go because it was easy to avoid the tourists. I spent most of the day walking around town to see all the geysers and hot pools. I saw a boiling lake!! It had milky looking water on account of the sulphur in it.

This was yet another day of seeing sights that I had never seen or imagined before! I really wish that I had more time to go around and explore more of the geothermal pools in the area.


My first geothermal pool!



This place was simply stunning!


Riding the East Cape

If I had to pick the one ride which was the highlight of my entire trip, I would probably pick the East Cape ride. Oddly enough, it was the one that I was a little apprehensive about because it was a lot of kms to cover in one day and was also reputed to be one of the most remote with very little civilization on the way. In the end, this turned out to be the most appealing part of the trip. My route went from Gisborne to Whakatane via Te Araroa. This meant I would have to bypass the direct route via the gorge which is also supposed to be a good ride. It would have been a perfect loop if I’d had more time.


Gorgeous remote route the entire way.

The route that I did pick was lovely, quiet and serene, and full of twisties! I was probably the only person on the road going north, which meant that I could just stop the bike in the middle of the road and take photos for once. I made a couple of stops in Tolaga Bay to see the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere, at Tokomaru bay to get lunch, and Te Araroa for some coffee.


Tolaga Bay – the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere.


Tons more amazing roads to ride!

In Te Araroa, the heavens burst open and it poured down rain. I stood outside the café until the downpour subsided, unsure of how long it was going to last. It wasn’t the most exciting place to stop at for the night so I decided to push through the rain and keep going. Luckily, the rain stopped in a few minutes and the sun peeked out again! Good decision made! The rest of the ride was fantastic too. Waihau Bay was stunning and a sweet place to stop and fuel up. Then all the way to Opotiki which had mostly shut down by then. Whakatane for the night in a bit of a shitty hostel. I booked a spot on the crossing the next morning to White Island – an active volcano off the coast.

Napier to Gisborne

This morning I left Napier for Gisborne. It was a relatively short ride of around 200 km, although I took the inland twisty route which meant that I was riding for a good four hours. Today’s ride was one of those where I truly felt like I was riding through the Shire in Middle Earth with all the lush green rolling hills for as far as the eyes could see. The inland road also had the advantage that there was almost no traffic and I rarely saw more than a car of two in the space of a half hour. The road was a cornucopia of colors –  hedges and meadows in every shade of green, copses of white and silver trees, leaves tinged with red and gold heralding the first signs of autumn. And the road… it undulated, climbed, descended, a motorcyclist’s dream with mostly perfect pavement. I also saw quite a few animals – sheep, sheep dogs, cows, horses, deer, hawks, little black birds with white tipped wing…


Sometimes mystical looking forests….


Sheep everywhere!

P1010368 P1010369


This morning I left from Wellington and hit the road after a two day break. The ride started off with a bit of a hitch as I realized that I hadn’t correctly downloaded the section of the map that covered all of the lower North Island. I managed to pair my phone to my Sena and got directions from my Maps app instead. *whew* It wasn’t really needed after I had gotten out of Wellington since the directions were pretty much – take Highway 2 all the way north.


Leaving Wellington

It was a bit jarring to be on the freeway after so long. Luckily it ended quickly and I was soon in the Rimutaka hills. As usual, my fear of heights kicked in and I rode absurdly slowly on those really cool roads. Ugh…

Then some mostly good riding in beautiful rolling hills country. At times it felt like riding through the Shire. No photos unfortunately.

At about the 200 km mark, I started to get exhausted as usual. My stamina really really sucks. I stopped at a cafe and got some coffee and took a bit of a break. These breaks really help a lot because when I got on after, I felt pretty refreshed and ready to go faaaast.

After days of riding in the South Island with almost no traffic outside of the touristy areas, it was a bit strange (and annoying) to be stuck behind trucks and slow moving cars and having to keep pass them. Some of the semis pull over to let traffic go past them but many do not, which is really annoying.

I reached Napier at around 3:00 PM and checked in to a YHA right on the beach. The downtown area had really cool art deco architecture. It was also really warm and sunny and a really lovely afternoon to be outdoors.


Cool art deco


Picton to Wellington

Today I wound up my travels on the South Island and got on the ferry to Wellington in the North Island. My ferry was at 1:15 PM and we were instructed to get there at 12:15 PM. I decided to go a bit earlier and got there at 11:45 AM. This worked out well because I was at the front of the line in a big group of motorcyclists who were returning from a rally in Queenstown, and not so good because the ferry was running late and I had to stand there for almost an hour.


Waiting in the InterIslander queue.



Securing our bikes



All tied up.


When they signaled to us, we rode towards the ship and were guided to park in special motorcycle parking. This involved wedging the front tire into a triangular metal structure and using tie-downs to secure the bike on both sides. I didn’t  have any but one of the riders lent me one of his, and the ferry provided another one.

Bike secured, I walked up to one of the decks and found a spot to sit down. Since securing the bike took so long, I wasn’t able to snag a window seat. I was also super hungry exhausted by this time so I missed most of the interesting part of the ferry crossing as it wound its way north through the Marlborough Sounds. By the time I felt well enough to go outside, we had already crossed into the ocean. In the distance I could see mountains with windmills on them.


Out on the deck.


About 3.5 hours later, we docked in Wellington. Then ensued a bit of a scramble to get to the bike.

I rode off and was met at the docks by my host Jeff Vickers who had come to pick me up on his wife’s GSXF. I followed him out of the docks and for a moment felt overcome by a pang of deja vu and homesickness as I felt like I was exiting the downtown Seattle ferry terminal but in reality I was in a totally strange city! They both looked so similar…


To Picton

This morning I left Nelson and rode back to Picton. I was really looking forward to Queen Charlotte Drive and it did not disappoint, even though it was sprinkling a little bit. I got held up by an a**hole Sprinter van once which was rather annoying but outside of that, most vehicles either moved aside to let me pass or I was able to pass them in the straights. I also got to take a couple of good photos of the Marlborough Sounds to remember the place by.


Epic view of the Sounds.



Another view of the Marlborough Sounds.


I got into Picton around noon, checked in and spent the next few hours walking around the tiny town. I kind of wished I had planned this better and just booked today’s ferry instead of spending the night here. There really isn’t a whole lot to do and after the past couple of days of being cooped up in Nelson, I’m a little fed up of sitting around and wasting time on the internet, rather than being out riding.

Tomorrow I catch the 1:15 ferry to Wellington. I’ll probably spend a couple of days there since I’ve heard that it’s a pretty interesting city with much to do.


Somewhere above the hill looking down on Picton.


You can see the mountains from everywhere in Picton!


To Takaka (or not)

So Takaka did not really end up happening. I got as far as Motueka and a little beyond when I was stopped by a queue of cars stuck behind a police car parked sideways across the road. A cop appeared to be talking to each driver. When I reached him, he informed me that the road (the only road to Takaka) was closed on account of a milk tanker flipping over. He said that they wouldn’t be able to open the road for at least 3-4 hours more I later found out that the tanker had spilled 19000 litres of milk on the road. Only in New Zealand?!!

I did a little scenic loop to Kaiteriteri and back, which was fun.


By Kaiteriteri Beach


Then I returned to Motueka, found a café with wifi and proceeded to wait it out until the road opened. I followed the State department’s updates but there was nothing new for the longest time.


The best Eggs Benedict I’ve had in a long time. 

It gradually dawned on me that it was going to take a long time to clean up the mess and even if the road did open in the evening, it would be gridlocked with all the people trying to get to Takaka. Plus I would reach there pretty late in the day and then get rained on the next day. So reluctantly, I decided to go back to Nelson and stay there for the next couple of nights. :( Sad. I guess I’ll have to experience the thrill of riding Takaka Hill and seeing Golden Bay another time. It’s part of travel though. Nothing goes your way all the time.

Kaikoura to Nelson

The rough plan was the next couple of days was to ride from Kaikoura to Nelson in a day, then either do a day ride to Takaka or back the next day, or to go to Takaka, spend a couple of nights there, then return to Picton the day after. The weather appeared to dictate the latter because I was going to get at least one rainy day and it made sense to do all the riding on the days before.

The route from Kaikoura to Nelson started off promisingly with a gorgeous coastal road past the ocean. I observed amusedly to myself that even though I hadn’t done Highway 1 in California, I was doing it in New Zealand! :) I stopped briefly at Oahu to observe the seal colony and spied quite a few baby seals. Cute!


After the road turned inland, it got pretty dull and I started to get bored. About an hour more of this and I finally passed through Picton. Soon after I entered the Queen Charlotte Drive was turned out to be half an hour of very tight 20-30 kmph corners. It really put my cornering skills to the test. At the same time, I quite found myself enjoying it. As usual, the only times I cursed was when I would see stunning glimpses of the Marlborough Sounds and there weren’t many places to stop and take a photo. I told myself I would take photos on the way back. The color of the water made me gasp. How do they get it that blue-green?!

Before I knew it, I was in Nelson where I got a dorm for the night at the YHA. They let me park in their garage so I had secure parking for the night. The dorm room was really neat too. It was huge even though it had only six beds in it.

The next day I would ride to Takaka and spend a night there.

Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura

This was supposed to be a short pleasant ride. All I had to do that day was to get out of Hanmer Springs, turn off a country road and follow it all the way to Kaikoura. I did a part of this right. I did turn off of a country road that turned out to be divine, magical, lyrical, if you could call a road lyrical. It was full of twisties and went past beautiful rural landscapes that looked like they were straight out of a child’s storybook. Narrow curved roads, golden rolling hills, the occasional flock of sheep, an occassional church, barn or abandoned shed, this is a road I have dreamt about, not knowing where to find it.

It ended way too soon and I was abruptly deposited onto a busy motorway with semi trucks bearing down on me, a little too close for comfort. I found later that I had taken the wrong road – Parnassus St. and Leader Road, instead of Mount Lytton Road. I didn’t know if I was upset about this or not. On the one hand, I missed a reportedly beautiful road which would have taken me all the way to Kaikoura and kept me from the rude shock of riding on the motorway and getting back to reality. On the other hand, perhaps that road wasn’t as idyllic as the one that I accidentally stumbled on? I guess I will never know unless I go back and find out.

The ride along the motorway was very beautiful as it wound past the Pacific Ocean (my first view of the ocean on the other side!) but the wind was strong and there were too many trucks blasting past me on the other side. My entire time on the South Island has been on roads with very little traffic and I had begun to forget the rest of the world a little.


On the other side of the Pacific Ocean


I arrived in Kaikoura well before lunchtime and checked in to the Albatross B&B. The room I was in was the tiniest I’ve stayed in but we had an entire lounge area and kitchen for ourselves. Also, I lucked out with really cool roommates who were fun to hang out with.


I spied a flock of cormorants hanging by the water.


In the afternoon, I decided to do the Coastal Peninsula Walk which went around the entire tip of the peninsula, promising views of wildlife and epic scenery. It did not fail to disappoint! I didn’t see much wildlife outside of a bunch of seals and some birds but the scenery was consistently staggering. I took my time walking slowly and taking it all in so it took me almost an hour and a half to walk from town to the very tip of the peninsula where the ocean looked nothing short of majestic. It was very windy on account of the remnants of Hurricane Pam blowing over and the water was churning and turbulent.


Franz Josef to Westport

The ride to Westport was a little dull until I reached my first view of the Tasman Sea, which was fantastic. This blue stretch of water is truly magnificent.


Stopped for construction


It was very gusty all day and I felt like I was fighting the wind the whole time, which was very noisy and tiring.

My two main stops along the way were lunch at Greymouth and the pancake rocks at Punakaiki. The walkway for the rocks was a little too full of tourists but the rocks themselves were pretty cool looking. Apparently nobody knows what caused the striations through them!


Pancake rocks at Punakaiki



Franz Josef glacier hike

Today I did a nearby hike to go see the Franz Josef glacier up close. It was only about 1.5 hours round trip. Most of it went over a flat dry river bed and it climbed up a bit towards the end.


Epic vista with the glacier in the distance



Franz Josef

I’ve been spending a lazy couple of days in Franz Josef. This town has everything it takes to make me happy – mountains, sunny weather, gorgeous views (I mean you see a mountain with a glacier running down it for heaven’s sake!), good restaurants and coffee, fast internet, a pretty comfortable and affordable hostel, and some great local hikes and rides. I’ve been enjoying just lounging around, catching up on blogging, reading, dreaming about the ride ahead etc. :)

Yesterday I went for a short ride about 25 km down the road to a place called Okarito. It was about 19 km down the main road after which I turned left onto a twisty, narrow 8 km stretch. This road was fun to ride except that I was heading west and the sun kept blinding me in certain sections, forcing me to slow down. It ended in a little blue lagoon where some people were fishing. I loved how the vegetation on the sides of the road was full of rainforest-y trees and ferns. The ride back was a lot faster and I gasped as I saw the snow-capped mountains in the distance on my return journey!


Parked by a lagoon near Okarito on the West Coast


Franz Josef Glacier heli-tour

This morning I took a helicopter tour of the two glaciers in this area – Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. I had booked a 9:00 AM flight – a bit early because I really wanted to sleep in but I’m kinda glad I went early when visibility was really good. When I had inquired about the tours, I found that I could pick either more air time and 8 minutes on the mountain or for a bit more money, less air time and 3 hour guided tour on the mountain. I was going to do the latter but the Quebecois guy at the counter talked me into the former, saying that everyone loved the views from the air and wish they could have gone longer. In hindsight, I should have gone with my first decision. I mean the time in the air and the incredible views of the mountains were great but I really really loved being on the glacier itself and feeling the ice crunching under my boots. And the tours are so expensive that I couldn’t just go do the heli-hike later.


Flying above Fox Glacier

So anyway, for the princely sum of NZD 300 I got to do a 30 minute helicopter tour of the two glaciers. For that price I could have gone to Sydney and back so I hoped that it better be good. And it was pretty good fun although I hesitate to say that it was worth that much money.

We took off from a nearby field and went high up into the mountains. There were three of us passengers so we all got a window seat. We had headphones via which we could hear the pilot speaking to us via an intercom system (it’s too noisy to hear him without them). We flew right over the glaciers for some stunning views. Apparently this is one of the only two places in the world where glaciers run into a rainforest, the other being the Patagonias.

We landed on top of Franz Josef and hung out there for about eight minutes. It was very sunny and quite a bit warmer than I thought it would be. Towards the end my fingers started getting cold so I figure that you would need gloves and a few layers if you were going to go hiking up there.


On top of the glacier!


Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Today I rode from Queenstown to the little town of Franz Josef on the west coast of New Zealand via Haast Pass.

I decided to face my demons and ride the Crown Range again since this road combined my two worst fears – riding a somewhat technical road courtesy of the seven hairpin turns after almost five years of not having done any technical riding, and my fear of heights. To be fair, I was on the mountain side going uphill so the fear of heights thing was a touch less dire than when I rode downhill a few days ago.

Aaaand – it wasn’t as bad as I had built up in my head after all. I mean I was ridiculously slow on the hairpins and at the highest point, and I went wide on at least one of the turns, but I made it and didn’t crash or go off the mountain like my imagination had built it up for me.

It was about an hour to get to Wanaka, same as the last time. There was some sort of festival going on in Wanaka but thankfully the traffic was going in the other direction so I didn’t get held up by it. I stopped quickly at the local supermarket – a delightful store like Whole Foods but way cheaper – and bought some peaches and mandarin oranges to replenish my fresh fruit supply. I ate a peach in the parking lot before taking off.

The ride from Wanaka to Lake Hawea was lovely. I kicked myself for not stopping at Lake Hawea though, which was beautiful and a brilliant blue like all the other lovely lakes I’ve seen in NZ so far. This was to be an on-going regret for the day because there were so many many gorgeous scenes for which I wanted to pull over and just gaze and take a million photos but there was either no place to pull over or I didn’t think of pulling over in time. Oh well, I’ll just have to come back again.


The most gorgeous section of the ride was when I was winding through Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and then over to Makarora. I’m talking gob-smacked, I-can’t-believe-these-epic-vistas type of scenery. And what amazing twisties! And such glorious weather! I’m a lucky lucky girl.