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.


Milford Sound, New Zealand

I had originally planned to stay in Queenstown for two nights but extended it to three when I saw that the third day was going to be rainy. Rather than be stuck indoors all day, I booked a bus tour to Milford Sound. I had originally planned to ride there but I’d read that it was always rainy there, plus it was a loooong way going there and back. Rather than spend four days getting to there, I figured a one day bus tour would be sensible.

I had to catch the bus at the absurd hour of 6:30 AM. It had huge viewing windows and a glass roof. In hindsight, it sucked a little bit to have taken the bus because I kept feeling sluggish and tired all day rather than alert and active like I am when I ride. But we did cover a huge distance and I could just relax and take in the scenery.

The Fjordland National Park scenery was fantastic, with its huge towering mountains on every side. It would have been pretty cool to have ridden that highway. The cruise itself was fine. I guess after seeing the fjords in Norway it was less than impressive? I shouldn’t compare though. It was a very pretty place and I’m glad I got to experience it.


The cruise ship



Sailing through the fjord



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Queenstown and Glenorchy

I have mixed feelings about Queenstown. On the one hand it is a spectacularly gorgeous little town. On the other, it is crawling with tourists and activities catered to them. I find that I enjoyed it when I stuck to the less populated parts. Getting really good coffee didn’t suck either.

I had heard its reputation for gouging food prices so I did the sensible thing and steered clear of the restaurants. Instead, I headed to the local supermarket and bought an entire roast chicken with some bread, mixed greens, and fresh fruit. That was enough to provide me all my meals during my three days of stay there. The upside of staying in a hostel is access to a full kitchen with a fridge to store your food and plates and silverware to eat off of. Oh, and access to a laundry was great too. I finally got to wash the few clothes I had brought with me.

The most memorable part of the day was the mindblowing ride to Glenorchy and back. It was a mere 27 mile ride but such glorious twisties and outstanding views of Lake Wakitapu!! This was the first day that I started to truly feel happy on the bike and remember exactly why I ride! :D


The little village of Glenorchy


LOTR geek, you say? Why yes, I am!


Wanaka to Queenstown

Today was a very short riding day. Only an hour’s worth riding the 100 km from Wanaka to Queenstown. It was also a little hair raising though because I took the Crown Range road which is the highest driving road in NZ. My fear of heights really kicked in at the huge drop below and the steeply descending road and I slowed to a crawl. It is quite maddening how this works. Those same roads on solid ground I would ride fast through in a heartbeat. Add some elevation and exposed sections and I’m riding like an ass.

There were seven hairpin turns at the end which I also managed to botch up spectacularly. I remember flying down roads like that in the Alps five years before. I guess my skills have gotten quite a bit rusty since then.

Oh well, I’m in Queenstown and my hostel – Bumbler’s  Backpackers – has an epic view.


Dorm room with an incredible view at Bumbler’s Backpackers in Queenstown, NZ


Geraldine to Wanaka

Day 2 of the ride. I still felt very achy and tired. I had a bit of a long day ahead. In terms of mileage it was short if you’re in the United States but the roads here are like in Europe – twisty and winding. Most of the ride went through big sky country – vast open plains with dry brown mountains all around. It looked nothing like the photos of glorious snow-capped mountains that I had seen online so I was a bit bummed. I guess November is a far better time to visit if you want that view. The summer here had been a scorcher so all the snow had melted.

The first fantastic view I had was of Lake Tekapo. So so blue and sparkling. I pulled off the main road to find the old historic church I had read about. I walked up to the lake, snapped a few photos and took off.


Old historic church on the banks of Lake Tekapo


Lake Tekapo



And then came my first holy-crap-that’s-unbelievably-beautiful moment of my trip as I neared Lake Pukaki. Picture a bright lake with misty blue mountains encircling it. Also picture no place to pull over and just drink in the sight! How frustrating! I have never seen anything like it. If there’s a heaven, this is what it looks like.


Lake Pukaki – absolutely marvellous!


Christchurch to Geraldine

77My second first day of riding dawned early. I took off at 8:30 AM and followed the same route as the day before, starting from Leithfield, passing through Rangiora and Oxford. I took the “scenic inland route” of Highway 72 which wound through the Canterbury Plains. I found myself occasionally wondering who named it that given that it passed through endless flat dry barren plains, a bit like the Palouse in eastern Washington after a long summer. Like the Palouse, the area is probably very beautiful in the spring when it is green for miles around but right now it was really dull and I was very bored. I was also still trying to get used to the weight and handling of the bike. After almost a year off of riding, my muscles were also trying to get used to this new position and exertion. The ride was uneventful and I made it to Geraldine at just about check-in time for the hostel.


Getting coffee in downtown Geraldine. With some ride-appropriate reading.


New Zealand – how it began

Well, I appear to be in New Zealand. I’ve been here for about four days now. I landed in Auckland and was picked up by my friend Kendal, who has been really amazing and supportive in my plan to ride around NZ. I also got to meet Sarah Hart, the gal who had toured NZ for a year whom I had interviewed for GWWR. They were both fantastic gals and really good riders. I got to do a nice local ride with them to a pub where we had dinner and conversation.

I spent the first couple of days going around to the local bike shops to find a bike to rent or hire and came up with nothing. I’ve been really frustrated at this. The lowest bikes I could were a Kawasaki Ninja 650R and a BMW F650GS twin. They were both just a wee bit too tall though and I could barely only touch the tips of my boots to the ground.

And then I got an email from Andrea Ladbrook of Kiwi Motorcycle Rentals in Christchurch. She said that she had a BMW 650GS twin with a low seat and factory lowered suspension available for rent. I made up my mind to fly to Christchurch and get that bike. She was even kind enough to offer to pick me up from the airport and stay the night. I had originally planned to get a bike in Auckland and do a loop around the North and South islands. This was a bit of a twist in the plan but it meant that I could ride one way and drop the bike off in Auckland. Not a bad change in plans!

Andrea and Allan were both really great. And the bike was perfect! Well it was still a bit high and a bit heavy but more perfect than anything else I could have gotten. We set up the handlebars for my arms, added the GPS mount, and attached huge Givi panniers (hard luggage is a first for me). I took it for a short test ride and liked the way it handled. Not at all buzzy like the singles!


First day of the ride! Next to the BMW F650GS twin I would ride for the next month.